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Wild Robin

from Boys And Girls Bookshelf - STORIES FROM GREAT BRITAIN





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, named
Robin.

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 the kye.

"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 dead."

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 sunshine.

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 him.

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 the Queen.

"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 Fairy-land."

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
Elf-land."

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 of
granite.

"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 bodily.

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.

"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 for
me."

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 a
brook.

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 sing--

"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
third.

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 was heard.

"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.





Next: The Story Of Merlin

Previous: Whittington And His Cat



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