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Mary Anerley : a Yorkshire Tale   By: (1825-1900)

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by R. D. Blackmore




Far from any house or hut, in the depth of dreary moor land, a road, unfenced and almost unformed, descends to a rapid river. The crossing is called the "Seven Corpse Ford," because a large party of farmers, riding homeward from Middleton, banded together and perhaps well primed through fear of a famous highwayman, came down to this place on a foggy evening, after heavy rain fall. One of the company set before them what the power of the water was, but they laughed at him and spurred into it, and one alone spurred out of it. Whether taken with fright, or with too much courage, they laid hold of one another, and seven out of eight of them, all large farmers, and thoroughly understanding land, came never upon it alive again; and their bodies, being found upon the ridge that cast them up, gave a dismal name to a place that never was merry in the best of weather.

However, worse things than this had happened; and the country is not chary of its living, though apt to be scared of its dead; and so the ford came into use again, with a little attempt at improvement. For those farmers being beyond recall, and their families hard to provide for, Richard Yordas, of Scargate Hall, the chief owner of the neighborhood, set a long heavy stone up on either brink, and stretched a strong chain between them, not only to mark out the course of the shallow, whose shelf is askew to the channel, but also that any one being washed away might fetch up, and feel how to save himself. For the Tees is a violent water sometimes, and the safest way to cross it is to go on till you come to a good stone bridge.

Now forty years after that sad destruction of brave but not well guided men, and thirty years after the chain was fixed, that their sons might not go after them, another thing happened at "Seven Corpse Ford," worse than the drowning of the farmers. Or, at any rate, it made more stir (which is of wider spread than sorrow), because of the eminence of the man, and the length and width of his property. Neither could any one at first believe in so quiet an end to so turbulent a course. Nevertheless it came to pass, as lightly as if he were a reed or a bubble of the river that belonged to him.

It was upon a gentle evening, a few days after Michaelmas of 1777. No flood was in the river then, and no fog on the moor land, only the usual course of time, keeping the silent company of stars. The young moon was down, and the hover of the sky (in doubt of various lights) was gone, and the equal spread of obscurity soothed the eyes of any reasonable man.

But the man who rode down to the river that night had little love of reason. Headstrong chief of a headlong race, no will must depart a hair's breadth from his; and fifty years of arrogant port had stiffened a neck too stiff at birth. Even now in the dim light his large square form stood out against the sky like a cromlech, and his heavy arms swung like gnarled boughs of oak, for a storm of wrath was moving him. In his youth he had rebelled against his father; and now his own son was a rebel to him.

"Good, my boy, good!" he said, within his grizzled beard, while his eyes shone with fire, like the flints beneath his horse; "you have had your own way, have you, then? But never shall you step upon an acre of your own, and your timber shall be the gallows. Done, my boy, once and forever."

Philip, the squire, the son of Richard, and father of Duncan Yordas, with fierce satisfaction struck the bosom of his heavy Bradford riding coat, and the crackle of parchment replied to the blow, while with the other hand he drew rein on the brink of the Tees sliding rapidly.

The water was dark with the twinkle of the stars, and wide with the vapor of the valley, but Philip Yordas in the rage of triumph laughed and spurred his reflecting horse.

"Fool!" he cried, without an oath no Yordas ever used an oath except in playful moments "fool! what fear you? There hangs my respected father's chain... Continue reading book >>

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