The Piskies and the Housework *

the gate of a cottage on west street in liskeard

* SUitable for a bedtime story

Long ago a young girl named Tegan was invited to stay with her Great Aunt Chesten who lived near Liskeard. In those days it wasn't often that a child was invited away and Tegan's mother made a big fuss in preparing her.

'You must be polite and helpful at all times, Tegan. Helpful, yes that is what I want you to be. An elderly lady like Aunt Chesten shouldn't be doing all her housework alone.'

'Yes mother,' Tegan assured her.

Tegan's mother turned to her husband who was busy shaving wood off a swollen door, 'Aunt Chesten has a large pot of gold at her house. If the old woman takes a liking to our Tegan, we will get a good share of gold when she dies.'

Her husband didn't comment preferring to stare intently along the wood. When at last Tegan was ready with a sack of clothes and some cake for her Great Aunt, she set out in the direction of Liskeard.

The moors about were windy and wild but to Tegan's surprise, Great Aunt Chesten's home was perfectly ordered and smelt of fresh flowers. A good supper was ready in a big black pot on the stove, welcome as she felt very hungry after her journey. Before she went to bed, Tegan remembered her mother's request,

'Could you please wake me early Great Aunt Chesten, I would like to help with the chores.'

'Goodnight Tegan,' was all she said.

Tegan was tired out and slept well in the little bed in the damp spare room. When she woke up and ran down to help, breakfast was all laid and her Great Aunt was sitting by a cracking good fire. Tegan spent the day exploring the fields and moor land surrounding the cottage. She again enjoyed a good supper and asked to be woken especially early to be of use with lighting the fire and any heavy lifting. Great Aunt Chesten just smiled and said goodnight and the little girl left the elderly lady rocking in her chair.

She woke to the sound of Great Aunt Chesten calling her to breakfast. Downstairs, Tegan looked about her and again all the chores had been done.

'You seem very worried about the chores Tegan,' teased her Great Aunt, 'I am very pleased they are all done myself.'

It was then Tegan decided to admit her mother's request. 'Mother says I must be very helpful,' she said, rather crestfallen at the silliness of her position.

'The piskies did all the housework long before you were up.'

'Piskies? What are piskies?'

'You cannot have the piskey sight if you have got to your age and don't even know about them. Piskies are all over South East Cornwall, my lovely. It's a shame you'll never see them.'

'Oh I must,' said Tegan excited. 'Please, Great Aunt Chesten, how might I?'

'Well now, piskey sight can sometimes be gained by looking through a four leafed clover. They won't like it mind, as they enjoy being helpful but prefer you let them get on with things and don't even like a thanking.'

Tegan ate the rest of her boiled eggs in silence and then slipped outside to search the fields for a four leaved clover. But she couldn't find one anywhere, even though the fields were rich with the plant and the cows happily ate it in bunches. She hardly slept that night and woke very early. Standing by the kitchen door, Tegan peered through the keyhole. She could hear a lot of bustling about and the pots and pans clanking together. She even thought she could hear the wood basket being dragged across the floor.

But Tegan couldn't see any piskies. In fact, the only thing she could see strolling about the kitchen was Great Aunt Chesten's big, fluffy cat. As she leaned on the door to see closer, Tegan came crashing into the kitchen. The piskies stopped in annoyance and ran away, leaving half the work undone. Aunt Chesten came down stairs very grumpy. The old woman set about finishing the chores herself, leaving Tegan to stand around feeling awkward.

Escaping, Tegan set out over the fields in search once more of a four leaved clover. The fields were full of buttercups. Tegan thought she might pick a lovely bunch so her aunt might forgive her for disturbing the piskies. As she was arranging and rearranging the blooms and delighting at the flowers; Tegan heard the cat meowing at her from a little way across the field. Expecting her to have caught a shrew, Tegan walked over to inspect the cat's find. Beneath its fluffy paw was a perfect four leaved clover. Aunt Chesten's cat had found Tegan the key to piskey sight.

On the fourth morning of her stay, Tegan clutched the clover leaf and waited with great impatience. At last she thought she heard the sounds of piskies doing the housework. Tegan hurried downstairs with her treasure and held it up before the keyhole.

And it was exactly as Great Aunt Chesten had said: piskies were everywhere. Tiny men with pea green suits and bright dark eyes brushed the floor and mopped it. They carried in the heavy log basket between twenty of them or more and easily started a very good fire. Piskies washed the dishes and scrubbed the pots. Tegan watched as they leapt on one another's shoulders creating a wobbly piskey tower and began to pass up the big black pots to hang from their hooks high on the walls. Just as the last pan was half way up, the bottom piskey fell to his knees and they all came tumbling down. The piskies looked so comical, grimacing and checking their elbows for grazes that Tegan laughed very loudly. Seeing them looking to one another in alarm, she tried to hold her hands over her mouth to stifle the giggles almost spitting out the clover.

'The girl has piskey sight and she is watching piskey work. We will not stay here another day,' they said in chorus.

'There are plenty of other elderly people needing our help without nosey girls.'

And with that command, all the piskies ran out of the house never to return . Great Aunt Chesten was grumpy again and sent Tegan home. When she died shortly after, the elderly lady left her gold to strangers and Tegan learned never, never to interfere with another lady's housework.


retold by Anna Chorlton

from Legends and Tales of North Cornwall   Enys Tregarthen 1906


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