The Fairy Funeral
The following story entitled ‘The Fairy Funeral’ was published in ‘English Fairy and Other Folk Tales’ (1890) by Edwin Sidney Hartland. ‘THE parish church of Lelant is curiously situated amidst hills of blown sand, near the entrance of the creek of Hayle. The sandy waste around the church is called the Towen; and this place was long the scene of the midnight gambols of the Small People. In the adjoining village–or, as it is called in Cornwall, the “church-town “–lived an old woman who had been, according to her own statement, a frequent witness to the use made by the fairies of the Towen.
Her husband, also, had seen some extraordinary scenes on the same spot. From her–to me, oft-repeated description–I get the following tale:–It was the fishing season; and Richard had been to St. Ives for some fish. He was returning, laden with pilchards, on a beautiful moonlight night; and as he ascended the hill from St. Ives he thought he heard the bell of Lelant church tolling. Upon a nearer approach he saw lights in the church; and most distinctly did the bell toll–not with its usual clear sound, but dull and heavy as if it had been muffled, scarcely awakening any echo. Richard walked towards the church, and cautiously, but not without lea; approaching one of the windows, looked in. At first he could not perceive any one within, nor discover whence the light came by which everything was so distinctly illuminated. At length he saw, moving along the centre aisle, a funeral procession. The little people who crowded the aisle, although they all look very sorrowful, were not dressed in any mourning garmet–so far from it they wore wreaths of little roses, and carried branches of the blossoming myrtle. Richard beheld the bier borne between six–whether men or worn he could not tell–but he saw that the face of the corpse was that of a beautiful female, smaller than the smallest child’s doll. It was, Richard said, “as if it were a dead seraph,”–so very lovely did it appear to him. The body was covered with white flowers, and its hair, like gold threads, was tangled amongst the blossoms. The body was placed within the altar; and then a large pat of men, with picks and spades, began to dig a little hole close by the sacramental table. Their task being completed, others, with great care, removed the body and placed it in the hole. The entire company crowded around, eager to catch a parting glimpse of that beautiful corpse ere yet it was placed in the earth. As was lowered into the ground they began to tear off the flowers and break their branches of myrtle, crying: “Our queen is dead! our queen is dead!” At length one of the men who had dug the grave threw a shovelful of earth upon the body; and the shriek of the fairy host so alarm Richard, that he involuntarily joined in it In a moment all the lights were extinguished, and the fairies were heard flying in great consternation in every direction. Many them brushed past the terrified man, and, shrieking, pierced him with sharp instruments. He was compelled to save his life by the most rapid flight.’