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A STRANGE BED., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 350, 21 May 1881
A STRANGE BED.
One bleak December night, abouj the year 1823, I, John Newstead, coun-. try traveller for the wholesale drapery, firm of Marriott Brothers, Manchester, was making my way, on the back of rr\y steady, sure-footed grey mare Polly, across Sefton Moor, a stretch of wild and barren heath lying between the towns of Packerton and Sefton-on-the» Wold, Yorkshire. In those days, before railroads had taken the poetry out of everything, and when the knights-errant of commerce, ourneyed from town to town on horse-
f- ■- back or in gigs, there was a touu. o romance even in a ‘bagman’s’ life many an adventure had I met wiili in the course of my peregrinations through the Northern counties, along lonely country roads, down still lonelier country lanes, over wild hills, or across desolute * wolds ’ like the one I was now traversing. I had been collecting accounts for my employers, Messrs Marriott, at Packerton, cn the day before, and in the breast-pocket of my coat was a bulky leather pocket-book containing nearly two hundred pounds in gold and notes, which I was to deposit in the bank at Sefton on the morrow. My pack, together with the valise containing personal belongings, was strapped behind the saddle, and in the holster was a pair of pistols, indispensible companions for a solitary traveller in those days. . I had started from Packerton early in the afternoon, and should have reached Sefton before dark but for the accident of Polly’s casting a shoe, which had cost a tiresome delay at a little wayside smithy. Night was closing in before half my journey was accomplished, and 1 had the pleasant prospect of being belated on the heath. Sefton Moor, in its forlorn solitude, is a depressing place even on a summer morning, when the sun is shining and the larks are singing above the heather; but on a . winter night it would be difficult to imagine a scene more bleak and dismal, and, as I glanced at the dreary road before me, I felt my spirits sink to within a few degrees of zero. It was intensely cold, and the moon and stars were invisible, for the sky was shrouded in a mantle of fleecy clouds ; a chill mist gradually crept over the moor, and presently, to my dismay, it began to snow. Faster and faster, * thicker and thicker, every moment Came the great soft feathery flakes, till . all the air was tremulous, and I seemed to be shut in on every side by a con-stantly-descending white curtain, which moved with me as I moved, and never lifted for a moment. I had crossed the -heath more than once before in my , annual visits to the neighborhood, but ' , my daylight experience of the place was of little service to me now, when I could hardly see a yard before me. \Ve had plodded on through the Snow and mist for several miles, the way becoming at every step more difficult to trace, when I began to have an _ uneasy suspicion that we had gone astray, and wandered into one of the many cross-roads which intersected the heath. I remembered that the road I had traversed before was a gentle rise all the way ; I now found myself descending into a hollow, and in the distance I could hear the rush of a deep ' and rapid stream. ° . The path was full of ruts and holes, 'and the mare stumbled at every step; ; I drew rein, and was just about to j . alight and lead her, when an unexpected - plunge of hers saved me the trouble by pitching me neatly over her head. I ‘fell soft’—that was one comfort — rather too soft, in fact, inasmuch as I alighted ‘ all in the beautiful middle,’ as the French say, of a sticky bog; and •the worst of it was that this unexpected ; somersault so muddled my topographical ideas,, turning them all topsy-turvy in my head, that when I scrambled to my feet again I found that I had completely lost my bearings, and had not the remotest notion in which direction . lay the road from which I had strayed. , *As I stood hesitating, with the reins in my hand, trying vainly to pierce the ‘white darkness’ around me, and listening, to the stream, which, swollen by melted snow from the hills, was rushing between its banks with the noise of a mountain-torrent, I heard the ‘ distant bark of a dog. i I hallooed, but, receiving no answer, I resolved to proceed in the direction of the sound, hoping it would lead me to a house of " some sort We had floundered along ; the rough cross-road for nearly half-an-hour, when, to my great relief, I saw a light glimmering feebly through the snow a short distance ahead, and, on approaching, found that it proceeded ■ from the lower window of a house by the wayside, streaming in a long narrow ray through an aperture in the closed shutters. Finding my way with some difficulty to the front door, I rapped with the handle of my whip. There , was a sound of hasty footsteps within, the scraping of chairs on a brick floor, and then, after a pause, a man’s voice demanded, ‘ Who’s there ?’ * ‘A traveller who has lost his way. Qpen the door.’ After some rattling of bolts and bars the door opened, letting out a stream of ruddy firelight on to the snow, and the h figures of two men appeared on the threshold —dark silhouettes relieved against a bright background. ‘ How far am I from Sefton-on-the-Wold?’ I inquired. The men peered at me curiously, and the shorter of the two, who had a lantern in his hand, raised it to my face and took a long look at me, keeping his own features in the shadow. ‘ Sefton-on-the-Wold, sir ?’ he repeated at length, lowering the light, as is reassured by his inspection. ‘ You’ve come many a mile out of your way if you were going there. Why, it’s right a’ t'other side the moor. This is the Beckley road you’re on now. Beckley . cross-road it’s called, being a short cut to the town. ; ‘ Then Beckley is not far from here ? ‘Nigh upon nine miles, and a very bad road. Won’t you please to put up " here for the night, sir ?’ he added, after a pause. * ‘ This is an inn ?* I asked in surprise. ‘The Moorfowl,’ kept by Simon Blacklock,’ muttered the man who had not yet spoken. / ‘ Well, it ain’t exactly an inn,’ explained the other, who was evidently the landlord; ‘ It’s a sort of half-waj ‘ house. But we’ve got a good bed, anc a nice dry shed where we could mak< .shift to put up, the horse. Shall mj son take it, sir ?’ I hesitated. Remembering what 1 parrted aboyt me, I was naturally re lyctant to trust myself in a Strang! mn; but I was so cold and tired, am /‘tbe rpad Was so long, and the warmtl '' apd firelight were sp inviting, that ! decided to take advantage of th( shelter. * I will see the horse put up myself, . I said; * show me the way to thi stable 1 * My son will take you, sir,’ the land lord answered quickly. ‘ No, not you Reuben, i. Here, .Sim-r-Sim 1’ this summons a shock-heade<
!,: ' o! iivr'-en emerged from the house, and, taking the lantern from his father’s
hand, led me through a gate to the left cf the enfance, across a yard at the side, to a thatched shed, small, but dry and snug, already tenanted by a cow and a donkey, which were unceremoniously tinned out to make room for Polly. When I had seen her fed and made comfortable for the night, I shouldered my pack, transferred the pistols from the holster to my pocket, and followed my guide back to the house.
The front-door opened straight upon the kitchen, a spacious, low-ceiled room, with an uneven brick floor, and a wide hearth, on which a huge wood fire was blazing cheerily ; over it was suspended an iron pot, which emitted a most appetising odour. There was no other light than that of the fire, which filled the room with dancing shadows, and, leaving the far corners in obscurity, made it seem larger than it really was. As I stood on the hearth, unbuttoning my overcoat as quickly as my numbed fingers would permit, I took the opportunity of observing my host and his eldest son, who were busy fastening the heavy bolts and bars of the front door. Both were tall, powerfully-built men—-broad-chested, long - armed, bulletheaded. The father, who was the shorter of the two, might have been forty-five or thereabouts, but looked younger than his age, owing to his colorless, insipid complexion—hair, brows, eyelashes, and skin all seemed of the same dull straw-colored tint, and his eyes were of the palest shade of china-blue. He was obsequiously civil, and his thin lips were almost constantly distended in an ingratiating smile. The son, a surly-mannered, gruff-voiced young giant of one or two and twenty, had his father’s sandy hair and light blue eyes, without his smile. By the time I had noticed thus much the barring and bolting were concluded, and the landlord approached to help me off with my coat. Having divested me of it, he bade his younger son take off my boots, while he lifted the lid of the pot to see how the contents were getting on.
‘ This is an out-of-the way spot for an inn,’ I remarked, as 1 sat down and resigned my foot to the lad, ‘ dropped down in the middle of a moor, nine miles from the nearest town.’ (To he continued.)
A STRANGE BED., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 350, 21 May 1881
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