Traditional Story Of A Water Serpent
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
Some part of this summer I passed my time in the country, where, as it is usual with me when I am in these cool shades of solitude and retirement, my inquiries axe directed towards anything that is curious in science ; my course of studies having much led me this way. In consequence of a story, that I at first thought fabulous, I one day went out of curiosity to a farm, where the incident, I was told, was painted on the walls. Agreeable to the common report, the history of this singular transaction I found there, in the manner described to me. The story is thus :
In the year 1578, which appears above the painting, in a pond surrounded with briars near the house, a water-serpent of an uncommon size was frequently seen by a woman, who belonged to the house, when she went to get water. The creature, whenever she came, made advances to her; perhaps for the reason which Sallust gives, speaking of serpents, Quarum vis inopiā cibi acrior. The woman, terrified at his appearance, told the story to her neighbours, who advised her one day to sit near the pond side, while some of them stood behind the briars, with an intention to shoot it, if possible, when it advanced towards her. The thing was accordingly effected, and the skin of the creature, according to the tradition of the place, was hung up without-side the house, stuffed with straw, for many years ; but in process of time, by being so exposed, decayed. Ever since the year when this thing happened, the story has been painted on the walls of the refectory or hall ; for I find the house was formerly, by the arms visible in many places, an hospital for the Knights Templars. And, as it can-not be supposed that the first painting could continue to this time on the bare wall, as often as it has been in a state of decay, so often has it been renewed. The present painting was done about forty years since, by the famous Rowell, the glass-stainer. About half a mile in a vale beneath this house stands the church of Hitchendon in the county of Bucks, where I find some of these knights were buried, having myself seen their figures in the Gothic position, at full length on the pavement, in their military accoutrements. The imagination of the painter has given the serpent wings and legs, which has made some people suppose the whole fabulous ; but that the story, exclusive of these emendations of the painter, is in every respect true, is plain from the traditional accounts of sensible judicious people hereabouts, and from the pencilled record of it on the wall of the house.