The ghost who cannot rest until his or her hidden treasure has been found is a theme of a number of international folktales. Not always, however, do things turn out so badly as, according to a story from the nineteenth century, they did at Sexhow, near Stokesley.
An old woman there appeared after her death to a farmer and told him that, under a certain tree in his apple orchard, he would find a hoard of both gold and silver, which she had buried there. He was to dig it up, keeping the silver for his pains but giving the gold to her niece, who was living in poverty. At daybreak, the farmer went to the spot she had indicated, and found the treasure, but kept it all for himself. From that day on, however, he knew no peace. Though a sober man before, he took to drink, but still his conscience troubled him, and every night, at home or away, ‘old Nannie’s’ ghost dogged his steps, reproaching him with his faithlessness.
At last, one Saturday evening, the neighbours heard him returning from Stokesley Market very late; his horse was galloping furiously, and as he left the high road to go into the lane which led to his own house, he never stopped to open the gate at the entrance of the lane, but cleared it with a bound. As he passed a neighbour’s house, its inmates heard him screaming out, ‘I will – I will – I will!’ and looking out, they saw a little old woman in black, with a large straw hat on her head, whom they recognized as old Nannie, seated behind the terrified man on the runaway nag, and clinging to him closely. The farmer’s hat was off, his hair stood on end, as he fled past them, uttering his fearful cry, ‘I will – I will – I will!’ But when the horse reached the farm all was still, for the rider was a corpse!
Although other nineteenth-century writers agree that the place where this happened was Sexhow, William Henderson, who recorded this story in 1866, calls it ‘Lexhoe’, possibly to disguise its identity.
On the surface, the tale warns against avarice, one of the seven deadly sins. The underlying message, however, is that, where treasure is concerned, do exactly what a ghost tells you: it is all that will give the troubled and troublesome spirit rest.