MoboReader> Literature > Brownies and Bogles

   Chapter 10 CHANGELINGS.

Brownies and Bogles By Louise Imogen Guiney Characters: 9706

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

KIDNAPPING was a favorite pastime with our small friends, and a great many reasons concurred to make it a necessary and thriving trade. We are told that both the Tylwyth Teg and the Korrigans had a fear that their frail race was dying out, and sought to steal hearty young children, and leave the wee, bright, sickly "changeling," or ex-changeling, in its place. That sounds like a quibble; for we know that fairies were free from the shadow of death, and could not possibly dread any lessening of their numbers from the old, old cause. Yet we saw that the air-elves held pitched battles, and murdered one another like gallant soldiers, from the world's beginning; and again comes a straggling little proof to make us suspect that they had not quite the immortality they boasted. However, we pass it by, sure at least that the philosopher who first observed the merry goblins to be at bottom wavering and disconsolate, recognized an instance of it in this pathetic eagerness to adopt babies not their own. Fairy-folk were believed, in general, to have power over none but unbaptized children.

A tradition older and wider than the Tylwyth Teg's runs that a yearly tribute was due from Fairyland to the prince of the infernal regions, as poor King ?geus had once to pay Minos of Crete with the seven fair boys and girls; and that, for the sake of sparing their own dear ones, the little beings, in their fantastic dress, flew east and west on an anxious hunt for human children, who might be captured and delivered over to bondage instead. And they crept cautiously to many a cradle, and having secured the sleeping innocent, "plucked the nodding nurse by the nose," as Ben Jonson said, and vanished with a scream of triumphant laughter. Welsh fairies have been caught in the very act of the theft, and a pretty fight they made, every time, to keep their booty; but the strength of a man or a woman, was, of course, too much for them to resist long.

Now, whenever a mother, who, you may count upon it, thought her own urchin most beautiful of all under the moon, found him growing cross and homely, in despite of herself, she suddenly awoke to this view of the case: that the dwindled babe was her babe no longer, but a miserable young gosling from Fairyland slipped into its place. A miserable young foreign gosling it was from that hour, though it had her own grandfather's special kind of a nose on its unmistakable face.

The discovery always made a great sensation; people came from the surrounding villages to wonder at the lean, gaping, knowing-eyed small stranger in the crib, and to propose all sorts of charms which should rid the house of his presence, and restore the rightful heir again. They were not especially polite to the poor changeling. In Denmark, and in Ireland as well, they dandled him on a hot shovel! If he were really a changeling, the fairies, rather than see him singed, were sure to appear in a violent fluster and whisk him away, and at the same minute to drop its former owner plump into the cradle. And if it were not a changeling, how did those queer by-gone mammas know when to stop the broiling and baking?

Mr. George Waldron, who in 1726 wrote an entertaining Description of the Isle of Man, recorded it that he once went to see a baby supposed to be a changeling; that it seemed to be four or five years old, but smaller than an infant of six months, pale, and silky-haired, and (what was unusual) with the fairest face under heaven; that it was not able to walk nor to move a joint, seldom smiled, ate scarcely anything, and never spoke nor cried; but that if you called it a fairy-elf, it fixed its gaze on you as if it would look you through. If it were left alone, it was overheard laughing and frolicking, and when it was taken up after, limp as cloth, its hair was found prettily combed, and there were signs that it had been washed and dressed by its unseen playfellows.

The main point to put the family mind at rest on the matter, was to make the changeling "own up," force him to do something which no tender mortal in socks and bibs ever was able to do, such as dance, prophesy, or manage a musical instrument. There was an Irish changeling, the youngest of five sons, who, being teased, snatched a bagpipe from a visitor, and played upon it in the most accomplished and melting manner, sitting up in his wooden chair, his big goggle-eyes fixed on the company. And when he knew he was found out, he sprang, bagpipe and all, into the river; which leads one to suspect that he was a sort of stray Str?mkarl.


The Welsh fairies had good taste, and admired wholesome and handsome children. They stole such often, and left for substitute the plentyn-newid (the change-child) who at first was exactly like the absent nursling, but soon grew ugly, shrivelled, biti

ng, wailing, cunning and ill-tempered. In the hope of proving whether it were a fairy-waif or not, people put the little creature to such hard tests, that sometimes it nearly died of acquaintance with a rod, or an oven, or a well.


If the bereaved parent did some very astonishing thing in plain view of the wonder-chick, that would generally entrap it into betraying its secrets. A French changeling was once moved unawares to sing out that it was nine hundred years old, at least! In Wales, and also in Brittainy (which are sister-countries of one race) the following story is current: A mother whose infant had been spirited away, and who was much perplexed over what she took to be a changeling, was advised to cook a meal for ten farm-servants in one egg-shell. When the queer little creature, burning with curiosity, asked her from his high-chair what she was about, she could hardly answer, so excited was she to hear him speak. At that he cried louder: "A meal for ten, dear mother, in one egg-shell? The acorn before the oak have I seen, and the wilderness before the lawn, but never did I behold anything like that!" and so gave damaging evidence of his age and his unlucky wisdom. And the woman replied: "You have seen altogether too much, my son, and you shall have a beating!" And thereupon she began to thrash him, until he screeched, and a fairy appeared hurriedly to rescue him, and in the crib lay the round, rosy, real child, who had been missing a long while.

Now the "gentry" of modern Greece had an eye also to clever children; but they almost always brought them back, laden with gifts, lovelier in person than when they were taken from home. And if they appointed a changeling in the meantime (which they were not very apt to do) it never showed its elfin nature until it was quite grown up! unlike the uncanny goblins who were all too ready from the first to give autobiographies on the slightest hint.

The Drows of the Orkney Islands fancied larger game. They used to stalk in among church congregations and carry off pious deacons and deaconesses![141]

[142] So wrote one Lucas Jacobson Debes, in 1670.

In a pretty Scotch tale, a sly fairy threatened to steal the "lad bairn," unless the mother could tell the fairy's right name. The latter was a complete stranger, and the woman was sore worried; and went to walk in the woods to ease her anxious and aching heart, and to think over some means of outwitting the enemy of her boy. And presently she heard a faint voice singing under a leaf:

Little kens the gude dame at hame

That Whuppity Stoorie is ma name!

When the smart lady in green came to take the beautiful "lad bairn," the mother quietly called her "Whuppity Stoorie!" and off she hurried with a cry of fear; like the Austrian dwarf Kruzimügeli, the "dear Ekke Nekkepem" of Friesland, and many another who tried to play the same trick, and who were always themselves the means of telling mortals the very names they would conceal.


Fairy-folk young and old were coquettish enough about their names, and greatly preferred they should not be spoken outright. This habit got them into many a scrape. The anecdote of "Who hurt you? Myself!" was told in Spain, Finland, Brittainy, Japan, and a dozen other kingdoms, and seems to be as old as the Odyssey. Do you remember where Ulysses tells the Cyclop that his name is Outis, which means Nobody? and how, after the eye of the wicked Polyphemus has been put out, the comrades of the big blinded fellow ask him who did the deed, and he growls back, very sensibly: "Nobody!" Consider what follows a typical modern version of the same trick.


A young Scotch child, whom we will call Alan, sits by the fire, when a pretty creature the size of a doll, waltzes down the chimney to the hearth, and begins to frolic. When asked its name it says shrewdly: "Ainsel"; which to the boy sounds like what it really is, "Ownself," and makes him, when it is his turn to be questioned, as saucy and reticent as he supposes his elfin playfellow to be. So Alan tells the sprite that his name is "My Ainsel," and gets the better of it. For bye-and-bye they wax very frisky and friendly, and right in the middle of their sport, when little Alan pokes the fire, and gets a spark by chance on Ainsel's foot, and when he roars with pain, and the old fairy-mother appears instantly, crying angrily: "Who has hurt thee? Who has hurt thee?" the elf blurts, of course, "My Ainsel!" and she kicks him unceremoniously up chimney, and bids him stop whimpering, since the burn was of his own silly doing! Alan, meanwhile, climbs upstairs to bed, rejoicing to escape the vengeance of the fairy-mother, and chuckling in his sleeve at the funny turn things have taken.

* * *

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top