The Fairy Midwife
Once in the town of Nether Witton there lived a midwife named Maggie Brown
who was known far and wide for her skills. She had hands like clouds,
and a heart full of healing, or so it was said the countryside around.
One night, when the moon
was gone behind shreds of clouds, a messenger came to her door. "My
master's wife is in child bed, but the child will not come."
"Do I have your master's
name?" asked Maggie.
"Ye shall have neither his
name nor his dwelling," said the messenger, "for ye must be carried there
blindfolded, and back as well."
Maggie did not know the messenger,
nor did she like his manner, but when he showed her the size of the purse
and the number of coins she was to have for her work, she consented.
He blindfolded her and set
her up on a great steed. Then he climbed on behind. And off they went,
the wind blowing hard against them, the horse so fine an animal that she
felt neither 'ground nor gravel beneath its feet.
The journey was short, and
when Maggie was helped down and the bandage removed from her eyes, she
saw that she was in a big room. There were tapestries on the wall and rushes
on the floor, a cozy fire in the hearth and metalwork lanterns shedding
On a great bed that was hung with embroidered draperies
lay the master's wife, and she was laboring hard but to no avail.
"There, there, my dove; there, there, my hinny,"
said Maggie, for she always spoke to the women that way till after they
gave birth, and then it was "my mistress," and my lady."
The woman looked up groggily, saw Maggie, and
relaxed. So Maggie rolled up her sleeves and went to work. Within minutes
the baby was safely born.
Maggie wrapped the child - a little girl it was
- in swaddling and was about to place her in her mother's arms when an
old nurse who had been standing by handed Maggie a box of ointment.
"Rub the child all over with this," said the old
woman. "It is the custom of the house. But be careful ye do not get it
in yer eye, for it will go ill with ye."
So Maggie unwrapped the babe and rubbed it well
with the ointment as instructed. But as she was working, she felt an overwhelming
itching in her left eye and, without thinking, she rubbed it with the very
finger that had ointment on it.
At that same moment, all that she saw with that
eye changed. No longer was she in a room of a grand house, hung about with
tapestries. Instead she saw truly that she was in a fairy mound. The cozy
fire was the hollowed trunk of an old oak. Glowworms were what she had
mistaken for tapers, moss for tapestries. The bed was a pile of straw hung
about with dead leaves. The lady in the straw was a fairy whose gauze Wings
were a bit tattered and torn.
Maggie did not show her amazement for fear of'
being found out. Instead she simply wrapped the baby back up in its swaddling
and handed it to the fairy mother in the bed, saying: "Your child, my lady,
and may you have good fortune of her."
Then the messenger covered
up her eyes again, threw her up atop the great horse, and away they rode,
over broom and briar but never touching the ground.
The fairy coin Maggie was given for her work proved
true. And all should have been well. But a few weeks later, on a marketing
day, Maggie chanced to see the old fairy nurse wandering among the country
women at the fair. She was gliding about and taking this from one basket,
that from another, passing a little wooden scraper along the rolls of'
butter, and dipping a little wooden ladle in the milk jugs with no one
Without thinking of the consequences, Maggie nodded
at the old Woman as one would to an acquaintance. The old woman nodded
back. And which eye, Maggie Brown, do ye see me with?"
"Why, this one," Maggie innocently replied, pointing
to the left eye.
The fairy nurse leaned over and blew on the eye,
and the cold breath clouded it over forever. Then the fairy vanished, and
Maggie was left, one sighted and forlorn, at the fair.