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"DARTED OFF AS QUICK AS LIGHTNING."
Or, a Story anent a witless Wight's Adventures with the Midridge Fairies in the Bishoprick of Durham; now more than two Centuries ago. 1
TALKING about fairies the other day to a nearly octogenarian female neighbour, I asked, Had she ever seen one in her youthful days? Her answer was in the negative; "but," quoth she, "I've heard my grandmother tell a story, that Midridge (near Auckland) was a great place for fairies when she was a child, and for many long years after that." A rather lofty hill, only a short distance from the village, was their chief place of resort, and around it they used to dance, not by dozens, but by hundreds, when the gloaming began to show itself of the summer nights. Occasionally a villager used to visit the scene of their gambols in order to catch if it were but a passing glance of the tiny folks, dressed in their vestments of green, as delicate as the thread of the gossamer; for well knew the lass so favoured that ere the current year had disappeared she would have become the happy wife of the object of her only love; and also, as well ken'd the lucky lad, that he too would get a weel tochered lassie, long afore his brow became wrinkled with age, or the snow-white blossoms had begun to bud forth upon his pate. Woe to those, however, who dared to come by twos or by threes, with inquisitive and curious eye, within the bounds of their domain; for if caught, or only the eye of a fairy fell upon them, ill was sure to betide them through life. Still more awful, however, was the result if any were so rash as to address them, either in plain prose or rustic rhyme. The last instance of their being spoken to is thus still handed down by tradition:--'Twas on a beautifully clear evening in the month of August, when the last sheaf had crowned the last stack in their master's hagyard, and after calling the "harvest home," the daytale men and household servants were enjoying themselves over massive pewter quarts foaming over with strong beer, that the subject of the evening's conversation at last turned upon the fairies of the neighbouring hill, and each related his oft-told tale which he had learned by rote from the lips of some parish grandame. At last the senior of the mirthful party proposed to a youthful mate of his, who had dared to doubt even the existence of such creatures, that he durst not go to the hill, mounted on his master's best paifrey, and call aloud, at the full extent of his voice, the following rhymes:
"Rise little Lads,
Wi' your iron gads,
And set the Lad o' Midridge hame."
Tam o' Shanter-like, elated with the contents of the pewter vessels, he nothing either feared or doubted, and off went the lad to the fairy hill; so, being arrived at the base, he was nothing loath to extend his voice to its utmost powers in giving utterance to the above invitatory verses. Scarcely had the last words escaped his lips ere he was nearly surrounded by many hundreds of the little folks, who are ever ready to revenge, with the infliction of the most dreadful Punishment, every attempt at insult. The most robust of the fairies, who I take to have been Oberon, their king, wielding an enormous javelin, thus, also in rhymes equally rough, rude, and rustic, addressed the witless wight:--
"Sillie Willy, mount thy filly;
And if it isn't weel corn'd and fed,
I'll hae thee afore thou gets hanie to thy Midridge bed."
Well was it for Willy that his home was not far distant, and that part light was still remaining in the sky. Horrified beyond measure, he struck his spurs into the sides of his beast, who, equally alarmed, darted off as quick as lightning towards the mansion of its owner. Luckily it was one of those houses of olden time, which would admit of an equestrian and his horse within its portals without danger; lucky, also, was it that at the moment they arrived the door was standing wide open: so, considering the house a safer sanctuary from the belligerous fairies than the stable, he galloped direct into the hail, to the no small amazement of all beholders, when the door was instantly closed upon his pursuing foes! As soon as Willy was able to draw his breath, and had in part overcome the effects of his fear, he related to his comrades a full and particular account of his adventures with the fairies; but from that time forward, never more could any one, either for love or money, prevail upon Willy to give the fairies of the bill an invitation to take an evening walk with him as far as the village of Midridge!
To conclude, when the fairies had departed, and it was considered safe to unbar the door, to give egress to Willy and his filly, it was found, to the amazement of all beholders, that the identical iron javelin of the fairy king had pierced through the thick oaken door, which for service as well as safety was strongly plated with iron, where it still stuck, and actually required the strength of the stoutest fellow in the company, with the aid of a smith's great fore-hammer, to drive it forth. This singular relic of fairyland was preserved for many generations, till passing eventually into the hands of one who cared for none of these things, it was lost, to the no small regret of all lovers of legendary lore!
1 Choice Notes: Folk- Lore, p. 131.