The following quote is from Wild Wales, by George Borrow, a book that will be familiar to regular readers of this blog as it was the subject of the most recent Journals article.
I went back the way I had come, till I reached the little hamlet. Seeing a small public-house, I entered it. A good-looking woman, who met me in the passage, ushered me into a neat sanded kitchen, handed me a chair and inquired my commands; I sat down, and told her to bring me some ale; she brought it, and then seated herself by a bench close by the door….
“Are corpse candles ever seen on the bank of that river?”
“I have never heard of more than one being seen, sir, and that was at a place where a tinker was drowned a few nights after— there came down a flood; and the tinker in trying to cross by the usual ford was drowned.”
“And did the candle prognosticate, I mean foreshow his death?”
“It did, sir. When a person is to die his candle is seen a few nights before the time of his death.”
“Have you ever seen a corpse candle?”
“I have, sir; and as you seem to be a respectable gentleman, I will tell you all about it. When I was a girl I lived with my parents a little way from here. I had a cousin, a very good young man, who lived with his parents in the neighbourhood of our house. He was an exemplary young man, sir, and having a considerable gift of prayer, was intended for the ministry; but he fell sick, and shortly became very ill indeed! One evening when he was lying in this state, as I was returning home from milking, I saw a candle proceeding from my cousin’s house. I stood still and looked at it. It moved slowly forward for a little way, and then mounted high in the air above the wood, which stood not far in front of the house, and disappeared. Just three nights after that my cousin died.”
“And you think that what you saw was his corpse candle?”
“I do, sir! what else should it be?”
“Are deaths prognosticated by any other means than corpse candles?”
“They are, sir; by the knockers, and by a supernatural voice heard at night.”
“Have you ever heard the knockers, or the supernatural voice?”
“I have not, sir; but my father and mother, who are now dead, heard once a supernatural voice, and knocking. My mother had a sister who was married like herself, and expected to be confined. Day after day, however, passed away, without her confinement taking place. My mother expected every moment to be summoned to her assistance, and was so anxious about her that she could not rest at night. One night, as she lay in bed, by the side of her husband, between sleeping and waking, she heard of a sudden a horse coming stump, stump, up to the door. Then there was a pause — she expected every moment to hear some one cry out, and tell her to come to her sister, but she heard no farther sound, neither voice nor stump of horse. She thought she had been deceived, so, without awakening her husband, she tried to go to sleep, but sleep she could not. The next night, at about the same time, she again heard a horse’s feet come stump, stump, up to the door. She now waked her husband and told him to listen. He did so, and both heard the stumping. Presently, the stumping ceased, and then there was a loud “Hey!” as if somebody wished to wake them. “Hey!” said my father, and they both lay for a minute expecting to hear something more, but they heard nothing. My father then sprang out of bed, and looked out of the window; it was bright moonlight, but he saw nothing. The next night, as they lay in bed both asleep, they were suddenly aroused by a loud and terrible knocking. Out sprang my father from the bed, flung open the window, and looked out, but there was no one at the door. The next morning, however, a messenger arrived with the intelligence that my aunt had had a dreadful confinement with twins in the night, and that both she and the babes were dead.”
To read more about Wild Wales please click on the Contents link at the top of the page and you will find the article listed as Journals 8. All October, in the lead-up to Halloween, I am presenting a ‘Creepy History’ series, featuring extracts from old books that have been largely forgotten. Normal service (journals and snippets) will be resumed in November. You can keep updated each time I post a new entry by clicking on the follow button on the right of the screen.