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A Romance in the Dartmouth Family

British Isles Genealogy | Chapters From the Family Chest

     Some few miles from Huddersfield, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and on the borders of the ‘black country,' stands Woodsome Hall, an old-fashioned country house, which has been from time almost immemorial the property of the Legges, now Earls of Dartmouth. A propos of the old manor, there is a good story told by tradition in the Legge family respecting the sister of an ancestor of Lord Dartmouth, who lived some two hundred years ago. She was a grand old dame, and had outlived her youth and prime many years, and had resided alone in one wing of the house. Old Miss Susan, for such was the lady s Christian name, sooth to say, was very proud, and fond of having her own way, and in her own establishment she was perhaps more feared than loved. She lived in tolerable state, being rich as the world then considered wealth, though probably, at the rate at which we live now-a-days, she would be said to have had little more than a competency.
     It so happened that one of her body-servants, Simon Jenkins, in a fit of despondency at having so little, or rather nothing, to do---a fault of which modern retainers are not in the habit of complaining---committed suicide by hanging himself to the bedstead of his room, on the northern side of the house. The chamber in which this happened is still pointed out. The sudden death of Simon caused, as may be easily supposed, no little stir and consternation among the inmates of Woodsome Hall. A coroner's inquest followed in due course, and a solemn verdict of  ‘temporary insanity' was returned; so in due course he was buried in the parish church, within the precincts of her ladyship's park. The funeral, very naturally, was at once attested and attended by a large gathering of the household of which Simon had been so important a member. In the afternoon of the day on which the funeral took place (for Jenkins had been a great favorite with his mistress) Miss Susan commanded the attendance of all her domestics in her chamber, and when they were assembled, addressed them as follows: ' Simon Jenkins, as you all know, was a worthy servant, and knew and did his duty well. I was very fond of him, and much regret his loss. But I do not wish, and indeed I should be much afraid, to see him in the flesh; so, if anyone of you shall see him walking about the corridors, as suicides are often reported to do, I tell you plainly that he or she shall quit my service. And now you may all go.’ Her sermon ended, the proud old lady took up her walking-cane leisurely, and retired to her own chamber, where she probably seated herself in her high-backed arm-chair---I can scarcely call it an easy-chair---to take her post-prandial snooze.  And now comes the Nemesis of the story.
     One evening in the same week Miss Susan had dined alone, so far as guests were concerned, but with half-a-dozen powdered lacqueys waiting upon her in their full liveries, under the orders of the new butler. The lady took a nap, if the truth must be told, in her chair, and slept for half-an-hour or so, when she gave a sudden start and scream and rang the bell furiously. Alarmed at the violence of her ringing, in came the servants to hear what was the matter, when they found their mistress quite pale and haggard, her eyes staring wildly. It was with difficulty that at last they succeeded in composing her, when she sat up and said, in her own dignified way, ‘Let this room henceforth be ever kept locked.' And with that she went upstairs to her own bedroom.
     Whether Miss Susan had been dreaming, or whether she had actually seen Simon Jenkins again in the flesh, is one of those mysteries which will never be known, for the domestics stood so much in awe of their mistress that they were afraid to ask her. But, at all events, in spite of the threats of the old lady, the story was noised abroad, and the mysterious act of locking up the chamber became a topic of conversation in the neighborhood. What became of the lady herself is a question that has been often asked, but is known only to the family, even if it is known to them. It is often told by Lord Dartmouth to a circle of intimate friends and visitors to the grand old mansion under the title of ‘Nemesis, or the Butler's Ghost.’ And I may add that mine is the authentic version, for I tell the tale as Lord Dartmouth himself told it to one of my oldest and most trusty friends.
     The Susan Legge, whose servant's fate I have recorded, was probably one of the five daughters of George Legge, Master-General of the Ordnance, and also admiral in the British Fleet, whose name is known to history as the captor of Tangier. He was created Lord Dartmouth in 1682; and his son and successor, William, second baron, having filled many important posts in the government under Queen Anne, was raised to the Viscountcy of Lewisham and Earldom of Dartmouth in 1711.

Chapters From the Family Chests, 1887

Chapters From the Family Chest

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