Sacred Texts  Legends and Sagas  Celtic  Index  Previous  Next 

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

p. 103

The I’an's House of Treen.

  All within is dark as night;
  In the windows is no light;
  And no murmur at the door,
  So frequent on its hinge before.

Come away: no more of mirth
  Is here, or merry-making sound.
The house was budded of the earth,
  And shall fall again to ground.

A few years ago, there might have been seen on rising ground, west of the road which passes through Treen, the remains of a very old dwelling, formerly known in that neighbourhood as the I’an's (pro Jan's) house. Though neglected and ruinous it still retained some signs of its former consequence when it was regarded as a mansion. Visitors to the Logan Rock often stopped to look at this forlorn-looking old house, with great part of its mullioned windows and a doorway, that had once been its grand entrance, walled up. Its peculiar old style of masonry, the massiveness and irregularity of the rough granite blocks with which it was constructed, and its high-pitched thatched roof, made this old building an object of interest, though it was neither beautiful nor picturesque. And a few casements, still retaining their old lead-lights of small panes in various patterns, to which age had imparted purple or rather prismatic hues, glimmered and glanced with changing lights that gave to the habitation a very ghostly look.

What remained had long been divided into three or four dwellings; but one wing was mostly unoccupied, because few persons could be found so courageous or necessitous as to live in it and have their rest disturbed every night, and often by day, with the rumbling of a turn (spinning-wheel) varied by wild shrieks, unearthly laughter, and other frightful noises. There was also beyond the kitchen-court (and entered from it) a garden, surrounded by high walls, which rendered it as secluded as any room of the mansion. This ground was long called Beaton's garden, even after, denuded of herbs and flowers, it was turned into a pig's-court. This place was haunted too. In this state the old house and appurtenances remained until destroyed by fire, about ten years since, and it always retained the name of a

p. 104

family that built it and resided there for generations, in the style of gentry, though never very rich nor persons of much note beyond that locality.

Three or four centuries ago, from their extravagance and a run of bad luck, the I’ans were reduced to comparative poverty. It was said that ill fortune ever followed them from the time they broke up and removed to Garrack-zans (holy rock) that stood in front of their mansion, and around which a market was held in old times when Treen was an important trading-place. However, that may have been, shortly after all the family remaining in Treen were John I’an (or Ivan) and his sister Beatrice, usually called Beaton, who had lost their parents when children. Young I’an from having much family pride and but little property to support its dignity, led a very unsettled life—mostly at sea, with a company of reckless young men, who carried on a hazardous trade in importing liquors, silks, salt, and other contraband goods from Roscroff; making Penberth, or some other cove near it, their usual landing-place. Both brother and sister are said to have been remarkable for their tall stature and good looks, though of very dark complexion.

They might, now and then, be seen at church—the former dressed in a long bottle-green coat of cut velvet, and dusky crimson waistcoat (both overlaid with tarnished gold lace) a plush breeches, and diamond-buckled shoes. These everlasting garments, that might have been worn by his grandfather, were only changed in winter for home spun; and his sturdy legs were then encased in long funnel-topped boots of French make; and his jet black . hair, that hung in curls on his shoulders, was surmounted by a laced hat and plume. Though young I’an's state dress appeared much the worse for wear he looked every inch a gentleman, when, with old-fashioned courtesy, he led into church his sister, arrayed in silks or samite, a century old or more, yet still looking rich with their brilliant sheen, and thick enough to stand on end; point-lace ruffles, yellow with age, hanging from her elbows, were met by embroidered silk gloves; her hair, of darkest chestnut hue, turned back over cushions, hung in ringlets down her neck; and a little hat was fastened by jewel-headed pins to her high head-dress. These remnants of old finery, contrasted with homely articles of dress that had to sustain more wear and tear, made the I’an's poverty only too apparent; the more so because, at that time, several well-to-do families resided in St. Levan, and at church their old bravery and newest fashions were all displayed and duly criticised. Beaton showed, however, what her brother thought becoming pride, in treating with coolness or contempt all attentions offered by such rural beaux as he thought beneath her, though she had

p. 105

but slight chance, poor girl, of becoming acquainted with any of higher rank.

I’an being seldom at home during the summer, his sister and two or three old servants managed the farm—then but a few acres of arable land, and a great run of common—and were sole occupants of their gloomy mansion. The poor young lady's dreary existence was partially relieved by her brother's presence during winter. Then, too, he often brought home with him many of his sea-mates or hunting companions, and the old house resounded with their reckless drunken revelry for days and nights together.

Among I’an's comrades his favourite was an able seaman called Willy Taskes or Trevaskes, who was a few years older than I’an—a courageous smuggler, and mate of his fair-trader the Mur. Taskes was remarkably strong built, the best wrestler and boxer in the western parishes. With much practice he taught I’an these arts of self-defence, and trained him to be just as good a seaman as himself. I’an, when overloaded with drink, was often quarrelsome or rather fond of fighting, without reason, both at home and abroad. Taskes as often belaboured him soundly to divert his combative inclinations from dangerous antagonists; often also, he got himself thrashed black and blue in taking I’an's part, which he was ever ready to do against any odds. From Willy being frequently in Beaton's company, and from the favour shown him by her brother, she was less reserved with him than others of his crew whom she kept at due distance.

Of an evening when he often came alone, Beaton would ask him to card the Wool that she passed great part of her time in spinning, and no one more ready than Willy Taskes to please her. I’an frequently left them together, little deeming that his sister of gentle blood, poor as she might be—could have a thought of the handsome young sailor as a lover. Ere long, however, I’an was informed his ugly old female domestic—one who ever longed for but never had a lover—that her young mistress often met Willy Taskes by night in the walled garden, Caercreis barn, or among the Castle carns. I’an, enraged, entered his sister's apartments—she had three rooms at her sole disposal in that portion of the mansion known as Beaton's wing—and, after much upbraiding, threatened to shoot Taskes if he came near the house any more, and both of them if he caught them together. Beaton defied her brother, and answered that if she could not see Willy Taskes there she would meet him elsewhere, and that it only depended on Willy as to whether she should be his wife or not. Warned of what had taken place, the lover kept aloof, and I’an, discarding his jovial companions, remained much within doors, moody and discontented, wishing for the company

p. 106

of his former comrades, but pride forbade his making friendly overtures; and his ill-humour was aggravated all the more because his sister had the policy to persuade him that, after all, she didn't care anything for Willy Taskes, nor any of his crew, and that his chagrin was all for nought. The dreary winter past, and corn tilled, I’an and his crew prepared for an early trip to Roscroff. Their former mate, from his quarrel with the captain, or rather from the coolness between them, having gone to work on land, they selected a new one and made sail.

I’an left on good terms with his sister, thinking that, though she might have had an unbecoming affection for Taskes, yet her self-respect and regard for the dignity of their family—which he had awakened—had enabled her to subdue her misplaced love.

In a few weeks the Mur, as I’an's craft was called, returned with the usual goods, which were soon landed and disposed of, as the most valuable liquors, silks, lace, &c., were bespoke by the neighbouring gentry. Farmers, and others who assisted to land and secure the cargo soon took off what remained. There was then little or no interference from any government officials; indeed in more recent times those paid to check "fair-trade" were often the smugglers’ friends, because they durst not interrupt their proceedings with anything but well-understood shams of activity, and they were always rewarded with a share of the goods if they conducted themselves with discretion. Old smugglers say they often wished to fall in with the revenue-cutter that their trip might be the more exciting—they answered her shots by a loud hurrah, and a blaze from their own swivel-gun. As for the riding-officer they didn't mind him a straw, and of other coastguards there were none.

All hands being ready for another trip, the evening before they intended to start I’an told his sister he was going to meet his crew at the Skaw Tree—the inn at St. Levan Church-town,—have a carouse, and sail in the morning early. Wishing to become friends with his old mate, I’an had requested one of his crew to tell Taskes that he would be glad of his company at the public-house and to let all past unpleasantness be forgotten. In I’an's happier moods a lingering regard for his former comrade and staunch friend would get the upper hand of his prejudice and family pride, and then he would even think of Taskes as his brother-in-law with complacency.

From jealousy on the part of his new mate and others, his friendly message was not delivered. I’an not guessing the reason why Taskes didn't join them, and only thinking his offers of renewed friendship were slighted, was in ill-humour, and what was intended to have been a jovial night, passed unpleasantly. At length some of the fuddled crew, vexed because of their

p. 107

captain's preference for his former mate, hinted that he might be in Caercreis barn, in company he better liked, and that, by all accounts, his sister and Willy had always been on very good terms. I’an, tipsy as he was, understood their meaning, made imprudent threats of the way he would be revenged on Taskes; and left the company much earlier than was his wont on such occasions.

Very mixed feelings, and all of an irritating nature, spurred him on his way towards an old solitary 'bowjey,' or field barn, where a cottage now stands—five minutes walk from Castle Treen; and he had only gone a few yards beyond Pedny-vounder lane, when, by the dim moonlight, he spied two persons sauntering along a sheep-track that wound among rocks and carps below him. Approaching and seeing they were his sister and her lover he assailed them with angry words, which soon came to blows between the men. Taskes, finding that I’an was the worse for drink, merely defended himself and received his blows that he might expend his fury on him, as he had often done when they were the best of friends. But, as bad luck would have it, Taskes, in going back, to avoid what might have been ugly strokes, fell over a shelving rock on to a ledge (or shelf, as we say), many feet below.

When I’an saw the young man he had once loved as a brother lying prostrate and apparently dead, his pride and anger gave place to bitter sorrow. He raised the wounded man, who moaned, and gasped for breath for some minutes; then hearing I’an crying like a child, begging him to forget and forgive the past and be friends, "I have nothing to forgive thee, my son," Taskes replied; "it was my bad luck, and, whether I die or live a cripple, I would rather for it to be my case than thine."

Over a while I’an and his sister helped him to stand, and one on either side of Taskes, with his arm round the neck of each, they slowly reached their house and placed him on I’an's bed. The servant-man was summoned, and told to ride with all speed for a doctor. Taskes tried to speak, and signed that he might be lifted up in bed. Supported on I’an's breast, and holding the brother's and sister's hands, he said "I know, dear John, a doctor can do me no good." And, looking towards Beaton, he told her to bring the man close to the bedside, for he had something to say before it might be too late.

The old servant approached. Taskes called him by name, and continued, "I am dying. None but ourselves know how I came by my end. You must bear witness for John, your master, that I declare it was all by my own mischance that I fell over a rock, and received my deadly hurt." He hadn't strength to say more. I’an wiped the bloody froth from the sinking man's lips, and tried

p. 108

to cheer him by saying, "Thou shalt live yet, my dear Willy, and be my brother."

Beaton, like one in a terrible dream, was unconscious of most that passed, till Taskes, awakening from a long swoon, grasped her hand and moaned in sad accents, "Beaton, dear Beaton; if I could but live till we might be married, I should die more content. And my dear John," he continued, directing his gaze towards I’an, "promise me, for all the years we have been like brothers, to be ever kind to Beaton and to my—to our"—he gasped for breath—with a gurgling in his throat, blood oozed from his lips. Looking wistfully at Beaton, he grasped brother's and sister's joined hands with a death-grip; his head sunk on I’an's breast; and thus Willy Taskes passed away in his prime.

Beaton, distracted by sorrow, had to be forcibly taken from her lover's bedside, and for weeks she seemed to be on the verge of madness. Her brother scarcely less grieved, tried to find some solace for his anguish in ordering that, in all respects, the funeral-should be conducted as for one of his kindred. It was a custom with the I’ans, and a few other West Country families, to have their burials at night. So, a week after the fatal encounter, and in the summer evening's twilight, Willy Taskes was borne out of the old mansion, carried by his former comrades, followed by I’an and by many neighbours to his last resting-place in St. Levan Churchyard.

Next: The I’ans Quit Treen