Our most famous ghost story.
UPON a wild winter night, some centuries ago, the old man who plied the ferry-boat on Windermere, and who lived in a lonely cottage on the Lancashire side of the Lake, was awakened from his sleep by an exceedingly shrill and terrible shriek, which seemed to come from the opposite shore. The wind was whistling and moaning round the house, and for a little while the ferryman and his family fancied that the cry by which they had been disturbed was nothing more than one of the mournful voices of the storm; but soon again came another shriek, even more awe-inspiring than the former one, and this was followed by smothered shouts and groans of a most unearthly nature.

Against the wishes of his terrified relatives, who clung to him, and besought him to remain213 indoors, the old fellow bravely determined to cross the water, and heeding not the prayers of his wife and daughter, he unfastened his boat, and rowed away. The two women, clasped in each other's arms, trembling with fear, stood at the little door, and endeavoured to make out the form of their protector; but the darkness was too deep for them to see anything upon the lake. At intervals, however, the terrible cry rang out through the gloom, and shrieks and moans were heard loud above the mysterious noises of the night.

In a state of dreadful suspense and terror the women stood for some time, but at length they saw the boat suddenly emerge from the darkness, and shoot into the little cove. To their great surprise, however, the ferryman, who could be seen sitting alone, made no effort to land, and make his way to the cottage; so, fearing that something dreadful had happened to him, and, impelled by love, they rushed to the side of the lake. They found the old man speechless, his face as white and blanched as the snow upon the Nab, and his whole body trembling under the influence of terror, and they immediately led him to the cottage, but214 though appealed to, to say what terrible object he had seen, he made no other response than an occasional subdued moan. For several days he remained in that state, deaf to their piteous entreaties, and staring at them with wild-looking eyes; but at length the end came, and, during the gloaming of a beautiful day, he died, without having revealed to those around him what he had seen when, in answer to the midnight cry, he had rowed the ferry-boat across the storm-ruffled lake.

After the funeral had taken place the women left the house, its associations being too painful to permit of their stay, and went to live at Hawkshead, whence two sturdy men, with their respective families, removed to the ferry. The day following that of the arrival of the new-comers was rough and wild, and, soon after darkness had hidden everything in its sable folds, across the lake came the fearful cry, followed by a faint shout for a boat, and screams and moans. The men, hardy as they were, and often as they had laughed at the story told by the widow of the dead man, no sooner heard the first shriek ring through the cottage than they were smitten with terror.215 Profiting, however, by the experience of their predecessor, and influenced by fear, they did not make any attempt to cross the lake, and the cries continued until some time after midnight.

Afterwards, whenever the day closed gloomily, and ushered in a stormy night, and the wind lashed the water of the lake into fury, the terrible noises were heard with startling distinctness, until at length the dwellers in the cottage became so accustomed to the noises as not to be disturbed by them, or, if disturbed, to fall asleep again after an ejaculation of 't' crier!' Pedlars and others who had to cross the lake, however, were not so hardened, and after a time the ferry-boat was almost disused, for the superstitious people did not dare to cross the haunted water, save in the broad daylight of summer.

It therefore struck the two individuals who were most concerned in the maintenance of the ferry that if they intended to live they must do something to rid the place of its bad name, and of the unseen being who had driven away all their patrons. In their extremity they asked each other who should help them, if not the216 holy monks, who had come over the sea to the abbey in the Valley of Deadly Night Shade; and one of the ferrymen at once set out for Furness. No sooner had he set eyes upon the stately pile erected by the Savignian and his companions than his heart felt lighter, for he had a simple faith in the marvellous power of the white-robed men, whose voices were seldom if ever heard, save when lifted in worship during one of their seven daily services.

Knocking at the massive door, he was received by a ruddy-looking servitor, who ushered him into the presence of the abbot. The ferryman soon told his story, and begged that a monk might return with him to lay the troubled spirit, and after hearing the particulars of the visitation, the abbot granted the request, making a proviso, however, that the abbey coffers should not be forgotten when the lake was freed from the fiend.

No sooner had the visitor finished the meal set before him by the hospitable monks than, in company with one of the holy men, he set out homeward. As, by a rule of his order, the monk was not permitted to converse, the journey was not an enlivening one, and the217 ferryman was heartily glad when they reached his cottage.

The first night passed without any alarm, the monk and his hosts spending the dreary hours in watching and waiting. The following day, however, was as stormy as the worst enemy of the ferry could have wished, and, when night fell, all the dwellers in the cottage, as well as the silent monk, gathered together again to wait for the cries, but some hours passed without any other sounds having been heard than those caused by the restless wind, as it swept over the lake and among the trees. The Cistercian was beginning to imagine himself the victim of an irreverent practical joke, and that the stories of the spectral crier which had reached the distant abbey long before the ferryman's visit were a pack of falsehoods, when about midnight, he suddenly jumped from the chair upon which he was dozing by the wood fire, hastily made the sign of the cross, and hurriedly commended himself to the protection of his patron saint, for sharp and clear came the dread cry, followed rapidly by a number of shrieks and groans and a smothered appeal for a boat.

In an instant one of the men, with courage218 doubtless inspired by the presence of the holy man, shouldered the oars and opened the door, and the monk at once stepped into the open air and hurried to the lake, the men following at a respectful distance. The white-robed father was the first to get into the boat, and the ferrymen hoped that he intended to go alone, but he called upon them to propel the boat to the middle of the lake, and much as they disliked the task, as it was on their behalf that the monk was about to combat the evil spirit, they could not well refuse to accompany him.

When they were about half-way across the lake the wind suddenly lulled, and once more they heard the awful scream, and this time it sounded as though the crier was quite close to them. The occupants of the boat were terribly frightened, and one of them, after suddenly shrieking 'he's here,' fainted, and lay still at the bottom of the boat, while the monk and the other man stared straight before them, as though petrified.

There was a fourth person present, a grim and ghastly figure, with the trappings of this life still dangling about its withered and shrunken limbs, and a gaping wound in its219 pallid throat. For a few minutes there was a dead silence, but at last it was broken by the monk, who rapidly muttered a prayer for protection against evil spirits, and then took a bottle from a pocket of his robe, and sprinkled a few drops of holy water upon himself and the ferryman, who remained in the same statuesque attitude, and upon the unconscious occupant of the bottom of the boat. After this ceremony, he opened a little book, and, in a sonorous voice, intoned the form for the exorcism of a wandering soul, concluding with Vade ad Gehennam! when to the infinite relief of the ferryman, and probably of the monk also, the ghastly figure forthwith vanished.

The Cistercian asked to be immediately taken to the shore, and when he neared the house, the little book was again brought into requisition, and the spirit's visits, should it ever again put in an appearance, limited to an old and disused quarry, a distance from the cottage.31

From that time to this, the wild, lonely place has indeed been desolate and deserted, the boldest people of the district not having sufficient courage to venture near it at nightfall, and the more timid ones shunning the locality even220 at noonday. These folks aver that even yet, despite the prayers and exorcisms of the white-robed Cistercian from Furness, whenever a storm descends upon the lake, the Crier escapes from his temporary prison house, and revisits the scene of his first and second appearance to men, and that on such nights, loud above the echoed rumble of the thunder, and the lonely sough of the wind, the benighted wayfarer still hears the wild shrieks and the muffled cry for a boat.

To see an animated version of the story click here... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KGZhnWHg5w