Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, Vol. 2, by William Bottrell, , at sacred-texts.com
Story of Nelly Wearne.
This damsel was an illegitimate daughter of the last Cardew of Boskenna, and, (according to a very general custom which prevailed in the West) this love-child was bound a parish ’prentice to her father that he might be legally entitled to some degree of guardianship over his irregularly-begotten offspring. Children thus bound to their fathers were mostly regarded as a sort of poor cousins to the legitimate members of the family, and they were often taught a trade or handicraft, or portioned off with some small tenement. Nelly's spendthrift father, however, was a most unsuitable guardian for a young girl. He paid much more regard to his dogs and hunters than to his daughter, who, by all accounts was very remarkable for her good looks and devil-may-care disposition. The Squire's mother did all an old dame could do to restrain her wild tendencies, and give her a little more gentle breeding than was thought requisite for an ordinary servant. Dancing was one of the accomplishments in which Nelly took most delight, and Madam was rejoiced to find that her damsel was soon the best dancer in Burian. However hard Nell might have worked during the day, she thought nothing of going three or four miles of an evening, in any kind of weather, to enjoy her favourite diversion at some village merry-making. She never missed Burian Fair, which was then regarded by our western lads and maidens as the most joyful holiday of the spring.
When Nelly had become a young woman it happened that one Burian Fair-day the weather was even more tempestuous than usual, though the storms of Burian Fair are proverbial. Madam Cardew had made up her mind that Nelly should remain at home that stormy night, but she protested that neither rain nor wind, thunder nor lightning, nor all the old women in Burian, should hinder her going to Church-town and dancing at the Fair, which only came once a year; and she swore that a reel she would have, before that night was passed, even if she danced with Old Nick. "She would never be married," she often said, "unless she could meet with a man who was able to dance her
down; and she would find one that night or the Devil might take her." Off she went in a storm of wind, rain, and thunder, blaspheming and reviling the old lady, who tried to keep her home. Arrived in Church-town, Nelly found dancing going on in every room of the public-house; and violin, fife, or tambourine making music for the revellers in many other dwellings. Nell entered the principal room of the inn; and before she cast off her cloak and wrung the rain from her long black hair, many youngsters asked her to drink and dance with them, but she refused them all, saying they couldn't keep the floor half so long as herself—she would either get some better partner or not have a jig for that night.
Whilst she-was declining the offers of her rustic suitors, two dark-complexioned, strapping sailors entered, and one of them, dressed in dashing style, with gold lace on his coat, broad leather belt round his waist, cutlass by his side, and glossy boots reaching to his knees, advanced to Nelly, doffed his hat, bowed, and said, "Pray dance with me, my fair pretty maid?" "With all my heart, sir," she replied, rising and giving him her hand. Nelly's partner called to his comrade, "Now pipe away, Bosun, and give us the good old tune." The seaman addressed as Bosun took a pipe from his pocket, marched round the couple prepared to dance, saying "A floor, a floor, for the lovely Nell and our gallant Capt Black." The piper blew at first a rather slow measure, to which the captain's heel and toe, true as an echo, showed a new step at every change of pass and pitch. By slow degrees the tune became quicker till it was such as Nelly never moved her feet to before. The lively music soon drew such a crowd into the room to see the dancers, that the floor beams warped and showed signs of breaking. Then, as the storm lulled and a full moon shone bright, the dancers, followed by all the rest, left the house for an open space below the cross. Now every one wanted to treat the seamen, and they drank as much as they could, to show their good fellowship with every one, and Captain Black, giving a purse of gold to the landlady, desired her to send out her best cordials for the women kind, and to keep her beer-cocks running, that all might drink health to him and the lovely Nell.
When one and all had drunk as much as they liked, the Bosun's pipe again rung out so loud and clear that his music was heard for miles away. The Captain, Nelly, and scores of others again danced in joyous style. People from all parts flocked round them; every house in Church-town was soon empty. Old men and women hobbled and danced on their crutches; the piper's lively strains set every one in motion, till the road was covered with dancers, capering like mad folks, all the way from
[paragraph continues] Park-an-cady to the cross and around the churchyard. Soon after midnight, however, whilst their mirth was at its height, there suddenly came on a more violent storm than ever of wind, hail, and thunder. The sky, black as pitch one moment, was all a-blaze the next. Streams of lightning fell and ran hissing along the ground. All were terror-struck with the sudden rise of this awful weather. Yet, in the general consternation, some one had the happy thought to ring the bells, that their sound might allay the weather, and drive away the evil spirits who rode on the tempest. With the first stroke of the big bell the thunderclouds rolled away to the eastward, and at the same instant Captain Black vanished with Nelly and the piper.
This terrific storm, joined with the sudden disappearance of Nelly and the dark looking strangers, so frightened many that they fell down in fits, and others, from the same cause, were never right in their heads again.
On a tract of uncultivated land north of Boskenna lane, there was then a barn, which usually contained a quantity of dry food for the cattle wintered on the downs. This barn, then full of straw and hay, was burned to the ground that Fair-night, and near its ruins were found a handkerchief, full of fairings, with some other things which belonged to Nell, but all search for the wilful damsel was in vain. Most people believed that Captain Black was the Old One, disguised as a seaman, and the Bosun some inferior devil in attendance—that Nell, by her blasphemous language, had brought them from below, whither they had now taken her to dance as best she might. Squire Cardew, being less superstitious than many of his neighbours, conjectured that the strange dancer and piper were nothing worse than two jovial sailors, who had carried her off to their ship—an occurrence far from unusual in these times; and in hopes of gaining some tidings of his stolen or strayed daughter, he rode into Penzance and over to Market-jew, to make enquiries; but he could learn nothing of her. Some said, however, that a strange craft had anchored in Guavas Lake, the Fair-day, and that part of her crew had landed in Newlyn, but nothing farther was known of them, as the ship made sail the next morning.
Nelly's gay songs were missed in Boskenna hall, where she often sung for hours, to cheer the old lady when they were together plying their spinning-wheels, or seated in the window, lighted with the evening sun, at their embroidery. Then, at night, she used to be foremost in the dance with her father and his roystering companions of the chase.
Grief for the strange fate of Nelly shortened the days of old Madam Cardew, who was soon at rest in Burian churchyard, and the Squire took to hunting, drinking, and rioting worse than ever.
Twenty years and more passed; Nelly and the Cardews were all but forgotten; new people possessed their ancient domain; none of their kin remained in the West, but an old well-to-do yeoman and his family, who resided at Sennen.
One dreary afternoon there was a very humble funeral at Burian Church, and the last Cardew of Boskenna was laid beside the dust of his forefathers. Soon after candle-light on that day, whilst some few who came to see the last of the spendthrift, who had lavished his property upon them, were still drinking in the public house there entered, dripping wet, and weary, an elderly foreign-looking woman, whose dress of rich stuff and of outlandish make, was travel-stained and much the worse for wear. The large hooped-shaped rings in her ears, joined with her dark complexion and long braids of black hair wound around her head, only covered with the hood of her scarlet mantle, made her appearance still more remarkable.
The stranger enquired if Betty Trenoweth, who many years ago lived in Boskenna, was still alive. She was answered that Betty was alive and well, and lived no farther off than a minute's walk would take her, in a comfortable dwelling of her own, over Trevorgans side of Church-town. Without giving any one the chance to question her as to who she was, or whence she came, the outlandish-looking dame proceeded to Betty Trenoweth's cottage. The elderly woman, who opened her door, asked the stranger in and placed her to sit by her fire-side, wondering who she could be and what she could want of her, at that time of night. The stranger in a broken voice and speaking in an unfamiliar tongue, made many enquiries about the Cardews, and appeared to think they were all still living in Boskenna.
Betty informed her that none of the name were then in the place—that her old mistress had long been dead, and the young master was that day buried, having lost all his lands, she couldn't tell how, and the new people had, for years, only kept him there in a condition little better than that of a servant to hunt the same dogs which were his own a short time ago. "But who can you be," she continued, "not to know anything about them now; yet, from what you say, you must have known them all long ago? Oh! if I could but believe that dear Nelly were still alive, from the sound of your voice, so like the tones of the one laid in his grave to-day, I would say that you were she; and if you are, I have kept everything that belonged to ye, and what was found on the morning after the Downs barn was burnt is now in my chest."
"My dear old friend," the stranger replied, "I'm your Nelly. The night I lost that handkerchief I found my husband, but we must have some rest before I can tell ye our history."
Dame Trenoweth showed her delight at again beholding Nelly,
by preparing her a good supper and a comfortable bed. In the morning Nelly rose refreshed, and knowing the old woman wished to hear how she had fared since they danced together at Burian Fair, commenced by asking, "Did it never come into your head to think who the dark seaman could be? You had often seen the one, whom many took for Old Nick, dance with me in Boskenna hall, when he, and scores of others, came to Feast. He had to leave the country, because a person he beat in fair fight died from the effects of his lusty blows, three years, or so, before that Burian Fair; and the Bosun, too, was a lad you very well knew."
"Oh," exclaimed Betty, "now I see it all: the one that took you off was young Billy Brea, and his comrade was his cousin Bosvargus, of Kelynack."
"You have rightly guessed," Nelly replied.
"Hundreds of times," Betty continued to say, "old mistress and I have wondered what was become of the wild youngster who was so fond of you, even when a young girl working your sampler; and he, foremost in the hunt or fight, always said he'd have no other wife than the lovely little Nell. And old Madam would often say that, though he might be as poor as poor might be, yet was he come of the gentle blood of the Breas of Brea, who at one time were as rich and high as any in the West Country; and their old mansion, with the chapel turned into a barn by those who now occupy their estate, and their chapel on the hill of Brea, still show how grand they once were! I remember, too, the many good offers you had from rich farmers’ sons around, and wondered how you refused them all."
When the old dame had somewhat recovered from her surprise, Nelly told her, that, young and thoughtless as she was, until Brea, to avoid trouble to his family, escaped with great haste and secrecy, she had no notion how deep was her love for the unfortunate youngster, and that he, unknown to every one but herself, had been for many days and nights in Boskenna or Treviddern cliff, before Bosvargus found a merchant-ship, in which they both left on a long voyage. Nelly knew if all went right, when they might be expected to return; and Brea promised her that, whenever he came on shore, he'd take no rest till he met her again in the old chapel of St. Loy, where many a long and dreary night she had watched and prayed for his safe return, and often of an evening, or a winter's night, when the inmates of Boskenna thought her in bed, or miles away at some merrymaking, she was wandering the cliffs, or waiting in the cairns near by, in hope of meeting with her absent lover. Yet she had only the chance to see him at long intervals, and then only for a short time.
Four or five years after Brea went to sea, he became captain of a ship. Then he proposed to take Nelly with him as his bride, and she, being nothing loath, they met at St. Loy, one night, a little before the Fair, and agreed that, at the Fair, a dance together they would have, and that should be their bridal night. He was so altered, as well as his comrade, the Bosun, that no person but Nelly knew them, and, if they did, no one would betray him, or turn informer.
When Nelly had come thus far in the history of her courtship, Betty said, "Now, my darling, one can understand how, in spite of wind and rain, you were so eager to go to Fair that night; and, faith, I'd go through fire and water for the man I loved when at the mad age you were then. One can see how drink, given without stint, by the open-hearted sailor, together with the music of the Bosun's pipe, set every one dancing in spite of themselves. Then, when the storm so suddenly came, and as suddenly broke, and you vanished in the midst of thunder and lightning, with Brea and his Bosun, everyone believed you were carried off by the Devil, and it's thought so still. But tell me what next became of ye?"
Nelly then related, how when the storm was at its height, Brea took her on towards Boskenna. They intended to see old Madam, say farewell, and take a horse from the stable to help them on their road; but, long before they came to Boskenna gate, with hard weather, drinking, and dancing, Nelly was unable to stand. Then Billy Brea took her up in his arms, and bore her along till they came to the Downs barn, where she fell on the straw half dead. Brea remembered every hole and corner about the place, and knew that a tinder-box, with candle and lanthorn, used to. be kept in the barn that one might have light in winters’ mornings to bundle up straw or hay for the cattle, and being anxious to reach his ship early in the morning, wanting to know the time, and not being over steady in the head, when he struck a light and saw by his watch that there was still some hours to daybreak, he, neglecting to put out the candle, fell asleep and only woke to find the place on fire. He drew Nelly from the burning barn, and they hurried on to Mousehole, where they found the Bosun and boat's crew waiting for them.
"And have ye been lawfully married, my darling?" asked the old dame. "Indeed we have," answered Nelly "not that I cared much about the ceremony; for to me his love was all in all, and from that moment I felt sure of his truth and affection I regarded him as ray husband and freely gave him all that love requires. Yet as we were near a port when I was about to become a mother, my husband proposed we should go through the legal form winch would entitle our children to bear their father's
family name, if they chose; so one may say they are, at least, all truly born. But that was of little consequence, because he was no more known by the name of Brea."
Captain Black, as we shall henceforth call Nelly's husband, offered her a home either on land or on board. She decided to make her abode in his gallant ship; the Captain was pleased with her choice, and she not to be encumbered with an inconvenient dress for such a life, rigged herself in man's attire, and soon learned to do the duty of an able seaman. To act as cook and steward on board ship soon became as natural to her as the care of Boskenna mansion. Besides this, Nelly learned to keep the ship's reckoning and navigation so well, that often, when the Captain was laid low with wounds or fever, she took his place, and by that means saved the ship and ship's company.
During many years they traded from London to distant ports in various parts of the globe, without any serious mishap; but, on a return voyage from the Levant, a Barbary corsair gave chase and overtook them. At that time these sea-robbers seldom levied what they were pleased to call dues for coming into, or crossing, their waters, from any English ships, but often from a motive of revenge as much as for gain, confined their attention to Spanish and French vessels. This Levantine gang, however, attempted to board and take the Buck, and many of them were cut down by her crew, as they came up the side, before they gave over and made off. In this encounter Captain Black, Nelly, and several of the crew were badly wounded. This maddened the Captain, and he swore to serve out these cursed pirates if his crew would join him. Nell and all the ship's company, being as eager for revenge as their Captain, and hoping by this neck-or-nothing game to acquire riches quickly, as soon as their cargo was disposed of, the Captain having saved a large sum, procured a suitable craft for privateering which he called the Lovely Nell, and when she was well armed and victualled, they made sail for the Levantine seas, where, in a short time, they captured several rich prizes, and, among others, the galleon which was the cause of their becoming privateers. On this crew they took ample revenge.
Nelly, and all the ship's company, liking the excitement of this wild life, and not being over-scrupulous as to the means of getting rich, no sooner neared the Cornish coast that the Captain, Nelly, Bosvargus, and some few others, put ashore, in a boat, at Goonwalla Cove, and buried a quantity of gold in some secret nooks of the cliff. The Lovely Nell then took her course for the sea-rovers’ rendezvous in the West Indies.
There, many years were passed in buccaneering expeditions to plunder the French and Spanish Settlements, until they had
amassed a great quantity of treasure in money and jewels, taken in pillage and for the ransom of prisoners. Nelly said that, for many years, she much enjoyed this roving life. During that time several children were born. And all who lived were boys, who soon became expert sailors, and, after serving their apprenticeship with their dad, all but the oldest and youngest had then left for other vessels.
About a year before the time Nelly returned to Burian, she, with her husband and most of the crew, thinking they were rich enough, wished to give up this roving life, and decided to settle down in their native land. They disintered the riches they had buried in various uninhabited islands and keys, which were only frequented by such as themselves. The chests of dollars, bars of silver, ingots of gold, ornaments, jewels, and rare gems, which belonged to the Captain's share alone, were worth more than would purchase half a-dozen such estates as Boskenna, and the dearest wish of her heart was that they might return in time to free that place for her father
They were many months collecting all their riches. They then set sail from the western main, and arrived with fair weather in sight of the Cornish coast. The wind being light and sea smooth they kept close in shore for the pleasure of gazing on the well-remembered cairns and coves.
More than a week before they sighted land, Nelly was seized with a most intense desire to be put ashore at some cove near the Land's End, and, when they beheld the well-known landmark of Burian Tower, saw Castle Trereen, passed Penberth, St. Loy, and Lamorna Coves, her longing to land and see her father was such that she could neither eat nor sleep; and this was about the time he breathed his last.
She begged to be landed in Mount's Bay, but her husband, wishing her to remain on board till their vessel should be disposed of and their riches turned into English money, they passed the Lizard, when, to save her from going mad, she was put ashore at Falmouth. Thence she was brought on horseback to Market-jew, and walked from that place to Burian. Her husband agreed, should the weather permit, to return to Mount's Bay, and there cruise about until she might be ready to proceed along with him, when, as was arranged, she would be taken on board from Mousehole or the Mount. This is the substance of what Nelly related to her old friend, of her adventures up to that night; and when Dame Trenoweth told her how all the Cardews were dead and gone from Boskenna, she no longer desired to see the old mansion, but heartily wished herself again on the ocean with the one for whom she had left her native land and weathered the storms of more than twenty years; she endeavoured to cheer
herself with the hope that, ere many days, she would again behold the Lovely Nell, sailing, in all her pride of flowing sails, and, walking the quarter-deck, her husband, near enough to be hailed from Reginnis Cliff.
The second day after Nelly's return to Burian, she became anxious to rejoin her husband, as she knew the wind had been favourable for him to beat back to Mount's Bay. It had been arranged that he should cruise about near the coast for a day or two, or until she might give him a signal, from Paul Cliff, to send a boat ashore for her at Mousehole. The following morning Nelly rose by break of day, dressed herself in a suit of seaman's clothes which she had brought with her, left her discarded woman's dress, and a good sum of money, with Dame Trenoweth, and wished her good-bye, saying that she hoped to see her again ere long, when she and her husband would settle down in the West, to end their days in peace.
Before sunrise, Nelly stood on the high headland west of Mousehole, straining her vision in a vain endeavour to pierce the clouds of mist which rolled over the water and hid both sea and shore. She could hear the fishermen's voices and the sound of oars rattling in the row-locks; but, only at the distance of a stone's cast, land, sea, and sky, were all shrouded in fog. A few hours later the mist cleared away. She saw boats returning from the fishing-ground, and a good many vessels passing across the Bay, but no craft that could be taken for her husband's ship.
Tired with watching, from the cliff, the ships as they sailed past, she descended to Mousehole to make enquiries there, if any vessel like the Lovely Nell had been seen on the coast. She met with no person until near Squire Keigwin's mansion, and there, near the balcony, were collected a number of people around a pile of such things as are usually found loose on a ship's deck. Nell joined the crowd, who told her that the water-casks hatches, buckets, spars, and other articles she saw before her had, that morning, been found floating near Lamorna Cove; and everybody thought that a ship, which was seen cruising near the shore, the night before, must have struck on some dangerous rocks west of Lamorna, sprung a leak, and foundered in deep water, with all hands on board. Nell hearing this, rushed through the crowd, examined the wreck, and there saw many well-remembered articles belonging to her husband's ship. Whether Nelly cried, fainted, or gave any other natural expression to her grief, we don't know. Without discovering herself, however, to the people of Mousehole she remained there all day, in to hear something farther from others who had gone out in search of anything which might be floating near the place where it was supposed the vessel must have sunk; but
nothing more was learnt of the disaster. Some fishermen, however, said that when the mist cleared away they saw a boat far out to sea, but that they concluded it to be a smuggling craft bound for France.
Late at night Nelly returned crushed with grief, to her old friend who did all she could to console her, and time, which alleviates all sorrows, at last brought relief to the bereaved woman. Then she assisted the old dame in her household work and in carding and spinning—more because constant exercise made her think less of her loss than from any necessity for exertion to gain a livelihood. She had brought with her a good sum of money, intended to pay off the incumbrances of her father's estate (in these times a small amount of gold would buy a large extent of land). She had many valuable jewels besides. An Betty was also well off. Having seen the last of Madam Cardew, the old servant had from her son many valuable dresses and old heirlooms of the family, saved, between them, from the clutches of those who got the besotted Squire into their power, and, long before he died, this old servant of the family was the only one in the wide world to care for him, or who showed him any kindness. Nelly, on her mother's side, being a near relation to Dame Trenoweth, she regarded the poor wanderer as her own daughter. When several months had passed a circumstance occurred which gave Nelly just that uncertain glimmer of Hope against Reason, which is more grievous to bear than the certainty of evil.
A sealed bottle was found in Mount's Bay, containing a paper on which Captain Black's name, and those of several others, were written. It was directed to "Nelly Wearne, Boskenna;" and the news came to her through the gossip of the village. The paper was lost or destroyed without reaching her, because everyone thought that she was an inhabitant of a warmer region.
An Betty one day said to Nelly, "’Tis as good as a play, my dear, to see how all the old women of Church-town try to discover who and what you are, and they can't find out, because, for the fun of the thing, I take good care to fool them." Seeing that Nelly roused herself and took some interest in her talk, she continued,
"They are mad to know how you are never to be seen anywhere out-of-doors, except down in the cliffs, early in a morning or late of moonlight nights."
"Well, and what did you answer to that?" Nelly asked.
"To puzzle them the more," said Betty, "I told the curious, prying fools, that you were a Wise Woman come from the East—that you ramble over cliffs and moors to gather herbs, whilst the morning dew is on them, or when the moon is near the full—that no one can beat you in making from them, ointments, salves,
and still-waters—that you understand all sorts of complaints and can cure anything, from the gripes to the palsy. And now all the young wenches in the parish want to know if you can read fortunes; they think you can because you look like a gipsey, so they say. 'Why yes to be sure; nobody better,' I told them. Now listen to me," Betty went on to say, when she had recovered her breath, "I've made them believe that you can read the stars—that you know all that will happen to any body by the lines of their palms—that you can tell, by means of rushes, spring water, and ivy leaves, and scores of ways besides, who are to be married, as well as who are to die unblessed with a husband. And to everything they asked about your knowledge of white witchcraft, I assured them that you knew more about magic, conjuration, and so forth, than the Witch of Endor that we have all heard of."
"My dear old friend," says Nelly, "how could ’e go on so. I, know no more about fortune-telling than you do—perhaps not so much, as you're a noted hand for charming."
"No matter for that," answered An Betty, "You know everything remarkable that ever happened in the families round up to the last twenty years or so, and what you don't know I can tell ’e. When they find that you're acquainted with what's past they are sure to believe that you can read them the future. Besides, this game will serve to divert your thoughts from ever dwelling on Billy Brea, or Captain Black, if you have a mind to call him, so."
"I don't much mind trying, but how shall I manage to know who they are?"
"You keep in the hale," (best room) Betty replied, "and, before they see you, I'll come in and tell ’e who they are; then, when they enter to consult ’e, be sure, first of all, to give a hint at some scandal that made a noise about their families, no matter how long ago; everything bad is remembered for ages after the good is forgotten. Then promise the young lasses any number of sweethearts and a speedy marriage. You know what you used to wish for in your teens."
In spite of her grief, Nelly, to please the old dame, soon became widely known as the wise woman, or white witch, of Burian Church-town. She read the fortunes of young and old, much to their satisfaction and her own gain. Those who could’nt pay in cash paid in kind. The greatest trouble she had was with the sedate, plain, and sour elderly females, who were all but past hope. They would come, and come again, mad to know if they were ever to be blessed with a husband. By the old woman's advice, Nelly gave them dubious answers and advice for wheedling old hoary-heads and hobble-de-hoys, as they were easiest snared. ’Tis said some were supplied with love-powders,
made from the bulbs of plants commonly called Adam and Eve, and that others were furnished with compounds for more questionable purposes. In a little while Nelly became famous for match-making. Her outlandish dress and the strange speech which she affected, made the simple folks, who had never been out of the smoke of their chimnies, think she must have been born and bred in Egypt, or in some other foreign land of which they had heard.
Sometimes, when at a loss to find a suitable response to the wishes or fears of her visitors, she would burst out with long, unintelligible words, as if forgetting herself, and end by saying, "Oh! my dears, know that, far away as I am from my native land, I often think that I am speaking to my cousins, the maidens of Jericho; all the tongues of eastern countries are easier for me than your Cornish speech. At other times she would entertain them with stories of what she had learned from an uncle in Babylon. Besides carrying on these profitable trades of soothsaying, charming, and deviltry, Nelly and Dame Trenoweth made and sold ointments that were in great demand for the cure of various skin diseases, which were more common in those times (when much salt meat was used all the year round) than the same class of distempers are at the present day. The way in which these ointments, salves, or unguents were prepared, was by seething in lard elder-flowers, betony, and other healing or drying herbs, cut fine, until their medical virtues were extracted; then the ointment was carefully strained from the herbs and ready for use. As a remedy for a troublesome distemper, now seldom heard of, they made an ointment from Skaw-dower, the English of the name is water-elder, (the Scrophularia:) sulphur was mixed with this unguent for the disease alluded to. Another noted preparation of this time was a golden-coloured salve, made from purified lard and celandine juice; this was much esteemed as a remedy for obscured sight. Our wise-women also distilled elder-flowers, eye-bright, and other cooling herbs for eye-waters.
Nelly and her aged friend had acquired much useful knowledge about the virtues of plants from Madam Cardew, who, like many other ladies of the West Country, at that time, prepared from simples, many useful medicines with which they supplied their poorer neighbours, and such was Nelly's fame as a skilful doctoress, that, before a year was gone, gentle and simple came from a great distance to consult her for her medicines. Her preparations might have possessed medical virtues which need not be despised even in these enlightened a times. Though the faculty make a jest of old women's nostrums, yet in our great-grandmother's time, the uses and natures of various plants were much
better understood by country ladies than they. are at the present day; because those who are esteemed accomplished botanists pay more attention to the classification and nomenclature of plants than to their usefulness. In this kind of life, Nelly passed her time—seemingly tranquil. Knowing that any expression of gloomy feeling only makes it take the deeper root, she showed no outward signs of sorrow. Yet she was for ever grieving over the untimely fate of the lost ones; and, when alone with her old friend, she would often say that, in spite of all she could do to forget, her heart was ever with her husband and children at the bottom of the deep. However skilful the poor woman might have been in reading others’ fortunes, she little knew what fate had in store for her.
One Autumn evening, about three years after Nelly returned, she was alone with her old friend relating some adventures of her sea-faring life. As usual, her husband's reckless courage and bravery was the theme of her discourse. A knock was heard at the open door. Dame Trenoweth rose and saw, standing on the door-sill, a stout, dark man, who asked if any one lived there who could read his fortune? Nelly knew the voice, sprung to the door, and was clasped in her husband's arms.
"Whatever has happened," said Nelly, "thank the Powers, you are safe. But tell me where are my sons?" "Here's one of them," said a lusty young fellow, stepping into the doorway, from having stood on one side fearing the fortune-teller wouldn't turn out to be his mother, "and my eldest brother is on board our good ship anchored in Guavas Lake, which we left a few hours since."
The Captain then related how he had come to Boskenna, expecting still to find some of the Cardews there, and Nelly with them. He found none but strangers, who told him that the Cardews were all dead and their clothes washed—that Nelly Wearne had never been heard of since she was carried away by the Old One, as every body believed.
They came on to Church-town and enquired at the inn if a strange woman had come to the parish about three years since, and were told that a gipsey fortune-teller, who lived with Betty Trenoweth, came there about that time.
Before going to rest Captain Black related how, on the foggy morning, when he hoped to take Nelly on board, by a mistake in reckoning, he kept too near the shore, and their ship struck on a rock west of Lamorna. As the ship leaked but little at first they hoped she had only sustained slight damage. They tacked off the coast, still shrouded in dense fog, and intended to bring her into Mousehole or Penzance; but, in an hour or so, the water poured in so fast that they had barely time to launch a boat
and place in it a small part of their riches, when the Lovely Nell went to the bottom, with several of the crew in her hold. The Captain told all hands to let the jewels, gold, and silver go to Davy Jones's locker, but some of them, disregarding his orders, went below and were endeavouring to save a part of their riches when the ship sunk, and he being the only one then on deck swam off and reached the boat. They remained an hour or more, beating about where the ship went down, in hopes that some of the submerged crew might escape from the hold and rise to the surface. The fog still hid the shore, so that they knew not on which side of the coast they lay, and, before they had time to think much of their loss, or to form any plans for the future, a ship, with sails and rigging all out of order, loomed in the mist, within speaking distance.
There was not a soul to be seen on the dirty-looking craft. Black hailed her with the usual questions. No response. They were about, to board her and hailed again, when a man rambled to the gangway and in a drunken voice, answered "Here I am: this ship is the Red Rover." To the questions where bound, &c., he replied "We are from the Seas: we want to get to Madagascar; can't ’e tell us the way, mate, and where we are now? we ought to be near there by this time I should think, and seeming to me I have heard your voice before now, but can't call ’e by name, who are ’e an? and where do ’e hail from when you are home?"
On getting nearer, Captain Black perceived that the one who spoke to him was a St. Just man, who had sailed with him many years—a good fellow, and a first-rate seaman when sober, but he was so seldom capable of performing his duty, that the Captain, to be rid of him, and others of the crew equally fond of rum, had, a year or so ago, left them the good ship in which they sailed; but now from neglect, those who built the strong and swift-sailing craft wouldn't know her.
"Oh; I know ’e now," said the St. Just man, after he had stared at Captain Black awhile. "You are our old commander, and I am brave (very) and glad to find ’e; and where have ’e left your ship, the Lovely Nell?"
Black inquired for their captain and quarter-master.
"I'm cappen to-day," he of the Red Rover replied, "we are all commanders in turn when we arn’t too drunk, like all the rest of us are now. As for quarter-master, we haven't wanted any yet to share the prizes; but we want a captain who can keep the reckoning, and you shall take charge of the ship with all my heart, if you will."
With the St. Just man's full consent, Black and the remnant of his ship's company, among whom were his two sons, took
possession of the Red Rover which, for strength and swiftness, was almost equal to his former craft. Before the drunken crew mime to their senses all the arms and ammunition were secured in the cabin. Then, over a bowl of punch, Black was elected Captain; a quarter-master was chosen, as was usual with these hardy seamen; and they had a carpenter among them who always performed the surgical operation: in case of need he would take the wounded limb under his arm, and, with his big saw, separate it from the body of his patient, with as much ease and as quickly as he could have cut a spar in two, and with his red-hot axe cauterize the wound.
Rules were drawn up, agreeably to the sea-rover's code, and sworn to on an axe—the Rover's old crew consenting to all Captain Black required on the condition that there should be no stint of rum.
Now a few days after this, whilst the old and new hands were working in company, clearing the deck of all lumber, that they might have a fair stage for fighting and otherwise getting things into ship-shape, it leaked out and was known to the Captain that, a few months since, the Rover's former crew had chosen a commander and officers who knew something of navigation, but when the crew was augmented by half a score desperadoes from the lawless multitude swarming about the islands, these officers, for trying to check the riotous proceedings of their ship's company, got themselves marooned; that is, they were put ashore on an uninhabited island, that they might take their chance to die or live. As these deserted men were the only ones on board who had any notion of keeping a ship's reckoning, the drunken crew, who took possession, when found in Mount's Bay, had a very vague idea as to what part of the world they were sailing in, and they had, by fits and starts, a week or so past, given chase to the Lovely Nell, thinking her to be some richly laden merchant-man. She and her crew had been altered in her rig, and otherwise, so as to pass for a ship pursuing an honest vocation. Some of the marooned men were well known to Captain Black and esteemed by him to be worthy fellows, as pirates go, and as brave men and true—for gentlemen of their profession. Without enlightening his crew as to their destination, he made sail for the desolate island, and by the time they had their guns, pistols, and cutlasses clean and fit for service they arrived at the place of exile only just in time to save the deserted men from starving in the midst of plenty; all for want of a tinder-box, or any other means of kindling a fire. The rescued men told Captain Black and the sober portion of his ship's company, that they would repay them for their deliverance with something more substantial than words. The fact was that in wandering over and round the
island in search of water, yams, roots and fruits, or whatever would contribute to sustain life, they had discovered an immense quantity of buried treasures, probably the concealed spoil of former pirates, which were taken on board to be shared among all but those who marooned them. The drunken mutineers, when their former officers were brought on board, were sent on shore with a tipsey fiddler to take their places.
Among the rescued Captain Black found one of his own sons. This did not surprise him, as he had left his father's ship many years ago, that he might enjoy more liberty elsewhere; but it accounted for the silence of the crew. It was only in their drunken bouts that an intimation of the occurrence escaped, on which the Captain acted.
Some provisions, a tinder-box, and materials for striking fire, were left with the sailors on the island. The rescued officers soon recovered their strength, and, falling in with a strong and swift-sailing Spanish ship, the Rover gave chase, and captured the prize, which, as one captain was enough in a ship, was handed over to those delivered from the island, who retained part of the crew and made the rest walk the plank.
Captain Black, with his share of the treasures found on the island, was as well off as ever he was for returning; but, as the greatest part of his ship's company preferred to enjoy their free-and-easy life a few years longer, they bore away to the Spanish Main, where they sometimes acted in concert with other buccaneers.
Nothing worthy of note is related of their adventures. One of their practical jokes was whenever the buccaneers took a priest in any of the Spanish settlements, they conveyed the sable gentleman on board, placed him on all-fours, and rode him round the deck, or made him dance by sweating him with pricks of knives or forks, &c., as long as the fiddler or piper could play.
In about three years they had treasures to their hearts’ content, and those who chose to give up their adventurous career returned with Captain Black. Best part of the night was passed by the returned Captain in relating his adventures to his wife and the old dame.
Early next morning three horses were procured, and Nelly, with her husband and son, were on Newlyn beach by break of day.
Captain Black hailed the Red Rover. A boat, well manned, left the ship and soon grounded on Newlyn beach. Then such a man as the Captain was when he danced at Burian Fair, on his stormy bridal night, sprang from the boat and beat through the sea to meet his mother. With little delay great store of money, jewels, rich stuffs, and other valuables were landed and
conveyed to Betty Trenoweth's dwelling. The Red Rover with Nelly's eldest son appointed commander, proceeded on her voyage to London, that her valuable merchandise might there be disposed of. Now the Captain and younger Black, by Nelly's earnest desire, consented at least to try the landsman's peaceful life. They had more riches than would suffice to purchase a good farm and enable them to live at their ease. The son, too, seems to have had no great love for a sea-rover's profession. Black leased, or purchased, a large old house at Trevorgans, with about thirty acres of tillable land, and a great run of downs and moors which, though they could not boast of much in the shape of game, were well stocked with rabbits, and the moors, in winter, were resorted to by wild-fowl—a substitute for beasts of chase not to be despised when but little fresh meat could be had. Then hunting was pursued as much for necessity as for pastime, The younger Black took to the farming kindly, for one who had only been used to plough the deep, and soon acquired a sufficient knowledge of the simple husbandry practised at that time.
When the only crops grown in fields were corn and pulse, green crops for winter's consumption were unknown, and potatoes, just introduced, were regarded as something more curious than useful, and to be cultivated in the gardens of rich folks only; just as Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, sea-kale, salsify, beans, and many other useful plants, which ought to be grown in every farmer's field or garden, are still neglected here. The bold Buccaneer, Black, was well received and made much of by the neighbouring gentry, who, for the most part, were very poor; yet they contrived to keep up a show of gentility on very inadequate means. Then in Burian parish alone, one might count seven or eight gentlemen's seats, or more correctly, what courtesy were called such, which were inhabited by different branches of the Pendars, Tresillians, Davieses, Jenkins, Harveys, Hutchenses, and others. The Levealises had become extinct, and the Noys, Boscawens, Vivians, &c., had shortly before then removed from their ancient homes to other parts of the country. Portions of their old mansions still remain in the condition of dilapidated farm-houses in Trove, Trevider, Treveddern, Pendrea, Baranhuel, Alsia, Tresidder, Rissic, &c. A country church was then, (perhaps even more than it is now,) the principle stage on which the rural gentry displayed their state and grandeur to admiring rustics. Captain Black, not to be eclipsed, would appear in Burian Church on Sundays and holidays dressed in crimson damask waistcoat and breeches, silk hose, diamond knee and shoe-buckles, a red feather in his cocked hat, a gold chain round his neck with a diamond cross hung to it, jewel-hilted sword, hanging
by a silk sash at his side; his naval-blue coat resplendent with gold buttons, lace, and other trappings proper to the Buccaneer's costume. Nelly, decked out in rich velvets, lace, silks, satins, and jewels which once belonged to dark-eyed senoras of Mexico or Peru, eclipsed all the ladies of the West Country.
Such a man as Captain Black, notwithstanding his former profession was not a person to be treated with contempt at any time, and much less "In the days when we went a pirating, a long time ago." These gentlemen were looked upon as heroic adventurers, who served the dons, by way of reprisal, no worse than they deserved. Because then, if an English, French, or Dutch ship put into a Spanish-American port she was likely to be confiscated, and her crew kept prisoners, or treated no better than slaves, if they escaped with their lives, till dearly ransomed. We have little to do, however, with the morality of sea-highwaymen. Yet, if old stories may be credited, our brave Buccaneer Black soon became a greater favourite with certain ladies of the parish than he was with their lovers and husbands.
One tale is often told of his adventures with a gay lady of the Tresillian family, who then lived at Tresidder, and how a noted smuggler called Ackey Carn, one both landless and lawless, who cared for no man, being a rival for the gay dame's favour, by way of a jest spoke of certain amatory passages which he had witnessed between the Captain and lady, whose powerful and proud relatives constrained Carn, under pain of their displeasure, to do penance in Burian Church for thus thoughtlessly exposing the scandal. But the culprit, who, according to custom, came into church barefooted and clad in a sheet, instead of kneeling before the priest or parson, to beg pardon, and otherwise express contrition, and receive the priestly reprimand with becoming humility, stood up in front of the rud-locks (rood-loft,) turned his back to the priest and, facing the congregation (crowded to behold the show) made the well-remembered speech which begins:—
[paragraph continues] Here follows a minute relation, told in language more quaint than choice, which was calculated to spread the scandal far and near. Then, throwing off his sheet, he showed himself well armed and bade defiance to all priests, pirates, and Tresillians, this side of a disagreeably warm place, as he would have said, if paraphrases of gentle words and equivocations had been the fashion then; however, he said he didn't care a rap for any one before him, and he would fight them all one after the other.
Black took up the challenge as soon as given, and offered to fight him there and then, any way he chose, either with arms or
naked fists. Their partisans decided that they should fight unarmed. Black threw down his sword and would have fought in the church had there been a clear field for their encounter. They passed through the hundreds who were assembled at a clear space or bowling-alley, below the cross. Ackey Carn, finding that Black was too dexterious for him in the use of his fists, and that he was getting the worst of it in boxing, turned the Captain over his hip and brought him down a fair back fall; and, as often as Black rose, the smuggler laid him down at full length, yet always with the greatest care not to harm the man who had often treated him like a prince. Carn only wanted to convince the Captain that he was his match one way or another in the art of self-defence. The two men having fought and wrestled till they were bruised black and blue, acquired the greatest respect and admiration for each other's courage, fair play, and prowess; and they were taken at last into the public-house and, over a bowl of punch, the Buccaneer and smuggler Carn became sworn friends, which they ever remained until their day of doom, when they left this world together.
Notwithstanding the favours of country ladies and gentlemen, Black soon became tired of what he was pleased to call a landlubber's lazy life. Caring little for hunting, and less for farming and other sports or occupations which make rural life glide pleasantly away, he passed much of his time in the public-house, surrounded by a gang of loafers who drank at his expense and applauded his stories of savage warfare, told in such infernal language as is seldom heard except from the lips of sea-robbers. His greatest delight was to beat everyone in hard drinking—no easy matter in those times. An old song of that jovial age thus describes what was deemed fair enebriation:—
[paragraph continues] After days and nights of drunken revelry, Black, in gloomy fits, would often wander down to the cleves and pass many days alone, in the carns and sawns of the sea-shore, or was only seen in company with the smuggler Carn, who, from the Sunday when they fought for the honour, or disgrace, of the fair lady, became the Captain's favourite companion. Yet time hung heavy on the Captain's hands, and by way of a change, he had built from his own designs, a strong, swift-sailing, half-decked craft, which might serve for fishing and fetching liquors and other goods from France. There was a high duty on salt then.
When she was all rigged and ready for sea Captain Black
took Carn for his mate, and they, with a crew of such dare-devils as suited them. They set sail one Friday morn in the Fall and shaped their course for Gunwallo, where they landed, dug up and shipped the treasures taken from the Moorish galley some five-and-twenty years before. Thence our free-traders bore away for their usual trading port in Brittany. They soon procured the goods they required, then passed several days drunk and rioting, and often fighting, with anyone they encountered, for mere pastime. As smugglers spent abundance of money in the place, they were allowed to do much as they pleased. At last they made sail for home with a fair breeze, which, however, soon died away; and, for several days, there was scarcely a breath of wind. The sky continued overcast and the air sultry. During this heavy weather Black lay among the goods like one worn out, and scarcely spoke or moved. After a tiresome spell of beating about and making but little progress, the wind freshened, and one evening, about night-fall, they sighted the Lizard. Then, suddenly, black clouds gathered over-head, and a thunderstorm came on. With the first flash of lightning Black sprung up and said, "Hoist all sail, boys, for by all the devils we'll get home this night." The crew wished to shorten sail or lay to till day-dawn, but the Captain's spirits rose with the storm. He took the helm, and shaped his course in almost total darkness, for Penberth Cove The boat going before the wind, bounded over the waves like a thing of life; the crew expected every moment to become a wreck; they could only see the cliffs by the flashing lightning when Black, as if sporting with their fears, cried out, "Bravo devils of the whirlwind, fire away, we will eve ye a salute with our thunder;" then, giving the helm to Carn, he loaded and fired their swivel-gun, answer to a cannonade from the clouds. The crew were confounded by the blasphemous talk of their commander, who, amidst the crash and roar of wind, waves, and thunder, seemed rejoicing in his native element. Their terror was at the utmost when, amidst the awful tumult, he stood up and, tearing out a handful of hair, threw it away in the blast, bellowing out, "There, fellow devils, take that; stand by me now, and I'll be with ye soon."
That instant the lightning burst out in such bright flashes over the cliffs, that rocks and cares were seen as plainly as at noon-day, and a sheet of flame hung over across the cove, from Pednsawnack to Cribba Head, till they ran safely in and the storm died away.
With the help of farmers’ men and others, who had been several days and nights watching for the smugglers’ return, the goods were soon landed, taken up to a level spot above the capstan, and covered with a tarpauling. Then two or three kegs were broached, a fire made, and the smugglers, with those who assisted
them, sat round to enjoy the good liquor and other things.
At the height of their carousal the Captain drew the keg he sat on close beside the pile of blazing wood. He had not long settled himself there to drink and smoke, when his breath appeared to be all ablaze and his body in flames. His mate, Carn, threw himself on him, and swore he would save his Captain or perish with him. And perish with him he did; for, before the rest of the company had power to hinder him, both the commander and his mate were blazing like a bonfire. They neither spoke nor struggled. The others, in great terror at beholding their fearful end, went off, in all haste, to Treen there remained till morning; then they and many others went down to the Cove, and on the spot where the two men were burned, not a sign of them was to be seen: all their ashes, even, were blown away.
Now, when folks came to think of Captain Black's strange career and stranger departure, many believed that he was either an evil spirit in human form or else a man possessed with a devil, and it remained undecided by the people of the West, whether he was man or demon, or a compound of both. Yet, in all probability, this strange being was only mad at times, and his sudden exit, might have been a case of spontaneous combustion, (if indeed, there be such a thing.) Many of those who in former times were believed to be demoniacs, witches, or wizards, would, if they lived and played their pranks at the present day, be simply regarded as lunatics and most interesting cases for the medical student rather than for the rude treatment of inquisitor, exorcist, or other priestly operator. We hear but little more of Nelly. Her son purchased a farm in St. Just, she removed thither with him, and ended her days in peace. Some descendants of the rover, (whose name we have abridged) were living in the western parishes a few years since.
About a century ago an aged dame of the family kept school in Burian Church-town and used frequently to relate strange traditions of her buccaneering ancestor.
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