The Delectable Duchy by Arthur Quiller-Couch
Legends of St. Piran.
I.--Saint Piran and the Millstone.
Should you visit the Blackmore tin-streamers on their feast-day, which falls on Friday-in-Lide (that is to say, the first Friday in March), you may note a truly Celtic ceremony. On that day the tinners pick out the sleepiest boy in the neighbourhood and send him up to the highest bound in the works, with instructions to sleep there as long as he can. And by immemorial usage the length of his nap will be the measure of the tinners' afternoon siesta for twelve months to come.
Now, this first week in March is St. Piran's week: and St. Piran is the miners' saint. To him the Cornishmen owe not only their tin, which he discovered on the spot, but also their divine laziness, which he brought across from Ireland and naturalised here. And I learned his story one day from an old miner, as we ate our bread and cheese together on the floor of Wheal Tregobbin, while the Davy lamp between us made wavering giants of our shadows on the walls of the adit, and the sea moaned as it tossed on its bed, two hundred feet above.
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St. Piran was a little round man; and in the beginning he dwelt on the north coast of Ireland, in a leafy mill, past which a stream came tumbling down to the sea. After turning the saint's mill-wheel, the stream dived over a fall into the Lough below, and the lul-ul-ur-r-r of the water-wheel and fall was a sleepy music in the saint's ear noon and night.
It must not be imagined that the mill-wheel ground anything. No; it went round merely for the sake of its music. For all St. Piran's business was the study of objects that presented themselves to his notice, or, as he called it, the "Rapture av Contemplation"; and as for his livelihood, he earned it in the simplest way. The waters of the Lough below possessed a peculiar virtue. You had only to sink a log or stick therein, and in fifty years' time that log or stick would be turned to stone. St. Piran was as quick as you are to divine the possibilities of easy competence offered by this spot. He took time by the forelock, and in half a century was fairly started in business. Henceforward he passed all his days among the rocks above the fall, whistling to himself while he whittled bits of cork and wood into quaint shapes, attached them to string, weighted them with pebbles, and lowered them over the fall into the Lough--whence, after fifty years he would draw them forth, and sell them to the simple surrounding peasantry at two hundred and fifty per centum per annum on the initial cost.
It was a tranquil, lucrative employment, and had he stuck to the Rapture of Contemplation, he might have ended his days by the fall. But in an unlucky hour he undertook to feed ten Irish kings and their armies for three weeks anend on three cows. Even so he might have escaped, had he only failed. Alas! As it was, the ten kings had no sooner signed peace and drunk together than they marched up to St. Piran's door, and began to hold an Indignation Meeting.
"What's ailing wid ye, then?" asked the saint, poking his head out at the door; "out wid ut! Did I not stuff ye wid cow-mate galore when the land was as nakud as me tonshure? But 'twas three cows an' a miracle wasted, I'm thinkin'."
"Faith, an' ye've said ut!" answered one of the kings. "Three cows between tin Oirish kings! 'Tis insultin'! Arrah, now, make it foive, St. Piran darlint!"
"Now may they make your stummucks ache for that word, ye marautherin' thieves av the world!"
And St. Piran slammed the door in their faces.
But these kings were Ulstermen, and took things seriously. So they went off and stirred up the people: and the end was that one sunshiny morning a dirty rabble marched up to the mill and laid hands on the saint. On what charge, do you think? Why, for Being without Visible Means of Support!
"There's me pethrifyin' spicimins!" cried the saint: and he tugged at one of the ropes that stretched down into the Lough.
"Indade!" answered one of the ten kings: "Bad luck to your spicimins!" says he.
"Fwhat's that ye're tuggin.' at?" asks a bystander.
"Now the Holy Mother presarve your eyesight, Tim Coolin," answers St. Piran, pulling it in, "if ye can't tell a plain millstone at foive paces! I never asked ye to see through ut," he added, with a twinkle, for Tim had a plentiful lack of brains, and that the company knew.
Sure enough it was a millstone, and a very neat one; and the saint, having raised a bit of a laugh, went on like a cheap-jack:
"Av there's any gintleman prisunt wid an eye for millstones, I'll throuble him to turn ut here. Me own make," says he, "jooled in wan hole, an' dog-chape at fifteen shillin'--"
He was rattling away in this style when somebody called out, "To think av a millstone bein' a visible means av support!" And this time the laugh turned against the saint.
"St. Piran dear, ye've got to die," says the spokesman.
"Musha, musha!"--and the saint set up a wail and wrung his hands. "An' how's it goin' to be?" he asked, breaking off; "an' if 'tis by Shamus O'Neil's blunderbust that he's fumblin' yondther, will I stand afore or ahint ut? for 'tis fatal both ends, I'm thinkin', like Barney Sullivan's mule. Wirra, wirra! May our souls find mercy, Shamus O'Neil, for we'll both, be wantin' ut this day. Better for you, Shamus, that this millstone was hung round your black neck, an' you drownin' in the dept's av the Lough!"
The words were not spoken before they all set up a shout. "The millstone! the millstone!" "Sthrap him to ut!" "He's named his death!"--and inside of three minutes there was the saint, strapped down on his own specimen.
"Wirra, wirra!" he cried, and begged for mercy; but they raised a devastating shindy, and gave the stone a trundle. Down the turf it rolled and rolled, and then whoo! leaped over the edge of the fall into space and down--down--till it smote the waters far below, and knocked a mighty hole in them, and went under--
For three seconds only. The next thing that the rabble saw as they craned over the cliff was St. Piran floating quietly out to sea on the millstone, for all the world as if on a life-belt, and untying his bonds to use for a fishing-line! You see, this millstone had been made of cork originally, and was only half petrified; and the old boy had just beguiled them. When he had finished undoing the cords, he stood up and bowed to them all very politely.
"Visible Manes av Support, me childher--merely Visible Manes av Support!" he called back.
'Twas a sunshiny day, and while St. Piran chuckled the sea twinkled all over with the jest. As for the crowd on the cliff, it looked for five minutes as if the saint had petrified them harder than the millstone. Then, as Tim Coolin told his wife, Mary Dogherty, that same evening, they dispersed promiscuously in groups of one each.
Meanwhile, the tides were bearing St. Piran and his millstone out into the Atlantic, and he whiffed for mackerel all the way. And on the morrow a stiff breeze sprang up and blew him sou'-sou-west until he spied land; and so he stepped ashore on the Cornish coast.
In Cornwall he lived many years till he died: and to this day there are three places named after him--Perranaworthal, Perranuthno and Perranzabuloe. But it was in the last named that he took most delight, because at Perranzabuloe (Perochia Sti. Pirani in Sabulo) there was nothing but sand to distract him from the Study of Objects that Presented Themselves to his Notice: for he had given up miracles. So he sat on the sands and taught the Cornish people how to be idle. Also he discovered tin for them; but that was an accident.