THE CAULD LAD OF HILTON
"HILTON HALL, in the vale of the Wear, was in former times the resort of a Brownie or House-spirit called The Cauld Lad. Every night the servants who slept in the great hall heard him at work in the kitchen, knocking the things about if they had been set in order, arranging them if otherwise, which was more frequently the case. They were resolved to banish him if they could, and the spirit, who seemed to have an inkling of their design, was often heard singing in a melancholy tone:
Was 'a me! was 's me!
The acorn is not yet
Fallen from the tree,
That's to grow the wood,
That's to make the cradle,
That's to rock the bairn,
That's to grow to a man,
That's to lay me.
The servants, however, resorted to the usual mode of banishing a Brownie: they left a green cloke and hood fbr hini by the kitchen fire, and remained on the watch. They saw him come in, gaze at the new clothes, try them on, and, apparently in great delight, go jumping and frisking about the kitchen. But at the first crow of the cock he vanished, crying--
Hero 'a a cloak, and here's a hood!
The Cauld Lad of Hilton will do no more good;
and he never again returned to the kitchen; yet it was said that he might still be heard at midnight singing those lines in a tone of melancholy.
There was a room in the castle long called the Cauld Lad's Room, which was never occupied unless the castle was full of company, and within the last century many persons of credit had heard of the midnight wailing of the Cauld Lad, who some maintained was the spirit of a servant whom one of the barons of Hilton had killed unintentionally in a fit of passion." [a]
In the beginning of the last century Bourne thus gives the popular belief on this subject:
"Another part of this (winter's evening) conversation generally turns upon Fairies. These, they tell you, have frequently been seen and heard; nay, that there are some still living who were stolen away by them, and confined seven years. According to the description they give of them, who pretend to have seen them, they are in the shape of men exceeding little: they are always clad in green, and frequent the woods and fields. When they make cakes (which is a work they have been often heard at), they are very noisy; and when they have done, they are full of mirth and pastime. But generally they dance in moonlight, when mortals are asleep, and not capable of seeing them; as may be observed on the following morning, their dancing places being very distinguishable: for as they dance hand in hand, and so make a circle in their dance, so next day there will be seen rings and circles on the grass." [b]
The author of "Round about our Coalflre" says [c]:
"My grandmother has often told me of Fairies dancing upon our green, and they were little little creatures, clothed in green.
"The moment any one saw them, and took notice of them, they were struck blind of an eye. They lived under ground, and generally came out of a mole-hill.
"They had fine music always among themselves, and danced in a moonshiny night around, or in a ring, as one may see at this day upon every common in England, where mushrooms grow.
"When the master and mistress were laid on their pillows, the men and maids, if they had a game at romp, and blundered upstairs, or jumbled a chair, the next morning every one would swear it was the fairies, and that they heard them stamping up and down stairs all night, crying 'Water 's locked! Water 's locked!' when there was not water in every pail in the kitchen."
To come to the present times. There is no stronger proof of the neglect of what Mr Thoms has very happily designated "Folk-lore" in this country, than the fact of there having been no account given anywhere of the Pixies or Pisgies [d] of Devonshire and Cornwall, till within these last few years. In the year 1836, Mrs. Bray, a lady well known as the author of several novels, and wife of a clergyman at Tavistock, published, in a series of letters to Robert Southey, interesting descriptions of the part of Devonshire bordering on the Tamar and the Tavy. In this work there is given an account of the Pixies, from which we derive the following information:
According to the Devon peasant, the Pixies are the souls of infants who died before they were baptised. They are of small dimensions, generally handsome in their form. Their attire is always green. Dancing is their chief amusement, which they perform to the music of the cricket, the grasshopper, and the frog,--always at night; and thus they form the fairy-rings. The Pixy-house is usually in a rock. By moon-light, on the moor, or under the dark shade of rocks, the Pixy-monarch, Mrs. Bray says, holds his court, where, like Titania, he gives his subjects their several charges. Some are sent to the mines, where they will kindly lead the miner to the richest lode, or maliciously, by noises imitating the stroke of the hammer, and by false fires, draw him on to where the worst ore in the mine lies, and then laugh at his disappointment. Others are sent
To make the maids their sluttery rue,
By pinching them both black and blue.
On this account, says Mrs. Bray, "the good dames in this part of the world are very particular in sweeping their houses before they go to bed; and they will frequently place a basin of water beside the chimney-nook, to accommodate the Pixies, who are great lovers of water; and sometimes they requite the good deed by dropping a piece of money into the basin. A young woman of our town, who declared she had received the reward of sixpence for a like service, told the circumstance to her gossips; but no six-pence ever came again, and it was generally believed that the Pixies had taken offence by her chattering, as they do not like to have their deeds, good or evil, talked over by mortal tongues."
The office of some is to steal children; of others, to lead travellers astray, as Will-o'-the-wisps, or to Pizxy-lead them, as it is termed. Some will make confusion in a house by blowing out the candle, or kissing the maids "with a smack, as they 'shriek Who 'a this?' as the old poet writes, till their grandams come in and lecture them for allowing unseemly freedoms with their bachelors." Others will make noises in walls, to frighten people. In short, everything that is done elsewhere by fairies, boggarts, or other like beings, is done in Devon by the Pixies.
It is said that they will sometimes aid their favourites in spinning their flax. "I have heard a story about an old woman in this town," says Mrs. Bray, "who suspected she received assistance of the above nature; and one evening, coming suddenly into the room, she spied a ragged little creature, who jumped out of the door. She thought she would try still further to win the services of her elfin friend, and so bought some smart new clothes, as big as those made for a doll. These pretty things she placed by the side of her wheel. The Pixy returned, and put them on; when, clapping her tiny hands, she was heard to exclaim--
Pixy fine, Pixy gay,
Pixy now will run away;
and off she went. But the ungrateful little creature never spun for the poor old woman after."
Mrs. Bray has been assured that mothers used frequently to pin their children to their sides, to prevent their being stolen by the Pixies; and she heard of a woman in Tavistock who avowed that her mother had a child which was stolen by them, as she was engaged banging out clothes to dry in her garden. She almost broke her heart when she discovered it; but she took great care of the changeling, which so pleased the Pixy, that she soon after gave the woman back her child, who proved eminently lucky in after life.
The being Pixy-led is a thing very apt to befall worthy yeomen returning at night from fair or market, especially if they sat long at the market-table; and then, says our authority, "he will declare, and offer to take his Bible-oath upon it, that, as sure as ever he 'a alive to tell it, whilst his head was running round like a mill-wheel, be heard with his own ears they bits of Pisgies a-laughing and a-tacking their hands, all to see he led-astray, and never able to find the right road, though he had travelled it scores of times long agone, by night or by day, as a body might tell." Mr. Thoms, too, was told by a Devon girl, who had often beard of the Pixies, though she had never seen any, that "she once knew a man who, one night, could not find his way out of his own fields, all he could do, until he recollected to turn his coat; and, the moment he did so, he heard the Pixies all fly away, up into the trees, and there they sat and laughed. Oh! how they did laugh! But the man then soon found his way out of the field."
This turning of the coat, or some other article of dress, is found to be the surest remedy against Pixy-illusion. Mrs. Bray says that the old folk in Tavistock have recourse to it as a preventive against being Pixy-led, if they have occasion to go out after sun-down. It appears to have been formerly in use in other parts of England also; for Bishop Corbet thus notices it in his "Iter Boreale:"
A mean for our deliverance, Turne your cloakes
Quoth hee, for Puoke is busy in these oakes;
If ever wee at Bosworth will be found
Then turne your cloake, for this is fairy ground.
In Scandinavia, also, we learn the remedy against being led astray by the Lygtemand, Lyktgubhe, or Will-o'-the-Wisp, is to turn one's cap inside out.
Mrs. Bray gives, in addition, the following-legends, which we have taken the liberty of abridging a little.
[a] The Local Historian's Table-Book, by M. A. Richardson, iii. 239. Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1846.
[b] Bourne, Antiquitates Vulgares, 1725.
[c] Quoted by Brand in his Popular Antiquities, an enlarged edition of Bourne's work.
[d] This word Pixy, is evidently Pucksy, the endearing diminutive sy being added to Puck, like Betsy, Nancy, Dixie. So Mrs. Trimmer in her Fabulous Histories--which we read with wonderful pleasure in our childhood, and would recommend to our young readers--calls her hen-robins Pecksy and Flapsy. Pisgy is only Pixy transposed. Mrs. Bray derives Pixy from Pygmy. At Truro, in Cornwall, as Mr. Thorns informs us, the moths, which some regard as departed souls, others as fairies, are called Pisgies. He observes the curious, but surely casual, resemblance between this and the Greek ψνχή, which is both soul and moth. Grimm (p. 430) tells us from an old glossary, that the caterpillar was named in Germany, Alba, i. e. Elbe, and that the Alp often takes the form of a butterfly.