The Greedy Old Man (Cornish Folk Tale)

Long ago in Cornwall, on a hillock called “the Gump,” there was a Fairy Ring. Many a good old man or woman, on moonlit nights, had seen the Fairies dancing there at their revels, and had been rewarded with gifts small but rich.

Now, there was one greedy old man, who, having heard his neighbours tell of the Fairy Gold at the revels, decided to steal some of the treasure. So on a moonlit night, when all was quiet, he stole softly up to “the Gump.”

As he drew near he heard delightful music, which seemed to come from inside the hillock. The notes were now slow and solemn, and now quick and gay, so that the old man had to weep and laugh in one breath. Then before he knew it, he began to dance to the Fairy measure. He was forced by some unseen power to whirl round and round; but in spite of this he kept his wits about him, and watched to see what would happen.

Suddenly there was a crashing sound, and a door in the hillock opened. Instantly the old man saw that everything about him was ablaze with coloured lights. Each blade of grass was hung with tiny bright lamps, and every tree and bush was illuminated with stars.

Out of the opening in the hillock marched a band of Goblins, as if to clear the way. Then came a number of Fairy musicians playing on every kind of musical instrument. These were followed by troop after troop of Elfin soldiers, carrying waving banners.

The soldiers arranged themselves in two files on either side of the door; but the Goblins, much to the old man”s disgust, placed themselves close behind him. As they were no bigger than his thumb, he thought to himself: “If they bother me, I can easily step on them and crush them with my foot.”

This vast array having disposed itself, next from the hillock came a crowd of Elfin servants carrying pitchers of silver and gold, and goblets cut out of diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and other precious stones. Servants followed bearing aloft gold and silver platters heaped high with the richest meats, pastries, candies, and glowing fruits. A number of Elfin boys, clad in crimson, then set out small tables made of ivory curiously carved, and the servants arranged the feast with order.

Then out of the hillock came crowding thousands and thousands of lovely winged Fairies clad in gossamer robes of every colour, like the rainbow.

The music suddenly changed to low, delicate notes, and the old man found that he was no longer forced to dance and whirl about. And as he stood still, the perfume of a thousand rich flowers filled the air, and the whole vast host of Fairies began to sing a song as clear and sweet as the tinkle of silver bells.

Then from the hillock issued forth line after line of Elfin boys dressed in green and gold, and behind them on an ivory throne, borne aloft by a hundred Fairies, came the King and Queen of Fairyland blazing with beauty and jewels.

The throne was placed upon the hillock, which immediately bloomed with lilies and roses. Before the King and Queen was set the most beautiful of all the little tables laden with gold and silver dishes and precious goblets. The Fairies took their places at the other tables, and began to feast with a will.

“Now,” thought the old man, “my time is come! If only I can creep up, without being seen, to the Fairy King”s table, I shall be able to snatch enough gold to make me rich for life.”

And with his greedy mind set on this, he crouched down, and began very slowly to creep toward the throne. But he did not see that thousands of Goblins had cast fine threads about his body, and were holding the ends in their hands.

Trembling with greed, the old man crept closer and closer to the Fairy King and Queen. He took his hat from his head, and raised it carefully to cover the royal throne and table; and, as he did so, he heard a shrill whistle. Instantly his hand was fixed powerless in the air. Then, with a sudden crash, all became dark around him.

“Whirr! Whirr! Whirr!” and he heard as if a flight of bees were brushing past his ears, and suddenly, his body, from head to foot, was stabbed with pins and pinched with tweezers. Then he was thrown violently upon his back with his arms outstretched; and his arms and legs were fastened to the ground with magic chains. His tongue seemed tied with cords so that he could not call out.

And as he lay there trembling with fright and pain, he felt as though swarms of insects were running over him. Then he saw standing on his nose a grinning Goblin. This little monster stamped and jumped with great delight; then making a fearful grimace, shouted::

Away! Away!I smell the day!

And on this, an army of Goblins, Fairies, and Elves, who were running up and down the old man”s body, stabbing him with pins, and pinching him with tweezers, jumped quickly down, and rushed into the hillock; which closed immediately. And the old man saw the Fairies no more.

At length the sun rose and he found that he was tied to the ground with a myriad of gossamer webs, which were covered with dew-drops that glistened like diamonds in the sunlight.

He shook himself free, and got up. Wet, cold, ashamed, and pinched black and blue, he returned to his home. And you may be sure that he never again tried to steal the Fairy Gold.

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