Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, Vol. 1, by William Bottrell, , at sacred-texts.com
Those who feared, a few years ago, to see a ghost, disliked to pass over the pathway on the bank or hedge which borders the mill-pool, and makes a short cut from the bend of the avenue to some cottages near the mill. The dislike to this pathway was not so much from its dangerous proximity to the water, as from the fear of seeing the apparition of two children, frequently beheld near the pool. This appearance of two beautiful children, wandering about hand-in-hand, was sometimes seen in the meadow, below, where they seemed to be picking flowers. At other times they were seen sporting like fairies on the margin of the mill-stream, or hovering over the water. By all accounts, many were so used to see the apparition of the beautiful babes that they paid no more attention to it than to any other ordinary occurrence; but we suspect that many of the stories told us, when children, about this haunted pool, might have been to deter us, and others of the same age, from venturing near this path on the brink of the water. However that may be, the stories told us then have left a lasting impression, and make us feel that there was always something weird, wisht, and strange about that path and dark millstream, although there is now scarce a ghost in all the land, and probably these restless spirits have also departed, with many other unsubstantial beings which used to haunt the vale.
There is a story, or rather a droll, told to account for these appearances, which sayeth that, long ago (probably some hundreds of years before the last of the Levelis was entombed in Burian church) some noble ancestor of his was left an orphan at a very early age, under the guardianship of his paternal uncle and other gentlemen of the west, who were also connected with the family.
These gentlemen did not approve of the manner in which the youth was being brought up by his uncle, who, as he was a younger brother, had but little land and less learning. He seems to have been merely a strong sturdy farmer, who took pride in his calling and cared not a straw for gentilesse.
This uncle farmed Trove, with all the other lands near, belonging to the family, and was bringing up the young Levelis as a mere hind. The more liberal guardians, seeing that the heir of the ancient family had there no means of acquiring the accomplishments becoming one of gentle blood, took the youth away from his uncle and got him installed as a squire to a worthy knight belonging to some noble family in a distant part of the country. Here the young heir was trained in all the gentle breeding, and manly and martial exercises, which were regarded as indispensible for the youth of his rank, in those times, when all the flower of the gentry amused themselves with lopping off the heads of Saracens and destroying those idols of Mahomed and Termagaunt which they were said to find in the Holy Land. A few years after the young heir of Trove had been under the good knight's care be became so gentil and valiant, courteous and brave, that any Cornishman might be proud to own him. He was
Young Levelis was never seen, and rarely heard of, in the west, until the knight, his master, took him, and numerous other followers, to flesh their maiden swords in the holy war. Then, to the great disgust of his uncle, the little revenue derived from the land, and more money (that was borrowed), and was sent to equip the young squire in a way suitable to his rank.
After this departure to the East, so many years passed without any tidings of the young crusader, that his uncle regarded the ancient possessions of the family as all his own. Rumours were common that soldiers had returned from the Jerusalem wars to other parts of the country, bringing word that Levelis of Trove was slain in the battle-field; but no one was seen to confirm these stories, which were probably invented to gratify the wishes of Hugh Levelis, the uncle, who had begun to plant and build, with as much confidence as if his nephew had been doubly dead and buried. Besides, he was preparing to bring a lady home to the hall in a short time. The absent heir seemed to be dead with the consent of one, but one day, when they least expected, he came back as a very "gentil knight," with a wife and two children. The lady was said to have belonged to a family of higher rank than the Levelis,—that she secretly left her father's house in disguise, and followed her youthful soldier to the wars. Then it was no unusual thing for the wives of commanders, as well as those of lower degree, to accompany their lords to the seat of war in the East, that they might keep watch and ward over their husbands, and guard them from the witcheries of the dark-eyed maids of Palestine, and other dangers of that land of enchantments.
Here the story, as told by the old folks, goes on to say how the Levelis in possession refused at first to acknowledge the returned soldier
to be his nephew—that those who knew him, when a child, with his uncle, did not remember him then—how, after a long contest, his identity was established by the miller and an old servant of his father proceeding to the part of the country where the knight resided when at home, and bringing thence some persons who knew him well before he went to the wars. Among those were some relatives of the crusader's lady who knew nothing of her whereabouts or that she had been married to Levelis; they only knew that she had either been stolen, or that she had strayed, and they decently mourned her as dead, hoping she would no more come back to trouble them.
When the warrior was reinstated in his lands, the rambling couple were wedded again in Burian church and the bells rung then, as they are said to do now, "Poor man undone!" The only reason we know for this fancy is that "what the fool thinketh, that the bell chinketh." It might well be that the uncle and others could not believe that the stout soldier returned from the wars, as brown as a berry and bearded like a Turk, was the same fair stripling who left Trove a score of years before, yet when the uncle Levelis found that there was no chance of his retaining possession of the property he seemed glad to be convinced that the returned soldier was his nephew beyond dispute, and so far influenced the unsuspecting nature of the blunt, honest soldier, that he allowed him to manage matters much as he pleased; but the lady felt a repugnance, for which she could not account, to the fawning manner of the sturdy man who was only some dozen years older than her husband, and who, from having always remained attached to his healthy home and occupation, looked even younger than his crusading nephew.
The children also, for all his uncouth sweetness, seemed as naturally to avoid their grand uncle as doves shun the hawk.
The soldier Levelis—we wish we knew his name (suppose we call him captain, as almost everyone here is dubbed captain now)—Well, captain Levelis had scarcely been settled long enow by his native hearth to feel the comfort of it, when he was called away to the wars again, leaving his wife (about to become a mother for the third time) and the two children, to the tender mercies of a disappointed uncle, and among people, who, however hospitable they might have been, often showed a greater antipathy to persons from other parts of England than to people from distant countries.
Many persons, who have heard the traditions of the old folks about what they call the Jerusalem wars and the days of old King John, have come to the conclusion, that long after the time of the crusaders, some remembrance of the holy wars must have induced enthusiasts, or maniacs, every now and then to stir up the simple folks of the west to a state of frenzy about going to the land of Canaan.
Captain Levelis was glad to take advantage of this fury for going to the holy wars, as it gave him a pretence for another ramble to Paynim lands, and for leaving awhile what he found too dull an existence to suit his hot blood, after the stirring life of the camp. His tales, and descriptions of the wonders and treasures of Levantine lands, induced hundreds from the west country to join his company. If there be any meaning in our traditions of these times, they would seem to show that women, by scores, old as well as young, left their homes with their lovers, husbands, or brothers, to follow the standard of Levelis, on which were seen the three calves’ heads in silver sheen, and the sable tower, waving on the breeze. Many lusty squires led the van, accompanied by a great number of the old gentry and yeomanry of the west. These set out with horses and hounds, and hawk on hand, with all their sporting gear, mixed with their arms and other accoutrements. Away they went like a troop of merry huntsmen. Next came the tinners, with their picks on their shoulders, that they might try every pretty keenly piece of ground they should come to on their journey to Jerusalem, whilst the others touched pipe a spell, or went a hunting.
Their ideas about the distance, places, and people to be passed on the way must have been in a state of great confusion. Many of the characters of the miracle plays that most Sundays they flocked to see acted at the cross in Burian or Sancras church-town, were living realities for them, and they believed that the grand eastern princes spoke the same sweet Cornish lingo as those who acted their parts in the Plan-an-gware at Saint Just. The simple folks, having no juster notions of times than of places, confounded the little they hear of things and persons, ancient and modern, and of places near and distant. They believed all the lying modern, all the lying stories of pilgrims and palmers. The more improbable the fiction the firmer and more meritorious their faith. The wandering, restless outlaws, who flocked into the parish to claim the privilege of sanctuary, also brought hither many wonderful tales, which would never be forgotten, when the old sociable life of hunting and the hall was in vogue, when one and all assembled round the winter's fire to droll the time away.
Nothing could restrain their impatience to depart. Some few tin-streamers left on horseback, one beast between several cousin Johneys, who intended to ride and tie all the way to Jericho, where they would sell the horse in the first Corpus-chris fair, after they got there; but the crowd of common folks went on foot, armed with their knotty blackthorn sticks, or such rude weapons as the blacksmith, or their own invention, could contrive. The women loaded themselves with such choice household utensils and garments as were intended to give the Pagans of the East a high idea of the refinement of the West. Some took with them the small treadle-turns they spun the flax with—that they might teach the women of Jerusalem, Jericho, or Babylon how to spin with a
better contrivance than the distaff and reel. One dame of Escols—a noted knitster—filled her knapsacks of pockets, made large for the occasion, with balls of the finest yarn, that she might knit, by the way, some of the most beautiful stockings that ever were seen for Solomon's queen, or the king of Babylon. A great part of the crowd was composed of those who were not determined whether they would go all the way, or only so far as to see the rest set sail. A large portion of these were old women perched on pillions behind their good men, whom they saw off with streaming eyes, but they took good care to bring back the old grey mare, with some youngster, picked up on the road, riding before them, and many who firmly resolved to go to Jericho went no farther than Relubbus or Fraddam. They had never been out of the smoke of their own chimneys before, and little thought the world was so large and so round, until they had a good view of it from the high hills of Crowan and Breage. They took with them so much of fuggans, hoggans, and pasties, that they were glad to stop often, to lighten the load and keep up their strength the first day; so they sat themselves down and finished off a pasty each one, on the bank of every clear stream they passed. They had little care for the morrow. Surely the Lord would provide; weren't they going to the Holy War? They might drop into anybody's house about dinner-time, and get a basin of broth, to be sure, if nothing better; and a bowl of pillas-porridge, morning and evening, from some hospitable body, living near the roadside, would do. They had made up their minds not to be too particular on the score of lodgings. As it was about Midsummer they could sleep during the short, nights in the barns or by the side of a hayrick,—anywhere; when they got to the land of Canaan they would have a good blow-out and rest, to make up for all the hardships of the road before they began to fight the Pagans.
The ignorance of the poor folks, and their inborn love of the marvellous, added to their illusion; they were prepared to see miracles and wonders in everything they found different from what they had been accustomed to. Everything unusual wore an air of enchantment for them, and the hope of seeing wonders and prodigies had as much, or more, to do in making many go off in a wildgoose-chase to the East than anything they cared about Jerusalem or Jericho, being occupied by Turks or Christians; yet each felt sure that when they got there they would beat the idols of Mahomed and Termagaunt all to bruss and bruyans (fragments), as they said everyone was certain of despatching his baker's dozen of Turkish knights, like bold St. George in the guise-dance.
A few days after the west-country female crusaders had departed, full of fine fancies, many of them turned tail and came home again, as the pleasures of travelling did not answer to their expectations. Others, who had more pluck, or more regard for their male companions, pushed on and continued their journey. Whenever they came in sight of any town or village, larger than Mousehole or Market-jew, or waded through
a broader brook than the streams of Tolcarn or Ponsandane, those in the rear would push ahead to the leaders’ ranks, to inquire if the waters they had then passed were the river Jordan, the village on the moor Jericho, or the town on the distant hill Jerusalem?
The commanders knew but little better than their followers about the countries they were going to. Hundreds of the fighting men and women left their ranks long before they reached the Tamar, and arrived home, after long and weary wanderings from one side of the county to the other, in their vain endeavours to find a short cut to Burian.
Our Cornish warriors were right, however, to come back safe and sound, and let Levelis and St. George slay the dragons and the Turkish knights whilst they stayed at home to raise the tin, and tell their drolls.
We must next see how it fared with the strange lady and her children during the absence of the crusaders, who travelled over Jordan.
Madam Levelis, being a native of some place east of Cornwall, was regarded as a foreigner by the people of the west, whom she could not understand; and feeling herself like one alone among strangers, she was rarely seen beyond her bower, the private garden, or in the oriel over the porch. After her husband's departure, Madam rarely entered the hall, and although an excellent horse-woman, never joined the other ladies of the neighbourhood in their enjoyment of the chase, or to see the games of hurling, wrestling, and other manly exercises then in vogue. Her only companions were her children and a dark-complexioned damsel who came with her from abroad.
Although the uncle, Hugh Levelis, managed all the business connected with the property, Madam seldom condescended to speak with the rough farmer, in the hall, and he was rarely admitted into the more private apartments of the mansion. The children were never allowed to leave the house and gardens; yet when, by stealth, they could escape their prison they would wander miles away along the road, over the moor and hills, where they last saw their father and the gay cavalcade that left for the wars; and enquire of all they met where their father was gone. At other times, like wild March hares, they would run down to the cliffs and hide among the carns. Another son was born, a few weeks after the departure of Levelis.
Now the lady and her children were scarcely ever seen for a year or more: the mistress and her maid (who were both most skilful in many curious kinds of needlework) passed great part of their time in the garden-bower, where they worked from the first daylight till dark, in making a piece of tapestry in which was pourtrayed the lifelike image of the absent lord, arrayed in his glittering armour, with sword in hand, just as he appeared when setting out for the wars. This work was completed, yet never seen nor heard of, until long after, by anyone but the lady and her
maid. This tapestry picture was hung over a door of the lady's chamber, opening into an outer room, and covered over by the old arras. The lady intended the picture to be a pleasing surprise for her absent soldier, and to be seen by no one but herself until his return. Years passed away without bringing any tidings of the crusaders, or only such rumours as caused great fears that Captain Levelis, and many others, were killed or imprisoned by the Saracens. In the meantime, Hugh Levelis became madly in love with the disdainful dame whom he honestly believed to be now a widow, and that she required a husband to protect and console her. The old bachelor was in love to that degree that he was ready to eat rocks, and tame tigers, to gain the lady's favour: no woman could withstand his vehement wooing and suit so strongly urged, much less an unprotected widow; but when the lady consented there was still another and more trying obstacle to their lawful union, because Hugh Levelis, by his nephew's marriage, was become a sort of Cornish cousin to the lady: at any rate they were within the prohibited degrees of matrimony. Yet as a remedy to this the all-powerful clergy could grant dispensation, if sufficient money and lands were bestowed on holy Mother Church. In that case the powers above, as well as those below, were thought to be so indulgent as to wink at a little pleasant sinning. In these good old times, everything that the liberal, open-handed sinner desired was granted, the jolly priests ate roast beef, and the simple people stared, wondered, and admired.
At last the lady came to regard the rough and hearty farmer Hugh with all the favour required, and, for as much as could be wrung out of the parties, leave was obtained to their union (from those who claimed the power to bind and loose), and a day was fixed for their wedding. The women had all declared that such a husband as uncle Hugh was far better than none, or one far away. Long before dawn, on the day intended for the bridal, all the household were busy at work preparing for the feast and revel. In the midst of the bustle, no one watched the two elder children, who, for once, were allowed to range at their "own sweet will." No one knew what was become of them when their mother wanted to kiss them, before the party proceeded to church. Then the young heir and his little sister were not to be found.
During all that day the wedding guests, servants, and neighbours made diligent search all down the vale to Lamorna—over hill and cliff, moor and downs, in the Fugoe-hole, and every other place thought of, whither the children used to wander. All was in vain: since sunrise they had not been seen by mortal eye.
After many days of fruitless search, some thought they might have gone down to the Cove at low water, and wandered out on to the rocks which were surrounded by the sea at half-tide, and that the waves, which soon swept over them, had taken the children to the Mermaids’ Home; or that the wolves, said to be plentiful then, might have come down from
the hills miles away, and carried them off. Others surmised that they might have been taken away by the outlandish merchants who traded to Market-jew for tin, and who were accused in old times of kidnapping beautiful children and selling them to Turks and Pagans. In short, so many ways in which they might be lost were thought of that the wonder seemed to be that any children were ever reared in the country.
The sudden woe cut short the joy of the assembled guests, and made the mother feel that the loss of her children was a judgment on her for so soon consenting to receive another spouse, and, by way of penance, she avoided all the world and Hugh Levelis. The uncle was sadly disappointed by such a "slip between the cup and the lip," after all the trouble he had taken, and the time he lost in wooing the dame.
The sad disappointment must have made uncle Hugh crazy, or he would never have taken to the outrageous plan, contrived by him and the nurse (who wanted more occupation). By the connivance or assistance of this shameful woman, Hugh Levelis was concealed in a closet of Madam's bed-chamber, that he might have an opportunity of persuading her that the loss of the children was an additional reason for their speedy marriage—that if she ever intended to leave off mourning, and to rejoice any more, she might as well make up her mind to being first as last, and no doubt he thought of proposing many other arguments to the same effect. At the instant he was about to leave the closet, to put his designs in practice, the lady's good angel awoke her, and seeing, by the blazing wood-fire light, the closet door open and a man emerging, she rushed through a doorway (which was covered by tapestry) into the outer room. At the instant she passed the doorway, uncle Hugh, thinking to stop the dame by grasping her dress, caught the old arras instead, which, falling from the hooks to which it was hung, brought the eager lover face to face with an apparition of the armed crusader. The sight of this ghastly vision, which Hugh Levelis thought to be the spirit of his nephew, with sword in hand to defend his wife, made the warm lover's blood run cold, and he fell on the floor in a swoon, where he was found insensible, after Madam Levelis had alarmed the servants, and led the way to her chamber, where they found the terror-stricken man, who, when raised in the arms of the servants from the floor, opened his eyes, and again beholding the apparition (in the tapestry picture, waving in the wind), it gave him such a fright that he sprang through the chamber window into the garden, ran from the house, and could not be persuaded to return. He less feared a hundred men than one such frightful ghost.
One morning, a short time after Hugh's night adventure, Madam Levelis (being unable to rest, with grieving over her lonely widowed state), arose long before her household and sat with the child in her lap at her bower window looking into the garden: she was soon startled from her reverie, by seeing a man, travel-stained and worn, pacing up
and down the garden alley. Notwithstanding the bad plight and poverty-stricken appearance of the stranger, there was no mistaking the martial bearing of the Crusader. Yet the lady was at first more inclined to believe that she beheld the ghost of her husband than the real man, in good substantial flesh and blood; between hopes and fears, she shrieked out his name, and in an instant was clasped in his arms. He related to her how he and three other west-country men (all that lived to return of the scores who went with him to the East) had, the night before, come ashore from an outlandish ship, which brought them to Market-jew; they had travelled all night without meeting any person they knew, or who could give them any tidings of their families; they were all in bad plight, having returned heartily tired and disgusted with seeing the butchery of thousands of the simple innocent people who assembled from all quarters of the world to slay each other on the bloody plains of Palestine, merely to gratify the mad ambition of priests and princes. Levelis, and the few men of the west, who lived to reach the land of Canaan, always kept together, come fair, come foul, one and all would share alike. His company, at the commencement of the first engagement (Cornishmen like), despising their enemy and all precaution, in their headlong undisciplined valour, fought their way into the midst of the Saracen host, and, being overpowered by numbers, Levelis, and the three who returned with him, were taken prisoners, and conducted to the castle of a Saracen chief far into the interior of the country: here they were well treated, ans saw that those whom they were led to believe idolaters and pagans were less barbarous than many reputed Christians. During the long time of their honourable captivity they were allowed to pass the time much as they pleased, until they might either be ransomed or exchanged for Saracen prisoners of war.
They might have had their liberty before, but they were too proud as Cornishmen, to be exchanged for ordinary soldiers, or to purchase their liberty at a low price: and it was only about six months before their return, that they were partly ransomed and partly exchanged at their own valuation.
Then Levelis and his companions were taken to the Christian camp with a guard of honour, preceded by heralds and accompanied by every other circumstance to show mutual respect. A few days after they regained their liberty, Levelis was riding slowly over a dreary plain towards the place of a late battle-field, to see if among the dead, or dying, any of his old comrades were to be found. He was thinking of his distant home and wishing to return, yet undecided, when his horse suddenly stopped, and looking up to see what disturbed his steed, he saw, on the road before him, in a line with the setting sun (that had just disappeared behind the mountains), the apparition of a beautiful boy and girl, seemingly floating in water and surrounded by trees, yet their motions were as free as the birds in the air. The boy held the little maiden with one hand, in the other
he grasped a green hazel branch, and the girl a garland of flowers, which they waved as a signal of joy to the horseman. Then they beckoned towards the rose-coloured clouds on the western mountains. The fair vision remained whilst the Crusader said a Pater and Ave Maria; at the words, "now, and at the hour of our death," the beautiful children, waving their green branches and flowers, as if bidding the horseman adieu, floated away like a pair of white doves till lost to sight in the brilliant clouds of the western sky; whilst the Crusader was entranced with mournful music, mingled with the wail of familiar voices far away, the spectral pool and grove vanished into thin air. Levelis hesitated no longer; he knew that what he had just seen was a token for him to return, and he believed his children to be drowned, as the scene that surrounded the lovely boy and girl was the well-remembered nut-grove and mill-pond of Trove. A few weeks after, this Levelis and his companions arrived at a seaport, where they found a ship bound to Market-jew for tin. No more was then recounted of the wanderer's adventures; they wanted food and rest. Levelis knew that his children were drowned; the vision seen in a foreign land informed him where and when, yet he said but little, that he might not renew the mother's grief. In the evening of the day on which the Crusader arrived, the same apparition that appeared to him on the drear y plains of Palestine, met him in the avenue, as if to welcome the wanderer home, then glided away and vanished over the mill-pool. The next day, by the direction of Levelis, the miller, assisted by the neighbours, drained the pond, and close in under the bank, on the opposite side of the water from the path, the bodies of the two children were found. The noble boy still grasped his sister with one hand, in the other he held a branch of hazel, with the clustering nuts on the twigs which tempted them to their watery grave. The strong current had taken the children so far in under the overhanging bank, full of matted roots and drooping branches, that their bodies were not seen until the water was drained off. Portions of the children's clothes found in the thickets far away on the moors, showed that they had wandered about a great part of the day, and had been drowned in the afternoon, at the time their phantoms were seen by their father. When the dying appear, to those on whom their last thoughts dwell, it is stated to be always at the moment the spirit leave the body. The earthly remains of the two children were solemnly placed to repose in Burian church, amongst the other Levelis dust; yet their bright spirits long delighted to revisit the sunny meadows, clear streams, and pleasant groves of Trove.
As no more is heard of the Crusader Levelis, we suppose that for the rest of his days he remained at home in peace, plenty, and content.
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