Farquhar Macneill

: The Scottish Fairy Book

Once upon a time there was a young man named Farquhar MacNeill. He had

just gone to a new situation, and the very first night after he went to

it his mistress asked him if he would go over the hill to the house of a

neighbour and borrow a sieve, for her own was all in holes, and she

wanted to sift some meal.

Farquhar agreed to do so, for he was a willing lad, and he set out at

once upon his errand, after
he farmer's wife had pointed out to him the

path that he was to follow, and told him that he would have no

difficulty in finding the house, even though it was strange to him, for

he would be sure to see the light in the window.

He had not gone very far, however, before he saw what he took to be the

light from a cottage window on his left hand, some distance from the

path, and, forgetting his Mistress's instructions that he was to follow

the path right over the hill, he left it, and walked towards the light.

It seemed to him that he had almost reached it when his foot tripped,

and he fell down, down, down, into a Fairy Parlour, far under the


It was full of Fairies, who were engaged in different occupations.

Close by the door, or rather the hole down which he had so

unceremoniously tumbled, two little elderly women, in black aprons and

white mutches, were busily engaged in grinding corn between two flat

millstones. Other two Fairies, younger women, in blue print gowns and

white kerchiefs, were gathering up the freshly ground meal, and baking

it into bannocks, which they were toasting on a girdle over a peat fire,

which was burning slowly in a corner.

In the centre of the large apartment a great troop of Fairies, Elves,

and Sprites were dancing reels as hard as they could to the music of a

tiny set of bagpipes which were being played by a brown-faced Gnome, who

sat on a ledge of rock far above their heads.

They all stopped their various employments when Farquhar came suddenly

down in their midst, and looked at him in alarm; but when they saw that

he was not hurt, they bowed gravely and bade him be seated. Then they

went on with their work and with their play as if nothing had happened.

But Farquhar, being very fond of dancing, and being in no wise anxious

to be seated, thought that he would like to have a reel first, so he

asked the Fairies if he might join them. And they, although they looked

surprised at his request, allowed him to do so, and in a few minutes

the young man was dancing away as gaily as any of them.

And as he danced a strange change came over him. He forgot his errand,

he forgot his home, he forgot everything that had ever happened to him,

he only knew that he wanted to remain with the Fairies all the rest of

his life.

And he did remain with them--for a magic spell had been cast over him,

and he became like one of themselves, and could come and go at nights

without being seen, and could sip the dew from the grass and honey from

the flowers as daintily and noiselessly as if he had been a Fairy born.

Time passed by, and one night he and a band of merry companions set out

for a long journey through the air. They started early, for they

intended to pay a visit to the Man in the Moon and be back again before


All would have gone well if Farquhar had only looked where he was going,

but he did not, being deeply engaged in making love to a young Fairy

Maiden by his side, so he never saw a cottage that was standing right in

his way, till he struck against the chimney and stuck fast in the


His companions sped merrily on, not noticing what had befallen him, and

he was left to disentangle himself as best he could.

As he was doing so he chanced to glance down the wide chimney, and in

the cottage kitchen he saw a comely young woman dandling a rosy-cheeked


Now, when Farquhar had been in his mortal state, he had been very fond

of children, and a word of blessing rose to his lips.

"God shield thee," he said, as he looked at the mother and child, little

guessing what the result of his words would be.

For scarce had the Holy Name crossed his lips than the spell which had

held him so long was broken, and he became as he had been before.

Instantly his thoughts flew to his friends at home, and to the new

Mistress whom he had left waiting for her sieve; for he felt sure that

some weeks must have elapsed since he set out to fetch it. So he made

haste to go to the farm.

When he arrived in the neighbourhood everything seemed strange. There

were woods where no woods used to be, and walls where no walls used to

be. To his amazement, he could not find his way to the farm, and, worst

of all, in the place where he expected to find his father's house he

found nothing but a crop of rank green nettles.

In great distress he looked about for someone to tell him what it all

meant, and at last he found an old man thatching the roof of a cottage.

This old man was so thin and grey that at first Farquhar took him for a

patch of mist, but as he went nearer he saw that he was a human being,

and, going close up to the wall and shouting with all his might, for he

felt sure that such an ancient man would be deaf, he asked him if he

could tell him where his friends had gone to, and what had happened to

his father's dwelling.

The old man listened, then he shook his head. "I never heard of him," he

answered slowly; "but perhaps my father might be able to tell you."

"Your father!" said Farquhar, in great surprise. "Is it possible that

your father is alive?"

"Aye he is," answered the old man, with a little laugh. "If you go into

the house you'll find him sitting in the arm-chair by the fire."

Farquhar did as he was bid, and on entering the cottage found another

old man, who was so thin and withered and bent that he looked as if he

must at least be a hundred years old. He was feebly twisting ropes to

bind the thatch on the roof.

"Can ye tell me aught of my friends, or where my father's cottage is?"

asked Farquhar again, hardly expecting that this second old man would be

able to answer him.

"I cannot," mumbled this ancient person; "but perhaps my father can tell


"Your father!" exclaimed Farquhar, more astonished than ever. "But

surely he must be dead long ago."

The old man shook his head with a weird grimace.

"Look there," he said, and pointed with a twisted finger, to a leathern

purse, or sporran, which was hanging to one of the posts of a wooden

bedstead in the corner.

Farquhar approached it, and was almost frightened out of his wits by

seeing a tiny shrivelled face crowned by a red pirnie, looking over the

edge of the sporran.

"Tak' him out; he'll no touch ye," chuckled the old man by the fire.

So Farquhar took the little creature out carefully between his finger

and thumb, and set him on the palm of his left hand. He was so

shrivelled with age that he looked just like a mummy.

"Dost know anything of my friends, or where my father's cottage is gone

to?" asked Farquhar for the third time, hardly expecting to get an


"They were all dead long before I was born," piped out the tiny figure.

"I never saw any of them, but I have heard my father speak of them."

"Then I must be older than you!" cried Farquhar, in great dismay. And he

got such a shock at the thought that his bones suddenly dissolved into

dust, and he fell, a heap of grey ashes, on the floor.