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The Ghost Of Percival Reed
by [?]

When we look back on the past history of the Border, we might almost think that St. Andrew and St. George, who are supposed to keep watch and ward over North and South Britain, had overlooked that hilly stretch of country that lies between the Solway and the Tyne, leaving the heathen god Mars to work his turbulent will with it. From the days of the Roman Wall it was always a tourney-ground, and in the long years when English and Scots warred against each other, scarcely one day in any year went past without the spilling of blood on one or other of its hills or moors. Not only did the Borderers fight against those of other nations. Constantly they fought amongst themselves. A quick-tempered, revengeful lot were the men of those Border clans. On the Northumberland side the quarrels were as frequent as they were amongst those hot-headed Scots–Kers and Scotts, Elliots and Turnbulls and Croziers.

In the sixteenth century one of the most powerful of the clans in the wild Northumbrian country was that of the Reeds of Redesdale. Even now it is a lonely part of the south land, that silent valley down which, from its source up amongst the Cheviots, the Rede flows eastward. Bog and heather and bracken still occupy the ground to right and to left of it, and there are few sounds besides the bleat of sheep or the cries of wild birds to break the silence of the hills and moors. But when the Reeds held power the hills often echoed to the lowing of driven cattle, to the hoof-beat of galloping horses, and to the sounds of a fight being fought to the death. A foray into England brought many a sturdy Scottish reiver riding over the Carter Bar; and Reeds, and Halls, and Ridleys were never averse from a night ride across the English Border when a Michaelmas moon smiled on the enterprise. The Reeds were a strong clan, but in power and in reputation they took only a second place, for the family of the Halls was stronger still. The head of the Hall clan lived at Girsonfield, a little to the north of Otterburn, a farmhouse which had belonged to the proprietors of Otterburn Castle since the time of Queen Elizabeth. Only a few stones of it now remain, and the new house stands on a much more exposed situation; but when Hall was its occupant, Girsonfield stood on a plot of rich green sward on the east side of the Otter.

Now it must have seemed to Hall of Girsonfield, the head of the chief of the northern clans, a very clear error in judgment for any of the powers that existed to pass him over and appoint as keeper of Redesdale his friend and neighbour, Percival Reed. To have to bow to Reed’s authority, to obey his summons when called on to help to intercept a party of reiving Scots or to pursue them, hot trod, into Scotland, to hear the praises of Percival Reed in all mouths–these were bitter things to be swallowed by him who has come down to us as “the false-hearted Ha’.” And so, having opened the door of his heart for the messengers of Satan to come in, Hall of Girsonfield had not long to wait for his tenants.

Clearly Percival Reed had no right to be keeper, but as he did his duties bravely and well, there was no chance of his being deposed, save by death. Never a day or a night was there when Hall and his friend Reed cantered together to meet some of the Scott or Elliot clan, or to rescue a drove of cattle or sheep from them, or from some of the Croziers or Turnbulls, but what Hall rode with murder in his heart. Reed was utterly unconscious. There was no scheme that he did not confide to him whom he took for his loyal friend, no success for which he did not jubilantly claim Hall’s sympathy and congratulations. He laid bare the whole of his innocent heart, and Hall hated him all the more bitterly because of it. “If he were not so handy with his Ferrara,” brooded Hall…. “If only he had been a little slower that time in getting out his dag when Nixon had covered him.” … “If only his mare had not only stumbled, but had fallen there by the peat hag when Sandy’s Jock so near had him….”