Twas less than a fortnight ago when Pell, one of the Duke’s lads, interrupted the mid-day meal with a fierce banging against the front door. His hands were covered in heavy leather gloves against the cold and he came close to punching through the brittle wooden gate that serves as the entryway into the hut. With an air of deferential politeness he was ushered inside the dirt-floor hovel. Looking around the premises, as if overcome by gratitude that his station is superior, he comes to attention and remembers his errand.
In a booming voice, fit for a report to King Phillip, himself, Pell announces that I have been summoned, without so much as a prithee, by the Duke of Northumberland to stand the graveyard watch for three days in the churchyard behind the abbey. They are burying Lady Francis Bandon, one o’ the Duke’s cousins and someone has to watch over her. This is an opportunity to serve the Duke and maybe to gain some bit ‘o favor.
This is a new practice: the graveyard watch. Digging up some old coffins so as to make room for the more recently departed, there was a lot of coffins from the time of yore what have scratch marks. And the scratch marks was on the inside ‘o the coffins. Only one thought comes to mind: people have been buried alive.
Now, the important people who die get a string tied ‘round their wrist and the string comes up outta the ground and is tied to a bell. If they wake up from the dead, why they can just wiggle around to ring the bell and them that buried ‘em just digs ‘em up again. The graveyard watchman is charged with keepin’ his eyes and ears on that bell and go a running to the vicar’s house if it starts ringing.
With the wind a howlin’ and the rain beatin’ down it would have nice to have an oilskin or a greatcoat. The woolen shawl is soggy wet and heavy cold. Curled all up in a ball, half inside the old tree trunk like a fox, offers a little protection from the elements, but makes it hard to keep an eye on the bell. Then again if it rings, keeping “an ear out” ought to be enough.
It is bootblack dark with a disturbing wind. Leaves and sometimes even whole braches scuttle by. That little bell, hanging from a little piece o’ wood is getting buffeted by gusts just like everything else. Sure, it rings from time to time but that’s probably just the wind. Still, it is a bad night to lay here wondering if her Ladyship has been buried alive. God bless her Ladyship.
It’s best to let the wind die down and then see if the bell is still ringin’. If the vicar is woken in the dead ‘o night to an alarm by the graveyard watchman and the Duke’s people get all busy in the middle of a storm and dig up her Ladyship only to find she is still dead as a piece ‘o firewood, why, then some mighty disaster would surely befall that graveyard watchman. I durst not wake the vicar.
If by chance that bell be ringin’ on account of her Ladyship pullin’ on the string, she will no doubt stop before long. Bless her Ladyship’s soul.
(http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_the_origin_of_the_phrase_saved_by_the_bell - it may just be an urban myth. Then again, it’s on the World Wide Web! )