How Peeping Kate was Piskey-Led – A Cornish Fairy Tale

A long Halloween night, a Piskey in a barn, and a troop of Spriggans holding an Elfin Fair.

How Peeping Kate was Piskey-Led

– A Cornish Fairy Tale – 

’T IS Hallowe’en Night, Teddy, my boy. Don’t go out on the moor, or near the Gump, for the Piskeys and the Spriggans are abroad, waiting to mislead straying mortals. Many are the men and women that the Little People have whisked away on Hallowe’en Night; and the poor mortals have never been heard of since.

Sit down, Teddy, my boy, crack these nuts, and eat these red apples; and I’ll tell you how Peeping Kate was Piskey-led.

I have heard the old folks say how long ago—maybe a hundred years or so—the Squire of Pendeen had a housekeeper, an elderly dame, called Kate Tregeer.

Well, one Hallowe’en Night, some spices and other small things were wanted for the feastentide, and Kate would not trust any one to go for them except herself. So she put on her red coat and high steeple-crowned hat, and walked to Penzance. She bought the goods and started for home.

It was a bright moonlight night, and though no wind was blowing, the leaves of the trees were murmuring with a hollow sound. And Kate could hear strange rustlings in the bushes by the side of the road.

She had walked a very long time, and her basket was so heavy that she began to feel tired. Her legs bent under her and she could scarcely stand up. Just then she beheld, a little in front of her, a man on horseback. And she could tell by the proud way he sat that he was a gentleman-born.

She was very glad to see him, and as he was going slowly, she soon overtook him; and when she came up, his horse stood stock-still.


“My dear Master,” she said, “how glad I am to see you. Don’t you know me? I’m Kate Tregeer of Pendeen; and I can’t tell you how hard I’ve worked all day.”

Then she explained to him how she had walked to Penzance, and was now so tired that she could not stand up. But the gentleman made no reply.

“My dear Master,” said she, “I’m footsore and leg-weary. I’ve got as far as here, you see, but I can get no farther. Do have pity on a poor unfortunate woman, and take her behind you. I can ride well enough on your horse’s back without a saddle or pillion.”

But still the gentleman made no reply.

“My dear Master,” she said again, “My! but you’re a fine-looking man! How upright you sit on your horse! But why don’t you answer me? Are you asleep? One would think you were taking a nap; and your horse, too, it is standing so still!”

Not having any word in reply to this fine speech, Kate called out as loud as she could: “Even if you are a gentleman-born, you need n’t be so stuck-up that you won’t speak to a poor body afoot!”

Still he never spoke, though Kate thought that she saw him wink at her.

This vexed her the more. “The time was when the Tregeers were among the first in the parish, and were buried with the gentry! Wake up and speak to me!” screamed she in a rage. And then she took up a stone, and threw it at the horse. The stone rolled back to her feet, and the animal did not even whisk its tail.

Kate now got nearer, and saw that the rider had no hat on, nor was there any hair on his bald head. She touched the horse, and felt nothing but a bunch of furze. She rubbed her eyes and saw at once, to her great astonishment, that it was no gentleman and horse at all, only a smooth stone half buried in a heap of furze. And there she was still far away from Pendeen, with her heavy basket, and her legs so tired that she could scarcely move. And then she saw that she had come a short distance only, and knew that she must be bewitched.

Well, on she went; and seeing a light at her left hand she thought that it shone from the window of a house where she might rest awhile. So she made for it straight across the moor, floundering through bogs, and tripping over bunches of furze. And still the light was always just ahead, and it seemed to move from side to side. Then suddenly it went out, and she was left standing in a bog. The next minute she found herself among furze-ricks and pigsties, in the yard of Farmer Boslow, miles away from Pendeen.

She saw that she had come a short distance only, and knew that she must be bewitched”

She opened the door of an old outhouse, and entered, hoping to get a few hours’ rest. There she lay down on straw and fell asleep; but she was soon wakened by some young pigs who were rooting around in the straw. That was too much for Kate. So up she got, and as she did so she heard the noise of a flail. And seeing a glimmer of light in a barn near by, she crept softly to a little window in the barn, and peeped to find what was going on.

At first she could see only two rush-wicks burning in two old iron lamps. Then through the dim light she saw the slash-flash of a flail as it rose and fell, and beat the barn floor. She stood on tiptoes, and stuck her head in farther, and whom did she see, wielding the flail, but a little old man, about three feet high, with hair like a bunch of rushes, and ragged clothes. His face was broader than it was long, and he had great owl-eyes shaded by heavy eyebrows from which his nose poked like a pig’s snout. Kate noticed that his teeth were crooked and jagged, and that at each stroke of the flail, he kept moving his thin lips around and around, and thrusting his tongue in and out. His shoulders were broad enough for a man twice his height, and his feet were splayed like a frog’s.

“Well! Well!” thought Kate. “This is luck! To see the Piskey threshing! For ever since I can remember I have heard it said that the Piskey threshed corn for Farmer Boslow on winter nights, and did other odd jobs for him the year round. But I would not believe it. Yet here he is!”

Then she reached her head farther in, and beheld a score of little men helping the Piskey. Some of them were lugging down the sheaves, and placing them handy for him; and others were carrying away the straw from which the grain had been threshed. Soon a heap of corn was gathered on the floor, as clean as if it had been winnowed.

In doing this the Piskey raised such a dust that it set him and some of the little men sneezing. And Kate, without stopping to think, called out:—

“God bless you, little men!”

Quick as a wink the lights vanished, and a handful of dust was thrown into her eyes, which blinded her so that for a moment she could not see. And then she heard the Piskey squeak:—

I spy thy face,

Old Peeping Kate,

I’ll serve thee out,

Early and late!

Kate, when she heard this, felt very uneasy, for she remembered that the Little People have a great spite against any one who peeps at them, or pries into their doings.

The night being clear, she quickly found her way out of a crooked lane, and ran as fast as she could, and never stopped until she reached the Gump. There she sat down to rest awhile.

After that she stood up; and turn whichever way she might the same road lay before her. Then she knew that the Piskey was playing her a trick. So she ran down a hill as fast as she could, not caring in what direction she was going, so long as she could get away from the Piskey.

After running a long while, she heard music and saw lights at no great distance. Thinking that she must be near a house, she went over the downs toward the lights, feeling ready for a jig, and stopping now and then to dance around and around to the strains of the music.

But instead of arriving at a house, in passing around some high rocks she came out on a broad green meadow, encircled with furze and rocks. And there before her she saw a whole troop of Spriggans holding an Elfin Fair.

Illustration by Milo Winter

It was like a feasten-day. Scores of little booths were standing in rows, and were covered with tiny trinkets such as buckles of silver and gold glistening with Cornish diamonds, pins with jewelled heads, brooches, rings, bracelets, and necklaces of crystal beads, green and red or blue and gold; and many other pretty things new to Kate.

There were lights in all directions—lanterns no bigger than Foxgloves were hanging in rows; and on the booths, rushlights in tulip-cups shone among Fairy goodies such as Kate had never dreamed of. Yet with all these lights there was such a shimmer over everything that she got bewildered, and could not see as plainly as she wished.

She did not care to disturb the Little People until she had looked at all that was doing. So she crept softly behind the booths and watched the Spriggans dancing. Hundreds of them, linked hand in hand, went whirling around so fast as to make her dizzy. Small as they were, they were all decked out like rich folk, the little men in cocked hats and feathers, blue coats gay with lace and gold buttons, breeches and stockings of lighter hue, and tiny shoes with diamond buckles.

Kate could not name the colours of the little ladies’ dresses, which were of all the hues of Summer blossoms. The vain little things had powdered their hair, and decked their heads with ribbons, feathers, and flowers. Their shoes were of velvet and satin, and were high-heeled and pointed. And such sparkling black eyes as all the little ladies had, and such dimpled cheeks and chins! And they were merry, sprightly, and laughing.

All the Spriggans were capering and dancing around a pole wreathed with flowers. The pipers, standing in their midst, played such lively airs that Kate never in all her life had wanted to dance more. But she kept quite still, for she did not wish the Little People to know that she was there. She was determined to pocket some of the pretty things in the booths, and steal softly away with them. She thought how nice a bright pair of diamond buckles would look on her best shoes, and how fine her Sunday cap would be ornamented with a Fairy brooch.

So she raised her hand and laid it on some buckles, when—oh! oh!—she felt a palmful of pins and needles stick into her fingers like red-hot points; and she screamed:—

“Misfortune take you, you bad little Spriggans!”

Immediately the lights went out, and she felt hundreds of the Little People leap on her back, and her neck, and her head. At the same moment others tripped up her heels, and laid her flat on the ground, and rolled her over and over.

Then she caught sight of the Piskey mounted on a wild-looking colt, his toes stuck in its mane. He was holding a rush for a whip. And there he sat grinning from ear to ear, and urging on the Spriggans to torment her, with “Haw! Haw! Haw!” and “Tee! Hee! Hee!”

She spread out her arms and squeezed herself tight to the ground, so that the Spriggans might not turn her over; but they squeaked and grunted, and over and over she went. And every time that they turned her face downward, some of the little fellows jumped on her back, and jigged away from her toe to her head.

She reached around to beat them off with a stick, but they pulled it out of her hand; and, balancing it across her body, strided it, and bobbed up and down, singing:—


Lie still old Peeping Kate!


Here we’ll ride, early and late,

On the back of Peeping Kate!

And with that, poor Kate, not to be beaten by the Spriggans, tossed back her feet to kick the little fellows away, but they pulled off her shoes and tickled and prickled the soles of her feet until she fell a-laughing and a-crying by turns.

Kate was almost mad with their torment, when by good chance she remembered a charm that would drive away all mischievous spirits, on Hallowe’en. So she repeated it forwards and backwards, and in a twinkling all the little Spriggans fled screeching away, the Piskey galloping after them.

Then she got on her feet and looked around. She saw, by the starlight of a clear frosty morning, that the place to which she had been Piskey-led was a green spot near the Gump, where folks said the Spriggans held their nightly revels. And although the spot was very small, it had seemed to her like a ten-acre field because of enchantment.

And her hat, and her shoes, and her basket were gone; and poor Kate, barefooted and bareheaded, had to hobble home as best she could. And she reached Pendeen gate more dead than alive.

This story was taken from the book: 

The Book of Elves and Fairies - Frances Olcott

The Book of Elves and Fairies – Illustrated by Milo Winter 


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