Kirkcudbright, Tuesday, Feb. 1859.
MY DEAR MARY,--I went to Johnny Nicholson last night, and he told me the following fairy story. I must give it in his own words:--
1. "You have been often at the Gatehouse," said he, "well, you'll mind a flat piece of land near Enrick farm; well, that was once a large loch; a long way down from there is still the ruin of a mill, which at that time was fed from this loch. Well, one night about the Hallowe'en times, two young ploughmen went to a smiddy to get their socks (of their ploughs) and colters repaired, and in passing the said mill on their way home again they heard music and dancing, and fiddling, and singing, and laughing, and talking; so one of the lads would be in to see what was going on; the other waited outside for hours, but his companion never came out again, so he went home assured that the brownies had got hold of him. About the same time the following year, the same lad went again to the smiddy on the same errand, and
this time he took another lad with him, but had the precaution to put the Bible in his pocket. Well, in passing the mill the second time, he heard the same sounds of music and dancing. This time, having the Bible in his band, he ventured to look in, when who should he see but his companion whom he had left standing there that day twelvemonths. He handed him the Bible, and the moment he did so, the music and dancing ceased, the lights went out, and all was darkness; but it is not said what his companion had seen, or had been doing all that time."
2. Another story he told me was about a boy of the name of Williamson, whose father, an Irish linen packman, was drowned on his way from Ireland, where he had gone to purchase linen; so the boy was brought up by his mother and grandfather, an old man of the name of Sproat, who lived in Borgue. The boy disappeared often for two and three, and often ten days at a time, and no one knew where he went, as he never told when he returned, though it was understood the fairies took him away. Upon one occasion the Laird of Barmagachan, was getting his peats cast, and all the neighbours round were assisting. At this time the boy had been away for ten days, and they were all wondering where he could be, when lo and behold, the boy is sitting in the midst of them. "Johnny," said one of the company, who were all seated in a ring, eating their dinner, "where did ye come from?" "I came with our folks," said the boy (meaning the fairies). "Your folks; who are they?" "Do you see yon barrow of peats a couping into yon hole? there's where I came from." An old man of the name of Brown, ancestor of the Browns of Langlands, who are still living in Borgue, advised the grandfather to send the boy to the Papist priest, and he
would give him something that would frighten away the fairies; so they accordingly sent the boy, and when he returned home he wore a cross hung round his neck by a bit of black ribbon. When the minister and kirk-session heard of it they excommunicated the old grandfather and old Brown for advising such a thing. They believed in fairies, but not in anything a Papist priest could do. However, the boy was never after taken away; and some of the oldest men now alive remember that boy as an old man. The whole affair is recorded in the books of the kirk-session of Borgue, and can be seen any day.
3. One day as a mother was sitting rocking her baby to sleep, she was surprised, on looking up, to see a lady of elegant and courtly demeanour, so unlike any one she had ever seen in that part of the country, standing in the middle of the room. She had not heard any one enter, therefore you may judge it was with no little surprise, not unmingled with curiosity, that she rose to welcome her strange visitor. She handed her a chair, but she very politely declined to be seated. She was very magnificently attired; her dress was of the richest green, embroidered round with spangles of gold, and on her head was a small coronet of pearls. The woman was still more surprised at her strange request. She asked, in a rich musical voice, if she would oblige her with a basin of oatmeal. A basinful to overflowing was immediately handed to her, for the woman's husband being both a farmer and miller, had plenty of meal at command. The lady promised to return it, and named the day she would do so. One of the children put out her hand to get hold of the grand lady's spangles, but told her mother afterwards that she felt nothing. The mother was afraid the child would lose the use of her hands, but no such calamity ensued. It would have
been very ungrateful in her fairy majesty if she had struck the child powerless for touching her dress, if indeed such power were hers. But to return to our story, the very day mentioned, the oatmeal was returned, not by the same lady, but by a curious little figure with a yelping voice; she was likewise dressed in green. After handing the meal she yelped out, "Braw meal, it's the top pickle of the sin corn." It was excellent; and what was very strange, all the family were advised to partake of it but one servant lad, who spurned the fairy's meal; and he dying shortly after, the miller and his wife firmly believed it was because he refused to eat of the meal. They also firmly believed their first visitor was no less a personage than the Queen of the Fairies, who having dismissed her court, had not one maid of honour in waiting to obey her commands. A few nights after this strange visit, as the miller was going to bed, a gentle tap was heard at the door, and on its being opened by him, with a light in his hand, there stood a little figure dressed in green, who, in a shrill voice, but very polite manner, requested him to let on the water and set the mill in order, for she was going to grind some corn. The miller did not dare to refuse, so did as she desired him. She told him to go to bed again, and he would find all as he had left it. He found everything in the morning as she said he would. So much for the honesty of fairies.
4. A tailor was going to work at a farm-house early one morning. He had just reached it, and was going to enter, when he heard a shrill voice call out, "Kep fast, will ye?" and on looking quickly round, he was just in time to receive in his arms a sweet, little, smiling baby of a month old, instead of a little lady in green, who was standing to receive the child. The tailor turned and ran home as fast
as he could, for tailors are generally nimble kind of folks, and giving the baby to his wife, ran off again to his work, leaving his better half in no pleasant mood with the little intruder, as she very politely termed the little innocent. Having reached the farm-house, the tailor found the inhabitants all thrown into confusion by the screaming, yelping, little pest, as they called their little nurseling, for the little woman in green had given in exchange this little hopeful for their own sweet little one, which was safe with the tailor's wife. They found out afterwards it was the nurse who had done it. The doctor was sent for, but all was in vain; day nor night rest they got none. At last one day, all being absent but the tailor, who was there following his trade, he commenced a discourse with the child in the cradle. "Will hae ye your pipes?" says the tailor. "They're below my head," says the tenant of the cradle. "Play me a spring," says the tailor. Like thought, the little man, jumping from the cradle, played round the room with great glee. A curious noise was heard meantime outside; and the tailor asked what it meant. The little elf called out, "It's my folk wanting me," and away he fled up the chimney, leaving the tailor more dead than alive. Their own child was brought home, the guilty nurse dismissed, and the tailor's wife amply rewarded for the care of the child. She was heard to say, "It was a glad sight the wee bit bairn."
5. The Macgowans of Grayscroft in Tongland, and latterly of Bogra, had the power of witchcraft to a considerable extent, and it descended from one generation to another. At the time we refer to, Abraham Macgowan and his daughter Jenny resided at Grayscroft. Jenny had an unlimited power from Old Nick to act as she pleased. The ploughmen at that time in their employ were Harry Dew and Davie Gordon, young men
about twenty-two years of age; they had been there for the last twelve months; and conversing one day together, the following took place:--
Harry--"Losh man, Davie, what makes ye sae drowsy, lazy, and sleepy-like the day, for I am verra sure ye work nae mair than I do; ye eat the same and sleep the same as I do, and yet ye are so thin and wearied and hungry-like, I dinna ken ava what ails ye; are ye weel eneugh, Davie?" "I'm weel eneugh, Harry, but it's a' ye ken about it; sleep a night or twa at the bedside, and maybe you'll no be sae apt to ask me sic questions again. Harry--"The bedside, Davie! what differ will that make? I hae nae mair objections to sleep there than at the wa." This being agreed to, they exchanged places. Nothing occurred to disturb either of them till the third night, although Harry kept watch: their bed was on the stable loft, when, about midnight, the stable door was opened cautiously, and some one was heard (by Harry only) coming up the ladder and to the bedside, with a quiet step. A bridle was held above the one next the bedside, and the words, "Up horsey," whispered in his ear; in one moment Harry was transformed into a horse at the stable door. The saddle was got on with some kicking and plunging, but Jenny gets mounted, and off they set by the Elfcraigs, Auld Brig o' Tongland, the March Cleughs, and on till they reach the Auld Kirk of Buittle. Harry was tied to the gate along with others. Meg o' Glengap was there on her dairymaid, now a bonny mare, neat in all her proportions. "Tib" o' Criffle came on her auld ploughman, rather wind-broken. "Lizzy," frae the Bennan, came on her cot wife, limping with a swelled knee. "Moll o' the Wood" came on a herd callant frae the "How o'Siddick." When all the horses were mustered, there was some
snorting and kicking and neighing amongst them. Fairies, witches, brownies, and all met in the kirk and had a blithe holiday, under the patronage of his Satanic majesty, which continued till the crowing of the cock. Wearied with his gallop, Harry, when the charmed bridle was taken off, found himself in his own bed and in his own shape. Harry is determined to be revenged; he finds the charmed bridle in a hole in the kitchen in a week after; he tries it on Jenny, using the same words, when Jenny is transformed into the auld brown mare of the farm; he takes her to the neighbouring smithy, and gets her, after much ado, shod all round, when he returns and leaves her, after securing the wonderful bridle.
Next morning Harry is ordered to go for a doctor, as his mistress is taken ill. He goes into the house to ask for her; pulls the bed clothes off her, and discovers there was a horse shoe on each hand and foot, when Harry says, "Jenny, my lass, that did ye." Jenny played many more similar tricks on her neighbour lads and lasses.