ST DENNIS The Piskey Shoemaker

Margaret Treloar lived with her mother, Jane in Rosenannon. He mother didn’t have a lot of money so to earn a bit she knitted and kept bees. Jane took the beehives up to Rosenannon Downs every summer and Margaret went with her. The Downs were full of heather and bees love heather, and heather honey is best of all. Mother and daughter spent all day out in the open with the bees. Margaret loved bees, she liked to follow one from flower to flower and watch as it covered itself in thick yellowy pollen. She listened very carefully to their buzzing song. Margaret thought she could tell the bees’ moods by their buzzing; she knew when they were happy and had found the sweetest flowers. She was always listening for the hum of the bees and the trill of the birds and one day she heard something a little different, a tap, tap tapping. Margaret listened and there it was again, a very clear tapping coming from a flat moorland stone. She went over to have a look and ran her hands over the lichen that covered the stone but there was nothing else there. Sitting down in the heather, she listened some more, tap, tap, tap. Margaret knew the Downs better than anyone, she came here every summer and studied the flora and fauna, insects and flowers yet never had she heard a tapping coming from the stones. Puzzled, Margaret ran over to tell her mother.

Have I not told you about the Piskey Shoemaker? He comes to the Downs a summer every hundred years, sometimes the following summer too.’

What does he do here, Mother?’

He makes shoes of course!’

From that moment on, Margaret wanted to know everything there was to know about the Piskey Shoemaker but her mother could tell her very little.

I must see him,’ she said. ‘Tell me Mother, how might I see him?’

Well, there is a way you can find piskey-sight, my dear. Look very closely in the grasses over the Downs, in amongst the clumps of clover. If you are very lucky, you will find a four-leafed clover.’

I will, I will,’ said Margaret, skipping away.

Remember Margaret, look through the clover to get your piskey-eyes.’

Yes, Mother,’ said Margaret as she skipped away. Clover was growing in plentiful clumps wherever she looked, she knew bees loved sweet white clover. Kneeling in the grasses, her nose almost touching the fragrant flowers, Margaret parted the plants and carefully counted the leaves on each stem, one, two three… She spent all day in amongst the clover and the next day and the next. As she searched, she heard it again, tap, tap, tap of the tiny piskey hammer in amongst the hum, hum, hum of the bees. She searched for a four leafed clover all summer long, but it was nowhere to be found.

Perhaps next summer, said her mother as they were hoisting the skeps, coiled straw bee baskets, onto the back of the little truck.’

I can’t wait all winter,’ said Margaret sadly. The bees would be snug in the skep all winter but how would Margaret wait all those days. But wait she did and soon she and Jane were in their spring clothes, smelling the first flowers in the hedgerows about Rosenannon. One day, Jane called Margaret in from the garden to help her move the bees. The sky was a mix of blues and clouds and the Downs were soon a hum with bees. Margaret saved going up to the little flat rock for almost all the day, she didn’t want her dream of seeing the piskey shoemaker to be over.

When the day turned a little colder and a wind blew across the Downs, Margaret knew soon her mother would call her. She walked slowly up to the flat slab of granite and sat beside it. She was leaning back and watching the sky, when tap, tap, tap the piskey hammer rang out clear as could be.

He is here,’ laughed Margaret with relief. She lay back against the rock and listened to the hammer for a long time.'I will go look for the clover first thing tomorrow,' she thought as she heard her mother calling.

Next day, Margaret was clambering over the heather, when she came across a little clump of white clover and bent down to look more closely. There it was, four tear drops of fresh green leaves. Carefully, she picked it and walked with overspilling excitement until she heard tap, tap tapping. She lifted the clover leaves close to her eyes and looked through them and at the flat stone. Sitting at a tiny bench, with a tiny hammer in his hands, was the strangest little creature she had ever seen. He was older than the oaks growing about Rosenannon, his hair fell long and white about his shoulders and a little red cap sat on his head, and over his clothes he wore a leather apron. The piskey was working on the prettiest golden shoe and Margaret could see he had a row of shoes finished all in different colours but equally perfect.

I must finish this shoe to the highest quality,’ the piskey muttered. ‘Tonight, the King will choose a wife. He will choose the lady who wears the most beautiful shoes. The King will make the crafter of the chosen shoes the King’s Shoemaker. The King's shoemaker wears a special cap and cloak. I want to wear them!'

Ooh,’ said Margaret with excitement.

A tinkling of little bells sounded and a flock of piskey ladies appeared.

This is your fault child,’ grumbled the piskey. ‘You’ve broken the spell of invisibility and they’ll be able to see my bench full of shoes.’

Evening Shoemaker,’ said a piskey lady sweetly, 'are our shoes finished?’

They’ll be done dreckly,’ he said, not looking up from his work.

It looks to me, Master Shoemaker, like these are nearly done,’ she smiled. Her friends each took a pair of tiny shoes off the bench and curtseyed to the shoemaker in thanks.

Tap, tap, tap' went the piskey hammer as the tiny old shoemaker worked in a whirl to finish the last shoe. When he was done, he handed it to the piskey lady along with its pair, they were the daintiest golden shoes and shimmered as she turned them over.

I love my shoes,’ she exclaimed. ‘Thank you, Shoemaker, we shall see you no doubt at the choosing?.’

Oh, I should like to go,’ said Margaret and as she spoke all the piskeys disappeared. She ran her hand over the flat stone but there was nothing to be found but lichen. Margaret had ruined her chances at seeing the piskey King choose his Queen.

Unable to contain her disappointment, she lay down in the heather and cried. The summer was coming to an end and the Piskey Shoemaker would not return for a hundred years. 'Why didn’t I keep quiet? Piskeys don’t like to be disturbed.'she sobbed. Margaret lay there a long time, listening to the sounds of the Downs, the bees had taken themselves to bed and soon her mother would be calling her home.

Away to the King’s Lawn,’ said a voice.

Away to the King’s Lawn?’ Margaret repeated. And in a moment, she found herself in a land very different to her own. The colours swirled and the air was filled with music, flutes and pipes were played merrily by a crowd of tiny folk.

Here come the ladies!’ sang a tiny voice, and there she was, the piskey who wore the golden shoes and the little ladies following her all in vibrant tiny shoes.

Here comes the King!’ and there on the hill was a carriage, and as it came closer Margaret could see the King of the Little People and he looked very happy to be choosing a wife. All the little ladies stood in a row and the King walked along the line looking only at their shoes. ‘I choose these shoes,’ he said as he pointed at the golden shoes Margaret’s shoemaker had made.

The lady with the golden shoes was delighted, as was the Piskey Shoemaker, who was given the special cape and cap and a seat on the Piskey King’s carriage. The King and Queen of the piskeys and the Chief Shoemaker rode away and the piskeys began to dance in rings. Margaret watched them for a long time, she knew now not to say anything or to let them know she was there. As the piskeys began to drift away, Margaret wondered how she would get home.

Away to Rosenannon,’ said a voice.

Away to Rosenannon,’ said Margaret in relief.

And in an instant, she was by her mother’s gate and could see a light in the kitchen waiting for her. Margaret went inside to find a supper of bread and honey and warm milk waiting on the table. She didn’t feel the need to tell her mother about the Piskey Shoemaker, but she was somehow certain her mother had a good idea.


Retold by Anna Chorlton

from Enys Tregarthen House of the Sleeping Winds