In the old days, when spinning was the constant employment
of women, the spinning-wheel had its presiding genius or fairy.
Her Border name was Habetrot, and Mr. Wilkie tells the
following legend about her: —
A Selkirkshire matron had one fair daughter, who loved play
better than work, wandering in the meadows and lanes better
than the spinning-wheel and distaff. The mother was heartily
vexed at this taste, for in those days no lassie had any chance of
a good husband unless she was an industrious spinster. So she
cajoled, threatened, even heather daughter, but all to no purpose;
the girl remained what her mother called her, " an idle cuttie."
At last, one spring morning, the gudewife gave her seven
heads of lint, saying she would take no excuse; they must be
returned in three days spun into yarn. The girl saw her mother
was in earnest, so she plied her distaff as well as she could; but
her little hands were all untaught, and by the evening of the
second day a very small part of her task was accomplished.
She cried herself to sleep that night, and in the morning,
throwing aside her work in despair, she strolled out into the
fields, all sparkling with dew. At last she reached a flowery
knoll, at whose feet ran a little burn, shaded with woodbine and
wild roses ; and there she sat down, burying her face in her
hands. When she looked up, she was surprised to see by the
margin of the stream an old woman, quite unknown to her,
"drawing out the thread" as she basked in the sun. There
was nothing very remarkable in her appearance, except the
length and thickness of her lips, only she was seated on a self-
bored stone. The girl rose, went to the good dame, and gave
her a friendly greeting, but could not help inquiring what made
her so "lang lipit." "Spinning thread, ma hinnie," said the
old woman, pleased with her friendliness, and by no means re-
senting the personal remark. It must be noticed that spinners
used constantly to wet their fingers with their lips as they drew
the thread from the rock or distaiF. " Ah ! " said the girl, " I
should be spinning too, but it's a' to no purpose, I sail ne'er do
my task; " on which the old woman proposed to do it for her.
Overjoyed, the maiden ran to fetch her lint, and placed it in her
new friend's hand, asking her. name, and where she could call
for the yarn in the evening; but she received no reply; the old
woman's form passed away from her among the trees and bushes,
and disappeared. The girl, much bewildered, wandered about a
little, set down to rest, and finally fell asleep by the little
When she awoke she was surprised to find that it was evening.
The glories of the western sky were passing into twilight grey.
Causleen, or the evening star," was beaming with silvery light,
soon to be lost in the moon's increasing splendour. While
watching these changes, the maiden was startled by the sound of
an uncouth voice, which jseemed to issue from below a self-bored
stone, close beside her. She laid her ear to the stone, and dis-
tinctly heard these words: "Little kens the wee lassie on the
brae-head that ma name's Habetrot." Then looking down the
hole slie saw her friend, the old dame, walking backwards and
forwards in a deep cavern among a group of spinsters all seated
on colludie stones (a kind of white pebble found in rivers), and
busy with distaff and spindle. An unsightly company they
were, wi th lips mq re_or^ less disfigured by their employment, as
were old Habetrot's. The same peculiafily^extendedToTHOther
of the sisterhood, who sat in a distant corner reeling the yarn ;
and she was marked, in addition, by grey eyes, which seemed
starting from her head, and a long hooked nose.
While the girl was still watching, she heard Habetrot address
this singular being by the name of Scantlie Mab, and tell her to
bundle up the yarn, for it was time the young lassie should give
it to her mother. Delighted to hear this, our listener got up and
turned homewards, nor was she long kept in suspense. Habe-
trot soon overtook her, and placed the yarn in her hands. " Oh,
what can I do for ye in return ? " exclaimed she, in deliglit.
" Naething — naething," replied the dame; "but dinna tell yer
mither whae spun the yarn."
Scarcely crediting her good fortune, our heroine went home,
•where she found her mother had been busy making sausters, or
black puddings, and hanging them up in the lum to dry, and
then, tired out, had retired to rest. Finding herself very hungry
after her long day on the knoll, the girl took down pudding
after pudding, fried and ate them, aud at last went to bed too.
The mother was up first the next morning, and when she came
into the kitchen and found her sausters all gone, and the seven
hanks of yarn lying beautifully smooth and bright upon the
table, her mingled feelings of vexation and delight were too
much for her. She ran out of the house wildly crying out —
" Ma daughter's spun se'en, se'en, se'en,
Ma daughter's eaten se'en, se'en' se'en
And all before daylight !"
A laird, who chanced to be riding by, heard the exclamation
but could not understand it; so he rode up and asked the gude-
wife what was the matter, on which she broke out again —
" Ma daughter's spun se'en, se'en, se'en,
Ma daughter's eaten se'en, se'en, se'en
before daylight ; and, if ye dinna believe me, why come in and
see it." The laird's curiosity was roused;- he alighted and went
into the cottage, where he saw the yarn, and admired it so much,
he begged to see the spinner.
The mother dragged in the blushing girl. Her rustic grace
soon won his heart, and he avowed he was lonely without a wife,
and had long been in search of one who was a good spinner."
So their troth was plighted, and the wedding took place soon
afterwards, the bride stifling her apprehensions that she should
not prove so deft at her spinning-wheel as her lover expected.
And once more old Habetrot came to her aid. "Whether the
good dame, herself so notable, was as indulgent to all idle
damsels does not appear — certainly she did not fail this little pet
of hers. " Bring your bonnie bridegroom to my cell," said she
to the young bride soon after her marriage ; " he shall see what
comes o' spinning, and never will he tie you to the spinning
Accordingly the bride led her husband the next day to the
flowery knoll, and bade him look through the self-bored stone.
Great was his his surprise to behold Habetrot dancing and
jumping over her rock, singing all the time this ditty to her
sisterhood, while they kept time with their spindles : — '
We who liye in dreary den,
Are both rank and foul to see,
Hidden frae the glorious sun,
That teems the fair earth's canopie:
Ever must our evenings lone
Be spent on the coUudie stone.
Cheerless is the evening grey,
When Causleen hath died away,
But ever bright and ever fair,
Are they who breathe this evening air;
And lean upon the self -bored stone
Unseen by all but me alone.
The song ended, Scantlie Mab asked Habetrot what she meant
by her last line, " Unseen by all but me alone." " There is ane,"
replied Habetrot, " whom I bid to come here at this hour, and
he has heard my song through the self-bored stone." So saying
she rose, opened another door, which was concealed by the
roots of an old tree, and invited the bridal pair to come in and
see her family.
The laird was astonished at the weird-looking company, as he
well might be, and inquired of one after another the cause of the
strange distortion of their lips. In a different tone of voice, and
with a difierent twist of the mouth, each answered that it was
occasioned by spinning. At least they tried to say so, but one
grunted out "Nakasind," and other " Owkasaand," while a
third murmured " 0-a-o-send." All, however, conveyed the fact
to the bridegroom's understanding; while Habetrot slily hinted,
that, if his wife were aUo wed to spin, her pretty lips would grow
out of shape too, and her pretty face get an ugsome look. So
before he left the cave he protested his little wife should never
touch a spinning-wheel, and he kept his word. She used to
wander in the meadows by his side, or ride behind him over the
hills, and all the flax grown on his land was sent to old Habetrot
to be converted into yarn.^