Lydford Bridge or The Maniac’s ;Leap
The night was dark, the rain fell fast,
And cold and piercing was the blast,
As at his utmost speed,
A trav’ller came, who seem’d to stray,
And now benighted, on his way,
Urg’d on his panting steed
At morn he left a moorland town,
And riding over dale and down,
Had scarcely slack’d his rein ;
For if his tir’d and weary nag
Relax’d his speed and ‘gan to flag.
He spurr’d him on again.
And as he held his rapid pace,
As if he rode to win a race,
The fierce and fiery glare
That lit his dark and piercing eye, –
The horrid laugh – the frequent sigh,
Procliam’d the maniac there.
But after crossing o’er Veale Down,
At length he enter’d Lydford Town,
Nor long he tarry’d here
But just his horse’s thirst to slake,
And only while he staid to take
Himself a glass of beer.
Then on he held his headlong course,
Still spurr’d along his jaded horse,
Until he reach’d the bridge ;
Where, down a hundred feet below,
You see the rapid river flow
Over the rocky ridge.
Here casting one wild look on all,
He spurr’d his horse against the wall,
A desperate spring to make,
But all in vain, – the gallant steed,
Who whip, nor spur, appear’d to heed,
Refus’d the leap to take.
Oh ! who can stop the torrent’s course,
Or who can stop the tempest’s force
When seeps it o’er the main ;
Or who can stop the wild career,
The offspring of remorse or fear,
That fires the frenzied brain ?
Render’d more desperate by his check,
He threw the reins upon its neck,
Himself from off its back,
Turning its head towards the town,
Gave it the whip to send it on
Their lately travell’d track.
The frightened horse fled up the hill,
And morning found it standing still
Before the cottage door,
Where, ready with fatigue to drop,
His master did a minute stop
After they cross’d the moor.
But whither has the rider fled ?
That lately through the street had sped
At such a fearful rate,
That thus his horse returns alone ;
Has he his hapless master thrown,
Or what has been his fate ?
Short was the pause that man had made :
His hat upon the ground he laid
And plac’d his watch within,
Then with a wild and frantic glare,
Tossing his arms aloft in air,
Sprang headlong o’er the linn.
An instant search commenc’d around,
And soon the hat upon the ground
Reveal’d the dreadful tale :
Then o’er the rocks some clambering down,
The mangled body quickly found
Fall’n deep within the vale.
And decently, without parade,
The village sires the body laid
Within the churchyard mould ;
While rumour, with her trumpet tongue,
Convey’d the horrid story on,
And this the tale she told –
That he a year or two before,
To hunt and shoot across the moor,
With friends from London came ;
Since then he had been made to prove
The sorrows of despairing love,
And that had turn’d his brain.
And still the house where last he stay’d,
Before the fatal leap he made
Over the foaming linn,
In memory of the dreadful deed,
And from the colour of the steed,
Is call’d “The White Horse Inn”.
A. Lady – 1857
Dartmoor Legends and Other Poems
Published by William Roberts, Exeter