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a English folktale retold by Cathy S. Mosley
One eve there was a traveler on his way to Cromford. His mother was ill and he could not delay his journey for the warmth of the sun. On the road he met an elderly lady dressed all in green linen. She called out, "Good lad, where do you travel so late this night?
He was not a man to be rude, and he said, "I travel to Cromford."
"I'd wait to morning," she said, "The road to Cromford is not safe at night."
"I can't delay," he said, "My mother needs me this night."
"Then take this," the woman said, holding out a posy, "Once you freed a bird from a fowler's net.....and I knew that bird. You will need these against Crooker."
"Who is Crooker?" the traveler asked, taking the posy, but only the wind answered him for the woman was gone. He looked at the flowers and saw they were St. John's Wort, which is a protection against many ills and evils.
He traveled on, and met a second elderly lady in green linen.
"Where do you travel so late?" she asked.
"To Cromford to help my mother," he answered.
"You once freed a rabbit from a snare," she said, "And because I knew that rabbit - take this posy ....as protection against Crooker....."
"Who is Crooker?" he asked, taking the posy of primroses.
But the woman was gone.
The traveler welcomed the kindness, but he knew he'd be safer with three posies than just two.
Along his road he met a third old woman in green, who also asked where he traveled so late. Again he told of his journey.
She nodded, and held out a posy of daisies. "You once rescued a vixen and her cubs from a trap," she said, "I knew them well...So take these flowers against Crooker and some advice.....Reach the Cromford Bridge and the shrine before moonrise....."
Then she too was gone.
The traveler hastened, but knew that the moon would be high before he reached the shrine or the bridge. And despite the warnings he slowed - the track along the Darrant River was treacherous and he feared a misstep more than he feared the mysterious Crooker.
The moon indeed was high when he began his track along the river - the water moaning and bubbling. Almost sounding like it gurgled the word, "Hungry."
Nor did the traveler like the looks of an old ash tree - the moonlight casting shadows on the road, and making the branches look like grasping fingers.
"Hungry," gurgled the Darrant.
And the shadows began to reach for the traveler.
"Crooker," he gasped, and threw the daisies over his left shoulder as he ran.
"Give," demanded the river. And there was a splash.
Breathlessly the man ran on.
But the branches reached out - nearly ensnaring his cloak.
He threw the primroses over his left shoulder and fled.
"Give," slurped the river. And there was a splash.
With lungs burning and legs weary the traveler ran on, but still he felt the tangling of long shadows as they clasped at his cloak.
He threw the St. John's Wort straight at the ancient Ash tree - then flung himself at the shrine. He heard the wind shrieking, or maybe it was the tree.
And the river whispered, "Give."
And there was a splash.
All night long the villagers had heard the Darrant roaring, and in the morning they came from their houses whispering, "We must go for the Priest....another will be dead this morn....."
Yet when they arrived at the Bridge they found a weary and foot sore traveler praying at the shrine, with the Darrant running quiet and shallow along its banks.
While Ash trees (Fraxinus excelsior) are usually harbingers of good health those that are barren are considered ill-omened, which might have been the case with the Ash by the River Darrant. And against this hungry river the Fairy women, or perhaps "woman," gave three flowers that are signs of health, Spring, and protection.
Daisies (Bellis perennis) were considered harbingers of Spring in many countries.
Primroses (Primula vulgaris) and St. John's Wort (Hypericum spp.) were considered protection against evil, and acted as part of many old cures.
Briggs, Katharine M.. A Dictionary of British Folk-Tales in the English Language: Part A. London: Routledge. 1970.
San Souci, Robert D.. A Terrifying Taste of Short and Shivery. New York: Delacorte Press. 1998.
Vickery, Roy. Oxford Dictionary of Plant-Lore. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1995.