In days long gone, ordinary folk in need would throw a ha’penny into a well and make a wish. The people would wish for simple things, like for their children to recover from the measles, for there to be an extra loaf of bread in their almost empty pantry or for a cruel employer to stub his toe. Simple everyday wishes made with heart. Nothing extravagant nor anything really malicious. Mostly the wishes would come true, as long as they were within the realms of possibility and the magic had been given enough time to recharge since the last wish. Every town and village in the land had a wishing well and sometimes two if the town was large. The people, on the whole, used the wells with wisdom and shared the magic between them with fairness and respect. There was always enough magic to go around and the people were happy with the arrangement.
One day in the little village of Fordingley, a middle-aged spinster named Dorothy Rosycheeks made the trip from her tiny cottage on Nettle Lane into the village to buy eggs. Her own five chickens had grown too old to lay but she could not bear to part with her lovely feathered friends. The morning was bright and sunny and Dorothy enjoyed the walk. “If only I had a new hat,” she thought to herself, “to keep the sun out of my eyes.” Perhaps, she thought, she would be able to afford to buy one at the market.
But after Dorothy had bought her eggs and a small bag of flour, she did not have the price of a new hat which was threepence, so she wandered over to the village wishing well to make a wish. She put her basket down and threw her very last ha’penny into the well, then closed her eyes tight shut, as was the custom, and made her wish.
“Dear old well, please grant me a new straw hat to keep the sunshine off my head and out of my eyes,” she said. Then she picked up her basket and started walking back home. Little did Dorothy know that while she had been making her wish, a very small and very blue imp had sneaked into her basket to go home with her. The greedy imp, who had recently arrived in the village, had become fascinated with the wishing well’s magic and wanted to see if her wish would come true. If it did, then the imp planned to somehow steal the magic for himself.
Dorothy Rosycheeks arrived back at her cottage and put down her shopping. When she turned to boil some water for a cup of tea, the blue imp slipped out of her basket and headed out of the open window and into the garden. It was a small but pretty garden with rows of carrots, tomatoes and radishes, pink hollyhocks, borage and red roses. The imp took out his tiny shovel and dug himself a hole near the rain barrel. Blue imps like shady and damp places, so this spot under some overhanging weeds was a good place for him to live for a day or two. He would eat old withered plant roots and dead mice when he became hungry. He moaned and complained the whole time and was miserable and mean to every passing creature, especially the bustling hedgehog and her sweet little hoglets.
Dorothy carried on with her usual routine over the next three days and did not notice her uninvited guest. She spent time chatting to her chickens and tending her garden. She put out seeds for the wild birds and kitchen scraps for the squirrels, badgers and hedgehogs. The sun beat down on her head so that she would have to go back into the kitchen to sit in the shade and have a drink to cool down. She remembered her visit to the wishing well and wondered if she would be fortunate enough for her wish to be granted; her old hat was fast falling to pieces and the brim was badly buckled.
On the morning of the fourth day after going to the village, Dorothy Rosycheeks saw something through her kitchen window that made her smile then clap her hands together in joy. There, perched on her gatepost, was the most beautiful new straw hat with a wide, red silk ribbon around it that dangled off the brim in a most jaunty fashion. She rushed into the garden, plucked the hat from the gate and immediately tried it on. It was, of course, a perfect fit! Beaming with happiness, Dorothy threw her hands into the air and said aloud, “Oh my! Such a lovely straw hat! Thank you, dear wishing well!”
The small blue imp heard the happy commotion and, grumbling to himself, awoke in his hole by the water barrel and he peeked at the happy scene. He despised happiness in humans and felt quite nauseous at the sight of Dorothy dancing delightedly around the garden wearing her new hat. At least he knew that the wishing well magic really did work and he could now leave this revoltingly cheery place and work out a way to take all the magic for his own. He gagged at the cheeriness then slithered back down into his shady, damp hole to wait for the cover of night before going back to the well in the village. As soon as the sun went down, the blue imp began the long walk into the village, avaricious intent hastening his steps.
By the time the moon was high and almost full in the night sky, the imp was back at the wishing well in Fordingley village and was gazing at the well with covetous eyes. He looked up at the bucket atop the well and wondered how he could reach it. He wanted to use the bucket to lower himself into the well and steal all the magic it contained but he did not want to risk falling into the well and not being able to get out again. Slowly and with much difficulty, the greedy blue imp climbed the wall of the well and stood on the top of it looking down into its depths. Greed filled his tiny self-centred heart as he gazed at the water below. But how would he reach the bucket? It was too high above him to jump and anyway he was a coward. He slowly realised he would need help from a human, but it was night-time and there was not anyone around.
What could he do? He began to look about him but saw no one in the dim candle-light from a street lamp. Perhaps there would be nobody around until the morning. He did not want to stay here on the edge of the well all night. He was at least out of the way of any passing cats thankfully, but what if he fell in? That did not bear thinking about. He carefully sat down on the edge and stared into the dark night, hoping so very badly that he could work out how to get into the well to steal the magic.
About an hour later, the imp saw something moving around, not far from the well. It was the beggar! The imp had seen him before and laughed at his raggedy clothes and tatty boots, delighting in what he saw as suffering in one of these pointless humans. What the blue imp did not know was that the beggar was a man who, although used to having more than he had now, was looked after by the compassionate villagers and was content until something better might come along. Most nights he would sleep in the lobby of the tavern but, when the weather was good and warm, the beggar would sleep in the doorway of the bakery on his thick blanket and the kindly baker would give him her ‘baker’s dozen loaf’ for his breakfast.
The greedy blue imp waited until the beggar was closer and then called out to him,
“You, beggar! I need your help!” The beggar looked around but did not see anyone. “I’m here!” shouted the imp, “on the well.”
“I can’t see you,” said the beggar as he strained his eyes to see.
“ON THE WISHING WELL!” shouted the imp impatiently and as loudly as he could. The beggar walked closer to the well and peered at it very carefully and intently. “I’m right here!” said the imp very crossly and almost at the point of jumping up and down. Then in a sudden panic, “Right here on the top of the well. Be very, very careful not to knock me into the well!”
“Ahh!” said the beggar. “Now I see you!”
“Well, that took you a while, didn’t it,” said the imp. “Do you need spectacles?”
“No, no, my eyes are very good, thank you,” said the beggar as he got close enough to see the imp. “You are very small,” then warily added, “Are you, perchance, an imp?”
“No, of course not,” said the imp, “I am an elf. And, if you do as I say, I shall reward you.”
“You are absolutely sure you’re not an imp?” asked the beggar, “Only I thought elves would be asleep in their beds at this time of night. They are not usually out and about this late”.
“I couldn’t sleep,” said the imp, an indignant frown on his face and his hand on his hip, “So I thought if I came out for a little walk, it would help me to feel sleepy. Is this an inquisition? Are we elves not allowed to occasionally suffer with insomnia? I mean, really!” The imp was glad it was dark so the beggar could not see that he was blue. If the beggar saw that he was blue, then the game would have been up.
“Well in that case, I do apologise,” said the beggar, giving a small polite bow. “My name’s Mr Bob Goodfellow. Nice to meet you Mr Elf.”
“So you’ll help me?” said the imp.
“Of course,” said Bob, “if I can,”
“Good,” said the imp, “Then put me in the bucket Beggar! Er, I mean Bob.”
Bob carefully picked up the blue imp and popped him gently into the bucket.
“Good, good, now lower the bucket Bob… Thingamiwotsit.”
“Goodfellow,” said Bob. “Alright, Mr Elf. Nice and slowly.” And he began winding the handle to lower the bucket. “Why do you want to go down the well, Mr Elf?” But the imp ignored his question and said,
“A bit faster Bob. I don’t want to be here all night. Faster!”
Bob wound the handle a little quicker. The bucket slowly descended into the well. “Is that better? Are you staying safely in the bucket, Mr Elf?”
“Yes, yes, faster than that Bob”, said the imp. Bob wound the handle faster and the bucket disappeared from his sight as it went deeper into the well.
“Faster than that, Bob,” called the imp from down the well. “Come on, chop chop!”
Bob wound the handle faster but the imp still called out, “Faster!” Bob wound the handle quickly, round and round, quicker and quicker and then suddenly the imp shouted, “Stop!” Bob only just heard the imp as he was so deep down the well. He immediately stopped winding the handle and drew closer to the well to shout down “Are you alright down there, Mr Elf?”
The imp had touched down onto the surface of the well water. It was so dark he could barely see a thing but as he stared into the deepest depths of the well, the imp saw a tiny glow of light. It was an unusual and rare colour. It was sunset orange and summer-sky blue at the same time. That was the colour of wishing well magic: Blurange. The greedy imp was momentarily transfixed.
Shaking himself back to reality, the imp took out his little shovel, and commanded it to “Dig, dig, dig!” before tossing it into the water below. He watched as the shovel dug and dug and the light came floating up toward him. The imp’s eyes widened and flashed with desire in the Blurange light. He grasped and gripped and clutched and grabbed handful after handful of the wishing well magic and he stuffed it into every pocket. He was so happy that he had worn his extra pair of britches and his waistcoat, so he had almost countless pockets to stuff with magic. The more the shovel dug and the more pockets the imp filled, the wider his gluttonous grin became and the darker it grew. Until finally, every single pocket was stuffed with magic, the well was completely dark and the imp was sated. He sat down in the bucket and licked his thin lips, savouring the deliciousness of his stolen treasure. He had taken every single drop, every last piece, every tiny little bit of magic. It was all his. All of it. He had never felt so elated. He called his shovel which returned to his hand and called out to Bob Goodfellow. “Beggar! I mean Bob! Pull me up! And be quick about it!”
Bob heard a faraway voice call his name and he began to wind the handle on the well in the opposite direction to pull up the bucket that contained Mr Elf. Bob wound the handle at a medium speed. The bucket felt heavier than it had before. Bob thought it was because his arms ached a bit after all that winding. The bucket felt like it held a full grown sheep! Bob decided he must be getting lazy and needed to get sturdy and strong again as soon as he could. “I’ll give the farmer more help with the animals and the harvest,” he thought. “That will do me good.” He wound the handle with both hands, round and round and round until he saw the bucket edging upwards from the deep dark well. He was almost exhausted and so was relieved to see that his work was almost done. Just a few more winds of the handle! “Phew! Are you alright, Mr Elf?” he asked, rather out of breath.
But answer came there none. Bob leaned on the edge of the well and peered into the bucket. He felt a strange rushing sensation up his arm and into his shoulder and guessed he had pulled a muscle. But where was Mr Elf? Bob had not noticed that the imp had excitedly leapt from the bucket, landed on Bob’s arm, ran up over his shoulder, jumped onto the edge of the well, down onto the ground and had disappeared into the night. Bob thought he heard tiny fast moving footsteps but could not be sure if that was a rat or a cat or Mr Elf. Bob shrugged and walked over to the bakery where he had planned to sleep that night. He was utterly worn out so he lay down on his blanket on the step of the bakery. As he was drifting off to asleep, he muttered, ”I wish I had a soft bed in a cosy house and a lovely lady with whom I may enjoy the rest of my days.”
The infinitesimally tiny drip of magic that had leaked from one of the imp’s pockets and had fallen onto Bob’s sleeve, glowed brightly for the smallest amount of time and then disappeared with a fizzle.
Within a moment, Bob Goodfellow was fast asleep and he did not hear the far away anguished cry from the imp as one of the village cats caught him in her velvet paws and ate him up. The magic in the imp’s pockets stayed with the beautiful tabby cat for the rest of her life and she found herself the most prized puss-cat in the land. But that is another story…
The next morning, the kindly baker woke Bob with her ‘baker’s dozen loaf’ for his breakfast.
“Good morning, Mr Goodfellow,” she said. “How are you faring on this lovely day?”
After talking with the baker, Bob ate half of his still warm, tasty bread. He put the rest in his coat pocket for later and glanced over at the wishing well. “What an odd to do, last evening,” he thought and shook his head. Perhaps it had been a dream, although his arms ached this morning, so he thought not. Just as he was about to stand up to leave, Bob glimpsed a beautiful lady wearing a straw hat with a wide red ribbon around it. The ends of the ribbon bounced in step with her walking, and Bob could not take his eyes off her. He had an overwhelming urge to go and talk to her so up he stood and, as nonchalantly as he could, wandered towards her. Her cheeks flushed a rosy pink when he stopped in front of her with such a warm smile and he bade her a very good morning.
They fell into an easy and interesting conversation and the lady told him that she was Miss Dorothy Rosycheeks and Bob told her he was a beggar named Mr Bob Goodfellow. After they had talked for some time, Dorothy told him that she would be very pleased to invite him to lunch that very day. Bob enjoyed a scrumptious lunch at her cottage with the other half of his ‘baker’s dozen loaf’. In return for the wonderful food and delightful company; Bob did several odd jobs for her in the garden as well as fixing a broken window frame.
Before long, Dorothy and Bob had fallen in love.
The village folk noted that the wishing well didn’t seem to work anymore but they didn’t mind too much and carried on with their contented lives regardless.
Dorothy and Bob were too poor to get married and so the two of them lived happily, over-the-brush and in their own way, magically ever after.
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