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Charles G. (Charles George) Harper.

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grey-green levels, until lost in the dim haze of Dungeness, ten miles
away. There curves the bay, like the arc of a bended bow, going in a
magnificent semicircular sweep into the distance, its margin dotted
at regular intervals with those pepper-boxes, the Martello towers,
which it was hoped would have made it so hot for Napoleon had he
ever descended upon these shores. Nearer at hand - almost, indeed, at
our feet - goes the Royal Military Canal, its waters hid from this
view-point, but its course defined by the double row of luxuriant trees
that clothe its banks. Between foreground and far distance, in a welter
of foreshortened fields and hedgerows, lie hid the many hamlets and
villages of the marsh. From here it can be seen and felt how open this
district is to every breeze that blows, but it needs for the traveller
to descend into those levels for him to discover how fiercely the winds
lurk behind the contorted hedges of the ridiculously-winding roads,
leaping forth at the corners and seizing one with the rude grip of a
strong man. Save for the direct road that leads from Hythe to Dymchurch
and New Romney, and that other from thence to Snargate and Appledore,
the marshland ways are mazy and deceptive, impassable ditches and
drains rendering likely-looking short cuts impracticable. To approach
a place coyly, and as though really going away from it, is the road
method of Romney Marsh, and to strike boldly in the direction of any
given spot is to make tolerably sure of never reaching it. Thus, when
the stranger with dismay perceives the distant village for which he has
been setting forth slipping by degrees behind him, he should know that
he is on the right road, but when he observes its church tower towering
straight ahead, then let him pause and anxiously inquire the way. When
these facts are borne in mind there will be little wonder that Romney
Marsh was among the last strongholds of superstition and smuggling.

[Illustration: ROMNEY MARSH, FROM LYMPNE.]

The last smuggler has long since died, less in the odour of sanctity
than of unexcised schnapps, and not since sixty years ago has a witch
been credibly reported, sailing athwart the moon on a besom. Now, when
cattle fall victims to the ills common to them, instead of "swimming"
the nearest half-daft and wholly ill-favoured old woman, the farmers
send to Hythe or Ashford for a veterinary surgeon.

It is a romantic view-point, this outlook from Lympne cliff, and quite
unspoiled. You can have it wholly to yourself the livelong day, except
for the occasional passage of a farm-hand, whose natural avocations
take him past. It has not become a show-place and, by consequence,
self-conscious. A steep and rough undercliff, a tangled mass of
undergrowth clinging to the cliff itself, a cottage nestling beneath,
and church and castle stark against the sky-line - that is Lympne from
below. The purest of water spouts from the cliff-face, from a pipe - the
shrunken representative of the river Limen - and landsprings give the
fields a perennial verdure.

[Illustration: LYMPNE CASTLE.]

Lympne, despite its weird spelling, is merely "Lim"; how or why the "p"
got into the place-name is unknown. The village - a small and drowsy
one - describes a semicircle enclosing the church and its neighbour, and
though pretty, is not in any way remarkable, save that it has an inn
oddly named the "County Members," and a cottage bearing the quaintly
pretty tablet pictured on the next page. The church is a grim stern
church, exactly suited to its situation, with massive Early Norman and
Early English interior, disdainful of ornament. The heavy door of the
north porch is boldly patterned in nails, "A. G. C. W. 1708."

[Illustration: A COTTAGE TABLET, LYMPNE.]

It is a Roman road that runs along the cliff-top through Lympne to
Aldington, passing the hamlet of Court-at-Street that was once the
Roman "Belerica," and emerging upon the "open plain" of Aldington
Frith. "Allington Fright" as the Kentish peasantry name it, is still an
open expanse. The airs of romance blow freely about it to-day, as of
old, and although from the high ground by Aldington Forehead distant
glimpses of Hythe and its big neighbour, Folkestone, whether you desire
it or not, are obtained, the place is solitary, and the country,
still unspoiled, dips down southward to "The Mesh" and the sea, over
crumbling earthy cliffs, tangled with impenetrable bracken, blackberry
brambles, and hazel coppices. This is the especial district of that
fine prose legend, "The Leech of Folkestone" - "Mrs. Botherby's Story,"
as Ingoldsby names it. The place has ever been the home of superstition
and the miraculous. To quote Ingoldsby himself, "Here it was, in the
neighbouring chapelry, the site of which may yet be traced by the
curious antiquary, that Elizabeth Barton, the 'Holy Maid of Kent,'
had commenced that series of supernatural pranks which eventually
procured for her head an unenvied elevation upon London Bridge."
Although that eminent pluralist and cautious though fiery reformer,
Erasmus, was Rector of Aldington in 1511, and opposed, alike by policy
and temperament, to shams and spiritual trickery, the old leaven of
superstition worked freely in his time, and, indeed, survived until
recent years. Nay, more than that, these solitudes still harbour
beliefs in the uncanny. The district, as of old, has an ill name, and
the warlocks and other unholy subjects of Satan, once reported to make
its wild recesses their favourite rendezvous, are found even now, in
confidential interludes, to be not wholly vanished from the rural
imagination. The moralist, from his lofty pinnacle, of course condemns
these darkling survivals, but there be those, not so committed to
matter-of-fact, who, revolting from the obvious and the commonplace,
welcome the surviving folklore, and, plunging into its haunts, forget
awhile the fashion of Folkestone, Sandgate, and Hythe.

[Illustration: A KENTISH FARM.]

[Illustration: THE RUINED CHAPEL, COURT-AT-STREET.]

The allusion in "The Leech of Folkestone" to the "neighbouring
chapelry" is a reference to an ancient chapel of Our Lady whose
roofless walls are still to be found on the undercliff at the roadside
hamlet of Court-at-Street, situated on a little unobtrusive plateau
midway between the level of the road from Hythe to Aldington and the
drop to Romney Marsh. This, in those old days, was one of those minor
places of pilgrimage which, possessing only an inferior collection of
relics and being situated in out-of-the-way nooks and corners, could
not command the crowds and the rich offerings common at such shrines as
those of St. Thomas á Becket, and other saints of his calibre. It is,
indeed, a shy and retiring place, and the stranger not in search of it
and not careful to make minute inquiries would most certainly miss the
spot. It is gained down a short steep trackway beside the Court Lodge
Farm, and, when found, forms a pleasing and unconventional peep - the
delight of the artist, and at the same time his despair, because he
cannot hope to convey into his sketch that last accent of romance the
place owns. Here, where the track dips down and becomes a hollow way,
the great gnarled roots of the thickly-clustering trees are seen in
their lifelong desperate clutch at the powdering soil, and the trunks,
wreathed here and there with ivy, shouldering one another in their
competition for light and sustenance, form a heavy and massive frame to
the picture beyond - a picture of ruined chapel and sullen pool, fed by
landsprings from the broken cliff, and level marsh beyond, bounded only
by that insistent row of Martello towers, and by the dull silver of the
sea.

The story of the "Holy Maid of Kent" is intimately connected with this
chapel. It seems that in 1525 there was living at the cottage still
standing at Aldington, and called "Cobb's Hall," one Thomas Cobb,
bailiff to my Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, who, among his many other
fat manors, owned all this expanse of Aldington, then largely a hunting
forest. We do not know much of Thomas Cobb, but of his servant-maid,
Elizabeth Barton, we possess a fund of information, now humorous and
then tragical. Like Joan of Arc, Elizabeth Barton was quite a humble
and uneducated peasant-girl. Her very name is rustic, "barton" being
a term even now in use to denote a barn or cattle-shed. In midst of
her service at "Cobb's Hall" this poor Elizabeth is stricken down by
an extraordinary complication of internal bodily disease and mental
affliction.

Alas! poor Elizabeth - no longer shall you scour pots or cleanse plates;
no more for you are the homely domestic duties of the bailiff's home!

[Illustration: OLD SUNDIAL, ALDINGTON.]

Wasted by sufferings that all the arts of the purblind medical
practitioners of that time could not assuage, those doctors declared
that there was something more than ordinary in her affliction. Some
merely thought their science not sufficient for a cure; others,
anxious for the professional credit of themselves and the practice
of medicine, darkly hinted that here was an instance of demoniacal
possession; and others yet, listening to the half-conscious ravings of
the unhappy girl, took another view, and, devoutly crossing themselves,
averred that this was a visitation from God, and that she was becoming
possessed of a divine knowledge of things to be. A perusal of the
quaint and voluminous contemporary records of Elizabeth Barton's career
disposes one to the belief that her ailments brought on a condition of
temporary, but recurrent, religious mania. She had always been a devout
girl, as the parish priest, Richard Masters, was ready to declare;
but neither he, nor any of his time, knew anything of mania of the
religious variety, and when, called to her bedside, he saw and heard
her in trances and somnambulistic excursions, implicitly believed that
the "very godly certain things concerning the seven deadly sins and the
Ten Commandments" she was heard to narrate were inspired. Those who
had believed her demoniacally possessed were refuted by these pious
sayings. The Devil, it was obvious, had no part in these things, but
the Holy Ghost was working, through the medium of this poor peasant
girl, to great events.

That was a time when such manifestations were, from the point of view
of the Church, eminently desirable. Reformation was knocking at the
gates of Popery - thunderous knocks and not to be denied. The Roman
Catholic clergy and their religion were fast becoming discredited, and
it was necessary to bolster up it and them by any means. The story of
Joan of Arc, although a hundred years old, was by no means forgotten,
and it was thought that what the farm-maiden of Domrémy could do for
the Crown of France, this native product of Kentish soil might achieve
for the Catholic Church in England.

So Richard Masters, enthusiastic, took horse and rode all the way
from Aldington to Lambeth Palace, where the old and doting Archbishop
Warham, in fear and rage at the impious dealings of Henry VIII. with
Holy Church, received the story of this Kentish miracle with a hope
that something might come of it. A good deal actually did so come, but
not greatly to the advantage of Roman Catholicism.

"Keep you," said he, "diligent accompt of all her utterances: they
come surely of God, and tell her that she is not to refuse or hide His
goodness and works."

As a result of this ghostly advice of the Archbishop, Masters returned
and persuaded Bailiff Cobb that pot-scouring and scullery-work were
occupations distinctly beneath the dignity of one clearly the elect
of the Holy Spirit, and she was promoted immediately to the place of
an honoured guest in his house. At the same time she experienced a
recovery, and became again the clumsy, big-footed country wench of
yore. Meanwhile, however, the fame of her "prophecies" was bruited
about in all that countryside - the cunning Richard Masters saw to
that - and Cobb's house became a place of pilgrimage. Some came for the
merely vulgar purpose of having their fortunes told; others sought the
laying on of hands, for one so gifted could surely cure the ailing; and
all combined to make Cobb's life a misery.

None was more disappointed at her recovery and consequent descent from
supernatural heights to her former commonplace level than Elizabeth
herself, and she determined to simulate her former natural trances.
This iniquity seems to have been suggested by the Church, in the
persons of two monks sent by the Archbishop from Canterbury. Those
worthies, the cellarer of the Priory of Christ Church, one Doctor
Bocking, and Dan William Hadley - took her under instruction. They
educated the previously ignorant girl in the marvellous legends of
the old Catholic female saints, taught her to believe herself one of
that company, and coached her in all the abstruse doctrines of their
religion. In her recurring cataleptic states, sometimes real, but
oftener feigned, she re-delivered all these doctrines, and naturally
astonished those who had known her for ignorant and absolutely without
education, into a belief in her divine mission.

[Illustration: ALDINGTON.]

At this juncture it was thought desirable to transfer her to the
neighbouring Chapel of Our Lady, where she might not only work good
to the Church in general, but attract pilgrims and their offerings
to the shrine, which of late had been doing very bad business, and
was scarcely self-supporting. No one in our own times understands the
art of advertisement better than did the religious of those days, and
the occasion of her transference from Cobb's Hall to the Chapel was
made the occasion for a great ceremonial. She had given out that she
"would never take health of her body till such time as she had visited
the image of Our Lady" at that place, and, indeed, declared that the
Virgin had appeared to her and promised recovery on her obedience.

On that great day - the thing had been made so public - there were over
two thousand persons present to witness the promised miracle, the whole
concourse singing the Litany and repeating psalms and orations while
Elizabeth was borne to the spot on a litter, acting to perfection the
part of one possessed, "her face wondrously disfigured, her tongue
hanging out, and her eyes being in a manner plucked out and lying upon
her cheeks. There was then heard a voice speaking within her belly, as
it had been in a tunne, her lips not greatly moving; she all that while
continuing by the space of three hours or more in a trance. The which
voice, when it told anything of the joys of Heaven, spake so sweetly
and so heavenly that every man was ravished with the hearing thereof;
and contrarywise, when it told anything of Hell, it spake so horribly
and terribly that it put the hearers in a great fear. It spake also
many things for the confirmation of pilgrimages and trentals, hearing
of masses and confession, and many other such things. And after she had
lyen there a long time, she came to herself again, and was perfectly
whole"; and no wonder, for she was shamming all the while, with the aid
of a cunning ventriloquist, who thus spoke so sweetly of Heaven and so
horribly of Hell.

But this "miracle" so successfully imposed upon the people that she
was, without exception, regarded as a saint. The Virgin, on second
thoughts, personally desired her not to take up her residence in the
Chapel, but to take Dr. Bocking for her spiritual father, to assume
the name of Sister Elizabeth, and to proceed to the Priory of St.
Sepulchre, in Canterbury. The blasphemies easy to the Catholics of that
time could not possibly be better shown than by this narration.

Her progress of impudent imposture at Canterbury is more than
surprising - it astounds the inquirer. She delivered oracles, which
were printed and commanded a large sale, and to her, for advice on the
religious questions then agitating the realm, resorted many of the
noblest and best in the land. Of course, with the tuition and under
the protection of the Church, her opinions and advice were distinctly
against the King, whom she grew so rash as to threaten, on the question
of his divorce and re-marriage. Nay, more, she found it possible to
admonish the Pope. Sir Thomas More believed in her holy mission;
Catherine of Aragon, the divorced Queen, supported her; Henry alone
cared not a rap for her prophecies of disaster. She actually forced
a way into his presence at Canterbury, on his return from France. He
should not, she declared, reign a month after he married Anne Boleyn,
and "should die a villain's death"; but he married her - and nothing
happened. Strange to say - strange, after all we have heard of Henry's
ferocity - nothing either happened at that time to the "Holy Maid"
herself. She postponed the date of the coming disaster - put it forward
a month - and still nothing happened. Greatly to the surprise of many,
the King still reigned and seemed happy enough.

Meanwhile the most extravagant claims were made for the "Holy Maid."
Once every fortnight, from the chapel in the Priory, she was, amidst
celestial melodies, taken up to Heaven, to God and the saints. Her
passage to the chapel lay through the monks' dormitory, and, according
to the acts of accusation levelled against her, her pilgrimages to
that chapel were not altogether so innocent of carnal things as could
have been desired. Angels constantly visited her in her cell, and
when they had departed came the Devil himself, horned, hoofed, and
breathing sulphureous fumes, in manner appropriate. Accounts the monks
gave of this last visitor were, however, not always received with that
respectful belief anticipated, and so the Maid submitted to a hole
being burnt in her hand, to convince the incredulous that Old Nick had
come and attempted her virtue. It is impossible to quote the grossly
indecent monkish stories; but they are ingenious, as also was their
practice of escorting pilgrims to the outside of her cell when the Evil
One was supposed to be present. The visitors observed with their own
physical eyes, and smelt, with their own nostrils, the "great stinking
smokes, savouring grievously," that then issued from the crevices of
the door; and went away, fearing greatly. Later, when she was arrested,
a stock of brimstone and assafoetida was discovered in her apartment,
and these diabolical stinks found ready explanation.

She ran a course of three years' blasphemous deception before the
Act of Attainder was prepared, under which she and several of her
accomplices were arrested, found guilty of high treason, and executed
at Tyburn. That same Richard Masters who discovered her existence to
the religious world, Dr. Bocking and four others suffered with her,
on April 21st, 1534. Her last words have their own interest. "Hither,"
said she, addressing the people, "I am come to die. I have been not
only the cause of mine own death, which most justly I have deserved,
but am also the cause of the death of all these persons which at this
time here suffer. And yet I am not so much to be blamed, considering
that it was well known unto these learned men that I was a poor wench
without learning; and therefore they might have easily perceived that
the things which were done by me could not proceed in no such sort;
but their capacities and learning could right well judge that they
were altogether feigned. But because the things which I feigned were
profitable unto them, therefore they much praised me, and bare me in
hand that it was the Holy Ghost, and not I that did them. And I, being
puffed up with their praises, fell into a proud and foolish fantasye
with myself, and thought I might feign what I would, which thing hath
brought me to this case, and for the which I now cry to God and the
King's Highness most heartily mercy, and desire all you good people to
pray to God to have mercy on me, and all them that here suffer with me."

"If," says Lambarde, who was amused by the Maid's impudent career - "if
these companions could have let the King of the land alone, they might
have plaied their pageants as freely as others have been permitted,
howsoever it tended to the dishonour of the King of Heaven."




CHAPTER XI

FROM HYTHE TO ASHFORD (_continued_)


[Illustration: COBB'S HALL.]

"Cobb's Hall" stands prominently to the left of the road, after passing
by the village of Aldington, and is a very noticeable old half-timbered
rustic dwelling-house, now interiorly divided into two cottages. In the
upstairs bedroom of one may be seen the remains of a fine decorative
plaster ceiling and a strange pictorial plaster frieze surmounting a
blocked-up fireplace. This singular design is old enough to have been
here in Elizabeth Barton's time, and she must have been familiar with
its representations of Adam and Eve and their highly problematical
surroundings of queer birds and beasts, not modelled from the life, and
now, after centuries of wear and many coats of paint, so blunted and
battered that it is difficult to tell certainly whether any particular
plaster protuberance is intended for an elephant, a sheep, or a crow.

[Illustration: ALDINGTON KNOLL.]

[Illustration: BILSINGTON WOODS.]

To the left of Aldington, on a road through the alder thickets, hugging
the edge of the cliffs, is Aldington Knoll, a very remarkable hillock
rising boldly and bare from above the surrounding brushwood and
coppices. In the legend of "The Leech of Folkestone" it is described
as "a sort of woody promontory, in shape almost conical, its sides
covered with thick underwood, above which is seen a bare and brown
summit, rising like an Alp in miniature." To this spot it was that
Master Marsh resorted, at the rising of the moon, for his meeting
with the conjuror, Aldrovando. Barham well chose this legendary
Knoll of Aldington for that miraculous _séance_, for this is not only
a well-known landmark, but is the subject of much folklore. Thus,
the older rustics will tell how the Knoll is said to be guarded by
drowned sailors, keeping watch and ward over a gigantic skeleton with
a great sword, unearthed "once upon a time" by a reckless digger for
the treasure once popularly supposed to be buried here. Something very
terrible happened to that unfortunate spadesman, and since then a
general consensus of rustic opinion has left the Knoll alone. A local
rhyme tells how -

Where he dug the chark shone white
To sea, like Calais Light;

but that is poetic license, the prehistoric barrow - for such it seems
to be - that crests the Knoll is of yellow sand and gravel.

[Illustration: BILSINGTON PRIORY.]

Beyond, in a tract of country thickly covered with scrubwood, is
the village of Bilsington, with Bilsington Priory, now a farmhouse,
standing remote in midst of eight hundred acres of copse. It is a
grimly picturesque house, this desecrated Priory of St. Augustine,
and doubly haunted - firstly by a prior who tells red-hot beads, and
secondly by the spook of a woman who was murdered by her husband for
accidentally smashing a trayfull of china. The nightly crashings are
said by the most unveracious witnesses to still continue, but however
that may be, the place certainly is haunted by innumerable owls, who
roost fearlessly in some of the deserted rooms.

Away by the roadside is Bilsington village, its moated Court Lodge Farm
and parish church grouped together. It was Bilsington bell that struck
_One_! in "The Leech of Folkestone," and advised Master Marsh that his
torments were, for the time, over.

[Illustration: BILSINGTON CHURCH.]

By Ruckinge and Ham Street we come up Orlestone Hill, that
"Quaker-coloured ravine" described in the story of "Jerry Jarvis's
Wig." "The road," says Ingoldsby, "had been cut deep below the surface
of the soil, for the purpose of diminishing the abruptness of the
descent, and as either side of the superincumbent banks was clothed
with a thick mantle of tangled copsewood, the passage, even by day, was
sufficiently obscure, the level beams of the rising or setting sun, as
they happened to enfilade the gorge, alone illuminating its recesses."

The cutting is there to this day, but it must be confessed that neither
it nor the hill are so steep as that description would have us believe.
Here it was that the body of Humphry Bourne was found, murdered by Joe
Washford, demoniacally possessed and incited by the wig that Jerry
Jarvis, the scoundrelly solicitor of Appledore, had given him.

[Illustration: ORLESTONE HILL.]

From the little church of Orlestone that, with a picturesque black
and white manor house crowns the hill, it is five miles into the


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Online LibraryCharles G. (Charles George) HarperThe Ingoldsby Country → online text (page 9 of 16)