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!”