Cornish Saints and Sinners: The Tale of Jan Tregeagle


Search Britannia

BRITANNIA GATEWAYS
History | Travel | British Life Shop Britannia

History Quicklist

Pitkin Guides



The Legend of Jan Treageagle
by J. Henry Harris

J A N
T R E G E A G L E

Cornwall's Most Famous Phantom

Tregeagle is the Cornish Faust. The story took a few centuries to develop, and there is nothing to be added now to heighten its dramatic effect. Tregeagle was a young man of ambition with a vein of discontent running through his composition. One day, when brooding over what he was and what he would be, seeing all things in false perspective, Old Artful made his acquaintance, and there was the usual bargain: signed, sealed and delivered. "This is my act and deed," said Tregeagle, putting his finger on the red seal drawn from his own veins.

Tregeagle was to live in airy-fairy palaces and have the run of every man's preserves until such time as Old Artful chose; and then - well, what was left of his tissue-paper soul would be wanted in another place. Old Artful behaved in the handsomest manner, and Mr.Tregeagle lived in a palace in up-to-date splendour, with men-servants and maidservants, and everyone took off his hat or curtsied as he passed. He was as hard to the poor as any landlord's agent, and rode rough-shod over whom he would. In fact, there couldn't have been a greater man-about-town before the days of motors. All went gaily with him, until, one day, he consulted his diary and found that his lease, under the contract, had nearly expired. He then he became "hurried" in his mind, and lost all appetite, and cast about to see if he could save himself and pay no forfeit.

Now, Old Artful was a good judge of character and knew his man, so, when the time was up, he let the fairy palace, with all its beautiful gardens and stables and greenhouses, sink into the earth. He covered them over with water so deep that some said no plummet could find the bottom. Having trapped his man so nicely, Old Artful was in good humour, and gave Tregeagle a limpet-shell with a hole in it, telling him he might work out his redemption by emptying the lake; for, said he, "you can't expect to have all the good things of this World without paying for them, either in money or marbles."

Tregeagle looked at the limpet-shell, so small that a thimbleful of water would overflow it, and then at the hole in the bottom, but he cared little for that as he could stop it up with his finger. It was a hopeless task, yet he was comforted by the thought that, in the matter of the hole, by stopping it with his finger, he would score points off Old Artful. Then he commenced baling the water from the lake. When he wished to rest, however, Old Artful's imps spurred him on and on until he shrieked and roared so that all the people round about him shook in their shoes. "To roar like Tregeagle" became a saying when one was groaning under deserved punishment. The unhappy man is still working at his task, and it is said there is not so much water in the lake - Dozmary Pool - as aforetime.

Not far away there was, once upon a time, the holy well of St. Roche and young people even now drop bent pins into it and wish. It is very simple, and costs nothing. Then there is the saint's cell in which he lived until his death. His apartment there, being light and airy and 680 feet above the sea, was then occupied by successive saints. At present the apartment is unoccupied, but the parish is taking care of it. This is the cell wherein the damned soul of Treageagle tried to find sanctuary when pursued by the fiends from Dozmary Pool. The inhabitants of the wild and desolate region between Roche and Dozmary hear the hell-hounds pursuing the shrieking soul on dark tempestuous nights, and on Christmas Eve the hunt is said to be on a grand scale. The inhabitants of the moors keep indoors after dark. The story is told in The Ballad of the Haunted Moor:

When the snow lay on the moor, brown moor,
And frost hung crystals on bracken and tree,
Gehenna and Sheol and Blackman's whelp
Shook themselves free with deep-mouthed bay
To hunt a poor soul in pain.
A soul in pain, a notable soul,
The soul of Tregeagle, a deathless soul,
Burning in winter in Dozmary Pool,
The soul of Tregeagle in Pain.

The Black hunter's horn rang clear, rang clear,
And the pack gave music, yap, yap, yap;
Gehenna and Sheol led straight to the Pool,
Followed hot-foot by Blackman's whelp.
The wonderful pack runs strong in the night
To hunt a poor soul in pain.
The soul Tregeagle, a deathless soul,
Flies from the Pool with a shriek, a shriek;
In terror there flies with a shriek
The soul of Tregeagle in pain.

The Black Hunter's horn rings clear, rings clear,
And the hungry pack, the hellish pack,
Gehenna and Sheol and Blackman's whelp,
Scent the poor soul now from the Pool,
Free from the pool on the snow-clad moor,
free to escape its terrible doom.
Tally-ho! A soul in pain, in pain!
The dark soul of Tregeagle in pain,
Flies in black night across the moor,
The desolate moor in snow and ice,
The soul of Tregeagle in pain.

Runs the Hunter's horse with hoofs on fire,
The terrible, howling pack breathe fire,
And yap, yap, yap, along the white track,
Follow the poor soul in pain, in pain -
Race the poor soul in terror and pain -
Gehenna still leading the pack.
To a light! a light! the hunted soul,
The soul of Tregeagle in pain,
Flies to a light on a rock, a rock -
Flies to a light on Roche Rock,
The soul of Tregeagle in pain.

The scent, the fiendish scent, lies well,
On snow-white moor and frosted fern;
The keen wind blows it back to the pack,
The Black hunter's pack with eyes of fire -
Gehenna and Sheol and Blackman's whelp,
Yap, Yap, yap! Hunting a soul in pain.
Mile upon mile, o'er cairn and crag,
O'er perilous ways in coombe and hill;
In sight of dead spectres abroad to-night
Flies the sacred soul in pitiless pain,
The soul of Tregeagle in pain.

A holy saint, a saint prays there:
He hears the cry of a soul in pain;
He knows the bark of the hellish pack,
Gehenna and sheol and Blackman's whelp
Hunting a soul in pain,
Hunting a soul in deathless pin.
The window is shut: no room, no room!
Gehenna and sheol and Blackman's whelp
Breathe liquid fire with nostrils wide;
The saint prays lusty himself,
Not for Tregeagle in pain.

Back o'er the moor, the frozen moor,
Flies the cursed soul to Dozmary Pool.
With gleaming fangs and eyes aflame,
The pack, the pack, the hellish pack
Race by his side, yap, yap, yap -
Race by the side of the soul in pain.
Back to the Pool, the frozen pool,
The burning soul, the notable soul,
Flies to its prison of tears, hot tears,
Flies to its cursed prison of tears,
The soul of Tregeagle in pain.

And the pack, the loathsome, hellish pack,
Gehenna and Sheol and Blackman's whelp,
Were balked of their prey this time, this time.
But still they wait on the loathsome moor,
To hunt the poor soul in pain, in pain -
The soul of Tregeagle in pain.

Next Cornish Saint or Sinner

Edited from "Cornish Saints & Sinners" (1906)





  Britannia.com  (T) 302.234.8904    (F) 302.234.9154    Copyright 2000 Britannia.com, LLC