The King of the Fairies
The following folktale entitled ‘The King of the Fairies’ was published in ‘Goblin Tales of Lancashire’ by James Bowker (1878). ‘Many years ago there lived in a farm-house at a point of the high-road from Manchester to Stockport, where Levenshulme Church now stands, a worthy named Burton, ‘Owd Dannel Burton.’ The farm held by Daniel was a model one in its way, the old man raising finer crops than any other farmer in the district. It was rumoured that Daniel was very comfortably provided for, and that a few bad years would not harm him; and so wonderfully did everything he took in hand prosper, that his ‘luck’ became proverbial. Such uniform prosperity could not long continue without the tongue of envy and detraction being set wagging, and the neighbours who permitted thistles to overrun their pastures whilst they gadded about to rushbearings and wakes, finding a reproach to their idleness not only in the old man’s success, but also in the careful, industrious habits of his daily life, were not slow to insinuate that there was something more than farming at the bottom of it. ‘Dannel’ had sold himself to Satan, said some whose pigs had faded away, and whose harvests had not been worth the gathering; and others pretended to know even the terms of the contract, and how many years the old man yet had to play on. A few of these detractors were young men whose imaginations were not kept in sufficient control, but they grew wonderfully reserved respecting the Satanic bargain after the hearty Daniel had had an interview with them, and proved to them that he had not forgotten the use of a good tough black-thorn.
‘It’s nobbut luck,’ philosophically remarked others, ‘mebbe it’ll be my turn to-morn;’ but the remainder vowed that neither luck or Evil One had anything to do with it, for the success was due to the labours of Puck, King of the Fairies.
They were right. It was Puck, although no one ever knew how the old man had been able to enlist the services of so valuable an auxiliary, Daniel being strangely reticent upon the point, although generally by no means loth to speak of the fairies and their doings. Reserve with reference to these things, however, would not have availed much, for the farm labourers, the ruddy-cheeked milkmaids, and the other women-folk about the farm-house, were fond of boasting of the exploits of Puck—how during the night everything was ‘cleaned up,’ and all was in apple-pie order when they came into the kitchen at daybreak, the milk churned, the cows foddered, the necessary utensils filled with water from the well, the horses ready harnessed for their day’s work at the plough, and even a week’s threshing done and the barn left as tidy as though it had just been emptied and swept. Evidently the servant lasses had no fear of, or objection to, a hard-working supernatural visitor of this kind, but just the reverse, and many of their listeners found themselves wishing that their house, too, had its Boggart.
For so long a period did this state of things continue, each morning revealing an astounding amount of work performed by the willing and inexpensive workman, that at length the assistance was taken for granted, and as a matter of course, offering no food for surprise, although it did not cease to be a cause of envy to the neighbours.
On one occasion, however, as old Daniel was despatching a hearty and substantial breakfast, a heated labourer brought word that all the corn had been housed during the past night. The strange story was true enough, for when the old man reached the field, where on the previous evening the golden sheaves of wheat had stood, he found the expanse quite bare, and as clean as though reapers, leaders, gleaners, and geese had been carefully over it. The harvest was in the barn, but not content with this, Daniel, illustrating the old proverb that ‘much would have more,’ suddenly exclaimed, ‘I wonder whose horses Puck used in this work. If yon of mine, I daresay he sweated them rarely;’ and away he strode towards the stable. He had not reached the fold, however, when he met Puck coming towards him, and in a fever of greedy anxiety he cried, ‘Puck, I doubt thou’st spoiled yon horses!’ No sooner were the words out of his mouth, however, than he saw that for once in his life he had made a mistake, for the fairy went pale with anger as he shouted in a shrill treble:—
Sheaf to field, and horse to stall,
I, the Fairy King, recall!
Never more shall drudge of mine
Stir a horse or sheaf of thine.
After which vow he at once vanished.
The old man walked home in a sorrowful mood, and actually forgot to go to the stable; but next morning early he was disturbed by a knocking at his chamber door. ‘Mesthur, ger up,’ cried the messenger, who on the previous day had brought the news of the housing of the corn, ‘Mesthur, ger up, th’ corn’s back i’th’ fielt.’ With a groan of anguish Daniel arose, and hastily made his way to the barn. All the pile was gone, and the floor littered with straw, exactly as it was before the fairy labour had so transformed the place.
It did not take the farmer long to get over the ground between his barn and the corn-field, and arrived there he found the expanse once more covered with yellow sheaves, on which the beams of the rising sun were beginning to fall. Here and there a sheaf had fallen upon the ground, and everywhere straw and ears of corn were scattered about as though the reapers had not long before left the place. The old man turned away in despair.
From that time forward there was no more work done about the farm, or the shippons, and stables; but in the house, however, the maids continued to find their tasks performed as usual.
Great were the rejoicings in the locality when the story of the sheaves became known, and it got noised about that ‘Dannel’s’ fairy had ‘fown eawt’ with him. The old man became very dejected, for although he did not clearly perceive that the rupture was entirely due to his own selfish greed, he could not go about the farm without observing how much he had lost.
One summer evening in a thoughtful mood he was walking homewards, and wishing that the meadows were mown. Plunged in such reflections, he met a neighbour, who at once asked the cause of his trouble. Daniel turned to point to the meadows, and as he did so he saw the fairy, in an attitude of rapt attention, stooping behind the hedgerow as though anxious to overhear the conversation. ‘Yo’ miss your neet-mon?’ said the neighbour. The old man thought that the time was come to make his peace with offended royalty, and with a cunning glance in the direction of the hiding-place, he answered, ‘I do, Abrum, and may God bless Puck, th’ King o’th’ Fayrees.’ There was a startled cry from behind the hedgerow, and both men turned in that direction, but there was nothing to be observed. The fairy had vanished, never again to be seen in Daniel Burton’s fields. That night the work was left undone even inside the farm-house, and thenceforward when the kitchen needed cleaning, water was wanted from the well, or when milk had to be churned, the maids had to get up early and do the work, for Puck, King of the Fairies, would not touch either mop or pail.