Thursday 11 August 2016

The Fairy, the Child and the Red Worm

Today, we return to The Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany, Volume 82 (1818). This time, the mysterious CTCS shares the tale of a woman whose daughter was stolen by fairies, and returned by fairy magic!

But let us return to Thomas the Rhymer, - who appears, from the most authentic accounts, to be a very beneficent prince, and to have still a very great regard for the inhabitants of his native land, to take delight in promoting their interest, and in doing all in his power to release them from the thraldom of superhuman malicious powers. A worthy old woman who lived in a small cottage, (the remains of which were lately discernible on the banks of the Taigillin burn, a small streamlet in the parish of Lesmahag,)o and who had no other means of support than what she earned by spinning, and what she drew from a cow which the neighbouring fanners very kindly allowed her to pasture on the uncultivated braes, and by the waj, sides and hedges, - was harassed almost to death by loud and unearthly noises; so that what with terror and want of sleep she was nearly driven distracted. Her cow, which lowed continually, either produced no milk, or what she gave was sour as vinegar: and let her spin ever so diligently, she could make no progress; she had just as much thread when she began as when she stopped. 

Tibbie knew not what to do; her neighbours judging her uncannie, deserted her; and she was in the utmost distress. day exactly at noon, having passed a most fearful nigh,t and when after much consideration, she had just determined to flee from the house and all that was in it, a gentle tap came to the door, and a mild voice inquired if any were within. The good woman rose and opened the door, but saw nothing. Imagining that she had been mistaken. she went and sat down. when she again heard the same tap with the same inquiry. A second time she went to the door, and a second time she saw nothing.  She had no sooner returned again to her seat, than the tapping and inquiry were repeated. Tibbie’s patience was inexhaustible. She went a third time to the door, and again seeing nobody, she stepped round the corner of her hut to see if any boys had been playing her a trick. Nought was there, and, not a little agitated, she returned into her house, when, to her amazement she found the floor occupied by a tall young man, clad in green, attended by seven blooming boys dressed in the same habiliments. 

The youth told her not to be alarmed: that, being out a hunting he had taken the liberty of calling for a drink, to which, as he was somewhat hungry, he would be much obliged to her if she would add a little bread and cheese, for which he would most willingly pay. He apologized for their conduct at the door, by saying, that his young attendants wished to give her a little surprise, but he should be sorry if it had occasioned her any alarm. 

“I am vext I canna gie ye a drink of ocht but water, my bonnie bairn, but that ye’s hae clear as the bell; for though I hae tholit muckle wearie ill, He has nae luiten them scaithe the siller well.” 

She bustled about, and set before them excellent bread and cheese, the last indeed which she had in the house, and, taking a white bowl, she filled it with crystal water, and, according to the invariable practice of the Scottish peasantry, after having wished them good health, and God's blessing, she took one sip and placed it before them.

They ate very heartily, though still the good woman's bread and cheese appeared to be growing no less; which she perceiving, after looking for some time, she could no longer contain herself, but in great anxiety exclaimed, “I doubt, Sirs, ye binnae cannie!” The eldest smiled, and told her not to be alarmed, that he was indeed no longer a man, but Thomas the Rhymer, King of the Fairies, and that these were seven of his pages. He further told her, that he perfectly knew her situation, and what it was that had long haunted her abode, but that, if she would take his advice, she should get quit of all her misluck, as well as of her nocturnal, visitors for he was well aware of her great kindness in setting before unknown strangers her only provisions. 

Mongolian Death Worm by Belgian painter Pieter Dirkx.
“Ony thing, ony thing, that tramps nae on Him that is abune us a’, an if ye’ll but say the Lord is gude an’ gude till a’, whate’er ye bid I’ll do.” His Majesty smiling, satisfied the good woman's fears, and told her to watch till eight o’clock exactly, when she would perceive the outer door to open apparently of its own accord, and a gentle whirlwind to enter thereat. This would move slowly forwards, till, having arrived at the middle of the floor, it would stand there whirling a few moments, when a red worm would come up between the stones. The instant that appeared, she was to throw a few drops of the liquid contained in the phial, which he now put into her hands, upon it, and say, “

“Gin God made ye sae, 
   Remain as ye are,
But if ye be in wae,
   Beturn to what ye war.”

Whatever she might see she was not to be afraid, and if at any time she grew alarmed, she was to sprinkle a few more drops on the object of her apprehensions and repeat the above words. If she grew terrified and forgot this advice, it was a thousand chances to one but both she and her house would be destroyed. The fairies, having said this, immediately vanished, leaving a large purse of money behind them, which the good dame would not touch till she had sained it, when finding that it did not turn into withered leaves, nor bits of “sclate stands, but bade still gude white siller,” she adventured to put it into the press. 

About eight o’clock she watched with great anxiety, and no sooner had the church clock of Abbey Green struck, than the door slowly opened. The whirlwind moved to the middle of the floor, where, according as “True Thomas: predicted, a red worm came crawling up from between two stones. Tibbie immediately threw some of the liquid upon it, repeating the incantation. A large black boar in a moment stood before her, gnashing its tusks, and apparently just going to fly at her. Some more of the phial was bestowed upon the boar, which was instantaneously changed into a most enormous serpent coiled around the room, and crawling towards her with glaring eyes and open mouth. Tibbie dashed some more of the liquid in its face, when suddenly a corpse was extended at her feet, with its cold and glassy eyes fixed sternly upon her. 

In great terror she dropped the phial at her feet, when the stiffened corpse began to relax, an; extended its arm to seize the bottle. Suddenly recollecting herself, she snatched up the phial, and dashed it, liquid and all, with her whole force, upon the corpse, roaring out, “His presence be about us! what will come neest!” room grew dark as midnight,- a loud peal of thunder shook the house, and, by the momentary glare of the lightning, the goodwife could perceive a little ugly thing, somewhat resembling a man, but exceedingly hideous, come out of the mouth of the corpse, and fly away on the firefiaucht. All was light, and a young woman, whom Tibbie recognized to be her daughter, who had been lost when an infant, was lying on the floor in the manner of one recovering from a swoon. The child told her mother that one day when she had “gane out to blade some kail for the pat, a little man, no that doons braw,” came to her, and asked if she would go with him. “He shew me a wheen rings an’ braw flegairies. I replied, scorninwise, ‘Tweel I may gang wi’ you, for wow but ye are a bonnie strappan body!’ - ‘Chapse ye at your word! quo he; an’ wi’ that the grun’ claveaneth us, and we sank down till a frichtsome den, whar naething was to be seen but the cauld clattie sides o’ the cove, shawn by a blae wanyoch glare. Because I wadnae submit to be his sin, he dumit me to torment an’ fley my kind auld mither, an’ this I bude to do, whill I was winfreeit by a mare powerfu’ being nor himsell. Ilka nicht I was turnit intil a laithsome worm, an’ the ilkleetlie fuirie entered the house by a whirlwind, an’ forcit me, sair agains my will,  to talc an active han; in a; the trouble an; mischief whilk has happcnit to you sen ye war trystit wi’ this sare visitation.”

The old woman was also informed, by this communicative daughter, that she had lived fourteen years in the fairy's dungeon, during which time she had resolutely withstood all the dishonourable attempts of the elf who, by anointing the crown of her head, and the palms of both hands, with a very fragrant oil, “gart her grow woman-muckle in twathree days.” 

She also informed her mother that the real reason why the Fairy King did not enter her dwelling at the first, was because she had only opened her door a-jar, at which the dignity of the gude fairies would not permit them to enter, it being only evil spirits who come in at doors in this situation. 


Sarah said...

what a harrowing tale for gudewife Ishbel! [Tibbie being the pet name for Isabel, and Ishbel being the Scots version]. I confess, I didn't follow all of that tale for the dialect being much too broad or even muckle tae braid for me.

Catherine Curzon said...

If you think it's a tricky read, you should try typing it up!

Anonymous said...


Whoa! That's some busy background! Can't read the text! -- An Admirer

Catherine Curzon said...

This is an error that a tiny number of people have reported and I am unable to replicate; it's a pain of a gremlin though so I am trying! Usually refreshing fixes the problem but if it doesn't, let me know what device and browser you're using and I'll see what I can do. :-)