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Sir Rowland Alston's Soul

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Have you ever noticed how some people seem to have good fortune all the time? Everything they touch just seems to work in their favour. The local squire of Odell, in Bedfordshire, Sir Rowland Alston was one such individual. He was a wicked, but lucky, man. The local villagers whispered that his luck never faltered despite him leading an evil life. Indeed, it seemed he had the luck of the devil.

The church of All Saints is located just outside the village. It is hard to miss the church, which is situated on a steep slope. However, some centuries ago, it was not finding the building that was causing Sir Roland such distress, it was getting to the church in time.

As local squire, Sir Rowland owned most of the rich farmland around the village. He rented land to tenants and lived well on the profits. He behaved just like the wicked squires of the English folk stories. Where he differed though, was that he had the most extraordinary luck.

He gambled with his wealth but never lost his estates; he picked fights but never suffered any harm; he neglected his tenants but his lands prospered and his harvest never failed; he drank too much and ate too much rich food but his health did not suffer.

Then, one dark and stormy night, a stranger on business came to his home. He was tall, rode a great black stallion and swept a magnificent black cloak around himself. The maid was alarmed by the man's intense stare and she could not look at him for long. The stranger needed no directions and went straight to Sir Rowland's study.

Later, when the butler looked in to ask if food or drink were needed, he found Sir Rowland sat bolt upright in his chair, staring at the visitor through eyes alive with terror. The stranger, very politely, turned down the butler's offer, saying his business would soon be concluded.

Some while later the study door flew open and out burst Sir Roland. He ran past his servants, through the front door, down the path and jumped onto the stranger's black stallion as if his life depended on it.

Suddenly, the atmosphere became menacing, the stranger appeared and set off in pursuit of Sir Rowland, sprinting faster than the servants had ever seen a human run! The chase was on. The villagers saw Sir Rowland galloping at high speed towards the church with the stranger close behind.

When Sir Rowland did not return the next morning, the servants set out to look for him. Hearing that he had been riding to the church, they made their way there. The door was locked and bolted from the inside. Imprinted on the stone porch were five giant burn marks, in the shape of fingerprints! They had certainly not been there the day before.

A window was prised open and a small child pushed through the narrow gap. He saw Sir Rowland stone cold dead, his face frozen in a look of terror.

The villagers could not prove it, but they knew what had happened. Sir Rowland must have sold his soul to the Devil. The Devil had come to settle the debt.

Sir Rowland must have realised that his only hope was to reach holy ground, when the time came to hand over his soul. Had he made it in time? Nobody knew, so they gave him a Christian burial just in case.

What happened to Sir Roland was the talk of the county for months, but eventually the events faded from people's thoughts.

However, the story did not end there because, ten years to the day since that fateful night, Sir Rowland's ghost returned. Mounted on his ghostly black horse, he rode into his ancestral home leaving hoof marks on the floor and vanishing through the walls in broad daylight.

In the evening, he tore through the village with the devil close behind. This time, there was no pretence of a smartly dressed stranger, but an apparition with horns, tail and cloven hooves.

The phantom squire raced up to the church door, squeezing through the keyhole just in time. The Devil steaming with rage at losing his prey, violently shook the church, paused and then vanished. At regular intervals, the ghost of Sir Rowland would return each time with the Devil in hot pursuit.

Eventually, twelve clergymen were called upon to help lay to rest the squire's evil spirit. A ceremony was held and each clergyman had a bell, a book and a candle, which they used to send the phantom squire to a pond on Odell Wold.

The haunting pair has not been seen for many years, now leaving Odell in peace. Perhaps Sir Rowland is now at rest, or maybe his luck finally ran out and the devil has his soul secured in hell in payment of his debt.

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