A Changeling at Minto, Scotland

This is another piece from Highways & Byways in The Border:

Here at Minto, if credence in the reality of Fairies no longer lingers amongst the  people – one of the writers of this volume records… that he found traces of the belief not very many years ago still surviving Flooded Edge,- at least but a few generations have passed since ti died. Throughout Teviotdale perhaps to a greater extent than in any other part of the Border, tales are still told which show how strong was once this belief in the existence of the Little Folk, and many of the customs that, we are told, were followed by country dwellers in order to propitiate the Good People or to thwart their malevolence, are very quaint. Should it chance for instance, that at the time a child was born the blue bonnet usually worn by the husband was not kept continually lying not the mother’s bed, then there would be the most imminent danger off that child being carried off by the Fairies, and a changeling being left in its place. Many a fine child has been lost through neglect of this simple precaution. Generally, if the abduction took place before het child had been christened, a pig or a hedgehog, or some such animal, was substituted for the infant; but if the Fairies did not succeed inter design till after etc child’s baptism, then they left another bairn in its place, usually a peevish, il-thriven, wizen-faced little imp. A tale is told of a woman who lived at Minto Cragfoot, and whose child, in consequence of some trifling lack of precaution in the matter of the blue bonnet, was carried off and in the end was rescued only by the superior knowledge and power of a Presbyterian minister. Whilst she herself was engaged one day in gathering sticks for her fire, the woman had laid her child beside a bush onto hill side. She neither heard nor saw anything unusual, but on gong to pic up her child at the close of her task, instead of her bonny, smiling little son, sh found only a thin, wasted weird little creature, which “yammered” and wept continually recourse was had to the Reverend Mr Borland (first Presbyterian minister of Bedroll after the reformation) and that gentleman at once unhesitatingly pronounced that this was no mere human child. The mother just go to the cliff, said Mr. Borland, and there gather a quantity of the flowers of the fox-glove, (locally called “witches’ thimbles”) and bring them to him. These Mr Borland boiled, poured some of the tract into the bairn’s out, scattered the boiled flowers all over its body,then put it in its cradle wrapped in a blackened, and left it al night alone in the barn. Mr Borland took the key of the door away with him, and gave instructions that under no circumstances was anybody to enter the barn until he returned next day. The anxious mother watched all night by the door, but heard no sound; never once did the child wail. And next morning when Mr. Borland arrived he was able to hand to the mother her own child, fat and smiling as when carried off by the fairies. It was a heroic remedy, but probably the sick child did not swallow much of that decoction of digitalis. In any case, they did not have coroners’ inquests in those day, and had the worst come to the worst, the uncomplaining fairies would have borne the blame.


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