by St. Just, not far from Cape Cornwall and the sea, is a small hill, —
or a very large mound would, perhaps, be the truer description, —
called “The Gump,” where the Small People used to hold their revels,
and where our grandfathers and grandmothers used to be allowed to stand
and look on and listen.
In those good old times fairies and ordinary
people were all good friends together, and it is because they were all
such friends and trusted one another so, that our grandfathers and
grandmothers were able to tell their grandchildren so many tales about
fairies, and piskies, and buccas, and all the rest of the Little People.
believed in the Fairies in those days, so the Fairies in return often
helped the people, and did them all sorts of kindnesses. Indeed, they
would do so now if folks had not grown so learned and disbelieving. It
seems strange that because they have got more knowledge of some
matters, they should have grown more ignorant of others, and declare
that there never was 55 such things as Fairies, just because they have
neither the eyes nor the minds to see them!
Of course, no one could
expect the sensitive little creatures to appear when they are sneered
at and scoffed at. All the same, though, they are as much about us as
ever they were, and if you or I, who do believe in the Little People,
were to go to the Gump on the right nights at the right hour, we should
see them feasting and dancing and holding their revels just as of old.
If, though, you do go, you must be very careful to keep at a distance,
and not to trespass on their fairy ground, for that is a great offence,
and woe be to you if you offend them!
There was, once upon a time, a
grasping, mean old fellow who did so, and pretty well he was punished
for his daring. It is his story I am going to tell you, but I will not
tell you his name, for that would be unpleasant for his descendants,
but I will tell you this much, — he was a St. Just man, and no credit
to the place, I am sure.
Well, this old man used to listen to the
tales the people told of the Fairies and their riches, and their
wonderful treasures, until he could scarcely bear to hear any more, he
longed so to have some of those riches for himself; and at last his
covetousness grew so great, he said to himself he must and would have
some, or he should die of vexation.
So one night, when the Harvest
Moon was at the full, he started off alone, and very stealthily, to
walk to the Gump, for he did not want his neighbours to know anything
at all about his plans. He was very nervous, for it is a very desolate
spot, but his greed was greater than his fear, and he made himself go
forward, though he longed all the time to turn tail and hurry home to
the safe shelter of his house and his bed.
When he was still at some
distance from the enchanted spot, strains of the most exquisite music
anyone could possibly imagine reached his ear, and as he stood
listening it seemed to come nearer and nearer until, at last, it was
close about him. The most wonderful part, though, of it all was that
there was nothing to be seen, no person, no bird, not an animal even.
The empty moor stretched away on every tide, the Gump lay bare and
desolate before him. The only living being on it that night was himself.
music, indeed, seemed to come from under the ground, and such strange
music it was, too, so gentle, so touching, it made the old miser weep,
in spite of himself, and then, even while the tears were still running
down his cheeks, he was forced to laugh quite merrily, and 57 even to
dance, though he certainly did not want to do either. After that it was
not surprising that he found himself marching along, step and step,
keeping time with the music as it played, first slowly and with stately
tread, then fast and lively.
All the time, though, that he was
laughing and weeping, marching or dancing, his wicked mind was full of
thoughts as to how he should get at the fairy treasure.
when he got close to the Gump, the music ceased, and suddenly, with a
loud crashing noise which nearly scared the old man out of his senses,
the whole hill seemed to open as if by magic, and in one instant every
spot was lighted up. Thousands of little lights of all colours gleamed
everywhere, silver stars twinkled and sparkled on every furze-bush,
tiny lamps hung from every blade of grass. It was a more lovely sight
than one ever sees nowadays, more lovely than any pantomime one has
ever seen or ever will see. Then, out from the open hill marched troops
of little Spriggans.
Spriggans, you must know, are the Small People
who live in rocks and stones, and cromlechs, the most mischievous,
thievish little creatures that ever lived, and woe betide anyone who
meddles with their dwelling-places.
Well, first came all those
Spriggans, then a large band of musicians followed by troops of
soldiers, each troop carrying a beautiful banner, which waved and
streamed out as though a brisk breeze were blowing, whereas in reality
there was not a breath of wind stirring.
These hosts of Little
People quickly took up their places in perfect order all about the
Gump, and, though they appeared quite unconscious of his presence, a
great number formed a ring all round the old man. He was greatly
amazed, but, “Never mind,” he thought, “they are such little
whipper-snappers I can easily squash them with my foot if they try on
any May-games with me.”
As soon as the musicians, the Spriggans, and
the soldiers had arranged themselves, out came a lot of servants
carrying most lovely gold and silver vessels, goblets, too, cut out of
single rubies, and diamonds, and emeralds, and every kind of precious
stone. Then came others bearing rich meats and pastry, luscious fruits
and preserves, everything, in fact, that one could think of that was
dainty and appetizing. Each servant placed his burden on the tables in
its proper place, then silently retired.
Can you not imagine how the
glorious scene dazzled the old man, and how his eyes glistened, 59 and
his fingers itched to grab at some of the wonderful things and carry
them off? He knew that even one only of those flashing goblets would
make him rich for ever.
He was just thinking that nowhere in the
world could there be a more beautiful sight, when, and behold! the
illumination became twenty times as brilliant, and out of the hill came
thousands and thousands of exquisitely dressed ladies and gentlemen,
all in rows, each gentleman leading a lady, and all marching in perfect
time and order.
They came in companies of a thousand each, and each
company was differently attired. In the first the gentlemen were all
dressed in yellow satin covered with copper-coloured spangles, on the
their heads they wore copper-coloured helmets with waving, yellow
plumes, and on their feet yellow shoes with copper heels. The flashing
of the copper in the moonlight was almost blinding. Their companions
all were dressed alike in white satin gowns edged with large
turquoises, and on their tiny feet pale blue shoes with buckles formed
of one large turquoise set in pearls.
The gentlemen conducted the
ladies to their places on the Gump, and with a courtly bow left them,
themselves retiring to a little distance. The next troop then came up,
in this the gentlemen 60 were all attired in black, trimmed with
silver, silver helmets with black plumes, black stockings and silver
shoes. Their ladies were dressed in pink embroidered in gold, with
waving pink plumes in their hair, and golden buckles on their pink
shoes. In the next troop the men were dressed in blue and white, the
ladies in green, with diamonds all around the hem of the gown, diamonds
flashing in their hair, and hanging in long ropes from their necks; on
their green shoes single diamonds blazed and flashed.
So they came,
troop after troop, more than I can describe, or you could remember,
only I must tell you that the last of all were the most lovely. The
ladies, all of whom had dark hair, were clad in white velvet lined with
the palest violet silk, while round the hems of the skirts and on the
bodices were bands of soft white swansdown. Swansdown also edged the
little violet cloaks which hung from their shoulders. I cannot describe
to you how beautiful they looked, with their rosy, smiling faces, and
long black curls. On their heads they wore little silver crowns set
with amethysts, amethysts, too, sparkled on their necks and over their
gowns. In their hands they carried long rails of the lovely blossom of
the wistaria. Their companions were clad in white and green, and in
their left 61 hands they carried silver rods with emerald stars at the
It really seemed at one time as though the troops of Little
People would never cease pouring out of the hill. They did so at last,
though, and as soon as all were in their places the music suddenly
changed, and became more exquisite than ever.
The old man by this
time seemed able to see more clearly, and hear more distinctly, and his
sense of smell grew keener. Never were such flashing gems as here,
never had any flowers such scents as these that were here.
were now thousands of little ladies gathered on the Gump, and these all
broke out into song at the same instant, such beautiful singing, too,
so sweet and delicate. The words were in an unknown tongue, but the
song was evidently about some great personages who were about to emerge
from the amazing hill, for again it opened, and again poured forth a
crowd of Small People.
First of all came a bevy of little girls in
white gauze, scattering flowers, which, as soon as they touched the
ground, sprang up into full life and threw out leaves and more flowers,
full of exquisite scents; then came a number of boys playing on shells
as though they were harps, and making ravishing music, while after
them came hundreds and hundreds of little men clad in green and gold,
followed by a perfect forest of banners spreading and waving on the air.
last, but more beautiful than all that had gone before, was carried a
raised platform covered with silk embroidered with real gold, and edged
with crystals, and on the platform were seated a prince and princess of
such surpassing loveliness that no words can be found to describe them.
They were dressed in the richest velvet, and covered with precious
stones which blazed and sparkled in the myriad lights until the eye
could scarce bear to look at them.
Over her lovely robe the
princess’s hair flowed down to the floor, where it rested in great
shining, golden waves. In her hand she held a golden sceptre, on the
top of which blazed a diamond as large as a walnut, while the prince
carried one with a sapphire of equal size. After a deal of marching
backwards and forwards, the platform was placed on the highest point of
the Gump, which was now a hill of flowers, and every fairy walked up
and bowed, said something to the prince and princess, and passed on to
a seat at the tables. And the marvel was that though there were so many
fairies present, there was not the slightest confusion amongst them,
not 63 one person moved out of place at the wrong moment. All was as
quite and well-arranged as could possibly be.
At length all were
seated, whereupon the prince gave a signal, on which a number of
footmen came forward carrying a table laden with dainty food in solid
gold dishes, and wines in goblets of precious stones which they placed
on the platform before the prince and princess. As soon as the royal
pair began to eat, all the hosts around them followed their example,
and such a merry, jovial meal they had. The viands disappeared as fast
as they could go, laughter and talk sounded on all sides, and never a
sign did any of them give that they knew that a human was watching
them. If they knew it, they showed not the slightest concern.
thought the old miser to himself. “I can’t get all I’d like to, but if
I could reach up to the prince’s table I could get enough at one grab
to set me up for life, and make me the richest man in St. Just parish!”
down, he slowly and stealthily dragged himself nearer and nearer to the
table. He felt quite sure that no one could see him. What he himself
did not see was that hundreds of wicked little Spriggans had tied ropes
on to 64 him and were holding fast to the ends. He crawled and crawled
so slowly and carefully that it took him some time to get over the
ground, but he managed it at last, and got quite close up to the lovely
little pair. Once there he paused for a moment and looked back, —
perhaps to see if the way was clear for him to run when he had done
what he meant to do. He was rather startled to find that all was dark
as dark could be, and that he could see nothing at all behind him.
However, he tried to cheer himself by thinking that it was only that
his eyes were dazzled by looking at the bright lights so long. He was
even more startled, though, when he turned round to the Gump again, to
find that every eye of all those hundreds and thousands of fairies on
the hill was looking straight into his eyes.
At first he was really
frightened, but as they did nothing but look, he told himself that they
could not really be gazing at him, and grew braver with the thought.
Then slowly bringing up his hat, as a boy does to catch a butterfly, he
was just going to bring it down on the silken platform and capture
prince and princess, table, gold dishes and all, when hark! A shrill
whistle sounded, the old man’s hand, with the hat in it, was paralysed
in the air, so that he 65 could not move it backwards or forwards, and
in an instant every light went out, and all was pitchy darkness.
were a whir-r-r and a buzz, and a whir-r-r, as if a swarm of bees were
flying by him, and the old men felt himself fastened so securely to the
ground that, do what he would, he could not move an inch, and all the
time he felt himself being pinched, and pricked, and tweaked from top
to toe, so that not an inch of him was free from torment. He was lying
on his back at the foot of the Gump, though how he got there he could
never tell. His arms were stretched out and fastened down, so that he
could not do anything to drive off his tormentors, his legs were so
secured that he could not even relieve himself by kicking, and his
tongue was tied with cords, so that he could not call out.
lay, no one knows how long, for to him it seemed hours, and no one else
but the fairies knew anything about it. At last he felt a lot of little
feet running over him, but whose they were he had no idea until
something perched on his nose, and by the light of the moon he saw it
was a Spriggan. His wicked old heart sank when he realized that he had
got into their clutches, for all his life he had heard what wicked
little creatures they were.
The little imp on his nose kicked and
danced and stamped about in great delight at finding himself perched up
so high. We all know how painful it is to have one’s nose knocked, even
ever so little, so you may imagine that the old miser did not enjoy
himself at all. Master Spriggan did, though. He roared with laughter,
as though he were having a huge joke, until at last, rising suddenly to
his feet and standing on the tips of his tiny toes, he shouted sharply,
“Away! away! I smell the day!” and to the old man’s great relief off he
flew in a great hurry, followed by all his mischievous companions who
had been playing games, and running races all over their victim’s body.
at last to himself, the mortified old man lay for some time, thinking
over all that had happened, trying to collect his senses, and wondering
how he should manage to escape from his bonds, for he might lie there
for a week without any human being coming near the place.
sunrise he lay there, trying to think of some plan, and then, what do
you think he saw? Why, that he had not been tied down by ropes at all,
but only by thousands of gossamer webs! And there they were now, all
over him, with the dew on them sparkling like the diamonds that the
princess had worn the night before. 67 And those dewdrop diamonds were
all the jewels he got for his night’s work.
When he made this
discovery he turned over and groaned and wept with rage and shame, and
never, to his dying day, could he bear to look at sparkling gold or
gems, for the mere sight of them made him feel quite ill.
afraid lest he should be missed, and searchers be sent out to look for
him, he got up, brushed off the dewy webs, and putting on his battered
old hat, crept slowly home. He was wet through with dew, cold, full of
rheumatism, and very ashamed of himself, and very good care he took to
keep that night’s experience to himself. No one must know his shame.
after, though, when he had become a changed man, and repented of his
former greediness, he let out the story bit by bit to be a lesson to
others, until his friends and neighbours, who loved to listen to
anything about fairies, had gathered it all as I have told it to you
here. And you may be quite sure it is all true, for the old man was not
clever enough to invent it.