THE SPECTRE SHIP OF PORTHCURNO.
PORTHCURNO COVE is situated a little to the west of the Logan Stone. There, as in nearly all the coves around the -coast, once existed a small chapel [a] or oratory, which appears to have been dedicated to St Leven. There exists now a little square enclosure about the size of a (bougie) sheep's house, which is all that remains of this little holy place. Looking up the valley (Bottom), you may see a few trees, with the chimney-tops and part of the roof of an old-fashioned house. That place is Raftra, where they say St Leven Church was to have been built; but as fast as the stones were taken there by day, they were removed by night to the place of the present church. (These performances are usually the act of the devil, but I have no information as to the saint or sinner who did this work.) Raftra House, at the time it was built, was the largest mansion west of Penzance. It is said to have been erected by the Tresillians, and, ere it was finished, they applied to have been obliged to sell house and lands for less than it had cost them to build the house.
This valley is, in every respect, a melancholy spot, and during a period of storms, or at night, it is exactly the place which might well be haunted by demon revellers. In the days of the saint from whom the parish has its name--St Leven--he lived a long way up from the cove, at a place called Bodelan, and his influence made that, which is now so dreary, a garden. By his pure holiness he made the wilderness a garden of flowers, and spread gladness where now is desolation.
Few persons cared to cross that valley after nightfall; and it is not more than thirty years since that I had a narrative from an inhabitant of Penberth, that he himself had seen the spectre ship sailing over the land.
This strange apparition is said to have been observed frequently, coming in from sea about nightfall, when the mists were rising from the marshy ground in the Bottoms.
Onward came the ill-omened craft. It passed steadily through the breakers on the shore, glided up over the sands, and steadily pursued its course over the dry land, as if it had been water. She is described to have been a black, square-rigged, single-masted affair, usually, but not always, followed by a boat. No crew was ever seen. It is supposed they were below, and that the hatches were battened down. On it went to Bodelan, where St Leven formerly dwelt. It would then steer its course to Chygwiden, and there vanish like smoke.
Many of the old people have seen this ship, and no one ever saw it, upon whom some bad luck was not sure to fall.
This ship is somehow connected with a strange man who returned front sea, and went to live at Chygwiden. It may be five hundred years since--it may be but fifty.
He was accompanied by a servant of foreign and forbidding aspect, who continued to be his only attendant; and this servant was never known to speak to any one save his master. It is said by some they were pirates; others make them more familiar, by calling them privateers; while some insist upon it they were American buccaneers. Whatever they may have been, there was but little seen of them by any of their neighbours. They kept a boat at Porthcurno Cove, and at daylight they would start for sea, never returning until night, and not unfrequently remaining Out the whole of the night, especially if the weather was tempestuous. This kind of sea-life was varied by hunting. It mattered not to them whether it was day or night; when the storm was loudest, there was this strange man, accompanied either by his servant or by the devil, and the midnight cry of his dogs would disturb the country.
This mysterious being died, and then the servant sought the aid of a few of the peasantry to bear his coffin to the churchyard. The corpse was laid in the grave, around which the dogs were gathered, with the foreigner in their midst. As soon as the earth was thrown on the coffin, man and dogs disappeared, and, strange to say, the boat disappeared at the same moment from the cove. It has never since been seen; and from that day to this, no one hasP been able to keep a boat in Porthcurno Cove.
[a] I am informed that there are no less than four of these cliff chapels between St I.even and St Loy, which was a larger building, where mass was probably celebrated.