Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, Vol. 2, by William Bottrell, , at sacred-texts.com
gathered round his hearth, because they, too, were not rich or smart enow to follow the fashions then upsetting all old customs among such Santusters as 'got a sturt to bal.' Grace would go about her work, in-doors and out, singing like a lark. She was nearly sixteen, when a cousin of about her own age, who had been away only a year in farmer's service, a few miles off, came to see them the next Feast, dressed out quite like a lady, to Grace's seeming; for she wore a blue shining dress and ear-rings, and necklaces of red, green, and yellow beads that she changed more than once a day, or wore them altogether, while the flowers in her bonnet were the admiration of all beholders.
"I should be glad, cousin Grace," said she, "to put thee up to Church-town to the fiddler a Monday night, and wish I had only brought home one of my frocks for thee to wear; but really, cheeld, grammer's old gowns would make thee a laughing-stock to the youngsters, and not one of them would dance with us. Go thee way'st in service; cheeld, that thee may’st get a stock of clothes fit to be seen in, and a sweetheart that thee west soon want to have as well as other maidens! But the Lord help thee and the young fellow who would come a courting and take thee to Morvah Fair even in that old rorey-torey gown, with red and blue flowers so large that the birds are nesting in them."
Grace became very dissatisfied after this vision of grandeur, and never gave her mother any peace till she consented for her to go in service next summer. She was the more ready to let Grace try her fortune away, as other daughters were growing up to help her. So, during winter, she and her mother spun and knitted for dear life that they might earn a few extra shillings to provide changes of under clothing against she set out to look or service.
For weeks Grace had been going round saying good-bye to the neighbours, and she rose one fine morning and gave the last kiss, and said, "I wish ’e well, for the last time," to all the family round. Her father, on parting, charged her not to go more than a day's journey from home, and be sure to keep far away from Penzance or any town, for fear she should be kidnapped, and they should nevermore see her. He told her how strange sailors, that frequented such places, often prowled about for miles, and no maiden was safe within their teach. Grace promised to be on her guard, took her fardel, and started on her journey towards the southern parishes where gentlemen farmers lived.
On her way she thought upon what her smart cousin had told her to go over to the other side of the country, get into good farmer's service, where she might soon qualify herself to live in a gentleman's house and get higher wages. She had advised her not to pay much heed to what old folks said in their fears, about
conjurors, witches, small people, and such like, that are seldom met with now-a-days. "Up here amongst the hills you know but little of the world," said the cousin, "and your old drolls arn’t altogether to be believed." Grace couldn't help going out of her way a little to take a last look of Carn Kenidjack, where she had passed many happy hours, for youngsters were accustomed to meet there of Sunday afternoons to play about amongst the rocks or listen to old folks’ stories. Then she went on with a pretty good heart till she reached high ground, from which she could only just see the smoke curling over the house-tops below. She turned round, took a farewell look, her eyes blinded with tears; then she went a little farther and sat down on a rock by the road-side, to have a good cry and ease her heart.
She wept aloud to think she was going to an unknown country to live amongst strangers—that she might nevermore behold her parents and old playmates. But still, determined to go on, even if she went as far as daylight would take her, she dried her eyes with her apron; and, looking up, she saw standing close beside her a very nice-looking gentleman. He wished her good morrow and asked why she wept.
"Oh, sir, I have left home," she replied, "and am on the road to a strange country to look for service."
"Well now, good luck has directed me," said he, "for, hearing there were tidy girls up this way, I started early this morning and am come so far to seek one that might take care of my house and little son, and a nicer maid than you one needn't wish to find. Indeed you look as fresh as a rose in morning dew."
He then sat on the rock beside Grace and told her that he was left a widower with one little boy, who had nobody but an old great-aunt to look after him; there was little else to do but the dairy-work after one cow, and a few poultry to take care of. "Come along home with me, Grace," said he, rising and taking up her bundle, "you can but try, and shall stay with me, if you don't like it, till you hear of some other place that may suit ’e better."
Grace wondered how he came there, for she hadn't seen him coming over the downs; awl was surprised that he knew her name. Yet she said nothing, because her mother had often told her not to ask questions but to use her ears and eyes to learn.
The gentleman looked so handsome and spoke so kind, that, without hesitation, she went on with him and related how her parents had a large family, that her mother had taught her dairy-work, to cook in a plain way, and to spin and knit. "You will do, I'm sure," said he, "and if you had time to spare I suppose you wouldn't mind helping me weed the garden or pick fruit in the orchard."
"There's nothing I should like better," she replied, "for the
work about one cow and a child can't be much."
He told her that his name was Robin, though most of his acquaintance called him Bob o’ the Carn, or Bobby Carn.
In such like talk they went on, down hill, towards the Low Countries; and Grace, with her eyes fixed on her companion, didn't notice their road, and that for some time they had been walking through green lanes, hedged with trees; honey-suckles, and such sweet flowers as she had never seen hung over head. The gentleman remarking her surprise, said, "These trees and flowers are nothing to what you will see, ere long, where I dwell; but up in your high country no trees and but few flowers grow; that's how you think these so wonderful.
Over a while they came in sight of a large house; "Oh, sir, es that a king's palace?" demanded she, "and see, the trees around it are higher than church towers!"
"No, my child, there's many such dwellings down this way, and even larger ones, but no kings reside here," answered he.
Grace hadn't ceased wondering at the grand building when they came to where four roads met, and kept straight on, still going down hill, all amidst spreading trees which shaded the road by the side of which were rills of clear water, that every here and there sunk into the grass and re-appeared. Where streams crossed their road Grace's companion lifted her over them that she mightn't even wet her foot.
She had no notion of the distance they had gone, for he gave her cake and cordials ever so often, and talked so pleasantly that the time seemed as nothing, and she would have gone on with him to the world's end.
At length they came out of the wood near a river and she saw it was nearly sunset. "We are now all but come to my dwelling," said her master. (We may as well call him so since she had made up her mind to live with him).
He bore her over the stepping-stones that crossed the river near the foot of a towering care of grey rocks that rose amidst a wood close by the, water side. They passed up by the river a little way and entered an orchard. Grace wondered at the trees, bending down with loads of red and yellow apples and many kinds of fruit that she had never before seen. By a winding alley they came to a green, all surrounded with blossoming trees and dotted over with curious beds of sweet flowers, most of them unknown to Grace, who, without perceiving that they left the garden, entered what looked like an arbour and found herself in her master's dwelling before she noticed it, hidden as it was by roses and flowering plants which spread over its walls and roof.
Yet the kitchen was light enough for her to see rows of pewter that shone like silver. A wood fire blazed on the hearth, though
it was high summer time; and beside it, on a chimney-stool, sat a prim sour-looking old woman, knitting. She looked at Grace as if her eyes would bore holes through her, when the master said, "I'm come, Aunt Prudence, with a tidy maid that I had the good luck to meet on her way to look out for a place."
"I see thee art come, Robin," she replied, still keeping her eyes on Grace; "and it seems to me thee hast brought hither a young giglet that will use her tongue more than her hands! We shall see."
"So we shall," remarked he, rather affronted with Prue's remarks, "and when you have shown her what is to be done, you needn't take the trouble to come here often. And where's the boy?" he asked.
"Here I am, dadda!" exclaimed a little fellow, bounding in to kiss his father, who took him on his knee; and An’ Prue, as was her wont, mumbled to herself "we shall see."
The boy from his size appeared no more than six or seven years old, but his face looked like a cunning old man's, and his eyes were uncommon sharp.
Grace looked from one to the other rather confused, when her master said, "My little Bob, here's a nurse for ’e, who will give ye your milk, wash your face, and anoint your eyes, just like your mother used to; I hope you will like her." "That I can't tell yet," said the urchin, eyeing Grace for all the world just like An’ Prue, and he looked then almost as old. The master, however, without more palaver, placed on the board, bread, cheese, apples, honey, and other things, sat down, told Grace to do the same, and eat what she liked; and, that after milking-time she could cook a good savoury supper. She had never before tasted such nice white bread and other things; after making a hearty meal, she said, "I may as well pitch to." "Rest thee till milking-time," said An’ Prue, "a new broom sweeps clean, faix," mumbled she, in taking another survey through her spectacles.
Over an hour or so Robin told Grace that she had only to take the pail, pass through the orchard into a meadow by the waterside, call "Pruit, Pruit," and the cow would come to her; she did as directed, and from amidst the trees came a beautiful white cow, which stood with her udder right over the bucket and showered down her milk, so that in a minute it was full and running over. Grace rose to fetch another vessel that the milk mightn't go to waste; but when she lifted the bucket, the cow lowed, and, before the maiden left the meadow, disappeared in the wood. Grace told her master how the cow was gone off with the best milk. "That pailful will do for the night," said he; "the cow is far away by this, but if at any time you wish to have more you may take two or three pails, and 'Daisy'—that's her
name—will fill them all, but she won't wait for ’e to fetch more things." "She must be a jewel of a cow, for sure, and I'll have all the pans full to-morrow," thought Grace, as she strained the -milk, and washed the strainer and bucket, and did other jobs so handy, that even the old dame looked less sour on her. The master went out to feed his horse—he had a beauty in the stable close at hand—and that while Prudence said, "Now mind, Grace, you must always put the child to bed by daylight, and as you sleep in the same room go ’e to bed then too; if your master be home, he can do without you; and should he be away, you need not wait up for his return; you are not to go into the spare rooms, nor to meddle with what don't concern ’e; nor ask any questions, except about your work, and then I'll tell ’e as much as you are required to know. And let me warn ’e, that if you enter your master's private room, you will rue the day as long as you live. In the mornings rise with the sun; take the child to a spring, that he can show ’e, wash him well and then anoint his eyes with this ointment," continued she, in showing Grace a small ivory box of a greenish unguent, that she took from the cupboard "a bit, the size of a pin's head or less, is enow to be put in the corner of each eye. Then milk 'Daisy,' and give the child this bowlfull and no more," said she, showing Grace a china-basin that would contain a pint or so; "make flowery-milk for breakfast, and when the breakfast things are washed away, scald the evening's milk, and clean up the house."
Just as the precise dame had finished her instructions, the master came in and said, "I think its high time for ’e to go home, An’ Prue, whilst there's daylight for ’e to find your way across the water." "My room is more welcome than my company," mumbled she, in hobbling out; "but we shall see how they will get on without me to keep them to stays."
Grace told her master that she wasn't used to go to bed so early; he answered, "please yourself on that score, and stay up as long as you mind to." He then brought her a basket of fruit, and told her to eat what she pleased of them; afterwards, he gave her a cup of cordial that she found delicious; and by the time she had drunk it to the last drop, she forgot her home and playmates among the hills; her brothers and sisters, her father and mother even; she no more remembered her former state, and only thought of her kind master and the delightful place in which he lived; and she dreamt that night of nothing else.
In the morning Grace was up betimes; finished her work in a hour or so, and 'looked over her shoulder for more,' when An’ Prue came in, examined the house, and seeing nothing to find fault with, she merely said, "A new broom sweeps clean, but an old one es good for the corners," and told Grace she
might work in the garden for an hour or so, till time to get dinner, if she had a mind to, that her master was there and he would show her what to do.
Prudence returned to her dwelling, where she kept a school; and Grace, glad to escape the old dame's piercing eyes, went into the garden to look upon the more pleasing countenance of her master, who said, "You have made a good beginning, cheeld, only hold to it, and we shall get on very well; come now and help me weed a flower-bed, that I may show ’e what to pull up and what to let grow." She weeded so handy and minded her master's instructions so well, that he, to show his satisfaction, when a bed was finished, clasped her in his arms and kissed her, saying, "I can't tell ’e any other way how well pleased I am at your handy work." She redoubled her efforts to please him that he might again show his satisfaction.
Time passed so pleasantly in the beautiful garden—which Grace thought must be like Paradise—that they forgot the dinner hour, till the boy came home from school and ran out into the garden, shouting, "Dadda! Dadda! I want my dinner; An’ Prue always had it ready in time." "Run in my good girl," said his father; "give him bread and honey with milk to drink, or anything to stop his squalling, we can have apple-pie; pick a few of the ripest from yonder tree."
Having given Bob his dinner, Grace gathered such golden apples as she never beheld till then, indeed, she thought them too rich to cook, and that their perfume was enough to satisfy one, for roses and gilly-flowers were less sweet to her seeming.
Dinner over and Bob sent to school, master and maid passed a pleasant afternoon in the garden gathering fruit. Prudence, having sent her scholars home, took a nap, for she had talked herself sleepy over the horn-book. She soon waked up, however, and hurried over to find that Grace had gone a milking, and Robin was in a quillet (paddock), near by, grooming his horse. Seeing all about the house in apple-pie order, she looked rather sour, for the crabbed dame dearly liked to spy faults; that's how she was so much disliked by Grace; so without a word to anyone in the garden-dwelling, she tucked up her skirts and picked her way back to her own house, mumbling, "It seems my room es more welcome than my company, but we shall see how long they will get on without my advice."
Grace found her new life so pleasant that she took no count of time; months passed like a summer's day; she never thought of her old home or people, for all her care was to please her agreeable master. Of a morning he frequently rode away through the wood dressed like a gentleman going a hunting; and Grace took delight to keep his boots polished, and to buckle, on his
silver spurs that she might see him mount and ride away in gallant style. Grace always wondered where her master got out of the wood; she had gone a long way on the road he took, but saw no end of the winding, shady, alleys.
He always told her to be sure not to leave his grounds, on no account to venture outside the orchard gate during his absence; and, for her life, not to go near the high rock, for at its foot—hidden by thickets—there was a low hole, from which Bucca-dhus often issued, and carried away people who were nevermore seen here. One afternoon, however, when Robin was away and the boy at school, Grace felt weary of being so long alone or with only the poultry—that followed her everywhere about the place,—and went to the outer gate. On seeing a pleasant walk winding along by the water-side, where all was shady and quiet, she passed out and down the road till near the high rocks; she wondered whither the bowery path led; thought she heard the sea murmuring, and had a mind to go farther on, when all her thoughts were put to flight by hearing a voice say, "Stop there, my sweet pretty maid; I'll soon be down by the river-side and give thee a diamond ring." Looking up towards the place whence the voice came, she saw, on the topmost stone, a dark man. dressed like a sailor, who then made signs for her to pass farther down the road. Grace hastened in, followed by the screaming hens, which roused the dogs, and their barking alarmed An’ Prudence, who hurried over, gave her a good scolding, threatened to tell Robin how, by her gadding about, she had narrowly escaped being carried away. As Grace was still uneasy from fear, she waited up for her master and made a pie; he seemed well pleased to have a hot one for his supper, and the girl to pull off his boots; seeing her disturbed, he asked what was the matter; she confessed her fault with tears, and promised never to disobey him again. "I'll let it pass," said he, "as it's the first time you have disobeyed;" and, to assure her of his forgiveness, he treated her to a cordial that produced sweet sleep and pleasant dreams.
Grace finding her master well pleased that she had waited up for him, continued to do so in spite of all An’ Prudence told her. "Now since thou hast again scorned my counsel, I'll leave thee to thy devices," said she, one day; "as if Robin wanted thee, forsooth, to unbuckle his spurs or pull off his riding boots, and to cook him a supper that he is better without."
Contrary to the austere dame's advice, Grace continued to take her own way, and her master seemed pleased; she wanted for nothing, yet she was always saying to herself, "Whatever can be in that locked-up parlour and the chambers that I am forbidden to enter?" At last, from always thinking about what didn't at all concern her, the fool—she couldn't rest by night or
by day. One afternoon whilst An’ Prue was cleaning up the parlour, not thinking Grace was near,—she suddenly went out and left the door ajar; that instant the curious maiden peeped in, and spying lots of rare pretty things, she stepped over the drussel, and saw what she took to be conjuring implements, and trembled to behold—on shelves, in cupboards, and elsewhere about the room—men's heads, and heads and shoulders without arms; over the fire-place there were even whole bodies of small ones, all turned to stone; they were whiter than corpses and quite naked, like what she had heard of in old folks’ stories as being done by enchantment; she didn't stay to notice much more and was leaving the room backwards when the old dame, coming behind, thumped her head and exclaimed, "Now thou perverse strollop since thou hast entered the forbidden room to thy cost, thou shalt work in it for a punishment; so take the waxed cloth and rub up that piece of furniture," continued she, in pointing to a long dark chest, that looked to Grace like a coffin resting on a table-frame, "Rub, rub away, rub harder and quicker till thou canst see thy poking nose in it, and stop thy whimperan or I'll crack thy numbscull." Grace burst out crying but still rubbed away so hard that she lifted the article off its legs or its frame, and, falling back with a jerk, something within it gave out a doleful sound so like a dying groan that she,—thinking it must be the voice of a spirit or of an enchanted body confined therein—was overcome with fright and fell down. in a fit.
Prudence fearing for the consequences, pulled her out by the heels in great haste but not before Robin was informed, by a wailing from the chest or coffin, that something had gone wrong in his private apartment. When Grace came to her senses he said to her, "Ignorant chit thou art become so froward as not to regard Aunt Prudence in anything; this is thy second act of disobedience, for the third there's no forgiveness, and if thou any more seekest to gratify thy troublesome curiosity against my desire thou wilt have to get a new place, so beware."
After this it was many days ere Grace's master sang to her or played with her again, as was his wont, and she redoubled her efforts to please him and show her regret till he again kissed her to prove that the past was forgiven.
A sight of the forbidden apartment, however, only served to make Grace more dissatisfied because she couldn't understand all the mysteries of the place and its inmates. She noticed that the boy looked very knowing for one of his age, and thinking that by means of the ointment he saw things invisible to her, she resolved to try its effects; and, one morning, when her master had gone away, she took double the quantity used daily for Bob's eyes and rubbed them on her own; it made them smart
so much that she thought them to be turning inside out or bursting from her head.
To ease their burning pain she ran down and washed them in the pool. Looking into the water—a minute after—when her eyes ceased smarting a little, she saw there, deep down, what looked like another world with trees, birds, and people in great numbers; the people were so small that many of them perched themselves on branches amongst the birds. Yet what surprised her most was to see her master below moving from place to place among them; he was here, there, and everywhere. Being somewhat frightened she left the pool and soon after, on looking around the orchard, there, too, she saw small people and amongst them her master dressed in his hunting-suit. "Now I know for sure that this is an enchanted place," said she to herself, "my handsome master must be a conjuror, and in spite of their fern-seed I shall soon discover more."
Grace passed that day very uneasy and in the evening Robin came home with several strange people bearing baskets of cakes and other dainties such as she had never before seen; these being placed away Robin told her to put the boy to bed and that she wasn't wanted below stairs any more for that night.
The dissatisfied maid went to bed but not to sleep, for in a few hours she heard the ringing of cups and glasses with other sounds which made it known to her that a banquet was being held in the stone-people's apartment.
Over a while she heard singing and music there; the entry and staircase being dark she crept down, and peeping through the partly open door, saw two smart gentlemen, besides her master, and three ladies dressed in white trimmed with green. In their ears, round their necks, and on their arms, the ladies wore diamonds that shone like stars; but most of her attention was drawn to a fair haired one who sat beside the long box or coffin, and, by thumping on it with both hands for dear life she made the body or spirit within it give out finer music than a dozen fiddlers all in a row could make with their fiddles playing altogether, so she said.
From her dark corner she listened and watched till the music ceased and the company rose to depart; then, from her chamber window, she spied Robin in the garden kiss the ladies all round, on taking leave.
Grace cried herself asleep, but for why she couldn't tell.
In the morning she found the parlour door locked, and seeing glasses, china, and other things, on the kitchen table, she washed and placed them on their shelves, and did her morning work; when her master came in and, seeing all in order, said she was a good girl, put his arm around her and was going to show
his satisfaction in his usual way. But she repulsed him saying, "Go and kiss your little white and green ladies; you shall touch me no more; for you arn’t of common human kind, but a changeling small-body that for nine years at a time can appear as such; yet with all your fern-seed none of ’e can deceive me any longer by your enchantment and what not."
"Hold thy foolish clack thou silly girl," said he, "thy head, is turned with old folks’ drolls; there's nothing uncommon here, ’tis only thy ignorance that makes thee think so. But I see," he continued with a stern air, "that thou hast rubbed thy eyes with the green ointment, and now as I find that nothing can lay thy impertinent curiosity, or check thy prying into what don't concern thee, we must part. Thy last year will be ended tomorrow, so prepare at once to leave early in the morning, and I will take thee behind me on horseback over the hills to the place in which I found thee, for thou wilt never be able to find the way back alone."
Seeing that all her promises of amendment were of no avail, and that Robin and Prudence—who was now reinstated—determined on her departure, Grace with much grief packed up her fardel, and from what her master and old sour Prudence had given her, from time to time, she had a good stock of clothing.
She didn't know what wages was due to her, poor fool, nor how long she had lived there, for years had passed like a summer's day, until she longed to know too much. She was almost heart broken to leave the flowers that she loved like living things, the poultry she had reared, the pigeons that nested over the wood-corner ate from her hand and followed her over the place; the rabbits and hares that played about the garden and in the house; above all she grieved to part with a tame robin that kept -in the dwelling and sang whenever she entered it.
Besides it fretted her to find that old sour Prudence was brought back to be mistress of Robin's garden-dwelling.
The discreet dame, however, not knowing what might turn up, took care to keep Chypons—as the place in which she resided was called. She was very proud of her snug habitation, because, a little below the carn, a foot-bridge crossed the stream close by her house and nobody lived so near it as to interfere with her wise management.
At daybreak she crossed the river and went on as her master had directed her; he soon overtook her, and placing her on a pillion behind him, they cantered away through dark lanes for miles, going up hill all the time, and Robin spoke not a word. Grace, blinded with tears, saw nothing of the road till they came up into broad daylight and an open country. Still the horse went like the wind, and in a few minutes she saw Carn Kenidjack.
Robin stopped his horse, sprung from his saddle, lifted Grace down and placed her on the rock from which he had fetched her. In answer to her entreaties to be taken home with him again, he only said, "Prudence and I shall try to get on without other help, yet if we can't I may come for ’e again." Grace mounted the rock and looked after him as he rode away, but in a few minutes he was out of sight. She lay on the heath and wept till near night ere she arose, slowly descended the downs, and reached her parents’ dwelling.
The old folks were much surprised to behold her as they had given her up for lost or dead long ago. Her mother, however, in welcoming her home, lost no time before she opened her bundle, and found enough good clothes to last a lifetime, and amongst them a bag containing more money than they had ever seen before.
Grace's story seemed strange to all the neighbours, but most of the elderly ones concluded from all she told them that one of the changeling small people had taken her away to his underground dwelling or into his habitation in a wood—as such places used to be their common haunts—and there she had lived with him nine years that seemed less than one to her.
She could no more endure her old home—and, showing but little regard for its inmates, loathed their homely fare and old fashioned ways. Neither could she make up her mind to work steadily as of old, but like one distraught wandered away almost every day to the rock where she had first and last seen Robin of the Carn. She took but little pride in her fine clothes and money, and people thought she would go mad or fret herself to death. Yet, in a little less than two years, which seemed eternal to Grace, a neighbour's wife died leaving several small children; the widower came a courting to the distracted maiden, and, pushed his suit so vigorously, that at length she married him, and, as it happened, her husband had no cause to regret his venture, for the care of his children and plenty of work so far cured her vagaries, that in a few years she almost forgot and little regretted her life with Robin of the Carn.
Grace may be still living; it is only a few years since we were told her story, and then she was a hale old woman with a numerous brood of grandchildren.
There is a similar story told in Zennor of one Cherry who left home to seek service in the low country parishes, and was met on Lady Downs by a fairy gentleman, a widower, who took her to live with him; all went well, till, from curiosity, she disobeyed his orders and was discharged, but not until she had become so
much attached to her fairy master that she died with grief on being taken back to her old home.
Though 'modern instances' make up these stories, we have many old fragmentary fairy tales that contain the same fancies; the loss of happiness through inordinate curiosity.