A Scotch Fairy Tale,
Retold by Sophie May
In the green valley of the Yarrow, near the
castle-keep of Norham, dwelt an honest little
family, whose only grief was an unhappy son,
Janet, with jimp form, bonnie eyes, and cherry
cheeks, was the best of daughters; the boys,
Sandie and Davie, were swift-footed, brave,
kind, and obedient; but Robin, the youngest, had
a stormy temper, and when his will was crossed
he became as reckless as a reeling hurricane.
Once, in a passion, he drove two of his father’s
“kye,” or cattle, down a steep hill to their death.
He seemed not to care for home or kindred, and
often pierced the tender heart of his mother
with sharp words. When she came at night, and
“happed” the bed-clothes carefully about his
form, and then stooped to kiss his nut-brown
cheeks, he turned away with a frown, muttering:
“Mither, let me be.”
It was a sad case with Wild Robin, who seemed
to have neither love nor conscience.
“My heart is sair,” sighed his mother, “wi’
greeting over sich a son.”
“He hates our auld cottage and our muckle
wark,” said the poor father. “Ah, weel! I could
a’maist wish the fairies had him for a season, to
teach him better manners.”
This the gudeman said heedlessly, little knowing
there was any danger of Robin’s being carried
away to Elf-land. Whether the fairies were
at that instant listening under the eaves, will
never be known; but it chanced, one day, that
Wild Robin was sent across the moors to fetch
“I’ll rin away,” thought the boy; “’t is hard
indeed if ilka day a great lad like me must mind
the kye. I’ll gae aff; and they’ll think me
So he gaed, and he gaed, over round swelling
hills, over old battle-fields, past the roofless ruins
of houses whose walls were crowned with tall
climbing grasses, till he came to a crystal sheet
of water called St. Mary’s Loch. Here he
paused to take breath. The sky was dull and
lowering; but at his feet were yellow flowers,
which shone, on that gray day, like streaks of
He threw himself wearily upon the grass, not
heeding that he had chosen his couch within a
little mossy circle known as a “fairy’s ring.”
Wild Robin knew that the country people would
say the fays had pressed that green circle with
their light feet. He had heard all the Scottish
lore of brownies, elves, will-o’-the-wisps and the
strange water-kelpies, who shriek with eldritch
laughter. He had been told that the Queen of
the Fairies had coveted him from his birth, and
would have stolen him away, only that, just as
she was about to seize him from the cradle, he
had sneezed; and from that instant the fairy-spell
was over, and she had no more control of
Yet, in spite of all these stories, the boy was
not afraid; and if he had been informed that
any of the uncanny people were, even now, haunting
his footsteps, he would not have believed it.
“I see,” said Wild Robin, “the sun is drawing
his nightcap over his eyes, and dropping asleep.
I believe I’ll e’en take a nap mysel’, and see
what comes o’ it.”
In two minutes he had forgotten St. Mary’s
Loch, the hills, the moors, the yellow flowers.
He heard, or fancied he heard, his sister Janet
calling him home.
“And what have ye for supper?” he muttered
between his teeth.
“Parritch and milk,” answered the lassie gently.
“Parritch and milk! Whist! say nae mair!
Lang, lang may ye wait for Wild Robin: he’ll
not gae back for oatmeal parritch!”
Next a sad voice fell on his ear.
“Mither’s; and she mourns me dead!” thought
he; but it was only the far-off village-bell, which
sounded like the echo of music he had heard lang
syne, but might never hear again.
“D’ ye think I’m not alive?” tolled the bell.
“I sit all day in my little wooden temple, brooding
over the sins of the parish.”
“A brazen lie!” cried Robin.
“Nay, the truth, as I’m a living soul! Wae
worth ye, Robin Telfer: ye think yersel’ hardly
used. Say, have your brithers softer beds than
yours? Is your ain father served with larger
potatoes or creamier buttermilk? Whose mither
sae kind as yours, ungrateful chiel? Gae to Elf-land,
Wild Robin; and dool and wae follow ye!
dool and wae follow ye!”
The round yellow sun had dropped behind the
hills; the evening breezes began to blow; and now
could be heard the faint trampling of small hoofs,
and the tinkling of tiny bridle-bells: the fairies
were trooping over the ground. First of all rode
“Her skirt was of the grass-green silk,
Her mantle o’ the velvet fine;
At ilka tress of her horse’s mane
Hung fifty silver bells and nine.”
But Wild Robin’s closed eyes saw nothing: his
sleep-sealed ears heard nothing. The Queen of
the fairies dismounted, stole up to him, and laid
her soft fingers on his cheeks.
“Here is a little man after my ain heart,” said
she: “I like his knitted brow, and the downward
curve of his lips. Knights, lift him gently, set
him on a red-roan steed, and waft him away to
Wild Robin was lifted as gently as a brown
leaf borne by the wind; he rode as softly as if
the red-roan steed had been saddled with satin,
and shod with velvet. It even may be that the
faint tinkling of the bridle-bells lulled him into
a deeper slumber; for when he awoke it was
morning in Fairy-land.
Robin sprang from his mossy couch, and stared
about him. Where was he? He rubbed his eyes,
and looked again. Dreaming, no doubt; but
what meant all these nimble little beings bustling
hither and thither in hot haste? What meant
these pearl-bedecked caves, scarcely larger than
swallow’s nests? these green canopies, overgrown
with moss? He pinched himself, and gazed
again. Countless flowers nodded to him, and
seemed, like himself, on tip-toe with curiosity,
he thought. He beckoned one of the busy,
dwarfish little brownies toward him.
“I ken I’m talking in my sleep,” said the
lad; “but can ye tell me what dell is this, and
how I chanced to be in it?”
The brownie might or might not have heard;
but, at any rate, he deigned no reply, and went
on with his task, which was pounding seeds in
a stone mortar.
“Am I Robin Telfer, of the Valley of Yarrow,
and yet canna shake aff my silly dreams?”
“Weel, my lad,” quoth the Queen of the Fairies,
giving him a smart tap with her wand, “stir
yersel’, and be at work; for naebody idles in
Bewildered Robin ventured a look at the little
Queen. By daylight she seemed somewhat sleepy
and tired; and was withal so tiny, that he might
almost have taken her between his thumb and
finger, and twirled her above his head; yet she
poised herself before him on a mullein-stalk and
looked every inch a queen. Robin found her
gaze oppressive; for her eyes were hard, and
cold, and gray, as if they had been little orbs
“Get ye to work, Wild Robin!”
“What to do?” meekly asked the boy, hungrily
glancing at a few kernels of rye which had rolled
out of one of the brownie’s mortars.
“Are ye hungry, my laddie? Touch a grain of
rye if ye dare! Shell these dry beans; and if
so be ye’re starving, eat as many as ye can boil
in an acorn-cup.”
With these words she gave the boy a withered
bean-pod, and, summoning a meek little brownie,
bade him see that the lad did not over-fill the
acorn-cup, and that he did not so much as peck
at a grain of rye. Then glancing sternly at her
prisoner, she withdrew, sweeping after her the
long train of her green robe.
The dull days crept by, and still there seemed
no hope that Wild Robin would ever escape from
his beautiful but detested prison. He had no
wings, poor laddie; and he could neither become
invisible nor draw himself through a keyhole
It is true, he had mortal companions: many
chubby babies; many bright-eyed boys and girls,
whose distracted parents were still seeking them,
far and wide, upon the earth. It would almost
seem that the wonders of Fairy-land might make
the little prisoners happy. There were countless
treasures to be had for the taking, and the
very dust in the little streets was precious with
specks of gold: but the poor children shivered
for the want of a mother’s love; they all pined
for the dear home-people. If a certain task
seemed to them particularly irksome, the heartless
Queen was sure to find it out, and oblige them
to perform it, day after day. If they disliked
any article of food, that, and no other, were they
forced to eat, or else starve.
Wild Robin, loathing his withered beans and
unsalted broths, longed intensely for one little
breath of fragrant steam from the toothsome
parritch on his father’s table, one glance at a
roasted potato. He was homesick for the gentle
sister he had neglected, the rough brothers
whose cheeks he had pelted black and blue; and
yearned for the very chinks in the walls, the
very thatch on the home-roof.
Gladly would he have given every fairy flower,
at the root of which clung a lump of gold ore,
if he might have had his own coverlet “happed”
about him once more by his gentle mother.
“here is a little man after my ain heart,”
said the queen of the fairies
“Mither,” he whispered in his dreams, “my
shoon are worn, and my feet bleed; but I’ll soon
creep hame, if I can. Keep the parritch warm
Robin was as strong as a mountain-goat; and
his strength was put to the task of threshing rye,
grinding oats and corn, or drawing water from
Every night, troops of gay fairies and plodding
brownies stole off on a visit to the upper
world, leaving Robin and his companions in ever-deeper
despair. Poor Robin! he was fain to
“Oh, that my father had ne’er on me smiled!
Oh, that my mother had ne’er to me sung!
Oh, that my cradle had never been rocked,
But that I had died when I was young.”
Now, there was one good-natured brownie who
pitied Robin. When he took a journey to earth
with his fellow-brownies, he often threshed rye
for the laddie’s father, or churned butter in his
good mother’s dairy, unseen and unsuspected.
If the little creature had been watched, and paid
for these good offices, he would have left the
farmhouse forever in sore displeasure.
To homesick Robin he brought news of the
family who mourned him as dead. He stole a
silky tress of Janet’s fair hair, and wondered to
see the boy weep over it; for brotherly affection
is a sentiment which never yet penetrated the
heart of a brownie. The dull little sprite would
gladly have helped the poor lad to his freedom,
but told him that only on one night of the year
was there the least hope, and that was on Hallow-e’en,
when the whole nation of fairies ride in procession
through the streets of earth.
So Robin was instructed to spin a dream,
which the kind brownie would hum in Janet’s
ear while she slept. By this means the lassie
would not only learn that her brother was in
the power of the elves, but would also learn how
to release him.
Accordingly, the night before Hallow-e’en, the
bonnie Janet dreamed that the long-lost Robin
was living in Elf-land, and that he was to pass
through the streets with a cavalcade of fairies.
But, alas! how should even a sister know him
in the dim starlight, among the passing troops
of elfish and mortal riders? The dream assured
her that she might let the first company go by,
and the second; but Robin would be one of the
The full directions as to how she should act
were given in poetical form, as follows:
“First let pass the black, Janet,
And syne let pass the brown;
But grip ye to the milk-white steed,
And pull the rider down.
For I ride on the milk-white steed,
And aye nearest the town:
Because I was a christened lad
They gave me that renown.
My right hand will be gloved, Janet;
My left hand will be bare;
And these the tokens I give thee,
No doubt I will be there.
They’ll shape me in your arms, Janet,
A toad, snake, and an eel;
But hold me fast, nor let me gang,
As you do love me weel.
They’ll shape me in your arms, Janet,
A dove, bat, and a swan:
Cast your green mantle over me,
I’ll be myself again.”
The good sister Janet, far from remembering
any of the old sins of her brother, wept for joy
to know that he was yet among the living. She
told no one of her strange dream; but hastened
secretly to the Miles Cross, saw the strange
cavalcade pricking through the greenwood, and
pulled down the rider on the milk-white steed,
holding him fast through all his changing shapes.
But when she had thrown her green mantle over
him, and clasped him in her arms as her own
brother Robin, the angry voice of the Fairy Queen
“Up then spake the Queen of Fairies,
Out of a blush of rye:
‘You’ve taken away the bonniest lad
In all my companie.
‘Had I but had the wit, yestreen,
That I have learned to-day,
I’d pinned the sister to her bed
Ere he’d been won away!’”
However, it was too late now. Wild Robin
was safe, and the elves had lost their power
over him forever. His forgiving parents and his
lead-hearted brothers welcomed him home with
more than the old love.
So grateful and happy was the poor laddie that
he nevermore grumbled at his oatmeal parritch,
or minded his kye with a scowling brow.
But to the end of his days, when he heard
mention of fairies and brownies, his mind wandered
off in a mizmaze. He died in peace, and
was buried on the banks of the Yarrow.