Piskey Gathon

Calstock cottages

Time was when if someone ill-wished another person and that person turn up dead then the ill-wisher would be had up before the courts as a witch. It happened that Trim Trickett the tailor was had up in court when an old lady of 140 years died. He had been heard to say when she died he would be getting business from her relatives who would need mourning clothes. His friend, Betsy Humming said she had already woven the old lady’s shroud these many years. It couldn’t be long before the old woman popped off. So when the old woman died, Trim Trickett approached the relatives for their business. He and Betsy were hauled up before the court accused of witchcraft. Trickett claimed it was all gossip, but Betsy’s cat looked at the magistrate in a peculiar manner. That did it! The cat was put in a bag and they went sent to gaol. Betsy was ordered to weave a thread so fine that one hundred and forty of them could fit in the eye of Trickett’s needle all at once, one each for the years that the old woman had lived. They had to do it within a month! Well, they tried but Trickett couldn’t manage more than forty threads at a time. He was in despair. Now Trim Trickett had a young son, Johnny. He had to find work to get food. He heard that a man called Tregarrens needed a boy to help him down the copper mine, washing the ore, wheel the ore to the heap, all sorts of work and was willing to pay more than the usual and so Johnny took work with him. He soon found out that his master was a mean man who beat him often, even for things he hadn’t done. Down in the copper mine, Johnny saw that the miners worked whenever they heard a sort of hammering noise in the rock. “It’s Piskey Gathon!” they said. “Is it a good one this time?” Sometimes the piskey led them to nothing but rubble and the men would hear him laughing heartily. Other times his hammer would lead them to a rich deposit of ore. One day, Johnny had been beaten severely by his master. He crawled to a corner in the rocks and cried as if his heart would break. In the dark he saw a gleam of greenish light. He looked up and saw the most amazing sight: a little man, who was as round as a ball, his eyes were bright as flaming coals, his ears long and hairy and he had a twisty, twirly tail that curled over his shoulder. He was completely naked and carried a hammer in his strong hands. He winked at Johnny who stopped crying at once. “Don’t be frightened. I’m your friend. I am Piskey Gathon, the mining man. Your master was on his way to beat the living daylights out of you, but I hammered near him and he’s called the men to batter the rock. He won’t get anything out of there!” The little fellow laughed. “But won’t he beat me even worse if there’s nothing there?” asked Johnny. “Don’t ‘ee worry, Piskey Gathon, the hammering man will see ‘ee right. Your Da did me a good turn once. He saved me from a hollow nut a witch had shut me in. One good turn deserves another, to him and his son. I tell ’ee what I’ll do. For every kick and cuff you receive below ground, I’ll pass a thread of Betsy Humming’s spinning through your father’s needle. There’s no fear of less than one hundred and forty kicks coming your way before the month is ended!” The little man laughed. “I’ll take them with gladness that I’m doing him good,” said Johnny. “I’m sure Da will be grateful too, he could make you some new clothes if you like.” “Thank ‘ee kindly for the offer but us piskies never wear clothes underground,” said Piskey Gathon, tumbling head over heels three times with a laugh and disappeared into a nook in the rock. Poor Johnny got so many kicks and cuffs which he bore with patience. Piskey Gathon kept his word and his father was amazed to find sometimes five or six threads or more passed through the eye of his needle from Betsy Humming’s spinning. Still there wanted a great deal more to make up the hundred and forty before the month was out. Meanwhile Johnny worked hard in the mine for Tregarrens. One day Tregarrens hit Johnny so hard he fell down a mine shaft. Johnny would have died if his friend Piskey Gathon hadn’t been looking out for him. The little man had been hammering close by and quick as a flash whipped a bucket underneath the lad and caught him in it, bringing him to safety. Tregarrens had been in a terrible fright when he saw Johnny tumble down the shaft. He was scared if the boy died he would be turned out of the mine. After that he took care not to hit or kick Johnny. Johnny was despairing; he had one day left to the end of the month. He had to make sure there were one hundred and forty threads passing through the eye of his father’s needle. Try as he might Johnny couldn’t get Tregarrens to hit him. He was late, he knocked over buckets, he broke a strap, he washed away some precious copper- no luck. Piskey Gathon came to the rescue once again. As Tregarrens was working at the rock he heard his name being called, mocking names, filthy names. He turned but there was no one else there other than little Johnny. Tregarrens couldn’t believe it was him and turned to him, keeping hold of his temper, “Did you call me names?” “No, sir, not I,” replied the boy. Tregarrens turned back to the rock when more rude words and peals of laughter was heard. “It was you, you little…” and he gave Johnny a mighty wallop round the ears. “Thank sir, thank you,” beamed Johnny, his ears ringing. Tregarrens furious now, pick up his pickaxe and would have done Johnny a mighty injury but at that moment there was a furious hammering from the end of the gallery. Tregarrens rushed forward to find the source. Gathon popped out from behind a rock and told Johnny to get above ground as fast as he could. “I can’t reach the bucket,” said Johnny. “Never mind, “ replied Gathon. “Grab hold of my tail and I’ll whisk you in, but first, take this little bottle. It’s full of gold. Give it to your father and he will be rich for life. I dug for it myself. Just you remember whenever you hear someone saying bad things about us piskey folk that you knew one who kept his word and served you well.” Gathon raised his tail, Johnny clung on and was whisked into the bucket. Gathon rang the bell and Johnny was pulled up to the surface. He dashed off to the gaol where his father had just threaded the one hundred and fortieth thread through the eye of his needle. Trim Trickett and Betsy were released without any further charges. The cat was found dead in the bag, proving that it wasn’t a witch’s familiar. Johnny gave his father the little bottle of gold and it served them well all their days, thanks to Piskey Gathon.

retold by Liz Berg

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