Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, Vol. 1, by William Bottrell, , at sacred-texts.com
"He was one of an ancient family that came from Normandy and settled in Sennen soon after the Conquest. They held their lands, ’tis said, as a gift from the Conqueror. The two oldest branches of the family terminated in daughters, who gave themselves, and their lands, to other names; but, at the time, they had not much to bestow, as the 'First and Last' inn of England belonged to them for many generations and they
could do no less, they thought, than be the best customers to their own hotel."
'What you are tellan es Double-Dutch to me," says Mary, 'I don't know what you mean about Normandy and Conquerors; I never head of any such things before.'
"Nor do I know any more about it than thyself, I only repeat what I've heard among them, but leave me go on and don't interrupt one. Thee art all the time ready to take one up short. "Like many of the younger brothers before him he was too proud to remain at home in a condition little better than that of a labourer. Some of the old folks contrived to give him good learning. He passed more time going about to all the hurling-matches, wrestlings, and other games, where I was mostly his comrade, than at school. By the age of fifteen he went to sea, and before he was out of his teens, he became the second mate of an East-Indiaman. These ships, much larger than any to be seen here, are of a mixed breed between a merchantman and a man-of-war. Their crews, too, are for the most part a cross between the real Jack Tar and the Jolly Marine.
"I sailed in the same ship. Though he was an officer, and I before the mast, he always treated me like a brother. When off duty the last voyage we made together he took with him Margaret’s brother John, then a lad, mad to go to sea with his cousin Bill. Before we returned he taught the lad navigation, and made him of more use on board ship than many a seaman double his age. Every voyage the sailor made, the richest stuffs and other choice articles were always brought home with him for Margaret. On his return from the last voyage he wished to be wedded to Margaret. She was nothing loath; but her aged father, though he dearly liked and was proud of his kinsman, the brave sailor, yet he either feared to trust his darling daughter's fate in the hands of the young devil-may-care tar, or, as the old man hinted more than once, he thought cousin Billy ought to save more money before he thought of taking a wife."
'The devil take the old curmidgeon!' says Mary.
"The old man's desire that before marrying his daughter, the sailor should get richer, determined him to leave the India service and go a privateering. He was soon appointed the captain to as fine a craft as ever sailed for that game of neck-or-nothing, or worse.
"I very much desired, and he wished me, to go with him; but somehow my old Joan, then a spanking, clean-built craft as you could see, enticed me to—well, to ship with her. That she mightn't break her heart, poor dear, I married and made what they call an honest woman of her. Before that had taken place the privateer was far away. Joan often wished, ere many months were over, that she had left me go, for I was as discontented as could be on shore, and never could make up my mind to work
underground; so I turned to streaming, and smuggling, by turns. Margaret's young brother had to be kept home by main force, yet the privateer Captain was loath to take him on such a dangerous expedition. The youngster would no more work on the farm, nor go in the merchant service again, but made one of the crew in every smuggling adventure undertaken by me and my comrades, and determined to join the privateer as soon as ever he might find an opportunity."
'I commend the boy for his pluck,' says Mary.
"Nearly three years passed without any particular tidings from the sailor, and yet, by some means, rich presents were always arriving for Margaret and her brothers. Nor were his other friends forgotten. One Saturday I came home late at night after I'd been a week absent, over to Roscrof for a cargo, and putting the goods safe. As soon as I came in, Joan said, 'I've news for ’e, Mathy, that will make ’e jump out of thy skin for joy! Guess what it is!" 'Why my old mate is come home,' says I, and began to blubber like a great land-lubber for joy at the very thought' of it. 'Now, don't tell me he esn’t,' says 1, 'for I shall knock thee down, and shan't be able to help it, to be disappointed.' 'You great fool, you,' says Joan,' he esn’t come, than.' 'Then I'll strangle thee,' says I. 'But he es comean in a few days, or a week,' says she, 'and here es a packet and a letter that a strange seaman brought here two days ago for you (and no one else but you), to give it to Marget or her brother John. The seaman said that the one we should all be glad to see, would be here very soon, and rich enough to get married and stay at home all the rest of his time, of he would only be contented with a land-lubber's life.'
"I stayed awake nearly all night, thinking to rise early to give the good news to Margaret, but, when I thought to be getting up, I fell asleep and snored away hours after other people were all up. I dressed in haste, and, without staying for breakfast, started for Trigaminion.
"When I came to Morvah churchtown, the bell had ceased tolling, and the people had gone into church. As Margaret usually came to church, I went in expecting to find her there. She wasn't there. I would wait a quarter-hour, or so, to see if she would come, and hadn't been in the church more than ten minutes when the tramp of a horse was heard coming near. A stranger entered the church.
"Everyone rose and gazed at him, and well they might,—such a fine stalwart man, so handsomely dressed, was rarely seen in a country church in these parts. His curling black hair, beard, and whiskers covered great part of his face, and the little that could be seen of his skin was the colour of mahogany. Yet the deep dye of this coal-black hair made his complexion appear fair enough. His coat, of the finest navy-blue cloth, was sparkling with gold lace and anchor buttons, and the long boots, such as were then worn by naval officers, came halfways up his thigh to meet
the skirts of his coat, leaving but little of his white small clothes to be seen. A short sword, or cutlass, hung from the broad leather belt round his waist. The finest of lace ruffles hung from the breast and wrists of his shirt. In his hand he held a cocked-hat, looped up with lace, and ornamented with a large cockade.
"He stopped at the entrance of the aisle, looked round, and, not seeing Margaret, or any of her family, in church, was about to leave, when he saw me and beckoned me to come to him.
"We were so glad to meet again that we had been in the public-house parlour more than ten minutes before he began to talk with anything like common sense. Then into the room bounded Meg's brother John, and clasped his arms around the sailor's neck before he had time to turn round. The two kissed and embraced, like the babes in the wood, poor dears, when they met again, after they had lost each other for five minutes among the brambles, when night came on, as you remember; or like Man Friday meeting his dad; or, better still, one might compare their meeting to that of the twin brothers, Dick and Bob Edwards, better known as the Morvah Devils, who, for a number of years, worked, always together, the same gun on board the Nymph, till Pellew left that ship; then one of the twins being sent to another vessel, neither was good for anything, till they were both brought back to the same gun again, and, like the Morvah Devils, the Sailor V—— and Margaret’s brother from that day stood by each other.
"'Cousin Bill, if you go off without me again, I'll be shot or shoot you,' says Jack.
"'Thous dost know very well, my son,' replied the other, 'that but for the fears of father and Meg I'd never have left thee here to rot on Morvah Downs for the last three years;' then, pinching the youngster on his forkle-end, the sailor examined his bone and muscle. 'Why Jan, my dear, since I saw thee last thou art grown quite a man, I declare, and a fine strong-built one too, by jingo.' The deuce take Meg and dad; I'll ship with thee, Cousin Bill, let them say what they will, and go with all my heart wherever thee hast a mind to sail, if it's to——,' —well, he didn't say Heaven.
"As I thought Marget might be thrown into a sort of quandary with the sudden joy and surprise, I said to the sailor, 'Now you two stay here for a half-hour or so. I haven't yet seen Miss Margaret, since you sent me this parcel and letter for her, because I only came home last night from a trip over the other side. 'All right, comrade, make sail and we'll soon follow,' says he.
"The first words Marget spoke, when she entered the parlour, into which I was shown, were, 'You're come, Mathy, to tell me that one I
have long expected is near by. I know he will be here in less than an hour.'
'How should she know than?' Mary asked.
"No good to ask me, how she knew,' Mathy replied. "People remarked that when she was very young there was often a strange look in her deep hazel eyes. One moment they would seem to flash fire; the next they would be like smooth water reflecting the sky, and seem to be looking inward. How the deuce she should have known anything about the sailor's arrival I can't tell. It's sometimes my belief, as well as many other people's, that An Meg always knew more than she had any business to, but, like all overwise ones, she could never read her own fortune. I believe that, by some means, fair or foul, she did know of her sweetheart's coming, because I never saw her dressed so grand and look so beautiful before in my life. You should have seen her then as she sailed into the room on her father's arm, arrayed in a blue satin gown, or robe, the train looped up, and the open front showing an underskirt, or a petticoat, of white satin. With the lace apron, long elbow ruffles, bows, furbelows, and other flags and streamers, she was a fine a craft as one could desire. Then her figure-head beat anything I've ever seen;—her dark, chestnut-coloured hair, turned right back from her high and broad forehead, fell in masses of long curls all over her neck and shoulders. The hair at the back of her head was kept in its place by a broad comb, ornamented with jewels; in her ears she wore a pair of large flat hoop-shaped earrings of some foreign fashion. These golden hoops were hung round with pearls, and these were matched by the string of pearls she wore on her neck. You may fancy, from Meg's regular features and remains of beauty now, how well she looked more than thirty years ago.
"The parcel I brought her contained a store of trinklets and jewels. The letter was to inform her that the sailor had arrived in port and would be home soon. Whether the old gentleman was glad or sorry, was not easy to know. I suppose he could hardly tell. He said that Margaret and John had been mad, or possessed with the devil, ever since the sailor had been gone; and, not to be wanting in courtesy, he took his hat and gold-headed cane and walked up to the churchtown to meet and welcome his kinsman home. Margaret and her lover expressed their happiness more by their looks than by their words. Before half the afternoon was over, such a crowd of young an old were come to greet the sailor (who, from a boy, was known and liked by everybody from Hayle to the Land's-End), that we had to leave the house in Trigaminion and got to churchtown, where, before night, it seemed like Morvah fair, with the scores come over from St. Just to welcome the sailor and take him away with them. And to St. Just he had to go, in spite of his lady-love; for when the warmhearted 'San Justers' take it into their heads to feast, or make much of strangers, they all but kill them with kindness."
"Well, I s’pose one may venture to speak now, than,' says Mary, 'for you seemed to have runned yourself out of breath, Captn. Mathy! How long are ’e goan to make the story before they get married? And seeman to me, for a man, you must have been very particular in notan the women's dress in your younger days! What a wonderful memory you must have too, that you can mind the colour of the gownd An Meg wore thirty years ago. Are ’e sure et wasn't a green one? what colour stocking ded she wear?'
'That I don't remember. I wish thee west stop thy clack, and listen. If it wasn't a sky-blue gown it ought to have been. I know she had a neat ankle and small foot, very high in the instep. The diamond buckles, in her velvet shoes, made one notice her pretty feet the more.'
'Well, and for my part,' says Mary, 'I wouldn't give a straw for such a constant and cold lover as Margaret’s sailor. I'm vexed to think of the fellow, when he hadn't seen his sweetheart for three long years, not to stay up courtan with her the first night after he came back. Now crack away Captn.; I hope you will soon come to their wedden, and the sperat that frightened ’e so.'
Captn. Mathy went on to say:—"The Sailor V—— told his comrades that his share of the prizes they had taken, during the time he had been privateering, was more than enough to buy the best farm in Morvah, aye, or in St. Just either; but he wouldn't quit the sea—no, not he, whilst he had a stump to stand on. His crew had become a very mixed multitide from having had to ship strangers to supply the places of those killed in action. He intended to dismiss the whole set, except a few of his old hands, because the rest could never agree, and as many had been killed by their messmates as by the crews of the vessels they boarded. Soon after the intention of the privateer captain, to ship a new crew, became known, more hands volunteered to go with him than would have manned a first-rate man-of-war.
"As the sailor didn't know how to choose among all the brave boys who wished to ship with him, they agreed to have a wrestling-match, to come off the next Saturday on Sennen Green. Then and there he proposed to select his crew from those who threw the greatest number of fair back falls and showed best play.
"On Monday the sailor, Meg's brother John, and I, came back to Trigaminion. Now, mind this, Mary," said Captn. Mathy, in a big voice, "instead of being vexed for her sweetheart's absence the Sunday night, Margaret let it be seen that she was proud of the notice taken of her lover."
'The more fool she,' Mary replied.
"The next day many of the privateer captain's family came over from Sennen to fetch him home with them. It had been decided, by the
parties most interested, that in a week or ten days (with the old man's consent or without) Margaret and the sailor would be married in Falmouth, where he proposed to take a house for his wife and wished her father to give up his farm, remove thither, and live with her. You may be sure that the returned sailor's relations in Sennen and other places were glad enough to see him if only for the scores of gold rings, and rich jewels, pieces-of-eight, moidores, and doubloons he gave away among them—he had something rare for every cousin of the tribe.
"On Saturday the sailor put up many handsome prizes, which were contended for on Sennen Green. Margaret and all her family were there. They too went over to Sennen on a visit with the sailor, most of his family being related to them. The 'First and Last' was an open house for all-comers, during the time the sailor remained at home, and some weeks after. When the day came for Margaret and her brother to take leave of their father they were all sadly cast down. The old gentleman could not give his consent to part with either son or daughter; yet, knowing it was worse than useless longer to oppose their desires, he contented himself with murmuring over a string of old proverbs, such as, 'if they made a hard bed for themselves they might lie on it;' 'those who wouldn't be ruled by the rudder must be by the rock;' and such-like everyday sayings, which old dotards are for ever spouting with the air of prophets."
'Come to the wedding, do,' says Mary.
"Well, two of the old dames, now out on the cliff with Margaret, went up with her as her bridesmaids. Several of the new crew, with myself as their guide, had gone on, some days before the bridal party and wedding guests, to make such preparations, on shore and on board the privateer, as were required for the accommodation of the party.
"Friday, the day after the arrival of the bridal party in Falmouth, was the wedding-day. During the forenoon of that day, and for weeks before, the weather had been calm and heavy—scarcely a breath of air stirring. The marriage-ceremony and wedding-dinner passed off gaily enough. But before we had finished drinking health and long life to the new married couple, many of the wedding guests were alarmed at the sudden darkness, followed by as violent a tempest as ever raged over sea or land. All the sailor portion of the guests hurried on board the ship to bring her farther into harbour. Before an hour passed the sky was in a continued blaze of lightning—the thunder roared as if defying wind and sea to make a more horrible noise. Trees were uprooted even in the most sheltered spots; houses unroofed, and chimneys blown down in all directions. The ships in the most sheltered parts of Falmouth harbour dragged their anchors and got foul of each other. The next morning all parts of the coast were strewn with wrecks. Yet hours before Margaret and the Sailor left their bridal chamber, the storm had passed away as suddenly as it came on. In its violence and short duration it was
more like the hurricanes of the Indies than anything in the way of a tempest ever seen here. It was remarked that during this dreadful night the windows of Arwenic House (then uninhabited) were all ablaze with light as if the ghosts of all the old Killigrews had come on the wings of the tempest to hold high festival in their ancient home. Not the least injury was sustained by the old mansion, though many buildings (which numbered fewer days than that did years) were levelled to the ground.
"It was also said that on this fearful night some notorious pirate either died or that his spirit was put to rest, I forget which. There was but little damage done to the privateer craft, as most of the new crew had been to sea before. By the beginning of the next week everything was put in ship-shape. The commander had purchased a furnished house for his bride, much against her wish; for, strange as you may think it, she did everything in her power to get the sailor to take her to sea with him. Less than a week after the bridal, when all the wedding guests except myself, were about to leave (I must except myself, because I'd a much greater mind to go a privateering with my old comrade than return to Morvah and Joan), accounts daily reached the privateer commander from the captains of vessels, brought into Falmouth for repairs, from pilots and others, that a fleet of merchantmen from the Spanish Main, and bound for Spain, had, during the gale, been separated from their armed convey, and from each other—that many of these rich Godsends for wrecker, pirate, or privateer, were drifted far out of their course away to the north and nor’-west of Scilly.
"The commander, Young John D—— (now his chief mate and brother-in-law), all the crew, and even Marget and myself, were mad to put to sea and give chase. Her husband and brother, in order to make her consent to remain on shore without them, promised to be back again in a fortnight, at the farthest, and that then if she still determined to risk the sea, she might do so. Much money and other valuable were placed in safe hands for Margaret’s use. Our gallant ship was ready for sea. I went on shore to say good bye to Marget, when who should be there but my old Joan! She and Meg, between them, managed to make me dead drunk and keep me out of the way till the privateer was out of sight with the two I dearly loved; and neither Margaret nor I have ever seen them since.
"Yet, a few days after the sailor left Falmouth his gallant ship, in all her pride, put into Whitsand bay. John D——, and a dozen of the crew, came ashore, proceeded to Penrose, and served out Justice Jones as the old wretch deserved."
'Now, I haven't interrupted ’e all this time,' says Mary, 'nor asked ’e a single question, but I'd like to know something about old Jones and how he was served out.'
'It'll take too long now,' Mathy answered; 'let's finish one story before begin another; besides there's no time to spare, for Meg and her wedding guests (as she still calls the old dears who come to visit her on these times) will soon return.'
"Whatever can be become of the privateer captain and all, or any, of his crew, is known to no one in this country. Margaret often, in spite of all hope, indulges the fancy, especially on these days that her husband and brother are both still alive and will one day come back. That's the reason she lives in this way, and will not touch a farthing of the money her sailor left, hoping still that he may come home and want it. Even his wedding suit, and all the other land clothes (he left all with her), are taken out of the long oak chest, new folded, aired, and brushed, just as if she expected him home before night.
"But, sometimes, her cooler reason gets uppermost, and then she's in black despair. These are the times you may see her, at nights, wandering about alone among the cliffs and carns. The more stormy the night the more likely one is then to see her. I've heard her at such times, poor soul, when she little thought I was watching her, for fear of some harm happening to her, shriek and moan for hours together louder than the wind and waves. The following day, or during many days, she would be like one lost to the world. Then her harmless madness would come like a shield to protect her wounded heart. I'm alway glad, for my part, to see her indulge in her deviltry (I don't know what else to call it), because then I know that the bleeding of her broken heart is stayed for the time."
'Law! don't talk such nonsense,' says Mary; 'why, didn't she get married again, and live like a sober respectable woman, to be sure?'
"From time to time, rumours have reached this place that the sailor V——, John——, and some of the crew, were still alive and kept prisoners in one of the Spanish settlements of America. These uncertain reports are treasured up by Margaret, and serve to nourish her hopes. She, poor crushed soul, may fancy what she will, but I know that the sailor is dead, because I saw, at this very hour of the afternoon, nine years, ago,
The Apparition of Billy V——,
standing there, just inside the door, as plainly as I see the sloping sunbeams now shining on the screen. The weather was calm, the sea smooth as glass, but great part hidden from view with clouds of dry mist, which rolled in to the foot of the cliff and up the hollows between the carns, so that their tops only could be seen as if resting on the clouds. One could hear the seamen speaking and the sheaves creaking in the blocks, and other sounds on ship-board, out over the sea miles away. Everything
around—sky, sea, and land—seemed all unnatural-like; more like the moving picture of some grand show than anything real.
"I was keeping in the fire, and thinking of my old comrade, when I heard the cantering of a horse coming over the cliff. In an instant, by the time I looked up, the tramp of the horse was on the caunce outside that door. I looked through the open window and saw nothing outside but the fog mixed with sunshine, as one may now and then see it on the cliffs this time of the year. The tread of a man, in heavy boots, and the jingle of spurs on the drussel, made me look towards the door. And there stood the sailor, dressed every way the same as I saw him when he came to Morvah church on his return from the three years’ privateering. There he stood, just inside the door, where the sun now shines on the floor—his peaked hat, looped up at the sides, with feather and black cockade, was above the top of the doorway. He wore the same laced coat of fine blue cloth, and the tops of his glossy boots reached half-ways up the thighs. There he stood, the same man—tall, sturdy, and strong, square-built, and broad-shouldered: he looked every inch the bold buccaneer. I thought he was going to say, 'What cheer, messmate,' till I noticed that though his face was turned towards me, yet he appeared not to see me. I knew it was my old comrade, yet I had neither the power to speak nor to move. A cold sweat ran over me, and I felt like one turning to stone; yet I didn't think of the years gone by, and that, if alive, he could no longer look so young as he did thirty years ago. In my bewilderment and surprise, I stood gazing at him and forgot to notice the fire, till, by a side glance, I saw the litter of furze on the hearth-stone all in a blaze, carrying the fire to the foot of the wood-corner. In a moment more the whole place would have been in flames. I turned, an instant only, to sweep back the fire. When I looked towards the door again there was nobody nor nothing there, where he stood, to be seen but a man's coat and hat hanging on the screen—the same garments (once the sailor's) you see there now, and that Meg puts on of stormy nights, when she runs like a wild thing over the cleaves and carns."
'I should thing,' says Mary, 'you wed be glad to see your old mate, dead or alive.'
'Aye, so I should, in good substantial flesh and blood, but not an apparition like that. Yet, when I saw the lace at his wristbands, and even the black silk tassels hanging from the tops of his boots, just as I had noticed them when I walked by his wide on his wedding-day, I didn't think him to be only a spirit, till I again heard the horse tramping away over the cliff down to the carns below, where neither horse nor goat could go. Still, bewildered and fear-struck, I went out and stood on the bank at the end of the house, looked towards the sea in the direction of the sound of the horse's hoofs, but there carns and cleaves were all shrouded in mist which seemed to be gathering from all quarters to that
place till it formed a black cloud above and a thick haze below, out of which soon appeared the black masts of a black ship scudding away to sea, with all her sails set and not a breath of wind stirring.
"The black cloud in the sky followed the death-ship (for the strange craft was nothing else), and every now and then spread a blaze of lightning over the western sky. The thunder roared, fire and smoke burst from the hull of the ship, followed by the sound of a cannonade—Bomb! bomb! bomb!—louder than the thunders roaring above and around. Just an instant the smoke cleared away from the black hull, and there, on the quarter-deck, was the sailor, brandishing his flashing sword, and not another soul to be seen. Away, away, hurried the craft over the sea towards the west, and was soon lost to sight in the thunder-cloud which became thicker and blacker. At the same time, in every other direction, the sky was clear and the sun shone bright.
"I then fell down in a fright and turned my face on the ground that I might see no more of the terrible sight. There I lay, like one in a fit, till Meg came back and roused me out of the sort of trance the fright brought on.
"'Mathy,' says she, 'hast thou the stag (nightmare) on thy back, that thou art groaning and grunting so in thy sleep? Rise up, and come in, thou careless cook.'
"I crawled in as well as I could, and didn't say anything about the apparition."
'Perhaps, after all,' says Mary, 'it was only your dreams and fancy.'
'Is your grammer fancy? You may take my solemn word for it. There I saw the sailor, as plainly as I now see thee with thy mouth open, looking like a fool frightened. And now you had better make haste home, for Marget and her company will be back soon.'
'My dear Captn. Mathy,' said she, 'only leave me step up on the talfat a minute to see the beautiful quilt; it's always spread on the bed when An Meg's got company. I shall begin soon to make a quilt for myself, as I hope to be married one day as well as the rest. I would like just to see the star in the middle of the work. I'll be down again in a crack.'
'Be quick, then' says Mathy, 'if you want to see Margaret’s fancy work, be up and down again in a couple of shakes, and I'll go outside the door to see if the old ladies be in a sight. We shall both get into trouble if they come back and find thee there. No one can tell what they may think and say; but, of all the scores of times I've been here alone, it never came into my head to mount the ladder and have a squint at the old ’oman's bed.'
The dame's talfat, or bed-place, over the spence and part of the living-room, was reached by a steep stair-ladder. A strong stream of light, coming through the little open loop-hole, lit up a portion of the room, whilst the rest was in deep shadow, and made still darker by the partly-drawn curtains of a heavy four-poster. Going from the sunshine below into this place of streaky light and gloom, Mary could hardly make out, at first, that on the middle of the quilt was a suit of man's clothes laid at length, and carefully folded double. At last she saw everything there to be exactly what Mathy had just described as the wedding dress of the bold buccaneer. On the pillow was placed a cocked hat. Next came the broad-skirted blue coat, with its bright gold lace and anchor buttons. Shirt-ruffles were seen between the folds of the breast, and deep rich lace hung out through the broad cuffs of the coat. Meeting the coat-skirts were the high boots, and these looked full and in form, as if the sailor's legs were still in them. Besides, they appeared as smooth and bright as if they had only then left a boot-maker's hands. Mary didn't venture to move the sailor's toggery, that she might see the star in the centre of the patch-work. She saw that hundreds and hundreds of pieces, of all shades and patterns, were joined together so as to form most intricate, yet uniform, designs.
The next thing that struck her attention was a long oaken chest, with heavy handles like those of a coffin. In the uncertain light the low chest looked much like a bed for the dead. Margaret’s wedding cap and other lace-work, placed on a fine flannel shirt, with other things, on the lid, Mary took for a shroud.
After a glance at these Mary turned round again and took up the edge of the quilt at the foot of the bed. She stood there for a minute's space, examining, and trying to remember, the pattern of the patch-work round the border, when, to her horror, she saw the boots move from each other, and when she cast a glance towards the head of the bed, there lay the sailor, with all his clothes around him, and looked as if he would that instant spring off the bed.
The girl saw no more!
With one bound and a shriek, she sprang over stairs and fell on the floor in a fit!
Mathy, hearing the noise she made, in coming so quickly down stairs, ran in, drew her out of doors, soused her well with water, poured brandy down her throat, and took other means which brought her to.
Mary's first cry, when the Captn, held her up, was, "Oh! release me from the sailor or the devil, do; and leave me go."
Mathy let her go with all his heart. She ran home, took to her bed from the effects of her fright, and was unable to quit it for many weeks.
To her dying day Mary Polteer was ready to swear that she saw the sailor's spirit dressed in his uniform, with cocked hat, boots and all, lying in Margaret’s bed high by day.
"Sarved her right too," Mathy used to say, "for misbelieving me."
Whilst the Captn. had been relating to Mary Polteer as much as he knew of the sailor's history, the old ladies had enjoyed a pleasant gossip, and left the sunny bank on which they rested, among the earns, below, about the time the curious damsel ran home in a fright at the sight of the apparition.
When Margaret and her company arrived at the dwelling they were met by An Joan, the Captn.’s wife, who brought down a large bowl of cream and a monster apple-cake, steaming hot.
Soon after tea was over, the husbands of the two of the dames who lived—the one in Trevidga, and the other in Trevalgan—joined the party. Then came the tinners, Curnow and Tregeer. They didn't forget to bring some bottles of the choicest liquors they had lately procured by a run across the Channel.
The night sped joyfully. Song followed song, and droll was told for droll. No one spoke of parting until the small hours of the morning. Then, as "the moon shone bright, and the stars gave their light," the jolly companions went out for a dance on the smooth turf, off the cliff. Any stranger seeing the old dames and tinners cutting their wild capers among the moon-lit carns, at that time of night, might well have taken the jovial party for a company of witches holding their sabbath reel, with dark-complexioned partners from the world below.
By daybreak all the loving friends, except one old dame who came from many miles away, took leave of Margaret and her old acquaintance who came to pass a few days with her.
Soon after that night, when the wise woman's fearful threats and curses frightened away the folks who came to annoy her, they, and many others who heard their report of what had then taken place, came to regard the aged charmer as a real black witch. Even the children soon feared to go near their former favourite, and their squalling was often stayed by the threat of, "I'll give ’e to old Meg, the witch, I will, of thee doesn’t stop thy bleatan, and the Bucca-boo, that do come to see her every night, will carry thee away with en to the black place where a do live, that a will." Others, who had less fear than hatred of the old dame, closed their doors against her, and killed or wounded her pet animals, whenever they had the chance to do it unperceived.
Long ago, Margaret’s friends in Sennen wished her to come and live near them, where she would be sure of being treated with kindness, and now the illusage of her neighbours made her desire some other refuge.
Yet she could not make up her mind to leave the place where her lambs, kids, and other dumb companions loved to roam, and the roof-tree, under which her tame redbreasts had built their nests, and where the bees had stored their sweets.
One day, late in the fall, whilst Margaret was still in two minds about going or staying, one of her husband's relatives came to her dwelling, accompanied by an aged seaman who was a native of St. Just, and who had been one of the privateer's crew. The old mariner, without much preface, related to Margaret, how, a few days after her brother and some of the privateer's crew landed at Genvor, and had their game with the old justice of Penrose, they fell in with a heavily laden Spanish merchantman returning from the Indies. The privateers boarded the ship with very little difficulty, but, in their headstrong heedlessness of all command, every one of the undisciplined crew left the privateer, except a man at the helm, and he, too, would have quitted his ship with the rest, when, by some mishap, the privateer got adrift from the merchantship, and, with this solitary seaman, was driven fast away over sea and out of sight.
"At first the privateers didn't much regard, nor care about, their ship drifting away. They felt sure of taking the Spanish vessel, but, for once, they were sadly out in their reckoning. On board the merchantman there were a good many passengers, mostly old soldiers returning home after having served their time and feathered their nests in the Spanish-American colonies. These veterans were in no haste to appear on deck and take part in the fray, until they found that their own crew, without their assistance, were likely to get the worst of it. Then they came on, armed to the teeth, and by their united action soon killed all the privateers excepting the Sailor V——, young D——, and four others (one of whom was the old mariner himself), who were all put in irons, and condemned to be hanged at the yard-arm, as soon as they arrived in port. This country was not then at war with Spain, and, as the privateers were, in this case, no better than pirates, they were doomed to suffer the penalty usually awarded to these sea-robbers.
"When this sad remnant of the bold privateers (ironed and sent below during the night), were turned up on deck the next morning, there was neither sight nor sign of their ship and her solitary mariner. The spanish veterans admired the Cornishmen for their pluck, treated them like old comrades, and showed all the more kindness to the bold pirate crew because, by the fortune of war, they were to be hanged in a few days. They were within a day's sail of Cadiz, the wind and everything else apparently favourable for a speedy termination of the good ship's voyage, and the lives of the Cornish crew, by the way of the yard-arm, where the six bold sea-robbers were to be hanged all in a row. The men to be strung up, and those who were to perform that office for them, were the best of friends and, joking over the matter, as either party would have done the
same to the others under similar circumstances, when there was a sudden alarm of an ugly craft, seen approaching from the coast of Barbary.
"Before the boarding-netting was passed round the ship, the deck cleared to work the guns, and the crew and passenger-soldiers all armed, the approaching craft was made out to be one of the most dreaded corsair-ships that hailed from Algiers. This was a good-sized, decked vessel, which carried several guns, and ventured much farther to sea than the row galleys which usually came out from the African pirates’ nests in fleets, to board the merchantmen when near the land. Like a hawk pouncing on a dove, the pirate came up with the merchantman, and boarded her. Moors and Spaniards fought like lions and tigers, and the Dons were getting the worst of it when the Spanish commander came below and said to his prisoners, "Now, you brave Christian villains, will you do one good deed to save your souls before you die, and help us good Catholics to fight against the Pagan Moors?" "Knock off our irons; give us arms; and waste no more time in palaver," answered the sailor V——. The reinforcement of the Cornishmen soon turned the scale in favour of the Spaniards. The Saracens were confounded by hearing the wild whoops and screams of the St. Just men, in a lingua franca new to Turks and Pagans, crying out, 'Now comrades, one and all cut into them devils for blood and life!"
"When the night closed in, a great part of the Moors were lying lifeless in their gore, and many of the Spaniards in the same plight. Then the sailor V—— passed the word, 'Hurra, comrades! Now for the Barbary ship.' Before Spaniards or Moors had time to wink, the Cornishmen were on board the Algerian and this spanking craft cast off the merchantman. Some of the few Saracens found on board were spared to help to work the ship, and the rest made 'to walk the plank.' 'Good bye, mates,' said the sailor to the Spaniards; 'we like to ride on this sea-bird better than to swing from your yard-arm.' The Dons, guessing their late prisoners’ intentions, were not sorry to see them save their bacon, and returned their salute with a hearty 'Adios, companeros, hastaluego, y buena ventura.'
"The Cornishmen found in their new ship a good store of money, provisions, and water, with the flags of all nations, which were either kept as trophies or used as decoys by the African sea-rovers.
"The sailor's first care was to cruise about in search of his own ship, with her lonely mariner. Over a few weeks, she was seen making her course for Cadiz. When the privateer tried to come up with their wandering ship, their old messmate crowded sail to give a wide berth to the dreaded Algerine. Signals were hoisted, and all done that could be thought of to make the raw St. Just man understand that he was running away from those he wished to find. At last a shot was fired across the bows of the runaway in order to bring her commander to reason, but he returned
two shots for one, and would soon have sent the Barbary ship and his old comrades to the bottom, had it not been that, in the heat of the action, he approached so near the Algerine as to hear the sailor V—— hail him from the quarter-deck, 'Hallo, Captn. Jan Trezise! Will ’e take a few more hands on board?' 'You many fancy the joy of our shipmate,' says the Mariner, 'to find his late comrades; he had been doing his best to follow them and share their fate or bring them off.'
"For God's sake," days Margaret, "tell me at once; is Billy V—— alive or dead? Any my brother, where is he?"
Without heeding Margaret’s impatience, the old seaman continued:—"Sailor V—— and his crew soon shifted to their recovered ship, with a great store of valuables found in the corsair-ship. They then sent off the deserted pirate-craft, under full sail, to course about the seas like the Flying Dutchman or a spectre ship. Next they held a council to decide on their future proceedings;—as they had so narrowly escaped hanging to the yard-arm and lost so many of their shipmates, none felt much inclined to return to England, except the captain, who wished to see his bride and leave with her his share of the riches found in the Algerine, before he proceeded on a long and uncertain expedition; but he was with difficulty persuaded to try, first, a short buccaneering trip to the Spanish Main.
"Many years were passed among the keys and islands, with alternate fighting and feasting, good luck and bad. During this time, which sped we hardly knew how, the sailor often planned and attempted to get away home with his share of the tax that the buccaneers had levied on all rich argosies which crossed their track; but the greater part of his crew, augmented now by many desperate villains—English, French, and Dutch—picked up here and there, always opposed his endeavours to go away either with them or without them. They would give their captain, his mates, and the rest of the Cornishmen, any share or all of the treasures if they would only remain with them, either on sea or land.
"As they soon became well acquainted with the coasts of the islands and mainland, they sometimes acted as honest pilots and protectors to the vessels trading in these all but unknown seas. Yet this was dull work, of which they soon tired, and all returned to the more exciting sport of plundering the new settlements on the Spanish Main. Many of the ship's company had taken off, nothing loth, to the islands, where their usual rendezvous was held—a good number of fair Spanish maidens for their wives, with slaves to wait on them all.
"One night, when they all landed to have a carouse on one of the smaller islands of the West Indies (where they sometimes buried their treasures), the Sailor V——, John D——, three St. Just men of his crew, and a few others from the old country, who first joined them,
planned to keep sober, and when the rest, according to their custom on these occasions, would be all dead drunk, then to seize the ship, make off, away, and leave their too-loving comrades behind. Nothing is so uncertain, they say, as the wind and the women. The west-country buccaneers sailed out of harbour with a fair breeze and a tranquil sea, and left their comrades sweetly sleeping; but, soon after sunrise, the breeze veered and sent them round the island, which was so shrouded in fog that, except at rare intervals, they could see nothing farther ahead than the peak of the bowsprit. In the meantime, the deserted part of the crew got out of their long and sound sleep, to find their commander and his mates had gone away, without saying adieu.
"The deserted crew were grieved and angry to find themselves thus forsaken by the commander for whom all, in their savage regard, would have given their lives. Yet there was still some hope that they might see him again. He could not sail far without more wind. It was no easy matter, at any time, to clear the small islands, with currents running in all directions, and much more difficult when, as on that morning, they were all shrouded in a dry mist. The mixed multitide, knowing that there was, in a cove only a few miles distant, a good sailing craft belonging to another crew who followed the same gentle profession as themselves, procured this ship and ship's company, to go in pursuit of their captain. About four hours before noon, the mist, at intervals cleared away, and then the two vessels were seen within hailing distance of each other. The Cornishmen fired a few shots at the ship in chase of them, and, when preparing to give a broadside, their vessel struck on a reef; then the one in pursuit came alongside, and all hands boarded the deserter, with but little difficulty.
"The rest," said the old seaman, "is soon told, and, what is more remarkable, this happened nine years and two months or so ago, in the morning of the day which, of all days in the year, the captain always kept as a festival in remembrance of his wedding-day."
"Stay, I know the rest," said Margaret, rising in great agitation; "but tell me who was that lady who hung over my husband, weeping and holding two children by the hand, when he lay dead and bleeding on the deck of his vessel."
"That Lady," the seaman replied, as he sprang to his feet in amaze,—"that lady and the two boys were your brother's wife and children."
"And John, my brother, where was he? I thought I saw you! Yes, I see now; it was you who held my husband's head in your arms, when a score or more swarthy-looking seamen stood around distracted with grief?"
"Oh, lady," the seaman replied, "don't recall everything of that sad time. Your brother, when he saw that our captain had, by mischance,
received a death wound from a boarding-pike (we knew not how it happened,—it was never intended), and our commander fall on the deck and the blood pour from his side, mad with rage, would have killed all who carne near him, and himself too, had he not been confined below. But, lady, how can you know all that took place on that fatal morn?"
Margaret now addressed Captn. Mathy (who had entered her dwelling a few minutes before, and stood near the door, listening in silence),—
"Old friend," said she, "you have often heard me called mad, and many say that my visions are only waking dreams; but it was no diseased fancy which made me see all that took place, a little before noon, on the feast-day I have always observed. The day was close and sultry: I had been up early, preparing to receive my accustomed visitors. Feeling faint and weary, I sat a few moments on the rock outside the door, when, suddenly, a thick fog surrounded me and hid everything from my view. Then it seemed as if the sea were close at my feet. I heard around me the bubbling of the waves, the confused clamour of many voices, mixed with the booming of cannon. Another moment the sound of my husband's and my brother's well-known voices came to my ears. Then the rock on which I sat seemed to be on the deck of a vessel, floating in sea and mist. Before me (and as near me as I am to you) lay my husband bleeding—a dark-complexioned lady kneeling on the deck beside him, trying to staunch his wound, the mariners all around him weeping, as the seaman had just related. The fearful vision lasted no longer than a minute, when all vanished and left me like one newly awakened from a trance. Though I have never spoken of this apparition if left too deep a pang to be forgotten. Yet now I rejoice to know that my husband's last thought were of me, and that the dark lady was my brother's wife."
Mathy might have told how he, too, had seen the spirit of the Sailor, only a few hours after the death-token came to Margaret, but grief and awe kept him silent.
Neither of those who listened to Margaret’s account of the death-token doubted the reality of the apparition, as everyone here believed that the dying appear to the absent, on whom their thoughts are centred at the moment the spirit leaves the body. Besides, a little more than nine years before the returned seaman came to Margaret’s dwelling, it was said that many persons had heard and seen in Trevilly cliff the peculiar tokens which, in all time, had marked the coming death of any member of the Sailor's family.
In a short time Margaret recovered her tranquility, and the old mariner resumed his story:—
"The body of the Sailor V—— was taken to the land, and, in a beautiful glen, beside a gently flowing river, where he delighted to
repose, and whither, he often said, he wished to bring his bride, that they might settle there and roam no more, within the sound of the ocean, under the shade of a spreading tulip-tree, we made his last resting-place. Near by, John D—— made his dwelling, and in the garden enclosed his brother's grave.
"The ship's company, when they lost their commander, and finding that his brother-in-law refused to take the command or put to sea again, brought thither their wives and families, soon cleared many acres of rich land, and will ere long make a thriving settlement in that fair clime, where flowers and fruit follow each other all the year round. And there the descendants of our Cornishmen, and the Spanish and Indian maidens, may be found at a distant day."
The mariner had long desired to revisit his native place, but found no chance of leaving their unfrequented settlement until two years since, when an English ship, on some exploring expedition, anchored in the bay at the mouth of their river, and gave him a passage home, after taking him to every other quarter of the globe on the way.
The seaman then told Margaret that her brother, wishing to know how it fared with her and the rest of his family, had furnished him with plenty of money for the journey and entrusted to his care a present for her.
On opening the canvas covering of a small parcel which the seaman put into Margaret’s hand, it was found to contain a carefully-folded bandana, and between the folds gold coins, precious stones, and jewels, and a massive plain gold ring, taken from her husband's finger after death. This ring and the handkerchief were all that Margaret took of the rich store;—the rest she returned to the seaman for his own use. Now there was an end to Margaret’s hopes and fears; she no longer desired to live in the lonely dwelling on the cliff, and in a few weeks she removed, with all her rare furniture, pet animals, bees, and favourite flowers, to a comfortable cottage in the village of Escols. In her new home she received every kindness, and, from having cheerful companions to help her to pass the time, the strange fancies engendered by her melancholy, lonely, existence gradually disappeared, and she became much like the ordinary persons of healthy every-day life.
The only thing spoken of as remarkable, in later accounts of the dame, is that she passed so much time in the study of astrology as to become a great proficient in that mysterious science, which was then much cultivated by many noted scholars of the west country. Besides several other learned persons, Ustick of Botallack and Dr. Maddern are said to have been frequent visitors to Margaret in Escols, and that, between them, they drew horoscopes, concocted wonderful drugs, distilled strange compounds and cordials, and predicted many remarkable events, some of which really occurred to the persons for whom their schemes were cast, or to somebody else. She was also a powerful charmer till the end of her days.