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Chapter VI

The Ungrateful Farmer.--The Pixy Threshers.--Rewarding a Pixy.


NOTWITHSTANDING the assertion of our acquaintance, Jimmy Townsend, it has been the experience of many, according to the tales related of the pixies, that they have often proved of great benefit to those whom they visited. But when they take upon themselves to render assistance to mortals, they seem to desire, as we have already stated, to do their work in strict privacy, and therefore those who seek to observe them have only themselves to thank if the pixies resent the intrusion by declining to assist them further in their labours. Instances of this, however, are not wanting, inquisitiveness seeming to overcome discretion; and as an example I cannot do better than relate the story of:


A small farmer once lived on the moor, who was so very poor that he had as much as he could do to keep himself and family from want, He cultivated a few fields which had been reclaimed from the waste, but his crops were seldom of much value. One day, on approaching his barn he heard the sounds of laughter and merriment proceeding from within. Going cautiously to the door, he put his ear to a crevice, and heard what seemed to be a company of little people busily engaged in threshing corn. After having listened for some time he stepped quietly away, and remained at work at the further end of the yard, until he judged the pixies--for such he knew the little labourers to be--had finished their task. Then proceeding to the barn once more, he was mightily pleased at discovering what the merry little troop of workers had accomplished for him. They had threshed a goodly quantity of his corn, and having relieved him from the trouble of doing it himself, had given him leisure for other matters which it was necessary for him to attend to, and by nightfall he found there was as much work done as would have taken him nearly two days to perform by himself.

This put him in a good humour, and he determined not to go near the barn on the next morning, but let the pixies have it all their own way. He carried out this resolution, and abstained from approaching the barn until the after part of the day, when on entering it he was gratified by the same pleasing sight that had presented itself to him on the preceding morning. Curiosity now took possession of his mind, and he began to think he should like to see the little people at work. He knew it would be necessary to exercise caution, so he determined upon going very early to the barn on the following morning, and awaiting in some place of concealment the arrival of time pixies. This he did, and after a time was delighted at seeing a troop of little people run merrily into the barn, some of them carrying flails (or "dreshels," as they are called in Devonshire vernacular) on their shoulders. Soon all was bustle and noise. The strokes of the flails resounded on the floor, and peals of laughter rang through the old barn, as the active little goblins bent to their task.

The farmer looked on with amazement from his station behind the bundles of oaten straw, eagerly gazing at the astonishing scene before him. On a sudden one of the pixies--a sharp pert-looking little fellow--dropped his flail, and exclaimed in a shrill voice, " I twit, you twit," when the others looked up and threw down their flails too. Now the farmer, although he had not been discovered, imagined that such was the case, and remembering that when once the pixies learn that they are overlooked they cease to return to the spot again, was filled with vexation, and as the pert little fellow on the floor once more raised his tiny voice and called out "I twit, you twit," he rushed forth in a temper, exclaiming, "I'll twit 'ee!" upon which the pixies immediately vanished, and never came near his barn any more.

Unlike this farmer, however, the good man of the tale which follows restrained any desire that might have arisen to pry into the doings of the elves who came to assist him, and in addition to this observance of the understood conditions on which they laboured made them some return for their kindness to himself.


One morning a farmer of the moorland borders was working in his field, when his man came running hastily to him with the information that the pixies were at work threshing in the barn. He had approached the door with the intention of entering, when, hearing sounds within, he listened. He then plainly distinguished the noise of the flails, and heard a number of voices raised in a merry chatter. Guessing it was the pixies, he had not dared to peep into the barn, but had rushed hastily away to inform his master of what he had heard.

The farmer impressed upon him the necessity of keeping at a distance from the barn, if he would not drive the pixies away, and that was not to be thought of. Accordingly they allowed the busy little threshers to do as they pleased within the building, and only approached it when the sounds of labour had ceased. What was their delight on entering to find a large quantity of corn threshed, and the straw placed on one side in neat bundles. The farmer being desirous of rewarding the elfin labourers, sent his man for some bread and cheese, which was placed in the barn as an offering to them. He strictly enjoined his servant not to attempt to enter the building when he heard the pixies at work there, determining that he would not allow them to be interfered with--a somewhat unnecessary caution, for as they relieved the man of some portion of his work, it was not very likely that he had any desire to do anything that might hive the effect of causing them to cease their visits.

On the next afternoon, after the little people had again been heard in the barn, the farmer and his man made their way to it, and on entering perceived that a good morning's work had been accomplished, and that, as on the previous day, the corn was gathered up into a heap ready for them to remove. The bread and cheese had disappeared, so the good man ordered a fresh quantity to be deposited and the barn door to be closed.

A week passed away, during which time the pixies never failed to visit the farmer's barn every day, and thresh a goodly quantity of corn, and the latter never omitted placing the bread and cheese for his good little friends. By this time, however, all the corn had been threshed, and the farmer imagined lie should now see no more of them, since their voluntary labour was completed. But in this he was mistaken, for the next morning, although no corn had been left in the barn overnight--the farmer having not, however, forgotten to place some food as usual--the sounds of labour were again heard, and on the barn being inspected after the merry little crew had taken their departure, what was the farmer's amazement at beholding a large heap of corn standing on the floor. Where it had come from was a mystery, but there it was. Some bread and cheese were again placed for the little elves, and the farmer closed his barn once more; but only to find on opening it next day another heap of corn. And so this state of things continued, and never afterwards could the farmer clear all the corn out of his barn. Every day a heap was there, ready for him to remove, the grateful little goblins spiriting it there in return for the farmer's hospitality. The latter, it is scarcely necessary to say, rapidly made his fortune, affording in all probability the only instance on record of such a thing being accomplished by a Dartmoor farmer.

We cannot but applaud the gratitude which the farmer evinced for the favours conferred upon him by the pixies, and should naturally suppose it right for all to follow his example under similar circumstances; yet it does not appear that kindness exercised towards them is always productive of the good fortune which happened to him, as our next story will show. It is certainly true that the farmer whose adventure we are about to relate had watched the pixy at work, but as he had not himself been observed this would not seem to have been the cause of the fairy labourer deserting him. It is evidently to be ascribed to pride on the part of the pixy, which the farmer undesignedly fostered.


On going one morning to his barn for the purpose of threshing some corn, a moor farmer found that it would not be necessary for him to perform that task, for a sufficient quantity was already threshed and placed in the centre of the floor in readiness for removal. The good man gazed around him in perplexity utterly unable to comprehend the meaning of what he beheld. The straw was made neatly up into bundles, and placed on one side, and the floor all around the heap of corn swept clean, and everything was looking in a perfectly tidy condition.

Not being able to imagine who had done him this piece of service, he hastily proceeded across the yard to his house to acquaint his wife with what he had seen, and learn from her whether she could throw any light upon the circumstance. His dame, on hearing what he had to say, unhesitatingly gave it as her opinion that it was the work of the pixies, in which the husbandman, seeing no other probable explanation, acquiesced. He felt mightily obliged to the little folks, as their labour had entirely relieved him of the necessity of threshing any corn that day.

The next morning, being in want of more corn, he again proceeded to his barn with his flail across his shoulder, with the intention of working on the threshing floor until dinner time. On opening the door, what was his surprise to find that he had again been helped in his labours, and that on this day, as on the preceding one, there would be no need for him to use his flail. There stood a large heap of corn ready for him to take away, and as he looked at it he was filled with surprise and pleasure, and also with feelings of thankfulness to the kind little pixies who had again lightened his labours so considerably. He hastened once more to the house and informed his wife that his experience of the previous day had been repeated, on hearing which, she was as pleased as himself, and as thankful to the pixies.

The good farmer pondered the matter over all that day, and at last determined that he would keep a watch in the barn, and endeavour to discover in what manner the little people performed their self-imposed task, for that it was to the labours of the pixies he was indebted for what had been accomplished he never doubted,

Accordingly he sat up late that night, and in the small hours of the morning stole .out cautiously, and going to his barn, hid himself in the straw. Here he waited very patiently until daylight began to appear, when lie heard a rustling sound in one corner of the barn, and peeping out from his hiding-place beheld on the floor a little figure, who at once commenced spreading the corn ready for threshing with great rapidity. The tiny sprite then took up the flail which he had brought with him, and used it with such lusty good will that very quickly a quantity of corn was threshed. This he swept up into a heap in the centre of the floor, and rapidly making up the straw into bundles, placed them against the wall of the barn, and disappeared. The astonished farmer hastened from his place of concealment, and rushed hurriedly to his house to acquaint his better half that he had seen the pixy at work, and the honest couple talked of nothing else during the whole of the time they sat over their breakfast.

And now the farmer and his wife bethought them how they should reward the little sprite for his kindness fl thus assisting them by his work in the barn. The good man had remarked that the pixy wore very dilapidated clothes--in fact they could scarcely be called clothes at all, for the worn out garments were hanging about him in tatters--so it was decided that an appropriate gift to the little fellow would be some new habiliments. In accordance with this decision the good dame brought forth some pieces of stuff of the most gaudy colours she could find, and a selection was made from them for the pixy's clothes. So busily did she ply her needle that by the time supper was set upon the hoard she had made a complete suit, and brought them to her good man to hear what he would say about them. He approved of them very much, praised her skill, and feeling glad to think he would now he able to provide his little thresher with decent raiment, fell to supper.

After the dame had retired to rest the farmer sat himself down by the hearth until it was time to go to the barn. Knowing now that the pixy would not be likely to appear till dawn, he waited until he judged it to he about an hour before the day would break, when he again quietly made his way to it, and concealed himself in the same spot as he had before chosen, taking care, ere doing so, to place the little suit of clothes on the floor, where he knew the pixy would be sure to see them.

Daylight at length began to appear, and at the first faint sign of it the little sprite was seen to make his way from the corner of the barn. The farmer eagerly watched him, picturing to himself the pleasure the little fellow would manifest at seeing his labours were appreciated and acknowledged, and anxiously looking forward to see him working his flail with, perchance, redoubled zeal. The pixy no sooner stepped across the floor than he espied the attractive garments, and pouncing upon them in an eager manner, cast off his fluttering rags, and rapidly arrayed himself in the new clothes. Glancing down with a look of pride at his little figure, he exclaimed, "New toat, new waist-toat, new breeches; you proud, I proud; I shan't work any more I" and, almost before the astonished watcher could comprehend what had occurred, he vanished.

He never appeared again, and the farmer was always afterwards obliged to thresh his corn himself, but he never ceased to regret that he had unwittingly been the cause of making a pixy too proud to work.

Next: Chapter VII: Nanny Norrish and the Pixies.--The Ploughman's Breakfast.--The Pixy Riders.--Jan Coo