The Fairy of the Dell

P. H. Emerson July 26, 2015
12 min read
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    In olden times fairies were sent to oppose the evil-doings of witches, and to destroy their power. About three hundred years ago a band of fairies, sixty in number, with their queen, called Queen of the Dell, came to Mona to oppose the evil works of a celebrated witch. The fairies settled by a spring, in a valley. After having blessed the spring, or “well”, as they called it, they built a bower just above the spring for the queen, placing a throne therein. Near by they built a large bower for themselves to live in.

    Fairies flying

    After that, the queen drew three circles, one within the other, on a nice flat grassy place by the well. When they were comfortably settled, the queen sent the fairies about the country to gather tidings of the people. They went from house to house, and everywhere heard great complaints against an old witch; how she had made some blind, others lame, and deformed others by causing a horn to grow out of their foreheads. When they got back to the well and told the queen, she said:

    “I must do something for these old people, and though the witch is very powerful, we must break her power.” So the next day the queen fairy sent word to all the bewitched to congregate upon a fixed day at the sacred well, just before noon.

    When the day came, several ailing people collected at the well. The queen then placed the patients in pairs in the inner ring, and the sixty fairies in pairs in the middle ring. Each little fairy was three feet and a half high, and carried a small wand in her right hand, and a bunch of fairy flowers—cuckoo’s boots, baby’s bells, and day’s-eyes—in her left hand. Then the queen, who was four feet and a half in height, took the outside ring. On her head was a crown of wild flowers, in her right hand she carried a wand, and in her left a posy of fairy flowers. At a signal from the queen they began marching round the rings, singing in chorus:

    “We march round by two and two
    The circles of the sacred well
    That lies in the dell.”

    When they had walked twice round the ring singing, the queen took her seat upon the throne, and calling each patient to her, she touched him with her wand and bade him go down to the sacred well and dip his body into the water three times, promising that all his ills should be cured. As each one came forth from the spring he knelt before the queen, and she blessed him, and told him to hurry home and put on dry clothes. So that all were cured of their ills.


    Now the old witch who had worked all these evils lived near the well in a cottage. She had first learned witchcraft from a book called The Black Art, which a gentleman farmer had lent her when a girl. She progressed rapidly with her studies, and being eager to learn more, sold herself to the devil, who made compact with her that she should have full power for seven years, after which she was to become his. He gave her a wand that had the magic power of drawing people to her, and she had a ring on the grass by her house just like the fairy’s ring. As the seven years were drawing to a close, and her heart was savage against the farmer who first led her into the paths of evil knowledge, she determined to be revenged. One day, soon after the Fairy of the Dell came to live by the spring, she drew the farmer to her with her wand, and, standing in her ring, she lured him into it. When he crossed the line, she said:

    “Cursed be he or she
    That crosses my circle to see me,”

    and, touching him on the head and back, a horn and a tail grew from the spots touched. He went off in a terrible rage, but she only laughed maliciously. Then, as she heard of the Queen of the Dell’s good deeds, she repented of her evil deeds, and begged her neighbour to go to the queen fairy and ask her if she might come and visit her. The queen consented, and the old witch went down and told her everything—of the book, of the magic wand, of the ring, and of all the wicked deeds she had done.

    “O, you have been a bad witch,” said the queen, “but I will see what I can do; but you must bring me the book and the wand;” and she told the old witch to come on the following day a little before noon. When the witch came the next day with her wand and book, she found the fairies had built a fire in the middle ring. The queen then took her and stood her by the fire, for she could not trust her on the outer circle.

    “Now I must have more power,” said the queen to the fairies, and she went and sat on the throne, leaving the witch by the fire in the middle ring. After thinking a little, the queen said, “Now I have it,” and coming down from her throne muttering, she began walking round the outer circle, waiting for the hour of one o’clock, when all the fairies got into the middle circle and marched round, singing:

    “At the hour of one
    The cock shall crow one,
    Goo! Goo! Goo!
    I am here to tell
    Of the sacred well
    That lies in the dell,
    And will conquer hell.”

    On the second round, they sang:

    “At the hour of two
    The cock crows two,
    Goo! Goo! Goo!
    I am here to tell
    Of the sacred well
    That lies in the dell;
    We will conquer hell.”

    At the last round, they sang:

    “At the hour of three
    The cock crows three,
    Goo! Goo! Goo!
    I am here to tell
    Of the sacred well
    That lies in the dell;
    Now I have conquered hell.”

    Then the queen cast the book and wand into the fire, and immediately the vale was rent by a thundering noise, and numbers of devils came from everywhere, and encircled the outer ring, but they could not pass the ring. Then the fairies began walking round and round, singing their song. When they had finished the song they heard a loud screech from the devils that frightened all the fairies except the queen. She was unmoved, and going to the fire, stirred the ashes with her wand, and saw that the book and wand were burnt, and then she walked thrice round the outer ring by herself, when she turned to the devils, and said:

    “I command you to be gone from our earthly home, get to your own abode. I take the power of casting you all from here. Begone! begone! begone!” And all the devils flew up, and there was a mighty clap as of thunder, and the earth trembled, and the sky became overcast, and all the devils burst, and the sky cleared again.

    After this the queen put three fairies by the old witch’s side, and they constantly dipped their wands in the sacred spring, and touched her head, and she was sorely troubled and converted.

    “Bring the mirror,” said the queen.

    And the fairies brought the mirror and laid it in the middle circle, and they all walked round three times, chanting again the song beginning “At the hour of one.” When they had done this the queen stood still, and said:

    “Stand and watch to see what you can see.”

    And as she looked she said:

    “The mirror shines unto me
    That the witch we can see
    Has three devils inside of she.”

    Immediately the witch had a fit, and the three fairies had a hard job to keep the three devils quiet; indeed, they could not do so, and the queen had to go herself with her wand, for fear the devils should burst the witch asunder, and she said, “Come out three evil spirits, out of thee.”

    And they came gnashing their teeth, and would have killed all the fairies, but the queen said:

    “Begone, begone, begone! you evil spirits, to the place of your abode,” and suddenly the sky turned bright as fire, for the evil spirits were trying their spleen against the fairies, but the queen said, “Collect, collect, collect, into one fierce ball,” and the fiery sky collected into one ball of fire more dazzling than the sun, so that none could look at it except the queen, who wore a black silk mask to protect her eyes. Suddenly the ball burst with a terrific noise, and the earth trembled.

    “Enter into your abode, and never come down to our abode on earth any more,” said the queen.

    And the witch was herself again, and she and the queen fairy were immediately great friends. The witch, when she came out of the ring, dropped on her knee and asked the queen if she might call her the Lady of the Dell, and how she could serve her.

    “We will see about that,” said the queen.

    “Well, how do you live?” asked the woman who had been a witch.

    “Well, I’ll tell you,” said the queen. “We go at midnight and milk the cows, and we keep the milk, and it never grows less so long as we leave some in the bottom of the vessel; we must not use it all. After milking the cow, we rub the cow’s purse and bless it, and she gives double the amount of milk.”

    “Well, how do you get corn?”

    “Well, we were at the mill playing one day, and the miller came in and saw us, and spoke kindly to us, and offered us some flour. ‘We never take nothing for nothing,’ I said, so I blessed the bin: so in a few minutes the bin was full to the brim with flour, and I said to the miller, ‘Now don’t you empty the bin, but always leave a peck in it, and for twelve months, no matter how much you use the bin, it will always be full in the morning.’ Now I have told you this much, and I will tell further, ‘You must love your neighbour, you must love all mankind.’ Now here is a purse of gold, go and buy what you want, eggs, bacon, cheese, and get a flagon of wine and use these things freely, giving freely to the aged poor, and if you never finish these things, there will always be as much the next morning as you started with. And I shall make a salve for you, and you must use the water from the sacred well. That will be as a medicine, and people shall come from far and wide to be cured by you, and you shall be loved by all, and you shall be known to the poorest of the poor as Madame Dorothy.”

    And the woman did as she was told, and she became renowned for her medical skill, especially in childbirth, for her salve eased the pains, and her waters brought milk. By-and-by, she got known all over the island, and rich people came to her from afar, and she always made the rich pay, and the poor were treated free.

    Madame Dorothy used to see the queen fairy at times, and one day she asked her, “Shall we meet again?”

    “We cannot tell,” said the queen, “but I will give you a ring—let me place it on your finger—it is a magic ring worked by fairies. Whenever you seek to know of me, make a ring of your own, and walk round three times and rub the ring; if it turns bright I am alive, but if you see blood I am dead.”

    “But how can that be? You are much younger than I am.”

    “Oh, no! we fairies look young to the day of our death; we live to a great age, but die naturally of old age, for we never have any ailments, but still our power fades. Men fade in the flesh and power, but we fade only in power. I am over seventy now.”

    “But you look to be thirty.”

    “Well, we will shake hands and part, for I must go elsewhere; as I have no king, I do not stop in one place.”

    And they shook hands and parted.

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