Robin found her gaze oppressive; for her eyes were hard and cold and gray, as if they had been little orbs of granite.
"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 acorn-cup."
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 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 the gentle hands he had despised.
"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 me."
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 brook.
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 displeasure.
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, and 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 third:--
"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 bush 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 leal-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.
DEACON THOMAS WALES' WILL
By Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
In the Name of God Amen! the Thirteenth Day of September One Thousand Seven Hundred Fifty & eight, I, Thomas Wales of Braintree, in the County of Suffolk & Province of the Massachusetts Bay in New England, Gent--being in good health of Body and of Sound Disposing mind and Memory, Thanks be given to God--Calling to mind my mortality, Do therefore in my health make and ordain this my Last Will and Testament. And First I Recommend my Soul into the hand of God who gave it--Hoping through grace to obtain Salvation thro' the merits and Mediation of Jesus Christ my only Lord and Dear Redeemer, and my body to be Decently interd, at the Discretion of my Executer, believing at the General Resurection to receive the Same again by the mighty Power of God--And such worldly estate as God in his goodness hath graciously given me after Debts, funeral Expenses &c, are Paid I give & Dispose of the Same as Followeth--
_Imprimis_--I Give to my beloved Wife Sarah a good Sute of mourning apparrel Such as she may Choose--also if she acquit my estate of Dower and third-therin (as we have agreed) Then that my Executer return all of Household movables she bought at our marriage & since that are remaining, also to Pay to her or Her Heirs That Note of Forty Pound I gave to her, when she acquited my estate and I hers. Before Division to be made as herein exprest, also the Southwest fire-Room in my House, a right in my Cellar, Halfe the Garden, also the Privilege of water at the well & yard room and to bake in the oven what she hath need of to improve her Life-time by her.
After this, followed a division of his property amongst his children, five sons, and two daughters. The "Homeplace" was given to his sons Ephraim and Atherton. Ephraim had a good house of his own, so he took his share of the property in land, and Atherton went to live in the old homestead. His quarters had been poor enough; he had not been so successful as his brothers, and had been unable to live as well. It had been a great cross to his wife, Dorcas, who was very high spirited. She had compared, bitterly, the poverty of her household arrangements with the abundant comfort of her sisters-in-law.
Now, she seized eagerly at the opportunity of improving her style of living. The old Wales house was quite a pretentious edifice for those times. All the drawback to her delight was, that Grandma should have the southwest fire-room. She wanted to set up her high-posted bedstead with its enormous feather-bed in that, and have it for her fore-room.
Properly, it was the fore-room, being right across the entry from the family sitting room. There was a tall chest of drawers that would fit in so nicely between the windows, too. Take it altogether, she was chagrined at having to give up the southwest room; but there was no help for it--there it was in Deacon Wales' will.
Mrs. Dorcas was the youngest of all the sons' wives, as her husband was the latest born. She was quite a girl to some of them. Grandma had never more than half approved of her. Dorcas was high-strung and flighty, she said. She had her doubts about living happily with her.
But Atherton was anxious for this division of the property, and he was her youngest darling, so she gave in. She felt lonely, and out of her element, when everything was arranged, she established in the southwest fire-room, and Atherton's family keeping house in the others, though things started pleasantly and peaceably enough.
It occurred to her that her son Samuel might have her own "help," a stout woman, who had worked in her kitchen for many years, and she take in exchange his little bound girl, Ann Ginnins. She had always taken a great fancy to the child. There was a large closet out of the southwest room, where she could sleep, and she could be made very useful, taking steps, and running "arrants" for her.
Mr. Samuel and his wife hesitated a little, when this plan was proposed. In spite of the trouble she gave them, they were attached to Ann, and did not like to part with her, and Mrs. Polly was just getting her "larnt" her own ways, as she put it. Privately, she feared Grandma would undo all the good she had done, in teaching Ann to be smart and capable. Finally they gave in, with the understanding that it was not to be considered necessarily a permanent arrangement, and Ann went to live with the old lady.
Mrs. Dorcas did not relish this any more than she did the appropriation of the southwest fire-room. She had never liked Ann very well. Besides she had two little girls of her own, and she fancied Ann rivaled them in Grandma's affection. So, soon after the girl was established in the house, she began to _show out_ in various little ways.
Thirsey, her youngest child, was a mere baby, a round fat dumpling of a thing. She was sweet, and good-natured, and the pet of the whole family. Ann was very fond of playing with her, and tending her, and Mrs. Dorcas began to take advantage of it. The minute Ann was at liberty she was called upon to take care of Thirsey. The constant carrying about such a heavy child soon began to make her shoulders stoop and ache. Then Grandma took up the cudgels. She was smart and high-spirited, but she was a very peaceable old lady on her own account, and fully resolved "to put up with every thing from Dorcas, rather than have strife in the family." She was not going to see this helpless little girl imposed on, however. "The little gal ain't goin'
to get bent all over, tendin' that heavy baby, Dorcas," she proclaimed. "You can jist make up your mind to it. She didn't come here to do sech work."
Dorcas had to make up her mind to it, but it rankled.
Ann's principal duties were scouring "the brasses" in Grandma's room, taking steps for her, and spinning her stint every day. Grandma set smaller stints than Mrs. Polly. As time went on, she helped about the cooking. She and Grandma cooked their own victuals, and ate from a little separate table in the common kitchen. It was a very large room, and might have accommodated several families, if they could have agreed. There was a big oven, and a roomy fire-place. Good Deacon Wales had probably seen no reason at all why his "beloved wife" should not have her right therein with the greatest peace and concord.
But it soon came to pass that Mrs. Dorcas' pots and kettles were all prepared to hang on the trammels when Grandma's were, and an army of cakes and pies marshalled to go in the oven when Grandma had proposed to do some baking. Grandma bore it patiently for a long time; but Ann was with difficulty restrained from freeing her small mind, and her black eyes snapped more dangerously at every new offence.
One morning, Grandma had two loaves of "riz bread," and some election cakes, rising, and was intending to bake them in about an hour, when they should be sufficiently light. What should Mrs. Dorcas do, but mix up sour milk bread and some pies with the greatest speed, and fill up the oven, before Grandma's cookery was ready!