The Golden Ball

A golden coloured ball
Photo by Peter de Vink from Pexels

From Yorkshire Folklore, VOL I (1888), pages 94-96. This was in a Yorkshire dialect, so have tinkered with the language but not the structure. Though I really like one of the early lines “He’d gold on his cap, an’ gold on his finger, gold on his neck, an’ a red gold watch-chain – eh! but he had some brass“…

There was once two sisters, who after walking home through the fair, saw a handsome young man stood between them and their house. They’d never seen such a bonny lad before, and he was dripping in gold. He’d gold on his cap, wore golden rings on each finger, gold around his neck, and a thick gold watch-chain disappearing into his waistcoat pocket. Held out towards the lasses, in each hand, there was a golden ball. He gave one to each of them, but warned them that if they ever lost their ball, then they’d be hanged.

The youngest of the sisters, while playing catch by herself near a park wall, lost her ball over the wall. She ran to follow it, but as she rounded the wall, saw it roll across the last of grass and into the house. She couldn’t get in to follow it, and no-one answered the door, before men came to drag her away to answer for losing the ball. Her sweetheart promised he’d recover the ball before she could be hanged, and went to search for it himself. He found the gate locked, so started to climb over the wall. When he was right on top, an old woman came and stood in front of him and told him there was only one way to get the ball – he must spend three days in the house.

The lad agreed, and found the door to the house unlocked when he got there. He searched the house from top to bottom, but there was no sign of the golden ball anywhere. As night closed in, he heard movement outside in the courtyard. Looking out through the window, the yard was as full of spirits as rotten meat is full of maggots. He heard steps coming upstairs next, so hid behind the door, keeping as still as a mouse. A giant came into the room where he was hiding, five times as tall as the lad, he was, but luckily the giant didn’t see him. Instead, he leant down to the window and looked out to the spirits outside in the yard, and as he leant on his elbows, the lad jumped out on him from behind and chopped him in half with his sword. The top of the giant fell down to the yard, and the bottom half stayed at the window, as though still looking outside. There was a great cry from the spirits outside when they saw half their master come tumbling down, and they called out “The comes half our master, give us t’other half.”

So the lad said, “It’s no use o’thee, a pair of legs standing alone, so go join your brother”, and he threw the bottom half of the giant out of the window. As soon as the legs hit the yard, the spirits went quiet.

The next night, the lad stopped at the house again, and a second giant came in at the door. The lad was expecting this, and it entered, he swung his sword, chopping the second giant in half. This took the giant so much by surprise that the legs carried on walking across the room and up the chimney.  “Get thee after they legs”, said the lad, and threw the head up the chimney too.

The third night, no giant appeared, so the lad got into one of the beds. As he started to drop to sleep, he heard the spirits moving underneath the bed, rolling the ball back and forth between them. He quietly lifted his sword and knelt up, and when one of the spirits moved his leg out from under the bed, he quickly chopped it off. Another spirit stuck its arm out from the other side of the bed, and he cut that off too. As the spirits squirmed under the bed, trying to keep away from the sword, they pushed each other into his reach, so the lad maimed them one by one, until they plucked up enough courage to flee together, wailing and wailing as one. This left him free to pick up the golden ball they had left under the bed, and go off to seek his true love.

The lass had been taken to York to be hanged, and as she was brought out to the scaffold she cried out:

“Stop, stop; I think I see my mother coming.

Oh mother, have you got my golden ball,

And are you coming to set me free?”

“I’ve neither got thy golden ball,

Nor come to set you free,

But I have come to see thee hung,

Upon this gallow tree.”

The hangman told her to say her prayers and be ready to be hanged by the neck until she was dead. But in return she said:

“Stop, stop: I think I see my father coming.

Oh father, have you got my golden ball,

And are you coming to set me free?”

“I’ve neither got thy golden ball,

Nor come to set you free,

But I have come to see thee hung,

Upon this gallow tree.”

So the hangman told her to hurry with her prayers so he could get on with it, and to get her neck in the noose. But again, she said to stop, excusing herself as she saw her brother, her sister, her uncle and aunt, even her cousin coming to save her. The hangman had had enough, thinking she was just playing games to delay the inevitable and told her that her time was up. Just then, she spotted her sweetheart coming through the crowd, holding the golden ball above his head, she she cried out one last time:

“Stop, stop: I see my sweetheart coming.

Sweetheart, have you brought my golden ball,

And come to set me free?”

“Aye, I’ve brought thy golden ball,

And come to set you free,

I have not come to see thee hung,

Upon the gallow tree.”

Needless to say, she was allowed down from the scaffold and took better care of the golden ball from then on.