|St Ives Harbour Fish Market: courtesy of https://www.cornwalls.co.uk|
Another tale from Robert
Hunt’s ‘Popular Romances of the West of
England, or The Drolls, Superstitions and Traditions of Old Cornwall’ (third
edition, 1896) was told orally to Charles Taylor Stephens, a poet and ‘sometime rural
postman from St Ives to Zennor’. Hunt employed Stephens to collect stories from
remote villages on the assumption that people would more readily tell tales to
the friendly postman than to a stranger.
|C. Taylor Stephens' book of poems|
This particular story was told to Stephens by a pilot whose job it was to meet ships and guide them into port. In this tale he guides the sloop Sally from St Ives to Hayle, approximately five miles up the coast.
Robert Hunt often altered stories ‘from the vernacular – in which they were for the most part related – into modern language’, but says of this one, ‘I prefer giving this story in the words in which it was communicated. For its singular character, it is a ghost story well worth preserving.’
Here it is, in what is (mostly) the pilot's own words.
Just seventeen years since*, I went down on the wharf from my house one night [between] about twelve and one in the morning, to see whether there was any ‘hobble,’* and found a sloop, the Sally of St Ives (the Sally was wrecked at St Ives one Saturday afternoon in the spring of 1862) in the bay, bound for Hayle.
When I got by the White Hart public-house, I saw a man leaning against a post on the wharf – I spoke to him, wished him good morning, and asked him what o’ clock it was, but to no purpose. I was not to be easily frightened, for I didn’t believe in ghosts, and finding I got no answer to my repeated inquiries, I approached close to him and said, ‘Thee’rt a queer sort of fellow, not to speak; I’d speak to the devil, if he were to speak to me. Who art a at all? thee’st needn’t think to frighten me: that thee wasn’t do, if thou wert twice so ugly; who art a at all?’
He turned his great ugly face on me, glared abroad his great eyes, opened his mouth, and it was a mouth sure ’nuff. Then I saw pieces of sea-weed and bits of sticks in his whiskers; the flesh of his face and hands were parboiled, just like a woman’s hands after a good day’s washing. Well, I did not like his looks a bit, and sheered off; but he followed close by my side, and I could hear the water squashing in his shoes every step he took.
Well, I stopped a bit, and thought I would be civil to him, and spoke to him again, but no answer. I then thought I would go to seek for another of our crew, and knock him up to get the vessel, and had got about fifty or sixty yards, when I turned to see if he was following me, but saw him where I left him.
Fearing he would come after me, I ran for my life the few steps that I had to go. But when I got to the door, to my horror there stood the man in the door, grinning horribly. I shook like an aspen leaf; my hat lifted from my head; the sweat boiled out of me. What to do I didn’t know, and in the house there was such a row, as if everybody was breaking up everything. After a bit I went in, for the door was on the latch [ie: not locked] – and called the captain of the boat, and got light, but everything was all right, not had he heard any noise.
We went out aboard of the Sally and I put her into Hayle but I felt ill enough to be in bed. I left the vessel to come home as soon as I could, but it took me four hours to walk two miles, and I had to lie down in the road, and was taken home to St Ives in a cart; as far as the Terrace* from there I was carried home by my brothers and put to bed. Three days afterwards all my hair fell out as if I had had my head shaved. The roots, and about half an inch from the roots, being quite white. I was ill six months, and doctor’s bill was £4, 17s. 6d. for attendance and medicine. So you see I have reason to believe in the existence of spirits as well as Mr Wesley* had. My hair grew again, and twelve months after I had as good a head of dark-brown hair as ever.
* ‘Just seventeen years since’: Stephens, to whom it was told, died in 1865, so the events of the story must have occurred by 1848 or earlier.
* ‘hobble’ – dialect word a Cornish glossary says is ‘the share each person received when the vessel was brought in - or perhaps when the catch was sold.’ The sense here seems to be ‘a share of any work to do’?
* ‘The Terrace’ is a street in St Ives with views over the bay.
* The preacher John Wesley believed in the existence of ghosts and other spirits.