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One sunny summers day a moorland farmer was busy in his fields when the yard boy came rushing up, clearly he was excited about something. “Master, Master,” he yelled, “the piskies be a threshin’ in the barn, threshin I tell ee.” The farmer straightened he old back with a groan, “You’m mazed you be,” the old man grumbled, more concerned that he was paying the lad to fret about such rubbish. Fernley, the yard boy insisted that he had heard them gibbering and the sound of their piskie dreshels coming from inside the great barn. The farmer decided there might be some truth in what the boy was saying, so he instructed him to stay well away from the building until later that day.

When the field work was done the farmer returned to the yard and went to the barn, sure enough there was a heap of corn in the middle of the threshing floor and a neat pile of straw in the corner.

Over dinner the farmer related the story to his wife, “you better way reward’n somehow,” she said. “Tell ee what, leave zum bread an’ cheese for’n,” the old lady added. After the farmer had finished a huge bowl of junket he went out and left a hunk of bread and a wedge of cheese in the barn.

Once again, the next morning the sounds of chattering and flailing was heard coming from the threshing floor. Again the farmer instructed Fernley to leave well alone because if the piskie knew he was being watched he would disappear and never return. Later that day when the old man considered it safe, he opened the huge wooden doors and saw another heap of corn and a stack of straw. Later that night more bread and cheese was left in the barn. This went on all week and by Friday the whole of the farmer’s corn harvest had been threshed.

Over a huge joint of beef and teddies the farmer discussed the matter with his wife, “all the corn ‘ave bin threshed now,” said the man, “s’pose tis the last us’ll see of the piskies.” Mother was not so sure, “m’be, but ee never knaws, doan forget to leave the bread and cheese or t’will look as though ’tis us as ‘ave finished with they.” So as instructed the farmer left the usual meal of bread and cheese.

The following afternoon he was amazed to see more corn had been threshed, despite the fact it was not his. This continued for ages and the farmer became quite wealthy much to the curiosity of his neighbours. Again, over a plate of mutton stew the farmer was talking with his wife, he was of the opinion that since his corn had been threshed, it was only one piskie that was doing the work. “I’ve never ‘eard the sound of gibberin’ and chatterin’ since'” he said, “it zounds as if only one dreshel be at work.” His wife told him to hide away in the barn and see exactly what was happening. The following morning he was up with the lark and stole across to the barn where he hid himself behind a stack of straw. Eventually the sound of a scratching noise came from under the huge doors and then in strolled a bedraggled little piskie fellow. He rolled up his ragged sleeves and set to work. The farmer was amazed at how fast he worked and wished he could get the mazed yard boy to toil as hard. Before long the piskie had completed his task and scurried off out of the barn.

That night over a steaming plate of squab pie the farmer related what he had seen. His wife suggested they should reward him with more than bread and cheese. “‘ow were u’n dressed?” she asked. There was a sharp intake of breath, “ee were dressed all in rags and tatters,” the farmer replied. The woman sprang into action, “us u’ll make him a new coat then,” she trilled. With that the rag and offcut box was produced and a huge heap of material was spread on the table. The old woman’s needled flashed as it stitched up a tiny new coat of livid green. Mother got that carried away she even made a pair of red silken trousers. When the creations were finished the old woman handed the new clothes to the farmer and told him to leave them where the bread and cheese were normally left. Mother had spoken so you can consider it done, no bread and cheese, instead the gaudy garments.

Curiosity once again got the better of the farmer who wanted to see what the piskie made of his new clothes so once again he got up early and hid in the barn. At the appointed time the little man strode onto the threshing floor where he suddenly spotted the new coat and trousers. With a chirp of delight tiny creature grabbed the clothes and pulled them on, the piskie then proceeded to parade around the barn. When he reached  a milk pail he stood and admired himself in the shiny mirror-like bucket. A broad grin spread from pointed ear to pointed ear. The little piskie then started to sing, “Pixie fine, piskie gay, Piskie now can run away.” With that he leapt into the air, kicked his heels and scuttled off out of the barn.

From that day on the piskie was never seen again, the gift of the new coat had made the little fellow too proud to work. Next harvest saw both farmer and yard boy threshing the corn themselves. The old man sadly watched Fernley slowly swinging the dreshel, which every now and again he would mis-time and thump himself in the back. “You’m mazed you be, an’ a damn sight slower than that piskie fur zartin,” the farmer grumbled.

The moral of this story is never over pay a piskie for it will ‘take the money and run’, you have to keep them hungry and then they will work day in and day out – a lesson that many of today’s bosses have sadly learnt.


About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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