Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, Vol. 2, by William Bottrell, , at sacred-texts.com
After the old steward had retired from the dreaded room, its occupant was in no haste to rest himself on the large stately looking bed; but seemed never weary of examining the old portraits and quaint figures in the arras (which might have been intended for portraits too), the massive oak furniture with bold, grotesque, carvings, ancient armour, coats of mail, and other interesting objects, which were suspended from the walls, or in hanging presses, with all of which he appeared familiar; so that it was near midnight when he sat down in the long window-seat.
The storm had ceased and a full moon, shining on newly fallen snow, made it almost as light as day. He opened the casement and looked into the court, where he saw a company of young men and women passing out singly and in silence.
The visitor, being well acquainted with West Country customs, knew—as this was twelfth night—that the object of this silent procession was to work some of the many spells, usually practised at this time, for the purpose of gaining a knowledge of their future destiny with respect to what they regarded as the most important of all events—marriage and death.
So great was the desire of many young people to obtain an
insight of what the future had in store for them, that they often practised singular rites,—still well-known in the West,—which are probably vestiges of ancient magian ceremonials connected with divination.
This night, however, the young peoples’ intention was simply to gather ivy leaves and pull rushes; by the aid of which, with fire and water, they hoped to discover who would be wedded, and with whom, or buried before the new year was ended. There are many instances of predictions, with regard to the latter event, conducing to accomplish their own fulfilment, from their effects on people of melancholy temperament.
The pilgrim had not sat long, looking out of the open casement, when he saw the company of young men and maidens come running back, apparently in great fright. The doors were all immediately slammed to, the noisy mirth and music suddenly ceased in the hall. The house, in a few moments, was shrouded in thick fog; all was still as death about the place for some minutes, then a noise was heard like the distant roaring and moaning of the sea in a storm.
These ocean sounds seemed to approach nearer and nearer every instant, until the waves were heard as if breaking and surging around the house. In the wailing wind was heard a noise of oars rattling in their rowlocks for another instant; then as of the casting of oars hastily into a boat.
This was followed by the hollow voices of the smugglers, drowned with the old Squire, hailing their own names, as drowned men's ghosts are said to do when they want the assistance of the living to procure them rest.
All this time the green-court appeared as if filled with the sea, and one could hear the breakers roaring as when standing on a cliff in a storm.
All the buildings and trees surrounding the mansion disappeared as if sunk into the ground.
At length the surging of waves and other sounds gradually died away until they were only heard like the 'calling of cleeves' before a tempest.
The steward had told the stranger of these noises and appearances, which had become frequent of late, to the great terror of the household; but he gave little heed to the old man's tales, thinking that such visions were merely the creations of weak brains diseased by strong potions.
’Tis said that when the young folks reached the outer gate of the avenue, near which they would find the plants required for their spells, all keeping silence and taking care not to look behind them—as this or speaking would spoil the charm—a female, who was a short distance ahead of the others, saw what
appeared to be the sea coming over the moors before a driving fog. She ran shrieking to join her companions, who also beheld the waves fast approaching—rolling, curling, and breaking on the heath. They all ran up to the house with their utmost speed; and some who had the courage to look behind them, when near the court door, saw the curling breakers within a few yards of them; and a boat, manned with a ghostly crew, came out of the driving mist as they rushed into the house; and, not daring to look out, they saw nothing more.
The weary wayfaring man, having a clear conscience, feared nothing evil in what appeared to him an unaccountable mystery, even in that time of marvels; and, having told his beads, he committed himself to good spirits’ care.
The brave man was rather soothed than alarmed by a plaintive melody, until there was a change in the harmonious strains, which grew more distinct; and mingled with them were the tones of loved and once familiar voices, calling, "William Penrose, arise and avenge the murder of thy cousin's son!"
Casting a glance towards the window—whence the sound proceeded—he saw just within it the apparition of a beautiful boy in white raiment. A light which surrounded it showed the countenance of the lost heir of Penrose. At the same time the room was filled with an odour like that of sweet spring flowers.
The pilgrim, William Penrose, spoke to the spirit and conjured it, according to the form prescribed by Holy Church, to speak and say what he should do to give it rest.
The apparition, coming nearer, told how he had been murdered by the pirate-captain of the smugglers, on the grand hunting day; and how his uncle had given the pirate a great quantity of gold to do the bloody deed—that he had been buried in the orchard under an apple-tree, that would be known, even in winter, by its blasted appearance,—that the murderer was then in Plymouth, keeping a public-house, the situation of which was so plainly described by the spirit that William Penrose would have no difficulty in finding it, and bringing the murderer to justice by means of such proofs of his crime as would be found beneath the blasted tree.
Moreover he told William that the spirits knew he was gone on a pilgrimage for their repose; and that they all, through him, sought his aid to enable them to rest in peace.
William Penrose, having promised to perform all according to the wishes of the departed, music was again heard and the spirit gradually disappeared in a cloud of light.
Then the weary man sunk into sound repose from which he only awoke at break of day.
His cousin, the good Squire, had also appeared to him in a
dream, and told him that concealed in the wainscot, beneath a certain piece of tapestry, he would find a secret cabinet, in which was preserved good store of gold and jewels for the infant heir; and that the key of this hidden treasury was behind a leaf of carved foliage which ornamented the bed head. He was told to take what money he required for his journey and to keep the key.
He found everything as indicated in his dream.
Jan of Penrose had often sought for this private recess—where heir-looms and other valuables were concealed, and only made known to the heir when of age, or to a trusty guardian, if a minor—but he was deterred from further search by such an apparition as made him avoid the chamber, and of which he would never speak after his fearful fright was past.
The pilgrim arose and requested the old steward to accompany him a short distance on his journey.
Before they parted the stranger discovered himself, to the old man's great delight, to be the long-lamented William Penrose; told him that he was about to undertake a long journey for the repose of the dead; that he would return when he had accomplished his mission; and bade the steward adieu, without speaking of the apparition or the cause of disturbances in the mansion.
William Penrose, having arrived in the ancient town of Plymouth, and entered the mean public-house to which he had been directed by the apparition, saw the person he sought lying stretched by the fireside in a squalid apartment that served for kitchen, guest-chamber, and sleeping room.
The former pirate-captain looked like a deserter from the churchyard (as we say); the face of this child-murderer was the colour of one long in the tomb; with but little signs of life except in the lurid glare of his sunken eyes.
William Penrose with much difficulty induced the 'wisht-looking' object to converse; and, after a while, led him to talk of the West Country, then of Sennen. From that the pilgrim spoke of Penrose, and asked him if he knew, in Penrose orchard, a certain apple-tree which he pointly described. He had no sooner mentioned it than the inn-keeper exclaimed, "I am a dead man."
The miserable wretch begged the pilgrim to have mercy on him and listen to his confession, in which he declared he was driven to commit the murder by his evil spirit that made him dislike the child, because he had long hated his parents, more than from any love of gold given him by Jan of Penrose, to remove the only obstacle to his possession of the estate.
William Penrose—who was still unknown to the inn-keeper—
wondered what cause of ill-will he could ever have had against the good old Squire or his wife, until the former pirate told how he was the prodigal son—long supposed dead—of an ancient, respectable, but poor family, whose ancestral seat was within a few miles of Penrose—how, almost from his childhood, he had long and truly loved, and as he trusted, had his love returned by the lady who became the wife of Squire Penrose,—how that he had left his home in St. Just on a desperate privateering expedition, in hopes of soon gaining sufficient riches to make the lady's parents regard him with favour,—how, whilst he was returning with gold enough to buy the parish, Penrose had wooed and won the lady—his first and only love, for whom he had toiled and suffered every hardship during many years.
He also related how when he came home so altered, by the burning suns of the Spanish Main, that his nearest relatives knew him not, and found out the ill return his lady-love had made him, that his only solace was the hope of revenge.
Some of the gold that he had sweat blood to gain, for the sake of the faithless fair, was laid out in a fast sailing craft, which might pass for a merchantman, privateer, or pirate, as she was all in turn during a few years that he roamed the British seas.
The vessel was manned with a desperate crew, most of them his old comrades, who would do anything to please him. The design he had formed, more through hate than love, was to carry the lady off to some foreign land.
A year or so after his return he landed one night in Whitsand Bay, accompanied by a great part of his well-armed crew, who took their way towards Penrose, where he learned ere their arrival, that his design of carrying off the lady was frustrated by her having been laid in the grave a few days before.
After this he wandered over sea and land by turns, caring nothing what became of him, until cast on Gwenvor Sands—poor and naked, as his ship foundered in deep water, when all but himself were drowned; and, as bad luck would have it, he reached the shore on some loose part of the wreck.
The worst portion of his story from this time is already told; but no one can tell, as he related, how the desire of gold—to enable him to recommence his roving life, far away from the hated sight of the land and everything else that recalled a remembrance of his blighted youthful hopes—maddening drink, and a wicked heart, farther irritated by Jan Penrose, made him murder the child that he would have given a hundred lives to restore before he received the uncle's bloody gold.
Since then he had never a moment been free from remorse. He wished for death, but feared to die. If he drank himself mad, that only increased the horror of his thoughts.
He had scarcely finished his sad tale when William Penrose discovered himself to be the well-remembered playmate of the wretched man's innocent youth; and he had only time to beg Penrose to bestow in alms his ill-got store, for the scarcely hoped for mitigation of future punishment, when he breathed his last.
When William Penrose returned to Penrose and made himself known, to the great joy of old servants and others, he found that what was thought to be merely the gloomy and morose temper of its master frequently made him shun all society, and wander about the hills or cliffs and other solitary places, for days and nights together.
No one either loved, feared, or cared enough about the surly man to pay him any regard. He was absent then in one of his melancholy moods, and William with the steward, aided by other old trusty servants, removed the child's remains from beneath the blasted tree to Sennen churchyard; and out of respect to the honourable old family, little was said or known about the sad occurrence.
Jan of Penrose was no more seen alive in the old mansion, for the same night that his nephew's remains were buried in consecrated ground, he hanged himself in the malt-house; and he haunted it long after.
Following the spirit's injunction William Penrose had still to find and remove the bodies of the old Squire and his crew. Now it was supposed that they were 'sanded'—that is sunk in the moist sand and covered by it during a flowing tide—near Gwenvor Cove, because corpse-lights had frequently been seen, and the drowned sailors had been heard there "hailing there own names," as they are still accustomed to do when requiring aid of the living.
Next day Penrose and others found the bodies of the old sailor-squire and his crew near the place where fishermen had heard the "calling of the dead," and their remains were laid to repose, with all holy rites, in an ancient burying-ground near Chapel Idné, where the wind and waves sing their everlasting requiem in music they loved well when alive:—
William Penrose, now heir-at-law of the, bartons of Penrose, Brew, and other farms in the West Country,—disliking to live in the place connected with such melancholy events—gave up his rights of heirship to another branch of the family; resumed
his pilgrim's staff; and was supposed to have died in the Holy Land.
The Penroses still in the West are said to be descended from a younger branch of the ancient family of Sennen; with whom the Pendreas or Pendars were intermarried.
The family of Jones purchased the Penroses’ West Country property, and it remained in their possession until the beginning of the last century.
We hear again of smugglers being kept in pay by the last Jones, of Penrose, and by others who succeeded him. From the facilities afforded by this secluded place for concealing contraband goods, it was always noted as a favourite resort for western fair-traders.
Many people about the Land's End believe the old mansion was always haunted; and it is said this was the principal reason for taking down and rebuilding a portion of it a few years since.
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