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From Cornwall’s Wonderland, by Mabel Quiller Couch; London & Toronto: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd., [undated — circa 1914]; pp. 54-67.


Black and white engraving of  a pattern of stylized grape leaves and grape clusters, as the head-piece for this chapter.


DOWN 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.

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 56 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.

The 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.

At last, 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 top.

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.

There 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, 62 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.

Then 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.

“Ah!” 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!”

Stooping 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.

There 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.

There he 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.

Left 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.

Till 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.

At last, 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.

Years, 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.