Wild Robin

A Scotch Fairy Tale


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


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


"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


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


"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 of


"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


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


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


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


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 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.

Why The Squirrel Wears A Bushy Tail William Caxton facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail