NEAR Dawlish stand, out in the sea, two rocks, of red sandstone conglomerate, to which the above name is given.
Seeing that this forms a part of Old Cornwall, I do not go beyond my limits in telling the true story of these singular rocks.
The Bishop of Exeter was sick unto death at Dawlish. An ambitious priest, from the east, frequently rode with his clerk to make anxious inquiries after the condition of the dying bishop. It is whispered that this priest had great hopes of occupying the bishop's throne in Exeter Cathedral.
The clerk was usually the priest's guide; but somehow or other, on a particularly stormy night, he lost the road, and they were wandering over Haldon. Excessively angry was the priest, and very provoking was the clerk. He led his master this way and that way, but they were yet upon the elevated country of Haldon.
At length the priest, in a great rage, exclaimed: "I would rather have the devil for a guide than you." Presently the clatter of horse's hoofs were heard, and a peasant on a moor pony rode up. The priest told of his condition, and the peasant volunteered to guide them. On rode peasant, priest, and clerk, and presently they were at Dawlish. The night was tempestuous, the ride had quickened the appetite of the priest, and he was wet through; therefore, when his friend asked him to supper, as they approached an old ruined house, through the windows of which bright lights were shining, there was no hesitation in accepting the invitation.
There were a host of friends gathered together--a strange, wild-looking lot of men. But as the tables were laden with substantial dishes, and black-jacks were standing thick around, the parson, and the clerk too, soon made friends with all.
They ate and drank, and became most irreligiously uproarious. The parson sang hunting songs, and songs in praise of a certain old gentleman, with whom a priest should not have maintained any acquaintance. These were very highly appreciated, and every man joined loudly in the choruses. Night wore away, and at last news was brought that the bishop was dead. This appeared to rouse up the parson, who was only too eager to get the first intelligence and go to work to secure the hope of his ambition. So master and man mounted their horses, and bade adieu to their hilarious friends.
They were yet at the door of the mansion--somehow or other the horses did not appear disposed to move. They were whipped and spurred, but to no purpose.
"The devil's in the horses," said the priest.
"I b'lieve he is," said the clerk.
"Devil or no devil, they shall go," said the parson, cutting his horse madly with his heavy whip.
There was a roar of unearthly laughter.
The priest looked round--his drinking friends were all turned into demons, wild with glee, and the peasant guide was an arch little devil, looking on with a marvellously curious twinkle in his eyes. The noise of waters was around them; and now the priest discovered that the mansion had disappeared, and that waves beat heavy upon his horse's flanks, and rushed over the smaller horse of his man.
Repentance was too late.
In the morning following this stormy night, two horses were found straying on the sands at Dawlish; and clinging with the grasp of death to two rocks were found the parson and the clerk. There stand the rocks, to which the devil had given the forms of horses--an enduring monument to all generations.
1 Robert Hunt, Popular Romances of the West of England, 1st series, p. 262.