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The Crooked Man of Smuggler's Perch

"Dreadful It Was" - John Tenniel (Old Book Illustrations 2007-2023)

[1] The man was old and crooked,

Like so many before.

The caretaker of Smuggler’s Perch

And owner of the moor.

[2] Smuggler’s Perch, the manor house.

An unusual name.

It’s said the early crooked men

Were smugglers all the same.

[3] And for their cargo, it is known

They'd shed a lot of blood.

The angry ghosts of murdered souls

Still lingered in the mud.

[4] From son to son the keyrings

were passed from hand to hand.

From grave to grave their names

Were fading faster than the land.

[5] The crooked man, ‘twas said of him,

Resolved to let it die.

The moor was vast and vacant.

To pleas to help, he’d not reply.

[6] The fishing folk all wondered

But never meant to ask

About the noises coming from

The manor house at dusk.

[7] They knew he was unmarried,

No relatives, no child.

But something must reside there

For those voices to be riled.

[8] The crooked man would wander,

With bobbing lamp in front

Across the moors and babble

Things meandering and blunt.

[9] And whilst away the townsfolk

Would swear by God above,

A cry had called from Smuggler’s Perch,

Cries silenced by a thud.

[10] But when they found their courage

And went to source the noise,

Not a sight or signal

Of men, women, girls, or boys.

[11] And when the crooked man saw

The gathered, worried flock

He stared them down and muttered

“Leave us to our Godly work.”

[12] New rumours spread around the

Town of what the man had done.

He found a girl and killed her,

Had her fall instead of run.

[13] Why for the deed conducted?

No single person knew.

‘Twas ever in the minds of those

With Smuggler’s Perch in view.

[14] Soon parcels came in paper

Wrapped with simple thread.

Dark people in deep hooded cloaks

Knocked on the door instead.

[15] There were no visitors who came

To stay at Smuggler’s Perch.

But crooked men aren’t lonely,

Thanks to the skeletons at church.

[16] So why now were there hooded men

Arriving at the door?

With packages both smaller

And heavier than before?

[17] One night, the moon was fullest,

And one small boy had guessed

The crooked man was planning

For his own eternal rest.

[18] He’d heard he slept in coffins

And so he stalked the moors,

Haunted by his victims’ voices

His brother had assured.

[19] So curious and silly,

The boy snuck out at night.

He snuck up to the manor,

If he’d left, he would be right.

[20] The manor’s gates was broken

The gargoyles were gone.

Though lights were lit, 'twere no one

For the light to settle on.

[21] But he heard one voice clearly.

It echoed through the hall.

The soft voice of an elder

To no audience at all.

[22] He followed round the windows,

Legs scraping through the brush.

As tiny blooming petals

Formed the boy began to rush.

[23] The voice was growing further.

So closer he would get.

He found an open window

And through the crack he crept.

[24] The floor had heavy carpet,

The air was thick with dust.

The boy felt near to sneezing,

So the nearby drape he fussed.

[25] The armour by the staircase

Was rusted, ancient fare.

The plants inside the manor

Were dead from lack of care.

[26] The boy followed the voice

To which belonged the crooked man

Until he saw him standing

With a crucifix in hand.

[27] He hid behind the doorway

And for a moment paused.

When he was undiscovered

He peeked between the doors.

[28] The boy saw the crooked man

Standing amongst a crowd.

His lips were trembling more

And now the muttering was loud.

[29] “God’s work be done, my family.

The curse will soon be gone.

I’ve gathered all the pieces

And soon will right this wrong.”

[30] Now looking round the crooked

Man, the boy saw many

Shapes and shades. Figureless and

Yet he counted twenty.

[31] And now he saw the vial

Uncorked, held in his hand.

On knees he kneeled and drank it.

Nevermore did he stand.

[32] The crooked man was bending,

He screamed to be alone.

The lights began to flicker

And scream became a moan.

[33] Outside the boy heard thudding,

The cry as heard before.

Yet now there was a body

Coming through manor door.

[34] Except it was no body.

It had no face or neck.

It had no limbs or muscles

Save for one finger, erect.

[35] It disregarded the boy,

Who now could only cry

To see the wretchedness crawl

Down the hall, then pass him by.

[36] The crucifix was broken.

The shades were gathered round.

The mass had joined the crooked

Man, and in that hall they drowned.

[37] At least, that’s all the boy said

When he came back that night.

He dared not talk about it

Until the morning light.

[38] It was only at noontime

That any of them went.

They daren’t venture further

Without the Lord’s consent.

[39] And when they saw the manor,

The den of crooked men,

They found the doors wide open,

And laughter from within.

[40] The laughter was so horrid

In its pitch and mood,

That half the villagers ran

So that just the bravest stood.

[41] Inside they found no sign of

Anything the boy had seen.

The air was clean, the armour sheened

More than it’d ever been.

[42] But neither did they find the man

They had expected there.

Indeed, they found no body

Not a trace of nail or hair.

[43] Instead, that laugh that echoed

Through the house soon flew away.

It raced over the cliffs and

Seemed to cross the sleepy bay.

[44] The house was burnt to ashes

The villagers agreed.

The ashes thrown to moorland

So none could be received.

[45] Now no old man was crooked,

Like those that came before.

No caretaker of Smuggler’s Perch

No owner of the moor.

[46] Just laughter at the witching hour

Which chased the dogs away.

A strangled, choking, dying laugh,

Until the end of days.

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