Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, Vol. 1, by William Bottrell, , at sacred-texts.com
And might I but kiss him,
As in wish I may,
My soul in his kisses
Should die away!
Where I see him not
Seems the grave to be!
Tuneless and harsh
All the world to me.
My heart is heavy,
My peace is o’er;
I shall find it never,
Oh, never more."—Faust (Filmore's translation).
So overpowering was the desire of Nancy Trenoweth to know the fate of her lover and if it were destined for her ever to become the bride of Lanyon, that, in company with two other love-sick damsels who were equally agitated by hopes and fears. she assayed what was then regarded as one of the most potent and fearful incantations, to induce the Powers of Darkness to lift the veil from that portion of their future destiny which they regarded as the main object of their existence:—when Allhallows eve came, they had all three prepared for the spell of sowing hemp-seed. Near the midnight hour, with the moon shining bright, Nancy left the house quietly (for fear of disturbing the old couple, who had long retired to rest), and met her companions in the town-place, where they had agreed to meet and work their spells. Nancy and one of her companions drew their circles at a good distance from, but within sight of, each other. Nancy was the first to sow the magic grains, and pronounce the seemingly harmless incantation of—
[paragraph continues] No sooner were the words three times spoken than a lurid thundercloud obscured the light of the moon. At the same instant a cloud of mist came sweeping in from over sea, rolled up the cleves with the speed of a whirlwind, came careering on to Kimyel town-place, and gathered around the circle in which Nancy stood, trembling with affright at the fearful visions her spells had summoned. The wind rose to a violent tempest, and the waves seemed to be breaking and surging around her. The dark clouds overhead became one sheet of flashing flames, which
showed her The Apparition of Lanyon, surrounded by the surging waves and dripping wet, as if he had been drawn through the sea. He stood before her, dressed in outlandish garb—with a long and flowing coal-black beard, and glared on Nancy with such a look of terrible anger that she gave a fearful shriek, and the vision instantly disappeared.
The spectral sea and tempest, with the apparition of Lanyon, was neither seen nor heard by the other damsels, whose curiosity and hopes deferred urged one of them on "to try for her sweetheart;" but she had no sooner sown the seed and spoken the words "Let my true love come after me, and mow," then turning quickly round, in hopes to meet her destined bridegroom, she saw a white coffin resting within the circle. This unlooked-for vision caused her to run from the charmed circle towards the other girl (who stood near, being too timid to try the spell) and fall to the ground in convulsions. Nancy, who had somewhat recovered her fright, helped to convey their insensible companion to her home in the next hamlet, which she only left to be taken to her untimely grave, before the earliest flowers of spring bloomed in the meadows.
Nancy returned to Kimyel alone, to pass a sleepless night and wish for daylight, and that her daily task might dispel the terror caused by the fearful apparitions they had raised by their unholy spells, which left a dread of some impending evil harder to bear than the uncertainty about the fate of Frank Lanyon.
Madam Lanyon would also frequently visit the old woman of Alsia and weep over the remembrance of her son while seeing his beautiful boy. Above all, as she had firm faith in all the superstitious practices of the olden times, and venerated the wise woman of Alsia as a priestess of these ancient rites, she felt some gleams of hope when Johanna assured her that she was certain that Frank would return and claim Nancy for his bride, but all beyond was hidden from her view. Many a dreary winter's night, during the most violent tempests, the parents of Lanyon and his more than affianced bride would wander among the cleves in the darkest nights, unable to rest, from their souls’ ardent desire to behold, dead or alive, the one so dear to them.
March came, with its storms; and, one rainy and tempestuous night, the old couple, with many others, as if by some presentiment of impending fate, were drawn together in Baranhuel cliff, and they sought shelter from the blast and driving rain amidst the towering carns of Pednsawnack. Towards the middle of the night, sounds were heard as of sailors calling for help. The wailing voices, which were but indistinctly heard amid the booming of the breakers and the roaring of the gale, seemed to proceed from Porthguarnon Cove. The moon shone out for an instant, and the people on the cliff, running towards the place from which the voices appeared to rise, saw a large ship in the offing, and that a boat was driven on to a reef of shelving rocks and boulders in or near Porthguarnon.
[paragraph continues] Many of the crew were struggling in the surf, or clinging to the narrow ledges of the rocks under the overhanging cliff, whence they had no chance of escape from the rising tide without the assistance of those on shore, to take them with ropes from the slippery shelves, to which they clung with the desperation of drowning men who felt the waves fast rising around and dashing over them. They had but little chance of escape from death at their own doors. Soon, amongst the cries of many calling for help, were distinguished the well-remembered voice of Lanyon, and of many of the brave young men who had left Penberth, full of hope, more than a year and a half ago. All those alive had kept together throughout their wanderings;—they had gained riches to their heart's content by taking the ship from the pirates, when they were about to sell them for slaves, and were now returning, to enjoy the fruits of their toil and hardship. The young men, over-anxious to land on their native shores, parted from the ship in a boat and made for Penberth, but in the driving rain they at first mistook the headland of Merthen Point for Pednsawnack, and the stress of weather drove them in on the rocks of Porthguarnon.
Ropes were soon brought to the cliff, and Lanyon, braving death, would have all the crew drawn up before himself. From long struggling in the surf to save his comrades, he had barely the strength to place himself in the loop of the rope, and was powerless to grasp it with his hands, or push himself clear of the overhanging rocks. When, after much difficulty, he was landed on the grass, he was found to be much battered and bruised, the blood flowing from his mouth, and he was apparently dead. Litters were soon formed, by placing beds on doors, which were sent from Baranhuel, with everything else that could be thought of for the comfort of the poor benumbed, half-drowned crew, who were carried up to the mansion. Over a while Frank Lanyon seemed to be recalled to life by hearing his mother's voice, and begged to be taken home to Bosean. When the bearers of the dying comrade of their early years reached the town-place, Frank begged to be left outside the house, as he knew that he had only a few hours to live, and that Nancy Trenoweth might be sent for without delay, for, unless he saw her before he breathed his last, he could not rest in peace.
The parents were so much overwhelmed with their grief that they thought no more of Frank's request, that Nancy should be fetched to him, until they were on their way home from seeing their son laid in his last bed in Buryan churchyard. They then regretted that they had placed him in the grave without paying any regard to his dying wishes, or to the woman who was still dear to him. No one, after the death of Frank, liked to be the first to give her the evil tidings.
After the desolate old couple had taken leave, in the church-town, of the friends who carne from a distance, and of the few who accompanied them a little way on the road, they slowly and silently wended
their way towards their dreary habitation, but when they came to Goonmenhere stile they felt impelled to turn down to Alsia, to see their grandson, and to tell the miller that in their grief they had neglected to fulfil the last request of the dead, and to beg them to send for Nancy. The rough but honest miller they well knew had ever more anger in his words than in his heart. They went on to Alsia. They felt that any other place would be less mournful then than their own dreary abode. When they were seated by Johanna's fireside the old dame placed Frank's son in his grandfather's arms. The sight of the beautiful boy—the image of Frank at his age—gave the first cheering ray to the old man's heart. Whilst the grandparents were embracing and weeping over the child the old woman went quietly out, and in a minute returned with her daughter and the miller, who said and did everything they could think of to comfort the old Lanyons, and mingled their tears in the lament for the untimely fate of Frank.
As none but those who delight in giving pain are willing to be the bearers of evil tidings, Frank was laid in his early grave, yet Nancy had not even heard of the wreck, or that anything had occurred of what was on the tongues of all persons in the neighbourhood, except those of the lone house of Kimyel.
On the evening of the funeral, when the old folks with whom she lived (who always sent early to rest) were buried in peaceful sleep, Nancy, as was her custom, the last thing before closing the house for the night, went out in the town-place to take a parting look at the sea, which she regarded as the abode of the one who was never absent from her thoughts. The evening was calm and clear. Moon and stars were shining brightly. The smooth sea glistened in their light, as seemingly tranquil as if its waters had never rolled in fury; and the forlorn woman, still fair as the sky gemmed with countless stars, stood near a rock in the town-place, gazing over the boundless waters with a sad and wistful look, as if her spirit had departed to seek her lover through the boundless realms of ocean, earth, and sky. Perchance she thought of him, wearing out the strength of his young life as a galley-slave to the detested Moor, or as wandering over the savage lands and burning sands of Barbary. Her mind of her lover for ever dreaming, with unutterable longing to again behold him, she often murmured his name and forgot all else beneath the sun.
Nancy was roused from her mournful reveries by the tramp of a horse coming through the lane with unusual speed. She went towards the house and mounted the steps of the heaving-stock beside the door, the better to see who could be coming to the place at that unusual time, when she saw, approaching near, the well-remembered horse on which Lanyon often came to meet her in Alsia lanes. The rider, too, was dressed in the strange garb in which she saw the apparition of her lover when summoned by her spells. The horseman hailed her by name, in the sweet
tones of her lover's voice, saying, "I am come, my love, to make thee my bride before to-morrow night." He brought his steed close beside the heaving-stock on which Nancy stood, spellbound, as ever, by the charm of love when she saw Lanyon. "Thy lips are icy-cold, dear Frank, and they hand is cold and damp as clay," said Nancy, when she clasped his neck and kissed him. His eyes glared on her like those of a dead corpse, and made her blood run cold, yet she had no power to resist his will when he said, "We have plighted our vows and sworn to be married, alive or dead; shrink not from me in fear, sweetheart, Come, mount behind me, and let us away;—ere to-morrow night thou shalt be my bride." With scarcely a moment's delay, Nancy sprang on the horse behind him. When to steady herself in her seat, she placed her arm around him, it became as stiff as iron and cold as ice. Away they went like a wind-blast; all things seemed to spin around them; rocks and hedges appeared flying past, as with fearful speed they shot through Trevellow lanes. The horseman spoke not, and nothing stayed their downward rushing course until they came to the waters in Trove Bottom;—there the horse stopped an instant to drink.
At that moment, the moon shining brightly behind them, Nancy saw, reflected in the water, the horseman before her like the corpse of Lanyon, arrayed in a shroud and other grave-clothes. Now she knew that she was carried away by a spirit; yet, as if bound by some magic spell, she had neither the power to move nor speak. Again they rushed on. The wind swept howling by them when they passed the trees in Trevider lane, and a tempest seemed to rage around, dashing on over hills and hollows, as in a few minutes they were near the smith's shop at the end of Burrian lane.
When Nancy saw by the light shining across the road from the forge fire, and by the sparks flying from the door and chimney, that the smith was still at work, she now recovered her speech, and, as they came careering on, called out with all her might, "Save me! save me! save me!" The smith sprang out with a bar of red-hot iron in his hand, and as they rushed by he caught hold of the woman or her dress, held her fast, and drew her off the horse. The spirit also grasped her dress, and the horse going like the wind, Nancy and the smith were dragged along past the old alms-house to the churchyard wall. Here the flying steed stooped for a moment, and the smith, with his red-hot iron, burned off the woman's dress from the spirit's grasp, when it rose from the horse, passed over into the churchyard, and with a wild, wailing, awful cry, like that of a man in his death agony, vanished on the grave in which Frank Lanyon had been laid a few hours before, and the piece of Nancy's dress, burned off in the spirits grasp, was found the following day. The woman, more dead than alive, fell on the ground, while the horse white with foam, gallopped off homeward, and was next morning found dead in Bosean town-place.
The smith there, assisted by some of the neighbours, took Nancy in a dying state to Alsia. She no longer desired to live when, on the way, she was informed of Lanyon's sad fate. After being laid on her mother's bed she only lived long enough to request that the child, then folded in her arms, might be given up to Frank's parents, who were there, beside her bed, weeping over her. Above all, she desired that they would lay her beside Lanyon the next day, before the hour in which unresting spirits leave their graves to seek the help of the living. Then she gently sank, and, when the morning light shone through the casement, the fair daughter of the Miller of Alsia was seen reposing in her last sleep—her countenance beaming with the same sweet and joyful smile it ever wore when she met her lover in their happiest hours.
And ere the stars of heaven shed their sparkling light into the honeyed cups of the stars of earth, the lovers reposed in the same grave, where the companions of their earliest years planted all the sweetest flowers, which were often sprinkled with the tears of young and old.
N.B. All the old story-tellers are particular in stating—that the piece of the woman's dress burned off in the spirit's grasp was found in Lanyon's grave when it was re-opened for Nancy's burial.