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Full text of "Alice Learmont ; Or, A Mother's Love"

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PRONTISPIECE. 



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ALICE LEARMONT; 



OB, 



A MOTHER'S LOVE. 



AUTHOR OF *<JOHN HALIFAX, OBNTLEMAN." 



e^^JJ J^y^O^C*^ */<^^2>tc^ [c /^tc-^^ <J-oA,)''J^ 



WITH ILLU8TBATION8 BT JAMES QODWUT. 



BOSTON: 

MAYHEW & BAKER, 208 WASHINGTON ST. 

1859. 



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TO 

MY GODCHILD ALICE, 

WITH TENDER WISHES AND FUTURE HOPES. 



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ALICE LEARMONT. 



*HH^ 



CHAPTER I. 

^^ I WONDEB at je. Mistress Thomas Learmont. 
It's no canny to do sic a thing," 

" What mean ye, my gudemither ? " wearily 
answered the person addressed — a woman, 
young and gentle looking. Her figure was 
wrapped in a coarse mantle of Lowland plaid, 
and her head-dress was a humbly-fashioned imi- 
tation of that we see in the likenesses of Queen 
Mary Stuart. Still, fair womanhood transcends 
all quaintness of costume, and Mistress Thomas 
Learmont was very comely to behold. 

" Gudemither's a coarse word ; ye ought to 
say ' Dame Learmont ' to your husband's mith- 
er," stiflBy observed the ancient gentlewoman. 
" But I was gaun to speak to ye anent your 
wark there." 

!• (5) 



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6 ALICE LEABMONT, OB 

" Aweel ! " softly said the younger lady — a 
lady in form and nature, though possibly not 
quite " a lady born." As she spoke, the color 
came into her face, and she looked with eyes 
wherein shone a heavenly light on her handi- 
work — the last crowning handiwork of her 
mother-joy. She had been banishing the cob-' 
webs and dust from an old oaken cradle, and 
hiding its worm-eaten holes with white curtains 
tied with green. 

"Ance mair, I wonder at ye," sharply re- 
peated Dame Learmont. 

The poor young creature looked troubled. 
"I wish ye'd tell me your mind, my leddy. 
I'm but a puir peasant lassie, and dinna ken a' 
ye ken." 

" I said that when my son married ye. But 
ye needna greet, Marion — let byganes be by- 
ganes," added the old lady, growing more 
pacified. " It'll a' come richt when I hae the 
bonnie bairn in my arms. And that minds me 
o' what I was gaun to say. Ye foolish lassie, I 
marvel ye daur put on the wee cradle sic braws 
as these." 

" What's wrang, gudemither ? " 



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A mother's love. 7 

^' It's the green, Marion, the green," answered 
Dame Learmont, in a mysterious voice. " Wad 
ye put ae thing that's green near your bairn, 
and you a Grahame ? " * 

"I am no a Grahame now," said the young 
wife, with a gentle smile. 

" But there's the old blude in ye still ; ye 
canna change that — mair's the pity," added 
the mother-in-law. "And if it were not sae, 
do ye no ken the blude o' whilk comes your 
husband ? " 

" Na, na," sighed the young woman, absently; 
and her ear was bent intently to catch every 
footfall that might reach the dilapidated cham- 
ber where they sat. 

" Your husband, Marion Grahame, comes frae 
ane that nae mortal grave bauds this day. Did 
ye never hear o' True Thomas — Thomas Lear- 
mont — Thomas the Rhymer of Ercildoun ? " 

" Gude save us ! " muttered Marion. 

" Him that wonned into — the land ye ken o'f 
— for seven lang years, and c^hne ba.ck ; then 

* Green, the fairies' color, is always fatal to be worn, especially 
by the Grahames. 

t It is counted unlucky to mention the fairies or Fairyland by 
name. 



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8 ' ALICE LEABMONT, OB 

was sent for by the gude folk, and never seen 
mair. Frae him, after many generations, came 
his namesake, Thomas Learmont, your bairn's 
father. And yet ye daur to tie the cradle wi' 
green ! '' 

The old woman advanced, and attempted with 
her feeble hands to undo the ill-omened ribbons, 
when a shadow passing the window — for it was 
twilight — made young Mistress Learmont start 
and scream. 

" Ye're a foolish lassie, flichted wi' ony thing. 
It's only Daft Simmie o' the hill at his sangs. 
Hear till him." 

And the old woman, whose superstition 
seemed only to make her more strong and 
fearless — even as in these days confessed ghost- 
believers are often bolder than spiritual sceptics, 
who deny because they inwardly tremble to ad- 
mit — the old woman grasped her daughter-in- 
law's arm, and made her sit quiet, listening to 
the wild but not unmusical boyish voice, sing- 
ing fragments of a border ballad. 

** High upon Hielands and laigh upon Tay, 
' Bonnie George Campbell rade out on a day. 

He saddled, he bridled, and gallant rade he, 
And hame cam his gude horse — but never cam he ! ** 



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A mother's love. 9 

" 0, gudemither ! " cried the young wife at 
the latter ominous words ; and once more she 
listened for footsteps, or horse's tramp. 

" The gloaming's unco dark," Marion whis- 
pered ; " the three tops o' Eildon Hill look like 
Isna my husband lang o' 

" Haud your tongue, Mistress Thomas ; ye're 
no fit for a Border wife. My son sail come 
and gang as it pleases him." 

"Aweel, aweel," again patiently sighed the 
young creature, and played with the ribbons of 
the yet empty cradle, until the voice of Daft 
Simmie made her start once more. 

It was other verses of the same ballad, sung 
in shrill tones just under the window. 

** Out cam his mither dear, gxieting fa' sair. 
Out cam his bonnie bride, reiving her hair, — 
The meadow lies green, and the com is unshorn, ~ 
But bonnie George Campbell will never return. 

<* He saddled, he bridled, and gallant rade he, 
A plume in his helmet, a sword at his knee ; 
But hame cam his saddle, all bluidy to see. 
And hame cam his gude horse — but never cam he ! " 

Hardly had ceased the song, which in the 
gathering darkness sounded almost like an el- 



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10 

dricli scream, when, as if in strange coincidence, 
the clatter of a horse's hoofs came nearer and 
nearer. 

" It's himsel, it's himsel ! " cried the young 
wife, as she leant out of the window, beneath 
which the animal apparently stopped. 

He stopped — the good roan — the last val- 
uable possession of the impoverished Learmonts, 
— stopped of his own accord, for he was rider- 
less! 

A wild scream of despair burst from the un- 
fortunate Marion, and she was carried into her 
chamber insensible — ay, even to a mother's 
throes. 

Dame Learmont was of the ancient race of 
Border-women, fearless as the men. She ut- 
tered no shriek, even when she saw that her 
son was missing; such things were common 
enough in those days. The descendants of True 
Thomas had changed from seers and rhymers 
into men of warfare — Ishmaelites, whose hand 
was against many, and many a hand lifted per- 
petually against them. The mother guessed 
what had happened : that in some sudden fray 
Learmont had been thrown from his horse. 



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A mother's love. 11 

wounded, or — though even her bold spirit 
quailed at the latter fear — dead. 

" He gaed ower Eildon Hill this morn," 
mused she ; " and at noon there cam by Willie 
o' the Muir, wi' Geordie Grahame, Marion's 
cousin, that bears her husband nae gude will. 
If they hae foughten there'll be bluid on the 
roan. I'll gang an see." 

She left her daughter-in-law's couch and went 
near the horse, who still stood under the win- , 
dow, shivering in every limb, his mouth and 
flanks white with foam. But there were on 
him neither wounds nor blood; his accoutre- 
ments were not disordered ; and, except for the 
overwhelming terror that seemed to possess 
him, there had evidently come no h^rm to the 
animal. Nay, even the small burdens fastened 
to his back were safe ; as well as a leathern 
pouch of money that had been thrust under the 
pommel of the saddle. 

" Geordie Grahame or Willie Muir wadna hae 
passed this by," ironically said Dame Learmont. 
" It must be o' his ain will that my son stays. 
Tet's that no likely, considering his puir wife in 
her trouble; and this being Hogmanay nicht 



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12 ALICE LEABMONT, OB 

too — an eerie and awBome nicht to be abroad." 
^ As the mistress spoke, some of the farm-ser- 
vants trembled and looked over their shoulders, 
while others examined the horse's disordered 
mane and tail. 

" May be, they hae been riding him, — the wee 
folk. Eh, neighbors, look ye here ? " whispered 
one man, showing in the good roan's mane the 
knots which are called elf-locks, and are sup- 
posed to be plaited by the fairies, who often have 
a mind to a ride on mortal coursers. 

Dame Learmont's eyes glittered as if she felt 
more pride than dread in the uncanny reputa- 
tion belonging to her family. 

" It's likely eneuch," she said, mysteriously. 
"The ^gvde neighbors^ will be abroad this 
nicht, as we a' ken ; and my son Thomas bears 
his great ancestor's christened name. It is 
maybe nae mortal wark that keeps him sae 
lang frae hame." 

" Gude save us ! " " Lord hae mercy upon 
us ! " cried the servants in various tones of 
fright, eyeing their mistress with considerable 
distrust. But though she evidently had no dis- 
like to bear the credit of supernatural powers, 



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A mother's LOyE. 18 

still she was not disregardful of all human 
means that could explain the absence of her 
son. She called the farm-followers and ques- 
tioned them closely, but none could give any 
information. 

" Ye see," the brave old lady added, driven at 
last to circumstantial evidence, " nae harm can 
hae befa'en him. He wasna fechting, or he wad 
hae stickit close to Bed Roan. An' he hasna 
been torn frae the saddle, but has lichted doun 
0* his ain accord. Na, na, sirs; there was 
surely ne'er a fray." 

Her resolute voice was answered by an idiotic 
whine behind the crowd ; and immediately after- 
wards Daft Simmie broke out in one of his queer 
quavering songs, — 

** There were twa lads fechtin* on Eildon Hill, 
With a hey, and a ho, and a hoodie craw ; 
The tane the tither's bluid did spill, 
Ho ! ho, says the hoodie craw." 

" There's meanin' in it," whispered the ser- 
vants. 

"There's aye a meanin' in Daft Simmie's 
sangs, and he sees sights the whilk nane ither 
folk can see." 

2 



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14 AUCE LEABMONT, OB 

But the stout-hearted mispress reproved them, 
and, catching hold of the lad, tried to compel 
him to plain speech. It was in vain ; Simmie 
was either too foolish or too wise. Not another 
word could be got out of him, and soon the 
" gudemither " was summoned back from her 
inquiries concerning her son to the more im- 
minent peril of his wife. 

It was just betwixt the night and the day, at 
the precise hour which forms the boundary 
mark of the old and new year, that the child 
came into the world ; a remarkable period of 
birth, being the hour at which, according to 
the superstitions of many countries, the unseen 
world of spiritual beings are supposed to have 
most power. At any other time, the " auld 
wives " might have been struck by this fact ; 
but now the whole household was smitten with 
such deep grief and confusion, that no one noted 
so unimportant an event as the birth of a child 
to the man whom they were beginning to con- 
jecture had been that day murdered. Truly, 
had it been a boy, the unhappy young mother 
might well have christened her new-born " Berir 
oni " — " the son of my sorrow." But she had 



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A mother's love. 15 

not even the comfort of knowing it to be a son, 
bom to avenge his father ; it was, as the indig- 
nant Dame Learmont expressed it, " nae lad- 
bairn; just a puir, wee, skirling lassie." 

It was put into the cradle, where the green 
ribbons still remained; the old grandmother 
was too busy and excited to heed them now. 
There the poor little morsel of humanity lay ; 
while Dame Learmont, now somewhat at rest 
respecting her duties to mother and child, be- 
gan to arrange a plan for finding out, dead or 
alive, her lost son. 

Marion hindered her little, for the poor girl 
had never recovered her right wits. She lay in 
a dreamy unconsciousness until the child began 
to cry out from its little cradle. Then her poor, 
white lips found speech. 

" Gie me the bairn," she murmured ; " gie 
me my bairn." 

It was touching, the emphasis on the " my " 
— the first instinct of possession. I have heard 
women and mothers say, that this instinct, 
dawning at such a time, was the most delicious 
joy they had experienced during life. 

" Gie me my bairn," again wailed the half- 



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16 

conscious Marion ; and the child was given to 
her. 

" Ye needna mak sic a girning and greeting 
ower it," muttered the old woman, probably 
embittered beyond her wont by suppressed anx- 
iety concerning her son. "It's no anither 
Thomas Learmont. It's only a lassie." 

Marion took no heed. She lay with her 
white, fluttering fingers pressed near the baby's 
face, talking sleepily to herself. 

" Mither, mither, are ye there ? " 

" Ay, ay, lass," answered Dame Learmont ; 
'but a moment's observation showed her that 
iflie sick girl's thought were not with her at all. 

" My mither, my ain mither," continued Mar- 
ion, feebly ; " I ken ye're thinking o' me now, 
•though ye're lying cauld under the mools. Ye 
;are glad it's a lass-bairn; and sae am I. I'll 
*call it by your ain name ; it's a bonnie name — 
Alice — my bairn Alice." 

There sounded something supernatural in 
fthese wanderings of a bewildered mind. The 
eld woman stood aside, watching with a vague 
awe the countenance of her daughter-in-law, 
^who^seemed talking to the air ; and that of the 



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A motheb's loye. 17 

new-born babe who lay staring out into vacancy, 
as young infants do ; its wide-open eyes wearing 
that strange look which seems as if infants saw 
things which otiiers could not see. 

^' It's an uncanny time ; and may be there are 
uncanny things about them baith," said Dame 
Learmont to herself, in a frightened whisper. 
But before her fear could increase, she was 
roused by the sound of many feet and voices. 
She looked down into the court-yard, and there 
saw the people of the farm clustered in a group 
round what, by the light of their lantern, 
seemed — no living man, but a drowned body ! 

The mother's heart, hard, yet still a mother's, 
recoiled at the spectacle. She strained her fee- 
ble sight ; it was well ; for now she had strength 
to see that the dead man was not clad like her 
son. Yet this might only be a delusion. She 
had just prudence enough not to betray any 
thing to the young mother, who now seemed 
falling into a doze ; she took the infant away, 
laid it in the cradle beside the bed, and then 
went hastily out, leaving the door ajar. 

Now here, my wise, anti-superstitious reader, 
I must request you to pause. What I am about 



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18 ALICE LEARMONT, OR 

to tell, you will find quite incredible and hard 
to be understood. I shall, not stop to argue 
with you at all. I shall only say tliat this my 
chronicle is a consistent chronicle of its kind, 
the like of which, stoutly verified by the peas- 
ants, may be found in Nithsdale, Galloway, and 
indeed all along the Scottish Border. I do but 
revivify in a more complete and connected form 
the fragments of lore attested concerning a race 
of beings whose peculiarities may truly be con- 
sidered to belong to pre-historic annals. 

Marion Learmont was lying quite still, in a 
state of entire exhaustion, which, however, was 
rather pleasant than otherwise, as if a lulling 
spell had been cast upon her. Her eyes were 
half open, and she indistinctly saw the room, — 
a large ghostly chamber dimly lighted by the 
wood-fire only ; for her mother-in-law had taken 
away the lamp. She was certain that she was 
awake, for she noticed the several bits of furni- 
ture — the oaken chair, the sole remnant of 
worldly gear which she herself had brought into 
the family on her marriage, — the rude table 
and the curtained top of her baby's cradle. She 
even observed the snow lying in a thin drift 



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A mother's love. 19 

along the margin of the window-panes, stealing 
half-melted through, forming a large round 
globule of water which rested on the great Bible 
that was placed on the window-sill. 

Gradually the red embers smouldered into 
darkness, and the shadow cast from the door 
standing ajar, grew blacker and wider. All at 
once she heard a buzzing, whispering, and 
laughing; a noise not loud, but very sweet. 
Soon the ghostly-looking shadowy corners were 
full of moving light. It came from faces peep- 
ing in at the door. Then a troop of little crear 
tures entered one after the other, thick and fast, 
until the whole room was full of them. 

They seemed at first like very beautiful chil- 
dren. But as Marion looked again, she saw 
they were perfect little men and women, exqui- 
sitely formed, and gracefully dressed in airy 
robes of all colors, — especially green. The 
youths were armed with quivers made of bright 
adders'-skin, and arrows of reed. The maidens 
had long yellow hair, fastened back from their 
shining brows with combs of gold. Many, both 
men and women, had their heads adorned with 
the flower called fairy-cap, or with white con- 



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volvuluses. Every one of them was fair to look 
at, but chiefly the first who had entered, a lady 
taller than the rest, who wore a crown, either 
of diamonds or dew-drops ; Marion thought that 
never was there a coronet so glittering, lucid, 
and clear. 

The tiny visitors had brought no visible torch- 
.es, but somehow the whole room about them 
grew light wherever they tripped. And they 
tripped about every where, in the merriest, most 
fantastic round, continually following the tallest 
lady, who came on more softly and gravely than 
the rest. 

Then Marion knew that .these were elves, and 
that this was the Queen of Fairies who had loved 
and carried away her husband's ancestor, Thom- 
as the Rhymer of Ercildoun. 

It was very strange, but though she seemed 
to guess all this as by a sort of intuition, she 
felt not in the least afraid. The sight was so 
dazzling, so delicious ; its glamour changed the 
dark old chamber into a fairy palace. She her- 
self, though seemingly without the power or 
desire of speech, had no sense of physical or 
mental pain — no grief concerning her husband 



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A motheb's love. 21 

— no terror for her child. She lay and listened 
in a sort of spell-bound delight to the little 
people, as they talked, danced, and sang, glit- 
tering hither and thither like a swarm of lumi« 
nous gnats. 

At last the Queen of Fairies, making a large 
circuit round the window to avoid the " big ha* 
Bible," which lay there, — came and stood be- 
side the baby's cradle. 

Now, alas ! the young mother knew what her 
elfin majesty was come about. But the knowl- 
edge was vain ; Marion received it in her mind 
without being terrified in her heart. All hu- 
man feelings or affections seemed to' have grown 
cold in the ecstatic delight of the fairy show. 

"It's a fine bairn, and a bonnie bairn — 
very ! '* said, in quite intelligible and most en- 
chanting accents, the lady who had been True 
Thomas's love. " The Learmouts have not 
grown uglier in all these years — that is, hun- 
dreds of years — we forgot that we are on earth 
just now," she continued, sententiously, as as- 
cending gracefully an extempore staircase obe- 
diently framed of the arms and legs of fairy- 
squires, she reached the top of the cradle, and 



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22 

sat down right in front of the babe's blue eyes, 
— which, however, were fast closed. 

" What very sleepy things mortal infants are, 
my ladies! " observed her majesty. " I wonder 
whether she will wake when we get her to Fai- 
ryland?" 

At this some slight pang of maternal dread 
smote Marion's heart. She tried to cry out, but 
just then the fairy-lady turned upon her her 
diamond eyes, glittering and gay, which looked 
as if they never had wept — could weep — or 
had need to weep. Their steely brightness froze 
up all the tears that were pressing under the 
eyelids of the mortal mother, born a woman, 
and as- a woman made to know suffering. 

" Behold her," said the fairy, laughing with a 
sharp, clear, bell-like mirth ; " she is afraid ! 
She thinks we would harm the wee thing ! Not 
we ! No, Mistress Thomas Learmont (a fine 
name that, but nothing like so fine as the first 
man who bore it)," and the little lady heaved a 
sigh, which seemed so light as to be only a 
pause in her mirth. " No, Mistress Thomas, 
I'll do your child no harm ; if only for the 
love I bear to your husband's people, espe- 



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A mother's love. 23 

ciallj bis great ancestor and himself — ha, 
ha!" 

" Ha, ha, ha ! " laughed the fairy troop, 
with a merry meaning, and pointed out of the 
window. There, even through the darkness, 
Marion fancied she saw the white waves of the 
Tweed foaming and dashing, and the gray mists 
floating almost in human shapes over the triple 
summit of Eildon Hill. 

" For the love I bear your husband," contin- 
ued the Elf-queen, " I will even let you see your 
bairn on her birth-night every year for three 
years, and then once in every seveh, according 
as she chooses ; — a fair bargain." 

"A very fair bargain I^f* chorused the de- 
lighted little people. 

But nature in the mother's heart was stronger 
than even the glamour that was over her. 
Though unable to speak, she stretched implor- 
ing hands. The blithe troop only mocked her, 
havering over her bed like a swarm of bees, and 
dinning her ears with their melodious songs. 
Once she tried to raise herself and get nearer to 
her sleeping babe, but invisible hands, soft and 
cold, like those of dead children, held her back ; 



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24 ALICE LEARMONT, OB 

and the fairy-lady, sitting upon the top of the 
cradle, laughed at her, making elfin grimaces 
which sent all the rest into a titter that rung 
through the room like the sound of the wind 
through a cluster of waving rushes. 

"It's useless, Marion Learmont; you must 
just lie still and dree your weird ; and this is 
not the only weird that waits ye. QuicTc — 
quick — my people ! the gudewife will be back 
soon." 

While she spoke, the poor mother saw the 
elves take up her child, who wakened at once. 
The queen looked at her with her great bright 
eyes, and instantly a gleam of strange intelli- 
gence came into those of the hour-born babe. 

" She'll do ; she's a bonnie one ; there is 
not her like in all Elfland. Haste — get her 
ready." 

Instantly two or three motherly-looking fai- 
ries, wearing respectable silken robes and 
heather-bell caps, advanced, and slipping 
off the child's wrappings, left it a little soft 
lump of beauty, fit even for the caresses of a 
fairy. 

" A sweet wee pet, and fortunately not chris- 



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A mother's loye. 25 

tened yet ; so she shall be alU^ther ours, and 
we will find her a name in Fairyland," 

But here the mother uttered what seemed to 
herself a heart-piercing shriek, but which was 
in fact only a low murmur of " Alice — AKce.^^ 

"Very well, if it so please you, my good 
woman ; I am quite satisfied. My elves, call 
her Alice," answered the Queen of Fairies, 
bending with a grace as winning as when she 
met the first Thomas Learmont under Eildon- 
tree. 

"Alice — Alice," chanted out all the "wee 
folk," in a chorus ravishingly sweet. It was 
broken by a noise far less delicious and more 
mundane : the sharp clattering voice of Dame 
Learmont. At the sound the light in the 
chamber vanished ; there was a rustling and 
murmuring, which at last ended in a faint 
shout of eldrich laughter, — then silence. 

The mother-in-law, coming in, found her pa- 
tient in an agony of grief. 

" What for do ye greet, lassie ? ye ought to 
thank GU)d and sing for joy." 

" My bairn ! my bairn ! " 

" Ne'er fash yourself about it ; the ill-faured 
8 



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26 ALICE LEABMONT, OR 

wean. Think o* your husband that is alive, and 
Geordie Grahame deid. They twa had a sair 
tussle for't, Daft Simmie says, for he saw them ; 
Geordie fell intil the Tweed, and was washit up 
to our door-stane. But, I doubt not, my ain 
laddie's safe and awa." 

*' Far awa, far awa," groaned the poor mother. 
" And my bonnie bairn's gane too." 

"Ye're daft or dreaming, Marion. Here's 
the bit thing soun' asleep." 

She rocked the cradle rather roughly, but 
there was no cry or stirring from within. The 
little cap lay turned facewards on the pillow : 
there were the outlines of the form, carefully 
wrapped up so as to resemble a sleeping infant. 
But what was the grandmother's horror when 
she lifted it up and found — no living child, but 
a piece of wood, rudely carved into something 
like humanity, and dressed in the clothes of 
baby Alice ! 

" It's ane of Simmie's images — he has been 
at his deil's wark, and stown away the bairn," 
cried the old woman, as frantically she quitted 
the room, to set on foot a search for the missing 
child. 



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A mother's love. 27 

But whether this supposition was true, or 
whether, as the grief-stricken mother firmly be- 
lieved, the fairies had carried away her darling, 
certain it was that all search proved vain, and 
neither Thomas Learmont nor little Alice could 
be found. 



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28 AUCE LEABMONT, OR 



CHAPTER II. 

White, and in long wavy wreaths, lay the 
snow on Eildon Hill. The hew year was not an 
hour old, and yet all about the three peaks it 
was as bright as day. Many a hardy mountain 
ram started in its fold, and trembled to hear the 
silvery ringing of fairy bridles resounding in the 
night air. 

Great sport was the Fairies' Raid. On they 
came — a goodly troop, flashing along the high- 
roads, over the hedges, and through the ploughed 
fields; on elfin nags — black, chestnut, gray — 
whose hoofs left no mark on the smooth snow. 
Yet what with their praneing and singing and 
laughing, the fairy folk made as much noise as 
a company of living horsemen. But it was like 
sounds heard in a dream, that fade the instant 
one awakens. And many a dreamer in Melrose 
that liight heard such sounds, wondering whence 
they came. 

" Heigh-ho ! " said the Queen of Fairies, as she 
reined in her palfrey at the spot where the triple- 



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A mother's love. 29 

peaked hill divides. " Heigh-ho ! for my bonnie 
green wood, where I met True Thomas ! It's 
all hewn down. Hardly would I know the 
upper world again. Very provoking! that 
people will plough and till, and turn waste 
lands into meadows. They look much prettier 
as they are, do they not. Counsellor Kelpie ? " 

This was addressed to the water-sprite of that 
name, an ugly creature, half man, half brute, 
who had crept out of the shallows of the Tweed 
to fawn at her majesty's feet. 

" Ay, ay," he answered ; " and for my part, 
if folk keep on growing so prudent and clever, 
building bridges and boats, I will never get a 
living soul to drown." 

" Ha, ha ! " laughed the queen. " But, good 
Kelpie, have you kept safe the treasure I lent 
you — the youth that slew his fellow in an< evil 
fray, and so fell into the fairies' power ? " 

" He is safe," answered the Kelpie, ini a voice 
hollow as the waters rising in a welL " He lies 
in an underground cave, through which my 
river oozily creeps. He will sleep there until 
his wounds are healed ; and there will not even 
be one wet lock in his yellow hair when you find 
3* 



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30 ALICE LEABMONT, OB 

him resting by the streams of Fairyland. But, 
queen ! if you would but have fet Kelpie 
have him ! " 

*' Could not, my ancient friend ! Quite im- 
possible. His great ancestor is growing tire- 
some now, and we want a new mortal in Fairy- 
land. Besides, soon will come the seventh year, 
when we must pay the teind to hell." 

A low wail broke from the fairy troop at 
the mention of this, the sole shadow on their 
perpetual joys — the tribute of one of their 
number exacted by the Arch-fiend every seven 
years. 

But the pause was only momentary ; for the 
elfin race have an existence entirely soulless, 
free from human grief, affection, or fear. Soon 
again were the silver bridles ringing merrily up 
the white hill-side. 

" Where is my changeling ? Where is the 
child ? " cried the queen, suddenly stopping. 

" Here, gracious majesty ! A weary burden 
it is too ; human babies are so helpless and so 
fat." 

And a fairy-lady toiled up, bearing before 
her on a palfrey the unlucky infant, who lay 



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A mother's love. 81 

pale, cold, and half dead ; a weight perfectly 
enormous for the elfin steed to bear. 

" Kanitha, guardian of the fairy youth, your 
sala'ry shall be increased to four golden rods a 
year, if you do your duty by my small friend 
here. What ho ! Alice, open your eyes." 

The queen, dismounting, amused herself witii 
poking her dainty fingers under the pale eyelids 
of the mortal babe, and playing with its frozen 
limbs, white as the snow on which they lay. 

** Madam," observed a sage elf-lady, " it is a 
fact scarce worth bringing under your high- 
nesses notice, but nevertheless true — that 
earthly mothers are so foolish as to pay atten- 
tion to their babes — swaddling them warmly — 
hugging them in their arms, and giving them 
nourishment from their own breast. We never 
think of such trouble in Fairyland. Neverthe- 
less, unless something is done for this babe, your 
majesty will be disappointed in your sport, for 
the little thing will slip away in that curious 
fashion which mortals call dying. It's a trick 
they have." 

" How very unpleasant ! " said the queen. 
But she had not time for mote, when suddenly 



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82 

the chanticleer of some honest Tweedside farmer 
began to crow aloud ; and far down Melrose vil- 
lage appeared dim lights creeping about like 
glow-worms. The world — the hard-working, 
patient, much^enduring, yet happy world, was 
waking again to its New Year. 

" We must be gone, elves ; we must be gone ! " 
Snatching wee Alice in her own regal arms, the 
Queen of Fairies stamped, once, twice, thrice. 
Immediately the hill-side was cloven, and a dark 
gate opened itself before her. Thither she 
passed with all her train. The earth closed 
behind them — leaving not a trace along the 
mountain heather, not a footstep in the snow. 

But far — far, through the underground pas- 
sage went the merry elves, up and down, along 
and across ; past valleys, plains, and mountains ; 
through black and thundering rivers, by smooth 
lakes, and over seas. The little babe in its 
deathly stupor saw nothing of this : it lay im- 
movable — its eyes sealed, until at last they 
opened on a green bank in Fairyland — Fairy- 
land, which was like earth in its gayest aspects ; 
a region of perpetual, unvaried pleasure ; a 
clime where there was neither summer nor win- 



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A mother's love. 38 

ter ; a day which knew neither noon nor night ; 
a sky in which was never seen either sun or 
cloud. So live the fairy people ; an intermedi- 
ate race, created for neither earth, heaven, nor 
hell. 

Alice Learmont came to life again there. The 
little limbs stretched themselves out, the eyes 
opened, and the first sound she uttered was that 
with which we mortals enter into the world, and 
which we must utter at intervals, until we cease 
to suffer and to breathe together — a cry of pain 
and anguish. 

It was quite new to fairy ears. All the little 
people stopped theirs, and bounded about in 
disquiet ; doubtless thinking their mistress had 
brought a most unpleasant element into the elfin 
society. And when the unhappy changeling 
rolled its heavy head about, and helplessly 
stirred its fingers, they began to mock and sport 
with it, as being a creation so very much infe- 
rior to themselves. 

"This will not do," said her elfin majesty, 
with dignity ; " I had another intent in enter- 
ing the door which Dame Learmont so kindly 
left ajar for me. I wished a babe, new-born, 



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34 



unchristened, who might receive with our teach- 
ing something of the elfin nature, and so be 
content always to stay in Fairyland. For " — 
and her majesty shrugged her fair round shoul- 
ders, beautiful, though laden with gossamer 
wing-like appendages that might have been con- 
sidered unbecoming in a mortal — "for it is a 
curious and altogether unaccountable fact that 
these human folk are never satisfied ; and even 
my True Thomas has a hankering after the 
troubles of earth sometimes. As for his de- 
scendant, this wee lady's father, — I vow I shall 
scarcely be able to keep him a year of his own 
free will." 

"0! 0!" exclaimed the sympathetic elves, 
in token of their wonder and indignation. 

" Now, my subjects, see what I intend to do ; 
we'll turn this coarse bit of humanity into a 
creature something like ourselves. Behold ! " 

She touched the infant's head with her scep- 
tre, a silver lily, — and soon the inanimate, 
meaningless features grew into the beauty of 
sense and consciousness. The eyes became 
quickened to distinguish objects, the lips seemed 
perfecting themselves into speech. It was the 



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A mother's love. 85 

face of a grown person, or of a child prematurely 
wise. 

"Ha, ha!" laughed the elf; she seemed to 
do nothing except laugh. " But we must have 
a body to match." 

She passed her hand down the weak, shape- 
less limbs, and they expanded into delicate form. 
The little girl stood upright on her feet, a tiny, 
old-fashioned figure — less beautiful than the 
elves, for, though fair enough, she was no fairer 
than she would have been had she grown up as 
Alice Learmont of Tweedside; — a miniature 
woman, but, as her expression showed; gifted 
with little more than the understanding of a 
child. 

"Well, my changeling, how do you feel? 
what do you want ? " 

" I'm hungry," said the little mortal. 

" Bh ! she's a low-born lassie after all," cried 
the Queen of Fairies, turning up her rose-leaf 
of a chin ; " take her away, and feed her with 
milk from the fairy cows. I must go see after 
my grown mortal, my braw young Thomas Lear- 
mont." 

A merry life they led in Fairyland, where a 



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36 AUGE LEABMONT, OB 

day lengthened out to the pleasures of a year, 
and a year glided past as easily and happily as a 
single day. Alice Learmont was as one of them ; 
sprung at once from babyhood to maturity — at 
least the only maturity the fairies ever knew ; 
for their existence was like that of perpetual 
childhood, without its sorrows. They suflFered 
not, because to feel is to suflFer, and they never 
felt ; all their life was sport, and all their sport 
was unreal glamour. Nevertheless, they were 
merry elves, and the little child who would else 
have spent its first year of babyhood sleeping on 
its mother's breast, was the very cynosure of all 
elfin eyes. 

" So, you seem satisfied enough with yourself, 
my little Princess Royal of Fairyland," said 
Kanitha, the fairy pedagogue-ess; "you have 
looked at your large image long enough in 
that stream. Truly, you are growing quite a 
coarse child of earth, and very like your moth- 
er." 

"What is a mother?" 

" A thing, my little lady, to be all that I am 
to you — in the way of feeding and rearing you. 
But you will see for yourself to-morrow, for it 



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A motheb's love. 37 

is your birthday, and our merry mistress will 
send you home for an hour." 

Alice began to cry. 

Now crying was an original and hereditary 
accomplishment which the little mortal had, and 
which was quite unknown in Fairyland. When- 
ever she set up a wail — which she did in true 
baby fashion — the elves immediately stopped 
their ears and skipped away. 

Therefore, before the changeling had screamed 
for a minute, she found herself lying alone 
amidst the remnants of the feast and /the musi- 
cal instruments of the dancers. Even a vocal 
concert that was being carried on in a large 
water-lily leaf, had ceased : the performers, six 
aquatic elves, and their tutor, an ancient frog, 
having dived under the bulrushes, in agony at 
being outdone in their own profession by a mere 
amateur. 

Alice lay and sobbed — it might have been 
until evening ; but there is no twilight in Fairy- 
land — no dawn nor close of day : all is one un- 
varied brightness — a changeless song — a shad- 
owless picture. . As the child lay pulling the 
daisies — that as she pulled them sprouted again 
4 



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88 ALICE LEABMONT, OB 

— trying in how musical tones she could cry, 
there fell across her a tall dark shade. 

Now the elves are small and have no shadow, 
— therefore this stranger could not have been 
of their race. And when he spoke it was not in 
the speech of Fairyland, but with an accent 
quite new to Alice. Yet it thrilled her with an 
instinct of pleasure. 

" Wherefore greet ye, Alice Learmont ? Hae 
ye ony sorrow ? " 

"What is sorrow? — I do not know. — Fm 
crying to amuse myself," answered the little 
creature, as she looked boldly up at her ques- 
tioner. 

He was a tall man — past middle age — of 
grand and stately mien. His lips, close set, 
seemed as if they rarely opened ; for it was on 
them that the kisses of the Fairy Queen had left 
the wondrous spell that they could utter nothing 
but truth. He was the wondrous Seer — the 
Prophet who never foretold falsely — the Bard 
b 3 fore his age — Thomas of Ercildoun. 

Many generations had passed, since, following 
the mysterious hart and hind which came as his 
summoners. True Thomas had vanished from 



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A mother's love. 89 

earth; and yet still he abode in Elfland, 
with the same aspect that he had worn when 
dwelling at Ercildoun and walking on Eildon 
Hill. 

" Did ye never hear tell o' sorrow, Alice ? Then 
the Learmonts o' this day are aye happier than 
in my time. But I mind that ye were a new- 
born wean, just snatched frae mither's breast. 
Ye'U gang back to earth the morn ! " 

His voice was pensive, and the light of his 
eye sad ; but Alice gambolled about, as unheed- 
ing as a young fawn of the wilderness. 

It was the hour when all grew quiet and lonely 
in Fairyland, — for the elfin people were abroad 
working their merry wiles on the midnight earth. 
At that time Alice was always used to fold up 
her little limbs and go to sleep like a flower, — 
for only flowers slept in Elfland. Thus drooped 
she, regardless of the presence of the stranger, 
and indiflFerent to his anxious speech. He 
watched her a long time silently, and then 
tried to arouse her. 

" Waken, Alice Learmont ! it's brief time that 
I hae for sf)eech wi' the youngest o' my race. 
Tell me, bairn, how things are in my ain 



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40 AUGE LEARMONT, OB 

countrie ? Bins the Tweed clear as ever, and 
does the sun glint as red oVer bonnie Mel- 
rose ? " 

He sighed, but Alice only laughed. " I know 
little about it, old man ; will you leave me to 



" Sleep ? '^ said he ; " sleep ? when ye are gaun 
hame to your mither, and your father lies sae 
near that ye might hear the soun' o' his breath- 
ing — every breath a sigh! Lassie, lassie, look 
ye here." 

He lifted the child in his arms, and carried 
her to a river side. There, bedded in the weeds 
and rushes, lay a stalwart form, death-like, yet 
alive. Water efts and bright-tinted fishes were 
sporting over the large limbs ; blue forget-me- 
nots grew up and twisted themselves in natural 
garlands among the yellow hair. The decaying 
garments were dropping oflF from the manly 
chest, which yet heaved in regular suspirations. 
He who thus lay, motionless yet living, bound 
by elfin spell, was the younger Thomas Lear- 
mont. 

" I'm wae to see ye, my son," softly said the 
Rhymer. " Why will ye gainsay Them that it's 



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A mother's love. 41 

vain to gainsay ? It's no hard to live here in 
Mfland." 

The youth turned and muttered, as if in 
sleep, " I canna loe strange women, and I wad 
fain gang hame to my wife Marion." 

Thomas of Ercildoun sat down and covered 
his face with his robe, in sorrow, perhaps even 
in shame. 

Meanwhile the sportive infant leaped from 
him, and paddling among the rushes, climbed 
up and sat a,stride on the form of the spell- 
numbed man, crowing aloud with glee. 

" Alice, the ' gude neighbors ' hae made ye 
like themselves," said the old Seer mournfully. 
" Else ye wadna be sae light o' heart beside 
your puir father, nor when ye are sune to be 
creeping to your mither's breast." 

" Is that as pleasant as playing among the 
flowers, or dancing in the grand halls here ? " 
cried the little changeling, making queer gri- 
maces, and comporting herself in all things like 
a soulless elf. The Rhymer lifted his voice in 
anger, when a low murmur of reproach arose 
from the younger Thomas. 

" It's just a puir bit wean, a twalmonth auld ! 
4* 



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42 ALICE LEARMONT, OB 

Alice, gang back to your Aiither, and then slie'U 
mind o' me." 

The little child paused a minute, as if some 
natural instinct, awakened by her father's voice, 
were at work within her. But soon she re- 
lapsed into her gambols, and then, pausing to 
listen, clapped her baby hands. 

" They are coming, the beautiful elves. I'm 
away, old man, away to my playmates." 

Thomas the Rhymer looked up. There were 
clouds of dust, and behind them a gallant 
company — the same that in the days of his 
youth he had seen pass along the greenwood 
side. It was, he knew, daybreak on earth, and 
the " good neighbors " were speeding back to 
Fairyland. He stole away from his descendant, 
in alarm and shame, lest his compassion should 
work him ill ; and went forth to meet his elfin- 
mistress, for whose sake he had forsaken earth 
and all its ties forevermore. 



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A mother's loye. 48 



CHAPTER III. 



I TELL ye, gudemither, it was nae dream. I 
saw her, I felt her — my bonnie doo, my sweet 
lassie, my ain bairn ! She was wi' me this ae 
nicht — ay, i' these arms.'* 

So sobbed out Marion Learmont, as she sat 
in breathless sorrow beside her wheel, by which 
she and her husband's mother earned their daily 
bread — two desolate women. 

" The Lord keep ye in your wits, dochter, and 
forgie ye sic fancies ! Puir lassie, ye're a widow 
and childless, like my ain sel. For it's ower 
certain that your gudeman was drowned in the 
Tweed; and Daft Simmie — de'il tak him! — 
has stown awa' your bairn. Ye'U ne'er see 
tane nor tither mair." 

" Gudemither, I will," said the girl solemnly. 
"There's mony a ane brought back frae the 
wee folk ; and my bairn's alive, for I hae seen 
her not four hours syne." 

The old woman shook her head, but there was 



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44 AUCE LEARMONT, OB 

something so earnest in Marion's manner that 
she seemed rather less incredulous. 

" Tell a' the truth, lassie. It'll do nae harm.'* 

" It was i' the mirk o' night, just afore moon- 
rise. I waukened, sabbin' because o' a dream 
I had, that my puir bairn was sleeping at my 
side ; and I felt a wee bit cheek, saffc and warm, 
creepiu', creepin' till me. It was a wean, gude- 
mither ; it was my own Alice." 

" Gude guide us ! " 

" She lay here at my breast, wi' her sweet lips 
close, and drank, and drank — or it seemed sae. 
I tell ye, this ae nicht I hae gi'en mither's milk 
to my dear bairn." 

"It's a' the wark o' the Evil Ane," whispered 
Dame Learmont. " But, Marion, lass, in what 
form gaed she awa' ? In a flash o' fire, nae 
doubt." 

" Ye speak ill, gudemither," cried the young 
creature, tried past her patience. " It's nae 
deil's wark ; it's the wee folk that hae changed 
my bairn, as I tell't ye." 

The old woman shook her head with incredu- 
lous pity. She did not like that any who were 
not strictly of the Learmont blood should attain 



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A mother's love. 45 

to the honors of fairy intercourse. Still, as 
Misti*ess Thomas persisted, she grew more ac- 
quiescent. 

" Maybe > Marion ; but then the bairn could 
be naething but a wee deil — a changeling." 

" I tell ye she was my ain bairn." 

" The new-born wean ye scarce set e'en on ? " 

" Na, na ; but a bonnie lassie, a twalmonth 
anld, as she wad be this day." 

" Ance mair,'* said Dame Learmont, mysteri- 
ously, " ance mair I ask, how did she gang ? " 

"I dinna ken," sobbed Marion. "I was 
sleeping soun', and she slippit awa' frae my 
arms like a snaw-wreath, and was gane. Wae's 
me for my bonnie, bonnie bairn ! " 

Thus sorrowed the forsaken mother, more, 
perhaps, as a mother than a wife ; for certainty, 
the slayer of hope is oftentimes the healer of 
despair — and she, as well as the whole country 
side, believed that Thomas Learmont had been 
drowned in the Tweed, and washed out to sea. 
But nothing ever shook Marion in her statement 
that she had seen her babe carried away by 
fairies. And when the strange story which, she 
told on the first anniversary after her loss was 



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46 AUCE LEARMONT, OB 

repeated the next year and the next, people be- 
gan to look on her with awe and respect, not 
unmingled with a sort of dread. 

On the third new year's eve the young widow 

— as she believed herself to be — was sitting in 
the large room which, in the days of the Lear- 
monts, had been the well-furnished farmer's 
kitchen. It was now desolate enough, for the 
two women — relicts of the last two of the race 

— were very poor. On this winter night, Dame 
Learmont, sick and ailing, had been taken to 
the charity of some far-away kin ; but Marion 
refused to quit her home. There she sat, heavily 
turning her wheel by the light of one half- 
burned fagot, shivering with cold, listening to 
the howling of wind and rain ; or, perhaps, 

— so strangely thrilled was her mother-heart, 

— listening for some other sound which she 
hoped would come. 

" I winna try to sleep," she said to herself. 
"I'll bide, and see what this year brings." 

So she sat and hearkened, but heard nothing 
save the burring of her wheel and the noise of 
the storm without, until, between twelve and 



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A mother's love. 47 

one, the hour that marked the boundary of 
the old and new year. Then, in a pause of the 
rain, Marion fancied she heard a faint knock at 
the door. 

" Come ben," she said, thinking it was a 
neighbor belated, and sorrowful that the hour 
of her accustomed joy had passed by. 

" I cannot come ben, unless ye open to me." 

It was a child's voice ; yet at once sharper and 
sweeter than a child's. Could it come from 
those soft, but always dumb, lips that had clung 
to her bosom yearly at this time ? 

Trembling, Marion tottered across the room, 
and unlatched the door. There, in the bleak 
night, stood a little shivering child, dressed iii 
a tattered cloak, with its arms all bare, and 
drenched with rain. Alas ! it did not look like 
her fairy child ; but, nevertheless, the kind wo- 
man drew it in. 

"Puir wee lassie, what gars ye stay out sae 
late ? Hae ye nae minnie at hame ? What for 
do ye greet sae sair ? " 

But the child made no answer, for no sooner 
had she been lifted over the threshold, than her 
crying was changed into a shout of laughter. 



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48 ALICE LEABMONT, OB 

The old rags dropped from her, and she stood 
in the centre of the dark, miserable room, a 
lovely three years' child, dressed in the shining 
robes of Fairyland. 

"It's my bairn, it's my bairn," cried the 
mother, as, regardless of the wondrous glitter 
and supernatural aspect of the visitor, she ran 
to clasp her. But the little thing flitted from 
her, and escaped. 

"Are ye.no my ain? Will ye no come to 
me ? " sobbed Marion in an agony. But Alice 
only laughed the more, and gambolled about the 
house without noticing her. 

" Alice, Alice," shrieked the mother, follow- 
ing. 

" Ay, I'm Alice.. What do you want ? " 

This was all the child said, and continued hor 
play. 3nt the mother had at length heard the 
sound of her daughter's voice. The little one 
had even for the first time answered to the name 
" Alice." It was joy enough, and too much ; 
Marion Learmont fell on her knees, and, weep- 
ing, thanked God. 

While she murmured her prayer, the change- 
ling's wild sports and laughter were moment- 



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A mot::er's love. 49 

arily hushed; and a faint, sweet shadow of 
earth stole over the elfin brightness of her 
countenance. She came up softly, and said, — 

" What are you doing that for ? " 

" For thankfu' joy, that He may bless ye and 
save ye, my bairn," cried Marion, ceasing her 
prayer in the delight of embracing her child. 
But no sooner had she risen from her knees, and 
tried, by tender force, to hold her darling fast, 
than Alice slipped away, and laughed, and 
mocked, and played strange elfish antics, until 
even the mother's self was terrified. She began 
to weep, not now for joy, but for very sorrow. 
The changeling only jested the more. 

" How dull and. queer you seem, big, dark- 
looking woman of earth ! ajid what coarse 
clothes you wear, and what an ugly place this 
is ! Where are your pretty gold tables, and 
shining'clothes, and beautiful dancing-halls ? " 

" I hae nane, my bairn ; I am but a puir wo- 
man that live my lane in poortith and care. 
But I wadna grieve, gin I had hut ye, my 
dochter ! " 

And once more Marion tried to draw to her 
arms the bright being who looked a child and 
5 



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50 ALICE LBARMONT, OR 

spoke like a denizen of Fairyland. For a min- 
ute or two Alice staid, seemingly amused by the 
novelty of caresses. 

" What are you doing to me ? " she cried. 

" I hand ye fast, my darling ; and I gie ye 
ae kiss, and anither — and anither," answered 
the mother, fearlessly pressing her lips to \he 
soft hair that was bound with the garlands and 
redolent of the perfumes of Elfland. " I loe 
ye, my bairn ; I loe ye ! " 

" What does that mean ? " 

" Do ye no ken ? Did ye never hear o' love 
in Fairyland? 0, then, come hame, Alice; 
come hame ! " sighed the mother, in passionate 
entreaty. But perpetually the bright creature 
escaped her clasp. 

For an hour, which seemed a moment, yet an 
age, Marion Learmont watched the gambols of 
her elfin child flitting about the desolate house. 
Awe-struck, she crouched beside where the fire 
had been, and heard strange shouts of invisible 
laughter ecljoing Alice and mocking herself. 
At last, the house seemed to grow stiller, and 
Marion felt a drowsy oppression creeping over 
her. The changeling, too, as if tired out with 



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A mother's love. 51 

play like a mortal child, had laid herself down, 
and suffered the mother to fold her in her 
arms. Thus secure, Marion yielded to irresist- 
ible weariness, and fell asleep. 

In the cold dawn she woke, but it was to 
stretch out her empty arms and moan. The child 
was gone. All over the house was silence, sol- 
itude, and gloom. Only, tinkling in her brain 
was a sort of musical rhyme, which seemed like 
a tune heard in dreams or just in the act of 
waking, and remembered afterwards. It had 
little connected meaning ; yet still the mere 
words clung tenaciously to her memory, — 

** Prayer o' faith is an arm o' aim ; 
— Whilk will ye hae, spouse or bairn ? " ^ 

While, amidst her frantic lamentations, the 
wife of Thomas Learmont* paused to think over 
this rhyme, the first ray of daylight glinted into 
the room, and rested on a relic belonging to her 
husband's family. It was a portrait blackened 
with smoke and age, yet now the face seemed to 
grow defined, even life-like. She could have 
fancied that the eyes turned towards her with a 
human expression of pity and gentle sadness. 



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52 

And she shuddered, remembering what awful 
tales were told of that picture — the portrait of 
her husband's wondrous ancestor, Thomas the 
Rhymer. 

She closed her eyes in terror, nor opened 
them again till, in broad daylight, she saw it 
was only a picture on the wall. 



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A motheb's love. 58 



CHAPTER IV. 

Fab up the Eildon Hill there were footmarks 
in the New-year snow ; small light traces, as if 
some poor barefooted child had been there wan- 
dering through the night. But when the marks 
reached the Eildon Tree, they vanished sud- 
denly, and were no more seen. 

The mortal child was once more in her home 
in Fairyland. She awoke, as if out of a sleep 
or trance, and found herself lying on the green- 
sward, in the warm light of that sunless day. 
She stretched her limbs with delight, and drank 
in the ples^^ant air. 

"0, this is happy," she said, and began 
once more to revel among the flowers. She was 
alone, but that mattered little in Elfland, where 
all sought their own pleasure, and such a thing 
as sympathy was unknown. It troubled her 
when she saw, coming over the valley towards 
her, that tall Shadow, grave and pale, who ever 
met her after her yearly visits to earth. 
, Alice tried to escape, and hid herself among 



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54 AUCE LEARMONT, OB 

the willows of the stream ; but her laugh be- 
trayed her, when, looking down, she saw a brave 
sight and a merry, — at least, so the elf-child 
thought. 

There was the figure of the spell-bound man, 
the sport of all Fairyland for three years. He 
had half broken from his enchantment, and 
lifted himself out of the water ; his long yellow 
hair and beard flowed down upon his breast, 
mingled with rushes and water-reeds ; his eyes 
were still closed, but his face, unlike that of a 
drowned man, was bright, ruddy, and lighted 
with hope. Nevertheless tears* quivered in the 
heavy lashes as the child approached. 

" Wherefore grieve ye, my son ? " said Thomas 
the Rhymer, as with slow footsteps he followed 
Alice to the river-side. 

" I see wee feet near me, the feet that are yet 
white frae the snaw on Eildon Hill." 

" And why listen ye to ilka sound, my son ? " 

" I hear a blithe voice ahint me, the voice 
that spak wi' her yestreen. Marion, Marion ! " 

The tones died away in a wail, as the young 
Borderer's head sank upon his breast. 

True Thomas gazed upon his descendant, and 



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A mother's love. 55 

the pensive repose of his own features was over- 
shadowed. " Gin I had been like ye, a leal 
lover and faithfu' spouse, I hadna wonne into 
Fairyland. My puir bodie wad be lying saft 
aneath the Tower o' Ereildoun, and the saints 
in paradise wad keep my saul. But what's 
dune is dune. . Even ye, my son, your ill deed 
maun be punished ; yet for a' that, ye sail gang 
back safe to bonnie Melrose, and live happy, 
though in poortith and toil. For, as I hae fore- 
told lang syne, 

' The hare sail hirple on my hearth-stane, 
There'll ne'er be a Laird o' Learmont again.' " 

So spoke he with a grave sweetness, becoming 
the lips that never lied. At his words, strong 
shudders convulsed the frame of young Thomas 
Learmont. 

" 0, it's hame that I wad be ; hame, hame ! " 
he moaned ; and his moaning went up to the 
pale sky, and his trembling shook the glassy 
waters of Elfland. 

Alice crept away, as if she feared or disliked 
the sight of emotion, a thing to her unknown. 
She went merrily to watch beside the golden 



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56 AUCE LEABAIONT, OB 



J. 



gates of the enchanted vale until the fairy train 
returned. 

Thomas the Rhymer sat and watched too. His 
harp lay at his feet — the same harp which had 
echoed in the Tower of Ercildoun ; sometimes 
he touched a chord or two, chanting fragments 
of his own poem of " Sir Tristram," once so re- 
nowned, the very name of which is now scarce 
remembered along Tweedside. As he sang, his 
face shone with the calm and solemn beauty of 
middle age, which two centuries had left un- 
changed ; only that over all was a vague sad- 
ness and unrest which came at times, when 
earthly memories marred the even tenor of his 
elfin joys. 

He had not long sat waiting, when from afar 
was heard the bridle-ringing that heralded the 
Queen of Fairies and her court. True Thomas 
laid down his harp and smiled. 

" Ah," he said, musingly ; " 'tis a sweet sound ; 
I mind it weel. Blithely sung the mavis on 
Huntley Bank ; the grass was saft and green, 
and the gowans wat wi' dew. 0, but ye wore 
a may meet for a young man's luve, my bonnie 
Elfin Queen ! " 



67 

So spoke he, and beheld afar the gallant 
train. In the midst of it, riding on her dapple 
gray palfrey, all in her green kirtle set with 
beryl-stone, he saw the lady of his love — even 
as she appeared to him the first time out of the 
greenwood by the hill-side ; and his grave eye 
kindled like that of an aged poet at the memory 
of youthful dreams. 

But the fairy-lady was not given to dreaming. 
Merrily rode she on, her palfrey's bells ringing 
at every step ; a mingling of silver bells and 
silver laughter. Lightsome and heartless was 
the glitter of her eyes, and gayly swept she the 
Rhymer by, like the changed goddess of many 
a young bard's worship. He followed her with 
aspect thoughtful indeed, but not love-lorn ; he 
had no more lives of earth to peril for a mo- 
ment of passion. Slow and grave was his step 
as he entered the elfin ring. 

"Ha! my True Thomas, hither you come 
at last: is it for news of the bonnie banks 
of Tweed and the gray tower of Ercildoun, 
where the white owl sits beside the * hoodie 
craw ' ? Would my bold Thomas wend thither 
agam?" 



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68 ALICE LEARMONT, OB 

" Never mair, never mair ! " sighed he ; " but 
I wad fain hae speech wi' ye, my lady and my 
queen." 

" Say on, only sigh no more ; it torments my 
merry elves. ''And we have been having a 
blithesome raid, up and down in the snow; 
scaring and leading astray folk that have been 
abroad keeping their New-year ; ha, ha ! 

' Lord, what fools these mortals be ! ' 

as sings a young English poet, whom I would 
say for sure had been in Fairyland, only he 
paints me so little after received tradition, and 
so much out of his own fancy, that I hardly 
know my own likeness. Eh, my elves! shall 
we send home our ancient Rhymer, and go to 
Avon's banks to steal sweet Will ? " 

" Ye sport and jest, my ladye and love," said 
True Thomas, sadly; "ye heed not that the 
year's began — the seventh year. When its 
second morn appears, ye'll see the Evil Ane 
wend up that sloping road to claim the teind to 
hell." 

Terror — the sole terror they knew — seized 
the fairy-folk ; the dances ceased, and the git- 



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A mother's love. 59 

terns and lyres, falling from elfin-hands, began 
to wail of their own accord. 

" Who fears ? " said the qneen. " Let the 
teind be paid ! I have a fine stout mortal fat- 
tening under kelpie's hands, in the river near. 
Ha, ha ! my young Thomas Learmont will serve 
my turn well.'' 

" Nae harm can touch the lad," answered the 
Rhymer, sternly. " He has a wife at hame wha 
prays for him nicht and day to Ane that here 
we maunna name. I foresee that this same year 
a mortal will be won away frae Elfland." 

" You grow bold in speech, my knight of 
old.'' 

" I speak wi' the lips that canna lee." 

The queen looked as abashed and angry as it 
was possible for a fairy to look. "I marvel, 
True Thomas, that your vision extends no far- 
ther, and that though you are grown old and 
ill-favored with two centuries of life, you do not 
see your noble self wending that fated road." 

And she pointed to a downward slope black- 
ening in the distance, from which all the elves 
turned their eyes, for they knew it was the gate 
of hell. On the other hand rose the thin cloud- 



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60 ALICE LEARMONT, OB 

land of Paradise ; while between both, like glis- 
tening fantastic towers with fair landscapes be- 
tween, was seen the land of Faery. 

The Rhymer gazed around, and turned to bis 
mistress. " Do ye mind, my queen, the day ye 
laid my head on your knee, and showed me thae 
three sights ? For your luve I wonned frae 
earth, and I hae tint heaven ; but hell will ne'er 
open her mouth for me. I maun bide here in 
Faery foreyermair.'' 

"And grieve you at that. True Thomas?" 
smiled the winning elf, assuming the aspect by 
which she once wiled the youth away from 
Huntley Bank. 

" I grieve not," murmured he, while his eyes 
glittered with a passion before which the mirth 
of Fairyland sank spiritless and tame ; " I wad 
dree it ower and ower for siccan joy." 

He sank kneeling at his lady's feet, and for a 
brief space thought of earth no more. 

But soon there came flitting near him little 
Alice, whispering, — 

" There's the man with the bonnie yellow hair 
moaning out, ' Harney hame ! ' and it frights my 
butterflies in the meadow, my bright fishes in 



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A mother's love. 61 

the stream. I cannot sleep or play for listening. 
Entreat our mistress to send him ' hame.' " 

So True Thomas changed from elfin wooing 
to entreaties for his descendant. 

" 0, the trouble you mortals give me ! " cried 
the Queen of Fairies. " There are too many of 
you here ; you will produce quite a revolution 
in our government. But for all that I cannot 
let my handsome prisoner go. He began an 
evil fray, and fell into the Tweed, hard fight- 
ing, he and his adversary together. The tide 
swept Geordie Grahame down, while I stood 
by and laughed, for I knew that the other was 
mine." 

" But no for aye. It's lang syne, yet Marion 
Learmont's saut tears fa'. She prays ; and 
there's Ane that will hear. Send the young 
man back to earth, my gentle elfin queen." 

" Ay, and then give back my fair changeling, 
too ? Impossible ! One or the other I must 
keep. So lie thee down, Thie Thomas, at 
my feet, and let us hearken to wee Alice's 
songs." 

But wee Alice, standing by, looked half- 
thoughtful still. "The mani is moaning yet. 
6 



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62 ALICE LEARMONT, OR 

Ho wearies me. Let him go back to earth, and 
keep me in his stead always." 

The Rhymer smiled, with the glad sense of 
a poet who beholds that noblest sight — a gen- 
erous deed. 

" My bairn, the dear earth-blude is in ye yet ; 
ye wad tine a', and win your father." 

" Father," repeated the child, carelessly ; " it 
is a strange word ; I know it not. And what is 
earth to me ? I spent a weary night last night, 
wandering there over snow and brier. I would 
rather stay in Fairyland." 

"But ye gaed hame, my bairn; hame to 
sweet Melrose ; ye sat by the ingle-side that 
was your father's ; ye crept close to your mith- 
er's knee," eagerly cried Thomas of Ercildoun. 

" It was a gloomy place, dark and cold. 
There was a woman there, doleful to see. She 
never smiled, or danced, or sung, but only wept. 
It wearied me. I would rather stay in Fairy- 
land." 

" Then stay, my merry changeling," cried the 
delighted queen. " Not an elf in my kingdom 
shall live so blithely as you. By all means, 
stay." 



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A mother's love. 63 

" For seven years, nae mair," said the Rhymer, 
earnestly. " My lady and queen, ye hae me by 
my ain will, for that I first sought your luve, 
and not ye mine. Ay, and again I were fu' 
fain to tine my saul for your beauty's sake. 
But ilk either mortal man, woman, or wean, ye 
may keep seven year, and nae mair." 

" My True Thomas, your earth-born honesty 
is very inconvenient in Fairyland. Neverthe- 
less, away with the burly Border squire ; and 
come, my bright Alice, and my lightsome elves, 
let us to our sports again." 

That night, when the lights were out in all 
Melrose, and the new moon shone dimly on the 
snow, — when the young Marion sat weeping by 
her fireless hearth, where even the cricket's song 
had ceased in the cold and silence, — there came 
a step on the threshold — a voice in the darkness 
— a strong, close, passionate clasp, that she felt, 
yet saw not. But when the moonlight glinted 
palely in, she knew the noble height, the broad, 
stalwart breast, the yellow hair. It was the 
dead alive — the lost found. 

Yet even on that joyful night, when marvels 



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64 AUOfi LEABMONT, OB 

hardly seemed to be such, since love was ready 
unquestiouing to receive all, many a time Mari- 
on would droop tearfiil on his neck, sighing 
out, — 
" husband ! our bairn, our bairn ! " 



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A mother's love. 65 



CHAPTER V. 

" Come ben, come ben, my bairnies a'," softly 
cried a mother — not a young mother now, as 
she stood by the ingle-side, and threw on a fresh 
fagot, which merrily lighted up the dusk of the 
winter night. 

An old woman, bent and withered, cowered 
over the blaze, and childishly watched it glitter- 
ing between the joints of her skeleton fingers. 

" It's a rare fire, Marion," mumbled she : " we 
hae na had the like o't for mony a New-year. 
Wow ! but it's unco fine ! " 

" Aweel, gudemither, gin ye're content ! " 
answered Mistress Learmont, half sorrowfully. 
" Yet, I'se warrant it has been * muckle siller 
and muckle dule, sin the day the gudeman was 
awa' to serve the queen in Edinburgh. Eh ! 
caUants, I fear me ye'U no see your daddy this 
braw New-year." 

So said she to the two sturdy bare-legged lad- 
dies that came from the next room, toddling to 
the welcome fire. A third — the eldest appar- 



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66 ALIOS LEABMONT, OB 

ciitly — entered from without doors, bringing in 
plenty of snow upon his shoeless feet and his 
flaxen hair. For he too was a " yellow-haired 
laddie," a true son of the Learmont race. He 
was his father's very image ; a great fellow, 
whose bulk almost belied the round, innocent 
face of six years old. The other two were fat, 
sun-burnt, roly-poly creatures — twins. The 
last-born, a delicate looking child who could 
just stand alone, and whose sole speech was the 
dumb language of blue eyes, was crawling about 
the floor, — making vain eflForts to get nearer to 
the beautiful blaze. 

They were all boys, these later blessings sent 
to comfort Marion Learmont after her woes. 
There never came another daughter. 

Every human being must change, more or 
less, in seven years. Mistress Thomas Learmont 
was a douce, matronly body now. She could 
chatter, and she could scold, though not often ; 
for she was of a sweet nature always. But she 
had to be both father and mother to her boys, 
in the absence of the gudeman, whom chance 
had lifted to comparative prosperity, as archer 
of the guard to Queen Mary. Mere infants as 



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A mother's love. 67 

they were, there was their race's fierce spirit in 
the lads, so that poor Marion had sore trouble 
to manage them at times. 

They had not been long gathered round the 
fire, when a domestic storm arose. 

" Hay, Habbie, what are ye yaumerin' for ? 
Hand your ill tongue, Jock ! Wee Sandy, come 
and tell your minnie what ails ye. 0, laddies, 
laddies, what '11 1 do wi' ye a' ? " 

"Why dinna ye wish the 'gude neighbors' 
wad tak them, and send ye hack your ae doch- 
ter ? " grumbled the old woman. " I'd gie a' 
these ill-faured callants for ane bonnie lass- 
bairn.*' 

" Ye didna think sae ance, gudemither. Gin 
ye had, maybe my puir Alice had been safe at 
your knee. Now, ye'll gang to your grave, and 
me too, wi' ne'er a dochter to close our e'en." 

Marion sighed bitterly. Strange it seemed, 
and yet was not strange, that amidst the cares 
and joys which followed after, the mother never 
forgot her first-born. Year by year, as Alice's 
birth-night came round, she grew thoughtful, 
and watched with anxiety ; but never again in 
any shape, vision, or sound, did the changeling 



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68 ALICE LEARMONT, OB 

appear. At last a sacredness like unto death 
stilled the pain of this heavy loss ; many other 
children came to comfort the bereaved mother 
— yet the wound was never thoroughly healed. 
Constantly, when the boys were to her cold or 
rough, as boys will be, she would sigh after the 
one lost blessing, which, like all vanished joys, 
seemed dearer than any of the rest. 

She sat by the ingle ; and, rocking on her 
knee the gentlest of the tribe, the little year-old 
babe, whose looks sometimes reminded her of 
Alice, — gave herself up to sad thoughts, which 
on this New-year's Eve seemed to come thicker 
and faster than ordinary. 

" What for do ye greet, minnie ? " cried one 
after the other of the bairns, gathering round 
her ; for childhood's heart is always tender, and 
the wildest boys are often the most moved at 
sight of trouble. 

Marion uncovered her eyes, to see Habbie 
and Sandy with great thunder-drops of tears in 
theirs ; while Hugh, the bold eldest, stood in an 
attitude of defiance, as if ready to challenge 
some invisible foe who had made his mother 
weep. Even the wee thing at her lap lifted up 



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A mother's love. 69 

his sweet looks in troubled wonderment, and 
nestled closer to her, bringing unconscious com- 
fort. 

" Ye're gude bairns a'," said the mother, ten- 
deriy, as she caressed them by turns. " But, 0, 
ye arena my Alice — my ae dochter — that I will 
see nae mair ! " 

The children had often heard of their sister 
Alice, and had questioned about her with child- 
ish awe. With them she had grown into a sort 
of myth, to be thought of with grave faces, and 
spoken of softly. They had even set up a kind of 
rude service to her — children often have the odd- 
est instinctive notions of worship. Many a tiny 
bowl of milk, or rosy-cheeked apple, was left on 
the " door-stane," or carried to some thicket on 
Eildon Hill, or placed at four cross roads, in the 
vague hope that " Sister Alice " would somehow 
come and partake of it. And as, of course, the 
dainty frequently vanished, they would come 
home feeling sure that " Sister Alice " had in- 
deed received their gift. 

Now, when they heard the rare mention of 
her name, they became silent and grave. Only 
Hugh, who, being next eldest to the lost one, 



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70 ALICE LEARMONT, OB 

thought himself peculiarly privileged, took cour- 
age to say, — 

" Mither, diuna ye greet for Sister Alice ; and 
I'll gang and speer for her ower the hale warld." 

The mother shook her head. 

" But I will, mither," cried the fearless boy. 
" What like is she ? — When gaed she awa ? " 

It was a bold question ; for Marion had feared 
to tell the whole story of Alice's disappearance 
to her young children, and had left their specu- 
lations thereon vague and dim. But, somehow, 
to-night her heart was opened and her tongue 
loosed. 

"Bide ye here, callants, and I'll tell ye. 
What like was she ? — she was the sweetest wee 
lady, jimp and sma', — wi' een like Willie's 
here, but 0, sae bright ! She was ta'^n awa on 
this nicht, the nicht she was born, just ten year 
sinsyne. She came back ance — twice — ilka 
new year, and then nae mair. — Ah, laddies, she 
came nae mair ! " 

" And whar is she noo, mither ? " 

" She's in a braw, braw land, blithe and gay, 
amang folk that it's no gude to speak o', my 
bairns." 



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A mother's love. 71 

" Then they're no gude ava," cried Hiighie, 
boldlj. " Maybe they'll gar her forget her min- 
nie and us. — I'll gang and fetch them a' ! " 

Marion laid her finger on her little son's lips, 
and, with the other hand, was about tremblingly 
to make the sign of the cross, — but stopped, re- 
membering what that good man John Knox had 
said, when last he preached under the shadow 
of Eildon T;*ee. Scarcely had she collected her 
thoughts and resolved not to fear, when through 
a pause in the blast which seemed suddenly to 
have risen shaking the whole dwelling, she heard 
a sound that was neither wind nor storm. 

" Eh ! siccan a sight ! " shouted the daring 
Hughywho had rushed to the window. "Sax 
braw white horses dragging a thing like a wain, 
only bonnier far ; wi' sic grand folk intilt, and 
mony mair ridin' ahint the lave." 

" Surely, it's a coach, that fine new wain your 
daddie saw. Maybe the queen herself is there. 
0, bairnies, rin and hide ! " 

" I'll no hide," said Hugh. " I wad like to 
speak to the queen. Folk sae she's a bonnie 
leddy." 

Without more ado, this bold young scion of 



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72 



the humbled Learmont race unbarred the door, 
and walked out. Marion trembling followed. 
The coach and attendants had apparently drivea 
away, for she saw them not, though she fancied 
she heard the sound of retreating wheels. 
There was only a faint glare, like that of invis- 
ible torches, cast on the road; and there she 
saw her son, escorting a brilliant little lady who 
seemed neither quite a woman nor yet a child. 

One frenzied hope darted through the mother's 
heart, but quickly it faded when Hugh rushed in. 

" Mither ! here's a bonnie wee leddy sent frae 
the queen." 

" Prae the queen ? wi' news o' your daddie ? 
Ah ! she's kindly welcome," said the mother ; 
but still she drew back in disappointment. 

Hugh ran gallantly to the aid of his lovely 
guest, who hesitated at the threshold. 

" Come ben, my wee leddy," said he, eagerly, 
apparently not in the least abashed either by 
her fair presence, or by her gold and jewels and 
gay robes. 

" I cannot come in, unless you lift me," mur- 
mured the dainty creature, in tones like a silver 
bell. 



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A mother's love. 73 

Hugh sturdily gathered up all the strength 
of his childish arms, and carried her over the 
door-sill, into the very middle of the floor. 
There she stood — a beautiful^ vision, making 
all light about her, as though her very gar- 
ments shone. But, gradually, the glitter paled 
ofi*, and she seemed nothing more than a very 
small, elegantly-formed lady, magnificently clad, 
but with the face and manner of a child. 

Despite its change, and against the utter im- 
probability of the thing, the mother fancied she 
knew that face. Tremblingly she advanced to 
the guest. 

" Wha may ye be, my sweet wee leddy ? " ' 

" I was not to tell my name." 

" Wherefore cam ye ? " 

" The queen sent me." And whatever ques- 
tions were put, the only answer that could be 
won from the little damsel was still the same — 
" The queen sent me." 

Her sudden appearance and dazzling mien 
spread such an admiring awe over the little 
circle that they felt no power to question her ; 
but in their intercourse the little lady alto- 
gether Hook the initiative. 
7 



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74 

She flitted about the house, peering into every 
hole and corner with most amusing pertinaci- 
ty. She played with the children and pulled 
them about, more with curiosity than interest ; 
and at last, having fairly bewildered them all 
with her beauty, her wilful ways, and her per- 
petual chatter in a tongue which at first seemed 
to them strange and court-like, but gradually 
became intelligible and more like their own — 
she called for something to eat. 

It was supper time; and the mother. had 
been preparing bowls of porridge, turning every 
now and then, with an incomprehensible yearn- 
ing, to watch the movements of their guest ; yet 
evermore repelled by something in the fair crea- 
ture's mien which told that her hojJes were de- 
lusions, that it was impossible this could be her 
Alice — her child. 

" I want some food," again cried the visitor, 
impatiently. 

Marion got ready the children's messes. She 
set out five instead of four portions, and placed 
the first and largest before the stranger. 

" Will ye eat wi' my bairns ? ye're dearly 
welcome," said she, tenderly. 



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A mother's love. 75 

The little lady tasted the porridge, and threw 
it aside with a gesture of disgust. " It is not 
like my food ; give me some better." 

It was strange, but the words and look went 
like an arrow to Marion's heart. 

" I haena ony better," she said, sadly. " Gin 
ye come to puir folk's door, ye maun live as 
puir folk live." 

The little damsel laughed, more carelessly 
than angrily, and with hungry looks sufiFered 
Hugh to place her bowl once more within her 
hand. 

" Bide a wee," whispered Marion, as she was 
about to begin. " My bairns, say your grace 
afore meat, as ye hae been taught." 

One after the other the boys — in this at 
least well-lessoned — folded their hands and 
said a few words of prayer. At the sound, the 
new-comer began to tremble and grow pale ; at 
last she set up a loud cry — 

" 0, it hurts me — it hurts me ! " 

" What, my sweet lassie ? " 

"0, my heart — my heart!" and she began 
to weep. 

Hugh started up, but the mother put him 



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76 ALICE LEARMONT, OR 

back, and threw her arms, brown and hard with 
labor, round the silken-robed child. 

" Tell me, in the great Name ye ken o', wha 
may ye be ? " 

The girl struggled wth diflSculty to speak. 
"I'm Alice — Alice Learmont; let me go back 
to whence I came." 

"I winna let ye gang, my ain bairn, my 
dochter ! " med the mother, snatching her 
close, and sobbing over her. " Come near, lad- 
dies, baud her fast — fast! She's your sister 
Alice." 

Amazed, the children clung round ; some ad- 
miring her bright clothing, , and others half- 
frightened at the wild elfin beauty of her face, 
for she was now smiling again. 

But the mother wept still. 

" Is it your ain sel', my dochter ? " cried she, 
fondling the pretty creature ; who, nevertheless, 
every now and then tried to escape out of her 
hands. " Eh, but ye're grown a winsome lassie, 
your hair sae shining, and your skin sae white ! 
I wadna hae kent my wee Alice, my ain dear 
bairn ! " 

" Indeed ! " said the little maiden, carelessly, 



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A mother's love. 77 

as she re-arranged her tossed hair, and smoothed 
her crumpled gear, too bright and gaudy for 
the touch of common mortal hands ; " was I 
ever in this ugly dark place before ? " 

" Do you no mind o' that ?" said the mother, 
sadly. "Hae ye forgotten your ain mither? 
Ye're a braw, braw leddy now, but ye were 
ance a puir bit bairnie in these arms." 

Alice smiled with an air of indifference, and 
turned from the worn and pensive-looking 
mother to the children, who, young, rosy, and 
fair, seemed more like herself and her elfin 
companions. 

" Are these my brothers, and will they play 
with me, as the little fairy-children do in the 
land where I live?" 

« Eh, whar is that land ? " asked bold Hugh, 
the^ first who had dared to address their mag- 
nificent new sister. 

" I know not, but it must be a long way off, 
for it's a country so much prettier than this." 
And she went peering about into daa'k and 
dusty corners, and curled her sweet lips in a 
half-scornful indifference at every thing she 
saw. 

7* 



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78 ALICE LEABMONT, OR 

" Do you always live here ? " said Alice, 
when at last she and thQ rest had become more 
sociable. "Where are your golden halls, and 
your silver dining tables, and your sweet mu- 
sic ? And why don't you laugh and dance — 
in this way ? '' 

Immediately she began to float and bound, 
with an air so ravishingly graceful and joyous 
that she seemed like a creature of light com- 
pared with the other children, who watched her 
in dumb wonder, Hugh especially. 

" Is it thus ye live in your land ? Eh, but I 
never seed sie a bonnie ploy ! " 

"And how do you amuse yourself? " asked 
Alice, with dignified condescension. 
' '^ When it's simmer, I rin about the braes, 
or amang the corn-rigs wi' the shearers ; i' the 
mirk winter-days I baud the plough ; and then 
a' the spring-time I gang wi' the bit lammies on 
the hill. I'll show ye thae lammies, gin ye'U 
bide wi' us, sister Alice." 

She seemed amused and pleased, and her 
sweet winning looks stole the very heart of the 
afiectionate boy. He went boldly to his sister, 
kissed her mouth, and hugged her close, saying, 



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A mother's love. 79 

" I'm unco glad ye're come, sister Alice ; but 
gin ye hadna come o' your ain will, I wad hae 
fought for ye and brought ye hame. Ye sail 
never gang awa mair." 

" Never gang awa mair ? " cried Alice, mim- 
icking him, as she stole slyly out of his embrace, 
and once more began dancing about the floor. 

The children forgot their supper in watching 
her, half with shy wonder, half with delight ; 
so graceful, so blithe was she, so utterly free 
from thought or care. But the neglected 
mother sat in a corner apart, and mourned. 

More than once she came to her child, and, 
with piteous tenderness, looked into those blue 
eyes whose brightness was never shadowed by 
one cloud of regret, or emotion, or love. 

" Are. ye no my Alice ? " she would say, im- 
ploringly ; " and haena ye ae kiss for your ain 
mither that bore ye ? Ah, lassie, what wad I 
gie for ane wee wordie ! just ' inither,' — nae- 
thing mair." 

Alice shook her head, and laughed. "It's 
a new word ; I don't understand it." And 
then she went back to her sports among her 
brothers. 



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89 ALICE LEABMONT, OB 

Merry sports they were, and with much won- 
derment she sometimes paused to listen to 
Hugh's harangues, very sensible for his years. 

" Ye're our ae sister, and we aye liked ye 
weel, though we never saw ye. Why did ye 
no come hame ? Mither used to greet for ye ; 
she aye loed ye aboon the lave." 
. Alice turned a curious glance to her mother. 
" What does loving mean ? " she asked. 

Hughie w^s puzzled. At last he tried a prac- 
tical illustration. He wrapped his arms round 
his fairy-like sister, and kissed her with child- 
ish fondness, which she did not repulse, though 
she took it coldly and wonderingly. 

" It means that^^ said he, " an' it means that 
I'll tak tent o' ye, and I'll carry ye when ye're 
wearied, and treat ye weel, and no beat ye — as 
I beat Habbie and Sandy ; I'm your ain brither, 
an' I loe ye, Alice dear ! " 

Alice paused in her frolics, and, putting her 
tiny hand among Hugh's curls, looked as if her 
eyes were drinking in from his some strange 
new lesson of human affection. But, turning, 
she saw in a tiny mirror her own fair image ; 
suddenly bursting away, she danced up to it, 



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A mother's love. 81 

and became absorbed by pleasure at the sight of 
her glittering frock and her silver shoes. 

The night wore on ; the old grandmother had 
gone to her rest long ago, and knew nothing of 
the strange visitant who had so fascinated the 
children. But at length even they grew weary ; 
while the little elfin maiden still frolicked, her 
brothers dropped away one after the other, and 
came, in the wearied, peevish mood that very 
young children have, to take shelter by their 
mother's side. Mistress Learmont soothed them, 
and folded her arms round them, though, in the 
troubled bewilderment of her own mind, she did 
not attempt to put them to bed. Whatever she 
did, or wherever she moved, her eyes never 
quitted her beloved first-born, whom now she 
left to her own devices, and tried to caress no 
more. 

Hugh was the last to leave his sister, but 
even he came to the ingle-side at length, rubbing 
his eyes, and looking dull and melancholy. 

^^ She's no like a real lassie. She's unco' fair 
and unco' gleg, but she'll no be our ain sister," 
said he, disconsolately, as he gathered himself 
up on the hearth, and laid his head wearily on 



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82 

his mother's knee. The twin-laddie§ were al- 
ready dropping to sleep beside her, and wee 
Willie had nestled close into her bosom. Mar- 
ion kissed them all round tenderly, and with 
tears. 

While she did so, she was aware of the 
approach of her eldest child, who glided 
softly into the circle. Alice's eyes were down- 
cast, and there was a strange sadness in her 
aspect. 

" Mother I " she said, — and Marion could 
have shrieked with joy at the word, — " have ye 
got never a kiss for me ? " 

" My bairn ! my bairn ! " she cried, but could 
not rise, for the other sleeping children that 
clung round her. She stretched out her hand 
and drew her daughter into the circle. Slowly, 
neither with impulse nor with hesitation, Alice 
came. Her bright face was rather grave, and 
there was a softer expression in her sparkling 
eyes. She let her mother fold her close to her 
breast ; and lay there quietly, though without 
any caresses. 

But for the mother herself, her joy was un- 
utterable and without bounds. It forced itself 



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A mother's love. 83 

out in sobs and tears, which fell on the neck of 
the fairy child. Alice recoiled. 

" I do not like that ; the tears wet me. Why 
do you cry ? " 

" For joy, my dochter. But I winna do't gin 
it grieves ye." And Marion tried to smile and 
be merry, though her heart was so full that the 
mirth seemed but an idle show. 

Alice leaned on her breast with a quiet, con- 
tented look — a look subdued almost into earth- 
liness — until the night wore on, and the light 
on the hearth faded. Then she drew herself 
away restlessly. 

" It's very dark and dull, and I'm cold, 
mother." 

" Come closer and I'll warm ye, my bairn ; I 
hae dune that, mony a nicht, to thae wee lads, 
your brithers, that were born amid poortith, and 
cauld, and care." 

Alice looked 'frightened^ and shivered more 
and more. " Is this what they call living on 
earth, mother? If I had lived here among 
ye, would I have been hungry, and cold, and 
dressed in ugly clothes like you and my brothers 
there?" 



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84 ALICE LEABMONT, OB 

" I fear me, it wad hae been and will be, my 
Alice ! " sighed the mother. " But we'll tend 
ye close, and loe ye sae dear — 0, sae dear ! " 

In vague fear, the poor woman strained her 
daughter to her breast. Her coarse garments 
frayed the tender skin, her look and speech were 
almost rough in their passionate intensity. Yet 
the deep love in her eyes would, to one who 
could feel and respond to it, have atoned for 
and sublimated all. But such a common-place, 
every-day thing as lovCj was quite unknown in 
Pairylahd. 

Alice, half-frightened, half-annoyed, crept a 
little way farther from her mother. She had 
hardly done so, when a cock, crowing loudly 
from the farm, broke upon the night's silence. 
The children were all asleep; Marion herself, 
despite her struggles against it, felt herself 
overpowered as by a ha^y dream. Just as the 
cock crew, she hear^ clearly^ rolling nearer and 
nearer, the sound of wheels which had heralded 
her daughter's coming. She knew instinctively 
that it was the signal for Alice's being snatched 
from her once more. 

She could not cry out or speak ; her tongue 



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A mother's love. 85 

seemed bound. She only turned her implor- 
ing eyes to the little elfin-maiden, and saw^ with 
agonj unutterable, that the warning, to her so 
dreadful, had brightened her daughter's face 
with joy. 

" They're coming ! I will soon be back in my 
merry home. Pare you well, good mother," 
cheerfully cried Alice, as the wheels stopped, 
and a brilliant light glinunered through the 
black window and under the chinks of the crazy 
door. " Fare you well," she repeated, as with 
a sudden spring she bounded out of her mother's 
desperate hold. 

Marion's tongue was loosed; she uttered a 
shriek like that we sometimes utter in dreams. 
To herself it seemed the very rending of her 
soul ; but it was in reality a mere sigh, not loud 
enough to wake the in&nt who slumbered on her 
knees. 

She felt the little maiden turn and pat her 
cheek for a moment, escaping quickly and softly, 
like a bird out of the hand. 

" Don't cry, mother ; it makes you look not 
pretty, and it hurts me. But I can't stay here ; 
I must go back to my beautiful hqme." 
8 



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86 AUCB LEARMONT, OR 

There was a light tap at the door, which was 
merely latched. Now Marion knew that the 
fairies could only enter through a door left 
open, or opened unto them. She tried to rise, 
but could not. Then she made frantic signs to 
Alice to bolt and bar the entrance, but in vain. 

Another tap came ; for the daughter was 
pausing to look in mingled wonder and doubt 
on the agonized countenance of her mother. 
A third summons, — and then, with her own 
hands, the changeling opened the door. 

A flood of light — a multitude of airy beings 
filling the gloomy house, and Alice herself, 
blithe and beautiful as any, flittering among 
them all ! 

It was but for a moment ; — then the vision 
began to fade, and the mother knew that her 
child was departed. With a vehement cry she 
called upon the one Name which all beings, of 
whatever race, must obey. 

The fairy-train paused, and Alice was left 
standing on the threshold, her eyes wandering 
between the lowly home within and the bril- 
liant pageant without. 

"What do you want with me?" she said. 



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A motheb's love. 87 

" Must I stay and live here in this house ? It 
is so dark, so dreary. — Yet, my mother — " 

She stood irresolute, looking at the little 
group among whom for one hour she had lain, 
encircled by caresses, and learning for the first 
time that there was a sweeter thing even than 
the perpetual pleasures of Elfin-land. A little, 
too, she seemed moved by the despair with 
which the dumb, spell-bound mother stretched 
out imploring hands. 

" Choose, Alice, choose,'' chanted the elves 
from without, as the glitter of their invisible 
torches flashed upon her, lighting up her fair 
countenance and her amber hair. 

She turned ; their elfi.n glamour was cast 
over her, and every rising emotion of earth and 
earthly tenderness was stilled. 

" Farewell ! " she cried ; and without casting 
one more look at the dark cottage — the little 
brothers who lay sleeping where they had played 
with her — the poor mother, whose dumb an- 
guish was all in vain — Alice passed from the 
threshold and disappeared. 



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88 ALICE LEARMONT, OB 



CHAPTER VL 

All days and all years are alike in Fairys- 
land. One after the other they glide, like waves 
in a river of which the .current never changes. 
And though there are among these lightsonie 
beings elves young and old, save that the in- 
firmities of age are unknown ; though, as vera- 
cious chroniclers have asserted, they continually 
marry and replenish their community with elfin 
babes, — still their existence flows on in a per- 
petual monotony ; and their unreal pleasures 
remain always the same. 

Pour winters had the snow gathered and 
melted on the crest of Eildon Hill, since Alice 
vanished from her mother's cottage, on that last 
New-year's mom. But sununers and winters 
make no count in Elfland; and it seemed to 
the changeling as if she had only been gone 
four days. 

No extraneous power can change the eternal 
laws of nature ; and, despite the will of the 
Queen of Fairies^ the little stolen mortal had 



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^ 



A mother's love. 69 

grown up to be a maiden of fourteen years. 
She was still tiny enough for an earthly damsel ; 
but she walked the soft sward of Fairyland, 
casting a gigantic shadow which quite alarmed 
her elfin mates. Even the queen herself, who 
bore the stamp of royalty as the tallest of her 
race, and who in past times had actually prided 
herself on being able, standing tiptoe, to gird 
with her emerald girdle her earthly love, the 
Knight of Ercildoun, — even the queen began 
to be indignant that her young handmaiden was 
an inch or two above herself, and was growing, 
she strongly suspected, very nearly as fair. 

" Look at her, my True Thomas," her ma- 
jesty observed (for, with true royal caprice, or 
from scarcity of stolen mortals, she had of late 
gone back to her old love) — " Look how mun- 
dane she is, far too tall and round ; and her 
step is so heavy, it would crush half-a-dozen of 
my pet grasshoppers. Nay, she has even got a 
most unpleasant earthly gloom on her face ; as 
doleful as yourself, my knight, when you begin 
to dream of the old tower where the owls hoot 
and the corbie builds." 

True Thomas sighed. 
8* 



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90 ALICE LEARMONT, OR 

"Would you go back to earth again?" 
mocked the queen, in her pretty wilful way. 
" My sister majesty on the throne of Scotland 
is as fair, as love-winning, and — so you would 
say — as fatal in her love as myself. 0, it was 
a bonnie blaze that one night scared my elves 
who dwell underneath the Calton Hill ! and 
truly there is no moonlight riding over the 
plain of Langsyde for the ugly corpses that lie 
bleaching there! Eh, would you go back to 
earth, my gallant Thomas ? " 

The Rhymer's head fell on his breast. " For 
me," said he, mournfully ; " for me there is nae 
return. And I wadna see the black, black nicht 
that's fa'ing, and maun fa', ower my dear Scot- 
land. But it's after mirkest nicht that glints 
the dawn. — I see't, I see't! Years on years 
maun pass, and ne'er a queen's foot sail fa' on 
Scottish heather. And then ane comes, — a 
Leddy wi' saft sma' tread ; wearing a marriage- 
ring that's dearer than her crown ; hearing 
bairns' voices at hame, sweeter than a' the clav- 
ers o' daft crowds. — Ah, she's the Queen for 
bonnie Scotland ! " 

" Hold your tongue, True Thomas," said her 



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A mother's love. 91 

majesty, rather unceremoniously ; " no one here 
ever thinks of to-morrow ; it is only you stupid 
mortals who bring the unpleasant word ^future ' 
into Fairyland. Look, as I said before, at your 
descendant there ; see her eyes, so clouded and 
grave ; can it be that despite my care the old 
Learmont leaven has reached her blithe spirit ? " 

The Rhymer looked. Alice was walking 
slowly down the river-side, the same river which 
meandered through Fairyland, rising and dis- 
appearing, how or whither none could trace. 
She had neared the place where the water-lilies 
grew thick, and where they had once twined 
their long stems round the form of the mortal 
captive who lay there three years bound, afar 
from sweet Melrose. Some recollection seemed 
to possess the changeling, for she staid in the 
same spot where, she had then staid to look at 
her father. Sitting down by the bank, she 
played with the water-plants, and dipped her 
fingers in the stream. It went on singing over 
the pebbles, with a melancholy, monotonous 
flow, just like earthly rivers. Indeed, it seemed 
the only earthly sound in Fairyland. 

Alice listened, and slowly there came a deep, 
strange pensiveness to her eyes. 



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92 ALICE LEABMONT, OB 

"What hear ye, Alice?" said Thomas of 
Ercildoun, coining nearer; for her volatile 
majesty of Elfland had suddenly descried a 
lovely specimen of entomology sailing down 
the river-side, and had summoned all her court 
on a dragon-fly hunt ; leaving her mortal lover 
to dream on the green bank alone. — "Why 
hearken ye to the stream wi' sic a waefu' 
heart?" 

Alice looked up. " My heart ! is it so ? is this 
weight on my heart what my mother called care ? 
— Then, I did not understand the word ! " said 
she, musingly. 

" It is even sae. Were ye thinking o' your 
mither ? " 

" I do that sometimes, now, when I get dull 
and weary. It is so weary to be always gay, — 
and then I was born on earth, ^nd not in Fairy- 
land." 

So said she, very gently, and with an altered 
tone of womanly thoughtfulness. Either the 
fairies' power had grown weaker, or the mother's 
prayers stronger ; but there was certainly a 
change coming over the child. Having spoken, 
she again bent her head to the water, listening. 



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A mother's love. 93 

" What hear ye ? " repeated Thomas, eagerly. 

" I hear the murmur of the river, and other 
sounds that it brings with it, seemingly from a 
long way." 

" And thae sounds are unlike atight here ? 
There's weeping and wailing, and saft sighs, and 
tears that fa' sweeter than kisses ? I ken them 
weel ; it's the sounds of earth that float alang 
wi' the earth-risen stream," cried the Rhymer, 
as he stooped and laved his hands and brow* 
0, bonnie river, come ye frae the Tweed ; or 
frae my ain bright Leader, that rins by Ercil- 
doun ? 0, sweet water, whar did ye spring, and 
whither do ye flow ? " 

His heart seemed bursting with these words, 
but very soon his aspect grew calm, and he again 
asked Alice what she heard. 

"I can hear naething of eartb mysel," he 
said ; " never, sin' the day I shut my ear to ilka 
voice but that whilk led astray. But ye were 
stown awa, a puir bairn that kent nor gude nor 
ill. Listen, Alice, and tell me." 

" I hear great lamenting along the river-brink 
— screams of children in terror, and people 
shouting about some one being drowned. And 



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94 ALICB LBARMONT, OB 

now there's a choking cry — ah ! I know who 
jfAa^is! It's Hughie, my bonnie brother, so 
kind and so brave ! I must run — I must 
run!" 

With an impulse quite strange and unac- 
countable in Fairyland, the earth-born maiden 
started off and flew along towards the source 
of the river ; skimming almost like a bird over 
bush and brake, through green bank and morass, 
wherever the windings of the stream led. She 
thought not of her companion ; she never looked 
behind ; on she went, guided by the sound which 
she seemed still to hear — the gasping sobs of a 
drowning child. 

As Alice proceeded, the face of the country 
changed. The sunny plains of Elfland became 
grim rocks, through which the river flowed with 
angry bursts and moans. At last the thin rift 
of blue overhead altogether vanished ; she found 
herself in a cavern hung with oozy water-plants, 
and rugged with basaltic fragments. 

Alice knew she had passed from the domain 
of the merry earth-elves to the gloomy abode of 
the Kelpie, the water-demon, whose pleasures 
were only in the working of ill. There he sat. 



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A mother's LOYB. 95 

the grim creature — not beautiful, like the Queen 
of Fairies and her train — but foul and ugly to 
behold. His face and brawny shoulders were 
those of an old man, the gray, wild hair droop- 
ing down like withered sedge ; but underneath, 
half in and half out of the water, his form was 
like that of a huge river-horse. He had a harp 
of reeds beside him, upon which he played sweet 
music to allure his prey ; and ever amidst his 
playing, he reared, snorted, and plunged, hoarse- 
ly laughing between, in a tone mockingly hu- 
man. 

So uncouth and fearsome a creature was he, 
that the child would have crept away in terror, 
but that, far hid in the darkness 9f the cave, 
floating hither and thither upon the dark waters, 
she saw the glitter of yellow hair. It looked 
like the form of a drowned boy swaying to and 
fro on the surface. 

A strange emotion possessed the changeling- 
maiden — a feeling stronger than the desire for 
pleasure, or mirth, or sport — an emotion that 
drew her out of herself and towards another. 
The one night in her mother's cottage flashed 
upon her like a dream, not of weariness, but of 



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9b ALICE LEARMONT9 OB 

sweetness. She hardlj knew what she was do- 
ing, but somehow she murmured all the home- 
names, scarcely noticed at the time. While so 
doing, the waves stirred the face of the drowned 
child, and turned it towards her. Iv was that of 
the eldest and most loving of her brothers — 
Hugh! 

He lay, his bonnie face pale, but composed and 
sweet as if safely pillowed at home, instead of 
being tossed on those hungry waves. His fingers 
still tightly grasped his blue bonnet and his 
shepherd's staflF, as though it were in fording 
some current that the Kelpie had overtaken 
him. He had grown into a sturdy boy; but 
the frank beauty of his mien was the same as 
when Alice had twisted her fingers in his curls, 
and looked for the first time in a brother's 
face. 

She remembered it all — and how, in the 
merry games of Fairyland, she had often paused 
and wished for Hughie to come and say the 
sweet words, never said or thought of by the 
lightsome elfin race, " Hove you.^^ She longed 
to reach him, and hear them over again. 

"Hughie, brother," she whispered over the 



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A mother's love. 97 

waves, but in vain : she dared not come nearer 
the fierce Kelpie, who sat and played in dignified 
gravity, never looking towards the mortal who 
was invading his domains. And farther, farther 
every minute, the river was drifting the helpless ^ 
form of the drowned boy. 

Alice paused a moment ; her bare feet trem- 
bled in the cold water, and among the sharp 
rocks; then, acting on an impulse unknown 
before, she waded in, — deeper, deeper, — until 
her footing slid from her. She had never heard 
of death ; yet as she felt her breath failing, some 
strange, formless horror seemed to encompass 
her. Nevertheless, she tried to grasp the yel-* 
low hair, and to cling closer to her brother ; as 
if, whatever happened, she would be safer and 
better thus. Then all sensation ceased. 

She woke on the greensward of Fairyland, 
with Hughie tightly clasped in her arms, and 
over them bending the grave coimtenance of 
Thomas of Ercildounl 

The seer looked from one to the other of the 
children ; but Alice noticed only Hughie, who 
still lay as if asleep. 

" 0, wake him, wake him ! " she cried ; and 
9 



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98 

a new tone of human pain thrilled through her 
smooth accents of Fairyland. 

" He'll waken soon, and then he must gang 
far, far awa, or e'er 'tis morning on earth, and 
the queen comes hame to Fairyland. Haste ye, 
Alice ; kiss him ance, twice, and then bid him 
farewell." I 

'^ I will not let him go ; I want to keep him to 
play with, — my own, own brother ! " 

" An' ye wad keep him — a fair, christened 
wean, in this ill place, while his mither grieves 
the lee-lang day ? Ye wad gar him forget his 
hame, and a' that's gude, to bide here in Elf- 
land ? And when the seventh year comes 
roun', and they pay the teind to hell, — lie's sae 
fiit and fair, and weel-liking : 0, wae's me for 
the lad ! " 

This and more the Rhymer urged ; but little 
did Alice heed, or at least seem to heed. She 
smiled and laughed in wild elfin pleasure, as 
slowly Hughie opened his eyes. But not a word 
he said, except one bitter cry — " Hame — hame 
— I maun gae hame." 

Alice led him every where, and showed him 



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A mother's love. 99 

the fair landscapes and the banquet hall ; but 
he took no pleasure therein. 

" 0, let's gae hame," he said perpetually. 
" It's a braw land, but it's no like hame. Sister 
Alice, I daurna bide wi' ye." 

His sister listened, and her bright face was 
troubled with thought. " Must ye go, Hughie ? " 
she said, now for the first time learning how 
sweet it was to share a pleasure that did not 
centre in herself alone ; learning, too, a little 
of that pain of parting without which the happi- 
ness of aflFection were as unreal as light without 
shadow. 

" Must ye go ? " she repeated, sadly. As she 
spoke, it was already dawn in the world, and the 
ringing of the fairy bridles was heard afar, be- 
yond the golden gates of Elfland. 

Alice grasped her brother, who now or never 
must be saved to return to earth. " You will 
not stay then, Hughie dear ? Ah well ! it's best 
not. They're oftentimes wearisome — all the 
feastings, and dances, and pleasures. Go back 
to our mother, and bid her remember me." 

Half sadly the little maiden spoke ; but there 



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100 AUCE LEARMONT, OB 

was no time to talk more, for flashing througb 
the golden gates came the fairy cavalcade. 

" We must be gone," said Alice. " I know 
the earthward way;" and wrapping her arms 
round her young brother, she drew him into a 
brake of fern. She gathered a bunch of fern- 
seed, which, plucked on earth at St. John's eve, 
will make the wearer invisible, and set it in 
Hughie's bonnet. Then she took him by the 
hand, and led him secretly towards the entrance 
of Fairyland. As they went out, they saw, 
standing behind them with sad eyes, him who 
never might pass those gates to his beloved 
country — Thomas the Rhymer of Ercildoun. 

" Is it far we hae to gang ? and will ye gang 
wi' me, sister Alice ? " asked the boy. 

" Ay," said Alice ; " as far as may be." 

So these children took together their strange 
journey. It was all amidst darkness ; there 
was neither sun nor moon. Sometimes a pale, 
weird-like auroral light glimmered above them, 
showing each the other's face, dim and wan. 
At other times they went through mirk ways, 
seeing nothing, but hearing awful sounds, like 
forests of trees soughing wildly, or waterfalls 



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A mother's loyb. 101 

dashing, or seas roaring, close by. Again, they 
seemed to wade through deep rivers as red as 
blood ; and then their feet slid along great 
masses of ice, or sank in black morasses. Alice 
always led the way, silent, but holding fast her 
brother's hand. 

Hughie went on, not in his usual daring mood, 
but heavily, like a boy in a dream. At times 
his feet lagged on the toilsome road, and he be- 
gan to moan ; then Alice would pause and try 
to teach herself those things which women of 
earth learn instinctively, and have to practise 
all their life — how to bear with and to com- 
fort the aflBicted. It was a new lesson, but very 
sweet. 

On they went, over river and plain, mountain 
and valley, until at last they came to a cavern 
ending in a great doorway fashioned of green 
stone. Through its crevices glided a pale ray, 
like daylight, or like moonlight upon snow. 
By this glimmer they saw indistinctly the latter 
part of the way they had come ; a steep path, 
rising, as it were, out of the depths of the earth. 
Between them and the light were these gigantic 
doors. 

9* 



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102 ALICE LEABMONT, OR 

Hugbie sat down before them, and wept: 
" Ah, sister Alice, I will never reach hame ! 
I'll lay me doun and dee." 

But Alice showed him a cranny in the stone, 
through which came a broad beam of light, and 
bade him peep through. 

" Tell me, what see ye, Hughie dear ? " 

''I see a long, white snaw drift, braid and 
still. We're on a hill-tap, and the morn's blink- 
ing out i' the east, and the cocks are crawing 
afar. There's tl\e Abbey o' Melrose ! 0, sister 
Alice, we're close at hame ! " 

He set up a shout of joy which made the black 
vault ring; and stretching his hand through 
the tiny hole, gathered some of the snow, — the 
blessed snow which lay upon earthly plains, — •' 
and put it to his parched lips. For he was 
weary and worn, poor child ! while Alice looked 
as fresh and fair as she had done in the 
haunts of Fairyland. But while he smiled, she 
sighed. 

" Yes, you will be soon at home, Hughie. 
Are you glad to go ? " 

"Ay, unco glad ! I'll rin doun the hill-side, 
and ower the brig, and creep in at the byre, for 



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A mother's love. 103 

the ha' door's steekit fast ; an' gin our mither 
comes to milk the kyo, I'll loup intil her arms. 
Then I'll ca' Habbie, and Sandy, and winsome 
Willie, and we'll a' be blithe thegither. Come, 
sister Alice," added he, advancing to the heavy 
door ; " tirl the pin, and let's awa." 

" Away, then," said Alice, sadly ; " and fare 
you well, my bonnie brother that I will never 
see more." 

He hardly heard her, so eager was he in 
looking for the invisible fastening of the door. 
The moment his fingers touched it, it opened of 
its own accord, wide enough to admit of the 
boy's passing. He leaped through in an in- 
stant. 

" Come awa, quick, sister ! " cried Hugh, 
stretching out his hand from the other side. 

" I cannot. They stole me, an unchristened 
child; I may not return to earth unless they 
please. See, brother, the gates are closing, and 
crushing me. Ah, hold them back ! " 

For a minute the boy's fearless hands did as 
she bade ; the brother and sister clung together 
and kissed one another sorrowfully through the 
opening that was momently diminishing be- 



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104 AUCE LEABMONT, OB 

tween them. Then the great green doors closed 
with a hollow clang, and not a trace remained 
of where they had been. 

Hughie sat and wept, all alone, on the snowy 
hill-side. 



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A mother's love. 105 



CHAPTER VII. 



" AwA wi' your father, my bonnie sons ; I 
wadna ye suld bide at hame wi' a puir sick 
doited body like mysel. Though it's wearie 
wark, lyin' here my lane ; but may be it's no 
foi- lang." 

The words, faint but patiept, began cheerfiilly, 
and ended in a half-audible murmur. Mistress 
Learmont leaned back on the couch that was 
made up for her near the ingle-side, and looked 
fondly, yet sorrowfully, on her three tall lads, 
now fast outgrowing boyhood. There were but 
three, Hugh and the twins. Winsome Willie, 
the youngest, had been covered up to sleep in 
the green kirkyard of Melrose — one of those 
lost darlings who are destined to live in house- 
hold memory, endowed with the beauty of per- 
petual babyhood. 

The triad of brothers left, Hugh, Halbert, and 
Alexander, — though from the Scottish habit of 
diminutives, rarely enough did they win that 
full-lettered dignity, — were near of an age and 



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106 ALICE LEARMONt, OR 

near of a height ; fine bold fellows, exalting the 
lienors of the Learmont name through all the 
country round — ay, even though they were but 
plough-boys, and herd-laddies. For to that low 
estate had their fortunes dwindled at last, when 
Queen Mary, needing no court nor guard, pined 
away in Tutbury-hold, and her archer, Thomas 
Learmont, returned to his old home. The next 
generation bajie fair to merge the race of the 
old Knights of Ercildoun into mere tillers of the 
field and keepers of flocks and herds. Dame 
Learmont, now dead and gone, was the last that 
ever owned that honorary title. 

" It's no for lang — it's no for lang," repeated 
the mother, as scarce reluctantly the lads obeyed 
her and went out, leaving her with a servant 
lassie. " It's sair to bide, though, while it lasts. 
A twalmonth and mair I haena stirred frae this 
ingle-side. It was i' the winter time, ye ken, 
lass, that I fell sick ; and now the winter's here 
ance mair. Eh ? what day is't, Meg ? Meg 
Brydon, I say ! " 

But the faint voice scarcely reached the care- 
less young damsel, who stood watching the corner 
of the kailyard — it might be for the sake of en- 



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107 

joying that pleasant sight, a red winter sunset ; 
especially as the foreground object was Jock the 
shepherd lad leaning against a dike and whis- 
tling amain. 

" Wae's me ! " sighed Mistress Learmont, as 
she ceased the vain call, and sank down once 
more on her uneasy pillow. " It's aye the same, 
and sae 'twill be till I am laid under the mools. 
Braw sons I hae, and a husband leal and kind, 
but they're no like a dochter. Ah ! I mind 
when I was a lassie, and had a mither o' my ain 
— a puir wee wifie she was, sick and dowie, for 
she had ay a dour life o' mickle wae, — I mind 
how ane day, when I was sitting by her, and she 
near her end, she said, ' Marion, ye hae been a 
gude bairn to me, a' your days ; I ken nae what 
ye're ettled to be, nor how ye'U gae through this 
wearie warld ; but, Marion, your mither leaves 
ye ane blessing, better than a' — May ye hae a 
dochter like yoursel ! ' — But I hae nane, and 
never will ! Alice, Alice, wherefore did ye 
gang?" 

Thus, bitterly moaning to herself over her 
never-healed loss, the mother lay. Meg Bryden 
had stolen out to whistling Jock, leaving the 



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108 ALICE LEARMONT, OB 

door a little way open. The sharp winter air 
blew in upon the sick woman. 

" Meg, can ye no come and hap me better ? 
it's sair cauld. Ye dinna speak ; ye canna be 
fashed wi' a puir sick body. 0, dear Meg, be 
kind till me just for a wee whilie — I'll no 
trouble ye lang. What, ye're gane ? Aweel, 
it's nae wonder — I'm no your mither, lass. 
But 0, gin I had my ain dochter! Alice, 
Alice!" 

The heart-wrung cry was suddenly stopped. 
While she called, Marion saw, or fancied she 
saw, looking in at the frosted window-panes, 
a face, which by the dim light of fading day 
seemed that of a young woman. But there 
was a likeness in it that made a thriU of awe 
come over her — a likeness unseen for twenty 
years. 

She said to herself, "It maun be that my 
end is near ; and that my mither is come back 
^ come frae the grave to ' tak me hame,' as she 
said. Aweel, I'm ready ; I downa care to bide 
langer. But 0, mither, gin I had, like ye, a 
dochter to close my een! that she were 
here — my bairn Alice ! " 






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A mother's love. 109 

While she was speaking the face had vanished ; 
but with her latter words it reappeared. Sweet 
it was, and tender in aspect, wearing that fair 
angelic look always given by golden hair. Well 
might the sick woman have mistaken it for a 
vision from the land of the blessed ! But as its 
eyes met hers, they took a human look, almost 
amounting to grief. Marion began to doubt. 

" It's like her, yet it's no hersel. — It's nae 
spirit, for it stands dark atween me and the 
sky. Is it my bairn, that I wished might bear 
my mither's likeness ? Is it my bairn that I 
haena seen for seven years ? Alice, Alice ! " 

" I am here, mother," was the answer, heard 
indistinctly through the open door. 

Marion uttered a great cry. She tried to 
raise herself, but her limbs were powerless. 

" In the name o' God ! my dochter, come 
ben ! " 

Alice stepped over the doorway, and came in. 

She stood in the middle of the room, a maiden 
of seventeen years. Her features had sharpened 
out into distinct form and thoughtful beauty. 
She was neither like her mother, nor her father, 
— except in the color of her hair ; but bore the 
10 



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110 ALICE LEARMONT, OR 

likeness which Marion had so desired when she 
gave her first-born the name of Alice — her own 
mother's name. So strong was the resemblance, 
that, when the girl stood, still afar ofi^, in her 
white clothing, with her hands loosely folded 
together and her eyes bent tenderly forward, 
the sick woman looked at her daughter with a 
sort of awe, as if there had still been some 
reality in her first fancy, and Alice were indeed 
a vision from the dead. 

" Are ye my bairn ? " she whispered solemnly. 
"Are ye flesh and bliide — my flesh and my 
blude — my ae dochter that I bore ? '* 

Alice approached, and stood at her mother's 
feet. 

" I am your bairn. Will ye take me, mother, 
for this night? I was so wearying to come 
home." 

" My bairn — my dear Alice — my lassie true 
and kind ! " cried the mother, stretching out 
longing arms. But in vain, for her strength 
was gone. 

"I canna reach ye," she said, piteously. 
" I'm sair changed and weak. I do naething 
but murn and murn a' the day. Ye maun tak 



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A mother's love. Ill 

your puir auld mither to your arms, Alice, for 
she canna tak ye in hers." 

Alice looked surprised, anxious, grieved, at 
the worn face, and the gray hairs which had 
come before their time. For though Mistress 
Learmont was not old, the cares and sorrows of 
her life, its poverty and its toil, had made her 
seem like a woman far gone in years. Her 
beauty had faded ; all except the one charm 
that she could not lose — the mild patience 
which sat like a glory in her eyes. It touched 
Alice as something new — something never seen 
in Fairyland. It subdued her so, that she, in 
all her loveliness of unclouded youth, came 
near, and bending down lowly, knelt before her 
sick mother, and threw round the shivering 
frame her shining arms. 

" Are ye come back, my dearie ? come back 
for gude and a' ? " whispered Marion, giving 
herself up to the uncontrollable joy. 

Alice sighed ; ay, a real sigh, the first the 
mother had ever heard on her lips. ^'Nay, 
we will not speak of that. I am here now. 
They let me come the minute the sun set, be- 



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112 ALICE LEARMONT, OR 

s 

cause my longings made their power weak. 
Are you glad to see me, mother ? " 

" Glad, my bairn ! " echoed Marion in a tone 
that was suflScient answer. 

Her daughter looked round, half-curiously, 
yet with a mingling of interest. "It's the 
same place I see, the room where I and my 
brothers played so merrily. Where's Hughie, 
mother ? " 

" He's gane wi' the rest to follow the plough, 
or fetch the kye hame ; or maybe he's awa to 
some ploy or ither. He's a pawky lad, — our 
Hugh." 

" Does he mind of me, mother ? " 

" Ay ; often thae Gallants talk o' wee Alice 
that was wi' them seven years syne ; and ance, 
when Hughie was missing on the hills for a day 
and a nicht, he cam hame saying he had been 
dreaming that he fell in til the Tweed, and that 
his sister Alice saved him. He kent nae mair. 
But 'twas unco strange." 

Nothing did Alice say, for she knew that 
those who return from Fairyland have no clear 
remembrance of aught that has happened to 
them there. Only thinking of her brother 



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A mother's love. 113 

Hugh and of that wondrous journey, she snuled 
pensively. 

In her smile the likeness she bore grew 
stronger. Marion, watching her, saw it. She 
took her daughter's face between her hands, 
and said, — 

" Look sae ance mair, Alice ! Ye're her very 
picture. I didna see't till this day, when ye're 
grown a woman, grave and dowie like. Ye hae 
her een, and her bonnie bree wi' the hair lying 
soft aboon ; only yours is bright as gowd, and 
hers was like threads of siller — my puir auld 
mither ! But I'm glad ye're like her, Alice ; 
Pm unco glad ! " 

Her voice was trembling through tears ; her 
words, feeble, " maundering," and long drawn 
out, bespoke the wandering fancies of sickness. 
When she ceased, her head sanjc back exhausted 
on the pillow. 

Alice stood wistfully regarding that — to her 
— strange new sight — disease and pain. 

'* What ails you, mother ? What can I do for 
you?" she asked, more by the human and 
womanly instinct within her, than by any deeper 
feeling. 

10* 



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114 AUCE LEABMONT, OB 

" I'm very sick, Alice ; and I hae naebody to 
tend me. 0, gin ye'd gie me a drink, and 
bathe my bree, and kame my hair," she moaned, 
looking imploringly at her daughter. 

Alice rose up, and went about the house, not 
as in years before, with flaunting childish mien, 
but with the grave light footsteps of maiden- 
hood. She went — all in her bright clothing, 
still redolent of the odors of Fairyland ; she 
brought the light, and got ready the cool drink, 
— doing things which she had never done be- 
fore, but which her earthly nature instinctively 
taught her. 

" Ah, it's sweet, sae sweet," murmured the 
sick woman, receiving, for the first time, the 
cup from her daughter's hand. " Ilka thing 
tastes glide frae ye, my lassie, as my ain mither 
was wont to say to me lang syne, God help 
thae puir auld bodies that hae ne'er a doch- 
ter ! " 

Alice smiled, and in her cheek, always so 
clear, rose a transparent flush of pleasure — 
pleasure quite diflFerent to what was so called in 
Elfland. 

Her mother, a little revived, sat up in her 



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A mother's loye. 115 

bed, and looked at her once more ; it seemed as 
if she could never tire of such gazing, which 
absorbed all thought, but of the present. 

"Ye're a sweet lassie, Alice — and fair to 
see. But I dinna like thae braws — they're no 
fit for a puir man's bairn," said she, touching 
the glittering robes, armlets and jewels, or what 
seemed such — with which her daughter was 
adorned. Alice looked vexed. 

" Aweel, my dearie, I wadna grieve ye. Only 
it gars ye seem as if ye were a grand leddy, 
and no my ain dochter ; — whilk, maybe, is but 
the truth," added she, sadly. 

Alice sat a minute in thought ; then, without 
speaking, she went to the corner where thick in 
dust hung some of her mother's garments, long 
unworn through sickness. She stripped oflF all 
her shining gauds, and dressed herself in these 
coarse clothes, which, while somewhat hiding 
her form, made her look sweeter and fairer, 
because more like a mortal maiden. 

"Ah! I ken ye now — ye're my ain, my 
ain," cried the mother, embracing her. " Ye'U 
loe me — and tend me — and never, never part 
frae me ! '* 



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116 ALIC5E LEARMONT, OB 

The girl sighed, but made no answer; and 
began quietly to fulfil all a daughter's offices 
towards the sick woman. She bathed her face, 
and taking off her cap, let down the hair al- 
ready turned to gray. Alice paused, with the 
locks in her hand. 

" Are you very old, mother ? Will you 
never be young and fair-looking any more? 
Do all people that live on earth grow feeble as 
you ? " 

"In time — my bairn — in time! But it's 
iiaething. I was a bonny lass mysel, ance — 
when I married your father, and even when I 
brought ye into the warld. -^ But I forget a' 
that. It's sweeter to be an auld wifie, and hae 
a bonnie dochter smilin' near. Then, a body 
isna feared for growin' auld." 

Her cheerful look, as she leaned forward and 
let Alice comb her gray hair, was almost like 
the smile of young Marion Learmont, when, 
seventeen years before, she sat tying the fatal 
green round the cradle of her expected babe. 
Her overladen heart heaved a sigh of entire 
content; and again and again she drew Alice 
closer, to look into her young face, and admire 



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A mother's love. 117 

the maidenly beauties of her form. In this 
maternal love was an exulting pride, almost as 
strong as that with which a young man watches 
the dawning perfections of his mistress — a 
pride which none can know or understand but 
a mother who beholds her only daughter 
woman-grown, and feels her own youth restored 
in the fair completeness of what was once a frail 
baby-life trembling at her breast. 

An hour pJIssed in this deep serenity of joy ; 
and then Meg Brydon came creeping in, eyeing 
with shame and discomfiture her forsaken mis- 
tress. 

" Gang your gate, Meg," said Mistress Lear- 
mont, cheerfully. " I will need ye nae mair ; I 
hae my ain dochter that's come hame this nicht. 
Look ye here, Meg Brydon : — isna she a bon- 
nie lass ? " 

But Meg, frightened at the apparition of the 
fair creature that sat beside Mistress Learmont's 
bed, and remembering all the tales of the stolen 
Alice, took hastily to flight. The mother and 
daughter were left together, as before. 

" We'll be our lane the hale nicht, maist like- 
ly," said Marion to her child. "It's New- 



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118 ALICE LEABMONT, OB 

year's night, ye ken, and your father and the 
three callants are down at Melrose, keeping 
Hogmanay. I forbade them to bide at hame — 
douf and dowie wi' me. But, my Alice, I 
kenn'd na then I wad hae thee ! " 

So amidst long talk and sweet pauses of si- 
lence, the night passed away. Then, for the 
first time, Alice heard the things pertaining to 
simple earthly lore ; of precious home-bonds , 
of afflictions softened by tenderness ; of trials 
made holy by patience ; of human sorrows, that 
go hand-in-hand with human joys ; of evil en- 
hancing good ; of wrong creating forbearance ; 
and long-suffering, ever present love, reigning 
triumphant over all. 

These many things did Marion Learmont 
teach unto her daughter, though so uncon- 
sciously, that any stranger listening would have 
said that it was merely an " auld wife claver- 
ing " to a young girl about former days, and 
her own past life, together with the events of 
her family. Nothing wonderful she told — only 
that history which belongs to every household 
and every individual, in all times, ancient or 
modern, of which the text, adduced either as 



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A mother's loyb. 119 

example or warning, perpetually is, or ought 
to be, these words — the honey of the world's 
bitter cup — ^^ My' little children^ love one arir 
other:' 

It might be about ten o'clock at night, when 
the solitude of Marion Learmont and her 
daughter was broken by voices at the door 
without. 

Alice trembled, and instinctively clung to her 
mother's hand. 

"0, hold me fast ; just a little while longer," 
she whispered eagerly. 

" What for do ye fear, my lassie ? It's nae- 
body but your ain father, and your brithers 
three ; stand and let them see ye, my dochter." 

With a sweet and bashful grace, her face yet 
pale from the unexplained terror, Alice stood — 
a vision of beauty — before her rough sire and 
her three wild brothers. They were utterly 
confounded. 

" What's this, Marion ? " said the late archer 
of Queen Mary's guard, stooping his yellow 
locks, now growing grizzled and thin, near his 
ailing wife, and trying to lower his strong voice 
so as not to jar upon her feeble ear. 



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120 ALIGB LEABMONT, OB 

" It's our Alice, our first-born. She's come 
hame. Gie her your blessing." 

" Eh, our Alice that was stown awa ? " said 
Thomas Learmont, who, like all recovered mor- 
tals, was utterly oblivious of the past, and bore 
no memory of the stream in Fairyland, or the 
little elfin-daughter that used to visit him there. 
'' Alice come back ! Sure, lass, I'm unco glad 
to see ye ! " 

He took her in his sturdy arms, and his hearty 
parental kiss resounded over the whole house. 

" Whar hae ye been, ye foolish lassie ? ye hae 
caused us mickle dule. Ye suld hae come back 
for your puir mither's. sake, that needs a las&- 
bairn to tend on her, instead of thae big callants 
and mysel', though we aye do our best. But 
ye'U fare better now, Marion woman ! " 

He patted his wife's shoulder with his huge 
hand, and she looked up tenderly at him. Times 
were changed with them, and they were changed 
too, — except in thQ afiection which on both 
sides had lasted, and would last, until the end. 

Meanwhile the three lads had hung back, op- 
pressed with the uncouth shyness peculiar to 
their age. Only Hugh among them took cour- 



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A mother's love. 121 

age to lift up his eyes and speak to sister Alice. 
He had grown a sturdy fellow, less bonnie, per- 
haps, than in his childhood, but with the prom- 
ise of becoming a Learmont worthy even as 
True Thomas of a Queen of Fairies' love. 

His sister came and looked up in his face, — 
a decided looking up, for she was a wee crea- 
ture always, quite elf-like in proportion, when 
standing beside her big brother of thirteen 
years old. 

" Hughie, dear ! won't you speak to me ? " 

Hughie cast his eyes upon her shyly, but ten- 
derly. " Ay, I'll do that, — I mind ye now, sis- 
ter Alice, and a' the things I dreamed about ye ; 
and," he added mysteriously, " I ken ye hae been 
wi' the gude neighbors, and I hae sought ye in 
ilka green ring, and aye at Hallowe'en, but I 
couldna find ye. Ye're found now! 0, but 
we'll keep Hogmanay, fine ! " 

As a mild way of expressing his feelings, 
Hughie tossed up his bonnet in the air, and ex- 
ecuted a brief fragment of a reel, which drove 
Habbie and Sandy out of the reach of his legs 
with great precipitation. 

" Ye're richt, lad," said the father, turning 
11 



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122 ALICE LEARMONT, OB 

round, with a loud, cheerful laugh. "Auld 
wife, it's our blithest 'New-year yet, and we'll 
keep it brawly ; sitting here wi' a' our bairns 
round us ! " 

" Save ane," whispered the mother, " wee 
Willie, that's sittin' this ae nicht in heaven at 
at His feet." 

Thomas Learmont took off his bonnet, so did 
the lads ; and there was silence in the house for 
a minute. It was a pause consecrated to the 
memory of the one lamb lost out of the flock to 
be gathered into the safe fold of the Great 
Shepherd. 

Then began the merriment of Hogmanay — 
kept as merrily in those olden days as now. 
Parents and children gathered round the fire, 
which, for this occasion only, was piled up with 
fagots that would have done honor to the time 
when the wine ran red, and the hospitable ingle 
blazed perpetually in the Tower of Ercildoun. 
The young Learmonts sported, shouted, and 
danced ; but whenever the uproar grew too wild, 
Alice's gentleness fell like dew upon the other 
three, softening rudeness or contention, coming 
among her troop of brothers to be what a sister 



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A mother's love. 123 

can always be, the healer of discord, the sooth- 
er, the refiner. 

All these things she had learned, partly by 
nature, — her mother's nature, which was inher- 
ent in her ; and partly by the sudden instinct, de- 
veloped at once, during the few hours when she 
had lain listening to that mild speech which first 
put all a daughter's emotions into her heart. 

She was very happy too. Ay, though on this 
memorable night, when she began to feel alto- 
gether like a maiden of earth, she grew hungry 
— and the food was coarse; weary — and was 
startled by her father's loud laugh, so diiOFerent 
from the lulling melodies of Fairyland ; though 
oftentimes her brothers' noisy play jarred upon 
her delicate senses, and their rough caresses 
half-frightened her, — still she was happy. She 
had learnt for the first time the great secret of 
all human happiness — family love. 

The hour came, the eerie time between the 
night and the day, between the past and com^ 
ing year, — the hour which had brought Alice 
into the world. As the clock chimed, Thomas 
Learmont took his first-born and only daugh- 
ter in his arms and blessed her; while the 



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124 ALICE LEABMONT, OB 

parental love, which is an instinct in a mother, 
but in a father is usually the growth of years, 
and dependent on external sympathies, rose to 
his heart, and fell in drops from his manly eyes. 

Then her mother kissed her fondly, and after- 
wards her brothers did the same — awkwardly 
and shyly, as all brothers do, at the age when 
the testifying of household affection seems to 
them undignified, — in fact, a positive sin against 
the independence of boyhood. All said, " God 
bless thee, Alice, — our Alice ! " and she felt that 
she was indeed one of them, ready to share all 
things with them, through good and evil; — 
that the solitary delights of Elfland were de- 
sired by her no more. 

" Now, gang to your bed, my dochter," said 
Mistress Learmont, tenderly, when, the New- 
year having fairly commenced, the three lads 
were despatched to sleep and quietness, during 
the only portion of the twenty-four hours that 
they ever were quiet. " But yet I canna tine ye 
for an hour." 

" 0, do not, mother," sighed Alice, while the 
olden shadow of fear troubled her face. " Hold 
me fast — fast ; let me not go." 



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TUE RKTUIIX OF ALICE. 



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A mother's love. 125 

"Ay, the lass is skeared. Nae doubt; the 
place looks drearie like — bide ye wi' your 
mither, Alice," said Thomas Learmont, kindly, 
as he rolled himself in his plaid and lay down at 
the outer door. 

So Alice, exhausted with a joy that made her 
feel weak and trembling like any earthly maid- 
en, crept gladly to the maternal breast. 

She had not slept there long, when she was 
wakened with the dawn glimmering into her 
eyelids. Very soon that dim ray was swallowed 
tip in one far brighter. The whole house was 
filled with light, and thrilled with delicious 
music. Alice knew it well. The sweet sum- 
mons reached her as one of doom. It was the 
fairy people come to take her away. 

Shuddering she listened, and with an instinct 
natural and child-like, yet, alas ! to her so new, 
tried to wake her mother. But Marion Lear- 
mont slept soimdly, with a sweet smile on her 
worn face, which in this happiness seemed al- 
most to have renewed its youth. She slept as 
if a deep spell was upon her, blinding her to her 
child's peril. Only in sleep she held her arms 
so tightly wound round her, that Alice felt a 
11* 



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126 ALICE LEABMONT, OB 

kind of safety in their fold. Prom thence the 
poor maiden looked out and watched the elfin 
people gathering round the bed. 

"Come, Alice; come, pretty Alice," sang 
they, amidst their gambols. "Are you not 
weary of these coarse laidly mortals ? Come 
back to us, quick ! " 

" 0, let me stay a little longer," implored the 
girl. " I am so tired of dancing and singing. 
I had rather bide at home." 

" Hey ho ! " laughed out the Elf-queen, step- 
ping lightly into the ring ; " this is something 
quite new. What has come over my young 
hand-maiden ? She would like to stay in a 
wretched tumble-down dwelling where the rain 
always comes in and the smoke never goes out ; 
and to live with such people, too ! Entering the 
door, which he left open to stretch his feet 
through, I had to step over such a lumbering 
carcass of a mortal. Faugh ! is my young 
Thomas Learmont come to this ? a thing with 
grizzled hair and coarse hands ! " 

"He is my father, my kind good father," 
cried Alice. 

"And that woman there, how ugly! why. 



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A motheb's love. 127 

Z could lay my little finger in each of her 
wrinkles." 

" My mother, my own mother that I lore ! " 
Alice answered, as she turned and pressed her 
young lips to every furrow marked in the with- 
ered brows. 

Tlie elves set up a shout of derision. 

" Nay, Alice," said the queen, her silvery 
laugliter making a pleasant under-tone of mel- 
ody, " this may be all very well for some com- 
mon tastes, but not for a descendant of my True 
Thomas, who gave up all for me. Ay, all! 
though the Tower of Ercildoun was a home 
rich and fair, while this is a poor cottage ; — 
though he was held the noblest knight in all 
Scotland, while you are just a farmer's lass. Be 
wise, simple one ; come back to former ways and 
former delights." 

At her signal the elves began to dance the 
old delicious measures which Alice remembered 
well. So strong was the enchantment that she 
had need to close her eyes and stop her ears lest 
she should be allured against her will. Had it 
not been that her mother's arms were so closely 
locked around her, perhaps she would even 



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128 AUCE LEABMONT, OB 

have leaped forth and joined the rout of fran- 
tic pleasure. 

All at once it paused, melting into delicious, 
soul-enticing music, thi*ough which was only 
heard the voice of the Elf-queen, murmuring, 
" Alice, come." 

She lifted her head, and said firmly, " I will 
not come." 

There was a loud and angry wail, like that 
of the wind tearing the trees, a rolling like 
thunder, and in these sounds the music died. 

" Do as you list, foolish mortal," Alice heard 
uttered in a sharp, sarcastic voice by her side, 
though she saw nothing. ^^ It matters not to us, 
for you will soon be ours. It is daylight, and 
we must be away to Fairyland; while those 
arms still hold you safe from our power. But 
by the. next twilight, when the shadows fall gray 
behind Eildon Hill, ha, ha, ha ! — Foolish Alice, 
foolish Alice, when this is the seventh year — 
and a mortal fair as you will please the Fiend 
well. Ho, ho!" 

A shout of angry laughter shook the roof; 
the elves vanished, and the whole house lay 
silent in the dawn. 



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A mother's love. 129 

Mistress Learmont woke, and tremblingly felt 
for her daughter. Her beloved Alice lay in her 
bosom, quite still and pale, with open eyes 
watching the sunbeams creep along the floor. 
It was the first time Marion had ever seen that 
face in daylight — the first time Alice had 
ever beheld the sun — the warm, healthy, la- 
bor-inspiring, earth-risen sun. 

" Is this morning ? " she said, softly, turning 
her eyes, full of strange pensiveness, on her 
mother. 

" It is, my bairn ; God be wi* ye on this braw 
New-year." 

Alice was silent. She scarce imderstood the 
blessing; it belonged to a lore not taught in 
Fairyland. Soon afterwards she said, still keep- 
ing her thoughtful look, — 

"Mother, how long do you call a day,^— 
from twilight to twilight ? '' 

" It's unco short now, frae sunrise to sunset ; 
we hae scarce time for the wark that maun be 
dune." 

" Nor I," said Alice, sadly. " Mother, may I 
rise?" 

She rose accordingly ; and Marion Learmont 



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ISO ALICE LEAUMONT, OR 

beheld her daughter moving about the house 
like other mortal daughters, ready to fulfil all 
the duties that it behoved her to learn. Very 
pale and clear Alice's features looked in the 
bright daylight. There was even a wan, un- 
earthly aspect about her — a weariness and 
painful repose. All the day she comported her- 
self thus ; doing whatsoever became her station, 
and doing it in a manner that seemed as if she 
had been used to it all her life. Only when the 
neighbors came in to stare at her, and some 
marvelled at her wondrous grace, and some 
jested bitterly about Thomas Learmont's lost 
daughter, who had come back they knew not 
from where, Alice would shrink away and hide 
herself by her mother's side, where alone she 
seemed to find entire content and rest. 

It was a dull winter day, and the forenoon 
had scarcely passed, when black rain-clouds 
grew heavy over Eildon Hill. As they dark- 
ened, evermore Alice's sweet face darkened too. 
She would pause continually in her light labor 
or her pleasant talk, and look sorrowfully at her 
mother, as if she could not find speech to tell 
her pain. As the afternoon closed in, and the 



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A mother's love. 131 

mid-day meal being over, the father and brothers 
went back to their toil, — Alice, sitting with her 
mother, grew continually sadder and sadder. 
Nevertheless, she went about the house, heaped 
fagots on the fire, prepared food, and did every 
thing for the sick woman's comfort, just as if 
she herself had been going away, and wished to 
leave every thing in neat order, so as to be com- 
fortable for the one she loved. 

She took one other precaution before she 
came and sat down at her mother's side ; — she 
bolted and barred the doors, leaving no entrance 
from without. But she did it with a despairing 
look, as though she knew that all was in vain. 

About dusk Marion Learmont fell asleep ; 
but waking soon after, asked for water. Alice 
brought her a pitcher-full. 

" Ah, not that, my bairji ; I wad like, a 
draught frae that bonnie burn ye see," said she, 
with feverish longing. " It's no mony steps frae 
this, and it rins ower pebbles sae fresh and clear. 
Alice, will ye gang ? " 

Alice sighed, as though knowing all that 
would follow from this request, so meekly and 
unconsciously made. But there was no resist- 



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132 AUCE LEABMONT, OB 

ing the mother's desire. She took up her 
pitcher, and went. 

She came back again, very pale, with quick, 
wild steps. There was a sound following her, 
like the soughing of an angry wind, though 
nothing could be seen. 

Hurriedly the girl put the cup to her mother's 
lips. 

" Drink, mother, drink, and then kiss me ; 
for I must go." 

" Whar, my lassie ? " 

" Far away, far away, with those you know. — 
They drag me, they constrain me. Mother, I 
cannot stay!" 

Her voice was almost a scream, and she 
writhed like one struggling with invisible hands. 

" 0, remember me, mother, and I'll remem- 
ber you ! And ah ! keep Hughie safe, that he 
comes no more into their power, where I stay 
miserable and against my will." 

" Then ye sail be saved, my bairn," cried the 
mother, rising from her first numbed terror into 
supernatural strength. "He that gave ye to 
me — He that is the keeper o' your saul — is 
greater than they that baud ye fast. He winna 



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A mother's lotb. 133 

leave ye to perish, — He will help your mither 
to save ye. How maun I do't? Tell me, 
Alice, my ae dochter — my first-born, sent by 
God!" ' 

As she uttered the great Name, a wild and 
mournful cry arose ; with it was mingled Alice's 
voice : — 

"Ay! save me, mother. Stand at the four 
cross roads, on the eve of Roodmass, when we 
all ride. Ye'U see me. Snatch me, and hold 
me fast, and have no fear. 0, save me, mother, 
mother ! " 

It was only a voice that spoke — nothing 
more. Alice had melted out of sight. Her 
cry of " Save me, save me ! " died away in dis- 
tance and silence ; and the mother heard noth- 
ing — felt nothing — but the bitter winter wind 
blowing through the open door, 
12 



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134 ALICE LEABMONT, OB 



CHAPTER VIII. 

Far, far through all the black depths of the 
underground world did the elves bear their 
changeling maiden ; now, for the first time, an 
unwilling and sorrowful prey. Feeble and ex- 
hausted she was too, even like any mortal girl, 
worn out by weeping and regret. 

" Now, Alice, thou art the most foolish damsel 
on earth," said the blithesome queen, who had 
not feeling enough to be either angry or revenge- 
ful. " To think of your desiring to remain be- 
hind, and crying your sweet eyes blind because 
the thing was impossible ! Look, how near 
shines the golden gate ! soon we will be once 
more in Fairyland." 

But Alice wept on. 

" I never knew such a provoking little mor- 
tal. Don't go on dreaming, Alice. Look at 
this stream we have to cross." 

The girl looked mechanically. Well she knew 
the shallow river, which, with many another, she 
had waded through again and again, while the 



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A mother's love. 135 

light elves skimmed along the top. But while 
in the midst of its current, she cast her eyes 
down, shuddered, and screamed ; she saw it 
as she had never seen it before — a river of 
blood. 

" What, you dislike that ? " said the Queen 
of Fairies. " Really, how very particular my 
handsome maiden has grown ! worse by far than 
the Ejiight of Ercildoun, whom I led hither. 
It is only the blood spilt on earth, which drips 
down to Fairyland. We have no objection. It 
makes our streams a brighter color ; that is all. 
Come across, my little maid.'* 

In an agony Alice struggled to the shore, un- 
harmed, save by a few red drops that clung to 
her robe.* 

" It is the blood of Geordie Grahame, slain by 
your father the day you were born," observed 
the queen, carelessly. " But no matter ; the 
next stream we cross will wash it out. Ay, and 
you may drink of that," she continued, as Alice 
lay exhausted beside another rivulet, which ran 
clear and sparkling, though with a perfectly si- 
lent flow. 

Dying with thirst, Alice dipped in her hoU 



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136 ALICE LEABMONT, OB 

lowed hand, and put it to her lips, but the water 
was salt and bitter. 

" Drink, silly maiden ! It is only the tears 
shed on earth, coming down hither. Mortal 
women — and your mother especially — help to 
keep the river continually flowing. Prythee, 
Alice, do not add to the ware." 

"Ah me ! " cried Alice ; " and it is throu^ 
blood and tears that I must pass, and have 
passed, to reach the land of pleasure ! " * 

No more she spake, but fell heavily on the 
ground, so often traversed with delight, but 
which she now with opened eyes saw to be a 
delusive and a thorny way. 

" 0, these mortals, these mortals ! ** petulantly 
exclaimed the Queen of Fairies. " But take her 
up, my elves, and bring her safe through the 
golden gate ; it is quite impossible that our 
peace can be disturbed by an earth-born crea- 
ture's lamentings outside the portals of Fairy- 
land. Once within there, she will of course be 
content; and we will have a few extra feasts 
and junketings. The glory of our kingdom is 
concerned ; for, my subjects, the fact is," — and 
her majesty shrugged her shoulders, — "we may 



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A mother's love. 187 

not keep any thing human long, if altogether 
against its will. As mj Knight of Ercildoun 
foretold, we may have to give her up at last ; 
but we'll keep the creature as long as we can." 

Having delivered herself of this dignified har- 
angue, to the which the bells of her palfrey rung 
applause, the queen spurred on, and entered the 
fair gates of her kingdom. 

There, silently leaning against the portals 
which ho might never pass, sometimes looking 
wistfully through their transparent net-work, 
sometimes striking mome^tary chords on the 
harp that hung always at his side, stood Thomas 
of Ercildoun. 

His countenance brightened when he saw the^ 
qiieen — his adored ever; though, like many 
another bard, he had worshipped no reality, but 
only the dream of his own poet-heart. 

" Are ye come back, my lady and love ? " said 
he, advancing; ^^and hae ye brought young 
Alice Learmont ? " 

"Ay, at last ; and not content with a whole 

night and a day on earth, she wanted to abide 

ihere constantly. She is as discontented as you 

are sometimes, my knight, only with much more 

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138 , ALICE LEARMONT, OR 

cause, since she has never a true love here in 
Fairyland/' 

The Rhymer looked with glittering eyes at the 
small elfin form that wreathed itself about him 
in sprite-like, child-like vagaries. Even in her 
caressing moods, the fairy lady had an incon- 
stant, butterfly air ; there was nothing in her of 
the quiet, tender woman-nature which will cling 
to what it loves because it loves, and, loving, 
cannot choose but cling. Yet very witching, in 
any shape, was the Rhymer's love. 

He watched her, still overcome by the gla- 
mour which had never entirely passed away. 
But at last his eye turned to where Alice Lear- 
mont lay in a state of death-like unconsciousness 
which quite puzzled the elves. They were try- 
ing all means to awake her ; some buzzing about 
her in the shape of bees ; others putting on the 
tiny feathers of birds, and warbling close in her 
ears ; and the rest shouting her name, their call 
sounding like dim echoes heard among wood- 
lands. But there she lay, white and motionless, 
save for the slow tears that came stealing under 
her eyelids. Her bitter grief was upon her 
still. 



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A mother's love. 139 

It penetrated the mortal nature of the Bard 
of Ercildoun. 

" Let me gang till her," said he to the queen. 
" She comes o' my blude — the earthly blude 
that throbs in my heart still. Like can comfort 
like. I'll ask at the lassie wherefore she grieves 
sae sair." 

"Away with you, True Thomas; only take 
heed " — and the queen shook her dainty finger 
warningly — "I cannot spare any more mor- 
tals of the Learmont race, after him that truly 
was well spared, the great burly archer of Mel- 
rose." 

She flitted away, her elveS careering after her 
in merry whirls on the grass, or in airy eddies 
like dust-clouds, leaving the coast clear for 
Thomas the Rhymer and his descendant. 

He approached Alice softly, nay, reverently ; 
for he saw in her the traces of that earthly suf- 
fering which from himself had for centuries 
passed away. Pensive he was, but the faint 
shadow on his brow was nothing to Alice's utter 
despair. She lay and wept like one who would 
not be comforted. 

He called her by her name,, bitb she answered 



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140 ALICE LEARMONT, OB 

not. Then in a tone gentle as a woman, he 
said, " My dochter ! " 

Alice started up with a great cry — "Who 
calls me thus? — 0, mother, mother! have 
you come after me all the way to this cruel 
land?" 

But she saw nothing except the green grass, 
and the hazy, shadowless trees standing up in 
their places, while underneath them, as upright 
and as still, stood the Rhymer. 

" It is no your mither that speaks,'' said he. 
" It is my ain sel, that ye ken weel — your an- 
cestor, Thomas Learmont of Ercildoun, that 
mony hundred yedrs syne wonned away to 
Fairyland, and was never seen mair." 

Alice came nearer, and there was life and in- 
terest in her eyes. " Are you from Tweedside, 
a mortal, and of my kin ? '* 

"Ye heard a' that — lang syne." 

" I heard, but heeded not. I scarce heeded 
any thing till yesternight, when I hearkened to 
my mother. 0, mother, mother ! will I never 
hear your voice any more ? " 

" Did she tell ye aught concerning me ? " 
asked the Rhymer, eagerly. " Or is my name 



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A mother's love. 141 

clean forgot amang my ain folk and i' the land 
I lo'ed sae weel V\ 

Alice put her hand to her brow. " Wait till 
I think of what she said. Ay, it is clear now." 
And she looked up in his face steadily. " You 
were the Knight of Brcildoun ; and you left 
everything — home, parents, young wife, and 
innocent babe — to go with a beautiful lady into 
Fairyland, for seven years. Then you came 
back, and lived as a good knight should. At 
last she summoned you, — the Queen of Fairies, 
— and you went away again — forever. 0, 
how could you go, having once come back to the 
dear earth?" 

The Rhymer sunk his head, murmuring, " I 
canna tell. — It was to be, and it was sae." 

" And how returned you ? Ah, show me the 
way. Teach me how to go back to my dear 
mother and my brother Hugh." 

She flung herself at his feet, embracing them 
in her agony of entreaty. 

" Ye ken there's but ane way," said the 
Rhymer, gently ; " to bide here till spring dawns 
on the earth ; and at the time o' Roodmass the 
fairies ride. Gin your mither loe ye still, ye 



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142 AUGE LEARIIONT9 OB 

may be sayed, Alice Learmont. Oie thanks to 
her that yestreen ye didna tine your saul," add- 
ed he in an awftil whisper. 

Alice looked up, trembling. 

"Ye kentna that while ye lay saft i* your 
mither's arms, there cam up that black road 
the Evil Ane, him that goes about like a ramping 
and a roaring lion. He took back nae mortal, 
but an elf, as the teind to hell. Ye're safe, my 
bairn, gin your heart fail not, nor your mither's 
luve." 

While the seer spoke, the solitude of the wood 
where they sat was broken by the entrance of 
the fairy-troop. Little heed the elves took of the 
mortals, being absorbed in their own delights. 
They came on with songs and laughter, and sat 
down to golden banquet tables, that sprang out 
of the ground like mushrooms. Alice, half- 
dead with hunger, thirst, and exhaustion, looked 
on, but came not riigh. The feast ended, they 
broke forth into mad revelries ; music that al- 
lured the very soul, and dances that whoever 
saw must needs dance after — were it through 
bush, bramble, or brier. 

Alice pressed her eyelids forcibly down to shut 



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A mother's love. 143 

out the sight, — once so familiar, — which she 
felt was controlling her senses, and luring her 
back beyond recall. 

" 0, mother, mother!" she murmured, and 
strove to think of the dim cottage, and the sick 
bed, and her who lay there, moaning her heart 
away for the loss of her child. But still tho 
fairy spell was too strong, and drew the girl's 
feet nearer and nearer to the enchanting scene. 

"0, keep me back," she cried, turning to 
what seemed her only stay, — him who had once 
been a mortal like herself. But still the words 
were words only ; continually she moved nearer 
and nearer to the dazzling rout. 

Thomas the Rhymer looked after her with 
doubtful eyes. " It maunna be," said he, 
thoughtfully ; " a* that I hae tint, I hae tint ; 
but this lassie, sae tender and sae fair — Alice 
Learmorit ! " added he, calling her by her earthly 
name, with a severe and firm voice. 

The maiden paused, even though her feet 
were just touching the magic ring. 

" Whar ar ye gaun ? Hae ye forgotten your 
mither?" 

Alice paused, sighed, and stood irresolute. 



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144 

" Will ye be saved ? " said the Ehymer. 

"I cannot — I cannot! their power is too 
strong for me," sobbed Alice; "yet, 0, my 
mother ! " 

At the word, Thomas of Ercildoun drew her 
to the brink of a little rivulet that crept through 
the wood ; just a slender rill, coming from the 
one river of earth that flowed through Fairy- 
land. He dipped his fingers in the water, 
sprinkled her eyelids, and made on them a sign, 
in his days held most sacred, and still rever- 
enced as a memorial of holy things — the cross. 
Then he bade her open her eyes and see. 

Alice saw — but 0, with what changed vision ! 

All the fair wood, alive with flickering leaves 
and waving plants, had become a forest of bare, 
lifeless trees. The foliage had dropped off the 
boughs, the flowers had withered where they 
grew. There was no beauty, no pleasure there- 
in ; nothing but discordant voices, and a dead 
blank of sight and sound. 

Shuddering, Alice ran forward to seek her old 
companions ; ay, any companionship at all in the 
desolate place. But the banquet-hall had faded 
into ruins ; the dainties were only so many with- 



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A mother's love. 145 

ered leaves ; the golden tables nothing but fungi 
and ugly incrustations of blasted trees ; the gay 
draperies around mere spidfer-webs, flittering to 
and fro in the gusty wind. 

The ^rl would have shrieked, but the same 
spell which had opened her eyes had sealed her 
lips for the time. Vainly she looked round for 
Thomas the Rhymer ; he had disappeared. She 
wandered along the paths she knew, yet some- 
times doubtful of her way, so changed was 
every thing, until she reached the dell where the 

Queen of Fairies kept her favorite court. 

* 

"Welcome, welcome, Alice!" shouted the 

elves in the distance. But their voices, once so 
sweet, now sounded discordant as ravens hoot- 
ing from a crumbling tower. And, coming 
nearer, the maiden beheld them clear. 

0, horror ! There was a ghastly, loathly hag 
sitting on a throne, laughing loudly through 
her toothless lips, her yellow shrunken limbs 
peering ugly beneath foul rags that were dis- 
posed as jantily as if they had been rich 
clothing. There was a court of withered worn- 
looking creatures, that in their uncomely age 
imitated the frolics of youth. All things about 
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146 ALICE LEABMONT, OR 

them were pale and unsubstantial, jaded, com- 
fortless, and drear. Yet they seemed not to 
know it, but in all this wretched guise played 
the same antics, and with their cracked hoarse 
voices sang the same songs, which had once 
been so enchanting. Every thing was as it had 
ever been — only from it the glamour was gone. 

"Ye see the truth now," said a mournful 
whisper in Alice's ear ; and the Ehymer stood 
behind her. 

" And do you see it thus ? " asked the shud- 
dering girl. 

" Maybe, not sae fearsome as it is in your een. 
For I am ane o' them, and we maun a' cheat 
ane anither, until the end ; but I ken weel that 
whatever it seemsj it is even sae." 

So saying, with a mechanical footstep, neither 
hurried nor slow, he went into the magic ring, 
and lay down at the feet of the ghastly queen, 
— who, under whatever guise he beheld her, 
was doomed to be his object of worship ever- 
more. 

But Alice, shrinking away with terror and 
disgust, hid herself in the solitary wood. There 
she staid for days and weeks; lying on with- 



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A motheb'b love. 147 

ered fern, and feeding scantily on berries that 
came from seeds of earth drifted along by the 
earthly rivulet. Perpetually there came by her 
portions of the elfin' shows, which had once 
seemed so pleasant, but were now so foul. She 
joined them not; in misery, and repentance, 
and pain, did she bide her time, until the season 
of the Fairies' Baid came round. 

One evening, when she sat on the brink of the 
stream — which alone, of all the sights in Fairy- 
land, kept its freshness and beauty — she saw 
drifting by one of those branches covered with 
soft, woolly leaf-buds, which, appearing at Easter, 
are to this day called palms. 

As she looked, Thomas of Ercildoun, whom 
she had not seen for long, appeared at her side, 
watching likewise the little bough. 

" Alice," said he, " ye hae received your sign. 
It is spring time on the bonnie meadows o' 
Tweedside. When the next gloaming fSsi's, it 
will be the Eve o' Roodmass." 

He had scarcely spoken, when the gathering 
summons stirred up all the dwellers in Fairy- 
land. On they came, clustering in throngs 
round the entrance gate, collecting what had 



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148 ALICE LEABMONT, OR 

once seemed their gallant nags and palfreys, but 
which now Alice saw to be only hemp-stalks and 
bean-wands, and withered boughs of trees, on 
which the skeleton leaves, waving and rustling, 
made what had appeared tlie glitter of golden 
housings and the music of bridles ringing. 

Hoarsely resounded the universal call, for on 
this, the first of the two grand yearly festivals, 
no one, elfin or mortal, might be absent from 
the Fairies' Raid, — except him, who, coming of 
his own will, had lost the power of revisiting 
earth. 

Slowly he followed, lingering until already 
the first of the pageant had passed through the 
gates, and Alice, the last of all, waited with 
eager longings until she herself was allowed to 
depart. 

The Rhymer stood watching her with sorrow- 
ful yearning. 

" Pare-ye-weel, Alice ; I see a' things clear. 
Mither's luve is strong, and mither's prayers 
stronger. Ye pass the gate that ye will enter 
nae mair. Fare-ye-weel ! " 

Alice trembled with joy. She prepared to 
go ; bathed her naked, bruised feet in the little 



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A mother's love. 149 

stream, and drew round her the poor rags that 
had once seemed the gaudy robes of Elfinland. 
Still, ere she left, she turned round with kind 
tears to the Ehymer, her ancestor. 

" My father, can I do aught for you ? Should 
I reach safe the dear earth — our earth — is there 
no power — no prayers, that could avail ? " 

He shook his head mournfully. " Na, na ! 
the time is past. Gin I were ever found on the 
fair earth, it wad be but as a heap o' white banes 
crumbling i' the kirkyard o' Melrose. That a 
man sowed, he sail even reap: I maun dree 
my wierd, until the warld's ending. Hereafter, 
there's Ane that maun do as His mercy wills wi' 
my erring saul." 

Ceasing — he folded his hands and cast down 
his eyes, so majestic, yet so sad. His descendant 
had no more to urge. 

Once more only the Rhymer spoke, but in a 
low voice, and humbly even as a mortal peni- 
tent. " Alice, ae word. When a' chances as it 
will chance, gang ye to the chapel by Ercildoun, 
and look out for a gray stane I raised, aneath 
the whilk I thocht that I and mine were to 
sleep. There'll sure be there my son Thomas, 
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150 ALICE LEABMONT, OB 

and ane that was aye a giide wife to me. Alice, 
say ten masses for their saiils." 

So said he, not thinking of the centuries that 
had swept away all traces of the living and the 
dead alike, nor that mere tradition kept alive 
the name of Thomas of Ercildoun. 

Alice made him little answer, for she hardly 
imderstood his meaning, and her whole heart 
and thoughts were flying earthwards, in longing 
and in love. 

One by one, the fairy train passed out from 
the gate, and last of all, the mortal maiden 
passed out likewise. 

" Pare-ye-weel, Alice," sounded behind her 
like a sigh; and,' looking back, she saw the 
Rhymer standing, dimly visible through the 
ragged mould-encrusted bars which had once 
seemed gold. His harp had fallen on the 
ground, his arms were folded on his breast, 
and his eyes, that could not weep, were bent 
forward with the mournfulness of a yearning 
never to be fulfilled. "Pare-ye-weel," he re- 
peated once more ; then turned himself, lifted 
Tip his beloved harp, and went back forever into 
Fairyland. 



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A mother's love. 151 



CHAPTER IX. 

It was early spring over all the Border-coun- 
try. The gowans in the pasture fields began to 
lift up their tiny heads, and the willows that 
grew in the windings of the Tweed put on 
downy buds, which the farmers* children called 
" geese and goslings." A few young lambs 
were tottering in the folds, and once or twice, 
when the noon was very warm and mild, a 
laverock had been heard singing high up in the 
still blue air, above the abbey-turrets of Melrose. 

There was a woman, very pale and weak, but 
no longer sick — sitting under the shelter of the 
monastery walls. Every day, when the weather 
was mild, she crawled out and sat there, anxious 
to gather up her strength to the utmost ; — and 
so she had done for weeks and months. Very 
quiet and composed she was ; full of that sereni- 
ty which is given by a firm purpose deep buried 
in the heart. This purpose — so intense and 
resolved — had imparted strength and health 
even to Marion Learmont. 



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152 ALICE LEABMONT, OR 

She sat, a little way from the place where wee 
Willie's last cradle was made ; lifting her head 
to the warm afternoon sunshine, and drinking 
in the pleasant air. Meg Brydon kept not far 
off; sometimes twisting flax diligently — some- 
times stretching her lazy length upon the graves. 

There they remained, hour after hour, until 
the sun began to sink behind the hills; and 
from the near abbey, the few remaining monks 
of Melrose were heard chanting their feeble 
and unregarded vespers. For now the old reli- 
gion of the Stuarts was dying away in all the 
land, and John Klnox's preachings were every 
where heard, instead of matins and evensong. 

" Meg," said Mistress Learmont, suddenly 
calling. 

The damsel appeared, from a gossip at the 
abbey-gate. 

" It's near the gloaming," said Marion, in a 
tremulous and rather excited tone. " Gang 
whar ye will, gude Meg; I'll just daunder 
hame my ain sel ; I'm gey strong the noo. 
See ! " 

She rose, and with the aid of a stout hazel- 
stick, marched steadily forward a few paces. 



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A mother's love. 153 

"Ye needna fash yoursel, lass," said she 
kindly, when Meg, whom so good a mistress 
had at last made a careful and devoted servant, 
tried to assist her steps. " Na, na ; I'll e'en 
gang my lane : I maun do't," she added in a 
whisper to herself. " And He wha had on earth 
a mither o' His ain, will guide a waefu' mither 
this ae nicht." 

She gently put her hand-maiden aside, and 
walked on alone. Only having gone a little 
way, she turned, and called back Meg, saying, — 

" Gin I'm ower lang o' comin', tell the gude- 
man he needna fear. I'll be about wark in the 
whilk a Greater Ane than either husband or 
bairn will tak tent to me, and see that I come 
to nae harm. And, Meg," she added, for the 
second time turning back to give directions. 
" Dear Meg, be an eident lass, and see that a' 
things are keepit braw for the gudeman and thae 
wild callants, until the time that I come hame." 

Her words, so serious and gentle, had a 
deeper meaning than Meg could fathom. She 
was half inclined to follow, but something in 
her mistress's avspect forbade. She staid be- 
hind, and Marion Learmont went on alone. 



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154 ALICE LEARMONT, OB 

— Past all her neighbors in Melrose town; 
past house after house, where the old wives sat 
knitting or spinning, and the children played in 
the gloaming, the mother went. No one spoke 
to her on the way ; it seemed so strange to see 
the lone sick woman walking thus, that many 
thought it was Marion Learmont's wraith. 
And even those few who believed it was herself, 
saw such a wondrously steadfast and absorbed 
expression in her face, that they were afraid to 
stop and address her. So on she went, leaning 
on her hazel-staff, with her mantle thrown over 
her head and stooping form ; and in her left 
hand nothing but a little book, which, during 
her sickness, a young minister, a follower of 
John Knox, had taught her to read. 

She left the town soon, and reached the open 
country. It was already so far dusk, that the 
sheep along the hill-side and in the fields looked 
like white dots moving about; while every 
where was heard the tinkle of the bells, and the 
whistle of the shepherds, coming home. 

Marion distinguifihed a voice she knew, and 
hid herself by the dike-side, until those who 
were approaching had passed by. It was her 



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A mother's love. 155 

husband and her three sons, returning from 
their daily labor on their farm. There came 
into her heart a terror — a longing, lest per- 
chance she should never see them again, these 
dear ones — though by a natural yet myste- 
rious instinct not held so dear as the one lost, 
who by her must yet be saved. 

She dared not speak to them, lest they should 
overrule her plan ; but she watched them with 
eager eyes, and followed them a little distance, 
stealing along under the shadow of the dike 
and of the rowan trees that grew beside. She 
listened to their merry and unconscious voices. 

"Eh," said Hughie. "I hear a soun' o* 
footsteps close by." 

" It's naething but a bit maukin loupin' out 
of a whin-bush. Are ye feared for the like o> 
that ? " answered the father, laughing. ^ 

" I'm no feared, father ; but it's the Eve o' 
Roodmass, when there's uncanny folk abroad," 
whispered the boy. 

"Then we'll e'en gae hame, lads, for the 
gudewife's sake. She's easy fleyed, and she 
has aye a waefu' heart tabear.. We mauatak 
tent o' the puir mither.** 



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156 AUOE LEABMONT, OB 

" Ay, ay," echoed the sons, moving forward 
bravely and quickly, and were soon out of 
sight. 

The mother herself stood by the road-side, 
shedding many and mingled tears. But still 
her courage failed not, nor did she shrink from 
her purpose. 

Very soon she came to a place where four 
roads met; a spot renowned throughout the 
whole neighborhood as being " uncanny.'* 
Tradition had faded concerning it — whether 
it was the scene of midnight murder, or of 
more harmless elfin tryste. Or perhaps the 
natural ghostliness of the place added to its ill 
name. It was an open moorland, except where 
a row of tall firs stood up, black sentinels, right 
against the sky ; the wind in their tops keeping 
up a distant soughing peculiar to trees of that 
species. There is not a more eerie sound in 
nature, than the breeze passing through the 
high, dark branches of a fir-wood. 

Marion leant against one of the stems, ex- 
hausted, but not afraid. The gloaming was 
fast melting into night; the gloomy, cloudy 
night of early spring, when after the brief hour 



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A mother's loye. 167 

of sunset, all things frequently seem passing 
again into dreariness and winter cold. The 
lonely woman began to shiver where she stood ; 
and a heavy rain-cloud gathering over the moor, 
fell down in showers, drenching her even 
.through her close mantle. All the moor van- 
ished in haze ; there was neither star nor moon. 
She could discern nothing except the near 
trees, which in the mistiness around oftentimes 
seemed to stir and change their places, like 
great giants walking about in the night. 

And yet — even yet — the mother was not 
afrstid. 

She had waited a long time ; so long that she 
could have thought the night almost past, ex- 
cept that she knew the moon would rise at mid- 
night, and it had not risen yet. Every thing 
was quite dark. 

At length she saw a bright light dancing 
across the moor, at the eastern horizon. 

" It is but the moon-rise," Marion said, and 
her heart grew colder than ever with disap- 
pointment and fear. " Wae's me ! my hope 
is gane. Alice, Alice, I hae tint ye forever- 



mair 



!'» 



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158 AUCE LEASMONT, OB 

Thus she, lamenting, hid her eyes from the 
light that grew broader and deeper, though no 
orb appeared to rise. When Marion looked 
again, there was a long stream of radiance glit- 
tering across the moor ; and faintly approaching 
came another music than that of the wind in 
the fir-tops. It was — as a Nithsdale woman, 
who once heard the like, used to express it — 
" like the soun' o' a farawa' psalm." 

Marion Learmont, even amidst her joy, trem- 
bled at the crisis that was approaching ; for she 
knew that what she now saw and heard was the 
Fairies' Raid. 

She crouclied down behind the tree, mutter- 
ing sometimes the unintelligible Av'es and 
Credos of her ancient faith ; and then again 
bursting out into the heart-felt prayers taught 
by John Knox and his brethren. Alternately 
she clutched the Bible, or, forgetting herself, 
made the familiar sign of the cross. Mingled 
and strange were all her religious forms ; but 
there was one thing that could not err, the in- 
tensity of derotion in her heart. And never 
once did she take her straining eyes from the 



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A mother's love. 159 

sight on which was concentrated all her energy, 
courage, and hope. 

Nearer and nearer came the light, and sepa- 
rated itself into individual forms. Never had 
Marion Le^xmont seen such a glittering show. 
The elves rode one by one, men and women 
alternately. Their steeds, of all colors, were 
caparisoned with gold and jewels, that sparkled 
at every motion. They themselves Were as fair 
to behold as when the young mother had seen 
them gathering in her chamber, on that fatal 
night of Alice's birth. She noticed as before 
their green kirtles, and their yellow hair, that 
while they rode streamed behind in a long train 
of light. 

For the mortal mother beheld the elves but 
as mortals do, until they have abode in Fairy- 
land long enough to learn that all this show is 
but outward glamour, nothingness, and vanity. 

The cavalcade neareoT the tree, and Marion 
watched in agony for the first that should pass 
by. It was an elf, taller than the rest, whom 
she knew to be the Queen of Fairies. After- 
wards, scores upon scores of elfin-horsemen rode 
near her ; but the mother's eye lingered upon 



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160 AUOE LEABMONT) OB 

none. No doubt had she in her search ; through 
all that disguise she could not mistake her own 
child. 

Each after the other, the whole train passed 
by, until there remained but one, who rode 
slower than the rest, and neither by voice nor 
merry gesture urged her palfrey on. She sat, 
amidst all the brilliant show of her attire, quite 
passive and silent. Only as her horse was 
sweeping past the cross-roads, she turned and 
leaned sideways, showing distinctly her pale face 
and eager eyes. It was Alice herself. 

Quick as lightning, strong as though she had 
never been sick„ the mother leaped forward and 
dragged her child down from the palfrey, in- 
stantly it melted away, and lay, a withered 
bramble-bough, in the middle of the path. A 
loud wail ran across the moor — the fairy pa- 
geant vanished, and all was perfect silence. 

For several minutes fliis hush lasted ; during 
which neither mother nor daughter spoke. 
Marion was conscious of nothing save that she 
held in her arms her living, breathing Alice. 
After a little she loosened her clasp, trying to 
look in her daughter's face. 



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A mother's love. 161 

" Ah, hold me fast — let me not go," mur- 
mured the girl, in terror. 

And even while she spoke, there gradually 
arose across the moor a whirlwind of unearthly 
sounds — loud voices, screams, and laughter. 
It came nearer, eddying round on every side, 
dinning in Marion's ears so close that she started 
as though strange things were clutching at her ; 
but nothing was visible." 

" Hold me fast — fast," was all Alice's cry, 

" I will baud ye fast, my bairn that I bore," 
the mother answered, firmly. And so they 
stood, clinging together in the midst of that 
elAritch rout, the more fearful that it was only 
heard, not seen. 

The blackness of the night changed a little, 
and the great round moon rose up from the 
edge of the moor. As soon as it gave sufficient 
light to distinguish objects, Marion gained some 
comfort. But her terror returned, when in the 
shadow cast by the bole of the opposite fir trees 
she saw something leaning. It was a human 
form, the very image of herself, except the face, 
which was hid. 

" Turn your cloak, mother, and it will vnn- 
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162 AUCB LEABMONT, OB 

ish," whispered Alice. " But 0, do not let go 
your hold of me." 

Marion did as her child desired, and the illu- 
sion melted away. 

This was the first of the elfin spells, through 
the fierce ordeal of which the mother passed that 
night. The next trial was far more horrible to 
bear. 

Suddenly, in her very arms, the soft form of 
Alice seemed changing to that of a wild beast. 
"Hold me close, and I'll do ye no harm,** 
screamed the voice, which alone was human. 
And still the brave mother held fast her own, 
until again she felt the warm maiden-flesh beat- 
ing against her bosom. 

After that, through every horror that elfin mal- 
ice could plan, amidst transformations uncouth, 
loathsome, or terrible, did Marion Learmont 
keep her treasure glose embraced. Sometimes 
she seemed to enfold a goblin shape, or had a 
slimy serpent crawling on her breast, or clasped 
with her bare arms a red-hot bar of iron ; but 
through each change, foul or frightful, the 
mother knew and held fast to her own child. 



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A mother's love. 168 

Many another mother through all human trials 
has done the same. 

At last the sky, which except just at moon- 
rise had been overcast all night, was brightened 
at the east with a streak of yellow and pale 
green. The elfin clamor began to die away in 
the dawn. 

" Bide a wee, bide a wee," sighed the ex- 
hausted mother, as after the last transformation 
her daughter lay almost like a corse in her arms. 
" While I hae life I winna tine my bairn." 

Ere she ceased speaking, there came a sound 
like a clap of thunder, mingled with howlings 
that might have risen from the bottomless pit. 
All around where Marion stood was flame, and 
it was a living flame that swayed to and fro in 
her arms. 

" Hae pity on us, Qod ! " shrieked the 
mother aloud. Instantly the thunder ceased, 
the jet of flame sank down, and Marion held to 
her breast her young daughter, who lay there, 
pallid, trembling, cold, — and naked as when 
she had come into the world, a helpless babe. 

" Throw your mantle over me, and then I will 
be safe and all your own," feebly said Alice. 



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164 

The mother did so, taking oflF some of her own 
garments and wrapping her child close. Then 
all the eldritch sounds died away in distance ; 
the light broadened across the moor, and all 
the earth lay in the stillness and freshness of 
daybreak. 

Marion and her daughter sank down together, 
and leaning against the fir tree's bole, kissed 
one another and wept. Suddenly, in one of the 
topmost branches was heard the twitter of a 
waking bird. 

" It is a' true, and ye're my ain — thanks be 
to the gude God ! " cried Marion, in a choking 
voice. " Let us arise, my dochter, and gae 
hame thegither." 

Across the yet dark fields they took their 
way, the mother leaning on Alice's arm. They 
passed through the silent town of Melrose, where 
all were still fast asleep — tired fathers resting 
after their work, and mothers lying with their 
little children round. But there was never a 
mother like this mother. 

Not a creature they met in all the street, or 
beyond it, until they came to their own door. 
Then, creeping along the side of the byre, Marion 



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A mother's LOYE. 165 

Learmont saw something which seemed through 
the misty morning-light to foe a human form, 
all fluttering in gaudy-colored rags. And a 
cracked Yoice, that might have been sweet when 
young, and still had a kind of wild pathos, 
startled her by its old familiar sounds, now un- 
heard for many years. It sang a fragment of 
meaningless rhyme, which yet had a certain 
method in it. 

« Simmer and winter baith gae round, 

Spak the mither wren to her baimies three ; 
Unt was tint, and foimd is found — 
I'U hap my held saft in my ain countrie." 

^' It's Daft Simmie come back, him that was 
hunted far and near for stealing my bairn. 
He's at his sangs again. Wonderfu' are the 
ways o' the Lord ! " 

And her thoughts went back to old times, re- 
membering how all things had worked together 
for good, until her heart was mute for very 
thankfulness. 

As her feet touched the door-sill, the sun rose 
upon the earth ; she turned a minute to gaze at 
the brightening Abbey-tower and the three sum- 
mits of Eildon hill, and all the land around, 



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166 ALICE LEABMONT. 

wakening up into the glory of a new day. Then 
she looked at Alice, who stood near, her un- 
earthly beauty chastened into that which was 
merely human — the loveliness of love itself. 

" My ain bairn, my ae dochter ! that was dead 
and is alive again — was lost and found ! " cried 
Marion, falling on her neck. 

She rested there a little space, then took her 
daughter's hand, and with great joyfulness they 
two then went together into the house. 



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