From 'Tales Of The Dartmoor Pixies' by William Crossing
At Dartmeet, the east and west branches of the river from which the great moor derives its name mingle their waters, and the course of the united stream, until it leaves the uplands, is through the deep and narrow valley, overhung with rugged tors, which we have already briefly described. An observer from one of the eminences crowning the sides of this valley marks the course of the river, as it rushes along its rocky channel, by the white flashes of foam. The grey granite sides of the tors contrast: strikingly with the coppices of oak, and the whole scene is one of great wildness.
On the left bank of the river rises the bold, conical pile of Sharp Tor, and on the slope of this hill stands a solitary farm-house called Rowbrook, overlooking the valley below. At this farm a boy was once employed to tend the cattle--a quiet, inoffensive lad, who fulfilled his duties to the satisfaction of his master. One evening in the winter season, when he had been nearly twelve months on the farm, he came hurriedly into the kitchen, exclaiming that he had heard someone calling, and imagined it must be a person in distress. The farm labourers who were gathered around the cheerful peat fire arose with alacrity, supposing it not unlikely that some wayfarer had lost his way in the valley. They quickly gained the spot where the boy said he had heard the voice, and paused to listen. Nothing but the sound of the rushing river below met their ears, and the men declared the boy must have been mistaken. He, however, stoutly asserted that he was not, and as if to bear him out in what he said, a voice was suddenly heard, seemingly at no great distance, calling out, "Jan Coo! Jan Coo!"
The men shouted in reply, when the voice ceased. Lights were procured, and they searched around the spot, but no traces of anyone could be seen, so after spending some further time in calling, but without obtaining any response, they re-entered the house, not knowing what to think of the perplexing circumstance.
The next night came; the men were gathered around the hearth as on the preceding evening, when the second time the boy rushed in with the information that the voice might again be heard. Up jumped the men, and running to the spot to which they had been directed on the occasion of the first alarm, intently listened. Out on the stillness of the night came the voice, calling again, "Jan Coo! Jan Coo!" They looked at one another, but shouted not in reply, waiting until the voice should be heard once more, ere doing so. And again upon the night air came the cry, "Jan Coo! Jan Coo!" at which they gave a lusty shout, but waited in vain for any response. All was silent, and after endeavouring by repeated calls to get an answer from the mysterious visitor, they once more sought the warmth of the chimney corner.
"Tis the pisgies, I'll warn," said an old man, as he settled down on his low seat by the fire; "I've heerd mun say that you can't tell mun, when they be callin', from a Christian."
"Ees, that's what that is, vor sartin; an' us had better let 'em bide, and not meddle wi' em," said another, and it was consequently determined to take no further notice of the strange voice, should it again be heard.
And heard again it was. Not a night passed but, as soon as the men were gathered around the fire after their evening meal, the mysterious voice again rang through the valley--"Jan Coo! Jan Coo!"
The winter had nearly passed away, and the people at the farm were looking forward to the fast-approaching spring, when the lad, with one of the labourers, was mounting the slope that stretched from the house down to the river. It was dusk, and they were returning home to their supper, having finished their work for the day. Suddenly the voice was heard in Langamarsh Pit, on the opposite side of the river, calling as before, "Jan Coo! Jan Coo!" The boy instantly shouted in reply, when, instead of the calls ceasing, as on the occasion when the men had replied to them, they were heard again--"Jan Coo! Jan Coo!"
Once more the lad shouted, and again came forth the same cry--this time louder than before.
"I'll go and see what 'tis," exclaimed the boy; and before his companion could attempt to dissuade him from it he had commenced to run down the hill towards the river. The many boulders in its rocky bed afforded crossing places at certain points--when the stream was not swollen with the rains--known to those living in the vicinity, and towards one of these the boy made his way. His companion watched him but a short distance, for in the deepening twilight he was speedily lost to view, but as the man continued his ascent of the bill the voice still came from Langamarsh Pit--"Jan Coo! Jan Coo!" Again, as he approached the farm-house, could he hear it, and as he neared the door the sounds yet rang through the valley--"Jan Coo! Jan Coo!" Gaining the threshold, he paused before entering, with his hand holding the string which raised the latch, and listened for the voice once more. It had ceased.
He waited, but no sound broke the stillness of the evening, and seeking the kitchen he related what had happened to those gathered there, who wondered what the lad would have to tell them when he came back. Hour after hour passed away; the boy came not. The men went down to the river and called him by name, but they received no reply; they waited in the expectation of seeing him return, but he did not appear, and as no tidings of him were ever obtained, and the mysterious voice ceased its nightly calls, they came to the conclusion that he had been spirited away by the pixies.
There may be those whose scepticism will not permit them to admit the agency of the pixies in this matter, but who will be ready to recognise in the mysterious sounds the hooting of an owl, and in the disappearance of the boy another proof of the truth of the rhyme:--
"River of Dart, Oh, River of Dart!
Every year thou claimest a heart,"
It is not for me, as the chronicler of a pixy story, to say how this is:--
"I cannot tell how the truth may be,
I say the tale as 'twas said to me."
I can only aver from what I have been informed that, however much the pixies' agency may be discredited, it was, at all events, firmly believed in at the lonely farm of Rowbrook.