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Chapter V

The Pixie at the Ockerry. Jimmy Townsend and his Sister Race.


SOMETIMES we hear of the capture of a pixy, and of its being consigned to a place of security whence it would be imagined impossible for it to escape; but the little prisoner generally contrives to regain its liberty, either through its custodian relaxing his vigilance, or in some totally inexplicable and miraculous manner. The following story of the capture of one of these little elves is illustrative of this.


One evening a woman who dwelt upon the moor was pursuing her homeward way, and as the darkness began to gather round her she found herself nearing the bridge which spans the Blackabrook at the Ockerry, between Princetown and Two Bridges. When within a few score yards of it a small figure suddenly bounded into the road, and ran leaping and gambolling in front of her towards the stream. She was very much startled at first, and paused, scarce knowing whether it was better to continue on her way or to turn back. She had almost resolved upon the latter course, deeming it very probable that unless she avoided the frisky little fellow before her she would he pixy-led, when the recollection that there were those at home awaiting her arrival determined her to proceed. To prevent any such misfortune as being drawn aside from her path by the pixy, she turned her pockets inside out, and also reversed the shawl she was wearing, and plucking up her courage, walked boldly on. The pixy had now reached the bridge, and remained jumping from side to side and performing a variety of antics upon it, as if to prevent her from crossing. But the dame's courage did not fail her, and having made up her mind not to be deterred from pursuing her way, she stepped fearlessly towards the spot where the pixy was, who continued his grotesque movements, leaping about with the greatest agility. As the stout-hearted women gained the bridge, the little fellow hopped towards her, when suddenly stooping down, she seized the pixy in her hand, popped him into the basket she was carrying, and secured the cover, resolving that instead of running any risk of being pixy-led she would turn the tables, and lead the pixy.

The basket was a large one, but the captive being, as she afterwards said, fully eighteen inches in height, there was not much room in it for him to display his agility, so he was forced to lie still. But though still, he was not silent, for immediately the cover of the basket was fastened upon him, he commenced talking in a very rapid manner, but in so strange a jargon that the good dame was utterly unable to comprehend a word. She, however, with the basket on her arm, continued her way, determined not to allow the pixy to frighten her by his gibberish. After a time the little fellow's voice ceased, and his captor imagined he might possibly be tired of talking, or had grown sulky, or perhaps had fallen asleep. She felt curious to know what he was doing, and determined upon taking a peep at her prize. Cautiously raising the cover of the basket about an inch or so, she looked in, when strange to relate, she found it to be perfectly empty. How the pixy had effected his escape was a mystery, and she could only conjecture that it possessed the power of changing its shape, and had contrived to squeeze itself out through the wicker-work. Though unable long to retain her prize in her possession, the good dame was always able to boast that she had had the courage to capture a pixy.

We not infrequently meet with stories of babes having been removed from their cradles by the pixies, and one of their own fairy infants left in its stead. In such cases it is necessary to be careful not to act unkindly towards the changeling, as the pixies will not fail to mete out the same treatment to the stolen child as that received by the one they leave behind them. An instance of the belief in a change of this kind having been effected, is afforded by the tale of:


In a cottage on the moor lived Jimmy Townsend, a merry fellow, who was always ready when meeting any of his acquaintances at a sheep-shearing feast, or at the market town on the borders, to join them in a carouse; and was never tired of telling them long stories of his various adventures. Though Jimmy was not particularly fond of labour, he was perfectly oblivious of the fact himself, and it was no uncommon thing to hear him make his boast of an evening that he had again "chayted a 'oss of a day's work." He was always well received wherever he went, and the party was sure to be of the merriest where he was present. He never allowed anything to trouble him, and was fond of assuring his friends that he "ded'n want for nothin' "--in fact, he said he was as happy as a king, "although he did live with a pisgie."

Jimmy Townsend had a sister named Grace--at least everybody spoke of her as his sister, but Jimmy knew better--who lived with him and kept his house tidy; and though Jimmy treated her very familiarly, as if she had been his sister, yet he always maintained that she was "not a Christian at all, but nothin' but a pisgie."

Jimmy was many years older than Grace, and said he remembered well when his sister was born, and a "swait little thing her was." "But," said Jimmy, "her wasn' a twelve-month old avor her was stole away, an' a pisgie put in her cradle in her plaace. I knaw 'tis so," he averred," vor her grawed up sich across tempered little mortal as you ever zeed, an' whoever's got anything to do wi' her will sure to come to some harm."

Nothing could shake Jimmy's belief in what he stated.

Every little mishap in the household was attributed by him to the" pisgie," and while he tolerated the presence of Grace, and even felt glad to have her to look after his home, he never regarded her in any other light than as one of that elfin race. "I never cross her," he would say, "vor I knaw I should be wuss off. I let her do as her minds to, and doan't never meddle wi' nothin' in the ouze."

Jimmy Townsend made no secret of his belief, but stoutly maintained, wherever he was, that he "lived wi' a pisgie."

But pixy or not, one thing was certain--the charms of Grace were potent enough to gain the admiration of one Sam Campin, who, disdainful of the warnings offered by Jimmy, boldly pleaded his suit, declaring, in his own way, that Grace was his ideal of perfection, and it she was a pixy, " it dedn' make no odds!" So it was at last all settled that Sam should marry Grace, and one bright morning he tripped off with her to the church, and the parson having performed his office, they returned man and wife.

Jimmy Townsend vowed that it would not be long ere the bridegroom discovered that his life was not likely to wear the rosy hue he had fondly anticipated, for, he said "he's got a pisgie for his wive, an' I knaw et!" At first, however, things went on pretty well, and Sam Campin had nothing to complain of, and many there were who jeered at Jimmy, calling him a false prophet. But he was not to be shaken in his belief that matters would not turn out well for Sam. "Wait a bit, wait a bit, an' you'll zee," he said.

Two or three months passed away, and Sam Campin's cow fell sick and died; a short time after a litter of pigs were found dead one morning, and a flock of geese had mysteriously disappeared. "Dedn' I tell 'ee so?" asked Jimmy of those who had been quizzing him about his prognostications of coming evil. "Her's a pisgie, an' her's sure to bring harm to whoever's got anything to do wi' her. Bless your saul! I had to keep from meddlin' when I was with her, or I should have been in a purty mess o 't avor now. But when a man's got her vor a wive, how can he help o' cumin' to a squabblin' sometimes?"

Things continued to grow worse, and after a time poor Sam Campin found himself bereft of all his worldly possessions, and want was staring him in the face. Casting about him for some means of subsistence, he at length decided upon adopting the calling of a chimney-sweep, as one that would not require a great deal of practice in order to be proficient in. The people in the few farm-houses around were not likely to become customers, certainly, for the plan in favour with them for keeping their chimneys free from soot was the very simple one of drawing a bunch of furze up and down them occasionally--a proceeding perfectly efficacious, and possessing the great merit of being unattended with expense. But in the villages on the borders of the moor--Widecombe church-town, and Holne, and such like--where might be found a few houses of the better class, Sam considered there would be work enough to keep one sweep employed, and so he set manfully about preparing himself for his new avocation.

Jimmy Townsend said nothing--merely shaking his head when the subject was mentioned in his presence, as if to intimate that he had no faith in the undertaking.

And now the day arrived on which our sweep was to make his first essay. Armed with his brushes, he made for the house where his services were required, and, on arriving, at once set to work. Those were not the days of brushes with a handle jointed like a fishing-rod and capable of reaching through any chimney, no matter what its height, and a great deal of work had to be done by the operator climbing up into the chimney and sweeping down the soot with a brush whose handle was only a few feet long. This plan had to be adopted on the occasion we speak of, and Sam prepared to mount.

It was with some amount of trepidation that he looked up the black and uninviting cavity, but, shaking this feeling off, up he climbed. Down came the soot as Sam vigorously wielded his brush, and all seemed to be going on well. Suddenly his movements ceased. They called to him from below. There was no answer. They called again, and a faint groan was the response. Procuring a light, and peering up, it was found that poor Sam had stuck fast in the chimney!

"I told 'ee so! I told 'ee so!" exclaimed Jimmy Townsend, when the unfortunate circumstance was made known to him, "I knawed how et would be. No good 'II ever come to anybody who's got ort to do wi' the pisgies!"

And so it proved, for though rescued from his uncomfortable position, Sam was never afterwards able to undertake anything whatever without meeting with some mishap.

Next: Chapter VI: The Ungrateful Farmer.--The Pixy Threshers.--Rewarding a Pixy