A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
This short comes from Yeats’ collection of Irish Fairy and Folk Tales. “Jamie Freel and the Young Lady” is a beautiful Halloween piece that focuses on the wild celebrations of the fae instead of the usual monsters and spectors. It’s full of fantastical imagery and has a satisfying, if not entirely unexpected, ending.
Down in Fannet, in times gone by, lived Jamie Freel and his mother. Jamie was the widow’s sole support; his strong arm worked for her untiringly, and as each Saturday night came round, he poured his wages into her lap, thanking her dutifully for the halfpence which she returned him for tobacco.
He was extolled by his neighbours as the best son ever known or heard of. But he had neighbours, of whose opinion he was ignorant—neighbours who lived pretty close to him, whom he had never seen, who are, indeed, rarely seen by mortals, except on May eves and Halloweens.
An old ruined castle, about a quarter of a mile from his cabin, was said to be the abode of the “wee folk.” Every Halloween were the ancient windows lighted up, and passers-by saw little figures flitting to and fro inside the building, while they heard the music of pipes and flutes.
It was well known that fairy revels took place; but nobody had the courage to intrude on them.
Jamie had often watched the little figures from a distance, and listened to the charming music, wondering what the inside of the castle was like; but one Halloween he got up and took his cap, saying to his mother, “I’m awa’ to the castle to seek my fortune.”
“What!” cried she, “would you venture there? you that’s the poor widow’s one son! Dinna be sae venturesome an’ foolitch, Jamie! They’ll kill you, an’ then what’ll come o’ me?”
“Never fear, mother; nae harm ‘ill happen me, but I maun gae.”
He set out, and as he crossed the potato-field, came in sight of the castle, whose windows were ablaze with light, that seemed to turn the russet leaves, still clinging to the crabtree branches, into gold.
Halting in the grove at one side of the ruin, he listened to the elfin revelry, and the laughter and singing made him all the more determined to proceed.
Numbers of little people, the largest about the size of a child of five years old, were dancing to the music of flutes and fiddles, while others drank and feasted.
“Welcome, Jamie Freel! welcome, welcome, Jamie!” cried the company, perceiving their visitor. The word “Welcome” was caught up and repeated by every voice in the castle.
Time flew, and Jamie was enjoying himself very much, when his hosts said, “We’re going to ride to Dublin to-night to steal a young lady. Will you come too, Jamie Freel?”
“Ay, that will I!” cried the rash youth, thirsting for adventure.
A troop of horses stood at the door. Jamie mounted, and his steed rose with him into the air. He was presently flying over his mother’s cottage, surrounded by the elfin troop, and on and on they went, over bold mountains, over little hills, over the deep Lough Swilley, over towns and cottages, when people were burning nuts, and eating apples, and keeping merry Halloween. It seemed to Jamie that they flew all round Ireland before they got to Dublin.
“This is Derry,” said the fairies, flying over the cathedral spire; and what was said by one voice was repeated by all the rest, till fifty little voices were crying out, “Derry! Derry! Derry!”
In like manner was Jamie informed as they passed over each town on the rout, and at length he heard the silvery voices cry, “Dublin! Dublin!”
It was no mean dwelling that was to be honoured by the fairy visit, but one of the finest houses in Stephen’s Green.
The troop dismounted near a window, and Jamie saw a beautiful face, on a pillow in a splendid bed. He saw the young lady lifted and carried away, while the stick which was dropped in her place on the bed took her exact form.
The lady was placed before one rider and carried a short way, then given another, and the names of the towns were cried out as before.
They were approaching home. Jamie heard “Rathmullan,” “Milford,” “Tamney,” and then he knew they were near his own house.
“You’ve all had your turn at carrying the young lady,” said he. “Why wouldn’t I get her for a wee piece?”
“Ay, Jamie,” replied they, pleasantly, “you may take your turn at carrying her, to be sure.”
Holding his prize very tightly, he dropped down near his mother’s door.
“Jamie Freel, Jamie Freel! is that the way you treat us?” cried they, and they too dropped down near the door.
Jamie held fast, though he knew not what he was holding, for the little folk turned the lady into all sorts of strange shapes. At one moment she was a black dog, barking and trying to bite; at another, a glowing bar of iron, which yet had no heat; then, again, a sack of wool.
But still Jamie held her, and the baffled elves were turning away, when a tiny woman, the smallest of the party, exclaimed, “Jamie Freel has her awa’ frae us, but he sall hae nae gude o’ her, for I’ll mak’ her deaf and dumb,” and she threw something over the young girl.
While they rode off disappointed, Jamie lifted the latch and went in.
“Jamie, man!” cried his mother, “you’ve been awa’ all night; what have they done on you?”
“Naething bad, mother; I ha’ the very best of gude luck. Here’s a beautiful young lady I ha’ brought you for company.
“Bless us an’ save us!” exclaimed the mother, and for some minutes she was so astonished that she could not think of anything else to say.
Jamie told his story of the night’s adventure, ending by saying, “Surely you wouldna have allowed me to let her gang with them to be lost forever?”
“But a lady, Jamie! How can a lady eat we’er poor diet, and live in we’er poor way? I ax you that, you foolitch fellow?”
“Weel, mother, sure it’s better for her to be here nor over yonder,” and he pointed in the direction of the castle.
Meanwhile, the deaf and dumb girl shivered in her light clothing, stepping close to the humble turf fire.
“Poor crathur, she’s quare and handsome! Nae wonder they set their hearts on her,” said the old woman, gazing at her guest with pity and admiration. “We maun dress her first; but what, in the name o’ fortune, hae I fit for the likes o’ her to wear?”
She went to her press in “the room,” and took out her Sunday gown of brown drugget; she then opened a drawer, and drew forth a pair of white stockings, a long snowy garment of fine linen, and a cap, her “dead dress,” as she called it.
These articles of attire had long been ready for a certain triste ceremony, in which she would some day fill the chief part, and only saw the light occasionally, when they were hung out to air; but she was willing to give even these to the fair trembling visitor, who was turning in dumb sorrow and wonder from her to Jamie, and from Jamie back to her.
The poor girl suffered herself to be dressed, and then sat down on a “creepie” in the chimney corner, and buried her face in her hands.
“What’ll we do to keep up a lady like thou?” cried the old woman.
“I’ll work for you both, mother,” replied the son.
“An’ how could a lady live on we’er poor diet?” she repeated.
“I’ll work for her,” was all Jamie’s answer.
He kept his word. The young lady was very sad for a long time, and tears stole down her cheeks many an evening while the old woman spun by the fire, and Jamie made salmon nets, an accomplishment lately acquired by him, in hopes of adding to the comfort of his guest. But she was always gentle, and tried to smile when she perceived them looking at her; and by degrees she adapted herself to their ways and mode of life. It was not very long before she began to feed the pig, mash potatoes and meal for the fowls, and knit blue worsted socks.
So a year passed, and Halloween came round again. “Mother,” said Jamie, taking down his cap, “I’m off to the ould castle to seek my fortune.”
“Are you mad, Jamie?” cried his mother, in terror; “sure they’ll kill you this time for what you done on them last year.”
Jamie made light of her fears and went his way.
As he reached the crabtree grove, he saw bright lights in the castle windows as before, and heard loud talking. Creeping under the window, he heard the wee folk say, “That was a poor trick Jamie Freel played us this night last year, when he stole the nice young lady from us.”
“Ay,” said the tiny woman, “an’ I punished him for it, for there she sits, a dumb image by his hearth; but he does na’ know that three drops out o’ this glass I hold in my hand wad gie her her hearing and her speeches back again.”
Jamie’s heart beat fast as he entered the hall. Again he was greeted by a chorus of welcomes from the company—”Here comes Jamie Freel! welcome, welcome, Jamie!”
As soon as the tumult subsided, the little woman said, “You be to drink our health, Jamie, out o’ this glass in my hand.”
Jamie snatched the glass from her and darted to the door. He never knew how he reached his cabin, but he arrived there breathless, and sank on a stove by the fire.
“You’re kilt surely this time, my poor boy,” said his mother.
“No, indeed, better luck than ever this time!” and he gave the lady three drops of the liquid that still remained at the bottom of the glass, notwithstanding his mad race over the potato-field.
The lady began to speak, and her first words were words of thanks to Jamie.
The three inmates of the cabin had so much to say to one another, that long after cock-crow, when the fairy music had quite ceased, they were talking round the fire.
“Jamie,” said the lady, “be pleased to get me paper and pen and ink, that I may write to my father, and tell him what has become of me.”
She wrote, but weeks passed, and she received no answer. Again and again she wrote, and still no answer.
At length she said, “You must come with me to Dublin, Jamie, to find my father.”
“I ha’ no money to hire a car for you,” he replied, “an’ how can you travel to Dublin on your foot?”
But she implored him so much that he consented to set out with her, and walk all the way from Fannet to Dublin. It was not as easy as the fairy journey; but at last they rang the bell at the door of the house in Stephen’s Green.
“Tell my father that his daughter is here,” said she to the servant who opened the door.
“The gentleman that lives here has no daughter, my girl. He had one, but she died better nor a year ago.”
“Do you not know me, Sullivan?”
“No, poor girl, I do not.”
“Let me see the gentleman. I only ask to see him.”
“Well, that’s not much to ax; we’ll see what can be done.”
In a few moments the lady’s father came to the door.
“Dear father,” said she, “don’t you know me?”
“How dare you call me your father?” cried the old gentleman, angrily. “You are an impostor. I have no daughter.”
“Look in my face, father, and surely you’ll remember me.”
“My daughter is dead and buried. She died a long, long time ago.” The old gentleman’s voice changed from anger to sorrow. “You can go,” he concluded.
“Stop, dear father, till you look at this ring on my finger. Look at your name and mine engraved on it.”
“It certainly is my daughter’s ring; but I do not know how you came by it. I fear in no honest way.”
“Call my mother, she will be sure to know me,” said the poor girl, who, by this time, was crying bitterly.
“My poor wife is beginning to forget her sorrow. She seldom speaks of her daughter now. Why should I renew her grief by reminding her of her loss?”
But the young lady persevered, till at last the mother was sent for.
“Mother,” she began, when the old lady came to the door, “don’t you know your daughter?”
“I have no daughter; my daughter died and was buried a long, long time ago.”
“Only look in my face, and surely you’ll know me.”
The old lady shook her head.
“You have all forgotten me; but look at this mole on my neck. Surely, mother, you know me now?”
“Yes, yes,” said the mother, “my Gracie had a mole on her neck like that; but then I saw her in her coffin, and saw the lid shut down upon her.”
It became Jamie’s turn to speak, and he gave the history of the fairy journey, of the theft of the young lady, of the figure he had seen laid in its place, of her life with his mother in Fannet, of last Halloween, and of the three drops that had released her from her enchantment.
She took up the story when he paused, and told how kind the mother and son had been to her.
The parents could not make enough of Jamie. They treated him with every distinction, and when he expressed his wish to return to Fannet, said they did not know what to do to show their gratitude.
But an awkward complication arose. The daughter would not let him go without her. “If Jamie goes, I’ll go too,” she said. “He saved me from the fairies, and has worked for me ever since. If it had not been for him, dear father and mother, you would never have seen me again. If he goes, I’ll go too.”
This being her resolution, the old gentleman said that Jamie should become his son-in-law. The mother was brought from Fannet in a coach and four, and there was a splendid wedding.
They all lived together in the grand Dublin house, and Jamie was heir to untold wealth at his father-in-law’s death.