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MERLIN’S CRAG
One evening the master of a fine estate and a farm laborer were walking over the fields. The master said, “To-morrow I want the peat cut from yonder crag, which rises at the end of the moorland.”

“Do you mean Merlin’s Crag, master?” asked the laborer.

“You have been here but a short time. How did you learn that name?” said the master in surprise.

“One of the old servants told me about it, sir. He said that long, long ago an enchanter named Merlin lived there. And, master, there is a haunted cave under the crag where—”

“Nonsense! Pay no attention to the 87stories servants tell, but see to it that the peat is cut to-morrow,” said the owner impatiently.

The next afternoon the laborer began to cut the peat which covered the curiously shaped crag. He was about to lift up a piece of turf when, suddenly, there appeared before him the daintiest little creature he had ever seen. She was twelve inches tall and was dressed in a gown of sparkling green. She wore red stockings and dainty red sandals with jeweled buckles. On her head was a tiny, dazzling coronet. Her lovely golden hair rippled down under the crown and over her shoulders.

The laborer stopped his work and in amazement gazed silently at this exquisite little queen. She raised her tiny wand in warning and said in a silvery small voice:

“Now tell me, pray, what would you think if I should send one of my people to unroof your home? I am out of patience with you mortals! I am, indeed. You are selfish creatures. You do anything that pleases you and you consider no one but yourselves.” 88Here she stamped her tiny sandaled foot and continued, “Now listen to me! Put back that turf this instant, or I declare you shall rue the day that you disturbed the roof of Merlin’s Crag.” Then she vanished.

The poor bewildered laborer could hardly believe his senses. He put back the turf exactly where it belonged, took up his spade, and went back to his master.

“Why, where is the peat?” began the landlord.

“O master,” said the poor man, “the fairies live in Merlin’s Crag! I have seen the queen, and she warned me not to take the turf from the top. May I cut the peat from the other side of the moor?”

“What do you mean? I believe your senses are wandering, or you would not say such stupid things,” replied the master. “Go back immediately and cut all the peat from Merlin’s Crag. Even if the old wizard himself appears, you must do as I command.”

The poor laborer was obliged to obey, so he went back to the crag and cut the peat. 89His heart beat very fast, for every minute he expected the fairy to reappear and upbraid him, but strange to say, nothing of the kind happened.

Exactly one year from the day when the peat was cut from the top of Merlin’s Crag, the laborer started on his way home across the fields. The master had given him a present of a can of milk and some cheese for his wife and children; so he whistled a merry tune as he hurried along. In the distance he noticed the queerly-shaped outline of Merlin’s Crag against a pale amber sky and his thoughts wandered back to the day one year ago. How strange that he had never again seen the exquisite little fairy! What a funny threat she had made! As he drew near the crag he began to feel strangely tired. He seemed to drag his leaden feet, and his eyelids grew heavier and heavier.

“I must rest a bit,” he thought. “How long the road seems this evening!” So he sat down in a shadow near the crag and fell into a deep sleep.

When he awoke, the soft silvery moonlight 90flooded the fields, and he heard distinctly the village bell striking the midnight hour. Then there floated to his ears the happiest ripple of laughter. He rubbed his eyes and aroused himself. He heard a sweet, small voice singing:
“Come, follow, follow me
Ye fairy elves that be,
Which circle on the green,
Come follow Mab, your queen;
Hand in hand, let’s dance around,
For the place is fairy ground.”

And a fairy chorus answered:
“O’er tops of dewy grass
So nimbly do we pass,
The young and tender stalk
Ne’er bends when we do walk;
Yet in the morning may be seen
Where we the night before have been.”

Ringed about him was a host of dainty fairies singing and dancing, and laughing and pointing wee elfin fingers at him as if he were the funniest object in the whole world. What could it all mean?

He determined to break through their circle and make for home, but, when he rose and tried to walk away, the magic green ring and the dancing fairies accompanied him and held him prisoner. How the wee folks enjoyed his dilemma! They fairly shrieked with laughter. In a little while the queen, whom he had met before, danced forward and said slyly, “Wilt thou not tread a measure, O mortal? Come, thou mayest have our loveliest maiden for a partner. Join our sport, do. Then thou wilt not be so eager to depart.”

She waved her wand to the circle of fairies, and a charming little creature flitted up to him. Before the poor man realized what was happening the wee dancer took one of his fingers in each of her tiny hands and away they went, swinging, whirling, waltzing about in the gayest manner. The little people shrieked again and again with elfin laughter at the sight of this strange couple treading a measure. All night long the merriment continued.

Finally the moon set behind the dark crag, and rosy streaks broke through the gray 94curtain in the east. Then the queen held up her tiny wand and said, “Come, the cock is welcoming the dawn.” She led the way and the other fairies forced our friend to accompany them. As she drew near the crag a mysterious door opened and the fairies trooped through into a beautiful hall carpeted with velvet moss and dimly lighted by glow-worms. On tiny couches the wee people soon fell asleep. Our friend the countryman sat on a fragment of rock in the corner of the hall.

When the fairies woke each went, about some special task. Some mixed wonderful colors for flower petals, birds’ eggs, and delicate shells, others powdered gold dust for pollen and spun gossamer threads, while still others mixed the most delicious odors for violets, wild roses, and hyacinths.

The countryman was so charmed with the sight that he desired nothing more than the joy of watching these elfin people forever. Toward evening the queen touched his arm with her wand and said,

95“Your punishment is over.”

“What do you mean?” asked our friend.

She replied, “The turf you cut from the roof of Merlin’s Crag has grown again. Once more the roof of our hall is whole. You may go back to your friends now. But first you must take a solemn oath that you will never disclose to mortal ears where you have been, or what you have seen. Do you promise?”

“I promise,” said the countryman.

Then the fairy led the way to the cave’s door which opened of its own accord, and he passed out into the fields.

As he made his way to the village, he noticed that the people looked at him in astonishment. When he reached his cottage his wife, who came to the door, drew back in fear and wonder.

“Is it indeed you, my husband?” she cried out. “Where have you been so long?”

“So long?” the dazed countryman echoed. “So long? What do you mean? I don’t understand. Where are the children?”

96“There they are,” said his wife, pointing to a well-grown boy and girl. “You have been gone from us seven years. No wonder you do not know us.”

“Seven years!” he exclaimed. “Seven years do you say? Let me think.”

Then suddenly he knew what the fairy queen meant by his punishment. He had been imprisoned seven long years by the wee folk of fairyland.

He was besieged with questions when the village people learned about his return, but he shook his head and said nothing.

He never explained the mystery of his long absence, but many noticed that there was one name which always made him hasten to change the subject, and that name was—Merlin’s Crag.


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