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Reefy, Reefy Rum
A small girl called Nancy Parnell came down from Wadebridge to Padstow one St. Martin’s summer to stay with her Grannie.

The Grannie was old and weak in her legs, and could not take her granddaughter out to see the sights of the little old-world town, with its narrow streets and ancient houses, so the child had to go by herself.

When she had seen all there was to be seen in the town, she went up to look at the church, of which she had heard from her mother, who was a Padstow woman, and the quaint little figures on the buttresses of the south wall.

It was between the lights when she got there, but she could see the carved figures quite distinctly, which were a lion with its mouth wide open, a unicorn with a crown encircling its neck, and a young knight, standing between them, holding a shield; and when she had taken them all in she repeated a funny old rhyme which her mother told her she used to say when she was a little maid and lived at Padstow. The rhyme was as follows:

‘Reefy, reefy rum,

Without teeth or tongue;

If you’ll have me,

Now I am a-come.’

[134]

The rhyme—a taunt and an invitation in one—was very rude, and so was the little girl who repeated it; but the lion, the unicorn, and the little knight did not take any notice of her, and looked straight before them as they had done ever since they were carved on the wall. But Nancy was somewhat afraid of the effect of the rhyme on those quaint little figures, especially on the open-mouthed lion, who had no sign of teeth or tongue; and she ran round the great square-turreted tower, and took refuge under the pentice roof of the gateway, and sat on the bench to see if they would leave their stations on the wall and come after her; but they did not.

The little stone knight and the two animals had a strange fascination for the little Wadebridger, and the next evening again found her in the beautiful churchyard gazing up at them with her bright child-eyes, and as she gazed she repeated the same rude rhyme:

‘Reefy, reefy rum,

Without teeth or tongue;

If you’ll have me,

Now I am a-come.’

But they took not the smallest notice of her, nor of her rhyme, and the young knight did not lift as much as an eyelash; but the child, now the rhyme was said, was even more apprehensive than ever of the effect it might have, and ran round the tower and again took refuge in the old gateway, and waited to [137]see if they would come down from the wall and try to catch her; but they never came.
She took to her heels and ran for her life.

She took to her heels and ran for her life.

The last evening of her stay at Padstow, Nancy went once more to the churchyard to have another look at the figures, and to taunt them with having no teeth or tongue.

It was not quite so late as the first two evenings she had come thither, and the robins were singing their evensong in the churchyard trees.

As she stood staring up at the figures, a shaft of light from the sun setting between the trees fell across their faces, and the eyes of the little knight seemed to look down in sad reproach at the rude little maid as she again repeated the rhyme which was even ruder than she knew.

Her voice was shrill and loud, and was heard above the robins’ cheerful song.

She had hardly finished the rhyme when she saw the lion move from his place on the wall, followed by the unicorn and the young knight, and come sliding down. She did not wait to see them reach the bottom, for she took to her heels and ran for her life; but she could hear the figures carved in stone coming after her as she flew round the tower, and her heart was beating faster than the church clock when she reached the gateway.

The gate, fortunately for her, was open wide, and she caught hold of it, and banged it behind her as the lion with his gaping mouth came up to it.

She looked over her shoulder as she turned to run [138]down the street, and she saw the three figures all in a row—the young knight in the middle holding his shield—gazing at her through the round wooden bars of the gate. The lion looked savage, and but for the brave little knight with his pure young face, who seemed to have a restraining power upon both animals, he might have broken the bars and come through the gate and made small bones of the child who had invited them three times to come down and have her!

The little Wadebridger ran back to her Grannie, and told her about the rhyme she had said to the little stone figures on the wall of Padstow Church, and how they had come down and run after her to the gate. Her good old Grannie said it would have served her right if they had broken the gate and got her. ‘A lesson to you, my dear,’ she cried, ‘never to be rude to man or beast, especially to figures carved on church walls.’

The three little stone figures stood all in a row on the gate step till the child was out of sight, and finding she did not return, they went back to their places on the buttresses of the grey old church, and there they are still; and, as far as we know, they have never left them since Nancy Parnell, the little Wadebridger, repeated ‘Reefy, reefy rum’ three times, and that was when our great-great-grandmothers were children.


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