Read THE FIDDLER IN THE FAIRY RING of Old-Fashioned Fairy Tales, free online book, by Juliana Horatia Ewing, on ReadCentral.com.

Generations ago, there once lived a farmer’s son, who had no great harm in him, and no great good either. He always meant well, but he had a poor spirit, and was too fond of idle company.

One day his father sent him to market with some sheep for sale, and when business was over for the day, the rest of the country-folk made ready to go home, and more than one of them offered the lad a lift in his cart.

“Thank you kindly, all the same,” said he, “but I am going back across the downs with Limping Tim.”

Then out spoke a steady old farmer and bade the lad go home with the rest, and by the main road. For Limping Tim was an idle, graceless kind of fellow, who fiddled for his livelihood, but what else he did to earn the money he squandered, no one knew. And as to the sheep path over the downs, it stands to reason that the highway is better travelling after sunset, for the other is no such very short cut; and has a big fairy ring so near it, that a butter-woman might brush it with the edge of her market cloak, as she turned the brow of the hill.

But the farmer’s son would go his own way, and that was with Limping Tim, and across the downs.

So they started, and the fiddler had his fiddle in his hand, and a bundle of marketings under his arm, and he sang snatches of strange songs, the like of which the lad had never heard before. And the moon drew out their shadows over the short grass till they were as long as the great stones of Stonehenge.

At last they turned the hill, and the fairy ring looked dark under the moon, and the farmer’s son blessed himself that they were passing it quietly, when Limping Tim suddenly pulled his cloak from his back, and handing it to his companion, cried, “Hold this for a moment, will you? I’m wanted. They’re calling for me.”

“I hear nothing,” said the farmer’s son. But before he had got the words out of his mouth, the fiddler had completely disappeared. He shouted aloud, but in vain, and had begun to think of proceeding on his way, when the fiddler’s voice cried, “Catch!” and there came, flying at him from the direction of the fairy ring, the bundle of marketings which the fiddler had been carrying.

“It’s in my way,” he then heard the fiddler cry. “Ah, this is dancing! Come in, my lad, come in!”

But the farmer’s son was not totally without prudence, and he took good care to keep at a safe distance from the fairy ring.

“Come back, Tim! Come back!” he shouted, and, receiving no answer, he adjured his friend to break the bonds that withheld him, and return to the right way, as wisely as one man can counsel another.

After talking for some time to no purpose, he again heard his friend’s voice, crying, “Take care of it for me! The money dances out of my pocket.” And therewith the fiddler’s purse was hurled to his feet, where it fell with a heavy chinking of gold within.

He picked it up, and renewed his warnings and entreaties, but in vain; and, after waiting for a long time, he made the best of his way home alone, hoping that the fiddler would follow, and come to reclaim his property.

The fiddler never came. And when at last there was a fuss about his disappearance, the farmer’s son, who had but a poor spirit, began to be afraid to tell the truth of the matter. “Who knows but they may accuse me of theft?” said he. So he hid the cloak, and the bundle, and the money-bag in the garden.

But when three months passed, and still the fiddler did not return, it was whispered that the farmer’s son had been his last companion; and the place was searched, and they found the cloak, and the bundle, and the money-bag and the lad was taken to prison.

Now, when it was too late, he plucked up a spirit, and told the truth; but no one believed him, and it was said that he had murdered the fiddler for the sake of his money and goods. And he was taken before the judge, found guilty, and sentenced to death.

Fortunately, his old mother was a Wise Woman. And when she heard that he was condemned, she said, “Only follow my directions, and we may save you yet; for I guess how it is.”

So she went to the judge, and begged for her son three favours before his death.

“I will grant them,” said the judge, “if you do not ask for his life.”

“The first,” said the old woman, “is, that he may choose the place where the gallows shall be erected; the second, that he may fix the hour of his execution; and the third favour is, that you will not fail to be present.”

“I grant all three,” said the judge. But when he learned that the criminal had chosen a certain hill on the downs for the place of execution, and an hour before midnight for the time, he sent to beg the sheriff to bear him company on this important occasion.

The sheriff placed himself at the judge’s disposal, but he commanded the attendance of the gaoler as some sort of protection; and the gaoler, for his part, implored his reverence the chaplain to be of the party, as the hill was not in good spiritual repute. So, when the time came, the four started together, and the hangman and the farmer’s son went before them to the foot of the gallows.

Just as the rope was being prepared, the farmer’a son called to the judge, and said, “If your Honour will walk twenty paces down the hill, to where you will see a bit of paper, you will learn the fate of the fiddler.”

“That is, no doubt, a copy of the poor man’s last confession,” thought the judge.

“Murder will out, Mr. Sheriff,” said he; and in the interests of truth and justice he hastened to pick up the paper.

But the farmer’s son had dropped it as he came along, by his mother’s direction, in such a place that the judge could not pick it up without putting his foot on the edge of the fairy ring. No sooner had he done so than he perceived an innumerable company of little people dressed in green cloaks and hoods, who were dancing round in a circle as wide as the ring itself.

They were all about two feet high, and had aged faces, brown and withered, like the knots on gnarled trees in hedge bottoms, and they squinted horribly; but, in spite of their seeming age, they flew round and round like children.

“Mr. Sheriff! Mr. Sheriff!” cried the judge, “come and see the dancing. And hear the music, too, which is so lively that it makes the soles of my feet tickle.”

“There is no music, my Lord Judge,” said the sheriff, running down the hill. “It is the wind whistling over the grass that your lordship hears.”

But when the sheriff had put his foot by the judge’s foot, he saw and heard the same, and he cried out, “Quick, Gaoler, and come down! I should like you to be witness to this matter. And you may take my arm, Gaoler, for the music makes me feel unsteady.”

“There is no music, sir,” said the gaoler; “but your worship doubtless hears the creaking of the gallows.”

But no sooner had the gaoler’s feet touched the fairy ring, than he saw and heard like the rest, and he called lustily to the chaplain to come and stop the unhallowed measure.

“It is a delusion of the Evil One,” said the parson; “there is not a sound in the air but the distant croaking of some frogs.” But when he too touched the ring, he perceived his mistake.

At this moment the moon shone out, and in the middle of the ring they saw Limping Tim the fiddler, playing till great drops stood out on his forehead, and dancing as madly as he played.

“Ah, you rascal!” cried the judge. “Is this where you’ve been all the time, and a better man than you as good as hanged for you? But you shall come home now.”

Saying which, he ran in, and seized the fiddler by the arm, but Limping Tim resisted so stoutly that the sheriff had to go to the judge’s assistance, and even then the fairies so pinched and hindered them that the sheriff was obliged to call upon the gaoler to put his arms about his waist, who persuaded the chaplain to add his strength to the string. But as ill luck would have it, just as they were getting off, one of the fairies picked up Limping Tim’s fiddle, which had fallen in the scuffle, and began to play. And as he began to play, every one began to dance the fiddler, and the judge, and the sheriff, and the gaoler, and even the chaplain.

“Hangman! hangman!” screamed the judge, as he lifted first one leg and then the other to the tune, “come down, and catch hold of his reverence the chaplain. The prisoner is pardoned, and he can lay hold too.”

The hangman knew the judge’s voice, and ran towards it; but as they were now quite within the ring he could see nothing, either of him or his companions.

The farmer’s son followed, and warning the hangman not to touch the ring, he directed him to stretch his hands forwards in hopes of catching hold of some one. In a few minutes the wind blew the chaplain’s cassock against the hangman’s fingers, and he caught the parson round the waist. The farmer’s son then seized him in like fashion, and each holding firmly by the other, the fiddler, the judge, the sheriff, the gaoler, the parson, the hangman, and the farmer’s son all got safely out of the charmed circle.

“Oh, you scoundrel!” cried the judge to the fiddler; “I have a very good mind to hang you up on the gallows without further ado.”

But the fiddler only looked like one possessed, and upbraided the farmer’s son for not having the patience to wait three minutes for him.

“Three minutes!” cried he; “why, you’ve been here three months and a day.”

This the fiddler would not believe, and as he seemed in every way beside himself, they led him home, still upbraiding his companion, and crying continually for his fiddle.

His neighbours watched him closely, but one day he escaped from their care and wandered away over the hills to seek his fiddle, and came back no more.

His dead body was found upon the downs, face downwards, with the fiddle in his arms. Some said he had really found the fiddle where he had left it, and had been lost in a mist, and died of exposure. But others held that he had perished differently, and laid his death at the door of the fairy dancers.

As to the farmer’s son, it is said that thenceforward he went home from market by the high-road, and spoke the truth straight out, and was more careful of his company.

“I WON’T.”

“Don’t Care” so they say fell into a goose-pond; and “I won’t” is apt to come to no better an end. At least, my grandmother tells me that was how the Miller had to quit his native town, and leave the tip of his nose behind him.

It all came of his being allowed to say “I won’t” when he was quite a little boy. His mother thought he looked pretty when he was pouting, and that wilfulness gave him an air which distinguished him from other people’s children. And when she found out that his lower lip was becoming so big that it spoilt his beauty, and that his wilfulness gained his way twice and stood in his way eight times out of ten, it was too late to alter him.

Then she said, “Dearest Abinadab, do be more obliging!”

And he replied (as she had taught him), “I won’t.”

He always took what he could get, and would neither give nor give up to other people. This, he thought, was the way to get more out of life than one’s neighbours.

Amongst other things, he made a point of taking the middle of the footpath.

“Will you allow me to pass you, sir? I am in a hurry,” said a voice behind him one day.

“I won’t,” said Abinadab; on which a poor washerwoman, with her basket, scrambled down into the road, and Abinadab chuckled.

Next day he was walking as before.

“Will you allow me to pass you, sir? I am in a hurry,” said a voice behind him.

“I won’t,” said Abinadab. On which he was knocked into the ditch; and the Baron walked on, and left him to get out of the mud on whichever side he liked.

He quarrelled with his friends till he had none left, and he quarrelled with the tradesmen of the town till there was only one who would serve him, and this man offended him at last.

“I’ll show you who’s master!” said the Miller. “I won’t pay a penny of your bill not a penny.”

“Sir,” said the tradesman, “my giving you offence now, is no just reason why you should refuse to pay for what you have had and been satisfied with. I must beg you to pay me at once.”

“I won’t,” said the Miller, “and what I say I mean. I won’t; I tell you, I won’t.”

So the tradesman summoned him before the Justice, and the Justice condemned him to pay the bill and the costs of the suit.

“I won’t,” said the Miller.

So they put him in prison, and in prison he would have remained if his mother had not paid the money to obtain his release. By and by she died, and left him her blessing and some very good advice, which (as is sometimes the case with bequests) would have been more useful if it had come earlier.

The Miller’s mother had taken a great deal of trouble off his hands which now fell into them. She took in all the small bags of grist which the country-folk brought to be ground, and kept account of them, and spoke civilly to the customers, big and little. But these small matters irritated the Miller.

“I may be the slave of all the old women in the country-side,” said he; “but I won’t they shall see that I won’t.”

So he put up a notice to say that he would only receive grist at a certain hour on certain days. Now, but a third of the old women could read the notice, and they did not attend to it. People came as before; but the Miller locked the door of the mill and sat in the counting-house and chuckled.

“My good friend,” said his neighbours, “you can’t do business in this way. If a man lives by trade, he must serve his customers. And a Miller must take in grist when it comes to the mill.”

“Others may if they please,” said the Miller; “but I won’t. When I make a rule, I stick to it.”

“Take advice, man, or you’ll be ruined,” said his friends.

“I won’t,” said the Miller.

In a few weeks all the country-folk turned their donkeys’ heads towards the windmill on the heath. It was a little farther to go, but the Windmiller took custom when it came to him, gave honest measure, and added civil words gratis.

The other Miller was ruined.

“All you can do now is to leave the mill while you can pay the rent, and try another trade,” said his friends.

“I won’t,” said the Miller. “Shall I be turned out of the house where I was born, because the country-folk are fools?”

However, he could not pay the rent, and the landlord found another tenant.

“You must quit,” said he to the Miller.

“That I won’t,” said the Miller, “not for fifty new tenants.”

So the landlord sent for the constables, and he was carried out, which is not a dignified way of changing one’s residence. But then it is not easy to be obstinate and dignified at the same time.

His wrath against the landlord knew no bounds.

“Was there ever such a brute?” he cried. “Would any man of spirit hold his home at the whim of a landlord? I’ll never rent another house as long as I live.”

“But you must live somewhere,” said his friends.

“I won’t,” said the Miller.

He was no longer a young man, and the new tenant pitied him.

“The poor old fellow is out of his senses,” he said. And he let him sleep in one of his barns. One of the mill cats found out that there was a new warm bed in this barn, and she came and lived there too, and kept away the mice.

One night, however, Mrs. Pussy disturbed the Miller’s rest. She was in and out of the window constantly, and meowed horribly into the bargain.

“It seems a man can’t even sleep in peace,” said the Miller. “If this happens again, you’ll go into the mill-race to sing to the fishes.”

The next night the cat was still on the alert, and the following morning the Miller tied a stone round her neck, and threw her into the water.

“Oh, spare the poor thing, there’s a good soul,” said a bystander.

“I won’t,” said the Miller. “I told her what would happen.”

When his back was turned, however, the bystander got Pussy out, and took her home with him.

Now the cat was away, the mice could play; and they played hide-and seek over the Miller’s nightcap.

It came to such a pass that there was no rest to be had.

“I won’t go to bed, I declare I won’t,” said the Miller. So he sat up all night in an arm-chair, and threw everything he could lay his hands on at the corners where he heard the mice scuffling, till the place was topsy-turvy.

Towards morning he lit a candle and dressed himself. He was in a terrible humour; and when he began to shave, his hand shook and he cut himself. The draughts made the flame of the candle unsteady too, and the shadow of the Miller’s nose (which was a large one) fell in uncertain shapes upon his cheeks, and interfered with the progress of the razor. At first he thought he would wait till daylight. Then his temper got the better of him.

“I won’t,” he said, “I won’t; why should I?”

So he began again. He held on by his nose to steady his cheeks, and he gave it such a spiteful pinch that the tears came into his eyes.

“Matters have come to a pretty pass, when a man’s own nose is to stand in his light,” said he.

By and by a gust of wind came through the window. Up flared the candle, and the shadow of the Miller’s nose danced half over his face, and the razor gashed his chin.

Transported with fury, he struck at it before he could think what he was doing. The razor was very sharp, and the tip of the Miller’s nose came off as clean as his whiskers.

When daylight came, and he saw himself in the glass, he resolved to leave the place.

“I won’t stay here to be a laughing-stock,” said he.

As he trudged out on to the highway, with his bundle on his back, the Baron met him and pitied him. He dismounted from his horse, and leading it up to the Miller, he said:

“Friend, you are elderly to be going far afoot. I will lend you my mare to take you to your destination. When you are there, knot the reins and throw them on her shoulder, saying, ‘Home!’ She will then return to me. But mark one thing, she is not used to whip or spur. Humour her, and she will carry you well and safely.”

The Miller mounted willingly enough, and set forward. At first the mare was a little restive. The Miller had no spurs on, but, in spite of the Baron’s warning, he kicked her with his heels. On this, she danced till the Miller’s hat and bundle flew right and left, and he was very near to following them.

“Ah, you vixen!” he cried. “You think I’ll humour you as the Baron does. But I won’t no, you shall see that I won’t!” And gripping his walking-stick firmly in his hand, he belaboured the Baron’s mare as if she had been a donkey.

On which she sent the Miller clean over her head, and cantered back to the castle; and wherever it was that he went to, he had to walk.

He never returned to his native village, and everybody was glad to be rid of him. One must bear and forbear with his neighbours, if he hopes to be regretted when he departs.

But my grandmother says that long after the mill had fallen into ruin, the story was told as a warning to wilful children of the Miller who cut off his nose to spite his own face.