From Cornwall’s Wonderland, by Mabel Quiller Couch; London & Toronto: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd., [undated — circa 1914]; pp. 20-29.
THE LEGEND OF THE TAMAR,
THE TAVY, AND THE TAW
IN the days when fairies, giants, and witches, gnomes and piskies, and dwarfs, and all the other Big People and Little People dwelt on the land or under it, there lived in a huge cavern, deep, deep down in the heart of the earth, two gnomes, husband and wife, busy, practical little people, who spent their lives digging and delving in the very bowels of the earth.
They had no cravings for a more beautiful life, no desire to see the sunshine, the flowers, the green grass, or the wide blue sea. They wanted nothing better, or beyond the life which had always been theirs.
To them, though, there was sent a little daughter, whom they called Tamara. She was a lovely, golden-haired sprite, as unlike her parents as the sun the night, and they were filled with happiness and pride, and wonder of her beauty.
When Tamara was old enough, they would have set her to work with them, but Tamara 21 did not like the cold, dark cavern, or the silence and bareness of her underground home. She was an earth-loving child, and had a passion for the upper world, whither she would escape as often as she possibly could, for the sun, the flowers, the birds, the happy life which surrounded her up there, were a never-failing joy to her.
Her parents scolded and scolded; they warned her that the earth was full of giants, and if she were captured by one of them, nothing could save her; but she paid no heed to them at all, for she did not know what fear was, she could not believe that anyone could harm her. And they had petted and humoured her, and allowed her her own way in so many things, she did not see why she should not do as she liked in this.
She hated the cold, gloomy underground, so why should she stay there, she argued, and she ran away more and more to the upper world, and spent her days in roaming over the moors chasing the birds and butterflies, or, when she was tired, lying on a bank of moss and ferns, gazing up at the glorious sun, and basking in its kindly warmth.
At length one day, Tawridge and Tavy, sons of two Dartmoor giants, met sweet Tamara as she was wandering amongst the furze and bracken, and straightway fell in love with her. 22 They had only seen giantesses up to that time, who, though very fine and striking in appearance, are never pretty, and these two young giants had never in their lives seen anything so delicate and so lovely as Tamara, or dreamed that it was possible that such beautiful maidens could exist.
Straightway each of them lost his great big heart to the dainty maiden, and could not bear to lose sight of her. So afraid were they that she would vanish, and they would never see her again, that they followed her far and wide over the moor, trying to coax her to come and talk with them. But Tamara, like a laughing, mischievous sprite, ran from them laughing, led them over moor and river, always evading them, never letting them reach her. The more though that she tantalized and teased them, the more the poor fellows loved her, and they sighed for her until their great hearts were like to break.
One morning, Tamara got away earlier than usual from her cavern home. She awoke long before her parents, and after for some time at the darkness which filled the cave, and shivering in the chill, damp air, she thought of the upper world where the morning sun would be shining on the dewy grass, and the birds be singing their first glad song; and as she pictured it all the longing to be up there grew stronger 23 than she could bear. She rose quietly, and without disturbing her parents, left her home for the last time.
In the upper world all was as she had pictured it, and lost in the joy and beauty of it, Tamara wandered on and on until she came to a place called Morwenstow, and a dainty little pool in the hollow of a rock. The sun was so warm, and the pool so lovely, Tamara felt she must step into it; so, laying aside her robe, she played and swam about in the fresh clear water until she was quite tired out, when she dressed herself in her robe again, and shaking her long golden locks to dry them, she lay down under the shelter of a hawthorn-bush, and soon fell fast asleep.
Ah me! how sweet she looked, with her delicate cheeks so rosy after her bathe, her lovely lashes resting on them, her cloud of golden hair spread all about her! and so thought Tavy and Tawridge when they came along and found her! At the sight of her they stood speechless with admiration, but the great stupid fellows were as quiet and careful not to waken her as fairies would have been. They just sat down near her and gazed at her with great faithful dog-like eyes.
Presently a thrush began to sing hard by, and with a little stretch and a sleepy sigh Tamara 24 opened her big blue eyes. When she caught sight of her guardians and captors, she broke into a little rippling laugh and sprang to her feet, but this time she could not escape.
“Do not leave us,” they pleaded. “We will not hurt you, Tamara. We may be big and ugly, but we have good hearts. Have pity on us, lovely one, for you know how we worship you, and how our lives are spent in seeking you. Such a love for you fills our hearts we know no rest away from you.”
They pleaded long and earnestly, those two love-stricken giants, they called her by every sweet and endearing name that they could think of, and Tamara listened, and made no further attempt to run away. Their devotion pleased her, it was so new and strange, and she loved to feel her power. So the morning sped away.
Deep down in the dark earth, the industrious little gnomes paused in their labours and wondered where Tamara was. “She does not often stay so long,” said her mother; “I trust no harm has befallen her.”
“What a trouble she is to us!” said the father, growing angry because he was alarmed. “We should be glad we have no more children, or we should have to spend all our time looking after them, to see they came to no harm. We 25 should never have time for our work, and never know peace of mind.”
“Yes, yes,” said the mother impatiently, “but Tamara! Where can she be? The earth is full of giants, and I am full of fears. I cannot rest, I must go and seek her, and you must come too. She is so beautiful, and so thoughtless and full of life.”
So they mounted to the upper world, and began their weary search for their naughty little daughter; and by and by they found her seated on a couch of sweet, soft heather, between the two giants. They were still telling her of their love for her, — there was so much, it took long to tell, — and beseeching her to choose one of them for her own faithful lover.
The father gnome was very much alarmed at this sight, for what could he, no taller than a tulip, do against two such monstrous creatures? Their thumbs alone were as big as his whole body. All that was left to be done was to appeal to Tamara, and each in turn, and both together, the father and mother begged and commanded their runaway child to return to her home.
But Tamara was as obstinate as could be. “No, I want to stay here,” she said, “these good boys love me, and they will break their hearts when I leave them. You would not have me 26 make them so unhappy would you? I want, too, to hear all about their country and their people, for I love it, and I love them, and I hate the cold, dark, cavern, with its eternal work, work, work!” Then she turned entreatingly to the giants, “You would not let me be taken back, will you?” she cried, her beautiful eyes full of appealing.
“No, no!” they cried joyfully, “we will take care of you, little Tamara.”
Even, though, as they spoke, a deep sleep fell upon them. The gnome, thoroughly angry, had cast a spell upon them, and poor Tamara saw herself in an instant deprived of both her protectors. She was deeply mortified, but more determined than ever not to go back to her dark, gloomy home. No pleadings, coaxings, or commands had any power to move her. Her mother appealed to her, her father scolded, all in vain. Anger was roused on both sides, until at length in ungovernable rage the father cursed his daughter, and as his curse fell on her, the weeping girl was changed into a crystal stream, which soon became a river; a beautiful, rapid river, for ever winding its way with a low, sad murmur, in storm or sunshine, through the land she loved so well, on and on to the great salt ocean.27
The angry parents, heartbroken and desolate, had returned to their lonely home, and Tamara, with low, sad, sighs, was fleeing further and further from her sleeping lovers, when Tavy at last awoke. He sat up and glared around him, too dazed to realize at first all that had happened. He looked at Tawridge, lying fast asleep, and recollection began to return, — he looked for Tamara, — she was gone!
In a frenzy of fear lest he should have lost his new-found love for ever, he rushed hither and thither, wildly searching for her, — but, of course, in vain.
“Tamara! Tamara!” he called despairingly; no answer came. No sound reached him but the sweet, sad voice of a stream hard by, a stream he did not remember to have heard before. He was too full of his troubles, though, to pay heed to such trifles now.
Flying as fast as the wind to his father amongst the hills, he told him his pitiful tale, but the giant already knew all that had happened, for he had powers his son had not.
“My boy,” he said sadly, “your Tamara is gone. Cruelly taken from you. I cannot bring her back to you, but I can send you to her. Grieved I shall be to lose my son, but I cannot keep you here and see your life filled with endless 28 pain.” Then the old giant kissed his son, and as he kissed him he turned him into a stream, which, noisy and turbulent as poor Tavy himself had been of old, rushed madly on over rock and moor, seeking his lost love. Wildly he dashed ahead, seeking to overtake her, until at last in a gentle valley where she loitered slowly, he came upon her, and, happy that they had met at last, hand in hand they glided softly onwards to the eternal sea.
During all this time poor Tawridge slept on, dreaming of Tamara, that she was his, and nothing could part them; but alas, alas for his waking! He opened his eyes and found it was but a dream! Tamara was gone, Tavy was gone, and he was left alone.
“They have gone together!” was his first thought, but then he remembered the arrival of the father and mother, and his second thought was that Tamara had been taken back to her home by her parents, and that Tavy had killed himself in despair. And Tawridge was filled with a double grief, for he had really loved poor Tavy.
In the hills there lived an Enchanter, and to him Tawridge ran for help, and of him he learnt the truth, — that both were lost to him, and were together. The knowledge drove him to 29 frenzy. Without a thought for his father or mother, or anyone else who loved him, he begged and implored the Enchanter to turn him into a stream too, that he might follow the others and overtake them, and once again be with his lost love, or near her.
At last the old Enchanter consented, and Tawridge was turned into a swiftly flowing river; and there his troubles might have ended, and the three friends have been reunited, but as he was going back, Tawridge mistook the way, and, instead of flowing towards the sea with Tamar and Tavy, he rushed on wildly seeking them in the wrong direction. Calling to them with heartbroken cries and moans, he hurried faster and faster in his longing to overtake them, but always in the wrong direction, ever and ever flowing farther from them, never to meet his lost love again.
To this day the Tamar and the Tavy run side by side, and the Taw, still sighing and moaning sadly, rushes in the opposite direction, and never can the enchantment be removed from Tamara and her lovers, until we, having grown better and wiser, become friends again with the Big People and the Little People we have driven from us by our ignorance and narrow minds.