Many of the superstitions of our ancestors are preserved in quaint, irregular rhymes, the recitation of which was the amusement of the people in the long nights of winter. These were sung, or rather said, in a monotone, by the professional drolls, who doubtless added such things as they fancied would increase the interest of the story to the listeners. Especially were they fond of introducing known characters on the scene, and of mixing up events which had occurred within the memory of the old people, with the more ancient legend.
The following story, or rather parts of it, formed the subject of one of the Cornish Christmas plays. When I was a boy, I well remember being much delighted with the coarse acting of a set of Christmas players, who exhibited in the "great hall" of a farmhouse at which I was visiting, and who gave us the principal incidents of Duffy and the Devil Terrytop; one of the company doing the part of Chorus, and filling up by rude descriptions -- often in rhyme -- the parts which the players could not represent.
It was cider-making time. Squire Lovel of Trove, or more correctly, Trewoof, rode up to Burian Churchtown to procure help. Boys and maidens were in request, some to gather the apples from the trees, others to carry them to the cider mill. Passing along the village as hastily as the dignity of a squire would allow him, his attention was drawn to a great noise -- scolding in a shrill treble voice, and crying -- proceeding from Janey Chygwin's door. The squire rode up to the cottage, and he saw the old woman beating her stepdaughter Duffy about the head with the skirt of her swing-tail gown, in which she had been carrying out the ashes. She made such a dust, that the squire was nearly choked and almost blinded with the wood ashes.
"What cheer, Janey?" cries the squire. "What's the to-do with you and Duffy?"
"Oh, the lazy hussy!" shouts Janey, "is all her time courseying and courranting [running and chasing] with the boys! She will never stay in to boil the porridge, knit the stockings, or spin the yarn."
"Don't believe her, your honor," exclaims Duffy. "My knitting and spinning is the best in the parish."
The war of tongues continued in this strain for some time, the old squire looking calmly on, and resolving in his mind to take Duffy home with him to Trove, her appearance evidently pleasing him greatly. Squire Lovel left the old and young woman to do the best they could, and went round the village to complete his hiring.
When he returned, peace had been declared between them, but when Lovel expressed his desire to take Duffy home to his house to help the housekeeper to do the spinning, "A pretty spinner she is!" shouted old Janey at the top of her voice.
"Try me, your honor," said Duffy, curtsying very low. "My yarns are the best in the parish."
"We'll soon try that," said the squire. "Janey will be glad to get quits of thee, I see, and thou'lt be nothing loath to leave her. So jump up behind me, Duffy."
No sooner said than done. The maid Duffy, without ceremony, mounted behind the squire on the horse, and they jogged silently down to Trove.
Squire Lovel's old housekeeper was almost blind -- one eye had been put out by an angry old wizard, and through sympathy she was rapidly losing the power of seeing with the other. This old dame was consequently very glad of someone to help her in spinning and knitting.
The introduction over, the housekeeper takes Duffy up into the garret where the wool was kept, and where the spinning was done in the summer, and requests her to commence her work.
The truth must be told. Duffy was an idle slut. She could neither knit nor spin. Well, here she was left along, and, of course, expected to produce a good specimen of her work.
The garret was piled from the floor to the key-beams with fleeces of wool. Duffy looked despairingly at them, and then sat herself down on the "turn" -- the spinning wheel -- and cried out, "Curse the spinning and knitting! The devil may spin and knit for the squire for what I care."
Scarcely had Duffy spoken these words than she heard a rustling noise behind some wool-packs, and forth walked a queer-looking little man, with a remarkable pair of eyes, which seemed to send out flashes of light. There was something uncommonly knowing in the twist of his mouth, and his curved nose had an air of curious intelligence. He was dressed in black, and moved towards Duffy with a jaunty air, knocking something against the floor at every step he took.
"Duffy dear," said this little gentleman, "I'll do all the spinning and knitting for thee."
"Thank 'e," says Duffy, quite astonished.
"Duffy dear, a lady shall you be."
"Thank 'e, your honor," smiled Duffy.
"But, Duffy dear, remember," coaxingly said the queer little man, "remember, that for all this, at the end of three years, you must go with me, unless you can find out my name."
Duffy was not the least bit frightened, nor did she hesitate long, but presently struck a bargain with her kind but unknown friend, who told her she had only to wish, and her every wish should be fulfilled. And as for the spinning and knitting, she would find all she required under the black ram's fleece.
He then departed. How, Duffy could not tell, but in a moment the queer little gentleman was gone.
Duffy sung in idleness, and slept until it was time for her to make her appearance. So she wished for some yarns, and looking under the black fleece she found them.
Those were shown by the housekeeper to the squire, and both declared they had never seen such beautiful yarns.
The next day Duffy was to knit this yarn into stockings. Duffy idled, as only professed idlers can idle. But in due time, as if she had been excessively industrious, she produced a pair of stockings for the old squire.
If the yarn was beautiful, the stocking were beyond all praise. They were as fine as silk, and as strong as leather.
Squire Lovel soon gave them a trial; and when he came home at night after hunting, he declared he would never wear any other than Duffy's stocking. He had wandered all day through brake and briar, furze and brambles. There was not a scratch on his legs, and he was as dry as a bone. There was no end to his praise of Duffy's stockings.
Duffy had a rare time of it now. She could do what she pleased and rove where she willed.
She was dancing on the mill-bed half the day with all the gossiping women who brought their grist to be ground. In those "good old times" the ladies of the parish would take their corn to mill, and serge the flour themselves. When a few of them met together, they would either tell stories or dance whilst the corn was grinding. Sometimes the dance would be on the mill-bed, sometimes out on the green. On some occasions the miller's fiddle would be in request, at others the "crowd" [a sieve covered with sheepskin] was made to do the duty of a tambourine. So Duffy was always finding excuses to go to mill, and many "a round" would she dance with the best people in the parish.
Old Bet, the miller's wife, was a witch, and she found out who did Duffy's work for her. Duffy and old Bet were always the best of friends, and she never told anyone about Duffy's knitting friend, nor did she ever say a word about the stockings being unfinished. There was always a stitch down.
On Sundays the people went to Burian Church from all parts to look at the squire's stockings. And the old squire would stop at the cross, proud enough to show them. He could hunt
Through brambles and furze in all sorts of weather;
His old shanks were as sound as if bound up in leather.
Duffy was now sought after by all the young men of the country; and at last the squire, fearing to lose a pretty girl, and one who was so useful to him, married her himself, and she became, according to the fashion of the time and place, Lady Lovel. But she was commonly known by her neighbors as the Duffy Lady.
Lady Lovel kept the devil hard at work. Stockings, all sorts of fine underclothing, bedding, and much ornamental work, the like of which was never seen, was produced at command and passed off as her own.
Duffy passed a merry time of it, but somehow or other she was never happy when she was compelled to play the lady. She passed much more of her time with the old crone at the mill than in the drawing room at Trove. The squire sported and drank, and cared little about Duffy, so long as she provided him with knitted garments.
The three years were nearly at an end. Duffy had tried every plan to find out the devil's name, but had failed in all.
She began to fear that she should have to go off with her queer friend, and Duffy became melancholy. Old Bet endeavored to rouse her, persuading her that she could, from her long experience and many dealings with the imps of darkness, at the last moment put her in the way of escaping her doom. Duffy went day after day to her garret, and there each day was the devil gibing and jeering till she was almost mad.
There was but another day. Bet was seriously consulted now, and -- as good as her word -- she promised to use her power. Duffy Lady was to bring down to the mill that very evening a jack [leather jug] of the strongest beer she had in the cellar. She was not to go to bed until the squire returned from hunting, no matter how late, and she was to make no remark in reply to anything the squire might tell her.
The jack of beer was duly carried to the mill, and Duffy returned home very melancholy to wait up for the squire.
No sooner had Lady Lovel left the mill than old Bet came out with the "crowd" over her shoulders, and the blackjack [tar-coated leather jug] in her hand. She shut the door, and turned the water off the mill-wheel, threw her red cloak about her, and away.
She was seen by her neighbors going towards Boleit. A man saw the old woman trudging past the Pipers, and through the Dawnse Main into the downs, but there he lost sight of her, and no one could tell where old Bet was gone to at that time of night.
Duffy waited long and anxiously. By and by the dogs came home alone. They were covered with foam, their tongues were hanging out of their mouths, and all the servants said they must have met the devil's hounds without heads.
Duffy was seriously alarmed. Midnight came but no squire. At last he arrived, but like a crazy, crack-brained man, he kept singing:
Here's to the devil,
With his wooden pick and shovel.
He was neither drunk nor frightened, but wild with some strange excitement. After a long time Squire Lovel sat down, and began, "My dear Duffy, you haven't smiled this long time. But now I'll tell 'e something that would make ye laugh if ye're dying. If you'd seen what I've seen tonight, ha, ha, ha!
Here's to the devil,
With his wooden pick and shovel."
True to her orders, Duffy said not a word, but allowed the squire to ramble on as he pleased. At length he told her the following story of his adventures, with interruptions which have not been retained, and with numerous coarse expressions which are best forgotten:
The squire's story of the meeting of the witches in the Fugoe Hole:
Duffy dear, I left home at break of day this morning. I hunted all the moors from Trove to Trevider, and never started a hare all the livelong day. I determined to hunt all night, but that I'd have a brace to bring home.
So, at nightfall I went down Lemorna Bottoms, then up Brene Downses, and as we passed the Dawnse Main up started a hare, as fine a hare as ever was seen. She passed the Pipers, down through the Reens, in the mouth of the dogs half the time, yet they couldn't catch her at all. As fine a chase as ever was seen, until she took into the Fugoe Hole. In went the dogs after her, and I followed, the owls and bats flying round my head. On we went, through water and mud, a mile or more, I'm quite certain. I didn't know the place was so long before. At last we came to a broad pool of water, when the dogs lost the scent and ran back past me howling and jowling, terrified almost to death!
A little farther on I turned round a corner, and saw a glimmering fire on the other side the water, and there were St. Leven witches in scores. Some were riding on ragwort, some on brooms, some were floating on their three-legged stools, and some, who had been milking the little good cows in Wales, had come back astride of the largest leeks they could find. Amongst the rest there was our Bet of the mill, with her "crowd" in her hand, and my own blackjack slung across her shoulders.
In a short time the witches gathered round the fire, and blowed it up, after a strange fashion, till it burned up into a brilliant blue flame. Then I saw amongst the rest a queer little man in black, with a long forked tail, which he held high in the air, and twirled around. Bet struck her "crowd" as soon as he appeared, and beat up the tune:
Here's to the devil,
With his wooden pick and shovel,
Digging tin by the bushel,
With his tail cock'd up!
Then the queer little devil and all danced like the wind, and went faster and faster, making such a clatter, "as if they had on each foot a pewter platter."
Every time the man in black came round by old Bet, he took a good pull from my own blackjack, till at last, as if he had been drinking my best beer, he seemed to have lost his head, when he jumped up and down, turned round and round, and roaring with laughter, sung:
Duffy, my lady, you'll never know -- what? --
That my name is Terrytop, Terrytop -- top!
When the squire sung those lines, he stopped suddenly, thinking that Duffy was going to die. She turned pale, and red, and pale again. However, Duffy said nothing, and the squire proceeded:
After the dance, all the witches made a ring around the fire, and again blew it up, until the blue flames reached the top of the Zawn [a cavernous gorge]. Then the devil danced through and through the fire, and springing ever and anon amongst the witches, kicked them soundly. At last -- I was shaking with laughter at the fun -- I shouted, "Go it, Old Nick!" and lo, the lights went out, and I had to fly with all my speed, for every one of the witches were after me. I scampered home somehow, and here I am. Why don't you laugh, Duffy?
Duffy did laugh, and laugh right heartily now, and when tired of their fun, the squire and the lady went to bed.
The three years were up within an hour. Duffy had willed for an abundant supply of knitted things, and filled every chest in the house. She was in the best chamber trying to cram some more stockings into a big chest, when the queer little man in black appeared before her.
"Well, Duffy, my dear," said he, "I have been true to my word and served you truly for three years as we agreed, so now I hope you will go with me, and make no objection." He bowed very obsequiously, almost to the ground, and regarded Duffy Lady with a very offensive leer.
"I fear," smiled Duffy, "that your country is rather warm, and might spoil my fair complexion."
"It is not so hot as some people say, Duffy," was his reply. "But come along. I've kept my word, and of course a lady of your standing will keep your word also. Can you tell me my name?"
Duffy curtsied, and smilingly said, "You have behaved like a true gentleman, yet I wouldn't like to go so far."
The devil frowned and approached as if he would lay forcible hands upon her.
"Maybe your name is Lucifer?"
He stamped his foot and grinned horridly. "Lucifer! Lucifer! He's no other than a servant to me in my own country." Suddenly calming again, he said, quietly, "Lucifer! I would scarcely be seen speaking to him at court. But come along. When I spin for ladies I expect honorable treatment at their hands. You've two guesses more. But they're of little use. My name is not generally known on earth."
"Perhaps," smiled Duffy again, "my lord's name is Beelzebub?"
How he grinned, and his sides shook with convulsive joy. "Beelzebub!" says he. "I believe he's some sort of a cousin -- a Cornish cousin you know."
"I hope your honor," curtsied Duffy, "will not take offence. Impute my mistake to ignorance."
Our demon was rampant with joy. He danced around Duffy with delight, and was, seeing that she hesitated, about to seize her somewhat roughly.
"Stop! Stop!" shouts Duffy. "Perhaps you will be honest enough to admit that your name is Terrytop."
The gentleman in black looked at Duffy, and she steadily looked him in the face. "Terrytop! Deny it if you dare," says she.
"A gentleman never denies his name," replied Terrytop, drawing himself up with much dignity. "I did not expect to be beaten by a young minx like you, Duffy. But the pleasure of your company is merely postponed."
With this Terrytop departed in fire and smoke, and all the devil's knitting suddenly turned to ashes.
Squire Lovel was out hunting, away far on the moors. The day was cold and the winds piercing. Suddenly the stockings dropped from his legs and the homespun from his back, so that he came home with nothing on but his shirt and his shoes, almost dead with cold. All this was attributed by the squire to the influence of old Bet, who, he thought, had punished him for pursuing her with his dogs when she had assumed the form of a hare.
The story, as told by the drolls, now rambles on. Duffy cannot furnish stockings. The squire is very wroth. There are many quarrels -- mutual recriminations. Duffy's old sweetheart is called in to beat the squire, and eventually peace is procured, by a stratagem of old Bet's, which would rather shock the sense of propriety in these our days.
Source: Robert Hunt, Popular Romances of the West of England; or, The Drolls, Traditions, and Superstitions of Old Cornwall (London: John Camden Hotten, 1871), pp. 239-247