Cherry of Zennor
A version of the story of the Fairy Widower, which appears in Robert Hunt's, Popular Romances of the West of England, pages 120-126. It is very closely allied to 'Jenny Permuen', also to be found in Hunt. 'Cherry of Zennor' is a curious story, and throws a number of side-lights on fairy beliefs. Sometimes one is tempted to believe that the story had a naturalistic foundation, and that it is an unsophisticated girl's interpretation of a human experience. On the other hand, it gives one quite a picture of the real traditions of underground Fairyland, such as that which was entered by True Thomas.
Old Honey lived with his wife and family in a little hut of two rooms and a " talfat," on the cliff side of Trereen in Zennor. The old couple had half-a-score of children, who were all reared in this place. They lived as they best could on the produce of a few acres of ground, which were too poor to keep even a goat in good heart. The heaps of crogans about the hut, led one to believe that their chief food was limpets and gweans. They had, however, fish and potatoes most days, and pork and broth now and then of a Sunday. At Christmas and the Feast they had white bread. There was not a healthier nor a handsomer family in the parish than Old Honey's. We are, however, only concerned with one of them--his daughter Cherry. Cherry could run as fast as a hare, and was ever full of frolic and mischief.
Whenever the miller's boy came into the "town," tied his horse to the furze-rick and called in to see if any one desired to send corn to the mill, Cherry would jump on to its back and gallop off to the cliff. When the miller's boy gave chase, and she could ride no further over the edge of that rocky coast, she would take to the cairns, and the swiftest dog could not catch her, much less the miller's boy.
Soon after Cherry got into her teens she became very discontented, because year after went her mother had been promising her a new frock that she might go off as smart as the rest, "three on one horse to Morva Fair." As certain as the time came round the money was wanting, so Cherry had nothing decent. She could neither go to fair, nor to church, nor to meeting.
Cherry was sixteen. One of her playmates had a new dress smartly trimmed with ribbons, and she told Cherry how she had been to Nancledry to the preaching, and how she had ewer so many sweethearts who brought her home. This put the volatile Cherry in a fever of desire. She declared to her mother she would go off to the "low countries" to seek for service, that she might get some clothes like other girls.
Her mother wished her to go to Towednack, that she might have the chance of seeing her now and then of a Sunday.
"No, no!" said Cherry, "I'll never go to live in the parish where the cow ate the bell-rope, and where they have fish and taties every day, and conger-pie of a Sunday for a change." One fine morning Cherry tied up a few things in a bundle and prepared to start. She promised her father that she would get service as near home as she could, and come home at the earliest opportunity. The old man said she was bewitched, charged her to take care she wasn't carried away by either the sailors or pirates, and allowed her to depart. Cherry took the road leading to Ludgvan and Gulval. When she lost sight of the chimneys of Trereen, she go out of heart, and had a great mind to go home again. But she went on.
At length she came to the four cross roads on the Lady Downs, sat herself down on a stone by the roadside, and cried to think of her home, which she might never see again.
Her crying at last came to an end, and she resolved to go home and make the best of it. When she dried her eyes and held up her head she was surprised to see a gentleman coming towards her;--for she couldn't think where he came from; no one was to be seen on the Downs a few minutes before. The gentleman wished her "Good morning," inquired the road to Towednack, and asked Cherry where she was going.
Cherry told the gentleman that she had left home that morning to look for service, but that her heart had failed her, and she was going back over the hills to Zennor again.
"I never expected to meet with such luck as this," said the gentleman. "I left home this morning to seek for a nice clean girl to keep house for me, and here you are." He then told Cherry that he had been recently left a widower, and that he had one dear little boy, of whom Cherry might have charge. Cherry was the very girl that would suit him. She was handsome and cleanly. He could see that her clothes were so mended that the first piece could not be discovered; yet she was as sweet as a rose, and all the water in the sea could not make her cleaner. Poor Cherry said 'Yes, sir," to everything, yet she did not understand one quarter part of what the gentleman said. Her mother had insisted her to say "Yes, sir," to the parson, or any gentleman, when, like herself, she did not understand them. The gentleman told her he lived but a short way off, down in the low countries; that she would have very little to do but milk the cow and look after the baby; so Cherry consented to go with him.
Away they went, he talking so kindly that Cherry had no notion how time was moving, and she quite forgot the distance she had walked.
At length they were in lanes, so shaded with trees that a checker of sunshine scarcely gleamed on the road. As far as she could see, all was trees and flowers. Sweetbriars and honeysuckles perfumed the air, and the reddest of ripe apples hung from the trees over the lane.
Then they came to a stream of water as clear as crystal, which ran across the lane. It was, however, very dark, and Cherry paused to see how she should cross the river. The gentleman put his arm around her waist and carried her over, so that she did not wet her feet.
The lane was getting darker and darker, and narrower and narrower, and they seemed to be going rapidly down-hill. Cherry took firm hold of the gentleman's arm, and thought, as he had been so kind to her, she could go with him to the world's end.
After walking a little farther, the gentleman opened a gate which led into a beautiful garden, and said, "Cherry, my dear, this is the place we live in." Cherry could scarcely believe her eyes. She had never seen anything approaching this place for beauty. Flowers of every dye were around her; fruits of all kinds hung above her; and the birds, sweeter of song than any she had ever heard, burst out into a chorus of rejoicing. She had heard granny tell of enchanted places. Could this be one of them? No. The gentleman was as big as the parson; and now a little boy came running down the garden-walk shouting, "Papa, papa." The child appeared, from his size, to be about two or three years of age; but there was a singular look of age about him. His eves were brilliant and piercing, and he had a crafty expression. As Cherry said, "He could look anybody down." Before Cherry could speak to the child, a very old, dry-boned, ugly-looking woman made her appearance, and seizing the child by the arm, dragged him into the house, mumbling and scolding. Before, however, she was lost sight of, the old hag cast one look at Cherry, which shot through her heart "like a gimblet."
Seeing Cherry somewhat disconcerted, the master explained that the old woman was his late wife's grandmother; that she would remain with them until Cherry knew her work, and no longer, for she was old and ill-tempered, and must go. At length, having feasted her eyes on the garden, Cherry was taken into the house, and this was yet more beautiful. Flowers of every kind grew everywhere, and the sun seemed to shine everywhere, and yet she did not see the sun.
Aunt Prudence--so was the old woman named--spread a table in moment with a great variety of nice things, and Cherry made hearty supper. She was now directed to go to bed, in a chamber at the top of the house, in which the child was to sleep also. Prudence directed Cherry to keep her eyes closed, whether she could sleep or not, as she might, perchance, see things which she would not like. She was not to speak to the child all night. She was to rise at break of day; then take the boy to a spring in the garden, wash him, and anoint his eyes with an ointment, which she would find in a crystal box in a cleft of the rock, but she was not, on any account, to touch her own eyes with it. Then Cherry was to call the cow; and having taken a bucket full of milk, to draw a bowl of the last milk for the boy's breakfast. Cherry was dying with curiosity. She several times began to question the child, but he always stopped her with, "I'll tell Aunt Prudence." According to her orders, Cherry was up in the morning early. The little boy conducted the girl to the spring, which flowed in crystal purity from a granite rock, which was covered with ivy and beautiful mosses. The child was duly washed, and his eyes duly anointed. Cherry saw no cow, but her little charge said she must call the cow.
"Pruit! pruit! pruit!" called Cherry, just as she would call the cows at home; when, lo! a beautiful great cow came from amongst the trees, and stood on the bank beside Cherry.
Cherry had no sooner placed her hands on the cow's teats than four streams of milk flowed down and soon filled the bucket. The boy's bowl was then filled, and he drank it. This being done, the cow quietly walked away, and Cherry returned to the house to be instructed in her daily work.
The old woman, Prudence, gave Cherry a capital breakfast, and then informed her that she must keep to the kitchen, and attend to her work there--to scald the milk, make the butter, and clean all the platters and bowls with water and gard. Cherry was charged to avoid curiosity. She was not to go into any other part of the house; she was not to try and open any locked doors.
After her ordinary work was done on the second day, her master required Cherry to help him in the garden, to pick the apples and pears, and to weed the leeks and onions.
Glad was Cherry to get out of the old woman's sight. Aunt Prudence always sat with one eye on her knitting, and the other boring through poor Cherry. Now and then she'd grumble, "I knew Robin would bring down some fool from Zennor--better for both that she had tarried away." Cherry and her master got on famously, and whenever Cherry had finished weeding a bed, her master would give her a kiss to show her how pleased he was.
After a few days, old Aunt Prudence took Cherry into those parts of the house which she had never seen. They passed through a long dark passage. Cherry was then made to take off her shoes; and they entered a room, the floor of which was like glass, and all round, perched on the shelves, and on the floor, were people, big and small, turned to stone. Of some, there were only the head and shoulders, the arms being cut off; others were perfect. Cherry told the old woman she "wouldn't cum any furder for the wurld." She thought from the first she was got into a land of Small People underground, only master was like other men; but now she know'd she was with the conjurors, who had turned all these people to stone. She had heard talk on 'em up in Zennor, and she knew they might at any moment wake up and eat her.
Old Prudence laughed at Cherry, and drove her on, insisted upon her rubbing up a box, "like a coffin on six legs," until she could see her face in it. Well, Cherry did not want for courage, so she began to rub with a will; the old woman standing by, knitting all the time, calling out every now and then, "Rub! rub! rub! harder and faster!" At length Cherry got desperate, and giving a violent rub at one of the corners, she nearly upset the box. When, O Lor! it gave out such a doleful, unearthly sound, that Cherry thought all the stone-people were coming to life, and with her fright she fell down in a fit. The master heard all this noise, and came in to inquire into the cause of the hubbub. He was in great wrath, kicked old Prudence out of the house for taking Cherry into that shut-up room, carried Cherry into the kitchen, and soon, with some cordial, recovered her senses. Cherry could not remember what had happened; but she knew there was something fearful in the other part of the house. But Cherry was mistress now--old Aunt Prudence was gone. Her master was so kind and loving that a year passed by like a summer day. Occasionally her master left home for a season; then he would return and spend much time in the enchanted apartments, and Cherry was certain she had heard him talking to the stone-people. Cherry had everything the human heart could desire, but she was not happy; she would know more of the place and the people. Cherry had discovered that the ointment made the little boy' s eyes bright and strange, and she thought often that he saw more than she did; she would try; yes, she would!
Well, one at morning the child was washed, his eyes anointed, and the cow milked she sent the boy to gather her some flowers in the garden, and taking a "crum" of ointment, she put it into her eye. Oh, her eye would be burned out of her head! Cherry ran to the pool beneath the rock to wash her burning eye; when lo! she saw at the bottom of the water, hundreds of little people, mostly ladies, playing,--and there was her master, as small as the others, playing with them. Everything now looked different about the place. Small people were everywhere, hiding in the flowers sparkling with diamonds, swinging in the trees, and running and leaping under and over the blades of grass. The master never showed himself above the water all day; but at night he rode up to the house like the handsome gentleman she had seen before. He went to the enchanted chamber and Cherry soon heard the most beautiful music.
In the morning, her master was off, dressed as if to follow the hounds. He returned at night, left Cherry to herself, and proceeded at once to his private apartments. Thus it was day after day, until Cherry could stand it no longer. So she peeped through the keyhole, and saw her master with lots of ladies, singing; while one dressed like a queen was playing on the coffin. Oh, how madly jealous Cherry became when she saw her master kiss this lovely lady! However, the next day, the master remained at home to gather fruit, Cherry was to help him, and when, as usual, he looked to kiss her, she slapped his face, and told him to kiss the Small People, like himself, with whom he played under the water. So he found out that Cherry had used the ointment. With much sorrow he told her she must go home,--that he would have no spy on his actions, and that Aunt Prudence must come back. Long before day, Cherry was called by her master. He gave her lots of clothes and other things;--took her bundle in one hand, and a lantern in the other, and bade her follow him. They went on for miles on miles, all the time going up hill, through lanes, and narrow passages. When they came at last on level around, it was near daybreak. He kissed Cherry, told her she was punished for her idle curiosity; but that he would, if she behaved well, come sometimes on the Lady Downs to see her. Saying this, he disappeared. The sun rose, and there was Cherry seated on a granite stone, without a soul within miles of her,--a desolate moor having taken the place of a smiling garden. Long, long did Cherry sit in sorrow, but at last she thought she would go home.
Her parents had supposed her dead, and when they saw her, they believed her to be her own ghost. Cherry told her story, which every one doubted, but Cherry never varied her tale, and at last every one believed it. They say Cherry was never afterwards right in her head, and on moonlight nights, until she died, she would wander on to the Lady Downs to look for her master.