Prepare to be delighted and delectated by another tale from that master wordsmith of the North Riding of Yorkshire: Richard Blakeborough (1850-1918), writer, poet, and dramatist. Now, I did have a notion to modernise this story for you, but I quickly found myself struggling by how to handle some of the terms, such as “dark-faced” and “drawf,” which are now so problematic. Besides, there’s a certain charm to the Victorian verbiage that I just couldn’t resist1‘The Falconer And The Whorlton Elves.’ | Northern Weekly Gazette | Saturday 20 October 1900 | British Newspaper Archive’. 2022. Britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk <https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0003075/19001020/087/0007> [accessed 20 September 2022]2‘The Falconer And The Whorlton Elves. Part II | Northern Weekly Gazette | Saturday 27 October 1900 | British Newspaper Archive’. 2022. Britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk <https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0003075/19001027/097/0007> [accessed 20 September 2022].
Now, this story was probably inspired by a much older local legend that Blakeborough would have picked up during his travels in Cleveland in the latter half of the 19th century. In writing it up, he would have put his own Victorian slant on it.
Whorlton Castle is featured; this fell into disrepair way back in the mid-14th century, but it was still inhabited until the early 17th century. These days, all we have left of it is the gatehouse. Faceby, Ingleby Arncliffe and Chop Gate are also mentioned and are familiar villages today; Whorlton village though no longer exists. The last service was held at Whorlton Church in 1875.
The Falconer And The Whorlton Elves.
By RICHARD BLAKEBOROUGH.
Once upon a time, in the days when people raised their voices in song and praise under the ancient roof of Whorlton Church, there came, hand-in-hand, one Sunday afternoon, two small children; the richness of their attire bespoke them visitors at the Castle. Side by side they seated themselves near to the font, and quite still and well-behaved they remained until near the end of the service, and then, whilst the congregation bent the knee in prayer, they stole through the open door quietly as they had entered, for not a single person observed them leave.
It was a lovely autumn afternoon when the congregation dispersed hither and thither to their several homes, and many were the lips that enquired who the “two bonny bairns might be?” None, however, could say for certain; but before nightfall the whole countryside learnt who the little visitors had been, for the report spread like fire that Master Reginald and Miss Grace, visitors at the Castle, having arrived but the day before, had escaped from their nurse, and since then had not been seen. Castle and countryside turned out in search of the bonny bairns, and great and dreadful was the fear which grew in everyone’s heart as band after band of willing seekers returned without a scrap of news to cheer. By morning, although no one let the fateful words fall from their lips, yet everyone know they were lost.
The poor mother was broken-hearted, whilst the nurse, who had fallen asleep, thus affording the means of escape, was almost as one bereft of reason. Unfortunately the lord of the castle and the father of the lost children were not expected home for some few days. Messengers were at once despatched urging them to return at once. In the meantime the head falconer suggested to the kennel-keeper that the bloodhounds be laid upon the trail. This suggestion was acted upon at once, but the hounds were at fault half-way between church and castle.
The bereaved mother could not be reasoned with, she questioned and cross-questioned the nurse, until the poor girl nearly lost her reason, till at last, in a fit of anguish, she cried aloud: “Is there no wise man or woman hereabouts, who could help us in our dire need? I would, dare I be so wicked, curse myself for closing my eyes in sleep, whilst my darlings strayed away. I shall go to my grave a murderess.”
So real was her grief, that even the mother, in the anguish of her own sore heart. strove to afford a crumb of comfort to the heartbroken maid, for she knew her to be true and faithful, and to have sincerely loved her children.
Springing to her feet, the nurse stood before her mistress, crying, in a frenzy of anguish: “My lady! why, instead of words of kindness and forgiveness, you do not have me cast into one of the lowest dungeons, and leave me there to die of hunger and thirst, I do not know; but hearken! I now leave you, and I will never look upon your face again, until I or some other more fortunate person shall once again restore to your arms your lost treasures. I leave you as one cursed and unworthy of your favour or trust. May God help me in my search.” Then kissing her mistress’s hand, the fled from her presence, and presently from the Castle itself.
When the bloodhounds failed in their attempt to follow the trail; the old falconer returned home, and carefully thought the matter over. At last he told the butler he would like to have a few words with the bereaved mother, as he had a little matter which he could only give to her ear privately.
He was admitted to her presence at once, the moment her eyes rested upon the aged servitor, she was inspired with confidence. “Well, my good falconer, if it be but a scrap of hope you can give me, I will pray heaven to shower blessings upon your declining years.”
“I would that I could lift some of the sorrow from my lady’s heart. Will my lady give patience whilst a humble servant putteth a few questions, the answering of which may help my lady to find a reason which may account for her children having been so wickedly torn from her.
“Ask me what you will!” her ladyship replied, a ray of hope for the moment lighting her troubled face.
“I would beg that you forget I am but a humble falconer, only bearing in mind that one wishful to help dares to address your ladyship, therefore I make so bold as to ask was not my lady one of a hawking party here, gone now nine years?”
“Yes, you are quite right, I was.”
“At that time was there not one, a dark faced gallant, who sought the favour of my lady’s smile?”
For a brief moment her ladyship hesitated, this was a question which touched a page in her life she had hoped might never be recalled to her mind. Not on account of any real wrong done on her part, but, well, for a moment she hesitated, but only for a moment, as her eyes fell upon his white locks and noble face, all doubt and hesitation fled, and she replied:
“It was as you say!”
“And he failed?” pursued the old man.
“He did,” was all the answer, her ladyship vouched.
“I still crave my lady’s patience; but did not my lady at one time grant her favours, and then withdraw them from the dark-faced gallant, reserving them entirely for another? If my lady’s answer should be as I suppose, then, her humble servant believes he bolds the key which will unlock this mystery.”
“Old man!” answered her ladyship, with a sigh. “You were evidently so observant in those days so long ago, that much of what I supposed in my youthful simplicity was a secret only known to myself and that other, whom I really never cared for, I now learn was an open book to you. I confess that I did play at lovers with him, but, bear you in mind, well did he know that my heart belonged to another. I meant it to be but play, and the moment I discovered that he was striving to win me from my plighted troth, I ended the folly at once.”
“Did my lady ever fear that the dark-faced gallant might meditate evil towards her?”
“He threatened vengeance on my head at the time, but I thought it but the vapourings of a disappointed swain.”
“Would it be possible for my lady to find out if the gallant knew she was coming hither at this time? For I but two days ago saw him in close convene with two ill-visaged varlets, and strangers to these parts. I liked not their bearing, at the time.”
“Do you imagine that they have waylaid and stolen my children?” she asked, a wave of fear such as she had not yet experienced filling her bosom.
“Nay, that is more than I dare say, but I well bethink me that one day now gone nine years, when he dreamt not that another was within earshot; I overheard him say, on spying you meet the lover you have since wedded, ‘Curse her, and curse him! But my day will come, when I will wring her heart to the core. I can wait, but when I do strike — ‘ And then, my lady, he moved away, and I heard not the rest of his evil communing with himself. But if an old man hath any wit, I incline to the belief that he alone is answerable for this evil. I would caution my lady only to speak of this matter to those in authority, lest plans to circumvent his evil designs should come to his ear; it may be that he hath those in his pay within these walls.”
When the falconer withdrew, her ladyship thanked him in a way which the old fellow never forgot. Presently it was whispered that it was the nurse who was the traitor, but to her ladyship the falconer said:—
“Hearken not unto every tale, this I take it, is but the flight of some carrion, with intent to distract the hawk from its rightful quarry,” explained the old fellow, in the metaphor of the sport he so well understood.
” When the Lord of the Castle and my husband return I then know how to act. Oh, how I pray that they may speedily come, but I dread, the grief of their farther,” wailed the heart-broken mother.
Once by his own fireside the falconer made up his mind to pay a visit to Joan Featherstone, who lived near to Ingleby Arncliffe. Joan, if all accounts be true, was neither prepossessing in features, person, nor temper. However, as the man of hawks had in many ways befriended her in the past, he ventured to pay her a visit. He well knew it was within her power to befriend him if she felt so inclined, for with his own eyes he had seen her with a wave of the hand cause blue and red flame to leap by turns from a brazen bowl, and on one memorable occasion, when returning home, and yet on the other side of Chop-Yat3Chop Gate, he passed the time of day with her, nevertheless he had again overtaken her, as he rode through Faceby, so she must have journeyed through the air.
Joan harkened with ill grace to his story, in the end bidding him hold his peace, declaring that she knew nothing of the whereabouts of the lost brats.
“Maybe not, but you can find out if you have a mind to do so,” said the old fellow, determined not to be so easily shaken off.
” Supposing I have no mind that way, what then?” snapped Joan.
“Then,” said the falconer, “I might feel inclined not to get you a raven hatched by an owl.”
For some reason the old body was very desirous that the falconer should place a raven’s egg within an owl’s nest, and bring the bird when hatched to her. “Get you gone!” she cried, “and when home again make you a dish of sweet porridge, and place it on a table by the fire, and set a chair; for a guest will drop in to sup with you, therefore leave your door open, so that he may not have to knock or lift the latch. And bear in mind, on no account let him or any others who may join him, induce you to utter a single word. No matter what they may say or do, remain dumb. And now hearken, and remember that, I am not adding an egg to any cletch4A brood of young birds. you may desire to set. But if you are sharp enough to outwit your guest, then you may win from him whatsoever information you desire, but remember, not a word must pass your lips until you are certain that you are his master. And now I expect my promised mouthful of a young raven from an owl’s nest.” So saying, she pointed to the door.
Hurrying home, the falconer prepared with great care a dish of sweet porridge, placing it upon the table by the fire, not forgetting the chair. He threw the door wide open, and then waited for his guest. And he was not long kept expectant; very shortly after the porridge was placed upon the table, a little dwarf with a big head, bandy legs, and arms so long that they were out of all proportion to his body, entered with an easy swagger, but awkward gait, and approached the fire.
“A fine night to you, good Falconer!” he cried, warming his hands at the blazing fire. “A fine night!” he cried a second time, but the Falconer only nodded in the affirmative. “You give but a poor welcome to a stranger!” said he, climbing into the chair and attacking the porridge with evident delight. ”These oats are not of your own growing?” he said so quietly that old man was almost betrayed into saying “Yes,” but the trick failed, and he just nodded in the affirmative; again and yet again did this malicious looking deformity of a guest strive to surprise the old fellow into speaking, but it was not to be done. At last in a fit of temper he lept from his chair, saying. “If you won’t speak, I will fill your kitchen with those who will,” striking a smouldering log with his crooked staff, which was in good keeping with his own twisted body, he shouted, as a shower of sparks flew up the wide chimney, “Come hither ye spirits of earth and air, I bid you to a merry dance and frolic,” and then taking from his wallet a curious whistle fashioned from the throat of some song bird, he placed it between the lips of his ill-shapen mouth, and played a few notes sweet and low, and immediately, in answer to this summons, down the chimney and through the doorway, there came rushing, tumbling, leaping, dancing, the merriest, wildest, laughing, romping throng, mortal eye ever beheld. At the conclusion of their merry gambols, they were called to order.
“I have within my wallet,” said the dwarf, “a bell, a bracelet, and a belt, all of virgin silver, pure and bright. I have also a golden harp, strung with strings, which bring forth music to which the fairies love to dance. These I shall give to those who best perform my wishes and commands.”
Then many questions he asked them touching the evil deeds of men and women. At length the Falconer pricked his ears, imagining that he was about to hear some news concerning the lost children, when he heard the dwarf say: “And how fare the two poor bairns, for whom a mother’s heart so sorely beats?” turning his head and casting a malicious side glance at the Falconer, as he put the question.
“I and my sister were near them all last night, and their eyes were sore with crying for their mother. We hid ourselves in the hood of their goaler, when he carried in their suppers; that how we discovered whither they had been taken,” answered one bright-eyed little elf.
But though the falconer listened until his ears ached, not a single word did any one of that giddy throng let fall which gave him the least clue as to their whereabouts, or whom it was who had stolen them. The way in which each question was asked and answered, were purposely worded so as to raise his hopes, only to dash them to the ground again. The little dwarf in the chair fairly gloating over this species of refined torture.
Many a time the falconer was almost driven to the verge of demanding an answer to some question he wished to put, but he refrained. In the end the master of the ceremony, turning to the old man, said with a wicked leer, “I will sup with thee again to-morow een5evening; I have so enjoyed thy conversation, I would wage the contents of my wallet to a dead boar’s grunt, that no man can gainsay any remark thou has adventured to make to me, or these my friends. So promising then an early call to morrow een, I bid thee good night. Come along my merry elves!” driving the giddy throng with many a laugh and frolic out of the kitchen, leaving the falconer apparently unmoved sitting by his smouldering logs.
“Yes, come again to-morow een, you bigheaded, wide mouthed, humped-backed, bandy-legged son of a mis-shapen mother, and we’ll see if the old falconer cannot turn the tables on you. I’ll prepare something for you besides porridge to-morrow night, my friend. By the talons of my best bird, I swear to outwit you,” said he last thing before he closed his eyes in sleep.
During the following day the lord of the castle and the heart-broken father arrived, but little good their coming produced, though they never left the saddle until nightfall. So uncertain was the falconer of the success of his plan, that be dared not mention a word of what had happened, or of what he proposed doing.
One thing had been made quite evident to him the previous night — viz., the moment he stirred a foot the whole company rushed instantly towards the door, and the little chap in the chair never took his eyes off him; no thought had ever entered his head on that occasion of attempting to seize hold of any of them, and by their active movements, he fully recognised the utter folly of making such an attempt.
Again he prepared a dish of porridge, and barely was it laid upon the table when the dwarf entered, his face beaming if possible with a malicious grin exceeding in evil potent that of the previous evening, climbing into the chair, he summoned the merry band of with a note or two from his curious whistle.
In they came with the rush and tumble of the previous evening. “Ha! ha! my good friends,” shouted the little dwarf, throwing a spoonful of porridge in the falconer’s face, at which bit of pleasantry, the elves yelled with delight. “What news to night, my friends ” he cried. “How are the two lost bairns?” This he asked in a well-assumed tone of sympathy.
“They are well!” answered several voices in chorus, “they will soon be free now; this is the last night in prison, to-morrow they start for a far country, a mighty ship will carry them over the sea. So, now, their poor dear mother will never, never of them again.” “What thinkest thou of that, my good falconer?” he asked, lifting his eyes to the old man’s face, sitting so quietly, oh, so quietly, by the fire. “Oh, well, if you won’t speak. I will go to my supper, and you, my merry friends, go to your gambols.” But hardly had he swallowed his first mouthful, when from many a wee throat there came a cry for help! The spoon dropped from his hand, and the sinister smile died upon his lips, and a look of direst fear blanched his little shrivelled yellow face, some invisible power held him fast, he could not leave his chair.
“You need not fick!6To struggle under restraint.” said the falconer. “I dare speak now, I have you fast my little chap; ay, stuck to the chair with bird lime, just as your little friends are stuck to the floor. See, I am going to pop half a dozen of them into this trap.” And the old man did so, the while roaring with uproarious laughter, as he watched the grotesque kicking and fickings, tannings and twistings. which the little braggart indulged in, as he vainly attempted to free himself. “You see, I dare speak now,” said he, slipping the blade of a huge bacon knife under the seat of his little prisoner, and lifting him by the nape of his neck out of the chair, and dropping him on to the floor, to which he stuck as fast as he had been in the chair.
“I’m fast again,” he cried, in piteous tones. Again the falconer burst out laughing at him.
“Oh ! please let us go!” he begged.
“Why, you haven’t had your porridge yet.
“No, and I don’t want it!” he cried, again commencing to fick and kick.
“Now, still and listen to me,” commanded the falconer sternly, ” I have six of your busy little gang in this cage securely locked up. I shall keep them prisoners until you tell me where the two lost children are kept prisoners, and who stole them. Here your friends will remain until they are both free. l am going to scrape you off the floor, and when you are free do not waste a moment snivelling to me, but clear out, the whole batch of you who ere not stuck fast, and ask Joan Featherstone what is best to be done now.
But there was no need for anyone to stir, as Joan entered at that moment.
“You have been too clever, my little man, far too clever, and now, when, too late, you see what a little fool you have made of yourself,” said Joan, addressing herself to the thoroughly discomfited, stuck-fast, crestfallen dwarf. “Pray set the little fool free,” she begged, screaming with laughter, as the falconer, with his bacon knife scraped the little fellow off the floor. “Now then, hand over your wallet to the falconer.”
“But it holds the bell, bracelet, belt, and harp,” he whined. “I cannot part with them. They are of the greatest value to me.”
“Just so; but the falconer must hold some guarantee for your future good behaviour. You stole them from the fairies, you must now part with them as purchase money from your freedom and those who through your folly have been made prisoners. And it may be that the faeries will, in exchange for these valuable articles, give the falconer the information you refused him.”
“But I will tell him — tell him everything myself!” screamed the little fellow, as Joan took the wallet from him.
“Nay, nay, my little fellow, the same chance never comes a second time. I sent you here to do my bidding. You preferred to do your own. This is not the first time you have disobeyed me, but it is the first time I have caught you. No one escapes his wrongdoing for ever,” concluded Joan, handing the wallet to the falconer. “And now, my good falconer, we will leave you, but first set free your prisoners; so long as you hold the guardianship of this wallet — l do not mean its contents — this little man can do you no harm. Now, off you go!” she shouted, driving the crestfallen company before her, reminding the falconer as he crossed the threshold, “not to forget her raven.”
No sooner was the kitchen clear of the impish band, than the old chap set to work with mop and pail to carefully wash the floor from every trace of treacherous birdlime.
Having arranged everything in its place, he examined the contents of the wallet. First he drew forth the tiny silver bell, and whilst holding it by its silken cord the tongue accidentally struck against the side, causing it to give a tiny ting, and immediately in answer to this a band of lovely little fairies trouped through the doorway.
“I am told these treasures,” holding up the several articles, “really belong to you, or at least they were stolen from some band of fairies. Know you anything of them?” asked the falconer.
“They are ours!” cried they. “We come in answer to our silver bell.”
“Than pray take back your own, and perhaps in return you may be able to give me some information, which I much need.”
In one voice they cried, “We can and will.” And then they told him that they had heard an order given, that a coach and horses had to be in readiness the very next night at the five roads near to Chop Gate at the rise of the moon. They also told him that the nurse while seeking the lost bairns had herself been captured by their gaolers, and was now in attendance on them. They cautioned the falconer to warn those who attempted their rescue that the man who had stolen them was determined they should never again see their mother. The fairies suggested that a rescuing party should hide themselves near to the five roads, when they (the fairies) would stop the horses. Perchance their abductor would alight to discover what was the matter. If he did they must make him prisoner before he again reach the children. The nurse might be trusted to protect them to the best of her ability.
Fearing lest he might arouse suspicion if he carried the good news to the castle at so late an hour, he waited patiently until morning before speaking to anyone. It tried him sorely, this keeping back the good tidings from the sorrowing parents, in whose hearts hope now lay almost dead; but the look on the old man’s face as he was ushered into their presence filled their hearts with joy, and once again gave a new lease of life to hope as they listened his story.
To allay suspicion not a word was mentioned or an order given to any one, but towards evening a dozen stout, trusty fellows accompanied their lord and master from the Castle, they knew not whither, or what errand they were bound, and it was not until they were nearing the five roads that they were made acquainted with the object in view. After all arrangements had been made and a signal agreed upon, each made himself as comfortable as possible in his place of concealment. Presently a man carrying a child in front of him followed by another rider on a stout charger with a women and another child prilon wise7pillion?. Dismounting in the very centre of the concealed party, the man set the boy at his feet, and lifted the woman and little girl to the ground. So well had the time been arranged that the coach drew up almost at the same moment. Hurrying the woman and children into it, he jumped in himself, bidding the man return with the horses, and the coachman to drive on in the same breath, but for some reason the horses could not be prevailed upon to move forward, they reared and backed until the coach was danger of being turned over. At this unlooked-for danger, the man opened the door and sprang out. Hardly, however, had his feet touched the ground when he was knocked on the head, securely bound, and bundled into the coach. The driver was called upon to drop the reins, and next instant the farther was wildly kissing his bonny bairns. Not a moment was lost; as quickly as horses could take them they were swiftly borne to the loving arms of the anxious mother. The feelings of the recreant knight must be left to the imagination of the reader.
- 1‘The Falconer And The Whorlton Elves.’ | Northern Weekly Gazette | Saturday 20 October 1900 | British Newspaper Archive’. 2022. Britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk <https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0003075/19001020/087/0007> [accessed 20 September 2022]
- 2‘The Falconer And The Whorlton Elves. Part II | Northern Weekly Gazette | Saturday 27 October 1900 | British Newspaper Archive’. 2022. Britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk <https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0003075/19001027/097/0007> [accessed 20 September 2022]
- 3Chop Gate
- 4A brood of young birds.
- 6To struggle under restraint.