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CHESHIRE SKETGHESl 4 I THE WIT AND WAYS OF A CHESHIRE VILLAGE. I By W. V. Burgess. XIX.* TRAMPS AND BODY-SNATCHERS. I (Copyright.) Some years ago, a sow having escaped Ironl Ctange Farm, made its way into the forest, and among tho brushwood formed a lair, where it remained undiscovered for several months. Meantime, it had given birth to a litter of young, whose wild instincts after capture wer-; so strong that no precaution was effectual enough to keep them within bounds A similar sort of instinct. seems to impel certain iudi- viduais to See the ties and styes of human ioi gatherings and take- to tho open. whence they are rarely, if ever, induced to return to the ways of ordinary society. Tramps may be found in every part of Europe. including that country whero Martin Luther tabulated their various forms of apparel and get-up nearly four hundred years ago. It is stated that, (here are sixty thousand of these mondioaiii nomads in Great Britain alone. A fair proporLior of this number infests the high- road between Oho.'tor and Northwich, and a few invade Mereham itself. Peasant, children have be "n met and stripped of tihoti- poor rags, women have been topped and lightic-ned of their marketing, and once and again a farmer lias been waylaid, robbed, and in some cases murdered. In the red coppice on Long'hoath a tramp was done to death by his companion for tlio sake of a puise, contain- ing a few coppers, tha viotim had picked up the previous day. Not. loikg ago a stack wa.i burnt dowu at the Blue Cap Farm through the carelessness or something woi-rve of one of these vagabond's. The man said lie had fall-on asleep under the loo of the rick, and his lighted pipe mu-4; have chopped fiom his mouth and ignited the straw. Ho pwved to bo a desperate character. Whilo the collar able was I-alcitig him. foolismy 1111- handcuffed. to t-i-ie nearest k?ek-up. he suddenly picked up a glass bottle lying by the roadside, and with it inflictfd a. terrible gash at the back of the offieei's head. He craped, but was rearrested shortly afterwards, and was sum- marily dealt with at the Chester Assizes. Two of such miscreants once attackixl me in a lonely stretch of one of the forest ro.ads, but being on the alert and possessed of a strong oak aapling, they received, though not of tbL. kind, eon.sid11ably moie than they bargained for. j Broadside tells that one of those "brassy faced chaps," as ho terms them, once called at the Ma.nor Farm, and imagining that there was I nobody about but the women, said, "Give me a drink o' milk or else "Or else what," asked Tummus, putting his head round the doorway. "Or olve a drink o' wate>r, sir." rnockly iteplied the tramp. Another, who was caught purloining fruit in Buflhell's orchard, upset a hive. of bees in his clumsy netroat, and. but for a copious dousing of warm water and ammonia, he would certainly have been stung to death. Ae it was, lie had to remain in Chester Infirmary for several months. It must not, bo supposed, liowever, that pro- fessionaJ tramps (why professional? Literally they are moll of a "calling") aie by any means all footpads. It may be remarked casually that gypsies and tramps regard nach oilier with con- tempt. and even hatred. The latter is (lie pro- duct of a species of reversion to savage life, the former is a more or less fixed type of a pu:ely nomadio elkiracier. When out on long ramb- ling excursions I have frequently oomo across tramps with whom I have shared my lunch for the sake of what. I could gather concerning their way whence and whither. The information thus gained is. as a rule, not much, and may bo false at that,, but the man wlio has taken to the road from choice and not from ostracism. has accumulated a stone of peripatetic phil- osophy not a little suiprising. I remc-mber one saying: "If birds may have feathers 'bout work suroly [ may have rags." Being reminded that birds did a lot of (lying in pursuit cf their living, he replied: "Not. more than I do trampin' in pursuit o' min." As for the merits of industiy. this man's opinion was like that of a certain other idler, who. being told (hat hard work never killed any man. replied "Then I'll take good care it never kills me Another time I fell in with one of these vagrants by the roadside. Ho had just. save the mark, washed his shirt, and that garment, in many shreds, was drying on a furze bush. Sitting near him. but not too near, for as a e;la"s they are unconscious to a degree of the viitue of cleanliness. I offered him a plug of tobacco. Though not a user of the weed myself. I find a bit of tobacco the best key possible to the hearts and confidence of most men. from keepers downwards. Soon th? tramp was telling me that his brat extended from Gloucester to Carlisle and t.hat he did the double journey twice a year. Some- times he found valuables on the road. Onoe he picked up a purse containing seven sover- eigns, and afraid of being searched by too police he hid it in the hollow of a beech tree. Returning for it a short time afterwards, the purse, all but, the clasps, had vanished! Safely enough, though, he discovered the gold pieces at. the bottom of the hollow, lie surmised that squirrels, who generally (-at the inside of their fare, had in this oase reversed their custom. and eaten the outside. leaving, in the tramp's opinion, "the better par! Another day luck awuited him Oil tho highway in the shape of a parcel of clothing. He bad not, proceeded far with his find before he perceived a constable close upon him in the rear. (bilee-ting his wits together, he turned in at the gate of the first house he came to and enquired if they had' lost, a parcel. It chanced fcbev had. and he received a substantial reward for his honesty (!). like- wiso saved himself from being chargodi with theft. I had heard a scone of such tales be- foro the tramp's shirt was dry, and at length when he began to don this piece of apparel he observed: "It's quite dry, governor, but not quito as dry as I am." I took the hint. and then my departure, striking across the fouest towards Mepebam. Gruesome enough arc many of the stories connected with (ramp and gyply life, but even tlvo wOrtt of there pale before the horrors of boily-snatching legends. It. it; believed that Joe Grioo formerly combined this employment with that of poa#ling. It is also eaid that, when his cottage was surrounded by the police, it was the prcwonce of a stolen corpse in the itou.->e that, determined him to become a self-destroying inoondiary. There was not a child in Meroham in those days but who would fly home in terrified hatibe at the mention of body-snatcher. Even the adults had an unfeigned dread of passing the churchyard late at night lest something might be. in progress, unlawful or supernatural. It is a fact of history that Mere ham's graveyard has been desecrated more than once by these nefarious hucksters in human remains, and for montlis together the peasants have been formed into vigilance bands for the protection of their dead. Is it Chesterfield who says Be virtuous and you will be happy, but devilish dull"? At all events there are, born of woman, some who can no more bear the humdrum of a law-abiding iife than a wolf can be trained to hobnob with a domestic pet. We're not aw intended 'o be p.iaim-.singers." I have heard Sammy observe, "its agon iiattir, to expec' it; there are ducklings for rats t' hunt and terriers t.' hunt thO rat* an' th' Alnioighty made um aw, as well as methodys and poachers. Folk conna help bein' what they are, an' ac- oordin' to script,ur if they act up to what they are an' dunna pretend to be summut e!so t hey'll save theiersels th' woe o' bein' dammed for hypocrites." It was by this code of morals that Sammy sought to extenuate the poaching habits of Joe Grice and his chum Abe Slack. When, for a long spell. Sammy was off work with a damaged linib. Jc- used to call now and again with a hare or a pheasant and say "Tak it, mon, they'll ne'er mini wheer it coonis from," and Sammy would salve his conscience by one of his own axioms. "Gie me koind-hearted roguery before close-fiMted God-blessedness." No excuoo, however, could Sammy find either in his own feelings or in (he Scriptures for Grico's body-snatching practices. He once related to me the following escapade:—A oer- The first of this series appeared in our isue of April 1.3tk tain young farmer, having died suddenly, was 1 buried at Tarpor:ey old Church, and Joe Grice and his friend Slack being hard up, decided to disinter the body and dispa^c of it to a Chester ptiysxian who had given dicia an order for.juoh a commodity. Without leave they borrowed Teethy'.s horse and cart and hy midnight were nearing their du^t.nation. Turning towarcU t.he church they pcrco.ved, the moon now ixung up, a figure lying acr<xs> thfe roadway, it proved to be a countryman helplessly drunk. An idea occurred to Grice, and whipping out a bottle of rum from his side-pocket, he plied the inebriate till he became absolutely unconscious. Then the two misereaiiifc bundled the unresisting Kan into a strong sack, tied it up, and placed it in the cart. In ievs than two hours this strange load was resting under the doctor's dissecting table in Clie-.ter. Joe and his companion, with several I gold coins in their possession, wero on i.iie point of departing, when the doctor -xciaini,xi ..Nlll"i! the corpse is moaning; why, i,'s -alive!" Aye," complacently assented Grice, yo I toid us yo wanted a fresh Uft, an' he's fresh enoo aw'1I be bun." I But," said the physician, "what must I do I with him? It wad a. dead subject I wanted." Weel, yo con kill him a? yo want him." replied Joe, and, getting into i, lie cart, the two (hove home in capital humQ" Old Sammy <<'tk another Mory how that one night, or early morning, he and a gamekeeper 'w(,.rt? coming throu? Harlord W(xx? from Whii?gate. and just bdore wtriking Dane-road they heard the found of an approaching veh cie. Stooping among the shrubbery, they awaited ¡if; I on-coming. Both felt, certain without a word parsing between them that it was a party of bodv-snatoilers either going or returning from their unholy work. In the faint light of dawn j they perceived, well covered though it was, a something which is rarely mistaken for anything else—a coffin Hold cried tho keeper, but. the man urged hitt hor.e on. Sammy, who was fifty years younger then, and a capital shot, fired. Tiie driver fell into the road. and the horse shying, plunged with its load into a ditch. The driver, who must only have been slightly wounded, and his two companions made off acrofis t.he fields. leavng their vehicle and its ghostly load behind them. In childhood's days I used to .-shudder in my bed when I thought of what might he happening among the quiet tombs. In later days I have Alit at the Ma.nor farm lattice looking across the meadows to where the grey stones stand calm and clear in the moonlight, and have wondered, if those stones had tongues, what tales they could tell of the despicable marauderingrt among the resting places of the dead One sultry August, afternoon I sat thus, and must have fallen into a light slumber, the church had faded, then the orchard, then the lattice, the call of the thrush was lost, and for a while it seemed as though I were not. Then s'owly tliero stole into my consciousness tlie 6tirge of vo ices, then of words: 0 beatific sight, no darkling veil between, They see the Light of Life Whom here they loved unseen." And looking across to tho churchyard I beheld a little black-robed throng circled about an open grave. Then the c-offin was-lowered, and again came the singing: "Lnt.il th.e break of day when His Almighty voice, Stronger than death, shall say, Awake- Arise- Re.joioe.' No wonder, thought 1. theeo villagers have a pious dread of the tomb-pillaging practices which brought so much consternation to Mere- ham and its neighbouring peoples a generat ion or two ago.




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