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Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall

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Author Topic: Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall  (Read 366 times)
Tristan
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« Reply #75 on: August 25, 2009, 01:29:41 pm »

then he tore Genevra from his grasp, and laid her on the grass, to all appearance dead;—then he gave a vigorous blow to the diamond star which blazed in the forehead of the steed, and with the ring of the hammer Jack spoke a word which makes the devils quake and tremble. The demon-steed shrunk to the ground like a shrivelled-up skin, which, in a twinkling, changed into a black adder, that crawled away under the gate and left the rider hanging by his hand.

The enchanter, seeing that he was now forsaken by his familiar, and at the mercy of the tinkard, begged to be released.

"No, not yet," says Jack, "I pay no regard to begging, kissing, or praying, and you don't budge an inch till I've stripped you of all your devil-spun toggery, and Genevra is restored to life."

Some blows of Jack's hammer smashed the frontlet of stones which shone on the magician's head; then, placing the claws of his weapon between the clasp of Pengersec's cloak and his neck, he wrenched the collar open, tore the garment from his shoulders, and from his waist the magic girdle, which fell to the ground with the gold chains and diamonds the ungrateful guest had stolen;—he then pushed open the gate, and, with a blow of his hammer, knocked off the iron arrow-head which had passed through the timber and held fast the conjuror. Pengersec, released and stripped of all his magical machinery, seemed changed from a big, dark, handsome man into an old, withered, ugly, filthy wretch that was loathsome to behold; his sunken orbs gleamed in their sockets like the eyes of an adder ready to spring on its prey, as he slunk away, mumbling curses and threats of vengeance. "Begone, wretch," says Jack, "I fear thy curses no more than I heed thy prayers; and don't show thy nose over Towednack hills again, for with my charmed stone, strong bow, and hammer, I defy every conjuror, witch, wizard, and devil west of Carn-brea."

As soon as the lord of Pengersec slunk away, Jack's first care was to release Genevra from her enchanted trance by a counter-spell;—for this he fetched, in the sleeve of his coat, living water from the spring below, which he sprinkled over the enchanted maid in passing nine times round her, following the course of the sun, and repeating at each turn the charm which thus begins (and which is still used as a cure for epileptic fits, &c.),—"Three spirits came from the east, two with life and one with death," &c. (We omit the rest of this charm, in which sacred words are so mixed up with an ancient superstitious practice, that it is nothing less than blasphemous; yet such practices are still common amongst us.)

The ninth time the tinkard passed round Genevra (sprinkling the water and saying the charm), she murmured her lover's name;—when he raised her from the ground and supported her on his breast she was still in the regions of enchanted visions; yet the sound of her lover's voice

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Tristan
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« Reply #76 on: August 25, 2009, 01:30:13 pm »

brought him into her dreams, and she clung to his neck, still murmuring in her troubled sleep, "Oh! my beloved, let us escape from this strange land, where the glaring light, and glitter of crystal, gold, and purple blind one. The ceaseless music tires me to death, but here one can neither die nor sleep, with the everlasting harpings of the unearthly-looking beings, dressed all in white. Oh! let me hide in thy bosom from the face of the enchanter, whose stern looks freeze my blood. Let us haste to the hills and carns, where long ago we lived, and loved; there the summer's day was all too short, from early dawn, when the birds greeted the rising sun, to dewy eve, when the gentle moon shone over the sea; and the lambs, kids, and fawns sported around us among the flowers, heath, and ferns. Thither let us return—that we may again hear our mother's voice, the noontide song of the lark, the calling of the cleaves, and the roaring of the sea, where the clouds sometimes hide the sun, that we may have shadow and rest!"

Jack placed the iron-stone on her burning forhead and pressed her to his breast;—the charm soon restored her reason, and, when she unclosed her eyes and beheld the honest loving face of the tinkard, all her enchanted visions fled like the spectres of an unnatural dream. The tinkard then, displaying his amulet to the admiring gaze of Genevra, said "Blessings on thee, Spirit of the iron-stone!—thou ray of the bright star of the north, around which all other stars revolve! Thou inpartest some of thy virtue to the magic vase, by whose direction mariners from unknown regions find their way over the trackless ocean to the land of tin—to the happy land where the sacred sun, from whom all beings derive light and life, loves to linger, before he gives place to the rulers of the night! When sun, moon, and stars are shrouded, by black clouds, from the sight of the tempest-tossed mariner, thou showest him the spot where, behind the storm-woven veil, the beacon-star still shines! Thou mysterious, invisible spirit! who shall say where thy power begins or ends!—To my good blade and hammer, even, thou showest thy love, and givest some of thy virtue, all-powerful spirit of iron!"

When Jack had finished his rhapsody about the bit of loadstone he descended to mother earth, and thought of Tom, Joan, and the rest, and placing his arm around Genevra's waist he supported her tottering steps to the castle-hall, where she was grieved and confounded to see father, mother, and children all in confusion on the floor, like a herd of stuck pigs. "Never grieve, nor fear, Genevra dear," says Jack, as he well drenched the enchanted sleepers. The fresh water from the spring so far restored the prostrate crew that they came round to snore in a natural way; then the tinkard faced towards the east, and made some signs in the air with his hammer, the mode and use of which are only revealed to the brethren of certain ancient mysteries: he next left the sleeping inmates of the castle to the care of Genevra and with a long pike, carried a few faggots of furze down near the gate that he might burn all the enchanter's

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« Reply #77 on: August 25, 2009, 01:30:35 pm »

machinery and purify the place. With the long-hilted pitchfork, or pike, he threw the enchanter's cloak, girdle, frontlet, and conjuring-stick into the flames;—the stick jumped up, changed into a winged serpent, and flew away, howling and hissing, through the smoke towards Pengersec: as the cloak and other things burned, they sent off troops of demons of all shapes and sizes: and these, ascending with the flames, forked lightning, and smoke, raised the wind to a howling tempest. The lightning flashed, the thunder roared louder and louder. "Howl away, devils," says Jack, "all your noise and ugly faces can't harm an honest tinkard!"

The dawn was breaking when Jack returned to the castle, where all was fair weather;—the children were rising from their beds of rushes and ferns. Jack went with them to the distant hills to seek the cattle which had been frightened away with the devilish doings which took place during the night.

(Now that tranquility is again restored to the giant's castle, before we begin the history of another day, we may remark that from what we find in some fragments of old stories (which are still floating in remote places, like waifs and strays) it is certain that the loadstone (sometimes spoken of as the stone of knowledge, stone of virtue, &c.) was regarded here, in Tom's time, as a kind of divinity, or at least it was venerated as the shrine of a deity, and was thought to possess much greater power than the little discs or wheels of moorstone, rudely polished, with a hole drilled in the centre, which the mothers in the high countries, and in other places too, perhaps, still hang from their children's necks as a charm, or kind of talisman, to keep their precious offspring from being ill-wished, blighted by an evil eye, led astray into the bogs, or from losing themselves among the pig-sties and turf-ricks through the tricks of the piskies; and, above all, that the small people may not make changelings of the young ones. Yet, in spite of all their care, it often happens that the small people (fairies) steal the pretty babes and place their own wisht-looking brats in their stead).

The glorious sun, the holy sun, high in the heavens, had driven far from the castle all spirits of evil when Jack and the boys came home with the cattle;—they found that Joan, though she still felt much stupified, like one getting out of a long drinking-bout, had managed to prepare the morning meal. Tom—sick, sore, and crazy—thought he must soon die: in his time people were rarely sick more than once in their lives, and that was when they died. Sometimes Tom raved about going to see the fine things which the enchanter had promised to show him in his castle;—at other times the mayor and ladies of Market-jew were uppermost; but when he could no longer eat his porridge, he thought of his old mammy, who yet lived down by the long sheep's house and fold near the place which is still called Bowjeyheer, in Ludgvan. She was one of the wise women of old, who were skilled in charms, herbs, and white

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« Reply #78 on: August 25, 2009, 01:30:48 pm »

witchcraft, like the tellars of to-day, who can read everybody's fortune but their own.

When Tom was in health and strength he never thought of the old woman, but as soon as he was taken sick Tom Vean was sent to bring her to the castle. She wasn't at all surprised to find her Tom the lord of a castle and lots of tin; for she knew he was born to good luck, yet didn't think he would find it so near by. Joan cursed the tin as the cause of all the mischief, "That all depends," says the old dame, "whose hands it falls into. Tom should have kept out of bad company; but, like other fools, he made feasts for wiser men to eat, and only yesterday he thought a nod from a lord was as good as breakfast. Now, Joan, you go about your work," the old granny continued, "leave the boy Tom and his tin to me; I'll soon cure the one and take good care of the other, for all that's amiss with Tom is high living and lazy times;—the fat is all but grown over his heart;—in a few days more, by drinking Honney-the-Brewer's beer, the thing in his breast would be so clogged that it wouldn't be able to move. Now, Tom, my son, you are to eat nothing but barley bread, and drink nothing but vervain water, or something else of your mammy's brewing for a week or more, till your big belly be reduced to a healthy and handsome size, and you can go on with your hedging again: I will cure or kill thee be sure, for now thee art of no use in life, but only a trouble to thyself and everyone about thee."

During the rest of the week, whilst Tom was doctored by the old dame, Jack and the boys were away in the kills killing game for the tinkard's wedding.

We know next to nothing about the marriage ceremonies in Tom's time, or whether they had any of more consequence then that of jumping over the broom.—However, the bridal took place on the first day of the harvest moon. All the cousins were invited: these, with the mayor of Market-jew and all his family, made some hundreds of wedding-guests, who enjoyed the fat feasting and merry games till night, when all the young men and maidens, with light torches, accompanied Jack and Genevra over the hills to their new home in Choon. The feasting and games were kept up on Morvah hills all the following week: it was easy to have good feasting then; the young men had only to hunt the hills and moors for a few hours to kill game enough to feast on for a week. Tom got over the feast very well, as his old mammy, with her knitting in her hand, always sat beside him with her piercing grey eyes fixed on his trencher, and stuck her knitting-needles in his side when he had eaten and drunk enough. Every year after, when the tinkard's wedding-day came round, all their relations came from far and near to keep up the remembrances of the happy time by holding high festival in Choon: a week or more was always passed in hunting Morvah hills and carns in the mornings, and in feasting, or the ancient games, during the rest of the hours of daylight. In a few

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« Reply #79 on: August 25, 2009, 01:31:01 pm »

years the number of Tom's and Jack's posterity had so increased that the union of all the family on the first Sunday in August (which in latter times was fixed for the year-day of the tinkard's wedding feast) became such a crowd that the assemblage assumed the character of a fair; and the remembrance of this fair is observed in Morvah down to the present time.

After the tinkard had settled in Morvah, he became known all about by the name of Jack of the Hammer, because he was said to have performed many wonderful feats with that tool, both in working and fighting,—such as making millstones, killing wolves, and smashing the skulls of sea-robbers who landed on the shores to steal the tin. In a few years, when Jack had a large family grown up, they cleared and cultivated large tracks of the lower lands, which, until then, were overgrown with thickets of brambles, hazel, and oak. In breaking up the ground they found no end of tin, which they piled up around their dwelling-place and covered over with the turf and furze-ricks, that it mighn’t be stolen.

When Jack's family numbered a score or more, the small dwelling built just before his marriage was much enlarged, and a strong wall constructed round the whole, to secure their tin and cattle against the robbers of the northern sea; for in those times large bands of the red haired rovers frequently landed on Genvor sands, or in Pendeen, Porthmear, Pendower, and other coves along the coast: whilst some of the fiery-headed crew watched the boats, others fired and pillaged all the country round. As the family increased the old crellas, or crows, which still remain, were built within safe distance of Choon castle. Much of the strong walls, built by Jack of the Hammer and his sons to fortify their dwelling on the downs, may be seen to this day. In a few generations Jack's posterity spread over the land, and many of them settled in a part of the country more to the south and west, which was still richer in tin than the hills of Morvah: some of their old works, which the tinners call coffins, may still be seen about Bosorn and Bellowal. They also built, on Morvah waters, and farther down toward the west, the first mills known; among others the ones near Carn-y-vellan and Nancledrea;—then the troughs (querns) in which the old people ground their corn were seldom used except to crush the pillas.

Tom and his family always lived on the best of terms with the hearty, honest, mayor of Market-jew. Best of all, the enchanter hadn't the chance to serve Tom any more dirty tricks; for a short time after the sorcerer was beaten out of the castle by the tinkard, people say that his time was up, and his master came one night in a thunderstorm, took off Pengersec, and burnt his castle to the ground. This event happened hundreds of years before the pirate-ship was stranded on the sands of Pengersec cove, and the sea-robber (with the treasures saved from the wreck of his vessel) built the present castle on or near the ruins of the enchanter's abode.

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« Reply #80 on: August 25, 2009, 01:31:13 pm »

We hear but little more about Tom and Joan, because the old woman kept herself alive a long time by eating little else but pillas porridge and drinking her decoctions of agrimony, bettany, vervain, and other herbs that she knew all about. She took good care to make her son lead a sober respectable sort of life, and pass his time in hedging more lands, and she only let the tin be taken from the castle when there was a chance to get other people's land for it in exchange;—in this way she contrived that all Tom's sons should have large estates. From these high-country boys all the oldest families in those parts are descended. To be sure, some of them have left the country, died out, or become poor and unknown (when they are much the same as dead to the rest of the world), yet some of the brood are still found in the Trewhellas, Tregarthens, Trenwiths, and others, who took their names from the places where their ancestors lived. The ancient family of the Curnows, too, are said to have come from the Towednack hills. Besides, one of Tom's daughters, called Tibby, or Tiberia (wherever she got the grand name from) was married to a Ludgvan man who had a large run of rushy moors all along the morabs of Ludgvan and Gulval;—from the bulrushes and reeds, in the midst of which the descendants of this couple lived, their family acquired the name of Hoskin, and this family still preserves the remembrance of the giant's daughter in the name of Tiberia, as the family is never without an aunt Tibby. In Jack of the Hammer and Genevra, or An Jinnifer, as she came to be familiarly called, many of the ancient families of Morvah and the adjacent parishes had their rise.

The celebration of Morvah fair connects the giants’ age with the times we well remember, when such crowds came to Morvah from all the parishes round, on the August Sunday, to keep up this remarkable holiday, that a three-acre field would not hold all the horses ridden to Morvah fair, so that each horse might have a mouthful of grass and room to toss up his heels; and one may be sure there were plenty of riders for the number of beasts, from the old saying of "riding three on one horse, like going to Morvah fair." More than a score often got a lift on the same horse, as we should take turns to ride and run, holding fast by the girths, legs, or tail of the horse, that we might keep all together. When we arrived in Morvah, none but the old folks ever thought of going indoors;—we young folks seated ourselves on the hillside, hedges, rocks, anywhere, to eat, drink, chat, and enjoy the fun of Morvah fair games. In the afternoon many of the youngsters would ride away, helter-skelter, to Carn Galva, to gather hurts (whortle-berries), and have a bit of courtship on the way back. Some few got home by morning, but many stayed in Morvah all night, and often all the week, when they had no harvest work to call them home. Morvah fair was for us the grand day of all the year, when hundreds on hundreds, from east and west, used to meet to see each other and high-country cousins; and we hope it will never be forgotten as long as a rock remains on Morvah hills.

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« Reply #81 on: August 25, 2009, 01:31:31 pm »

In these happy simple times we have often sat on the hill the best part of the night, to listen to some old Morvah croney's story about their old giant who had twenty sons, and how he would have them, and all their descendants, to meet in Morvah on August Sunday, for the sake of keeping up his wedding-day and the remembrance of their relationship in all time to come. Now, the giant of whom the Morvah people used to tell these legends is none other than Jack of the Hammer, or Jack the Tinkard. In after years, when his doughty deeds were only imperfectly remembered by his descendants, they, for more glory, made him out to be a giant, just as they have magnified the deeds and made giants of many other heroes; and Jack (if anything like the character given of him in the old folks' drolls) was worth a big bundle of many old giants and saints, as the former, by most accounts, did little more than hurl great rocks from hill to hill, or play bob with the quoits they have left about among the cairns. As for the Cornish saints, the poor-tempered set, they were often fighting, cursing, or tricking each other, as is proved by the legends of St. Just and St. Keverne, and others, who came to share the popular homage with our old giants.

(It may be necessary to remark that in ancient times (before the country was divided into parishes), much more land was comprised under the name of Morvah, than the small parish of that name. Morvah means the sea-coast or country near the sea, and has much the same signification as morabs, morveth, &c. The saying is often heard among the old folks that Morvah was the ancient name for all the high countries in which Choon is included. It is somewhat remarkable that, among the primitive people of the high countries, the saints, to whom the northern churches are dedicated, have not succeeded in getting their names attached to the parishes. In the three parishes of Morvah, Zennor (holy land), and Towednack, more curious usages and legends are preserved than in all the rest of the West. From the inhabitants of the huts among these northern hills one may still hear many a strange story about distant places, as well as those relating to their own neighbourhood. In some versions of the Towednack story, Jack's encounter with the enchanter is related somewhat differently; yet all are, in substance, the same, and the above is the most general. This portion of the legend seems to belong to much later times than the rest of the story. We have reason to think some old traditions about Pengersec are mixed up with the high-country droll, because in Breage many old legends are preserved, in which an enchanter of Pengersec castle always figures with a witch of Fradden, an eastern princess for a wife, &c.)



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