One Saturday the woman was late in returning home, and her husband thought that he would play a trick on her and frighten her. To do so he wrapped himself in a white cloth and waited at the crucifix in the graveyard where his wife would have to pass by.
After ten o'clock his wife came by, accompanied by a neighbor woman. The man stood up in his white cloth and remained there standing still.
"Just look," said the neighbor. "There's a spirit."
"Let him be," said the wife. "We'll say the Lord's Prayer for him."
"For God's sake," said the neighbor after they had walked on a few steps. "Now there's another one. Now I can see two of them!"
The wife did not answer, but she prayed.
The man heard what the neighbor woman had said, and a shudder went through his whole body. Nonetheless, he wanted to convince himself before he took flight. Turning his head a little he saw a skeleton wrapped in a shroud standing next to him. Then he lost all courage and took off running after the women as fast as he could.
The frightened women ran ahead and locked themselves inside the house.
"Wife, open the door!" cried the husband. "It's me!"
But the wife did not open the door. Overcome by fear and dread, he fell down unconscious, and did not awaken until the next morning.
The others asked her if right now she dared to go to the graveyard by herself.
"Why not?" she said. "And to show you that I've been there I'll bring back the cross with the wreath that we set up today on Fränzel's grave."
The others were amazed at this boldness. And indeed, the girl did go forth without a light and by herself.
When she failed to return they became ill at ease. A few youths took a lantern and went to the graveyard. There they found the girl sitting on the grave with her hand on the crucifix. She was dead. Her head had been twisted around her neck.
Note by Stöber: Twisting someone's head around their neck is normally attributed to the devil or the wild huntsman, if one calls on him or if one gives an answer to his call.
One girl volunteered to do this, and she took with her a switch and a black cat. Entering the council chamber she saw twelve ghostly councilmen seated around the table.
They said to her, "If you hadn't brought the switch and the black cat with you, we would be saying something different to you!"
The terrified girl fled, and she died that same night.
The dead man suddenly appeared and demanded his shroud. The servant escaped into the church and barred the door. The dead man whined and pled for his shroud, but did not receive it. Finally he asked the servant to at least stick a corner of it through the keyhole, so that he could tear off a piece.
The servant did this, and the door flew open with a thunder-like crash.
The servant was found inside the church, almost dead. He became sick and suffered an early death.
One of them called out, "You dead ones, stand up and come to your judgement!"
The next day the scoffer became ill and died soon afterward.
One night a peasant was walking through the woods, and he thought, "I want to see if what they say about the owls is true."
So he called out, and behold, the owls came flying by from all sides and pecked away at him. The next morning he still had his eyesight, but he was found in the woods badly pecked and covered with blood.
His wife could not stand this, so she said to her servant, "Listen, Lorenz, at midnight go to my husband on his way home, and attempt to frighten him."
He did just that. He covered himself in a white sheet and appeared before the preacher.
The preacher stepped up to him and said, "Who are you?" but he received no answer.
He asked the same question a second time, but now the servant began to sink into the earth, while begging forgiveness for his sacrilege.
To this the preacher replied, "I cannot save you. It is too late!"
And then the servant sank completely beneath the earth.
So one night she got a boy to go stand in the old churchyard he'd have to pass, and to frighten him. So the boy did so, and began to groan and to try to frighten him when he came near. But it's well known that nothing of that kind can do any harm to a blacksmith. So he went in and got hold of the boy, and told him he had a mind to choke him, and went his way.
But no sooner was the boy left alone than there came about him something in the shape of a dog, and then a great troop of cats. And they surrounded him and he tried to get away home, but he had no power to go the way he wanted but had to go with them.
And at last they came to an old forth and a faery bush, and he knelt down and made the sign of the cross and said a great many "Our Fathers," and after a time they went into the faery bush and left him. And he was going away and a woman came out of the bush, and called to him three times, to make him look back. And he saw that it was a woman that he knew before, that was dead, and so he knew that she was amongst the faeries.
And she said to him, "It's well for you that I was here, and worked hard for you, or you would have been brought in among them, and be like me."
So he got home. And the blacksmith got home too and his wife was surprised to see he was no way frightened.
But he said, "You might know that there's nothing of that sort could harm me."
For a blacksmith is safe from all, and when he goes out in the night he keeps always in his pocket a small bit of wire, and they know him by that. So he went on playing, and they grew very poor after.
This is the finish up of the story told by the old people, and it stopped the trick of playing ghosts at night in this part of the country.
According to tradition, Meg of Meldon was stigmatized as a witch during her lifetime in seventeenth-century Northumberland. After her death she reappeared as a ghost at regular intervals, apparently with the only goal to frighten people.
An individual, well known for his skepticism in regard to ghosts, had frequently heard of Meg's achievements in frightening people, but would not credit them. He, however, had no scruple in perpetuating the belief among the credulous, so one mirk night, dressed in white, he placed himself on the parapet wall of Meldon Bridge, and there sat awaiting passers-by.
He had not stayed long till he found Meg herself seated alongside of him.
"You've come to fley [frighten]," said she, "and I've come to fley, let's baith fley thegither."
At the same time she drew herself a little nearer him, while he, jealous of a too familiar intimacy, moved still further along. Meg repeated her movement, and he still shrunk from her approach. She at length came so close as to give him a push, which he hastily attempted to shun, but lost balance, and fell headlong into the water.
Let us hope that Meg was rewarded with a respite for ducking the rival ghost.
Another adventure in which Meg was concerned was sent me in 1877 by a clergyman in that neighborhood, in the hand writing of the narrator, a tradesman, I believe, in Whalton. I shall reproduce it pretty nearly in the language in which it was told.
Two dwellers in the hamlet of Thornton who believed in Meg's appearance as a ghost, and a friend of theirs, a Scotchman, who could not be brought to credit it, sat one night after having been at the smithy, in a public house at Meldon, disputing as to her existence or non existence as a spiritual visitant. They then left in company for Thornton.
At a certain part of the road one of the two believers, named Todd, gave some chains he was carrying from the smith's shop to his mate and fell behind. As soon as the other two were out of sight and hearing, he took a shortcut across a corner of a field and placed himself behind a hedge at the foot of a bank, a favorite haunt of Meg, and getting himself into the most ghostly style he could assume, he awaited their arrival.
The Scotchman came up first, shouting, "Where are ye, Meg? Let's see you, Meg!" when Todd stepped out into view, saying, "Here's Meg, what want ye wi' Meg?"
The other lad dropped the chains and made off, and the Scotchman after him.
Todd, thinking he had overdone the thing, picked up the chains and ran after them to stop them, but the faster he ran the faster ran they, the tinkling of the chains behind keeping up their terror. The two lads had got upon Meldon Bridge over the Wansbeck, which was then a very narrow and steep structure.
At the one end of it they disturbed a kyloe [a breed of Scottish highland cattle] that had got out of a field. This started out as Todd was passing, and "gave a rout," and ran headlong across the bridge behind him. Todd, taking the beast for Meg, increased his speed, the most frightened of the three. Thus there were three men and a kyloe all terrified and running at their utmost pith.
The three men arrived home in a serious state of fear, from which they were long recovering.
The narrator adds a remark of identification. "Todd was said to be the father or grandfather to Jack Todd, the wood wagoner. Both the public houses in Meldon were closed before my day."
In this respect, however, the thoughtless children only followed the example set them by their elders, for seldom did poor Gregory pass along the row of cottages, dignified by the name of street, which constituted the village, without an unhandsome head being projected from the blacksmith's or cobbler's shop, or from a doorway, and a cruel taunt being sent after the idiot, who, in his ragged clothing, with his handful of harebells and primroses, and a wreath of green leaves round his battered, old hat, jogged along towards his mother's cottage, singing as he went, in a pathetic monotone, a snatch of an old Lancashire ballad.
In accordance with that holy law which, under such circumstances, influences woman's heart, the mother loved this demented lad with passionate fondness, all the tenderness with which her nature had been endowed having been called forth by the needs of the afflicted child, whose only haven of refuge from the harshness of his surroundings and the cruelty of those who, had not they been as ignorant as the hogs they fed, would have pitied and protected him, was her breast.
Lavishing all her affection upon the poor lad, she had no kindness to spare for those who tormented him; and abstaining from any of those melodramatic and vulgar curses with which a person of less education would have followed those who abused her child, she studiously held herself aloof from her neighbors, and avoided meeting them, except when she was compelled to purchase food or other articles for her little household. This conduct gave an excuse for much ill feeling, and as the woman had no need to toil for her daily bread, and as her cottage was the neatest in the district, there was much jealousy.
One night, at a jovial gathering, it was arranged that a practical joke, of what was considered a very humorous kind, should be played upon the idiot. The boors selected one of their party, whose task it should be to attire himself in a white sheet, and to emerge into the lane when the poor lad should make his appearance. In accordance with this plan the pack of hobbledehoys watched the cottage night after night, in the hope of seeing the idiot leave the dwelling, and at length their patience was rewarded. They immediately hid themselves in the ditch, while the mock ghost concealed himself behind the trunk of a tree.
The lad, not suspecting any evil, came along, humming, in his melancholy monotone, the usual fragment, and just before he reached the tree the sheeted figure slowly stepped forth to the accompaniment of the groanings and bellowings of his associates.
They had expected to see the idiot flee in terror; but instead of so doing, he laughed loudly at the white figure, and then suddenly, as the expression of his face changed to one of intense interest, he shouted, "Oh, oh! A black one! A black one!"
Sure enough, a dark and terrible figure stood in the middle of the road.
The mock ghost fled, with his companions at his heels, the real specter chasing them hotly, and the idiot bringing up the rear, shouting at the top of his voice, "Run, black devil! Catch white devil!"
They were not long in reaching the village, down the street of which they ran faster than they ever had run before. Several of them darted into the smithy, where the blacksmith was scattering the sparks right and left as he hammered away at the witch-resisting horseshoes, and others fled into the inn, where they startled the gathered company of idle gossips; but the mock ghost kept on wildly, looking neither to the left nor to the right.
The idiot had kept close behind the phantom at the heels of the mock ghost, and when at the end of the village the specter vanished as suddenly as it had appeared, the lad ran a little faster and took its place. Of this, however, the white-sheeted young fellow was not aware, and, fearing every moment that the shadow would catch him in its awful embrace, he dashed down a by lane.
Before he got very far, however, the idiot, who had gradually been lessening the distance between them, overtook and seized him by the neck. With a terrible cry the rustic fell headlong into the ditch, dragging Gregory with him as he fell.
The latter was soon upon his feet, and dancing about the lane as he cried, "Catch white devil! Catch white devil!"
The mock ghost, however, lay quiet enough among the nettles.
Roused by the story told by the affrighted ones who had rushed so unceremoniously into their presence, as well as by the startling cry of "Run, black devil! Catch white devil!" which the idiot had shouted as he sped past the door, several of the topers emerged from their abiding place; and as nothing could be seen of either mock ghost, specter, or idiot, they bravely determined to go in search of them.
As they passed along the road from the village, their attention was attracted by the cries which seemed to come from the lonely lane, and somewhat nervously making their way along it, they soon saw the idiot dancing about the side of the ditch. With a sudden access of courage, due to the presence of anything human, however weak, they hurried along, and as they drew nearer, the idiot paused in his gambols, and pointed to the mock ghost, who lay stretched in the shadow of the hedgerow. He was soon carried away to the village, where he lay ill for weeks.
The kindness of Gregory's mother to the sick lad's parents, who were very poor and could ill afford to provide the necessary comforts his condition required, caused public feeling to turn in her favor, and those who formerly had been loudest in defaming her became her warmest eulogists.
Between the idiot and the young fellow, too, a strange friendship sprang up, and the pair might often be seen passing along the lanes, the idiot chanting his melancholy fragments to the companion whose cap he had adorned with wreaths of wildflowers.
With such a protector the idiot was quite safe, and, indeed, had the village children been wishful to torment Gregory, if the presence of this companion had not sufficed to restrain them, they had only to remember that it was in defense of poor Gregory the Evil One himself had raced through the village.
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Revised November 4, 2021.