My Arm is Long and My Vengeance Total

The title of this post is one of my favourite quotations taken from the film Billion Dollar Brain, based on the book by Len Deighton. I use it frequently to keep friends and relatives in their proper places. However, in researching stories for my book on the lost villages of the Holderness coast I discovered a gory tale which illustrates the quote perfectly. Being the generous sort of gal I am, I thought I’d share it with you.

The little village of Kilnsea squats right down on the southern tip of the Holderness coast, open to all the elements and particularly the depredations of the sea. There’s not that much left of it now, just a small huddle of cottages. But the story goes that back in the seventeenth century a horrendous, gory crime was committed there by a woman called Peg Fyfe. A few claimed she was a witch but everyone knew she was the leader of a band of ruffians, practising theft and extortion with equal aplomb.

Deciding to rob a Kilnsea farmer of his horses, she threatens and terrifies the farmer’s servant lad into leaving the stable door open one night so she can perpetrate said theft. She promises that should he reveal the plot to anyone she will skin him alive. The lad, being of Yorkshire stock and therefore having more wits about him than most, is torn between fear of Peg and duty to his gaffer. Craftily he asks the farmer to come to the stable and in his presence the lad whispers to the horses telling them what’s going to happen – thus letting the farmer know what game was afoot whilst not spilling the beans directly.

Peg and her mob come to get the horses only to find themselves on the receiving end of a load of lead shot. Despite being injured she and the gang get clean away.

For weeks the lad is terrified of going anywhere for fear of Peg. But as weeks turn to months and nothing more is heard of the gang, the lad gets braver and goes further afield only to find himself one day snatched by the robber gang and taken to Peg. There she makes good her promise and flays the poor boy who despite the agony makes nary a squeak until it comes to the skin on his palms and the soles of his feet when he emits a terrible cry, heard far out at sea. He crawls home, a bloody mass before snuffing it on his doorstep. Peg, the charmer, was later captured and hanged for her many crimes.

Now isn’t that an uplifting story to start your day (or finish it)?

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