DEMONS AND SPECTRES
"A ghost, shrouded and folded up
In its own formless honor."
The Cenci - SHELLEY "I woke; it was the midnight hour,
The dock was echoing in the tower;
But though my slumber was gone by,
This dream it would not pass away -
It seems to live upon my eye!"
Christobel - COLERIDGE
THE HOOTING CAIRN.
" On either hand, to left to right,
Heath, pasture, stream, and lake,
Glanced dazzling by, too swift for sight;
The thundering bridges quake.
'Dost fear, my love? The moon shines bright.
Hurrah! The dead ride swift to-night;
And art thou of the dead afraid?'
Oh no! but name them not--the dead."
-- Burger's Leonora, Herschel's Translation,
CAIRN Kenidzhek, pronounced Kenidjack, signifying Hooting Cairn, is on the north road from St Just to Penzance, and is strikingly distinguished from other hills by its rugged character. Hoary stones, bleached by the sunshine of ages, are reared in fantastic confusion. The spirits of the Celts, possibly the spirits of a yet older people, dwell amidst those rocks. Within the shadow of this hill are mounds and barrows, and mystic circles, and holed stones, and rude altars, still telling of the past. The dead hold undisputed possession of all around; no plough share has dared to invade this sacred spot, and every effort made by modern man to mark his sway is indicated by its ruin. Nothing but what the Briton planted remains, and, if tales tell true, it is probable long years must pass before the Englishman can banish the Celtic powers who here hold sovereign sway.
"A weird tract is that of Kenidzhek and the Gump, and of
ill repute. The old, half-starved horses on the common, with their hides grown
rusty brown, like dried and withered grass, by exposure, are ridden by the
archfiend at night. He is said to hunt lost souls over this heath; and an old
stile hard by bears an evil name, for there the souls are sure to be caught,
none being able to get over it. The people tell of midnight fights by demons,
and of a shadowy form holding a lantern to the combatants."
One of the tales which I have heard may be given as a strange mixture of the Celtic and the monastic legend.
Two miners who had been working in one of the now abandoned mines in Morvah, had, their labours being over, been, as was common, "half-pinting" in the public-house in Morvah Church.. town. It was after dark, but not late; they were very quiet men, and not drunk. They had walked on, talking of the prospects of the mine, and speculating on the promise of certain "pitches," and were now on the Common, at the base of the Hooting Cairn. No miner ever passed within the shadow of Cairn Kenidzhek who dared to indulge in any frivolous talk: at least, thirty years since, the influence akin to fear was very potent upon all.
Well, our two friends became silent, and trudged with a firm, a resolved footstep onward.
There was but little wind, yet a low moaning sound came from the cairn, which now and then arose into a hoot. The night was dark, yet a strange gleaming light rendered the rocks on the cairn visible, and both the miners fancied they saw gigantic forms passing in and about the intricate rocks. Presently they heard a horse galloping at no great distance behind them. They turned and saw, mounted on a horse ~'hich they knew very well, since the bony brute had often worked the "whim" on their mine, a dark man robed in a black gown and a hood over his head, partly covering his face.
"Hallo! hallo!" shouted they, fearing the rider would ride over them.
"Hallo to you," answered a gruff voice.
"Where be'st goen then?" asked the bravest of the miners.
"Up to the cairn to see the wrastling," answered the rider; "come along! come along!"
Horse and rider rushed by the two miners, and, they could never tell why, they found themselves compelled to follow.
They did not appear to exert themselves, but without much effort they kept up with the galloping horse. Now and then the dark rider motioned them onward with his hand, but he spoke not. At length the miners arrived at a mass of rocks near the base of the hill, which stopped their way; and, since it was dark, they knew not how to get past them. Presently they saw the rider ascending the hill, regardless of the masses of rock; passing unconcernedly over all, and, as it seemed to them, the man, the horse, and the rocks were engaged in a "three man's song," [a] the chorus to which was a piercing hoot. A great number of uncouth figures were gathering together, coming, as it seemed, out of the rocks themselves. They were men of great size and strength, with savage faces, rendered more terrible by the masses of uncombed hair which hung about them, and the colours with which they had painted their cheeks. The plain in front of the rocks which had checked the miners' progress was evidently to be the wrestling ground. Here gathered those monstrous-looking men, all anxiety, making a strange noise. It was not long ere they saw the rider, who was now on foot, descending the hill with two giants of men, more terrible than any they had yet seen.
A circle was formed; the rider, who had thrown off his black gown, and discovered to the miners that he was no other than Old Nick, placed the two men, and seated himself in a very odd manner upon the ground.
The miners declared the wrestlers were no other than two devils, although the horns and tail were wanting. There was a shout, which, as if it indicated that the light was insufficient, was answered by the squatting demon by flashing from his eyes two beams of fire, which shed an unearthly glow over everything. To it the wrestlers went, and better men were never seen to the west of Penzance. At length one of them, straining hard for the mastery, lifted his antagonist fairly high in the air, and flung him to the ground, a fair back fall. The rocks trembled, and the ground seemed to thunder with the force of the fall. Old Nick still sat quietly looking on, and notwithstanding the defeated wrestler lay as one dead, no one went near him. All crowded around the victor, and shouted like so many wild beasts. The love of fair play was strong in the hearts of the miners; they scorned the idea of deserting a fallen foe; so they scrambled over the rocks, and made for the prostrate giant, for so, for size, he might well be called. He was in a dreadful strait. Whether his bones were smashed or not by the fall, they could not tell, but he appeared "passing away." The elder miner had long been a professor of religion. It is true he had fallen back; but still he knew the right road. He thought, therefore, that even a devil might repent, and he whispered in the ear of the dying man the Christian's hope.
If a thunderbolt had fallen amongst them, it could not have produced such an effect as this. The rocks shook with an earthquake; everything became pitchy dark; there was a noise of rushing hither and thither, and all were gone, dying man and all, they knew not whither. The two miners, terrified beyond measure, clung to each other on their knees; and, while in this position, they saw, as if in the air, the two blazing eyes of the demon passing away into the west, and at last disappear in a dreadfully black cloud. These two men were, although they knew the ground perfectly well, inextricably lost; so, after vainly endeavouring to find the right road off the Common, they lay down in each other's arms under a mass of granite rock, praying that they might be protected till the light of day removed the spell which was upon them.
[a] "They have also Cornish three men's songs, cunningly contrived for the ditty, and pleasant for the note."--Carew, p. 72.