The Piskey Thresher *

The cattle pens of Liskeard Market in shadow and light

* Suitable for a bedtime story

Johnny Hodge had a small farm with fields adjoining Liskeard town.  A very quiet and self sufficient man, Johnny lived in isolation. The windows of his house were half boarded up to discourage visitors or passing preachers, his garden was deliberately untended. He was dedicated to his lands however and planted crops each year with precision and care. But the poor quality of the soil, damp air and lack of light hindered the growth and farmer was seldom rewarded.

One year, Johnny was blessed with a golden surprise as his corn field had flourished early and ripened like never before, thousands of ears of ripe gold corn swollen and ready for harvest.

Now, this was a time before farmers had combine harvesters and they had to first cut the crop, then shake or stamp the corn ears from the plants by beating them with a hand tool called a flail. Standing on the side of his fields, Johnny knew for certain he was not prepared for production and he needed help. The first farmer arriving with the grain at Liskeard Market was always paid handsomely and the best price was what he needed. He stood a while looking at the crop ready to be cut and then beaten with a flail. If Johnny had uncles, sons and brothers on surrounding farms it would have been simple enough but he hadn’t, he didn’t even know the other farmers so much did he keep himself in isolation.

Resolved to attempt the challenge himself, Johnny began to cut the corn. He set about cutting and gathering the corn and worked like never before. When night came, he carried the corn to his barn and intended to thresh it but exhaustion got the better of farmer Hodge and he fell asleep against a bale of dusty hay.

Then through a hole in the barn wall climbed a tiny man dressed all in holey apple green. He picked up Johnny’s flail and began to thresh the corn. For such a little man he worked with astounding strength and limitless exuberance.  He lay the corn out on the floor of the barn and beat it methodically until as the sun rose and lit up the ears the last bit was done.

Farmer Johnny Hodge woke stiff and smelly; he didn’t feel in the least like threshing mountains of corn. Rubbing his eyes he stared in amazement, the corn was threshed and he had no idea who had done it.

At Liskeard market, Johnny was the first one to arrive with corn. He was rewarded with such a splendid price that he became quite sociable joining in the banter and bustle of market.

That night, Johnny went in for a bit of late supper. He thought he heard activity in the barn. More curious than tired, Johnny crept to the hole in the wall to peer in. Who was doing him such kindness, he wondered.  He watched as a little man dressed all in ragged green sang to himself as he threshed the corn.

The next day, with a second wage from Liskeard, Hodge went to the town tailor and ordered the little man a suit to celebrate and thank him. It took most of the day for his purchase to be readied and when he arrived home it was already dusk. He laid the suit by his flail and went in to make supper. On his return, he was just in time to see the little man dancing in his new suit and singing,

"Piskey fine and piskey gay, Piskey now shall fly away.”

And that was the very last farmer Johnny Hodge saw of his kind helper but not the last of his corn.


retold by Anna Chorlton





  • Liskeard