Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, Vol. 1, by William Bottrell, , at sacred-texts.com
Not so very long ago, a traveller was staying at one of the three or four commercials’ favourite resorts at Penzance. The gentleman had often been to that town, but had not visited St. Ives, although he was curious to see the place, with the name of which he had been familiar from the time he could lisp the old nursery rhymes about "The man of St. Ives, who had seven wives," &c. Our traveller started on horseback from Penzance early in the morning, that he might have plenty of time to explore the famous old place, and to visit some of the Lelant mines lying near his road. After visiting Providence mine, and having a long chat with that intelligent and amiable old patriarch, Captain John Anthony, he arrived, about three o'clock, very sore and very hungry, "at the town that went down on the sea-shore to get washed, and hadn't the strength to get back again." After satisfying his stomach with a splendid fish dinner and other good things, readily served at the "Western" Hotel, he sallied out to view the new pier, of which the men of St. Ives are so proud. From seeing many quaint, picturesque old houses around the Market-place, he was induced to wander through the labyrinth of alleys and landes into the back settlements, hoping to find some structure ancient enough to pass for the habitation of the mythical personage of the seven wives. He found some dwelling which he thought (reasonably enough) must have been built before Noah's time, when it might have been thoroughly washed, but the traveller did not think it could ever have been cleansed since, from the sickening smells, and stunning odours of the very essence of stench, which saluted him at every turn, as he picked his way through the Dijey, and leaped the gutters about Charn Chy. It was in the midst of a busy fishery season, and he saw enough, and smelt too much, to satisfy his curiosity, without proceeding any further quay-ward. As soon as he got back to the "Western", he fortified his rebellious stomach (that now detested fish) with good store of Mr. Hodge's best brandy. Then he was got on board his nag, and took his course up the Stennack, intending to return to Penzance by the old road, and examine the works and machinery at Wheal Reeth mine on the way.
I expect he must have reached Cripple's Ease, as he said that he stopped at a roadside inn to make more particular enquiries about the nearest way to the mine; then, after wandering through miles of lanes, that seem to lead to no place in particular (always, he would swear,
following exactly the directions given him) without coming to Wheal Reeth, he found himself, at ten o'clock on a dark foggy night, he did’nt know where.
From all I could make out, by his description of the place and people he next encountered, he must have rambled through the intricate bye-lanes to some place on Lelant Downs, when, seeing a light shining from the bedroom window of a cottage, he rode up to the gate of the small enclosure before the dwelling, pushed open the wicket, rode into the garden, and tapped at the window (whence the light shone) two or three times with his whip; then he heard a woman's voice just inside the curtained casement: "Jan, art a sleepan Jan? dedst thee hear that nackan?" "Iss," replied Jan from the bed, "open the winder and see what's there." "No I weddent for the world, I am sure a es a sperat, or a tokan; what else can ever come to this out-of-the-way place this time of night, I should be glad to know: I tell thee Jan, a as a warnan for to make thee think of thy latter end, for thee to turn from thy evil ways and mend, for thee art a great sinner and most abominable liar (as thee dost know as well as I can tell thee), but thee art too proud to own at. May the Lord break that stony heart of thine."
"Hold thy tongue thou fool, and open the winder," says Jan, "or I'll get out of bed and see."
"No thee shusen’t, for a es the old one come for thee; I'll pit out the light and come into bed to thee."
The traveller, getting tired of hearing the woman's sermon or banter (hard to say which) tapped the window again, at the same time he happened to cough. "There Molly," says Jan, "dost a think thy sperat have catched a cold. Thee cust hearn's coughan ’spose. I have heard of the sperats, as well as the knackers in the bals, making all sorts of queer noises, yet I never heard of a sperat to cough, or sneeze before; must be some of the boys up the hill, going home from bal, who want a light for their pipes; I'll get up and see." Suiting the action to the word, Jan sprang out of bed, drew back the curtain, and opened the windows. Though the man in the fog was within three or four feet of the window, Jan not being able to see him when he first came from the glare of the candle-light, called out, "Hallo, what cheer, where are ’e, and who are ’e an? what do ’e want?"
"I took the liberty of calling to enquire the way to Penzance."
"Ha! I'm beginnan to see thee now: a man and hoss! I do declare, but what dost a do here? but dus’na move an inch for what thee dust do, nor thy hoss nether: whatever made the bufflehead to ride into my garn (garden)? thee west destroy my bed of leeks, but I can't understand thy lingo at all, thee art speaken like a forraner to me: what do ’e mean to say at all! speak plain: what dost a want here this time of night?"
[paragraph continues] "Tell me the road to Penzance if you please?" "The road to Penzance! why there's scores of roads from here to Penzance, take whichever thee has got a mind to; ef one es’nt anuf for thee, take two ef thee west, but dosna move an inch tell I come down," "My good man, only have patience to hear me, and I'll pay for your bed of leeks. I lost my way in trying to get from St. Ives to Wheal Reeth. If I am near the mine now I shall be glad to stop in the count house, stable, or any place, over night. I am so sore I can scarcely sit on horseback." "The Lord bless ’e sir. I'll be down to ’e in a minute: you are one of the venturars I spore? how sorry I am that I didn't know ’e before: lev me put on a few rags and I'll be down in a crack: excuse me sir, please. I'll be down in a jiffey, quick as a wink, and put ’e in the road to the town or the bal."
"No, my good man, don't come down by any means; besides, I've nothing whatever to do with mines," "Ha! arn’t ’e a venturar, an? who or what are ’e, an? and where ded ’e come from?" Here the man, who was preparing to dress, stooped down again, with nothing on but his shirt and night-cap, and stretched himself halfways out of the window, the better to see the night-rider. The fog had now become a slag (half mist, half rain), when the traveller replied, "I'm a pin-maker from Birmingham." "A pin-maker! A pin-maker! Why a great man like you don't make the things the women fasten their rags with, do ’e? And you are come from the place we cale Brummagam, where the buttons come from: that’ an outlandish place a long way off, es’na? but lord, you can never get a living making pins, ef you make niddles too. And the hoss thee hawt picked up upon the road I spose? Now, don't ’e move an inch. A poor pin-maker! why, don't ’e do anything else but that to get your living, an?"
"Why no, and get a very good living too."
"Why, hast a got a wife, an?" "Yes, a wife and family." "Why, thee doesn’t mantain thyself, wife, and family, makan pins and niddles, dost a? What can they have to eat, an? Molly, dost a hear what the man es tellan of? A will take thee to believe 'n, for thee west believe anthing that any fool may tell thee." Now the woman came, and poked her head, covered with her petticaots, out of the window, over the man's back; so great was their curiosity to hear his story. When the commercial explained to the astonished couple how be belonged to a manufactory where pins and needles were made by machinery, and where hundreds of hands, of all ages, were employed, Jan, without stopping to put on much clothing, carne down, brought the traveller in, slipped the bridle from the head of the tired and hungry horse, and let it graze along the road (no fear of the horse straying far). In the meantime the good wife got a comfortable cup of tea for the weary, piskey-led, traveller.
The worthy couple were quite sure that the pin-maker was piskey-led, because, when they went over-stairs, a few minutes before his arrival, there was no appearance of the fog, which they both assured him was
raised by the mischievous, laughing goblin, as well as the many other strange appearances that beguiled him. such as making narrow lanes and by-paths look like broad turnpike roads; what seemed to him to be candles, or blazing fire-light, seen through cottage-windows, when approached were found to be nothing but glowworms shining in the hedges; and to prevent the piskey having any more power over him, they persuaded him to turn his coat inside out. As our good couple kept a cow, the pin-maker was regaled with many dainties from the dairy, besides a treat of blackberry cake, thickly spread with delicious scalded cream. Notwithstanding the simplicity of the couple, whom the traveller at first thought to be a very uncouth pair, he remained with them three or four hours, well pleased with their frankness and cordiality.
The tinner, in his quaint way, gave much curious information about mining affairs and miners’ tricks—much that the traveller would never have heard from the officials of the count-house or mine-brokers, who were not all favourably spoken of, any more than the smelters, who the miner said still try to squeeze out the same profits from the poor tinner's labour as when he gained just sufficient to enable him and his family to live comfortably, and which was more then than double as much as they all (children big and small, who ought to be at school, and the mothers who have more than enough to do in the house) can now contrive to scrape together. Much he said in praise of the owners of some mines, who are keeping on the works (merely that the people may have employment), without any hopes of present profit, and great risk of ultimate loss to themselves.
After many mutual good wishes, and the absolute refusal of the proffered payment for leeks, tea, and trouble, and—what the stranger valued most—the hearty good will with which they entertained him, the traveller left, with his coat turned inside out, and accompanied by Jan as far as the bottom of Nut Lane, where he was glad enough to find himself out of the land of mist, and once more on the turnpike-road, about daybreak. Having to go slowly, very slowly, on account of the soreness he felt from having been so long in the saddle (to which he was not much accustomed), it was after sunrise when he hailed with heartfelt joy the first sight of the Mount, from Tregender hill, and returned to his inn about the same hour he had left it the previous morning, much to the satisfaction of his host, who had been rather uneasy about the long absence of man and horse, knowing that the traveller intended to return early in the afternoon of the day he went to visit St. Ives. The anxiety of mine host did not proceed from any fears that the jolly traveller would be enticed into grief by the blandishments of the mermaids of St. Ives, who are sure to be seen staring from the openings of their caverns (all the way from their Green Court to Cham Chy), with eyes and open mouths strained to unnatural dimensions at any stranger who may chance to pass by, roaring out to each other, "Who is that, you?" "Where ded
he come from, an?" "Drag in the cheeld, you! There's a cow comean, or sh’s a mad bull, esn’t she? Waen’t she bit, you?" No, no; the host was well enough acquainted with the place, to know that all the fascinations of the Sirens of the Dijey would be powerless when smothered in such a malodorous atmosphere, to all but those who are "to the manner born." He rather feared that man and horse might have found their way into some deserted tin-work, or unfenced shaft on the moors.
The weary explorer of back-settlements and bye-lanes (wanting sleep more then breakfast) was glad to lay himself on the comfortable bed he left four-and-twenty hours before, to have a little rest before he started for Birmingham. We hope that when he comes this way again, he will bring down good store of pins and needles for our Molly, and another story of his adventures for us.