From Cornwall’s Wonderland, by Mabel Quiller Couch; London & Toronto: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd., [undated — circa 1914]; pp. 10-19.
OF ST. MICHAEL’S MOUNT
I AM sure most of you have heard of St. Michael’s Mount, the strange, beautiful, mountain island, which rises up out of the sea down by Penzance; a mountain island with a grand old castle crowning its summit, and a picturesque group of cottages nestling at its base.
If you have not, you must coax your parents to take you down there for your next summer holiday, then you will be able to see the Mount, and visit it too. And when you are on it you must think to yourself, “Now I am standing where the Giant Cormoran once stood.”
You must look over the sea, too, which surrounds the giant’s Mount, and try to picture to yourself a large forest in the place of it, and the sea six long miles away, for that was how it was in Cormoran’s time, until one day the sea rose quite suddenly, a huge mountain of water, and rushing over the six miles of land, covered it and the forests too, even above the tops of 11 the tallest trees. Everything for miles around was swallowed up, except the Mount, which was saved by reason of its great height.
From that day to this the sea has never receded, and St. Michael’s Mount has remained an island, completely cut off from the mainland, except at low tide, when you can, if you are quick, just manage to walk across.
Years before this, Cormoran had built up the Mount for a home for himself. When first he came to the spot it was all forest, with one large white rock in the midst of it. As he lay on this rock resting, he made up his mind to build himself a hill here, all of white rocks, like the one on which he reclined, where he could live in safety, and keep an eye on the surrounding country.
It was a big task he had set himself, for all the blocks of granite of which it was to be made, had to be brought from a neighbouring hill, those close by being of the pink, or green, or grey kinds, and he would have none of these. Perhaps he would have changed his mind about it had he had to carry all the stone himself, but he, the great lazy fellow, made his wife Cornelian fetch all the heaviest blocks, while he lay idly by and watched her.
Cornelian, who thought the work was very 12 hard indeed, did not see why the green rocks would not do as well as the white, they would be even prettier, in her opinion, so one day when her husband was asleep she knocked off a great green rock, and picking it up in her apron, hurried back as fast as she could to get it fixed in its place before he should wake. She could not manage it though, poor soul, for just as she was reaching her destination the giant opened his eyes, and as soon as he had opened them he caught sight of the green rock she was carrying.
Then, oh, what a temper he was in at being disobeyed! He did not say anything, but he got quietly up from his resting-place, as soon as she had passed, and followed her, but so softly that she did not notice anything until he was close to her, when he gave her such a blow that she fell staggering under it. Her apron-strings broke, down fell the green stone to the ground, and there it has stayed from that day to this, for no human power has been able to move it.
Cormoran was an old giant, and a very ugly one. He had only one eye, and that was in the middle of his forehead; he had lost nearly all his teeth, too. It would have been better for his appearance had he lost them quite all, for those that were left were broken, jagged, and 13 discoloured, and were anything but ornament. He was a perfect monster to look at, and, oh, he was such a dreadful thief! All the people who lived anywhere near him went in terror of him, for when he was hungry he would just cross to the mainland, steal the very best cow or sheep in the neighbourhood, sling it across his shoulders and go home with it. And as he was very often hungry, the poor farmer folks were nearly eaten out of house and home by the bad old giant.
On the Pengerswick estate near by, there were some particularly good cattle, which Master Cormoran had taken a great fancy to, and to which he helped himself pretty freely without ever being caught, or punished. Of course, the more he stole the bolder he got, for having so often got off scot-free, and that was where he made his mistake.
One day he took it into his head that he would very much like another of these fine, choice animals, so picking up a rope he started off, and wading across to Pengerswick Cove, landed there as usual, thinking he was going to help himself without any trouble and be home again by dinner-time.
It happened, though, that the Lord of Pengerswick 14 had just returned from the East, where he had been learning all sorts of magic and spells. Cormoran, however, knew nothing of this, and if he had he would probably only have laughed and sneered and turned up his great nose in scorn, for he believed in nothing but giants, and only in two of them, — himself, and the Trecrobben Hill giant.
As Master Cormoran approached, the Lord of Pengerswick, who knew by means of magic all about his coming, and knowing his thieving ways, determined to punish the old thief for all the mischief he had done during his absence. So he began at once to work his spells, meaning to give the giant a very unpleasant time.
Cormoran, never dreaming of any trouble in store for him, landed as usual; but, somehow, when he reached the Cove he did not feel very well, his head felt muzzy and confused: he thought perhaps the sun had been too much for him as he came along. Instead, too, of catching one of the cattle at once, as usual, he had the works of the world to get one, the beasts seemed as slippery as eels, and he was so dull in the head, he hardly knew what he was about. However, after a great deal of trouble, and losing his temper more than once, he managed to catch a fine calf, and tying its four feet together, he 15 slung it around his neck, prepared to hurry back to the Mount to have a good feast.
He walked, and he walked, and he walked as fast as his feet could carry him, but though he went very quickly, and it was really no distance back to the Cove, he somehow could not get any nearer to the end of his journey; the path seemed all strange to him, too, and for the life of him he could not tell where he was.
At last, when he was so tired that he was ready to drop, he came in sight of a great black rock in Pengerswick Cove. It was a rock he did not remember seeing before, and thinking he was once again on the wrong path he turned to go back. But this, he found to his surprise, was what he could not do. The rock, as if by magic, was drawing him nearer and nearer. It was like a magnet, and struggle as he would, he could not keep away from it. He tried to turn round, he tried to draw back, he even lay down on the ground and dug his heels with all his strength into the sand. But still he felt himself being drawn on and on until he actually touched the rock, and the moment he touched it he found to his horror that he was fastened to it as though by iron bands.
Oh, how he struggled to get free, how he twisted and turned, and kicked! All in vain, 16 though. He might as well have lain still and gone to sleep for all the good he did. By degrees, too, he felt himself growing more and more hopeless, he could not move hand or foot, he grew colder and stiffer, and stiffer and colder, until at last he was as if turned to stone, except that his senses were more acute than ever they had been before. To add to his torments, too, the calf which he had slung across his shoulders, struggled and kicked and bellowed until the old thief was black and blue, and nearly deafened. He was nearly scared to death, too, for fear someone would hear the creature’s noise, and come in search of it, to find out what was the matter.
He tried and tried to throw off his burden, but nothing would loosen it, and all the night long he had to bear the bleating and the bellowing in his ear, and the incessant kicking and butting, for, for the whole of the night the giant had to remain there; and probably he would have been there for the rest of his life, had not the Lord of Pengerswick thought he would like to have some more fun with him.
Early in the morning the Enchanter mounted his horse and rode down to the Cove to have a look at Master Cormoran, and to give him a piece of his mind before he removed the spell and let him go, and a piece of something else 17 as well! Cormoran quaked when he saw the old lord coming, for he looked every bit as angry as he really was, and first he lashed the giant with his tongue, and then he lashed him with his whip, and he flogged him and flogged him until in his agony Cormoran kicked and struggled so hard that he broke away from the rock and leaped right into the sea.
this was the way the Enchanter removed the spell!
Once free from that terrible rock, Cormoran soon reached home, but the lesson he had had was one that he never forgot, and he never troubled that part of the country again, so the people all around had good cause to thank the Lord of Pengerswick. Poor Cornelian, his wife, had a sad time of it though, for so sore was the giant from his beating, and so angry and mortified, that his temper became something worse than ever. Indeed, I cannot find words to describe it.
Poor Cornelian herself was very kind and good-tempered, and a very hard-working giantess, and she was very much to be pitied for having such a disagreeable, grumpy old husband. Cornelian, though, had one great fault, and that was that she was very, very inquisitive. I do not know that she ever did any harm to anyone 18 but herself by it. It brought about her own death, though, in a very dreadful manner. And this was how it was.
Cormoran and the Trecrobben Hill giant were very friendly and neighbourly one with the other, and they used to borrow and lend to each other any little thing they happened to want, just as ordinary people who do who are on very good terms with one another.
One day Cormoran was wanting the cobbling-hammer to mend his boots, but the hammer was up at Trecrobben’s, — they only had one between them. So he went out and shouted, “Halloa, up there! Hi! Trecrobben, throw us down the cobblen hammer, wust-a?” They always threw across to each other what they wanted.
“To be sure,” called back Trecrobben; “here, look out and catch un!”
Hearing a lot of noise and shouting, Cornelian must needs bustle out to find out what it was all about, and running from the dark house to the bright sunshine, her eyes were so dazzled, she did not see the great hammer coming hurtling through the air, as it did at that very moment, and whack! crack! it caught her a terrible blow right between the eyes, even crashing in the mighty bone of her forehead.19
Down she fell with a groan right at her husband’s feet, and when he turned her over she was as dead as the fatal hammer itself! Then what a to-do there was! The two giants wept and roared over the corpse, they wrung their hands and tore their hair, but it was all of no use, they could not bring poor Cornelian back to life again. Their sighs and groans only wrecked a ship or two out at sea, and blew the roofs off some houses at Market Jew. So they stopped, and set to work to bury poor Cornelian. They thought it best to get her out of sight as quickly as possible, it made them weep so to see her lying there dead.
Where they laid her, though, no one knows. Some say it was in the court of the castle, others that they lifted Chapel Rock and put her under; but there are others who say that they only rolled her over the edge of the cliffs and into the sea! You will always, though, find some people ready to say unkind things about everyone.
Cormoran himself met his death some years later at the hands of Jack the Giant-Killer, but as you probably know that story, I will not repeat it here.