Sacred Texts  Legends and Sagas  Celtic  Index  Previous  Next 

Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, Vol. 2, by William Bottrell, [1873], at

p. 1

Stories and Traditions of Penwith.

Duffy and the Devil.

An Old Christmas Play.

Part First.

Open your doors, and let me in,
I hope your favours I shall win;
Whether I rise, or whether I fall,
I'll do my best to please you all.
            Christmas Play of St. George and the Dragon.

ASSOCIATED with Trove and the ancient family who lived, for many generations, in that pleasant place, there is a tradition that one old Squire Lovell wedded a poor girl solely because he believed her to be the best spinster and knitster in Buryan, but that all the fine stockings and other knitted garments with which she provided her husband were made by a devil. This droll formed the subject of an old Guise-dance (Christmas Play) which is all but forgotten: yet, in our youth, we have heard a few scenes rehearsed, which may be interesting as an example of a primitive drama of West Penwith, that may have succeeded, or been contemporary with, the miracle plays which, about three centuries ago, were acted in the Plan-an-gwarre, St. Just, and at the Church-town cross in most other western parishes. This uncouth piece shows something of the rude and simple humour of old times, when people were quite innocent, though less fastidious, than in our days.

Great part of the dialogue appears to have been improvised, as the actor's fancy dictated. Yet there were some portions in rude

p. 2

verse, which would seem to have been handed down with little variation. Mimical gesticulation expressed much of the story; and when there was unwonted delay in change of scene, or any hitch in acting, in came the hobby-horse and its licenced rider, to keep the mirth from flagging. This saucy jester being privileged to say whatever he pleased, kept the audience in good humour by filling up such intervals with burlesque speeches on any. matters which had taken place during the past year, that furnished fit subjects for ridicule.

A hall, farmhouse-kitchen, barn, or other out-house, served for a theatre, and a winnowing-sheet, suspended from key-beams or rafters, made a drop-curtain. Father Christmas, as chorus, described the scene, and told the company what characters the actors represented, unless they introduced themselves, as was frequently the case, like St. George, saying, "Here comes I, a champion bold," &c. He also narrated such parts as could not be acted conveniently.

Our simple actors got up their dresses in as old-fashioned and smart a style as they were able to contrive them, by begging or borrowing cast-off finery from the gentry round. Male players were often seen rigged in long-waisted, gay-coloured coats, having their skirts spread out with straw, instead of buckram or bombast, and resplendent with brass or tin buttons, large as crown pieces, and long ruffles at their breasts and wrists; their breeches were of blue, red, or buff, slashed, puffed, and tricked out with ribbons, tassels, and knee-buckles. Their hose was of any bright hue, to make a strong contrast to the small clothes. High-heeled shoes were adorned with shining buckles or bows of ribbons. Yet their greatest pride was displayed in steeple-crowned or cocked hats, surmounted with plumes and decked with streamers of gay ribbons.

Our rural actresses also wore steeple-crowns fixed high above their heads on pads; stiffen-bodied, long-waisted gowns, with bag skirts or long trains; ruffles hanging from their elbows, wide stiff ruffs round their necks; and any other remnants of old finery that they could contrive to get.

It is somewhat curious that in this old guise-dance, or story about Madame Lovell and the devil, several ladies belonging to noted families who lived in Buryan, two or three centuries ago, are represented as bringing their corn to Trove Mill to be ground and as serging (bolting) their flour themselves. The names of Mesdames Cardew, Pender, Noy, Trezilian, &c., are taken by these ladies, whose gossip forms a kind of by-play.

We now purpose to reproduce a few well-remembered scenes, as we have heard them related many years ago, by old folks of Buryan, and to simply tell the story as expressed by others. Yet,

p. 3

with a feeling somewhat akin to regret, we have curtailed some portions, in order to exclude whatever might, now, be regarded as indelicate: there is sufficient, however, preserved to carry on the story as far as it is likely to interest or amuse any but antiquarian students who might prefer, with all its blemishes, an unmutilated picture of such "merrie disports" as were usual at Christmas-tide with our simple-honest forefathers.


Squire Lovell, of Trove.

Duffy, a poor girl, who became Madame Lovell.

Huey Lenine, Duffy's lover.

Jenny Chygwin, Dufy's stepmother.

A Bucka-boo, or Devil.

Betty, the witch of Trove Mill.

Jone, Squire Lovell's housekeeper.

Several ladies and gentlemen, and witches.

Scene I.—Father Christmas, with long hoary hair and beard enters before the curtain, and says:—"Ladies and gentlemen, Please to take it that we are in Buryan Church-town, in the cider-making time. Squire Lovell is come up to get help to gather in his apples. When the curtain rises you will see him at Jenny Chygwin's door."

Curtain raised. Squire Lovell is seen on his horse (a hobby horse); an old woman and a young woman scolding within.

Squire:—Hullo! in there! Jenny, what's all the caperrouse with you and the maid, I'd like to know?"

Duffy rushes out, and round the stage, followed by old Jenny, her stepmother, who beats the girl with the skirt or kirtle of her gown, saying, "I will break every bone in her body; the lazy hussy is all the time out courseying, and corantan, with the boys. She will neither boil the porridge, knit nor spin.

Duffy runs to the Squire, saying "Don't e believe her, your honour. I do all the work, whilst she is drunk from morning till night, and my spinning and knitting is the best in Church-town. Your stockings are nothing so fine as I can make."

Squire:—"Stop beating the maid, Jenny, and choaking one with dust from the skirt of thy old swing-tail gown. And, Duffy, as thou canst spin and knit so well, come down to Trove and help my old Jone, who is blind on one eye and can't see much with the other, as any one may know by looking at the bad darns in my stocking and patches on my breeches. Come away, on to the heaping-stock. Jump up: you can ride down behind me without pillion or pad."

Squire rides off: Duffy follows.

Jenny:—"Aye, go thee ways with the old bucca, and good riddance of bad rummage."

(Curtain drops.)

p. 4

Scene II. At Squire Lovell's Door.—Squire on Horseback: Duffy. Standing beside him.

Squire calls:—"Jone, come here and take in Duffy Chygwin, who is come down to help thee knit and spin, give her some bread and cheese, and beer: dost thou hear?"

Squire rides off.

Jone comes out, and says:—"Oh, Duffy, my dear, I am glad to see thee here, for I want help sorely ever since that villain, Tom Chance put out the sight of my eye because I seed his thievish tricks in stealing from the standing one night in Penzance."

Jone tells us a long story which we omit, as it can be found in the first series of Traditions and Hearth-side Stories of West Cornwall* She concludes by saying, "Now you needn't eat any bread and cheese, as dinner will be ready soon. You can go up to the loft whenever you please and card wool to spin in the afternoon."

Scene III.—A room in which are seen fleeces of wool, a turn (spinning-wheel) and other appliances for spinning. Duffy seated, carding and making rolls of wool, which were placed in a cayer (winnowing serve.) Over a while she rises and exclaims:—

"Cuss the carding and spinning! What the devil shall I do now the wool is carded, for I can neither spin nor knit, and the devil take such work for me."

From behind some wool comes a devil, in the shape of a black man, with half-cocked, squinting eyes, and the barbed or forked tip of his tail just seen below his coat skirts.

Devil:—"My dear, here I am, come at your call, ready to do all you wish for very little pay. Only agree to go with me at the end of three long ears and for all that time I'll do your spinning and knitting and everything else you wish for, and even then, if you can tell me my name at three times asking, you may go or stay, till another time."

Duffy: "Well, I don't mind much: anything for a change. What ded’e say you were called?"

Devil, winking:—"You have only to prick your arm and draw blood to sign our agreement you know."

Duffy:—My word is as good as my mark. Spin and knit for me if you will; and I'll have, that while, a courant in the orchard and a dance at the mill."

In leaving, Duffy says:—"Bolt the door, that no one may see who is doing the work."

"Stop and let me take the measure of your foot," says the devil, "in stringing the wheel as handy as if he had been used to spinning all his life."

Father Christmas comes before the curtain and says:—"Good

p. 5

people, you see that Duffy wasn't at all scared at the Bucca-boo's appearance, because in old times people were so much used to dealings with the devil women especially that they didn't mind him. Duffy is now gone off by the outer door and stair, to merrily pass the day; and old Jone, hearing a rumble all through the house, thinks her to be busy at work."

Duffy passes a great part of her time at Trove Mill, near at hand; where a crowd of women high and low, meet to take their turn at grinding, serging, &c. Whilst some work others tell stories, sing, or dance on the green, near which grew many old oaks, sycamores, and elms, in a place still called the rookery, a little above.

There was a great friendship between Duffy and Old Betty, who worked the mill, because this old dame, having long had strange dealings, saw at once, by a stocking Duffy pretended to be knitting, that a stitch was always down and that the work was none of hers.

In the evening, Duffy hearing, when she came in, the devil still spinning, thought she would see him at work and try to learn something. Looking through the latch-hole she saw what she took to be a woman, seated, and spinning with a small treddle-turn such as is used for spinning, thread, and the wool-turn (with a wheel as large as that of a coach) put aside. When she looked around she knew that it was only the devil dressed in clothes like what she wore. He had on a loose bed-gown, petticoat, and towser (large coarse apron or wrapper,) with a nackan (large ’kerchief) thrown loosely over his head and shoulders. As Duffy entered, he turned around and said, "How are’e, my dear? Here I am, you see, busy at work for’e. See what I've already spun," he continued, pointing to a heap of balls in the corner, and skeins of yarn hanging on the walls.

She stood wondering, with eyes and mouth wide open, to see how handy the devil spun, and yet seemed to do nothing with his hands but pull off the yarn whilst his foot worked the treddle, and a ball dancing on the floor wound up itself!

"Arreah! faix," said Duffy, "I should have taken ’e for a woman if I hadn't chanced to spy your cloven foot, and your tail hanging down, and I don't much admire ’e in petticoats."

"There's good reason for wearing them, however," replied he; "besides, they are handy for such work, and if you will come here on Saturday night you will find, under that black fleece, ever so many pairs of stockings, both for you and the squire. I know his measure, and see if I don't well fit both of ye. So now good night."

Before she could wish him the same he disappeared, and all the yarn of his spinning along with him, leaving nothing to show

p. 6

that he had ever been there but a strong smell of brimstone.

Duffy didn't wait till dark night on Saturday, but went up to the wool-chamber about sunset. The Bucca-boo had just left work, and, having thrown off his petticoats, stood before her dressed like a sporting gentleman. He bowed as she entered and, handing her half-a-dozen pairs of stockings, all as strong as broadcloth and as fine as silk, said, "Excuse me, my dear, from staying a moment loner as I must be away before Bunyan bells are rung; else some longer may befall me."

"I wish ’e well till I see ’e again, and thank ’e, Mr. what-shall-I-call-’e," said Duffy, taking the stockings from his hand.

"You may call me captain," he replied, and vanished in a flash of lightning with a roar of thunder that shook the house.

On Sunday morning, when Squire Lovell was getting ready to don his velvet suit, that he might ride to church in grand state, as was his wont, Duffy brought him a pair of stockings suitable for the occasion.

"You see, master," said she, "that I havn’t been idle, to spin and knit ye a pair of such long stockings in three days and the work so fine too." He put on the stockings admired the beautiful knitting and good fit; then to show his delight at having such nice hose, the like of which were never on his legs before, he kissed Duffy again and again.

It was late when he reached Church-town. After churching, he stopped, as usual, to exchange greetings with other gentry of Buryan. Everyone admired his fine stockings. The ladies enquired how and where he procured them, saying there was no one in the parish who could do such good work; one and all declared they fit for a king.

The fame of were Squire Lovell's stockings drew crowds of people to Buryan church the following Sunday. Old and young wanted to feel his legs. They couldn't be satisfied with looking, and so they continued to come from farther and farther, Sunday after Sunday. Church-town, for some weeks, was full of people like on a fair or feasten tide.

[It will be understood that great part of the foregoing, as well as the narrative parts of what follows, is related by Father Christmas, in his character of Chorus. He enters into details about the devil's wonderful spinning with a turn (spinning-wheel) of his own invention, that took wool from the fleece, without carding, and passed it into the spinster's hands all ready for knitting or weaving. He also related many other surprising exploits of these sable gentry, as their church-building in out-of-the-way places, like that of St. Levan, of their amiable intercourse with witches, &c. Thus, as fancy dictated, he entertained his audience until the curtain rose.]

p. 7

We next behold Squire Lovell's kitchen, with Jone, rather the worse for liquor, on a chimney-stool or bench in a broad and deep fire-place, such as used to be found in every west-country mansion, when wood and turf were the only fuel. She makes awful groans and screeches, till Duffy enters. Then Jone says "Oh Duffy, you can't think what cramps I have in my stomach and wind in my head, that's making it quite light. Help me over stairs to bed, and you wait up to give master his supper."

The old housekeeper is led off by Duffy, who soon returns and seats herself on the chimney-stool.

Then Huey Lenine enters and says:—"What cheer, Duffy, my dear? Now thee cus’nt (can’st not) say that the lanes are longer than the love, when I'm come to see thee with this rainy weather."

"Joy of my heart," said she, "come by the fire and dry thyself."

Huey sits on the outer end of the chimney-stool. After a long silence, the following dialogue takes place

Duffy:—"Why dos’nt thee speak to me than, Huey?"

Huey:—"What shall I say than?"

Duffy:—"Say thee dos’t love me, to be sure."

Huey:—"So I do."

Duffy:—"That's a dear. Brave pretty waistcoat on to you, than, Huey."

Huey:—"Cost pretty money too."

Duffy:—"What ded a cost than?"

Huey:—"Two and twenty pence, buttons and all."

Duffy: —"Take care of an than."

Huey:—"So I will."

Duffy:—"That's a dear."

Another prolonged silence.

Huey continues:—"I'm thinkan we will get married next turfey season if thee west (thou wilt.")

Duffy:—"Why doesn't thee sit a little nearer than?"

Huey:—"Near enough I bla (believe.")

Duffy:—"Nearer the fire, I mean. Well, I'll be married to thee any day, though thee art no beauty, to be sure."

Huey gets a little nearer.

Duffy, putting her hand on his face, "Thy face is as rough as Morvah Downs, that was ploughed and never harved (harrowed) they say; but I'll have thee for all that and fill up with putty all the pock-mark pits and seams, then paint them over and make thee as pretty as a new wheelbarrow."

The squire is heard outside calling his dogs. Duffy starts up in a fright, seizes a furze-prong, and says, "Master will be here in a minute, jump into huccarner (wood-corner) and I'll cover

p. 8

thee up with the furze."

Huey hesitates.

Duffy:—"Then crawl into the oven: a little more baking will make thee no worse."

Huey gets into an oven, opening on to the fire-place and behind the chimney-stool, just as the Squire enters and calls out,

"Joan, take up the pie, if its ready or raw. I'm as hungry as a hound."

Duffy, rising to uncover a pie than was baking on the hearth, says, "Master, I have staid up to give ye your supper, because An Joan es gone to bed very bad with a cramp in her stomach and wind in her head, so she said."

"Why I heard thee talking when I came to the door, who was here then?" demanded the Squire.

"Only a great owl, master dear," she replied, "that fell down from the ivy-bush growing over the chimney and perched hisself there on the stool, with his great goggle eyes, and stood staring at me and blinkan like a fool. Then he cried Hoo! hoo! Tu-wit, to-woo; and, when you opened the door, he flew up the chimney the same way he came down."

The Squire, satisfied with Duffy's explanation, advances, and puts his foot on the hearth-stone, looks at his legs, saying, "Duffy, my dear, these are the very best stockings I ever had in my life. I've been hunting all day, over moors and downs, through furze and thorns, among brambles and bogs, in the worst of weather, yet there isn't a scratch on my legs and they are as dry as if bound up in leather."

The Devil (supposed to be invisible) rises behind Duffy and grimaces at the Squire.

Duffy:—"I may as well tell ’e master that I shan't knit much more for ’e, because Huey Lenine and I have been courtan for a long time. We are thinkan to get married before winter, and then I shall have a man of my own to work for."

Squire:—"What! Huey Lenine! I'll break every bone in his carcase if he shows his face near the place. Why the devil is in it that a young skit like thee should have it in thy head to get married! Now I'll sit down a minute and talk reason with thee."

[The Squire sits close beside Duffy. The Devil tickles them with his tail. Huey is seen peeping from the oven.]

Squire:—"Give up thy courting with Huey Lenine,
And I'll dress thee in silks and satins fine."

Duffy:—"No I'll never have an old man, an old man like you,
  Though you are Squire Lovell:
To my sweetheart I'll be constant and true,
  Though he work all day with threshal and shovel."

p. 9

The Devil tickles the Squire behind the ears. He sits nearer and places his arm round her waist.

Squire:—"Thou shalt have a silk gown all broider’d in gold,
Jewels and rings, with such other fine things
  In the old oak chest, as thee did’st never behold."

Duffy:—"My sweetheart is young, lively, and strong,
  With cheeks like a red rose;
But your time will not be long:—
  You have very few teeth, and a blue-topped nose.
So keep your silks and keep your gold,
  I'll never have a man so feeble and old."

Here the Devil tickles them both. The Squire hugs and kisses Duffy, who makes less and less resistance.

Squire:—You shan't find me feeble, though I'm near sixty;
I'm stronger still than many a man of twenty.

Duffy:—"Your only son is now far away.
  If he came home and found y e wed,
What think ye he would say?

Squire:—"I hope he is already dead,
Or’ll be kill’d in the wars some day,
If alive he shan't enter my door,
I'll give thee my land, with all my store,
Thou shalt ride to church behind me upon a new pavillion,
Smarter than Dame Pendar or Madam Trezillian."

Duffy:—"Dear master, hold your flattering tongue,
  Nor think to deceive one so simple and young;
For I'm a poor maid, lowly born and bred;
  With one so humble you could never wed.
Keep your distance, and none of your hugging;
  You shall kiss me no more till you take me to church.
I'll never cry at Christmas for April fooling
  Like a poor maid left in the lurch.
Look! the sand is all down and the pie burned black,
With the crust too hard for your colt's-teeth to crack:
So off to the hall and take your supper."

Duffy rises, takes up from the hearth a pie, which had been baking there, goes out with it, followed by the Squire and Devil dancing. Huey crawls from the oven, saying "Lack a day who can tell, now, what to make of a she-thing?" By the time he gets on his legs Duffy returns, and, assisted by the devil pushes him to doors, saying,

"Now betake thyself outside the door,
   Nor show thy black face here any more;
 Don't think I would wed a poor piljack like thee,
   When I may have a Squire of high degree."

Duffy and the Devil dance till the Squire returns and joins in a three-handed reel, without seeing the Old One, who capers back into a dark corner at the pass of the dance, and comes close behind him at the pitch. Curtain drops:—Thunder and lightning.

p. 10

The scene changes to Trove Mill, where a long gossip takes place over the new "nine days’ wonder" of Squire Lovell having wedded Duffy for the sake of her knitting. Some say she will behave like most beggars put on horseback, and all the women agreed that they would rather be a young man's slave, and work their fingers to stumps, than be doomed to pass a weary time beside such an old withered stock; they should wish him dead and no help for it.

In the next, Duffy (now Madame Lovell) is beheld walking up and down her garden, or hall, decked out in a gown with a long train, hanging ruffles at her elbows, ruff of monstrous size round her neck, towering head-dress, high-heeled shoes, with bright buckles, earrings, necklace, fan, and all other accessories of old-fashioned finery. The bucca-boo is seen grinning, half-hidden, in the corner; whilst Madam walks she sings:—

"Now I have servants to come at my call,
 As I walk in grand state through my hall,
 Decked in silks and satins so fine:
   But I grieve through the day,
   And fret the long night away,
 Thinking of my true-love, young Huey Lenine.

 I weep through many a weary long hour,
 As I sit all alone in my bower,
 Where I do nothing but pine;
   Whilst I grieve all the day,
   And fret the long nights away,
 In dreaming of my true-love, young Huey Lenine.

 Would the devil but come at my call,
 And take the old Squire—silks, satins, and all,
 With jewels and rings so fine;
   Then, merry and gay, I'd work through the day,
   And cheerily pass the nights away,
 Kissing my true-love, young Huey Lenine."

Click to enlarge


4:* One-eyed Joan's Tale, p. 213.

Next: Part Second