On the subject of great houses, I may venture to say, it has always seemed to me to show a singular lack of imagination on the part of some one that one legend should be forced to do duty for so large a group, and this legend so devoid of any stimulating quality. It seems to me that the legends of the country houses of England are, like all Gaul, divided into three parts. All through the south one is shown the room in the mansion in which Queen Elizabeth slept. There is scarcely a Tudor house in which that particular monarch did not sleep for at least one night of her life, and so highly cherished is this family tradition that I have known of cases in which she slept in a room at least sixty years before the mansion itself was built. Then around London one is constantly pointed out by local antiquaries the house in which Nell Gwyn lived. “Madam Ellen” certainly seemed given to “flitting.” A dozen houses at least are associated with her name. North of the Tweed we are confronted with the Mary Queen of Scots and the Bonnie Prince Charlie legends. Any story that fails to touch upon the vague history of the worthies whom I have ventured to name as presiding over each department of tradition, seems to be regarded as uninteresting. Although monarchs of quite as blessed memory as Queen Elizabeth must have slept in many mansions in their time, yet few rooms are consecrated to the memory of their slumbers, and although many ladies of the Court were quite as deserving of having their memory enshrined or ensign-ed in the name of a fully licensed public-house as Evelyn's “Impudent Comedian,” yet none seem to be regarded as so good a draw as Nell Gwyn. The chairs of Mary Queen of Scots are as plentiful as the mementoes of the other Stuart worthies. I myself have seen in a mansion an Italian cabinet which I was assured had belonged to Queen Mary. But when I asked for evidence on this point I found that there was none forthcoming. I did not get so far as to make such an inquiry in the case of a mahogany looking-glass offered to me by a foolish dealer south of the Tweed, who declared that it had been in the possession of the same unfortunate lady. It was not to me, however, that another dealer tried to sell a dagger that had once been worn by the Young Pretender, the proof of its authenticity being displayed in the roughly cut initials “Y.P.,” evidently the work of Bonnie Prince Charlie himself, on the leather sheath.

Generally speaking, I think it may be assumed that no monarch ever slept in a room that was not built until he had been dead for a hundred years. Fifty years should be accepted as the minimum for such an incident. And the probabilities are that no relic of even the most easy-going sovereign should be accepted as authentic that was not made within at least ten years from the date of his or her death.

As for the legends of the member of the family who was known as “the wicked lord” or “Black Sir Ughtred,” there is a tiresome sameness about them all, and most of them should be treated as overworn coins and called in. For instance, there is the story of the dreadfully wicked man of property—his portrait is usually in a panel over the fireplace in the hall—who provoked a neighbour of whom he was jealous to fight a duel with him after dinner one afternoon. They used pistols, taking aim across the table that bore the decanters and wineglasses, and the wicked gentleman shot his friend through the heart, but escaped the consequences of the fell deed by inducing his companions to announce to the world that the man had died simply of heart failure. The story is plausible enough, if you assume that the coroner and the sheriff and all the other authorities were three-bottle men, and it is easy to suppose that in the early eighteenth century such high officials might be so described; but there is no necessity to wind up the story by showing the visitor the mark that the bullet made in the linen-fold wainscoting of the dining-room. You see, that striking evidence of the scrupulous accuracy of the story makes it essential for you to believe that the fatal bullet passed through the worthy gentleman's heart and slued round his backbone before lodging in the woodwork behind him, and this is asking too much.

I do not suppose that there is a Parliamentary Division of any county in England that does not contain a mansion with a room in which this duel was fought. Upon one occasion I visited a lesser country house where I happened to know a duel had been fought in the dining-room in the eighteenth century. I did not venture to inquire of the owner if he had heard of that tragic incident: I did not believe that he had; but when I was examining a very spurious picture attributed to Canaletto, after admiring a dexterous forgery of a rocky landscape by Salvator Rosa, he drew my attention to a portrait of a “black-avised” gentleman in a wig, and the story of the historical duel came out at once.

“I must show you the panel in the dining-room that was splintered by the bullet,” said my host; and though I did not insist, he kept his word.

“It is said,” he continued, when I was looking at the imperfect woodwork, “that the fellow was so stricken with remorse that he would never allow the panel to be repaired, in order that he might be constantly reminded of his deed; and it's a tradition in our family that it is never to be repaired, so there it is to-day.”

I did not make myself objectionable to the family by assuring them that they might send for the carpenter any time they pleased without offending the shades of their ancestors, for it so happened that that particular duel was fought with swords and not with pistols.

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