The Candletree Graves Part 1
For my Grampa, Glyn ‘Big Tex’ Roberts
“Who dares approach the Candletree, speak up stranger for stranger you must be?”
“My name is Mayfield, Mr Mayfield. I am sorry, am I trespassing? It is just that I have become lost with the coming of night. I am anxiously seeking the village of Wrathsea. If you would be so kind as to direct me in the way of where this village lays, I will at once rectify any unwanted interruption or cause of mistrust, by simply leaving you as I came across you this dark night, kind sir.”
“Slow down that rapidly moving tongue and step into the light Mr Mayfield, untrust no longer lays upon your head since I have heard you speak. That is unless there is another voice with you, one which I have not yet heard, keeping silent beyond the edges of the shadows?”
“Oh no, I am quite alone Mr Umm.. I am sorry but I am not yet acquainted with your name.”
“Jim, Jim Corner is my name, now step into the light Mr Mayfield, come warm yourself by my fire.”
Mr Mayfield stepped forward into the red and amber flickering light that was being cast by Jim corner’s ever hungry little campfire and sat himself upon a wide log, which had he not sat upon, would probably have been the next course of the wooden meal to be fed into the greedy flames of the campfire.
Jim Corner threw a fresh stick, snapped in three places into the fires spitting red throat and then turned to Mr Mayfield,
“Why be you seeking Wrathsea, Mr Mayfield? I do not mean to be rude, it is just that I live at Wrathsea and it is seldom that we have visitors from any far off towns. By your accent and the cut of your garb I see that you are not from any place that I have ever been to and I travel most of the countryside around these parts.”
“I am from the town of Geraldine, far to the North. I am to become this Saturday, which is in two days I believe, the new publican at a tavern by the name of The Stoneloach and Stickleback.”
“Aye, The Loach”, half whispered Jim Corner, as if he were breathing out a lover’s name. “The Loach we locals call it.”
He fell into quiet thought for a moment and then said,
“About your directions, it be just under a mile to Wrathsea, but in this dark I am not so sure that you would strike it right, being a stranger to these parts and all, but I finish my watch at dawn, until then I don’t mind sharing the warmth of my little fire with you, and at dawn I’ll be happy to show you safely to the Loach myself.”
Mr Mayfield’s face lit up at this kind offer and he replied,
“Why, if I will not be in the way of whatever it is that you are watching, I would like to thank you for your generosity right now, Jim Corner.”
“Wait a minute now, enough of this Jim Corner, Jim will do.” interrupted Jim Corner. “And while we are at it, give me something shorter than Mr Mayfield to call you, I have enough trouble thinking long words never mind saying them every few minutes.”
“Well my christian name is John”, replied Mr Mayfield.
“Very well in my company John you shall from now on be,” answered Jim.
There then followed a silence which John Mayfield put to good use by removing a small smoking pipe from the inside pocket of his travelling coat. And with a half fire eaten twig which had been spat from the fire, he set light to the tobacco that he had just packed into the pipes little bowl. His gaze had been drawn down into the pipe just like the flame he had used to light it, when upon looking up he saw for the first time that Jim Corner was not as he had thought up until now, sitting back against a tree stump but was actually leaning back against a gravestone, and that he could now make out a similar marker of death upon each side of the seated countryman.
John Mayfield jumped quickly to his feet and exclaimed,
“What manner of place is this that we sit warming our limbs in the darkness of night? Is it a graveyard? You said that you were on watch, what is it you watch for? Is it the ghosts of the dead? Have I been conversing with a madman?”
“I be not a madman John,” replied Jim Corner unaffected by the other mans outburst.
“I am merely a watcher, I watch not for ghosts of the dead, but for something much worse than that. I watch for something that should be dead.”
Then he turned his head and pointed to a great tree that stood close behind the gravestone that he was leaning upon and said,
“I be watching for the last Tantrum!”
He then nodded as if the pointing of the tree and the word Tantrum, whatever their connection might be, should be enough to explain themselves.
There followed a silence in which John Mayfield realized that on his blind wanderings since night had began, he had neither climbed any boundary wall, passed through any cemetery gate, nor had he stumbled over any graves. In fact the first sign of a grave that he had seen this strange night, was the one that Jim Corner was using as a backrest.
He then tried to remember the first words which he and the countryman had spoke to each other, he could clearly remember what he himself had, but what was it again that rustic Jim had said. Something about a Candletree, and who dares, stranger you must be, ah and he had asked if there was anyone in the shadows with himself, and no more untrust since he had heard my voice. So he was watching for someone he knows by voice anyhow. Could this be the Tantrum that he spoke of, but what is a Tantrum, is it man, beast, spirit, ghost?
And that tree, that must be the Candletree which Jim had pointed to. John Mayfield realized that this meeting that he was having with Jim Corner was not dangerous and that if this countryman intended to hurt him, he had already had the chance to accomplish this when John was preparing his pipe.
Also the countryman had a large pile of firewood stacked by the side of him, although John was not a small man he would have stood no chance against a man wielding a log of wood at him, while he had pipe in one hand and tobacco in the other.
So he decided the chance meeting to be beneficial to himself. He decided Jim Corner to be one of two things, firstly a mad hermit whom the village people scorned and bullied, which would explain the man’s defensive words when first they met, already satisfying himself that the strange man meant him no harm. Would it not be stupidity to stumble off into the night again, when here was a fire he could sit beside until dawn came and he would then be able to find the road again without any assistance.
The second thing that he thought Jim Corner might be was a sentry sent by the villagers to ward off witches and the like from the village. Although John Mayfield was not himself the slightest bit superstitious, he had heard talk of these small minded village folk with their strange beliefs and customs, and if this was the case then this meeting would be of benefit to him by showing him just how serious the village people, of whom he was to become part of from Saturday, took these superstitions.
Also it would save him some embarrassment over the bar in his place of work when such things were discussed. He would now know not to laugh at the nonsense, as he thought it, but to keep his opinions to himself.
Therefore he decided to take back his place upon the log of wood which was still being watched hungrily by the fire, and if this countryman did start talking of witches, devils or Tantrums, as he called them, he would merely nod in agreement and try to look interested.
The countryman did speak again, but not of witches and devils, he inquired how John had secured a position at the Loach.
When a reply was given that Mr Mayfield had simply answered an advertisement in one of the lands most common of newspapers. Jim Corner wrinkled his brow and asked,
“But you know nothing of Wrathsea?”
“Well, what exactly do you mean by nothing?”, replied Mr Mayfield sensing the beginning of a ghost story.
“You have no distant kinsfolk here, nor friend or any kind of acquaintance?” enquired Jim.
“None at all, I am a single man who was staying in a small but pleasant hostelry in Geraldine. And when I received word that I was to commence my work in Wrathsea this Saturday. I was packed within the hour and was sitting comfortably within a carriage within the second hour.
All I know of Wrathsea, besides its location, in the light of day that is, is the name of the public house that I am to take over and the name of the gentleman that I am to take over from, a Mr Wicker!” they both said together.
Mr Mayfield paused while the countryman spat into the fire and whispered something under his breath, the only word distinguishable being the word Loach.
“And of what I have seen this strange night” continued Mr Mayfield. “Which gives my image of the village no greater appeal at all”
“But have you not heard the name Tantrum before this night or have you not heard of the Candletree Graves?” asked Jim Corner in disbelief.
“No, I have not!” replied Mr Mayfield.
“But if you wish to tell me a story of ghosts, goblins or Tantrums as you call them, involving trees and candles, then I am all ears. The night still has a few hours of life left yet and I am sure that a good story would make the morning run towards us at a much greater pace.”
“Hold on there John” said Jim Corner “I wish to say nothing to no one unless they wish to hear it. And believe me it is as real as that burning fire in front of you.”
And as if to emphasize this he once again spat, as only country folk know how to, into the flickering flames.
“Tantrum be a ghost story, no sir, though I wish that it was and it would scare you twice as much as any ghost story that I have ever heard, ghost story indeed. Tantrum is a name, a family name, I am sure that you have heard the expression the black sheep of the family, well sir, Tantrum was the black sheep of all the families of Wrathsea, that they were, and that tree that you can see behind me is the candle tree and these gravestones you saw earlier, well there be more of them, they circle the tree. All of them holds a Tantrum coffin and there be room for just one more, the last Tantrum, he be the only one alive. And that is why I am here tonight, to watch for the last Tantrum who disappeared twelve months ago. Each night one of the men from the village comes up here and watches for him, in case he comes back to visit the Candletree Graves or anyone in the village. In the beginning four men a night would sit around this here fire.”
He spat again but this time without pausing, he merely spat between words.
“But as the months dragged on it has dwindled down to one and that one tonight be me.”
With this he drew in his chest but upon hearing an owl hooting in the distance his pride and chest both disappeared instantly, and he quickly added,
“Not that one man be a match for this Tantrum, especially at night. No it be just to give the village warning.”
Upon saying this he raised his foot and kicked the pile of firewood out of the way of a black object about two feet from the ground in height and about the same in width. Jim pulled away the black covering and John Mayfield saw with the aid of the firelight a brass bell upon a small but solid looking platform.
Jim Corner then threw the black covering upon the bell and turned on Mr Mayfield a look of someone humiliated and said, “I wish to tell you no ghost stories John Mayfield, nor do I wish to help you through the night other than to share in the warmth from my fire. You shall hear no more of the family Tantrum or of the Candletree Graves from me, but you shall hear much more of them both at your place of work. The only other place they be talked of as much is maybe in the church, but I know more of the first than of the second of these places.”
John Mayfield rarely felt shame but he did now, he stood up upon his feet, walked over to where the countryman was seated and held out his hand and said:
“Please kind sir, take my hand and with it my apology, for what it is worth. I am an arrogant, narrow minded fool who has repaid a kind offering of warmth and companionship for the night and also a guide into the village in the morning by behaving like a child. I have called you a madman and then humiliated you by thinking that you wish to tell me ghost stories. I apologise Mr Corner, for the way this stranger, for stranger I am, has behaved since he has met you this night. I would like to remain at your fire and in your company for the remainder of the night, if the invitation still stands? And I plead with you to tell me about these Candletree Graves, as I am to become part of this community I wish to know everything about this wicked family of Tantrums. Speak up Jim Corner, kind sir, I now know that in your company the only ghost stories that I shall hear tonight will be spoken by the wind when you stop your tale to add wood to the fire.”
Jim Corner looked up at John Mayfield for ten seconds or so, but it seemed to Mr Mayfield to be much longer, then slowly Jim raised his hand and taking Mr Mayfield’s in his said,
“Sit down John, even in this dim light your face expresses your feelings more than any words you can speak.”
Mr Mayfield felt Jim’s hand slide away from his own, then he took a step or two backwards and once again sat himself upon the log that he had already used twice this night.
Jim gave a deep sigh and then said,
“I will try and tell you all of what I know of the Tantrums, it be as vast as the woodlands and with just as many paths to travel. I be not much a teller of tales, so if you will patiently follow if I start to wander along the wrong path for a while, and bear with me while I pause to find my bearings at times, I will try my best to lead you along the paths of this tale, right through to the heart and on to the other side.
In the village of Wrathsea the name of Tantrum be on everyone’s lips if something went missing, something was found broken or if there was a disturbance at night.
Even as far back as I can remember the Tantrum name would be cursed by someone or other. I remember lying in bed at night, maybe aged about five or six, and hearing one of them walking past the house singing, it would be about midnight and his voice would be slurred by his night in the Loach. In the morning the drunken man was talked of and cursed in the village. They were never liked at Wrathsea, although it was their home as much as anybody else’s, people say that they have always been there.
Many men return home from the Loach singing, in fact I know very few who do not, even my own father could be heard walking homeward from quite a distance from the house. It was just that the Tantrums be cursed the same for singing as for fighting in the village and I guess that they knew it too, for they didn’t seem to care what people said about them. They knew that they were not liked no matter what they were to do. I think that this built up a resolve in them from the start, for why should they keep quiet or apologise for any noise that they made, when nobody cared if it was purposely meant or not.
It is said that the first Tantrums were craftsmen, carvers of the finest degree, but that there was a curse upon them, which I have seen in the Tantrums that I have known, and that the curse being an unquenchable thirst for alcohol which leads to personal ruin.
Then two generations ago, on a dark and stormy winter’s night, a Tantrum was born by the name of Jason, he was a bad one from the start, even before he had taken his first taste of the bottle that would poison his life. This Jason then had four sons, which were not so much brought up as dragged up. They suffered badly at the hands of their father, their mother Jane was not much comfort to her children, when the father was at home which was not very often, Jane would be like Jason’s shadow, fixing his meals, fetching and carrying every little thing that he wanted and telling the children not to annoy their father even before they had spoken a word. She would be trying to give Jason no cause to lose his temper from the moment he stepped into the house until the moment he stormed out again. It seldom worked and when Jason did leave the house, it is said that in instead of comforting the children as you might expect, she would go upstairs and hide in the wardrobe and cry for hours until one of the children would knock upon the wardrobe door and warn her that their father was staggering towards home.
The Tantrums through the years had earned themselves the reputation of drinkers and fighters and with every generation their trade as craftsmen dwindled until it finally stopped with Jason. He took to stealing instead, he would steal food for his family, vegetables from other peoples gardens and it is said that he stole more lambs in spring than five families of foxes. He was whipped in the centre of the village on several occasions for house breaking and the like.
One day he was taken in front of the magistrate in the town of Highacre, which lays about ten miles the other side of Wrathsea. He was given five years for assault and robbery, his boys were now aged between eight and thirteen, they were shunned by the other children in school and were treated much worse by the village folk when they were in town with their mother.
You see, I do not believe that everyone who is bad was born bad, some of them yes, like Jason Tantrum, but as for his sons I believe that they were made bad. What with the way their father treated them and their mother passively watched as this went on, that is enough in its self to make bad ones out of the most innocent of children. Then add to this the five years that their father spent in prison, they were the most impressionable years of their pitiful lives. And the village folk turned upon them all the wrath, contempt and distrust that they felt for the father.
I suppose that is how it started, being cast out by the other villagers they sought revenge in the more annoying than damaging way that boys of their age would do. Smashing windows, letting cattle loose and the like, the eldest of the boys was Jeremy next came Anthony, then Jonathon and then Stephen or young Stevie as he was called.
When Jason was released from prison Jeremy was eighteen and a fine, well built man he was too. Jason was so impressed by how much Jeremy had grown and changed that he completely ignored his wife and other three boys and insisted upon taking Jeremy to the Loach.
From what people say of that night all hell broke loose, when Jason Tantrum and his eldest son entered the bar room in the Loach that night you could have cut the atmosphere with a knife. It is said that Jason acted towards Jeremy not as a father might to a son upon visiting the Loach for the first timetogether, but instead acted as if his son was a partner, someone to back him up if trouble started.
Trouble did indeed start and it was Jason Tantrum whom they claim started it and Jeremy did indeed back up his father when the trouble began, in fact it is said that they both fought back to back. The two Tantrum men, father and son could be heard singing their drunken way home that night as though they had just come away from a barn dance, even though they were both battered, bruised and bleeding.
But though the village folk awoke within their beds to the sound of the slurred singing, and though they cursed the two drunken men, some aloud from their windows, some quietly from under their blankets, they did not realise that even though they had not heard Jason’s voice for five years and that they had never before heard Jeremy returning from the Loach, that after this night they would never be heard again, together or alone.
It was an hour later that the screaming started, at first the people living close to the Tantrum house ignored it, the whole village was aware by now that Jason Tantrum was home from prison. But it was soon followed by screaming from the road, it was one of the younger Tantrum boys, it was in fact Anthony calling for help.
The first person upon the road and to approach Anthony was Parson Peters, by the time Parson Peters was able to calm down the hysterical Anthony enough to speak, quite a gathering of people had arrived. Anthony told Parson Peters that he thought his mother was dead and had in fact been killed by his father. With this the Parson asked for volunteers, eight men stepped forward instantly, enough was enough was the general atmosphere of the gathering.
When they entered the Tantrum home Jane was found lying at the foot of the stairs with a broken neck, she also had a boot heel imprinted into her right cheek. No one else was to be seen until Jeremy appeared through the doorway to the right of where Jane was lying.
Parson Peters asked:
“Where is your father, young man?”
“In there”, answered Jeremy, pointing to the door which he had just come through.
“He is unconscious, I carried him to the settee”, he added.
“And the boys, where are the boys?” inquired the Parson.
“The three of them are upstairs in bed”, replied Jeremy.
Just then Anthony stepped out from the crowd of men and into Jeremy’s eyes came rage.
“What have you told them?” shouted Jeremy.
“It was an accident, you didn’t see it, I told you to go back to bed, I said that I would take care of it, what have you told them?”
Anthony stepped towards his brother but stopped rigid before him, a sudden high-pitched scream was heard, just like that of a rabbit when it feels the foxes teeth sink into it.
Jeremy took a step to the side and in his hand could be seen a long, wicked looking blade, it was covered with his brothers blood which was running overhis hand and down the inside of his sleeve.
Then Anthony fell, he fell not like a person made of flesh, flexible with joints, no, he fell like a heavy wooden door that has just realised that it has no frame to hold it up.
Jeremy was over powered immediately and then his father Jason was carried out from the room where he lay unconscious. The villagers were taking no chances now that they had seen the Tantrums descend down the ladder of evil until reaching murder.
The two Tantrums were taken some way out of town and bound to the Candletree, they were guarded by the eight men while Parson Peters went back to the village to find some one to travel to Highacre to fetch a magistrate.
When the magistrate arrived, Parson Peters went with him to the Tantrum house to find out what they could from the two boys Jonathon and Stevie.
When they entered the house Parson Peters wretched, crossed himself and whispered a prayer, in all the struggle with Jeremy and the carrying of Jason they had forgotten about poor Jane and Anthony and there they both lay, mother and son, not two foot away from each other by the bottom of the stairs.
Parson Peters rushed outside where quite a gathering of people had followed him and the magistrate from town, the Parson called for some of them to move poor Jane and Anthony’s bodies to a more proper place of rest.
When Parson Peters and the magistrate went upstairs they found Jonathon and Stevie in a very confused and frightened state but after several minutes of reassurance from the Parson they began to relate what had taken place.
They explained that when their father and brother had arrived home, their mother had taken one look at Jeremy’s bruised and bleeding face and had burst into tears, she had then run upstairs to try and seek the sanctuary of her wardrobe.
But their father had half run; half fell up the stairs after her, Jonathon and Stevie were upstairs on the landing when their father had caught their mother. Jonathon and Stevie had run into their bedroom out of the way but Anthony being seventeen, only a year younger than Jeremy,had stayed there.
They then heard a few bangs and Anthony run into the bedroom screaming and climbed out of the window, they had not left the bedroom since, even though they had heard Parson Peters’ voice the night before.
At twelve o’clock midday of the very same day, Jason and Jeremy Tantrum were hung from the Candletree which they had been tied against for the murders of Jane and Anthony Tantrum. They were the first hangings to be carried out in Wrathsea and also the first bodies to be buried in unhallowed earth.
Jane and Anthony were buried in the churchyard but Jason and Jeremy were buried at the Candletree. They were not buried straight away; they were left to swing in the wind until the next day because the village men would not start to dig until they had gone home to rest and had then gone to the Loach to listen and to join in with the talk of the two men hanging from the Candletree.
Two years passed, it was quiet in the village, Jonathon and Stevie had stayed on at the house but they were no longer stealing, at least not at the present. They had started carving for a living, making just enough money to survive upon, nobody in Wrathsea would do trade with them so they would travel to Highacre to sell their wares.
It was there that they met the sisters Susan and Tracy Trotter, Jonathon was now eighteen and was a mean, hard looking man,Stevie, oh how do you describe Stevie, it was not simply his physical strength that unnerved people it was more the fury that seemed locked up within him. Everyone said that he had inherited his fathers nature and although he was only seventeen not many of the men in the village would meet his gaze. The past two years had been long and hard for these two young men but they had grown up stronger because of them.
Now the family of Trotter from Highacre consisted of the two sisters Susan and Tracy and their father Jacob. The mother had died years back along with the third child at the moment of birth. This had broken Jacob Trotter beyond repair and so at the time that Jonathon and Stevie had started to court his daughters Jacob was a shaking, emotional cripple of a man, whose only ambition in life was to obtain enough alcohol to forget about his life.
Of course Jacob had heard of the Tantrum family, I mean who had not in these parts, but the Tantrum brothers made sure to always give Jacob some drinking money when they visited, then he would scuttle off to a nearby tavern to get drunk and praise the Tantrum brothers to whoever would be patient enough listen to him. So in this way Jacob quite took to the Tantrum boys and soon started to look forward to them calling. Six months later Susan was with child and Jonathon was to become a father, two months after that and Tracy was with child and Stevie was also to become a father.
They decide that the house in Highacre was too small for the growing family, so the Trotters house was sold and the two pregnant sisters along with their father joined the Tantrum household in Wrathsea. The day that they moved in Jacob took Jonathon and Stevie to the Loach to celebrate the expected births, the joining of the families and the sale of the Trotters house, that celebration lasted for many years.”
Mr Mayfield’s gaze had been fixed upon the campfire when Jim Corner had began to relate his story but as Mr Mayfield had gotten more and more wrapped up within the countryman’s tale his eyesight had slowly but surely unfocused until the fire was nothing more than an orange background to the images that John Mayfield’s mind brought forth.
Suddenly the fire rushed towards him or so it seemed, in fact his eyes had only focused once more but in such a fashion that made him jump for a moment. The cause of this was simply Jim Corner no longer speaking, when Mr Mayfield turned to him, he was scratching at his bearded chin with one hand and drinking out of a white bottle with the other. When he had finished his long pull upon the bottle, he offered the same bottle to Mr Mayfield, John accepted, when the bottle was handed to him he noticed that it was not white but that it was in fact bound with a pale string, obviously to prevent breakages upon such nights as this, John mused to himself.
Then Jim Corner started to speak again, whilst retrieving back the bottle, that John had just lowered from his lips.
“From now on, I will no longer have to tell you other peoples tales from before I was born, but instead shall tell you of what I remember as a child growing up in the same village as the Tantrums.
It is a few years on since we just left the tale, so I will quickly explain the main events in between. Susan gave birth to a boy and later gave birth to a girl a and also to another boy, the names which were Craig, Molly and Richard. Tracy also gave birth to a boy and later gave birth to a second and third son, the names of which were Mark, Gareth and Danny.
It is here that I start remembering the story for myself for I am the same age as Danny Tantrum, we were in the same class at school.
My first recollection of Danny is as a small boy, shy, skinny and grubby looking, when I say grubby I do not actually mean dirty, more of a grubbiness you obtain from constant activeness. Whenever you saw Danny no matter where it was or where he had come from, he always looked like he had climbed over every tree gone through the middle of every bush and under every hedgerow to arrive where he was.
He was quite a loner of a boy, even though not many of the other children wanted to bother with one of the Tantrums, he seemed to prefer to wander off at playtime rather than try to make friends or join in with the games. He would walk over to the bushes at the other side of the school green and disappear until the school bell sounded again, or he would sit a few feet away from the school building wall and look up at the house sparrows building nests. He would sit there as quiet as a mouse watching his feathered friends while the other children played noisily around him. He would miss quite a lot of school and sometimes I would think that he was really lucky, but then a couple of days later I would change my mind when he came back to school with bruises and marks upon his face.
It was not until a few years later that I realised that when he missed school it was always after a night when the Tantrum household was aflame with shouting and swearing and the sound of things breaking.
On the way to school the next day you could hear people in the village talking about “Them Damn Tantrums!” every time you passed anyone.
For my part I was scared of the grown up Tantrums Jonathon and Stevie and if I came across one walking down the road I could not have been more frightened than if I had been in the woods alone and a Troll had stepped out in front of me.
As for Danny I thought of him as a quiet, shy boy, who I spoke to sometimes if I bumped into him on the hills, that is unless his brother Mark was with him.
Mark was an “Evil Little Monster!” as my mother used to call him he would walk around kicking cats and spitting at dogs, he was the oldest of Danny’s brothers.
The other brother Gareth did not seem to be anyone in particular really, it kind of depended who he was with at the time. If he was with Danny, he would be as happy as Danny watching the birds but if Mark came along he would join in with Mark throwing stones at the birds.
Danny’s eldest cousin Craig was a close friend of Mark, in fact the village folk used to call them “Partners In Grime”, Craig’s younger brother Richard was also fond of the wildlife kingdom, so he was often to be found with Danny at the weekends, up on some hill or in some stream. The only girl, Molly was shy like Danny, only not quite so much, Danny’s shyness seemed almost painful at times.
Molly was rarely to be seen outside of the house unless she was trailing behind her mother. It seems a funny thing to remember but I always remember her boots, she always had the same kind of boots and they always looked two sizes too big for her, she really was quite comical to look at.
It was a day after my twelfth birthday when they hung the next Tantrum, this Tantrum was Jonathon; they also hung a man with a name other than Tantrum, this man was Jacob Trotter the first and only man to be hung at the Candletree not born a Tantrum. Apparently Jacob and Jonathon were playing cards in the Loach, Stevie had been with them earlier but had since gone home, it seemed that Jacob’s gambling disease had only been able to spread as far as Jonathon.
On this day Jacob had been caught cheating twice, the first time by the very landlord himself. The second man Jacob tried to cheat was Jack Brummer, Jack Brummer was a big lad, a field worker, when he saw that Jacob was cheating he stood up, leaned across the table and slapped Jacob across the face, all in one fluid motion.
But as the word cheater was half way out of Jack Brummer’s mouth, Jonathon Tantrum struck him from behind. It was with a wooden barstool, right in the centre of his back, as Jack Brummer collapsed onto the table Jacob smashed his bottle and rammed it into the left side of Jack Brummer’s face and neck.
There followed an absolute riot before Jacob’s bottle was taken from him, he had slashed Dai Tumbles face who had not actually done anything but just happened to be in reach. It took five or six men to finally overpower Jonathon Tantrum but not until he had badly hurt several people.
Jacob Trotter and Jonathon Tantrum were half dragged, half carried to a barn where they were both chained to a wooden beam while a magistrate was sent for from Highacre. Doctor Johnson happened to be in the Loach that night and was suffering with a badly bruised eye as a result of Jonathon Tantrum’s lashing out.
Jack Brummer having lost so much blood had become unconscious, Doctor Johnson stitched him up the best he could and asked that he be carried home, declaring that the wound was deep and that he was not sure if the man would survive, only morning would tell.
But morning did not tell, because it was not two hours later that Mrs Brummer could be heard screaming the whole length of the village.
She was crawling up the middle of the road, her face covered in a mixture of her dead husbands blood, her own tears and dirt from the road, it was Parson Peters who lifted her up and carried her inside.
In the morning the magistrate arrived and accompanied by ten men and Parson Peters walked to the Tantrum home.
When they arrived at the house Susan let them in, she was asking for news of her husband and father, Tracy and herself had been worried that there had been an accident.
It seemed that the Tantrum household was the only one in the village which was unaware of the happenings of the night before.
Without answering Susan’s enquiries Parson Peters asked where Stevie was, Susan pointed to the living room, when they entered Stevie was found sleeping upon the settee still clutching the bottle that had put him to sleep the night before.
He was shackled immediately and Susan and Tracy were called into the room, Parson Peters then went into the kitchen to distract the young ones who were sitting down to breakfast.
The magistrate then informed Stevie of what had taken place the night before, Susan upon hearing the news became hysterical and had to be restrained. Tracy did not like the way in which Susan was being restrained so she became hysterical and also had to be restrained.
Stevie said or did nothing, he sat there in silence staring the magistrate straight in the eyes while listening carefully to every single word until the magistrate had finished.
Two men were to be left to watch over Stevie while the hangings were taking place, two men seemed to be enough since Stevie was shackled.
As the rest turned to walk out of the room Stevie spoke for the first time, he seemed to hiss rather than speak the words,
“Is it you men who have just stood before me who are to murder my brother and father in law?”
“We are indeed the men who are to see justice done!” answered the magistrate.
“Well then”, replied Stevie with a bitter smirk, “I am glad that you have all shown yourselves to me for I now know the names and faces of you all!”
The magistrate, Parson Peters and the eight men walked back to the barn where Jacob Trotter and Jonathon Tantrum were chained up. The chains were removed from the wooden beam but were left upon the wrists and ankles of the prisoners, the eight volunteers were split up into two groups, four men to one chain and in this fashion the prisoners were led to the Candletree. There were no prayers or sermons from Parson Peters, the nooses were placed over the head of each of the prisoners, tightened at the neck and then they were pulled up into the wind.
It had started raining heavily when they had started their journey from the barn, thunder and lightning were ripping the sky apart while Jonathon Tantrum and Jacob Trotter were giving their last suspended struggles.
The graves had not been prepared and because of the weather the two bodies were taken back to the barn and placed into coffins of simple design.
A man was left outside the door of the barn to watch over them until the rains stopped, Stevie and the rest of the Tantrum family would be kept within their home until the coffins had been buried at the Candletree.
Later in the afternoon of the same day the rains had stopped enough for the burials to continue, Parson Peters and the other men arrived at the barn without the magistrate, the magistrate had left for Highacre, his job being completed by the actual hangings.
Toby Thomas was suddenly awoken by Parson Peters, Toby was the man who had been left to watch the barn.
“What in God’s name have you been doing?” cried the Parson lifting an empty cider flagon from near Toby’s feet.
“Oh, come on Parson”, answered Toby. “You wouldn’t begrudge me a little refreshment while I sat here would you, after all it is only dead bodies that I am watching, it’s not like they are going to escape, and Stevie’s being watched up at the house so I didn’t think anyone would mind!”
Parson Peters shook his head and replied:
“Just pick yourself up off that stool and open that barn door so we can get this unholy task over with”.
There was a general mumble of approval from the men around him but when Toby stood up and faced the barn he saw that the bolt was open.
He turned to Parson Peters and pointed, the Parson gave a cry and they all rushed through the barn door, to everyone’s surprise nothing was different within the barn, the coffins were both where they had been left.
“The roof!” shouted Parson Peters and he pointed to the far end of the barn where a pair of feet could be seen just disappearing. They all ran out of the barn and split up, half going one way around the barn the other half taking the other side of the building, but not a soul was to be found anywhere.
“As this happened while you were on watch Toby”, said the Parson. “You must be the one who runs over to the Tantrum home and finds out which of the boys it was, for they were boys feet as you all saw. One of them must have climbed out of a window and come for a last look at his father, we will go onto the Candletree and we will meet you there”.
They had just finished digging the graves when Toby arrived back at the Candle Tree. “It’s Craig and Molly!” panted Toby. “The two of them went to fetch firewood and never returned, they didn’t like to leave Stevie so no one went to look for them, besides they’re only two kids”.
“Aye”, sighed Parson Peters. “It is as I said before they must have come to take a last look at their father, poor little souls, they must be hiding around their home right now waiting for a chance to sneak back in.”
The coffins were lowered into the graves and silently covered over, the stone men would arrive in a day or two and put in place the two new gravestones.
The party of men walked back to the Tantrum house to collect the two men who had been left to watch Stevie, each had his own enjoyable thought of soon going home or to the Loach.
When they arrived Parson Peters entered
the room where Stevie and the two men on guard were, he noticed Craig standing by the fireplace, when Craig turned around and saw the Parson he started shouting,
“Murderer, you Murderer!”
Parson Peters crossed the room and took hold of the boys shoulder and quietly said, “Now calm down Craig, I can understand your feelings but all of this ranting and raving will solve nothing.”
“Yeah!” sneered the youth bravely through tears.
“And what will you do to me if I do not stop, will you hang me like my father or just lock me up with my sister?”
Parson Peters ignored the boys first example but questioned his second.
“What do you mean lock you up with your sister, she climbed out of the roof with you didn’t she?”
“No she did not” answered Craig. “She was still in the barn”.
“That can’t be so”, replied the Parson confused. “The barn is empty!”
“I tell you”, repeated Craig, “she was in the barn, we sneaked in when Toby was sleeping, we opened the first coffin and there lay our father, we did not take the lid off we just slid it halfway down.
We had not been there long when we heard you outside, Molly was hugging our father, I told her to run but she just stayed there with her head on his breast crying. So I ran to the ladder and climbed out of the roof,she must have been the first thing you all saw when you entered, you must have locked her up somewhere!”
“Oh my God!” exclaimed Parson Peters and he rushed out of the room with Stevie screaming after him,
“If anything has happened to our Molly I’ll set all of hell loose upon this damned village!”
Half an hour later Jonathon Tantrums coffin was once more above ground, Parson Peters knelt down upon the damp earth and slid down the lid of the coffin, he gave a gasp, crossed himself and started to pray, tears running
through his fingers as he did so.
There within the coffin with her arms around her fathers swollen, bruised neck lay Molly she was as white as snow, she was dead.
Jonathon Tantrum’s body was once again buried at the Candletree but Molly was taken to the church, where Parson Peters spent the rest of the day praying over her body. She was buried at dawn in the churchyard next to her grandmother Jane and her uncle Anthony, the age recorded upon her gravestone was thirteen.
In every man’s life, no matter how rich or poor he may be, there comes a time of despair and this was Parson Peters time.
He walked away from Molly’s grave that day a shadow of the man that he used to be, for the next few days he stayed in prayer either within the church or at Molly’s graveside. He wanted no visitors except for the return of the messenger that he had sent away the day of Molly’s funeral.
Within a few days more the messenger retuned, the day after this the village people were called to the church. To everyone’s surprise Parson Peters was not present there was only his assistant Arthur Wood.
Arthur explained that Parson Peters had left for the monastery at Southhaven, which is thirty miles or so away from Wrathsea, and that he had left Arthur Wood to carry on at the church until his return.
The Parson expected to be away for some months as the whole episode with Molly had completely knocked the stuffing out of him, he needed to ask God’s forgiveness and retreat from all other responsibilities for the time being.
The village folk left the church like frightened sheep, everyone knew what they had done; they also knew that they had planted the seeds of hatred within the hearts of the remaining Tantrum’s and that one day they would
have to reap what they had sown.
Fear ran through them all, after all the most feared Tantrum Stevie was still alive; Craig and Mark were soon to be approaching manhood and Richard, Gareth and Danny would not be far behind them.
Although a sense of dread was upon the village for a few more months after the hangings of Jonathon and Jacob and the poor undeserved death of Molly, nothing much happened. Stevie stopped visiting the Loach, instead Tracy would come in the back entrance and buy all kinds of drink that she and Danny would carry home.
The thieving started again, in fact it had never stopped, it was just that now it was happening more regularly, the Loach was broken into one night, not a sound was heard but in the morning the theft was discovered.
Some of the villagers wanted to join together to go up and search the Tantrum house but others said it would be no good because nothing could be proved, Tracy had been coming down to the Loach for weeks now buying all kinds of drink. If there was any drink up at the house it could easily be this as no one had actually seen Stevie drinking it.
As for money the village had long stopped doing trade with the Tantrum family, they had been travelling to Highacre to do business for years now, so how were the villagers to know how much money was in the house or not, so things were left as they were.
It was about a twelve month later, much longer than had been expected, that word was heard from Parson Peters, it seemed that he was travelling back and would arrive in Wrathsea before the end of two days. Alas, the two days came and went and there was still no sign of the Parson, on the third day young Joshua the shepherd ran into the Loach shouting,
“The Candletree, the Candletree!”
The folk in the Loach tried to calm him down for he was nearly hysterical but he was back out of the door like a racing dog, a big crowd of people were upon the road in seconds following the whippet like young man.
When the Candletree was in sight the crowd saw that a man was silhouetted against the sky directly beneath the hanging branch, the crowd ran towards the Candletree now at a greater pace, as the village folk drew nearer the women started screaming, it was Parson Peters hanging from the Candletree.
Now whether the Parson had committed the sin of taking his own life to be with his God or whether someone else had committed the sin to send him to his God, there was much speculation upon. But like the burglary of the Loach nothing could be proved, for the shepherd Joshua had seen no one by or anywhere near the Candletree when he first discovered the body of Parson Peters.
There was a magnificent funeral for Parson Peters, fellow men of the cloth from the monastery at Southhaven came as did the magistrates from Highacre and of course all of the folk of Wrathsea were present. That is except for the Tantrum family but a wreath was found upon the step of the church made of
dead wild flowers and the message upon it read:
“Thy will, will be done”.
Life in the village was very strange for the next few weeks, people looked nervous; it was as if everyone was waiting for something bad to happen and besides this the village folk were of course still very much in mourning over Parson Peters death.
They mourned him because they loved him, he had
become a part of everyone’s family but there was more to it than that, they also mourned him because he was God’s messenger and everyone respected and looked up to him. I think that they all found strength when he was around, sure there was Arthur Wood, Parson Peters assistant, who had stepped into the place of Parson Peters in Wrathsea but I think that even Arthur Wood himself felt unsure of himself doing the job that the greatly loved Parson Peters had done.
Shortly however, surprisingly good news came, news which lifted the hearts and hopes of the people of Wrathsea, the news came from Highacre that Stevie Tantrum had been caught robbing a stagecoach just outside of Highacre, he had been sentenced to five years imprisonment.
By the afternoon of the same day that the good news arrived, Wrathsea seemed a different place; it was as though spring had arrived, only not to the trees and rose bushes but to the people themselves.
Everybody’s mood and face seemed to blossom, bloom and glow with sunshine, it was quite strange to see so many people smile at once, as this had not been the case for such a long time.”
Jim Corner yawned, stretched and then reached down once more for his bottle, he took a long pull upon it and offered it once more to Mr Mayfield. Mr Mayfield shook his head in reply, so the country man took a second pull upon the bottle which seemed to drain it dry, he then held the bottle out in front of himself and turned it upon its side, he seemed to look at it with a sort of contempt, as if the bottle now empty was a stupid useless thing which annoyed him.
With a quick movement of his arm he cast the bottle to the ground where it landed with a dull thud, to Mr Mayfield’s relief upon the empty bottle disappearing from view so did the irritation that had been so openly shown in the countryman’s face.
Jim Corner turned and smiled at Mr Mayfield, then rose to his feet and started to add more wood to the fire. Mr Mayfield put good use to this time by again filling his smoking pipe, he started to rock back and forth after lighting his pipe and looked skyward into the night.
The stars within his sight disappeared for two or three seconds at a time depending upon the size of the puff that he gave to his pipe, but as quickly as they vanished they once again appeared when the grey silken mist of smoke wafted away again.
Jim Corner took his seat once more then turned to Mr Mayfield and said:
“Well John, I am going to have to skip a few years I am afraid, because to say the truth nothing much happened involving the Tantrum family apart from a bit of petty thieving. By about two years Susan was a drunkard which in itself is strange because the women of the Tantrum family do not drink as a rule; I suppose that it is because they spend most of their time looking after the drunken men of the house. But since Jonathon, Molly and her father’s deaths she had started drinking and within a month she was drinking everyday. She could not come to terms with the deaths, we used to see her in the village
in all sorts of drunken states, quite often in the morning also. But after a while Tracy got fed up with having to carry her home, so she kept her in the house and went out to fetch drink for her, so she was hardly seen again.
Things drifted on much the same for another couple of years until the arrival of Magdalaine, ah Magdalaine, such a sweet girl, the purest, freshest thing that you could ever hope to lay your eyes upon. Just to glimpse her about the village would caress your heart and leave you in such a happy mood for the rest of the day, that no one you met could darken your thoughts.
She moved to the village with her father, who was a shoemaker,when the old village shoemaker died he left no kin or apprentice to take over for him. So when the position was left open the Parson Arthur Wood met Magdalaine and her father Joe on one of his visits to Southhaven. The Parson informed them of the vacant position and within a fortnight they both moved to Wrathsea and set up shop.
I swear the first couple of months I spent more money in that shoe shop than anywhere else, breaking off my boot heels just for an excuse to go back and have them fixed, so that if I was lucky I might catch a glimpse of Magdalaine’s sweet face.
It was not long before I was feeling more than fond of Magdalaine, to say the truth I was quite in love with her, but one day to my horror, I was walking home to the village when I saw her at the Candletree and there with her was Danny Tantrum. My heart felt as though it had just stopped, I did not know what to do, I just stood there frozen to the spot, luckily within a minute Danny walked off and Magdalaine started to look for something in the grass around her.
As soon as my heart and feet were mine again I rushed over, when I approached her I asked if she was alright and if the Tantrum boy had been bothering her.
“Who Danny, no he has not been bothering me, we have just been getting to know each other, he is very nice” she replied.
It was then that I noticed that Magdalaine had not been looking for anything lost within the grass but she had
in fact been picking wildflowers, she then took a few steps nearer towards the Candletree.
“Stop!” warned I. “You shouldn’t be around this place.”
“Why ever not?” asked Magdalaine.
“Because these graves are upon unhallowed ground, nobody approaches them except for the Tantrums” I replied.
“Oh, don’t be silly!” answered Magdalaine. “I know all about these graves, Danny has just been telling me”.
“Yes but how do you know he was telling you the truth?” I asked. “They are his family after all and besides you have not lived in the village for long, you do not
know the Tantrum family as the rest of us do.”
“Hang on there a minute Jim Corner!” interrupted Magdalaine with a smile. “I know that what Danny was saying is true because everything that he said about his family was bad and shameful, his eyes seemed to fill up when he told me that for my own good I should not speak to him again as the villagers would not like it. I told Danny and I will tell you now Jim Corner, I have a mind of my own that I can make up on my own, I do not want to quarrel with anyone in the village but I shall judge for myself who I should and should not speak to.”
I did not know how to reply to this so I quietly offered to walk her home, she accepted but before she took hold of my arm she ran to the Candletree and placed the flowers on each of the graves.
For the next few weeks every time I went walking I saw Magdalaine and Danny together, especially down by the river where Danny liked to fish. Whenever I managed to bump into Magdalaine in the village, because she was never with Danny in the village, as soon as I mentioned Danny’s name she would scowl at me, so after a few tries at talking to her I went to see the Parson Arthur Wood.
When I told the Parson that Magdalaine and Danny Tantrum were spending time together, he was not surprised in the least, it seemed that many of the
villagers had spied them upon their walks and had already been to voice their opinions to the Parson.
The Parson told me that he was in fact just off to see Joe the shoemaker and asked me if I would like to go along with him, I said that I would and we both set off to see the shoemaker.
Shortly we arrived at the shoe shop and to my relief I saw that Magdalaine was not at home, when we seated ourselves in the living room Joe asked the Parson what he owed the pleasure of the visit too?
“I suppose I should get straight to the point” said the Parson. “I was wondering if since moving to the village you had heard much about the Tantrum family?”
“Yes I have, in fact it is the topic which most of the village folk talk about while they are waiting for their shoes to berepaired.” replied Joe.
“Are you aware that Magdalaine has been seen on numerous occasions with one of the Tantrum boys?” inquired the Parson.
“No, I had no idea that they had been seen together but I am aware that they meet quite regularly down by the river and such, Magdalaine tells me as much when she comes home” Joe explained.
The Parson and I must include myself, were more than a little taken aback by this.
“Are you aware of the dangers of Magdalaine becoming involved with the Tantrum family?” asked the Parson.
“Look, to my knowledge Magdalaine is not involved with the Tantrum family, she is only friendly with Danny, she has never visited or been invited to visit the Tantrum house” stated Joe.
The Parson lowered his head at this for it was quite plain to see that Joe was not concerned with the matter, after a moment the Parson raised his head and said,
“Joe, the villagers are a bit concerned, several of them have been to see me about this”.
Joe’s face flushed red and he replied, “Why, for heavens sake, what is wrong here, I see nothing amiss, my daughter meets a boy down by the river and they sit around and talk, why they aren’t even courting. As for his family, whatever they have done I will not judge
Danny for it, I will judge Danny upon his own actions and as for Magdalaine I have raised her well, she is old enough and wise enough to make up her own mind about who she wants to talk to!”
Joe rose to his feet and waved towards the door. “I mean no disrespect to you Parson or to your young friend there but I have a lot of work to do, come to think of it you are Jim, Jim Corner, I have a pair of boots of yours to fix that I have now seen for the fourth time this last fortnight, so please excuse me”.
With this he led us out of the shop front and when we turned around to say goodbye he had already disappeared back inside.
So they were not courting the shoemaker had said, that gave me hope for a little while, but alas that hope did not last very long. For one day when I was walking down by the river I stopped to rest against a tree so that I could watch the swans upon the water, when I had finished I stepped forward and turned from the water. There in the tree which I had just rested against were the words Danny loves Magdalaine carved into the tree bark.
I decided that I must find out for sure one way or the other, for I was harbouring feelings which I had never felt before for Magdalaine and if she had given her heart to Danny Tantrum then I needed to know.
So I decided to spy on them, to try and listen to them talking, not for any wicked reason but because I felt that this was the only way to hear it from Magdalaine herself.
Now, they spent most of their time together down by the
River but they also spent some days up by Dewdrop Hill. At the bottom of Dewdrop Hill there is a barn, it is no longer in use now, but sometimes the shepherd’s use it for shelter in bad weather.
I decided that down by the river would be no good, as there was no cover for me to get close enough to hear anything, so it was the barn that I would have to try instead. I went there the next day and climbed up into the loft, there were bales of hay everywhere so there were plenty of places to hide, I also pulled up the ladder
when I was safely on top, bso as to make sure that they did not decide to come up to the loft for their meeting and find me amongst the hay bales.
I waited up in the loft of the barn all that same day and then for the next two days without anyone showing up, but on the third day when I was just about to leave I heard a girls laughter, followed by footsteps that seemed to be running towards the barn.
I quickly pulled back up the ladder that I had just put back In place and laid down behind some bales of hay, I peeped through a gap between the hay and saw them enter.
It was Danny and Magdalaine, they had hold of each other’s arms and were spinning each other around and around in circles until they both collapsed into one heap upon the hay covered floor.
Danny laid back his head against a bale of hay, while Magdalaine sat up and brushed out her skirts, when she had finished she turned to Danny, who had placed a stem of hay between his lips and seemed to be daydreaming.
“What is it that you are thinking, my love?” asked Magdalaine.
“Are you thinking of pretty rhymes again or are you bored with my presence already?”
“Bored, with my sweet girl, I could never be bored with you here, even if I were never to sleep again and spent my entire life chained to your feet while you slept and dreamed an eternity, I could never be bored, for I would be with the one I love, I would sit here and stare at you day after day, year after year watching your face crystallize into loveliness under the moons beams and
grow into beauty with the coming of the suns rays. For even in your sleep you would be a thousand times more pretty a picture than anything outside!”
She smiled at this, then blushed and after a few seconds pause she asked again, “But what was it you were thinking Danny, was it a rhyme?”
“Well,” replied Danny. “I was actually thinking of whether or not to tell you the rhyme I thought of while I awaited you today.”
“Oh, you have another one, please tell me” exclaimed Magdalaine excitedly.
Danny turned sideways, placed his head upon her lap, looked up into her eyes and began as follows,
“She wears but I thin shawl
of moonlight about her chest.
She is the only one whom can do it
for she is the one it suits best.
If she wanted to walk upon hot coals
I would lay beneath her feet.
If she were to choose a chair of thorns
For Magdalaine is to me
what the sky is to the dove
Magdalaine the sweet angel
the fair lady that I love.”
Magdalaine bent down and kissed him. “You move my heart when you speak to me so” she said. “I wish that I could think of a rhyme to tell you how much I love you Danny but I cannot, I have tried but I want you to know that I am yours Danny Tantrum, treat me well for I am only alive beside you and am helpless without you”.
Danny sat up, put his arms around her and drew her to his chest, and said, “Say no more my love, there is no need for words, I can see what you feel in your eyes far more clearly than anything that you could say to me”.
They stayed where they were for about an hour without moving once, then Danny stood up and walked to the wall of the barn, pulled a piece of coal from his pocket and wrote the poem which he had just recited to Magdalaine upon the wooden slats.
Then he walked back, took Magdalaine by the hand and said, “Come let us go down by the river, it is such a lovely day and I want to take it in turns to look at you and then your reflection, oh what a lucky man I shall be to have two such beautiful angels beside me, it shall be just like being in heaven”.
She stood to her feet and they both walked out of the barn holding each others hands.
End of part 1
© Paul Tristram 2006