My thanks to Horatio Grin for his wonderful contribution from his now out of print book Fairies – A Hidden History.. He is currently being persuaded to perhaps publish in Ebook version and that would be very well received I am sure.
Yesterday we saw the transformation of a young girl by the simple addition of a magical fairy cloak…today Horatio draws on his own experience as a child to recount a tale that confirms the story of the fairy bride and wife.
The Changeling Child by Horatio Grin
I heard this story after the War when I was about 8 years old. My father’s legal work took him to Germany. I never knew why. He would not speak of it. But I believe he was involved in the lesser criminal trails of the Nuremburg Military Tribunal. As the year was 1948, I suspect he was prosecuting the Faber Directors. The company made Zyclon-B gas, used in the showers of the extermination camps.
Since my brother Vaughn went missing a few years previously, my mother had gone into decline. With Vaughn’s body unrecovered and the inquest delayed, there was no funeral. It weighed heavily on her. Eventually Father bore pressure on the local magistrate and an open verdict was returned. With great solemnity we buried a coffin of stones in the family vault at the Anglican village church.
It was soon afterwards that Father was called away for the summer. Rather than let Mother continue brooding in a house of too much suffering, he rented a small villa of four or five bedrooms, in northeast Cornwall. Instructing the housekeeper to have our place cheered up and purged of the gloomy atmosphere, for Mother’s return, Father left her with the full complement of staff, buttressed by a swarm of decorators and gardeners. These were local men recently returned from the War scrabbling to find useful employment.
Before leaving for Germany, Father drove us down with Cook, Nanny and the youngest young maid, Cook’s niece. He probably thought it would give the girl some relief from our exacting, and on occasion waspish, Housekeeper. Since Vaughn’s disappearance Mother needed Nanny far more than I. As for Cook, not only was the remarkable woman infinitely cheerful and motherly, but she knew a myriad of ways to tempt Mother’s wan appetite.
When we arrived the gardener took our suitcases in a wheelbarrow carefully overlaid with clean sacking. Charlie had a significant limp, the result of a war wound. Father later told us he hired Charlie’s wife as a char, possibly to give the man some company. I suspect Father heard poor Charlie’s story and took pity on him.
I must have seen Charlie’s wife, Rosie, in the first few days but to be honest, as a young boy with much to explore, I took little notice of a char and maid, identically dressed in wraparound aprons with hair tied in headscarves like turbans around their heads: a fashion carried over from the War when women worked in factories or the land army. My first recollection of Rosie is of her pushing her husband’s wheelbarrow while he limped alongside.
Perhaps Charlie spoke to me. I don’t remember. All I remember is Rosie’s smile. For in that instant I saw no one but her. Her loose hair fell in a tumble of auburn curls over the shoulders of a cream summer blouse. Her complexion was ruddy and freckled by the sun. She was certainly a pretty girl and bonny too. In the eyes of an eight-year-old, she was the most beautiful thing ever seen. Rosie regarded me with laughing pale eyes lit by dark lashes, and smiled saying: ‘Hello my lovely and you must be the young master. I’m Rosie.’
Or some such words.
I blushed and stammered, replying with great solemnity, ‘Horatio’
‘My word that’s a bit a grand old name isn’t it. I think I’ll call you Harry.’
So Harry it was. And though delighted, I kept it to myself as Mother would have been furious.
Most days found me in the garden. I think Mother and Nanny were relieved Charlie took a shine to me and let me help, although I think hinder is the more apt word. For an active boy at a loose end, being in the fresh air and out of trouble was more than they hoped for.
Rosie came to lend a hand after she and Lucy finished their duties. According to Rosie, Lucy harboured ambitions to train as a pastry chef and took every opportunity to visit her aunt in the kitchen. Of course this meant Rosie often brought treats: a double delight in my eyes.
Mid-afternoon, when the heat became unendurable, Rosie appeared with a billie of strong white tea, three enamel mugs, a tin of sandwiches and whatever confection Lucy was experimenting with. Together we would settle in the potting shed to eat and pass the time. I learned a lot about gardening, which I forgot, and a lot more about Rosie, which I remembered. Including the strange tale I am about to relate.
The heat had been building since early morning this particular day so it was no surprise when a mid-afternoon thunderstorm broke in torrents. Charlie and I dashed for the potting shed. Or rather I dashed while Charlie gamely limped behind muttering vehemently under his breath. I learned some very interesting words that afternoon.
Rosie joined us a little later. The huge black umbrella borrowed from the house kept her and the basket of egg sandwiches, warm scones and dishes of butter and jam quite dry. We sat for a while, thoughtfully chewing our lunch as lightening bleached the trees at the end of the garden. Unable to speak for the noise of the rain battering the tin roof, we settled for shivering theatrically at each peal of thunder rumbling overhead.
Like all summer storms it was soon over. We sat together, torpid in the humid heat building in the small shed: too full to move; too lazy to speak. Charlie’s heavy eyelids dropped once, twice and he was gone, head bobbing back and forth to his gentle snoring. Rosie nudged me and ginned. ‘Poor lamb, up half the night, leg giving him gyp with the damp.’
I didn’t know what to say.
‘Here. Lovely do you want to hear a story?’
‘I’m too old for stories!’ I protested, bridling; thinking she thought me a child.
‘Not this one, lovely,’ she laughed merrily, and began. ‘Our family has lived in Cornwall for ever. We’re almost part of the landscape you might say and well, some of our stories have been passed down for generations. ’
As the long vowels of her soft southwest accent rolled over the space between us and crashed against me with the force of Atlantic breakers on the cliffs of Tintagel, I sunk into rapture.
‘One’s about a handsome young farmer who married a fairy wife. They were such a loving couple, the happiest in the county, it was said. Over the years she bore him many children, strong handsome sons and pretty, pretty girls.
‘As the years passed, a canker crept between them. For he grew old, as men do, while she stayed young, as fairies do. He was angry all the time, finding fault with her, until, I suppose, her love died, murdered some would say.
‘Or perhaps it was simply the pain of watching the husband and children she cherished grow old and infirm; knowing death drew ever closer and there was nothing she could do to stay the reaper’s hand. One day, unable to bear life any longer, her heart broke and she left without a backward glance.
She wasn’t seen again until years later, at a christening by an old man who knew her when he was a youngster. Among the usual fairy godmother gifts of beauty, health and a sweet disposition, she gave a green silk shawl, saying it would help the tiny baby remember her heritage.
‘When the girl was sixteen she ran away, said to have gone to the fairies. There is a portrait of her hanging on our landing by the stairs, painted for her birthday it’s said. I was the spitting image of her, or so my Nan maintained.
‘Anyways, when I was about the same age as you, there was a terrible commotion in the village, men shouting, women crying, everyone angry. I was kept in the house under the supervision of my Nan while my mum and aunties were out doing whatever they were doing. Whatever it was Nan wouldn’t tell me; said I was too young.
‘Now ‘though people don’t always mean to talk in front of you, when you’re small they forget you’re there. It happened a baby had gone, disappeared from his crib, with a strange, squawking squint-eyed brat left in his place. The poor mother was out of her mind. She’d only left him outside to get some fresh air.
‘In our village we all was related one way or another, so the grief hit everyone hard. Great-grandma was over seventy and she was furious. I couldn’t understand it, for you could not meet a sweeter old lady. I absolutely adored her. We all did.
‘So there’s my mum and aunties weeping and wailing round the kitchen table and Great-grandma sitting in the old armchair, biding her peace but fuming all the same, when eventually she stands tall and announces: Well, I for one am not standing for this nonsense!
‘Mother: called out Nan.
‘Never you mind mother, Agnes, you go and get your John and tell him to fit the pony and trap. There’s work to be done this night. Off shoots Nan, meek like a girl, and then doesn’t my Aunt May see me staring and come to shuffle me off to bed.
‘When I heard a ruckus in the courtyard I guessed Uncle John and Great-grandma was back. Curious, I snuck to my favourite place on the stairs to see if I could overhear anything. Great-grandma was too breathless, so I heard nothing; crouched all the way up on the stairs like I was. Suddenly, she points at me and everyone turned round!
‘Well, my heart stopped dead in my chest, I can tell you. I flew into bed, but when no-one came, I realised they hadn’t seen me, so Great-grandma must’ve been pointing at something else. Next morning I saw Great-grandma was pointing at the portrait of the young girl who looked like me. The one who’d vanished a hundred year before. Nan, coming creepin up behind me, fair made me jump when she said she hoped I never caused the same heartache.
‘After spending years wondering what she meant, I asked when I was old enough. She told me that night Great-grandma went to fetch the ugly brat from the woman’s house. Great-grandma was a sly one: sly as the fairies themselves. Don’t she lean over the crib telling the changeling child what a handsome fellow he was and then, as if to coochie-coo him under the chin, lay a length of iron chain across him.
‘Now there is one thing fairies cannot stand and that is the feel of iron. The brat screeched and squirmed in fury, hissing and spitting and calling out profanities that would make a landlord blush. And it supposed to have been only a babe in arms!
‘Calmly, from her pocket, Great-grandma took a bottle of holy water collected direct from the font of the church and splashed the little fiend. It burns it burns: it screamed. Suddenly it changed. Legs and arms telescoping like accordions. Face gnarled and twisted in spite, with teeth like tombstones, large enough to take off a finger. While hair, like dirty wool on a thorn bush, sprouted on his head.
‘Now, said Great-grandma in no mood to brook mither, there’s more where that came from unless you behave. So where do we take you home?
‘Well if looks could kill, Great-grandma would’ve been stone dead a dozen times over. But seeing she meant business, it hissed out ‘the aul’ place’ and folded itself right back up in the blink of an eye, until once more a new born babe was lying in the crib, only given away by a terrible squint in the left eye.
‘Seeing the look on my face Rosie gently laughed. ‘I know. I looked the same way when Nan told me. You know what, I reckon she made that bit up, for God love her that woman would have overegged the puddin to a priest giving her last rights!’
‘So now the changeling knew what is what, and who he was dealing with, Great-grandma got Uncle John to bind it in the chain and they it took it in the pony and trap to old to Becton Tor Manor, an old mansion that was a hospital in the Great War but had now fallen to ruin. It was said to be haunted and Great-grandma now knew it was … by fairies!
‘You see, the queen had left one of her own as a changeling. The fairies had been dying for hundreds of years and their children were often sick or grew wrong. Great-grandma thought the queen took the baby out of desperation. But once she saw her own poor sick mite, her mother’s love would prevail. She knew fairies take what they want and think about it later. However, she took the great big iron bar we kept in the barn to put across the threshold so the queen could not trap inside her when the gates of the fairy world closed at cock-crow.
‘When Great-grandma met the fairy queen, she said it was the girl in the picture and she’d not aged a day! But Nan said she knew that all along because the fairy queen kept a close eye on our family and Great-grandma had met her many times before.
A brief bio for Horatio Grin
Horatio William Grin was born 29 July 1940 in the village of Kingstone Warren, Oxfordshire, in the shadow of White Horse Hill. His parents were William George Grin, Barrister and latterly King’s Counsel and Beatrice Caroline Grin nee Lough, a younger daughter of Squire Horatio Arthur Lough of the Oxfordshire Loughs.
After matriculating from Whychwood and Rye School, where he stayed as a day boarder, Horatio Grin went up to Girton and Caius College at Cambridge to read Particulate Physics, graduating with First Class Honours. For his Masters he read Russian and Mandarin. Eschewing a career with his alma mater, he joined military intelligence at the age of 23. Little is known of him for the next twenty-five years except for small snippets from diverse sources.
H. W. Grin is credited as a Research Assistant in the abstract of a paper from a team headed by Professor Able Epstein of Cambridge University. Professor Epstein acted as a Senior Researcher at the Los Alomos Facility in New Mexico during the atomic bomb tests. The research paper is not particularly significant, a description of the projected paths of post-collision sub-atomic particles.
His latest work on fairy lore called ‘Fairies: a Hidden History, the Collected Essays of Horatio Grin’, again containing no publisher’s mark, is a series of articles rumoured to be from the Archives of the Magi Temple of Central England. The essays are remarkable for effortlessly marrying ancient mythology and fairy folklore with the latest discoveries in the scientific disciplines of archaeology, genetics and physics. They are currently the subject of controversy among different schools of occult thought.
Please follow the link to read the full biography of this remarkable man: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2017/06/19/smorgasbord-guest-writer-19th-june-to-27th-june-author-horatio-grin-biography/
You can read all the previous essays by Horatio Grin in this directory:https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/guest-writer-fairies-the-hidden-history-by-horatio-grin/
As always Horatio would appreciate your feedback.. thanks Sally