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Title: Wood Magic - A Fable
Author: Jefferies, Richard, 1848-1887
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Wood Magic - A Fable" ***

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Transcriber's note:

      Obvious minor typesetting errors in punctuation have been
      silently corrected.

      One sentence which began  "The gale had cracked a very
      large bow..." has been changed for consistency with the
      rest of the paragraph to read "The gale had cracked a very
      large bough..."



WOOD MAGIC

A Fable

by

RICHARD JEFFERIES

Author of "The Gamekeeper at Home," "Field and Hedgerow," "The Toilers
of the Field," Etc.



[Illustration]


[Illustration]



New Impression

Longmans, Green, and Co.
39 Paternoster Row, London
New York, Bombay, and Calcutta
1907

All rights reserved



_BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE._

_First published, 2 vols., post 8vo, by Cassell & Co., in 1881; Reissued
by them in one volume in 1882._

_'Silver Library' Edition, June, 1883. Reprinted September, 1894;
January, 1899; February, 1903; April, 1907._



_Inscribed to Harold._



CONTENTS.



      I. Sir Bevis
     II. At Home
    III. Adventures of the Weasel
     IV. Brook-Folk
      V. Kapchack
     VI. The Squirrel
    VII. The Courtiers
   VIII. The Emperor Choo Hoo
     IX. The Council
      X. Traitors
     XI. The Storm in the Night
    XII. The Old Oak.--The King's Despair
   XIII. The Courtship in the Orchard
    XIV. The Great Battle
     XV. Palace Secrets
    XVI. The New King
   XVII. Sir Bevis and the Wind



PREFATORY NOTE.


Little need be said as to this re-issue of _Wood Magic_. It was
originally published in two volumes, post 8vo, by Messrs. Cassell & Co.
in 1881, and re-issued by them in one volume in 1882. The present
edition is reprinted from the original edition. The frontispiece and
vignette are drawn by the accomplished lady who chooses to be known as
E. V. B., whose illustrations to the _Story Without an End_ charmed many
boys and girls years ago, and I hope still fascinate their children.

C. J. L.



WOOD MAGIC.



CHAPTER I.

SIR BEVIS.


One morning as little "Sir" Bevis [such was his pet name] was digging in
the farmhouse garden, he saw a daisy, and throwing aside his spade, he
sat down on the grass to pick the flower to pieces. He pulled the
pink-tipped petals off one by one, and as they dropped they were lost.
Next he gathered a bright dandelion, and squeezed the white juice from
the hollow stem, which drying presently, left his fingers stained with
brown spots. Then he drew forth a bennet from its sheath, and bit and
sucked it till his teeth were green from the sap. Lying at full length,
he drummed the earth with his toes, while the tall grass blades tickled
his cheeks.

Presently, rolling on his back, he drummed again with his heels. He
looked up at the blue sky, but only for a moment, because the glare of
light was too strong in his eyes. After a minute, he turned on his side,
thrust out one arm, placed his head on it, and drew up one knee, as if
going to sleep. His little brown wrist, bared by the sleeve shortening
as he extended his arm, bent down the grass, and his still browner
fingers played with the blades, and every now and then tore one off.

A flutter of wings sounded among the blossom on an apple-tree close by,
and instantly Bevis sat up, knowing it must be a goldfinch thinking of
building a nest in the branches. If the trunk of the tree had not been
so big, he would have tried to climb it at once, but he knew he could
not do it, nor could he see the bird for the leaves and bloom. A puff of
wind came and showered the petals down upon him; they fell like
snowflakes on his face and dotted the grass.

Buzz! A great bumble-bee, with a band of red gold across his back, flew
up, and hovered near, wavering to and fro in the air as he stayed to
look at a flower.

Buzz! Bevis listened, and knew very well what he was saying. It was:
"This is a sweet little garden, my darling; a very pleasant garden; all
grass and daisies, and apple-trees, and narrow patches with flowers and
fruit-trees one side, and a wall and currant-bushes another side, and a
low box-hedge and a haha, where you can see the high mowing grass quite
underneath you; and a round summer-house in the corner, painted as blue
inside as a hedge-sparrow's egg is outside; and then another haha with
iron railings, which you are always climbing up, Bevis, on the fourth
side, with stone steps leading down to a meadow, where the cows are
feeding, and where they have left all the buttercups standing as tall
as your waist, sir. The gate in the iron railings is not fastened, and
besides, there is a gap in the box-hedge, and it is easy to drop down
the haha wall, but that is mowing grass there. You know very well you
could not come to any harm in the meadow; they said you were not to go
outside the garden, but that's all nonsense, and very stupid. _I_ am
going outside the garden, Bevis. Good-morning, dear." Buzz! And the
great bumble-bee flew slowly between the iron railings, out among the
buttercups, and away up the field.

Bevis went to the railings, and stood on the lowest bar; then he opened
the gate a little way, but it squeaked so loud upon its rusty hinges
that he let it shut again. He walked round the garden along beside the
box-hedge to the patch by the lilac trees; they were single lilacs,
which are much more beautiful than the double, and all bowed down with a
mass of bloom. Some rhubarb grew there, and to bring it up the faster,
they had put a round wooden box on it, hollowed out from the sawn butt
of an elm, which was rotten within and easily scooped. The top was
covered with an old board, and every time that Bevis passed he lifted up
the corner of the board and peeped in, to see if the large red, swelling
knobs were yet bursting.

One of these round wooden boxes had been split and spoilt, and half of
it was left lying with the hollow part downwards. Under this shelter a
toad had his house. Bevis peered in at him, and touched him with a twig
to make him move an inch or two, for he was so lazy, and sat there all
day long, except when it rained. Sometimes the toad told him a story,
but not very often, for he was a silent old philosopher, and not very
fond of anybody. He had a nephew, quite a lively young fellow, in the
cucumber frame on the other side of the lilac bushes, at whom Bevis also
peered nearly every day after they had lifted the frame and propped it
up with wedges.

The gooseberries were no bigger than beads, but he tasted two, and then
a thrush began to sing on an ash-tree in the hedge of the meadow.
"Bevis! Bevis!" said the thrush, and he turned round to listen: "My
dearest Bevis, have you forgotten the meadow, and the buttercups, and
the sorrel? You know the sorrel, don't you, that tastes so pleasant if
you nibble the leaf? And I have a nest in the bushes, not very far up
the hedge, and you may take just one egg; there are only two yet. But
don't tell any more boys about it, or we shall not have one left. That
is a very sweet garden, but it is very small. I like all these fields to
fly about in, and the swallows fly ever so much farther than I can; so
far away and so high, that I cannot tell you how they find their way
home to the chimney. But they will tell you, if you ask them.
Good-morning! I am going over the brook."

Bevis went to the iron railings and got up two bars, and looked over;
but he could not yet make up his mind, so he went inside the
summer-house, which had one small round window. All the lower part of
the blue walls was scribbled and marked with pencil, where he had
written and drawn, and put down his ideas and notes. The lines were
somewhat intermingled, and crossed each other, and some stretched out
long distances, and came back in sharp angles. But Bevis knew very well
what he meant when he wrote it all. Taking a stump of cedar pencil from
his pocket, one end of it much gnawn, he added a few scrawls to the
inscriptions, and then stood on the seat to look out of the round
window, which was darkened by an old cobweb.

Once upon a time there was a very cunning spider--a very cunning spider
indeed. The old toad by the rhubarb told Bevis there had not been such a
cunning spider for many summers; he knew almost as much about flies as
the old toad, and caught such a great number, that the toad began to
think there would be none left for him. Now the toad was extremely fond
of flies, and he watched the spider with envy, and grew more angry about
it every day.

As he sat blinking and winking by the rhubarb in his house all day long,
the toad never left off thinking, thinking, thinking about the spider.
And as he kept thinking, thinking, thinking, so he told Bevis, he
recollected that he knew a great deal about a good many other things
besides flies. So one day, after several weeks of thinking, he crawled
out of his house in the sunshine, which he did not like at all, and went
across the grass to the iron railings, where the spider had then got his
web. The spider saw him coming, and being very proud of his cleverness,
began to taunt and tease him.

"Your back is all over warts, and you are an old toad," he
said. "You are so old, that I heard the swallows saying their
great-great-great-grandmothers, when they built in the chimney, did
not know when you were born. And you have got foolish, and past doing
anything, and so stupid that you hardly know when it is going to rain.
Why, the sun is shining bright, you stupid old toad, and there isn't a
chance of a single drop falling. You look very ugly down there in the
grass. Now, don't you wish that you were me and could catch more flies
than you could eat? Why, I can catch wasps and bees, and tie them up so
tight with my threads that they cannot sting nor even move their wings,
nor so much as wriggle their bodies. I am the very cleverest and most
cunning spider that ever lived."

"Indeed, you are," replied the toad. "I have been thinking so all the
summer; and so much do I admire you, that I have come all this way,
across in the hot sun, to tell you something."

"Tell _me_ something!" said the spider, much offended, "_I_ know
everything."

"Oh, yes, honoured sir," said the toad; "you have such wonderful eyes,
and such a sharp mind, it is true that you know everything about the
sun, and the moon, and the earth, and flies. But, as you have studied
all these great and important things, you could hardly see all the very
little trifles like a poor old toad."

"Oh, yes, I can. I know everything--everything!"

"But, sir," went on the toad so humbly, "this is such a little--such a
very little--thing, and a spider like you, in such a high position of
life, could not mind me telling you such a mere nothing."

"Well, I don't mind," said the spider--"you may go on, and tell me, if
you like."

"The fact is," said the toad, "while I have been sitting in my hole, I
have noticed that such a lot of the flies that come into this garden
presently go into the summer-house there, and when they are in the
summer-house, they always go to that little round window, which is
sometimes quite black with them; for it is the nature of flies to buzz
over glass."

"I do not know so much about that," said the spider; "for I have never
lived in houses, being an independent insect; but it is possible you may
be right. At any rate, it is not of much consequence. You had better go
up into the window, old toad." Now this was a sneer on the part of the
spider.

"But I can't climb up into the window," said the toad; "all I can do is
to crawl about the ground, but you can run up a wall quickly. How I do
wish I was a spider, like you. Oh, dear!" And then the toad turned
round, after bowing to the clever spider, and went back to his hole.

Now the spider was secretly very much mortified and angry with himself,
because he had not noticed this about the flies going to the window in
the summer-house. At first he said to himself that it was not true; but
he could not help looking that way now and then, and every time he
looked, there was the window crowded with flies. They had all the garden
to buzz about in, and all the fields, but instead of wandering under
the trees, and over the flowers, they preferred to go into the
summer-house and crawl over the glass of the little window, though it
was very dirty from so many feet. For a long time, the spider was too
proud to go there too; but one day such a splendid blue-bottle fly got
in the window and made such a tremendous buzzing, that he could not
resist it any more.

So he left his web by the railings, and climbed up the blue-painted
wall, over Bevis's writings and marks, and spun such a web in the window
as had never before been seen. It was the largest and the finest, and
the most beautifully-arranged web that had ever been made, and it caught
such a number of flies that the spider grew fatter every day. In a
week's time he was so big that he could no longer hide in the crack he
had chosen, he was quite a giant; and the toad came across the grass one
night and looked at him, but the spider was now so bloated he would not
recognise the toad.

But one morning a robin came to the iron railings, and perched on the
top, and put his head a little on one side, to show his black eye the
better. Then he flew inside the summer-house, alighted in the window,
and gobbled up the spider in an instant. The old toad shut his eye and
opened it again, and went on thinking, for that was just what he knew
would happen. Ever so many times in his very long life he had seen
spiders go up there, but no sooner had they got fat than a robin or a
wren came in and ate them. Some of the clever spider's web was there
still when Bevis looked out of the window, all dusty and draggled, with
the skins and wings of some gnats and a dead leaf entangled in it.

As he looked, a white butterfly came along the meadow, and instantly he
ran out, flung open the gate, rushed down the steps, and taking no heed
of the squeak the gate made as it shut behind him, raced after the
butterfly.

The tall buttercups brushed his knees, and bent on either side as if a
wind was rushing through them. A bennet slipped up his knickerbockers
and tickled his leg. His toes only touched the ground, neither his heels
nor the hollow of his foot; and from so light a pressure the grass,
bowed but not crushed, rose up, leaving no more mark of his passage than
if a grasshopper had gone by.

Daintily fanning himself with his wings, the butterfly went before
Bevis, not yet knowing that he was chased, but sauntering along just
above the buttercups. He peeped as he flew under the lids of the
flowers' eyes, to see if any of them loved him. There was a glossy green
leaf which he thought he should like to feel, it looked so soft and
satin-like. So he alighted on it, and then saw Bevis coming, his hat on
the very back of his head, and his hand stretched out to catch him. The
butterfly wheeled himself round on the leaf, shut up his wings, and
seemed so innocent, till Bevis fell on his knee, and then under his
fingers there was nothing but the leaf. His cheek flushed, his eye lit
up, and away he darted again after the butterfly, which had got several
yards ahead before he could recover himself. He ran now faster than
ever.

"Race on," said the buttercups; "race on, Bevis; that butterfly disdains
us because we are so many, and all alike."

"Be quick," said a great moon-daisy to him; "catch him, dear. I asked
him to stay and tell me a story, but he would not."

"Never mind me," said the clover; "you may step on me if you like,
love."

"But just look at me for a moment, pet, as you go by," cried the purple
vetch by the hedge.

A colt in the field, seeing Bevis running so fast, thought he too must
join the fun, so he whisked his tail, stretched his long floundering
legs, and galloped away. Then the mare whinnied and galloped too, and
the ground shook under her heavy hoofs. The cows lifted their heads from
gathering the grass close round the slender bennets, and wondered why
any one could be so foolish as to rush about, when there was plenty to
eat and no hurry.

The cunning deceitful butterfly, so soon as Bevis came near, turned
aside and went along a furrow. Bevis, running in the furrow, caught his
foot in the long creepers of the crowfoot, and fell down bump, and
pricked his hand with a thistle. Up he jumped again, red as a peony, and
shouting in his rage, ran on so quickly that he nearly overtook the
butterfly. But they were now nearer the other hedge. The butterfly,
frightened at the shouting and Bevis's resolution, rose over the
brambles, and Bevis stopping short flung his hat at him. The hat did not
hit the butterfly, but the wind it made puffed him round, and so
frightened him, that he flew up half as high as the elms, and went into
the next field.

When Bevis looked down, there was his hat, hung on a branch of ash, far
beyond his reach. He could not touch the lowest leaf, jump as much as he
would. His next thought was a stone to throw, but there were none in the
meadow. Then he put his hand in his jacket pocket for his knife, to cut
a long stick. It was not in that pocket, nor in the one on the other
side, nor in his knickers. Now the knife was Bevis's greatest
treasure--his very greatest. He looked all round bewildered, and the
tears rose in his eyes.

Just then Pan, the spaniel, who had worked his head loose from the
collar and followed him, ran out of the hedge between Bevis's legs with
such joyful force, that Bevis was almost overthrown, and burst into a
fit of laughter. Pan ran back into the hedge to hunt, and Bevis, with
tears rolling down his cheeks into the dimples made by his smiles,
dropped on hands and knees and crept in after the dog under the briars.
On the bank there was a dead grey stick, a branch that had fallen from
the elms. It was heavy, but Bevis heaved it up, and pushed it through
the boughs and thrust his hat off.

Creeping out again, he put it on, and remembering his knife, walked out
into the field to search for it. When Pan missed him, he followed, and
presently catching scent of a rabbit, the spaniel rushed down a furrow,
which happened to be the very furrow where Bevis had tumbled. Going
after Pan, Bevis found his knife in the grass, where it had dropped when
shaken from his pocket by the jerk of his fall. He opened the single
blade it contained at once, and went back to the hedge to cut a stick.
As he walked along the hedge, he thought the briar was too prickly to
cut, and the thorn was too hard, and the ash was too big, and the willow
had no knob, and the elder smelt so strong, and the sapling oak was
across the ditch, and out of reach, and the maple had such rough bark.
So he wandered along a great way through that field and the next, and
presently saw a nut-tree stick that promised well, for the sticks grew
straight, and not too big.

He jumped into the ditch, climbed half up the mound, and began to cut
away at one of the rods, leaning his left arm on the moss-grown stole.
The bark was easily cut through, and he soon made a notch, but then the
wood seemed to grow harder, and the chips he got out were very small.
The harder the wood, the more determined Bevis became, and he cut and
worked away with such force that his chest heaved, his brow was set and
frowning, and his jacket all green from rubbing against the hazel.
Suddenly something passed between him and the light. He looked up, and
there was Pan, whom he had forgotten, in the hedge looking down at him.
"Pan! Pan!" cried Bevis. Pan wagged his tail, but ran back, and Bevis,
forsaking his stick, scrambled up into the stole, then into the mound,
and through a gap into the next field. Pan was nowhere to be seen.

There was a large mossy root under a great oak, and, hot with his
cutting, Bevis sat down upon it. Along came a house martin, the kind of
swallow that has a white band across his back, flying very low, and only
just above the grass. The swallow flew to and fro not far from Bevis,
who watched it, and presently asked him to come closer. But the swallow
said: "I shall not come any nearer, Bevis. Don't you remember what you
did last year, sir? Don't you remember Bill, the carter's boy, put a
ladder against the wall, and you climbed up the ladder, and put your
paw, all brown and dirty, into my nest and took my eggs? And you tried
to string them on a bennet, but the bennet was too big, so you went
indoors for some thread. And you made my wife and me dreadfully unhappy,
and we said we would never come back any more to your house, Bevis."

"But you have come back, swallow."

"Yes, we have come back--just once more; but if you do it again we shall
go away for ever."

"But I won't do it again; no, that I won't! Do come near."

So the swallow came a little nearer, only two yards away, and flew
backwards and forwards, and Bevis could hear the snap of his beak as he
caught the flies.

"Just a little bit nearer still," said he. "Let me stroke your lovely
white back."

"Oh, no, I can't do that. I don't think you are quite safe, Bevis. Why
don't you gather the cowslips?"

Bevis looked up and saw that the field was full of cowslips--yellow with
cowslips. "I will pick every one," said he, "and carry them all back to
my mother."

"You cannot do that," said the swallow, laughing, "you will not try long
enough."

"I _hate_ you!" cried Bevis in a passion, and flung his knife, which was
in his hand, at the bird. The swallow rose up, and the knife whizzed by
and struck the ground.

"I told you you were not safe," said the swallow over his head; "and I
am sure you won't pick half the cowslips."

Bevis picked up his knife and put it in his pocket; then he began to
gather the cowslips, and kept on for a quarter of an hour as fast as
ever he could, till both hands were full. There was a rustle in the
hedge, and looking up he saw Pan come out, all brown with sand sticking
to his coat. He shook himself, and sent the sand flying from him in a
cloud, just like he did with the water when he came up out of the pond.
Then he looked at Bevis, wagged his tail, cried "Yowp!" and ran back
into the hedge again.

Bevis rushed to the spot, and saw that there was a large rabbits' hole.
Into this hole Pan had worked his way so far that there was nothing of
him visible but his hind legs and tail. Bevis could hear him panting in
the hole, he was working so hard to get at the rabbit, and tearing with
his teeth at the roots to make the hole bigger. Bevis clapped his hands,
dropping his cowslips, and called "Loo! Loo!" urging the dog on. The
sand came flying out behind Pan, and he worked harder and harder, as if
he would tear the mound to pieces.

Bevis sat down on the grass under the shadow of the oak, by a maple
bush, and taking a cowslip, began to count the spots inside it. It was
always five in all the cowslips--five brown little spots--that he was
sure of, because he knew he had five fingers on each hand. He lay down
at full length on his back, and looked up at the sky through the boughs
of the oak. It was very, very blue, and very near down. With a long
ladder he knew he could have got up there easily, and it looked so
sweet. "Sky," said Bevis, "I love you like I love my mother." He pouted
his lips, and kissed at it. Then turning a little on one side to watch
Pan, in an instant he fell firm asleep.

Pan put his head out of the hole to breathe two or three times, and
looked aside at Bevis, and seeing that he was still, went back to work
again. Two butterflies came fluttering along together. The swallow
returned, and flew low down along the grass near Bevis. The wind came
now and then, and shook down a shower of white and pink petals from a
crab-tree in the hedge. By-and-by a squirrel climbing from tree to tree
reached the oak, and stayed to look at Bevis beneath in the shadow. He
knew exactly how Bevis felt--just like he did himself when he went to
sleep.



CHAPTER II.

AT HOME.


"Yowp, yow; wow-wow!" The yelling of Pan woke Bevis, who jumped up, and
seeing the bailiff beating the spaniel with a stick, instantly, and
without staying the tenth of a second to rub his eyes or stretch
himself, rushed at the man and hit him with his doubled fists. As if he
had seen it in his sleep, Bevis understood what was taking place
immediately his eyelids opened. So the bailiff beat the dog, and Bevis
beat the bailiff. The noise made quite an echo against the thick hedges
and a high bank that was near. When the bailiff thought he had thrashed
Pan sufficiently, he turned round and looked down at Bevis, whose face
was red, and his knuckles sore with striking the bailiff's hard coat.

"How fess you be, measter," said the bailiff (meaning fierce), "you mind
as you don't hurt yourself. Look'ee here, there've bin a fine falarie
about you, zur." He meant that there had been much excitement when it
was found that Bevis was not in the garden, and was nowhere to be found.
Everybody was set to hunt for him.

First they thought of the brook, lest he should have walked in among the
flags that were coming up so green and strong. Then they thought of the
tallet over the stable,--perhaps he had climbed up there again from the
manger, over the heads of the great cart-horses, quietly eating their
hay, while he put his foot on the manger and then on the projecting
steps in the corner, and into the hayrack--and so up. He had done it
once before, and could not get down, and so the tallet was searched. One
man was sent to the Long Pond, with orders to look everywhere, and
borrow the punt and push in among the bulrushes.

Another was despatched to the Close, to gruffly inquire where the
cottage boys were, and what they had been doing, for Bevis was known to
hanker after their company, to go catching loach under the stones in the
stream that crossed the road, and creeping under the arch of the bridge,
and taking the moor-hens' eggs from the banks of the ponds where the
rushes were thick. Another was put on the pony, to gallop up the road
after the carter and his waggon, for he had set off that morning with a
load of hay for the hills that could be seen to the southward.

Running over every possible thing that Bevis could have done in his
mind, his papa remembered that he had lately taken to asking about the
road, and would not be satisfied till they had taken him up to the
sign-post--a mile beyond the village, and explained the meaning of it.
Some one had told him that it was the road to Southampton--the place
where the ships came. Now, Bevis was full of the ships, drawing them on
the blue wall of the summer-house, and floating a boat on the trough in
the cow-yard, and looking wistfully up the broad dusty highway, as if
he could see the masts and yards sixty miles away or more. Perhaps when
the carter went with the waggon that way, Bevis had slipped up the
footpath that made a short cut across the fields, and joined the waggon
at the cross-roads, that he might ride to the hills thinking to see the
sea on the other side.

And the bailiff, not to be behindhand, having just come in for his
lunch, ran out again without so much as wetting his stubbly white beard
in the froth of the drawn quart of ale, and made away as fast as his
stiff legs could carry him to where there was a steam ploughing engine
at work--a mile distant. The sight of the white steam, and the humming
of the fly-wheel, always set Bevis "on the jig," as the village folk
called it, to get to the machinery, and the smell of the cotton waste
and oil wafted on the wind was to him like the scent of battle to the
war-horse.

But Bevis was not in the tallet, nor the brook, nor among the bulrushes
of the Long Pond, nor under the bridge dabbling for loach, nor watching
the steam plough, and the cottage boys swore their hardest (and they
knew how to swear quite properly) that they had not seen him that
morning. But they would look for him, and forthwith eagerly started to
scour the fields and hedges. Meantime, Bevis, quite happy, was sleeping
under the oak in the shadow, with Pan every now and then coming out of
the rabbit-hole to snort out the sand that got into his nostrils.

But, by-and-by, when everything had been done and everybody was
scattered over the earth seeking for him, the bailiff came back from the
steam plough, weary with running, and hungry, thirsty, and cross. As he
passed through the yard he caught a glimpse of Pan's kennel, which was a
tub by the wood pile, and saw that the chain was lying stretched to its
full length. Pan was gone. At first the bailiff thought Bevis had loosed
him, and that he had got a clue. But when he came near, he saw that the
collar was not unbuckled; Pan had worked his head out, and so escaped.

The bailiff turned the collar over thoughtfully with his foot, and felt
his scanty white beard with his hard hand; and then he went back to the
cart-house. Up in the cart-house, on the ledge of the wall beneath the
thatch, there were three or four sticks, each about four feet long and
as thick as your thumb, with the bark on--some were ground ash, some
crab-tree, and one was hazel. This one was straight and as hard as could
be. These sticks were put there for the time when the cows were moved,
so that the men might find their sticks quick. Each had his stick, and
the bailiff's was the hazel one. With the staff in his hand the bailiff
set out straight across the grass, looking neither to the right nor the
left, but walking deliberately and without hesitation.

He got through a gap in one hedge, and then he turned to the corner
making towards the rabbit-burrows, for he guessed that Pan had gone
there. As he approached he saw Bevis sleeping, and smiled, for looking
for the dog he had found the boy. But first stepping softly up to Bevis,
and seeing that he was quite right and unhurt, only asleep, the bailiff
went to the hedge and thrust his staff into the hole where Pan was at
work.

Out came Pan, and instantly down came the rod. Pan cowered in the grass;
he was all over sand, which flew up in a cloud as the rod struck him
again. "Yowp!--yow--wow--wow!" and this row awoke Bevis.

Bevis battled hard for his dog, but the bailiff had had his lunch
delayed, and his peace of mind upset about the boy, and he was
resolutely relieving himself upon the spaniel. Now the hazel rod, being
dry and stiff, was like a bar of iron, and did not yield or bend in the
least, but made the spaniel's ribs rattle. Pan could not get low enough
into the grass; he ceased to howl, so great was the pain, but merely
whimpered, and the tears filled his brown eyes. At last the bailiff
ceased, and immediately Bevis pulled out his handkerchief, and sat down
on the grass and wiped away the spaniel's tears.

"Now, measter, you come along wi' I," said the bailiff, taking his hand.
Bevis would not come, saying he hated him. But when the bailiff told him
about the hunt there had been, and how the people were everywhere
looking for him, Bevis began to laugh, thinking it was rare fun.

"Take me 'pick-a-back,'" said he.

So the bailiff stooped and took him. "Gee-up!" said Bevis, punching his
broad back and kicking him to go faster. Pan, now quite forgotten, crept
along behind them.

Bevis listened to the lecture they gave him at home with a very bad
grace. He sulked and pouted, as if he had himself been the injured
party. But no sooner was he released from the dinner-table, than he was
down on his knees at his own particular corner cupboard, the one that
had been set apart for his toys and things ever since he could walk. It
was but a small cupboard, made across the angle of two walls, and with
one shelf only, yet it was bottomless, and always contained something
new.

There were the last fragments of the great box of wooden bricks, cut and
chipped, and notched and splintered by that treasure, his pocket-knife.
There was the tin box for the paste, or the worms in moss, when he went
fishing. There was the wheel of his old wheelbarrow, long since smashed
and numbered with the Noah's arks that have gone the usual way. There
was the brazen cylinder of a miniature steam-engine bent out of all
shape. There was the hammer-head made specially for him by the
blacksmith down in the village, without a handle, for people were tired
of putting new handles to it, he broke them so quickly. There was a
horse-shoe, and the iron catch of a gate, and besides these a boxwood
top, which he could not spin, but which he had payed away half the
savings in his money-box for, because he had seen it split the other
boys' tops in the road.

In one corner was a brass cannon, the touch-hole blackened by the
explosion of gunpowder, and by it the lock of an ancient pistol--the
lock only, and neither barrel nor handle. An old hunting-crop, some
feathers from pheasants' tails, part of a mole-trap, an old brazen
bugle, much battered, a wooden fig-box full of rusty nails, several
scraps of deal board and stumps of cedar pencil were heaped together in
confusion. But these were not all, nor could any written inventory
exhaust the contents, and give a perfect list of all that cupboard held.
There was always something new in it: Bevis never went there, but he
found something.

With the hunting-crop he followed the harriers and chased the doubling
hare; with the cannon he fought battles, such as he saw in the pictures;
the bugle, too, sounded the charge (the bailiff sometimes blew it in the
garden to please him, and the hollow "who-oo!" it made echoed over the
fields); with the deal boards and the rusty nails, and the hammer-head,
he built houses, and even cities. The jagged and splintered wooden
bricks, six inches long, were not bricks, but great beams and baulks of
timber; the wheel of the wheelbarrow was the centre of many curious
pieces of mechanism. He could see these things easily. So he sat down at
his cupboard and forgot the lecture instantly; the pout disappeared from
his lips as he plunged his hand into the inexhaustible cupboard.

"Bevis, dear," he heard presently, "you may have an apple."

Instantly, and without staying to shut the door on his treasures, he
darted upstairs--up two flights, with a clatter and a bang, burst open
the door, and was in the apple-room. It was a large garret or attic,
running half the length of the house, and there, in the autumn, the best
apples from the orchard were carried, and put on a thin layer of hay,
each apple apart from its fellow (for they ought not to touch), and each
particular sort, the Blenheim Oranges and the King Pippins, the Creepers
and the Grindstone Pippins (which grew nowhere else), divided from the
next sort by a little fence of hay.

The most of them were gone now, only a few of the keeping apples
remained, and from these Bevis, with great deliberation, chose the
biggest, measuring them by the eye and weighing them in his hand. Then
downstairs again with a clatter and a bang, down the second stairs this
time, past the gun-room, where the tools were kept, and a carpenter's
bench; then through the whole length of the ground floor from the
kitchen to the parlour slamming every door behind him, and kicking over
the chairs in front of him.

There he stayed half-a-minute to look at the hornet's nest under the
glass-case on the mantelpiece. The comb was built round a central pillar
or column, three stories one above the other, and it had been taken from
the willow tree by the brook, the huge hollow willow which he had twice
tried to chop down, that he might make a boat of it. Then out of doors,
and up the yard, and past the cart-house, when something moved in the
long grass under the wall. It was a weasel, caught in a gin.

The trap had been set by the side of a drain for rats, and the weasel
coming out, or perhaps frightened by footsteps, and hastening
carelessly, had been trapped. Bevis, biting his apple, looked at the
weasel, and the weasel said: "Sir Bevis, please let me out, this gin
hurts me so; the teeth are very sharp and the spring is very strong, and
the tar-cord is very stout, so that I cannot break it. See how the iron
has skinned my leg and taken off the fur, and I am in such pain. Do
please let me go, before the ploughboy comes, or he will hit me with a
stick, or smash me with a stone, or put his iron-shod heel on me; and I
have been a very good weasel, Bevis. I have been catching the horrid
rats that eat the barley-meal put for the pigs. Oh, let me out, the gin
hurts me so!"

Bevis put his foot on the spring, and was pressing it down, and the
weasel thought he was already free, and looked across at the wood pile
under which he meant to hide, when Bevis heard a little squeak close to
his head, and looked up and saw a mouse under the eaves of the
cart-house, peeping forth from a tiny crevice, where the mortar had
fallen from between the stones of the wall.

"Bevis, Bevis!" said the mouse, "don't you do it--don't you let that
weasel go! He is a most dreadful wicked weasel, and his teeth are ever
so much sharper than that gin. He does not kill the rats, because he is
afraid of them (unless he can assassinate one in his sleep), but he
murdered my wife and sucked her blood, and her body, all dry and
withered, is up in the beam there, if you will get a ladder and look.
And he killed all my little mouses, and made me very unhappy, and I
shall never be able to get another wife to live with me in this
cart-house while he is about. There is no way we can get away from him.
If we go out into the field he follows us there, and if we go into the
sheds he comes after us there, and he is a cruel beast, that wicked
weasel. You know you ate the partridge's eggs," added the mouse,
speaking to the weasel.

"It is all false," said the weasel. "But it is true that you ate the
wheat out of the ears in the wheat-rick, and you know what was the
consequence. If that little bit of wheat you ate had been thrashed, and
ground, and baked, and made into bread, then that poor girl would have
had a crust to eat, and would not have jumped into the river, and she
would have had a son, and he would have been a great man and fought
battles, just as Bevis does with his brazen cannon, and won great
victories, and been the pride of all the nation. But you ate those
particular grains of wheat that were meant to do all this, you wicked
little mouse. Besides which, you ran across the bed one night, and
frightened Bevis's mother."

"But I did not mean to," said the mouse; "and you did mean to kill my
wife, and you ate the partridge's eggs."

"And a very good thing I did," said the weasel. "Do you know what would
have happened, if I had not taken them? I did it all for good, and with
the best intentions. For if I had left the eggs one more day, there was
a man who meant to have stolen them all but one, which he meant to have
left to deceive the keeper. If he had stolen them, he would have been
caught, for the keeper was watching for him all the time, and he would
have been put to prison, and his children would have been hungry. So I
ate the eggs, and especially I ate every bit of the one the man meant to
have left."

"And why were you so particular about eating that egg?" asked Bevis.

"Because," said the weasel, "if that egg had come to a partridge chick,
and the chick had lived till the shooting-time came, then the sportsman
and his brother, when they came round, would have started it out of the
stubble, and the shot from the gun of the younger would have
accidentally killed the elder, and people would have thought it was done
to murder him for the sake of the inheritance."

"Now, is this true?" said Bevis.

"Yes, that it is; and I killed the mouse's wife also for the best of
reasons."

"You horrid wretch!" cried the mouse.

"Oh, you needn't call me a wretch," said the weasel; "I am sure you
ought to be grateful to me, for your wife was very jealous because you
paid so much attention to the Miss Mouse you want to marry now, and in
the night she meant to have gnawn your throat."

"And you frightened my mother," said Bevis, "by running across her bed
in the night;" and he began to press on the spring of the gin.

"Yes, that he did," said the weasel, overjoyed; "and he made a hole in
the boards of the floor, and it was down that hole that the
half-sovereign rolled and was lost, and the poor maid-servant sent away
because they thought she had stolen it."

"What do you say to that?" asked Bevis.

But the mouse was quite aghast and dumb-founded and began to think that
it was he after all who was in the wrong, so that for the moment he
could not speak. Just then Bevis caught sight of the colt that had come
up beside his mother, the cart mare, to the fence; and thinking that he
would go and try and stroke the pretty creature, Bevis started forward,
forgetting all about the weasel and the mouse. As he started, he pressed
the spring down, and in an instant the weasel was out, and had hobbled
across to the wood pile. When the mouse saw this, he gave a little
squeak of terror, and ran back to his hiding-place.

But when Bevis put out his hand to stroke the colt, the colt started
back, so he picked up a stick and threw it at him. Then he took another
stick and hunted the hens round and round the ricks to make them lay
their eggs faster, as it is well known that is the best way. For he
remembered that last year they had shown him three tiny bantam chicks,
such darling little things, all cuddled cosily together in the hollow of
a silver table-spoon. The hens clucked and raced, and Bevis raced after
and shouted, and the cock, slipping on one side, for it hurt his
dignity to run away like the rest, hopped upon the railings, napped his
wings, crew, and cried: "You'll be glad when I'm dead". That was how
Bevis translated his "hurra-ca-roorah".

In the midst of the noise out came Polly, the dairy-maid, with a bone
for Pan, which Bevis no sooner saw, than he asked her to let him give
Pan his dinner. "Very well, dear," said Polly, and went in to finish her
work. So Bevis took the bone, and Pan, all weary and sore from his
thrashing, crept out from his tub to receive it; but Bevis put the bone
on the grass (all the grass was worn bare where Pan could reach) just
where the spaniel could smell it nicely but could not get it. Pan
struggled, and scratched, and howled, and scratched again, and tugged
till his collar, buckled tightly now, choked him, and he gasped and
panted, while Bevis, taking the remnant of his apple from his pocket,
nibbled it and laughed with a face like an angel's for sweetness.

Then a rook went over and cawed, and Bevis, looking up at the bird,
caught a glimpse of the swing over the wall--it stood under the sycamore
tree. Dropping the bit of apple, away he ran to the swing, and sat in
it, and pushed himself off. As he swung forward he straightened his legs
and leant back; when he swung back he drew his feet under him and leant
forward, and by continuing this the weight of his body caused the swing
to rise like a pendulum till he went up among the sycamore boughs,
nearly as high as the ivy-grown roof of the summer-house, just
opposite. There he went to and fro, as easily as possible, shutting his
eyes and humming to himself.

Presently a cock chaffinch came and perched in the ash close by, and
immediately began to sing his war-song: "I am lord of this tree," sang
the chaffinch, "I am lord of this tree; every bough is mine, and every
leaf, and the wind that comes through it, and the sunshine that falls on
it, and the rain that moistens it, and the blue sky over it, and the
grass underneath it--all this is mine. My nest is going to be made in
the ivy that grows half-way up the trunk, and my wife is very busy
to-day bringing home the fibres and the moss, and I have just come back
a little while to tell you all that none of you must come into or touch
my tree. I like this tree, and therefore it is mine. Be careful that
none of you come inside the shadow of it, or I shall peck you with all
my might."

Then he paused awhile, and Bevis went on swinging and listening. In a
minute or two another chaffinch came to the elm in the hedge just
outside the garden, and quite close to the ash. Directly he perched, he
ruffled up and began to sing too: "I am lord of this tree, and it is a
very high tree, much higher than the ash, and even above the oak where
that slow fellow the crow is building. Mine is the very highest tree of
all, and I am the brightest and prettiest of all the chaffinches. See my
colours how bright they are, so that you would hardly know me from a
bullfinch. There is not a feather rumpled in my wing, or my tail, and I
have the most beautiful eyes of all of you."

Hardly had he done singing than another chaffinch came into the
crab-tree, a short way up the hedge, and he began to sing too: "I have a
much bigger tree than either of you, but as it is at the top of the
field I cannot bring it down here, but I have come down into this
crab-tree, and I say it is mine, and I am lord of two trees. I am
stronger than both of you, and neither of you dare come near me."

The two other chaffinches were silent for a minute, and then one of
them, the knight of the ash-tree, flew down into the hedge under the
crab-tree; and instantly down flew the third chaffinch, and they fought
a battle, and pecked and buffeted one another with their wings, till
Bevis's tears ran down with laughing. Presently they parted, and the
third chaffinch went home to his tree at the top of the field, leaving
one little feather on the ground, which the first chaffinch picked up
and carried to his nest in the ash.

But scarcely had he woven it into the nest than down flew the second
chaffinch from the elm into the shadow of the ash. Flutter, flutter went
the first chaffinch to meet him, and they had such a battle as Bevis had
never seen before, and fought till they were tired; then each flew up
into his tree, and sang again about their valour.

Immediately afterwards ten sparrows came from the house-top into the
bushes, chattering and struggling all together, scratching, pecking,
buffeting, and all talking at once. After they had had a good fight
they all went back to the house-top, and began to tell each other what
tremendous blows they had given. Then there was such a great cawing from
the rook trees, which were a long way off, that it was evident a battle
was going on there, and Bevis heard the chaffinch say that one of the
rooks had been caught stealing his cousin's sticks.

Next two goldfinches began to fight, and then a blackbird came up from
the brook and perched on a rail, and he was such a boaster, for he said
he had the yellowest bill of all the blackbirds, and the blackest coat,
and the largest eye, and the sweetest whistle, and he was lord over all
the blackbirds. In two minutes up came another one from out of the
bramble bushes at the corner, and away they went chattering at each
other. Presently the starlings on the chimney began to quarrel, and had
a terrible set-to. Then a wren came by, and though he was so small, his
boast was worse than the blackbird's, for he said he was the sharpest
and the cleverest of all the birds, and knew more than all put together.

Afar off, in the trees, there were six or seven thrushes, all declaring
that they were the best singers, and had the most speckled necks; and up
in the sky the swallows were saying that they had the whitest bosoms.

"Oo! whoo," cried a wood-pigeon from the very oak under which Bevis had
gone to sleep. "There are none who can fly so fast as I can. I am a
captain of the wood-pigeons, and in the winter I have three hundred and
twenty-two pigeons under me, and they all do exactly as I tell them.
They fly when I fly, and settle down when I settle down. If I go to the
west, they go to the west; and if I go to the east, then they follow to
the east. I have the biggest acorns, and the best of the peas, for they
leave them especially for me. And not one of all the three hundred and
twenty-two pigeons dares to begin to eat the wheat in August till I say
it is ripe and they may, and not one of them dares to take a wife till I
say yes. Oo-whoo! Is not my voice sweet and soft, and delicious, far
sweeter than that screeching nightingale's in the hawthorn yonder?"

But he had no sooner finished than another one began in the fir copse,
and said he was captain of one thousand pigeons, and was ever so much
stronger, and could fly ten miles an hour faster. So away went the first
pigeon to the fir copse, and there was a great clattering of wings and
"oo-whoo"-ing, and how it was settled Bevis could not tell.

So as he went on swinging, he heard all the birds quarrelling, and
boasting, and fighting, hundreds of them all around, and he said to the
chaffinch on the ash:--

"Chaffinch, it seems to me that you are all very wicked birds, for you
think of nothing but fighting all day long".

The chaffinch laughed, and said: "My dear Sir Bevis, I do not know what
you mean by wicked. But fighting is very nice indeed, and we all feel
so jolly when fighting time comes. For you must know that the spring is
the duelling time, when all the birds go to battle. There is not a tree
nor a bush on your papa's farm, nor on all the farms all around, nor in
all the country, nor in all this island, but some fighting is going on.
I have not time to tell you all about it; but I wish you could read our
history, and all about the wars that have been going on these thousand
years. Perhaps if you should ever meet the squirrel he will tell you,
for he knows most about history. As we all like it so much, it must be
right, and we never hurt one another very much. Sometimes a feather is
knocked out, and sometimes one gets a hard peck; but it does not do any
harm. And after it is over, in the autumn, we are all very good friends,
and go hunting together. You may see us, hundreds of us in your papa's
stubble-fields, Bevis, all flying together very happy. I think the
skylarks fight the most, for they begin almost in the winter if the sun
shines warm for an hour, and they keep on all day in the summer, and
till it is quite dark and the stars are out, besides getting up before
the cuckoo to go on again. Yet they are the sweetest and nicest of all
the birds, and the most gentle, and do not mind our coming into their
fields. So I am sure, Bevis, that you are wrong, and fighting is not
wicked if you love one another. You and Mark are fond of one another,
but you hit him sometimes, don't you?"

"Yes, that I do," said Bevis, very eagerly, "I hit him yesterday so
hard with my bat that he would not come and play with me. It is very
nice to hit any one."

"But you cannot do it like we do it," said the chaffinch, swelling with
pride again, "for we sing and you can't, and if you can't sing you have
no business to fight, and besides, though you are much older than me you
are not married yet. Now I have such a beautiful wife, and to tell you
the truth, Bevis, we do the fighting because the ladies love to see it,
and kiss us for it afterwards. I am the knight of this tree!"

After which Bevis, being tired of swinging, went to the summer-house to
read what he had written with his stump of pencil till he was called to
tea. In the evening, when the sun was sinking, he went out and lay down
on the seat--it was a broad plank, grey with lichen--under the russet
apple-tree, looking towards the west, over the brook below. He saw the
bees coming home to the hives close by on the haha, and they seemed to
come high in the air, flying straight as if from the distant hills where
the sun was. He heard the bees say that there were such quantities of
flowers on the hills, and such pleasant places, and that the sky was
much more blue up there, and he thought if he could he would go to the
hills soon.



CHAPTER III.

ADVENTURES OF THE WEASEL.


After awhile the mowers came and began to cut the long grass in the Home
Field, and the meadow by the brook. Bevis could see them from the
garden, and it was impossible to prevent him from straying up the
footpath, so eager was he to go nearer. The best thing that could be
done, since he could not be altogether stopped, was to make him promise
that he would not go beyond a certain limit. He might wander as much as
he pleased inside the hedge and the Home Field, in which there was no
pond, nor any place where he could very well come to harm. But he must
not creep through the hedge, so that he would always be in sight from
the garden. If he wished to enter the meadow by the brook he must ask
special permission, that some one might be put to watch now and then.

But more expressly he was forbidden to enter the Little Field. The grass
there was not yet to be mown--it was too long to walk in--and they were
afraid lest he should get through the hedge, or climb over the high
padlocked gate in some way or other, for the Long Pond was on the other
side, though it could not be seen for trees. Nor was he to approach
nearer to the mowers than one swathe; he was always to keep one swathe
between him and the scythes, which are extremely sharp and dangerous
instruments.

Sir Bevis repeated these promises so seriously, and with so demure and
innocent an expression, that no one could doubt but that he would keep
them strictly, nor, indeed, did any idea of exceeding these limits occur
to him. He was so overjoyed at the vast extent of territory, almost a
new world thrown open for exploration, that he did not think it possible
he could ever want to go any farther. He rushed into the Home Field,
jumping over the swathes till he was tired, and kicking the grass about
with his feet. Then he wanted a prong, and a stout stick with a fork was
cut and pointed for him, and with this he went eagerly to work for five
minutes. Next he wanted some one to bury under the grass, and could not
be satisfied till the dairy-maid was sent out and submitted to be
completely hidden under a heap of it.

Next he walked all round the field, and back home down the middle.
By-and-by he sat down and looked at the mowers, who were just finishing
the last corner before they went into the meadow by the brook. While he
was sitting there a number of greenfinches, and sparrows, and two or
three hasty starlings (for they are always in a hurry), came to the
sward where the mowers had just passed, and searched about for food.
They seemed so happy and looked so pretty, Bevis thought he should like
to shoot one, so away he ran home to the summer-house for his bow and
arrow. Hastening back with these, he built a heap of the grass to hide
behind, like a breastwork, and then sat down and watched for the birds.

They did not come directly, as they ought to have done, so he kicked up
his heels, and rolled over on his back, and looked up at the sky, as was
his wont. Every now and then he could hear Pan whining woefully in his
tub a long way off. Since the whipping the spaniel had been in disgrace,
and no one would let him loose. Bevis, so delighted with his field to
roam about in, quite forgot him, and left him to sorrow in his tub.
Presently he heard a lark singing so sweetly, though at a great
distance, that he kept quite still to listen. The song came in verses,
now it rose a little louder, and now it fell till he could hardly hear
it, and again returned. Bevis got up on his knees to try and find where
the lark was, but the sky was so blue there or the bird so high up, he
could not see it, though he searched and searched. It was somewhere in
the next field, far beyond the great oak where he once fell asleep.

He then peered round his heap of grass, but there were no greenfinches
near; they had come out from the hedges, and the starling had come from
the hollow pollard where he had a nest, but all had settled a long way
off from his hiding-place. Bevis was very angry, so he stood up, and
pulled his bow with all his might, and let the arrow fly into the air
almost straight up. When it had risen so far, it turned over and came
down among the flock of birds and stuck in the ground.

They flew away in terror, and though he had not killed any, Bevis was
highly delighted at the fright they were in. He picked up his arrow,
and tried another long shot at a rook on the other side of the field,
but he could not send it so great a distance. As he ran for it, he saw
that the rook's back was towards him, and, thinking that the rook could
not see him, he raced on quietly to try and catch him, but just as he
got close, up rose the rook over the hedge with a "Caw, caw!" Whizz!
went Bevis's arrow after him, and fell on the other side of the hedge,
where he was not to go.

In his anger at the rook's behaviour Bevis forgot all about his promise;
he jumped into the ditch regardless of the stinging-nettles, pushed his
way up through the briars, tearing his sleeve, forced his way across the
mound, and went on his hands and knees through the young green fern on
the other side (just as Pan would have done) under the thick thorn
bushes, and so out into the next field. It was the very field where he
and Pan had wandered before, only another part of it. There was his
arrow ever so far off, sticking upright in the grass among the cowslips.
As he went to pick up his arrow he saw another flower growing a little
farther on, and went to gather that first; it was an orchid, and when he
stood up with it in his hand he heard a mouse rustle in the grass, and
stepped quietly to try and see it, but the mouse hid in a hole.

Then there was an enormous humble-bee, so huge that when it stayed to
suck a cowslip, the cowslip was bent down with its weight. Bevis walked
after the giant humble-bee, and watched it take the honey from several
cowslips; then he saw a stone standing in the field, it was not
upright, but leaned to one side--yet it was almost as tall as he was. He
went to the stone and looked all round it, and got up on it and sat
still a minute, and while he was there a cuckoo came by, so close, that
he jumped off to run after it. But the cuckoo flew fast, and began to
call "Cuckoo!" and it was no use to chase him.

When Bevis stopped and looked about he was in a hollow, like a big salad
bowl, only all grass, and he could see nothing but the grass and
cowslips all round him--no hedges--and the sky overhead. He began to
dance and sing with delight at such a curious place, and when he paused
the lark was on again, and not very far this time. There he was, rising
gradually, singing as he went. Bevis ran up the side of the hollow
towards the lark, and saw a hedge cut and cropped low, and over it a
wheat-field. He watched the lark sing, sing, sing, up into the sky, and
then he thought he would go and find his nest, as he remembered the
ploughboy had told him larks made their nests on the ground among the
corn.

He ran to the low hedge, but though it was low it was very thorny, and
while he was trying to find a place to get through, he looked over and
spied a hare crouched in the rough grass, just under the hedge between
it and the wheat. The hare was lying on the ground; she did not move,
though she saw Bevis, and when he looked closer he saw that her big eyes
were full of tears. She was crying very bitterly, all by herself, while
the sun was shining so brightly, and the wind blowing so sweetly, and
the flowers smelling so pleasantly, and the lark sing, sing, singing
overhead.

"Oh! dear," said Bevis, so eager and so sorry, that he pushed against
the hedge, and did not notice that a thorn was pricking his arm:
"Whatever is the matter?" But the hare was so miserable she would not
answer him at first, till he coaxed her nicely. Then she said: "Bevis,
Bevis, little Sir Bevis, do you know what you have done?"

"No," said Bevis, "I can't think: was it me?"

"Yes, it was you; you let the weasel loose, when he was caught in the
gin."

"Did I?" said Bevis, "I have quite forgotten it."

"But you did it," said the hare, "and now the weasel has killed my son,
the leveret, while he was sleeping, and sucked his blood, and I am so
miserable; I do not care to run away any more." Then the hare began to
weep bitterly again, till Bevis did not know what to do to comfort her.

"Perhaps the weasel only killed the leveret for your good," he said
presently.

"What!" cried the hare, putting her fore-feet down hard, and stamping
with indignation. "That is what the wicked old wretch told you, did he
not, about the mouse and the partridge's eggs. Cannot you see that it is
all a pack of lies? But I do not wonder that he deceives you, dear,
since he has deceived the world for so long. Let me tell you, Sir Bevis,
the weasel is the wickedest and most dreadful creature that lives, and
above all things he is so cunning he can make people believe anything
he chooses, and he has succeeded in making fools of us all--every one.

"There is not one of all the animals in the hedge, nor one of the birds
in the trees, that he has not cheated. He is so very, very cunning, and
his talk is so soft and smooth. Do you please take care, Sir Bevis, or
perhaps he may deceive you, as he deceived the fox. Why, do you know, he
has made the people believe that his crimes are committed by the fox,
who consequently bears all the disgrace; and not only that, but he has
spread it abroad that the fox is the most cunning of all, in order that
he may not be suspected of being so clever as he is. I daresay the
weasel will have me some day, and I do not care if he does, now my
leveret is dead; and very soon his poor bones will be picked clean by
the ants, and after the corn is carried the plough will bury them."

Bevis was terribly distressed at the hare's story, and showed such
indignation against the weasel, and stamped his little foot so hard,
knitting his brow, that the hare was somewhat appeased, and began to
explain all about it.

"Of course you did not know, dear," she said, "when you stepped on the
spring of the gin, what trouble we had had to get him into the trap. For
we had all suffered so long from his cruelty, that we had all agreed at
last to try and put an end to it. The trees could not bear to stand
still and see it go on under them, yet they could not move. The earth
could not bear to feel him running about on his bloodthirsty business,
through the holes the rabbits had made. The grass hated to feel him
pushing through, for it had so often been stained with the blood that he
had shed. So we all took counsel together, and I carried the messages,
dear, from the oak, where you slept, to the ash and the elm, and to the
earth in the corner where the rabbits live; and the birds came up into
the oak and gave their adherence, every one; and the fox, too, though he
did not come himself, for he is too cunning to commit himself till he
knows which way the wind is going to blow, sent word of his high
approval.

"Thus we were all prepared to act against that midnight assassin, the
weasel, but we could not begin. The trees could not move, the earth
could not wag a step, the grass could do nothing, and so it went on for
some months, during all which time the weasel was busy with his
wickedness, till at last the bailiff set the gin for the rat by the
cart-house. Then the fox came out by day--contrary to his custom, for he
likes a nap--and went to a spot where he knew a rabbit sat in the grass;
and he hunted the poor rabbit (it was very good sport to see--I do not
like rabbits), till he had driven him across the ditch, where the weasel
was. Then the fox stopped, and hid himself in the furze; and the weasel,
first looking round to see that no one was near, stole after the rabbit.
Now the rabbit knew that the fox was about, and therefore he was afraid
to run across the open field; all he could do was to go down the hedge
towards the garden.

"Everything was going on well, and we sent word to the rat, to warn him
against the gin--we did not like the rat, but we did not want the gin
thrown--don't you see, dear? But when the rabbit had gone half-way down
the hedge, and was close to the garden, he became afraid to venture any
nearer your house, Bevis. Still the weasel crept after him, and
presently drove him almost up to your sycamore-tree. Then the rabbit did
not know what to do; for if he went forward the people in the house
might see him and bring out the gun, and if he turned back the weasel
would have him, and if he ran out into the field the fox would be there,
and he could not climb up a tree. He stopped still, trying to think,
till the weasel came so near he could smell the rabbit's blood, and
then, in his terror, the rabbit darted out from the hedge, and into the
ditch of your haha wall, under where the bee-hives are. There he saw a
dry drain, and hopped into it, forgetting in his fright that he might
not be able to get out at the other end.

"The weasel thought he had now got him safe, and was just going to rush
across and follow, when an ant spoke to him from the trunk of a tree it
was climbing. The ant said the fox had asked him yesterday to watch, and
if the weasel came that way, to warn him that there was a plot laid for
his life, and not to be too venturesome. This was a piece of the same
double-faced ways the fox has been notorious for these many years past.
No one hates the weasel so much as the fox, but he said to himself: 'The
weasel is so cunning, that even if he is caught, he is sure to find some
way to get free, and then he will perhaps discover that I had a hand in
it, and will turn round on me and spoil some of my schemes out of spite.
Besides which, I don't see why I should take much interest in the hare
or the mouse.' So, though he hunted the rabbit for us, yet he sent the
weasel this message, to take care and mind and not be too bold.

"When the weasel heard this he stopped, and thought to himself that it
was rather dangerous to go so near a house, almost under it; and yet he
could not help licking his mouth, as he remembered the sweet scent of
the rabbit's blood. But he was so very, very cunning, that he thought to
himself the rabbit would be obliged to come out again presently, and
would be sure to come up the hedge if he did not see the weasel. So the
weasel turned round to go up the hedge, and we were all in anxiety lest
the scheme should miscarry. But as the weasel was going under the elm,
the elm dropped a large dead branch, and as it came crashing down, it
fell so near the weasel as to pinch his foot, and, hearing another
branch go crack, he lost his presence of mind, turned back again, and
darted across the corner into the drain. There the scent of the rabbit
was so strong he could not help but follow it, and in a moment or two he
saw the poor creature crouched at the end where he could not pass.

"The weasel bounded forward, when the earth squeezed out a stone, and
the stone fell between the weasel and the rabbit. Before he could tell
what to do, the earth squeezed out another stone behind him and he was
caught, and could neither go forward or backward. Now we thought we had
got him, and that he must starve to death. As for the rabbit, when the
stone fell down it left a hole above, up which he scrambled into the
cow-yard, and there hid himself behind a bunch of nettles till night,
when he escaped into the field.

"Meantime the weasel in a dreadful fright was walking to and fro in his
narrow prison, gnashing his teeth with rage and terror, and calling to
all the animals and birds and insects and even to the mole (whom he
despised most of all) to help him out. He promised to be the nicest,
kindest weasel that ever was known; but it was no use, for they were all
in the secret, and overjoyed to see him on the point of perishing. There
he had to stay, and though he scratched and scratched, he could not make
any hole through the solid stone, and by-and-by he got weaker, and he
began to die. While he was dying the rat came and peeped down at him
through a chink, and laughed and said: 'What is the use of all your
cunning, you coward? If you had been bold like me you would never have
got into this scrape, by being afraid of a dead branch of a tree because
it pinched your foot. I should have run by quickly. You are a silly,
foolish, blind sort of creature; could you not see that all the things
had agreed to deceive you?'

"At this the weasel was so wroth it woke him up from his dying, and he
returned the taunt and said: 'Rat, you are by far the silliest to help
the hare and the mouse; it is true they sent you a message about the
gin, but that was not for love of you, I am sure, and I can't think why
they should send it; but you may depend it is some trick, and very
likely the gin is not where they said at all, but in another place, and
you will walk into it when you are not thinking, and then you will curse
the hare and the mouse'.

"'Ah,' said the rat, 'that sounds like reason; you are right, the hare
and the mouse are going to play me a trick. But I will spite them, I
will let you out.'

"'Will you?' said the weasel, starting up and feeling almost strong
again. 'But you can't, these stones are so thick you cannot move them,
nor scratch through them, nor raise them; no, you cannot let me out.'

"'Oh, yes, I can,' said the rat, 'I know a way to move the biggest
stones, and if you can only wait a day or two I will make this chink
large enough for you to come up.'

"'A day or two,' said the weasel in despair; 'why, I am nearly dead now
with hunger.'

"'Well then,' said the rat, 'gnaw your own tail;' and off he went
laughing at the joke. The miserable weasel cried and sniffed, and
sniffed and cried, till by-and-by he heard the rat come back and begin
to scratch outside. Presently the rat stopped, and was going away again,
when the weasel begged and prayed him not to leave him to die there in
the dark.

"'Very well,' said the rat, 'I will send the cricket to sing to you. In
a day or two you will see the chink get bigger, and meantime you can
eat your tail; and as you will get very thin, you will be able to creep
through a very small hole and get out all the quicker. Ha! ha! As for
me, I am going to have a capital dinner from Pan's dish, for he has
fallen asleep in his tub.'

"So the weasel was left to himself, and though he watched and watched,
he could not see the chink open in the least, and he got so dreadfully
hungry that at last, after sucking his paws, he was obliged to bring his
tail round and begin to gnaw it a little bit. The pain was dreadful, but
he could not help himself, he was obliged to do it or die. In the
evening the cricket came, as the rat had promised, to the top of the
chink, and at once began to sing. He sang all about the lady cricket
with whom he was in love, and then about the beautiful stars that were
shining in the sky, and how nice it was to be a cricket, for the
crickets were by far the most handsome and clever of all creatures, and
everybody would like to be a cricket if they could.

"Next, he went on to praise himself, that his lady might hear what fine
limbs he had, and so noble a form, and such a splendid chink to live in.
Thus he kept on the livelong night, and all about himself; and his
chirp, chirp, chirp filled the weasel's prison with such a noise that
the wretched thing could not sleep. He kept asking the cricket to tell
him if the rat had really done anything to enlarge the chink; but the
cricket was too busy to answer him till the dawn, and then, having
finished his song, he found time to attend to the weasel.

"'You have been very rude,' he said, 'to keep on talking while I was
singing, but I suppose, as you are only an ignorant weasel, you do not
understand good manners, and therefore I will condescend so far as to
inform you of the measures taken by my noble friend the rat to get you
out. If you were not so extremely ignorant and stupid you would guess
what he has done.'

"Now all this was very bitter to the weasel, who had always thought he
knew everything, to be insulted by a cricket; still he begged to be told
what it was. 'The rat,' went on the cricket, 'has brought a little piece
from a fungus, and has scratched a hole beside the stone and put it in
there. Now, when this begins to grow and the fungus pushes up, it will
move the stone and open a chink. In this way I have seen my lord the rat
heave up the heaviest paving stones and make a road for himself. Now are
you not stupid?' Then the cricket went home to bed.

"All day long the miserable weasel lay on the floor of his prison,
driven every now and then to gnaw his tail till he squeaked with the
pain. The only thing that kept him from despair was the hope of the
revenge he would have, if ever he did get out, on those who had laid the
trap for him. For hours he lay insensible, and only woke up when the rat
looked down the chink and asked him, with a jolly chuckle, how his tail
tasted, and then went off without waiting for an answer. Then the
cricket came again, and taking not the least notice of the prisoner,
sang all night.

"In the morning the weasel looked up, and saw that the chink had really
opened. He crawled to it, he was so faint he could not walk, so he had
to crawl over the floor, which was all red with his own blood. The
fungus, a thick, yellowish-green thing, like a very large and
unwholesome mushroom, was growing fast, so fast he could see it move,
and very slowly it shoved and lifted up the stone. The chink was now so
far open that in his thin, emaciated state, the weasel could have got
through; but he was so weak he could not climb up. He called to the rat,
and the rat came and tried to reach him, but it was just a little too
far down.

"'If I only had something to drink,' said the weasel, 'only one drop of
water, I think I could do it, but I am faint from thirst.'

"Off ran the rat to see what he could do, and as he passed the tub where
Pan lived he saw a bowl of water just pumped for the spaniel. The bowl
was of wood with a projecting handle--not a ring to put the fingers
through, but merely a short straight handle. He went round to the other
side of the tub in which Pan was dozing and began to scratch. Directly
Pan heard the scratching:--

"'Ho! ho!' said he, 'that's that abominable rat that steals my food,'
and he darted out, and in his tremendous hurry his chain caught the
handle of the bowl, just as the rat had hoped it would. Over went the
bowl, and all the water was spilt, but the rat, the instant he heard Pan
coming, had slipped away back to the weasel.

"When Pan was tired of looking where he had heard the scratching, he
went back to take a lap, but found the bowl upset, and that all the
water had run down the drain. As he was very thirsty after gnawing a
salt bacon-bone, he set up a barking, and the dairy-maid ran out,
thinking it was a beggar, and began to abuse him for being so clumsy as
to knock over his bowl. Pan barked all the louder, so she hit him with
the handle of her broom, and he went howling into his tub. He vowed
vengeance against the rat, but that did not satisfy his thirst.

"Meantime the water had run along the drain, and though the fungus
greedily sucked up most of it, the weasel had a good drink. After that
he felt better, and he climbed up the chink, squeezing through and
dragging his raw tail behind him, till he nearly reached the top. But
there it was still a little tight, and he could not manage to push
through, not having strength enough left. He felt himself slipping back
again, and called on the rat to save him. The rat without ceremony leant
down the chink, and caught hold of his ear with his teeth, and snipped
it so tight he bit it right through, but he dragged the weasel out.

"There he lay a long time half dead and exhausted, under a dock leaf
which hid him from view. The rat began to think that the weasel would
die after all, so he came and said: 'Wake up, coward, and come with me
into the cart-house; there is a very nice warm hole there, and I will
tell you something; if you stay here very likely the bailiff may see
you, and if Pan should be let loose he will sniff you out in a second'.
So the weasel, with very great difficulty, dragged himself into the
cart-house, and found shelter in the hole.

"Now the rat, though he had helped the weasel, did not half like him,
for he was afraid to go to sleep while the weasel was about, lest his
guest should fasten on his throat, for he knew he was treacherous to the
last degree. He cast about in his mind how to get rid of him, and at the
same time to serve his own purpose. By-and-by he said that there was a
mouse in the cart-house who had a very plump wife, and two fat little
mouses. At this the weasel pricked up his ears, for he was so terribly
hungry, and sat up and asked where they were. The rat said the wife and
the children were up in the beam; the wood had rotted, and they had a
hole there, but he was afraid the mouse himself was away from home just
then, most likely in the corn-bin, where the barley-meal for the pigs
was kept.

"'Never mind,' said the weasel, eagerly, 'the wife and the baby mice
will do very well,' and up he started and climbed up through the rat's
hole in the wall to the roof, and then into the hole in the beam, where
he had a good meal on the mice. Now the rat hated this mouse because he
lived so near, and helped himself to so much food, and being so much
smaller, he could get about inside the house where you live, Bevis,
without being seen, and so got very fat, and made the rat jealous. He
thought, too, that when the weasel had eaten the wife and the babies,
that he would be strong enough to go away. Presently the weasel came
down from his meal, and looked so fierce and savage that the rat, strong
as he was, was still more anxious to get rid of him as quickly as
possible.

"He told the weasel that there was a way by which he could get to the
corn-bin without the least danger, though it was close to the house, and
there he would be certain to find the mouse himself, and very likely
another Miss Mouse whom he used to meet there. At this the weasel was so
excited he could hardly wait to be shown the way, and asked the rat to
put him in the road directly; he was so hungry he did not care what he
did. Without delay the rat took him to the mouth of the hole, and told
him to stay there and listen a minute to be sure that no one was coming.
If he could not hear any footsteps, all he had to do was to rush across
the road there, only two or three yards, to the rough grass, the
dandelions, and the docks opposite. Just there there was an iron grating
made in the wall of the house to let in the air and keep the rats out;
but one of the bars had rusted off and was broken, and that was the
mouse's track to the corn-bin.

"The weasel put out his head, glanced round, saw no one, and without
waiting to listen rushed out into the roadway. In an instant the rat
pushed against a small piece of loose stone, which he kept for the
purpose, and it fell down and shut up the mouth of his hole. As the
weasel was running across the roadway suddenly one of the labourers came
round the corner with a bucket of food for the pigs. Frightened beyond
measure, the weasel hastened back to the rat's hole, but could not get
in because of the stone. Not knowing what to do, he ran round the
cart-house, where there was some grass under the wall, with the man
coming close behind him. Now it was just there that the bailiff had set
the gin for the rat, near the mouth of the drain, but the rat knew all
about it, and used the other hole.

"The grass, knowing that we wished to drive the weasel that way into the
gin, had tried to grow faster and hide the trap, but could not get on
very well because the weather was so dry. But that morning, when the rat
upset Pan's bowl of water, and it ran down the drain, some part of it
reached the roots of the grass and moistened them, then the grass shot
up quick and quite hid the trap, except one little piece. Now, seeing
the weasel rushing along in his fright, the grass was greatly excited,
but did not know what to do to hide this part, so the grass whispered to
his friend the wind to come to his help.

"This the wind was very ready to do, for this reason--he hated to smell
the decaying carcases of the poor creatures the weasel killed, and left
to rot and to taint the air, so that it quite spoilt his morning ramble
over the fields. With a puff the wind came along and blew a dead leaf,
one of last year's leaves, over the trap, and so hid it completely.

"The weasel saw the mouth of the drain, and thinking to be safe in a
minute darted at it, and was snapped up by the gin. The sudden shock
deprived him of sense or motion, and well for him it did, for had he
squeaked or moved ever so little the man with the bucket must have seen
or heard him. After a time he came to himself, and again began to beg
the rat to help him; but the rat, having had his revenge on the mouse,
did not much care to trouble about it, and, besides, he remembered how
very wolfish and fierce the weasel had looked at him when in his hole.
At least he thought he would have a night's sleep in comfort first, for
he had been afraid to sleep a wink with the weasel so near. Now the
weasel was in the gin he could have a nap.

"All night long the weasel was in the gin, and to a certainty he would
have been seen--for the bailiff would have been sure to come and look at
his trap--but if you remember, Bevis, dear, that was the very day you
were lost (while asleep under the oak), and everything was confusion,
and the gin was forgotten. Well, in the morning the weasel begged so
piteously of the rat to help him again, that the rat began to think he
would, now he had had a good sleep, when just as he was peeping out
along you came, Bevis, dear, and found the weasel in the gin.

"Now, I daresay you remember the talk you had with the weasel, and what
the mouse said; well, the rat was listening all the while, and he heard
the weasel say to you that he always killed the rats. 'Aha!' thought
the rat, 'catch me helping you again, sir;' and the weasel heard him say
it. So when you stepped on the spring and loosed the weasel, he did not
dare go into the drain, knowing that the rat (while awake) was stronger
than he, but hobbled as well as he could across to the wood-pile. There
he stopped, exhausted, and stiff from his wounds. Meantime the rat
deliberated how best he could drive the treacherous weasel away from the
place.

"At night, accordingly, he cautiously left his hole and went across to
the tub where Pan was sleeping, curled up comfortably within. The end of
Pan's chain, where it was fastened to the staple outside the tub, was
not of iron, but tar-cord. The last link had been broken, and it was
therefore tied in this manner. The rat easily gnawed through the
tar-cord, and then slipped back to his hole to await events. About the
middle of the night, when the weasel had rested and began to stir out,
Pan woke up, and seeing that it was light, stepped out to bay at the
moon. He immediately found that his chain was undone, and rushed about
to try and find some water, being very thirsty. He had not gone very far
before he smelt the weasel, and instantly began to chase him. The
weasel, however, slipped under a faggot, and so across and under the
wood-pile, where he was safe; but he was so alarmed that presently he
crept out the other side, and round by the pig-sty, and so past the
stable to the rick-yard, and then into the hedge, and he never stopped
running, stiff as he was, till he was half-a-mile away in the ash copse
and had crept into a rabbit's hole. He could not have got away from the
wood-pile, only Pan, being so thirsty, gave up looking for him, and went
down to the brook.

"In the morning, as they thought Pan had broken his chain, they kicked
the spaniel howling into his tub again. And now comes the sad part of
it, Bevis, dear. You must know that when the weasel was in the trap we
all thought it was quite safe, and that our enemy was done for at last,
and so we went off to a dancing-party, on the short grass of the downs
by moonlight, leaving our leverets to nibble near the wheat. We stayed
at the dancing-party so late that the dawn came and we were afraid to go
home in the daylight, and next night we all felt so merry we had another
dance, and again danced till it was morning.

"While we were sleeping in the day, the weasel, having now recovered a
good deal, crept out from the rabbit-hole in the copse. We were so far
off, you see, the mice could not send us word that he had escaped from
the gin in time, and, indeed, none of them knew exactly where to find
us; they told the swallows, and the swallows searched, but missed us.
The wind, too, blew as many ways as he could to try and reach us, but he
had to blow east that day, and could not manage it. If we had only been
at home we should have been on the watch; but my poor leveret, and my
two friends' poor leverets, were sleeping so comfortably when the wicked
weasel stole on them one by one, and bit their necks and killed them. He
could not eat them, nor half of them, he only killed them for revenge,
and oh! dear little Sir Bevis, what shall I do? what shall I do?"

"I will kill the weasel," said Bevis. "He is dreadfully wicked. I will
shoot him this minute with my bow and arrow."

But when he looked round he had got neither of them; he had dropped the
bow in the Home Field when he jumped into the ditch to scramble through
the hedge, and he had wandered so far among the cowslips that he could
not see the arrow. Bevis looked all round again, and did not recognise
any of the trees, nor the hedges, nor could he see the house nor the
ricks, nor anything that he knew. His face flushed up, and the tears
came into his eyes; he was lost.

"Don't cry," said the hare, much pleased at the eagerness with which he
took up the quarrel against the weasel; "don't cry, darling, I will show
you the way home and where to find your arrow. It is not very far,
though you cannot see it because of the ground rising between you and
it. But will you really kill the weasel next time?"

"Yes, indeed I will," said Bevis, "I will shoot my arrow and kill him
quite dead in a minute."

"But I am not sure you can hit him with your arrow; don't you remember
that you could not hit the greenfinches nor the rook?"

"Well then," said Bevis, "if you will wait till I am a man, papa will
lend me his gun, and then I can certainly kill him."

"But that will be such a long time, Sir Bevis; did not your papa tell
you you would have to eat another peck of salt before you could have a
gun?"

"Then I know what I will do," said Bevis, "I will shoot the weasel with
my brass cannon. Ah, that is the way! And I know where papa keeps his
gunpowder; it is in a tin canister on the topmost shelf, and I will tell
you how I climb up there. First, I bring the big arm-chair, and then I
put the stool on that, and then I stand on the lowest shelf, and I can
just reach the canister."

"Take care, Sir Bevis," said the hare, "take care, and do not open the
canister where there is a fire in the room, or a candle, because a spark
may blow you up just when you are not thinking."

"Oh! I know all about that; I'll take care," said Bevis, "and I will
shoot the wretch of a weasel in no time. Now please show me the way
home."

"So I will; you stay there till I come to you, I will run round by the
gateway."

"Why not come straight through the hedge?" said Bevis, "you could easily
creep through, I'm sure."

"No, dear. I must not come that way, that road belongs to another hare,
and I must not trespass."

"But you can run where you like--can you not?"

"Oh, dear no; all the hares have different roads, Sir Bevis, and if I
were to run along one of theirs that did not belong to me, to-night they
would bite me and thump me with their paws till I was all bruised."

"I can't see any path," said Bevis, "you can run where you like in the
field, I'm sure."

"No, I can't, dear; I shall have to go a quarter of a mile round to come
to you, because there are three paths between you and me, and I shall
have to turn and twist about not to come on them."

While Bevis was thinking about this, and how stupid it was of the hares
to have roads, the hare ran off, and in two or three minutes came to him
through the cowslips. "Oh, you pretty creature!" said Sir Bevis,
stooping down and stroking her back, and playing with the tips of her
long ears. "Oh, I do love you so!" At this the hare was still more
pleased, and rubbed her head against Bevis's hand.

"Now," she said, "you must come along quickly, because I dare not stay
on this short grass, lest some dog should see me. Follow me, dear." She
went on before him, and Bevis ran behind, and in a minute or two they
went over the rising ground, past the tall stone (put there for the cows
to rub their sides against), and then the hare stopped and showed Bevis
the great oak tree, where he once went to sleep. She told him to look at
it well, and recollect the shape of it, so that another time he could
find his way home by the tree. Then she told him to walk straight to the
tree, and on his way there he would find the arrow, and close by the
tree was the gap in the hedge, and when he got through the gap, he would
see the house and the ricks, and if he followed the ditch then he would
presently come to the place where he dropped his bow. "Thank you," said
Bevis, "I will run as fast as I can, for I am sure it must be nearly
dinner time. Good-bye, you pretty creature;" and having stroked her ears
just once more, off he started. In a few minutes he found his arrow, and
looked back to show it to the hare, but she was gone; so he went on to
the oak, got through the gap, and there was the house at the other side
of the field. He could hear Pan barking, so he felt quite at home, and
walked along the ditch till he picked up his bow. He was very hungry
when he got home, and yet he was glad when the dinner was over, that he
might go to the cupboard and get his brass cannon.

When he came to examine the cannon, and to think about shooting the
weasel with it, he soon found that it would not do very well, because he
could not hold it in his hand and point it straight, and when it went
off it would most likely burn his fingers. But looking at his papa's gun
he saw that the barrel, where the powder is put in, was fixed in a
wooden handle called the stock, so he set to work with his pocket-knife
to make a handle for his cannon. He cut a long thick willow stick,
choosing the willow because it was soft and easiest to cut, and chipped
away till he had made a groove in it at one end in which he put the
cannon, fastening it in with a piece of thin copper wire twisted round.
Next he cut a ramrod, and then he loaded his gun, and fired it off with
a match to see how it went.

This he did at the bottom of the orchard, a long way from the house,
for he was afraid that if they saw what he was doing they might take it
from him, so he kept it hidden in the summer-house under an old sack.
The cannon went off with a good bang, and the shot he had put in it
stuck in the bark of an apple tree. Bevis jumped about with delight, and
thought he could now kill the weasel. It was too late to start that day,
but the next morning off he marched with his gun into the Home Field,
and having charged it behind the shelter of a tree out of sight, began
his chase for the weasel.

All round the field he went, looking carefully into the ditch and the
hedge, and asking at all the rabbits'-holes if they knew where the
scoundrel was. The rabbits knew very well, but they were afraid to
answer, lest the weasel should hear about it, and come and kill the one
that had betrayed him. Twice he searched up and down without success,
and was just going to call to the hare to come and show him, when
suddenly he discovered a thrush sitting on her nest in a bush. He put
down his gun, and was going to see how many eggs she had got, when the
weasel (who had no idea he was there) peeped over the bank, having a
fancy for the eggs, but afraid that the nest was too high for him to
reach.

"Ho! Ho!" cried Bevis, "there you are. Now I have you. Just stand still
a minute, while I get my gun and strike a match."

"Whatever for?" asked the weasel, very innocently.

"I am going to shoot you," said Bevis, busy getting his gun ready.

"Shoot _me_!" said the weasel, in a tone of the utmost astonishment;
"why ever do you want to shoot me, Sir Bevis? Did I not tell you that I
spent all my life doing good?"

"Yes, you rascal!" said Bevis, putting a pinch of powder on the
touch-hole, "you know you are a wicked story-teller; you killed the poor
leveret after I let you loose. Now!" and he went down on one knee, and
put his cannon-stick on the other as a rest to keep it straight.

"Wait a minute," said the weasel, "just listen to me a minute. I assure
you----"

"No; I sha'n't listen to you," said Bevis, striking his match.

"Oh," said the weasel, kneeling down, "if you will only wait one second,
I will tell you all the wickedness I have committed. Don't, please, kill
me before I have got this load of guilt off my mind."

"Well, make haste," said Bevis, aiming along his cannon.

"I will," said the weasel; "and first of all, if you are going to kill
me, why don't you shoot the thrush as well, for she is ever so much more
wicked and cruel than I have been?"

"Oh, what a dreadful story!" said the thrush. "How can you say so?"

"Yes, you are," said the weasel. "Sir Bevis, you remember the two snails
you found in the garden path--those you put on a leaf, and watched to
see which could crawl the fastest?"

"I remember," said Sir Bevis. "But you must make haste, or my match will
burn out."

"And you recollect that the snails had no legs and could not walk, and
that they had no wings and could not fly, and were very helpless
creatures?"

"Yes, I remember; I left them on the path."

"Well, directly you left them, out came this great ugly speckled thrush
from the shrubbery--you see how big the thrush is, quite a monster
beside the poor snails; and you see what long legs she has, and great
wings, and such a strong, sharp beak. This cruel monster of a thrush
picked up the snails, one at a time, and smashed them on the stones, and
gobbled them up."

"Well," said the thrush, much relieved, "is that all? snails are very
nice to eat."

"Was it not brutally cruel?" asked the weasel.

"Yes, it was," said Bevis.

"Then," said the weasel, "when you shoot me, shoot the thrush too."

"So I will," said Bevis, "but how can I hit you both?"

"I will show you," said the weasel. "I will walk along the bank till I
am just in a line with the thrush's nest, and then you can take aim at
both together."

So he went along the bank and stopped behind the nest, and Bevis moved
his cannon-stick and took another aim.

"Dear me!" cried the thrush, dreadfully alarmed, "you surely are not
going to shoot me? I never did any harm. Bevis, stop--listen to me!"

Now if the thrush had flown away she might have escaped, but she was
very fond of talking, and while she was talking Bevis was busy getting
his gun ready.

"It is straight now," said the weasel; "it is pointed quite straight.
Hold it still there, and I will sit so that I shall die quick;--here is
my bosom. Tell the hare to forgive me."

"Oh," said the thrush, "don't shoot!"

"Shoot!" cried the weasel.

Bevis dropped his match on the touch-hole, puff went the priming, and
bang went the cannon. Directly the smoke had cleared away, Bevis looked
in the ditch, to see the dead weasel and the thrush. There was the
thrush right enough, quite dead, and fallen out of the nest; the nest,
too, was knocked to pieces, and the eggs had fallen out (two were
broken), but there was one not a bit smashed, lying on the dead leaves
at the bottom of the ditch. But the weasel was nowhere to be seen.

"Weasel," cried Bevis, "where are you?" But the weasel did not answer.
Bevis looked everywhere, over the bank and round about, but could not
find him. At last he saw that under some grass on the bank there was a
small rabbit's-hole. Now the weasel had sat up for Bevis to shoot him
right over this hole, and when he saw him move the match, just as the
priming went puff, the weasel dropped down into the hole, and the shot
went over his head.

Bevis was very angry when he saw how the weasel had deceived him, and
felt so sorry for the poor thrush, whose speckled breast was all
pierced by the shot, and who would never sing any more. He did not know
what to do, he was so cross; but presently he ran home to fetch Pan, to
see if Pan could hunt out the weasel.

When he had gone a little way the weasel came out of the hole, and went
down into the ditch and feasted on the thrush's egg, which he could not
have got had not the shot knocked the nest to pieces, just as he had
contrived. He never tasted so sweet an egg as that one, and as he sucked
it up he laughed as he thought how cleverly he had deceived them all.
When he heard Pan bark he went back into the hole, and so along the
hedge till he reached the copse; and then creeping into another hole, a
very small one, where no dog could get at him, he curled himself up very
comfortably and went to sleep.



CHAPTER IV.

BROOK-FOLK.


Some time afterwards it happened one morning that Bevis was sitting on a
haycock in the Home Field, eating a very large piece of cake, and
thinking how extremely greedy the young rook was yonder across the
meadow. For he was as big and as black as his father and mother, who
were with him; and yet he kept on cawing to them to stuff his beak with
sweets. Bevis, who had another large slice in his pocket, having stolen
both of them from the cupboard just after breakfast, felt angry to see
such greediness, and was going to get up to holloa at this ill-mannered
rook, when he heard a grasshopper making some remarks close by the
haycock.

"S----s," said the grasshopper to a friend, "are you going down to the
brook? I am, in a minute, so soon as I have hopped round this haycock,
for there will be a grand show there presently. All the birds are going
to bathe, as is their custom on Midsummer Day, and will be sure to
appear in their best feathers. It is true some of them have bathed
already, as they have to leave early in the morning, having business
elsewhere. I spoke to the cricket just now on the subject, but he could
not see that it was at all interesting. He is very narrow-minded, as
you know, and cannot see anything beyond the mound where he lives.
S----s."

"S----s," replied the other grasshopper; "I will certainly jump that way
so soon as I have had a chat with my lady-love, who is waiting for me on
the other side of the furrow. S----s."

"S----s, we shall meet by the drinking-place," said the first
grasshopper; and was just hopping off when Bevis asked him what the
birds went down to bathe for.

"I'm sure I do not know," said the grasshopper, speaking fast, for he
was rather in a hurry to be gone, he never could stand still long
together. "All I can tell you is that on Midsummer Day every one of the
birds has to go down to the brook and walk in and bathe; and it has been
the law for so many, many years that no one can remember when it began.
They like it very much, because they can show off their fine feathers,
which are just now in full colour; and if you like to go with me you
will be sure to enjoy it."

"So I will," said Bevis, and he followed the grasshopper, who hopped so
far at every step that he had to walk fast to keep up with him. "But why
do the birds do it?"

"Oh, I don't know why," said the grasshopper; "what is why?"

"I want to know," said Bevis, "why do they do it?"

"Why?" repeated the grasshopper; "I never heard anybody say anything
about that before. There is always a great deal of talking going on,
for the trees have nothing else to do but to gossip with each other; but
they never ask why."

After that they went on in silence a good way except that the
grasshopper cried "S----s" to his friends in the grass as he passed, and
said good-morning also to a mole who peeped out for a moment.

"Why don't you hop straight?" said Bevis, presently. "It seems to me
that you hop first one side and then the other, and go in such a zig-zag
fashion it will take us hours to reach the brook."

"How very stupid you are," said the grasshopper. "If you go straight of
course you can only see just what is under your feet, but if you go
first this way and then that, then you see everything. You are nearly as
silly as the ants, who never see anything beautiful all their lives. Be
sure you have nothing to do with the ants, Bevis; they are a mean,
wretched, miserly set, quite contemptible and beneath notice. Now I go
everywhere all round the field, and spend my time searching for lovely
things; sometimes I find flowers, and sometimes the butterflies come
down into the grass and tell me the news, and I am so fond of the
sunshine, I sing to it all day long. Tell me, now, is there anything so
beautiful as the sunshine and the blue sky, and the green grass, and the
velvet and blue and spotted butterflies, and the trees which cast such a
pleasant shadow and talk so sweetly, and the brook which is always
running? I should like to listen to it for a thousand years."

"I like you," said Bevis; "jump into my hand, and I will carry you." He
held his hand out flat, and in a second up sprang the grasshopper, and
alighted on his palm, and told him the way to go, and thus they went
together merrily.

"Are you sure the ants are so very stupid and wicked?" asked Bevis, when
the grasshopper had guided him through a gateway into the meadow by the
brook.

"Indeed I am. It is true they declare that it is I who am wrong, and
never lose a chance of chattering at me, because they are always laying
up a store, and I wander about, laughing and singing. But then you see,
Bevis dear, they are quite demented, and so led away by their greedy,
selfish wishes that they do not even know that there is a sun. They say
they cannot see it, and do not believe there is any sunshine, nor do
they believe there are any stars. Now I do not sing at night, but I
always go where I can see a star. I slept under a mushroom last night,
and he told me he was pushing up as fast as he could before some one
came and picked him to put on a gridiron. I do not lay up any store,
because I know I shall die when the summer ends, and what is the use of
wealth then? My store and my wealth is the sunshine, dear, and the blue
sky, and the green grass, and the delicious brook who never ceases sing,
sing, singing all day and night. And all the things are fond of me, the
grass and the flowers, and the birds, and the animals, all of them love
me. So you see I am richer than all the ants put together." "I would
rather be you than an ant," said Bevis. "I think I shall take you home
and put you under a glass-case on the mantelpiece."

Off jumped the grasshopper in a moment, and fell so lightly on the grass
it did not hurt him in the least, though it was as far as if Bevis had
tumbled down out of the clouds. Bevis tried to catch him, but he jumped
so nimbly this way and that, and hopped to and fro, and lay down in the
grass, so that his green coat could not be seen. Bevis got quite hot
trying to catch him, and seeing this, the grasshopper, much delighted,
cried out: "Are you not the stupid boy everybody is laughing at for
letting the weasel go? You will never catch the weasel."

"I'll stamp on you," said Bevis, in a great rage.

"S----s," called the grasshopper--who was frightened at this--to his
friends, and in a minute there were twenty of them jumping all round in
every direction, and as they were all just alike Bevis did not know
which to run after. When he looked up there was the brook close by, and
the drinking-place where the birds were to meet and bathe. It was a spot
where the ground shelved gently down from the grass to the brook; the
stream was very shallow and flowed over the sandy bottom with a gentle
murmur.

He went down to the brook and stood on the bank, where it was high near
a bush at the side of the drinking-place. "Ah, dear little Sir Bevis!"
whispered a reed, bending towards him as the wind blew, "please do not
come any nearer, the bank is steep and treacherous, and hollow
underneath where the water-rats run. So do not lean over after the
forget-me-nots--they are too far for you. Sit down where you are, behind
that little bush, and I will tell you all about the bathing." Bevis sat
down and picked a June rose from a briar that trailed over the bush, and
asked why the birds bathed.

"I do not know why," said the reed. "There is no why at all. We have
been listening to the brook, me and my family, for ever so many
thousands of years, and though the brook has been talking and singing
all that time, I never heard him ask why about anything. And the great
oak, where you went to sleep, has been there, goodness me, nobody can
tell how long, and every one of his leaves (he has had millions of them)
have all been talking, but not one of them ever asked why; nor does the
sun, nor the stars which I see every night shining in the clear water
down there, so that I am quite sure there is no why at all.

"But the birds come down to bathe every Midsummer Day, the goldfinches,
and the sparrows, and the blackbirds, and the thrushes, and the
swallows, and the wrens, and the robins, and almost every one of them,
except two or three, whose great-grandfathers got into disgrace a long
while ago. The rooks do not come because they are thieves, and steal the
mussels, nor the crows, who are a very bad lot; the swan does not come
either, unless the brook is muddy after a storm. The swan is so tired of
seeing himself in the water that he quite hates it, and that is the
reason he holds his neck so high, that he may not see more of himself
than he can help.

"It is no use your asking the brook why they come, because even if he
ever knew, he has forgotten. For the brook, though he sparkles so bright
in the sun, and is so clear and sweet, and looks so young, is really so
very, very old that he has quite lost his memory, and cannot remember
what was done yesterday. He did not even know which way the moor-hen
went just now, when I inquired, having a message to send to my relations
by the osier-bed yonder.

"But I have heard the heron say--he is talkative sometimes at night when
you are asleep, dear; he was down here this morning paddling about--that
the birds in the beginning learnt to sing by listening to the brook, and
perhaps that is the reason they pay him such deep respect. Besides,
everybody knows that according to an ancient prophecy which was
delivered by the raven before he left this country, if only the birds
can all bathe in the brook on Midsummer Day and hold their tongues, and
not abuse one another or quarrel, they will be able to compose their
differences, and ever afterwards live happily together.

"Then they could drive away the hawk, for there is only one hawk to ten
thousand finches, and if they only marched shoulder to shoulder all
together they could kill him with ease. They could smother the cat even,
by all coming down at once upon her, or they could carry up a stone and
drop on her head; and as for the crow, that old coward, if he saw them
coming he would take wing at once. But as they cannot agree, the hawk,
and the cat, and the crow do as they like. For the chaffinches all fight
one another, you heard them challenging, and saw them go to battle, and
then when at last they leave off and are good fellows again, they all
flock together and will have nothing to do with the goldfinches, or the
blackbirds. It is true the wood-pigeons, and the rooks, and the
starlings, and the fieldfares and redwings are often about in the same
field, but that is only because they eat the same things; if a hawk
comes they all fly away from each other, and do not unite and fight him
as they might do.

"But if once they could come down to the brook on Midsummer Day, and
never quarrel, then, according to the prophecy I told you of, all this
diversity would cease, and they would be able to do just as they
pleased, and build three or four nests in the summer instead of one, and
drive away and kill all the hawks, and crows, and cats. They tried to do
it, I can't tell you how many years, but they could never succeed, for
there was always a dispute about something, so at last they gave it up,
and it was almost forgotten (for they came to the conclusion that it was
no use to try), till last year, when the mole, the one that spoke to the
grasshopper just now, reminded them of it.

"Now the reason the mole reminded them of it was because one day a hawk
came down too quick for his wife (who was peeping out of doors), and
snapped her up in a minute, so he bore the hawk a grudge, and set about
to seek for vengeance. And as he could not fly or get at the hawk he
thought he would manage it through the other birds. So one morning when
the green woodpecker came down to pick up the ants with his tongue, the
mole looked out and promised to show him where there was a capital
feast, and to turn up the ground for him, if in return he would fly all
round the forest and the fields, and cry shame on the birds for letting
the hawk go on as he did when they could so easily prevent it, just by
holding their tongues one day.

"This the woodpecker promised to do, and after he had feasted off he
went, and having tapped on a tree to call attention, he began to cry
shame upon them, and having a very loud voice he soon let them know his
mind. At which the birds resolved to try again, and, do you know, last
year they very nearly succeeded. For it rained hard all Midsummer Day,
and when the birds came down to the brook they were so bedraggled, and
benumbed, and cold, and unhappy, that they had nothing to say for
themselves, but splashed about in silence, and everything would have
happened just right had not a rook, chancing to pass over, accidentally
dropped something he was carrying in his bill, which fell into the flags
there.

"The starling forgot himself, and remarked he supposed it was an acorn;
when the wood-pigeon called him a donkey, as the acorns were not yet
ripe, nor large enough to eat; and the usual uproar began again. But
afterwards, when they talked it over, they said to each other that, as
they had so nearly done it, it must be quite possible, and next year
they would all hold their tongues as tight as wax, though the sun should
drop out of the sky. Now the hawk, of course, being so high up, circling
round, saw and heard all this, and he was very much alarmed, as they had
so nearly succeeded; and he greatly feared lest next year, what he had
dreaded so long would come to pass, as the raven had foretold.

"So he flew down and took counsel of his ancient friend the weasel. What
they said I cannot tell you, nor has it been found out, but I have no
doubt they made up something wicked between them, and it is greatly to
be regretted that you let the weasel go, for the hawk, sharp as he is,
is not very clever at anything new, and if he had not got the weasel to
advise him I suspect he would not be much after all. We shall see
presently what they have contrived--I am much mistaken if they have not
put their heads together for something. Do you keep quite still, Bevis
dear, when the birds come, and take care and not frighten them."

"I will," said Bevis; "I will be very quiet."

"It is my turn to tell you a story now," said a green flag waving to and
fro in the brook. "The reed has been talking too much."

"No, it is my turn," said a perch from the water under the bank. Bevis
leaned over a little, and could see the bars across his back and sides.

"Hold your tongue," replied the flag; "you ate the roach this morning,
whose silvery scales used to flash like a light under the water."

"I will nibble you," said the perch, very angry. "I will teach you to
tell tales."

"I will ask the willow, he is a very old friend of mine, not to shake
any more insects into the brook for you from his leaves," replied the
flag.

"It was not I who ate the roach," said the perch; "it was the pike,
Bevis dear."

"Indeed it was not," said the pike, coming forward a little from under
some floating weeds, where he had been in hiding, so that Bevis could
now see his long body. "The perch says things that are not true."

"You know you hate me," said the perch; "because your
great-great-grandfather swallowed mine in a rage, and my
great-great-grandfather's spines stuck in your great-great-grandfather's
throat and killed him. And ever since then, Bevis dear, they have done
nothing but tell tales against me. I did not touch the roach; the pike
wanted him, I know, for breakfast."

"I deny it," said the pike; "but if it was not the perch it was the
rat."

"That's false," said the rat; "I have only this minute come down to the
brook. If it was not the pike nor the perch, depend upon it it was the
heron."

"I am sure it was not the heron," said a beautiful drake, who came
swimming down the stream. "I was here as early as any one, and I will
not have my acquaintance the heron accused in his absence. I assure you
it was not the heron."

"Well, who did it then?" said Bevis.

"The fact is," said a frog on the verge of the stream, "they are all as
bad as one another; the perch is a rogue and a thief; the pike is a
monster of iniquity; the heron never misses a chance of gobbling up
somebody; and as for the drake, for all his glossy neck and his innocent
look, he is as ready to pick up anything as the rest."

"Quack," cried the drake in a temper; "quack."

"Hush!" said a tench from the bottom of a deep hole under the bank--he
was always a peacemaker. "Hush! do stop the noise you are making. If you
would only lie quiet in the mud like me, how pleasant you would find
life."

"Bevis," began the reed; "Bevis dear. Ah, ah!" His voice died away, for
as the sun got higher the wind fell, and the reed could only speak while
the wind blew. The flag laughed as the reed was silenced.

"You need not laugh," said the perch; "you can only talk while the water
waggles you. The horse will come down to the brook to-morrow, and bite
off your long green tip, and then you will not be able to start any more
falsehoods about me."

"The birds are coming," said the frog. "I should like to swim across to
the other side, where I can see better, but I am afraid of the pike and
the drake. Bevis dear, fling that piece of dead stick at them."

Bevis picked up the dead stick and flung it at the drake, who hastened
off down the stream; the pike, startled at the splash, darted up the
brook, and the frog swam over in a minute. Then the birds began to come
down to the drinking-place, where the shore shelved very gently, and the
clear shallow water ran over the sandy bottom. They were all in their
very best and brightest feathers, and as the sun shone on them and they
splashed the water and strutted about, Bevis thought he had never seen
anything so beautiful.

They did not all bathe, for some of them were specially permitted only
to drink instead, but they all came, and all in their newest dresses. So
bright was the goldfinch's wing, that the lark, though she did not dare
speak, had no doubt she rouged. The sparrow, brushed and neat, so quiet
and subdued in his brown velvet, looked quite aristocratic among so much
flaunting colour. As for the blackbird, he had carefully washed himself
in the spring before he came to bathe in the brook, and he glanced round
with a bold and defiant air, as much as to say: "There is not one of you
who has so yellow a bill, and so beautiful a black coat as I have". In
the bush the bullfinch, who did not care much to mix with the crowd,
moved restlessly to and fro. The robin looked all the time at Bevis, so
anxious was he for admiration. The wood-pigeon, very consequential,
affected not to see the dove, whom Bevis longed to stroke, but could
not, as he had promised the reed to keep still.

All this time the birds, though they glanced at one another, and those
who were on good terms, like the chaffinch and the greenfinch, exchanged
a nod, had not spoken a word, and the reed, as a puff came, whispered to
Bevis that the prophecy would certainly come to pass, and they would
all be as happy as ever they could be. Why ever did they not make haste
and fly away, now they had all bathed or sipped? The truth was, they
liked to be seen in their best feathers, and none of them could make up
their minds to be the first to go home; so they strutted to and fro in
the sunshine. Bevis, in much excitement, could hardly refrain from
telling them to go.

He looked up into the sky, and there was the hawk, almost up among the
white clouds, soaring round and round, and watching all that was
proceeding. Almost before he could look down again a shadow went by, and
a cuckoo flew along very low, just over the drinking-place.

"Cuckoo!" he cried, "cuckoo! The goldfinch has the prettiest dress," and
off he went.

Now the hawk had bribed the cuckoo, who was his cousin, to do this, and
the cuckoo was not at all unwilling, for he had an interest himself in
keeping the birds divided, so he said that although he had made up his
mind to go on his summer tour, leaving his children to be taken care of
by the wagtail, he would stop a day or two longer, to manage this little
business. No sooner had the cuckoo said this, than there was a most
terrible uproar, and all the birds cried out at once. The blackbird was
so disgusted that he flew straight off, chattering all across the field
and up the hedge. The bullfinch tossed his head, and asked the goldfinch
to come up in the bush and see which was strongest. The greenfinch and
the chaffinch shrieked with derision; the wood-pigeon turned his back,
and said "Pooh!" and went off with a clatter. The sparrow flew to tell
his mates on the house, and you could hear the chatter they made about
it, right down at the brook. But the wren screamed loudest of all, and
said that the goldfinch was a painted impostor, and had not got half so
much gold as the yellow-hammer. So they were all scattered in a minute,
and Bevis stood up.

"Ah!" said the reed, "I am very sorry. It was the hawk's doings, I am
sure, and he was put up to the trick by the weasel, and now the birds
will never agree, for every year they will remember this. Is it not a
pity they are so vain? Bevis dear, you are going, I see. Come down
again, dear, when the wind blows stronger, and I will tell you another
story. Ah! ah!" he sighed; and was silent as the puff ceased.

Bevis, tired of sitting so long, went wandering up the brook, peeping
into the hollow willow trees, wishing he could dive like the rats, and
singing to the brook, who sang to him again, and taught him a very old
tune. By-and-by he came to the hatch, where the brook fell over with a
splash, and a constant bubbling, and churning, and gurgling. A
kingfisher, who had been perched on the rail of the hatch, flew off when
he saw Bevis, whistling: "Weep! weep!"

"Why do you say, weep, weep?" said Bevis. "Is it because the birds are
so foolish?" But the kingfisher did not stay to answer. The water
rushing over the hatch made so pleasant a sound that Bevis, delighted
with its tinkling music, sat down to listen and to watch the bubbles,
and see how far they would swim before they burst. Then he threw little
pieces of stick on the smooth surface above the hatch to see them come
floating over and plunge under the bubbles, and presently appear again
by the foam on the other side among the willow roots.

Still more sweetly sang the brook, so that even restless Bevis stayed to
hearken, though he could not quite make out what he was saying. A
moor-hen stole out from the rushes farther up, seeing that Bevis was
still enchanted with the singing, and began to feed among the green
weeds by the shore. A water-rat came out of his hole and fed in the
grass close by. A blue dragon-fly settled on a water-plantain. Up in the
ash-tree a dove perched and looked down at Bevis. Only the gnats were
busy; they danced and danced till Bevis thought they must be dizzy, just
over the water.

"Sing slower," said Bevis presently, "I want to hear what you are
saying." So the brook sang slower, but then it was too low, and he could
not catch the words. Then he thought he should like to go over to the
other side, and see what there was up the high bank among the brambles.
He looked at the hatch, and saw that there was a beam across the brook,
brown with weeds, which the water only splashed against and did not
cover deeply. By holding tight to the rail and putting his feet on the
beam he thought he could climb over.

He went down nearer and took hold of the rail, and was just going to put
his foot on the beam, when the brook stopped singing, and said: "Bevis
dear, do not do that; it is very deep here, and the beam is very
slippery, and if you should fall I would hold you up as long as I could,
but I am not very strong, and should you come to harm I should be very
unhappy. Do please go back to the field, and if you will come down some
day when I am not in such a hurry, I will sing to you very slowly, and
tell you everything I know. And if you come very gently, and on tip-toe,
you will see the kingfisher, or perhaps the heron." Bevis, when he heard
this, went back, and followed the hedge a good way, not much thinking
where he was going, but strolling along in the shadow, and humming to
himself the tune he had learnt from the brook. By-and-by he spied a gap
in the hedge under an ash-tree, so he went through in a minute, and
there was a high bank with trees like a copse, and bramble-bushes and
ferns. He went on up the bank, winding in and out the brambles, and at
last it was so steep he had to climb on his hands and knees, and
suddenly as he came round a bramble-bush there was the Long Pond, such a
great piece of water, all gleaming in the sunshine and reaching far away
to the woods and the hills, as if it had no end.

Bevis clapped his hands with delight, and was just going to stand up,
when something caught him by the ankles; he looked round, and it was the
bailiff, who had had an eye on him all the time from the hayfield. Bevis
kicked and struggled, but it was no use; the bailiff carried him home,
and then went back with a bill-hook, and cutting a thorn bush, stopped
up the gap in the hedge.



CHAPTER V.

KAPCHACK.


"Q--q--q," Bevis heard a starling say some weeks afterwards on the
chimney-top one morning when he woke up. The chimney was very old and
big, and the sound came down it to his room. "Q--q--q, my dear, I will
tell you a secret"--he was talking to his lady-love.

"Phe-hu," she said, in a flutter. Bevis could hear her wings go plainly.
"Whatever is it? Do tell me."

"Look all round first," he said, "and see that no one is about."

"No one is near, dear; the sparrows are out in the corn, and the
swallows are very high up; the blackbird is busy in the orchard, and the
robin is down at the red currants; there's no one near. Is it a very
great secret?"

"It is a very great secret indeed, and you must be very careful not to
whistle it out by accident; now if I tell you will you keep your beak
quite shut, darling?"

"Quite."

"Then, listen--Kapchack is in love."

"Phe--hu--u; who is it? Is he going to be married? How old is she? Who
told you? When did you hear it? Whatever will people say? Tell me all
about it, dear!"

"The tomtit told me just now in the fir-tree; the woodpecker told him on
his promising that he would not tell anybody else."

"When is the marriage to come off, dear?" she asked, interrupting him.
"Kapchack--Phe--u!"

Somebody came round the house, and away they flew, just as Bevis was
going to ask all about it. He went to the window as soon as he was
dressed, and as he opened it he saw a fly on the pane; he thought he
would ask the fly, but instantly the fly began to fidget, and finding
that the top of the window was open out he went, buzzing that Kapchack
was in love. At breakfast time a wasp came in--for the fruit was
beginning to ripen, and the wasps to get busy--and he went all round the
room saying that Kapchack was in love, but he would not listen to
anything Bevis asked, he was so full of Kapchack. When Bevis ran out of
doors the robin on the palings immediately said: "Kapchack is in love;
do you know Kapchack is in love?" and a second afterwards the wren flew
up to the top of the wood-pile and cried out just the same thing.

Three finches passed him as he went up the garden, telling each other
that Kapchack was in love. The mare in the meadow whinnied to her colt
that Kapchack was in love, and the cows went "boo" when they heard it,
and "booed" it to some more cows ever so far away. The leaves on the
apple-tree whispered it, and the news went all down the orchard in a
moment; and everything repeated it. Bevis got into his swing, and as he
swung to and fro he heard it all round him.

A humble-bee went along the grass telling all the flowers that were
left, and then up into the elm, and the elm told the ash, and the ash
told the oak, and the oak told the hawthorn, and it ran along the hedge
till it reached the willow, and the willow told the brook, and the brook
told the reeds, and the reeds told the kingfisher, and the kingfisher
went a mile down the stream and told the heron, and the heron went up
into the sky and called it out as loud as he could, and a rabbit heard
it and told another rabbit, and he ran across to the copse and told
another, and he told a mouse, and he told a butterfly, and the butterfly
told a moth, and the moth went into the great wood and told another
moth, and a wood-pigeon heard it and told more wood-pigeons, and so
everybody said: "Kapchack is in love!"

"But I thought it was a great secret," said Bevis to a thrush, "and that
nobody knew it, except the tomtit, and the woodpecker, and the starling;
and, besides, who is Kapchack?" The thrush was in the bushes where they
came to the haha, and when he heard Bevis ask who Kapchack was, he
laughed, and said he should tell everybody that Bevis, who shot his
uncle with the cannon-stick, was so very, very stupid he did not know
who Kapchack was. Ha! Ha! Could anybody be so ignorant? he should not
have believed it if he had not heard it.

Bevis, in a rage at this, jumped out of the swing and threw a stone at
the thrush, and so well did he fling it that if the thrush had not
slipped under a briar he would have had a good thump. Bevis went
wandering round the garden, and into his summer-house, when he heard
some sparrows in the ivy on the roof all chattering about Kapchack, and
out he ran to ask them, but they were off in a second to go and tell the
yellow-hammers. Bevis stamped his foot, he was so cross because nobody
would tell him about Kapchack, and he could not think what to do, till
as he was looking round the garden he saw the rhubarb, and remembered
the old toad. Very likely the toad would know; he was so old, and knew
almost everything. Away he ran to the rhubarb and looked under the piece
of wood, and there was the toad asleep, just as he always was.

He was so firm asleep, he did not know what Bevis said, till Bevis got a
twig and poked him a little. Then he yawned and woke up, and asked Bevis
what time it was, and how long it would be before the moon rose.

"I want to know who Kapchack is, this minute," said Bevis, "this _very_
minute, mind."

"Well I never!" said the toad, "well I never! Don't you know?"

"Tell me directly--this very minute--you horrid old toad!"

"Don't you really know?" said the toad.

"I'll have you shovelled up, and flung over to the pigs, if you don't
tell me," said Bevis. "No, I'll get my cannon-stick, and shoot you! No,
here's a big stone--I'll smash you! I hate you! Who's Kapchack?"

"Kapchack," said the toad, not in the least frightened, "Kapchack is the
magpie; and he is king over everything and everybody--over the fly and
the wasp, and the finches, and the heron, and the horse, and the rabbit,
and the flowers, and the trees. Kapchack, the great and mighty magpie,
is the king," and the toad bumped his chin on the ground, as if he stood
before the throne, so humble was he at the very name of Kapchack. Then
he shut one eye in a very peculiar manner, and put out his tongue.

"Why don't you like Kapchack?" said Bevis, who understood him in a
minute.

"Hush!" said the toad, and he repeated out loud, "Kapchack is the great
and noble magpie--Kapchack is the king!" Then he whispered to Bevis to
sit down on the grass very near him, so that he might speak to him
better, and not much louder than a whisper. When Bevis had sat down and
stooped a little, the toad came close to the mouth of his hole, and said
very quietly: "Bevis dear, Kapchack is a horrid wretch!"

"Why," said Bevis, "why do you hate him? and where does he live? and why
is he king? I suppose he is very beautiful?"

"Oh, dear, no!" said the toad, hastily, "he is the ugliest creature that
ever hopped. The feathers round one eye have all come out and left a
bare place, and he is quite blind on the other. Indeed his left eye is
gone altogether. His beak is chipped and worn; his wings are so beaten
and decayed that he can hardly fly; and there are several feathers out
of his tail. He is the most miserable thing you ever saw."

"Then why is he king?" asked Bevis.

"Because he is," said the toad; "and as he is king, nobody else can be.
It is true he is very wise--at least everybody says so--wiser than the
crow or the rook, or the weasel (though the weasel is so cunning). And
besides, he is so old, so very old, nobody knows when he was born, and
they say that he will always live, and never die. Why, he put my
grandfather in prison."

"In prison?" said Bevis. "Where is the prison?"

"In the elm-tree, at the top of the Home Field," said the toad. "My
grandfather has been shut up there in a little dungeon so tight, he
cannot turn round, or sit, or stand, or lie down, for so long a time
that, really, Bevis dear, I cannot tell you; but it was before you were
born. And all that time he has had nothing to eat or drink, and he has
never seen the sun or felt the air, and I do not suppose he has ever
heard anything unless when the thunderbolt fell on the oak close by.
Perhaps he heard the thunder then."

"Well, then, what has he been doing?" asked Bevis, "and why doesn't he
get out?"

"He cannot get out, because the tree has grown all round him quite hard,
as Kapchack knew it would when he ordered him to be put there in the
hole. He has not been doing anything but thinking."

"I should get tired of thinking all that time," said Bevis; "but why was
he put there?"

"For reasons of state," said the toad. "He knows too much. Once upon a
time he saw Kapchack do something, I do not know what it was, and
Kapchack was very angry, and had him put in there in case he should tell
other people. I went and asked him what it was before the tree quite
shut him in, while there was just a little chink you could talk through;
but he always told me to stop in my hole and mind my own business, else
perhaps I should get punished, as he had been. But he did tell me that
he could not help it, that he did not mean to see it, only just at the
moment it happened he turned round in his bed, and he opened his eyes
for a second, and you know the consequences, Bevis dear. So I advise you
always to look the other way, unless you're wanted."

"It was very cruel of Kapchack," said Bevis.

"Kapchack is very cruel," said the toad, "and very greedy, more greedy
even than the ants; and he has such a treasure in his palace as never
was heard of. No one can tell how rich he is. And as for cruelty, why,
he killed his uncle only a week since, just for not answering him the
very instant he spoke; he pecked him in the forehead and killed him.
Then he killed the poor little wren, whom he chanced to hear say that
the king was not so beautiful as her husband. Next he pecked a thrush to
death, because the thrush dared to come into his orchard without
special permission.

"But it is no use my trying to tell you all the shameful things he has
done in all these years. There is never a year goes by without his doing
something dreadful; and he has made everybody miserable at one time or
other by killing their friends or relations, from the snail to the
partridge. He is quite merciless, and spares no one; why, his own
children are afraid of him, and it is believed that he has pecked
several of them to death, though it is hushed up; but people talk about
it all the same, sometimes. As for the way he has behaved to the ladies,
if I were to tell you you would never believe it."

"I hate him," said Bevis. "Why ever do they let him be king? How they
must hate him."

"Oh, no, they don't, dear," said the toad. "If you were to hear how they
go on, you would think he was the nicest and kindest person that ever
existed. They sing his praises all day long; that is, in the spring and
summer, while the birds have their voices. You must have heard them,
only you did not understand them. The finches and the thrushes, and the
yellow-hammers and the wrens, and all the birds, every one of them,
except Choo Hoo, the great rebel, sing Kapchack's praises all day long,
and tell him that they love him more than they love their eggs, or their
wives, or their nests, and that he is the very best and nicest of all,
and that he never did anything wrong, but is always right and always
just.

"And they say his eye is brighter than the sun, and that he can see more
with his one eye than all the other birds put together; and that his
feathers are blacker and whiter and more beautiful than anything else in
the world, and his voice sweeter than the nightingale's. Now, if you
will stoop a little lower I will whisper to you the reason they do this
(Bevis stooped down close); the truth is they are afraid lest he should
come himself and peck their eggs, or their children, or their wives, or
if not himself that he should send the hawk, or the weasel, or the
stoat, or the rat, or the crow. Don't you ever listen to the crow,
Bevis; he is a black scoundrel.

"For Kapchack has got all the crows, and hawks, and weasels (especially
that very cunning one, that old wretch that cheated you), and rats, to
do just as he tells them. They are his soldiers, and they carry out his
bidding quicker than you can wink your eye, or than I can shoot out my
tongue, which I can do so quickly that you cannot see it. When the
spring is over and the birds lose their voices (many of them have
already), they each send one or two of their number every day to visit
the orchard where Kapchack lives, and to say (as they can no longer
sing) that they still think just the same, and they are all his very
humble servants. Kapchack takes no notice of them whatever unless they
happen to do what he does not like, and then they find out very soon
that he has got plenty of spies about.

"My opinion is that the snail is no better than a spy and a common
informer. Do you just look round and turn over any leaves that are
near, lest any should be here, and tell tales about me. I can tell you,
it is a very dangerous thing to talk about Kapchack, somebody or other
is sure to hear, and to go and tell him, so as to get into favour. Now,
that is what I hate. All the rabbits and hares (and your friend the hare
that lives at the top of the Home Field), and the squirrel and the
mouse, all of them have to do just the same as the birds, and send
messages to Kapchack, praising him and promising to do exactly as he
tells them, all except Choo Hoo."

"Who is Choo Hoo?" said Bevis.

"Choo Hoo is the great wood-pigeon," said the toad. "He is a rebel; but
I cannot tell you much about him, for it is only of late years that we
have heard anything of him, and I do not know much about the present
state of things. Most of the things I can tell you happened, or began, a
long time ago. If you want to know what is going on now, the best person
you can go to is the squirrel. He is a very good fellow; he can tell
you. I will give you a recommendation to him, or perhaps he will be
afraid to open his mouth too freely; for, as I said before, it is a very
dangerous thing to talk about Kapchack, and everybody is most terribly
afraid of him--he is so full of malice."

"Why ever do they let him be king?" said Bevis; "I would not, if I were
them. Why ever do they put up with him, and his cruelty and greediness?
I will tell the thrush and the starling not to endure him any longer."

"Pooh! pooh!" said the toad. "It is all very well for you to say so, but
you must excuse me for saying, my dear Sir Bevis, that you really know
very little about it. The thrush and the starling would not understand
what you meant. The thrush's father always did as Kapchack told him, and
sang his praises, as I told you, and so did his grandfather, and his
great-grandfather, and all his friends and relations, these years and
years past. So that now the thrushes have no idea of there being no
Kapchack. They could not understand you, if you tried to explain to them
how nice it would be without him. If you sat in your swing and talked to
them all day long, for all the summer through, they would only think you
very stupid even to suppose such a state of things as no Kapchack. Quite
impossible, Bevis dear!--excuse me correcting you. Why, instead of
liking it, they would say it would be very dreadful to have no
Kapchack."

"Well, they are silly!" said Bevis. "But _you_ do not like Kapchack!"

"No, I do not," said the toad; "and if you will stoop down
again----(Bevis stooped still nearer.) No; perhaps you had better lie
down on the grass! There--now I can talk to you quite freely. The fact
is, do you know, there are other people besides me who do not like
Kapchack. The crow--I can't have anything to do with such an old
rogue!--the crow, I am certain, hates Kapchack, but he dares not say so.
Now I am so old, and they think me so stupid and deaf that people say a
good deal before me, never imagining that I take any notice. And when I
have been out of a dewy evening, I have distinctly heard the crow
grumbling about Kapchack. The crow thinks he is quite as clever as
Kapchack, and would make quite as good a king.

"Nor is the rat satisfied, nor the weasel, nor the hawk. I am sure they
are not, but they cannot do anything alone, and they are so suspicious
of each other they cannot agree. So that, though they are dissatisfied,
they can do nothing. I daresay Kapchack knows it very well indeed. He is
so wise--so very, very wise--that he can see right into what they think,
and he knows that they hate him, and he laughs in his sleeve. I will
tell you what he does. He sets the hawk on against the rat, and the rat
on against the crow, and the crow against the weasel. He tells them all
sorts of things; so that the weasel thinks the crow tells tales about
him, and the hawk thinks the rat has turned tail and betrayed his
confidence. The result is, they hate one another as much as they hate
him.

"And he told the rook--it was very clever of him to do so, yes, it was
very clever of him, I must admit that Kapchack is extremely clever--that
if he was not king somebody else would be, perhaps the hawk, or the rat.
Now the rook told his friends at the rookery, and they told everybody
else, and when people came to talk about it, they said it was very true.
If Kapchack was not king, perhaps the hawk would be, and he would be as
bad, or worse; or the rat, and he would be very much worse; or perhaps
the weasel, the very worst of all.

"So they agreed that, rather than have these, they would have Kapchack
as the least evil. When the hawk and the rat heard what the king had
said, they hated each other ten times more than before, lest
Kapchack--if ever he should give up the crown--should choose one or
other of them as his successor, for that was how they understood the
hint. Not that there is the least chance of his giving up the crown; not
he, my dear, and he will never die, as everybody knows (here the toad
winked slightly), and he will never grow any older; all he does is to
grow wiser, and wiser, and wiser, and wiser. All the other birds die,
but Kapchack lives for ever. Long live the mighty Kapchack!" said the
toad very loud, that all might hear how loyal he was, and then went on
speaking lower. "Yet the hawk, and the crow, and the rook, and the jay,
and all of them, though they hate Kapchack in their hearts, all come
round him bowing down, and they peck the ground where he has just
walked, and kiss the earth he has stood on, in token of their humility
and obedience to him. Each tries to outdo the rest in servility. They
bring all the news to the palace, and if they find anything very nice in
the fields, they send a message to say where it is, and leave it for
him, so that he eats the very fat of the land."

"And where is his palace?" asked Bevis. "I should like to go and see
him."

"His palace is up in an immense old apple-tree, dear. It is a long way
from here, and it is in an orchard, where nobody is allowed to go. And
this is the strangest part of it all, and I have often wondered and
thought about it months together; once I thought about it for a whole
year, but I cannot make out why it is that the owner of the orchard, who
lives in the house close by it, is so fond of Kapchack. He will not let
anybody go into the orchard unless with him. He keeps it locked (there
is a high wall around), and carries the key in his pocket.

"As the orchard is very big, and Kapchack's nest is in the middle, no
one can see even it from the outside, nor can any boys fling a stone and
hit it; nor, indeed, could any one shoot at it, because the boughs are
all round it. Thus Kapchack's palace is protected with a high wall, by
the boughs, by its distance from the outside, by lock and key, and by
the owner of the orchard, who thinks more of him than of all the world
besides. He will not let any other big birds go into the orchard at all,
unless Kapchack seems to like it; he will bring out his gun and shoot
them. He watches over Kapchack as carefully as if Kapchack were his son.
As for the cats he has shot for getting into the orchard, there must
have been a hundred of them.

"So that Kapchack every year puts a few more sticks on his nest, and
brings up his family in perfect safety, which is what no other bird can
do, neither the rook, nor the hawk, nor the crow, nor could even the
raven, when he lived in this country. This is a very great advantage to
Kapchack, for he has thus a fortress to retreat to, into which no one
can enter, and he can defy everybody; and this is a great help to him as
king. It is also one reason why he lives so long, though perhaps there
is another reason, which I cannot, really I dare not, even hint at; it
is such a dreadful secret, I should have my head split open with a peck
if I even so much as dared to think it. Besides which, perhaps it is not
true.

"If it were not so far, and if there was not a wall round the orchard, I
would tell you which way to go to find the place. His palace is now so
big he can hardly make it any bigger lest it should fall; yet it is so
full of treasures that it can barely hold them all. There are many who
would like to rob him, I know. The crow is one; but they dare not
attempt it, not only for fear of Kapchack, but because they would
certainly be shot.

"Everybody talks about the enormous treasure he has up there, and
everybody envies him. But there are very dark corners in his palace,
dark and blood-stained, for, as I told you, his family history is full
of direful deeds. Besides killing his uncle, and, as is whispered,
several of his children, because he suspected them of designs upon his
throne, he has made away with a great many of his wives, I should think
at least twenty. So soon as they begin to get old and ugly they
die--people pretend the palace is not healthy to live in, being so
ancient, and that that is the reason. Though doubtless they are very
aggravating, and very jealous. Did you hear who it was Kapchack was in
love with?"

"No," said Bevis. "The starling flew away before I could ask him, and as
for the rest they are so busy telling one another they will not answer
me."

"One thing is very certain," said the toad, "if Kapchack is in love you
may be sure there will be some terrible tragedy in the palace, for his
wife will be jealous, and besides that his eldest son and heir will not
like it. Prince Tchack-tchack is not a very good temper--Tchack-tchack
is his son, I should tell you--and he is already very tired of waiting
for the throne. But it is no use his being tired, for Kapchack does not
mean to die. Now, Bevis dear, I have told you everything I can think of,
and I am tired of sitting at the mouth of this hole, where the sunshine
comes, and must go back to sleep.

"But if you want to know anything about the present state of things (as
I can only tell you what happened a long time since) you had better go
and call on the squirrel, and say I sent you, and he will inform you. He
is about the best fellow I know; it is true he will sometimes bite when
he is very frisky, it is only his play, but you can look sharp and put
your hands in your pockets. He is the best of them all, dear; better
than the fox, or the weasel, or the rat, or the stoat, or the mouse, or
any of them. He knows all that is going on, because the starlings, who
are extremely talkative, come every night to sleep in the copse where he
lives, and have a long gossip before they go to sleep; indeed, all the
birds go to the copse to chat, the rooks, the wood-pigeons, the
pheasant, and the thrush, besides the rabbits and the hares, so that
the squirrel, to whom the copse belongs, hears everything."

"But I do not know my way to the copse," said Bevis; "please tell me the
way."

"You must go up to the great oak-tree, dear," said the toad, "where you
once went to sleep, and then go across to the wheat-field, and a little
farther you will see a footpath, which will take you to another field,
and you will see the copse on your right. Now the way into the copse is
over a narrow bridge, it is only a tree put across the ditch, and you
must be careful how you cross it, and hold tight to the hand-rail, and
look where you put your feet. It is apt to be slippery, and the ditch
beneath is very deep; there is not much water, but a great deal of mud.
I recollect it very well, though I have not been there for some time: I
slipped off the bridge one rainy night in the dark, and had rather a
heavy fall. The bridge is now dry, and therefore you can pass it easily
if you do not leave go of the hand-rail. Good-morning, dear, I feel so
sleepy--come and tell me with whom Kapchack has fallen in love; and
remember me to the squirrel." So saying the toad went back into his hole
and went to sleep.



CHAPTER VI.

THE SQUIRREL.


All this talking had passed away the morning, but in the afternoon, when
the sun got a little lower, and the heat was not quite so great, Bevis,
who had not been allowed to go out at noon, came forth again, and at
once started up the Home Field. He easily reached the great oak-tree,
and from there he knew his way to the corner of the wheat-field, where
he stopped and looked for the hare, but she was not there, nor did she
answer when he called to her. At the sound of his voice a number of
sparrows rose from the wheat, which was now ripening, and flew up to the
hedge, where they began to chatter about Kapchack's love affair.

Bevis walked on across the field, and presently found a footpath; he
followed this, as the toad had instructed him, and after getting over
two stiles there was the copse on the right, though he had to climb over
a high gate to get into the meadow next to it. There was nothing in the
meadow except a rabbit, who turned up his white tail and went into his
hole, for having seen Bevis with the hare, whom he did not like, the
rabbit did not care to speak to Bevis. When Bevis had crossed the meadow
he found, just as the toad had said, that there was a very deep ditch
round the copse, but scarcely any water in it, and that was almost
hidden with weeds.

After walking a little way along the ditch he saw the tree which had
been cut down and thrown across for a bridge. It was covered with moss,
and in the shadow underneath it the hart's-tongue fern was growing.
Remembering what the toad had told him, Bevis put his hand on the
rail--it was a willow pole--but found that it was not very safe, for at
the end the wasps (a long time ago) had eaten it hollow, carrying away
the wood for their nests, and what they had left had become rotten.
Still it was enough to steady his footsteps, and taking care that he did
not put his foot on a knot, Bevis got across safely. There was a rail to
climb over on the other side, and then he was in the copse, and began to
walk down a broad green path, a road which wound in among the ash-wood.

Nobody said anything to him, it was quite silent, so silent, that he
could hear the snap of the dragon-fly's wing as he stopped in his swift
flight and returned again. Bevis pulled a handful of long green rushes,
and then he picked some of the burrs from the tall burdocks; they stuck
to his fingers when he tried to fling them away, and would not go. The
great thistles were ever so far above his head, and the humble-bees on
them glanced down at him as he passed. Bevis very carefully looked at
the bramble-bushes to see how the blackberries were coming on; but the
berries were red and green, and the flowers had not yet all gone. There
was such a beautiful piece of woodbine hanging from one of the ash-poles
that he was not satisfied till he had gathered some of it; the long
brome-grass tickled his face while he was pulling at the honeysuckle.

He clapped his hands when he found some young nuts; he knew they were
not ripe, but he picked one and bit it with his teeth, just to feel how
soft it was. There were several very nice sticks, some of which he had
half a mind to stay and cut, and put his hand in his pocket for his
knife, but there were so many things to look at, he thought he would go
on a little farther, and come back and cut them presently. The ferns
were so tall and thick in many places that he could not see in among the
trees. When he looked back he had left the place where he came in so far
behind that he could not see it, nor when he looked round could he see
any daylight through the wood; there was only the sky overhead and the
trees and ash-stoles, and bushes, and thistles, and long grass, and fern
all about him.

Bevis liked it very much, and he ran on and kicked over a bunch of tawny
fungus as he went, till by-and-by he came to a piece of timber lying on
the ground, and sat down upon it. Some finches went over just then; they
were talking about Kapchack as they flew; they went so fast he could not
hear much. But the squirrel was nowhere about; he called to him, but no
one answered, and he began to think he should never find him, when
presently, while he sat on the timber whistling very happily, something
came round the corner, and Bevis saw it was the hare.

She ran up to him quickly, and sat down at his feet, and he stroked her
very softly. "I called for you at the wheat-field," he said, "but you
were not there."

"No, dear," said the hare, "the truth is, I have been waiting for ever
so long to come into the copse on a visit to an old friend, but you must
know that the weasel lives here."

"Does the weasel live here?" said Bevis, starting up. "Tell me where,
and I will kill him; I will cut off his head with my knife."

"I cannot tell you exactly where he lives," said the hare, "but it is
somewhere in the copse. It is of no use your looking about; it is in
some hole or other, quite hidden, and you would never find it. I am
afraid to come into the copse while he is here; but this afternoon the
dragon-fly brought me word that the weasel had gone out. So I made haste
to come while he was away, as I had not seen my old friend the squirrel
for ever so long, and I wanted to know if the news was true."

"Do you mean about Kapchack?" said Bevis. "I came to see the squirrel
too, but I cannot find him."

"Yes, I mean about Kapchack," said the hare. "Is it not silly of him to
fall in love at his age? Why, he must be ten times as old as me! Really,
I some times think that the older people get the sillier they are. But
it is not much use your looking for the squirrel, dear. He may be up in
the fir-tree, or he may be in the beech, or he may have gone along the
hedge. If you were by yourself, the best thing you could do would be to
sit still where you are, and he would be nearly sure to come by, sooner
or later. He is so restless, he goes all over the copse, and is never
very long in one place. Since, however, you and I have met, I will find
him for you, and send him to you."

"How long shall you be?" said Bevis. "I am tired of sitting here now,
and I shall go on along the path."

"Oh, then," said the hare, "I shall not know where to find you, and that
will not do. Now, I know what I will do. I will take you to the
raspberries, and there you can eat the fruit till I send the squirrel."

The hare leapt into the fern, and Bevis went after her. She led him in
and out, and round the ash-stoles and bushes, till he had not the least
idea which way he was going. After a time, they came to an immense
thicket of bramble and thorn, and fern growing up in it, and honeysuckle
climbing over it.

"It is inside this thicket," said the hare. "Let us go all round, and
see if we can find a way in."

There was a place under an ash-stole, where Bevis could just creep
beneath the boughs (the boughs held up the brambles), and after going on
his hands and knees after the hare a good way, he found himself inside
the thicket, where there was an open space grown over with raspberry
canes. Bevis shouted with delight as he saw the raspberries were ripe,
and began to eat them at once.

"How ever did they get here?" he asked.

"I think it was the thrush," said the hare. "It was one of the birds, no
doubt. They take the fruit out of the orchards and gardens, and that was
how it came here, I daresay. Now, don't you go outside the thicket till
the squirrel comes. And when you have quite done talking to the
squirrel, ask him to show you the way back to the timber, and there I
will meet you, and lead you to the wheat-field, where you can see the
oak-tree, and know your way home. Mind you do not go outside the thicket
without the squirrel, or you will lose your way, and wander about among
the trees till it is night."

Off went the hare to find the squirrel, and Bevis set to work to eat as
many of the raspberries as he could.

Among the raspberry canes he found three or four rabbit-holes, and
hearing the rabbits talking to each other, he stooped down to listen.
They were talking scandal about the hare, and saying that she was very
naughty, and rambled about too much. At this Bevis was very angry, and
stamped his foot above the hole, and told them they ought to be ashamed
of themselves for saying such things. The rabbits, very much frightened,
went down farther into their holes. After which Bevis ate a great many
more raspberries, and presently, feeling very lazy, he lay down on some
moss at the foot of an oak-tree, and kicked his heels on the ground, and
looked up at the blue sky, as he always did when he wanted some one to
speak to. He did not know how long he had been gazing at the sky, when
he heard some one say: "Bevis dear!" and turning that way he saw the
squirrel, who had come up very quietly, and was sitting on one of the
lower branches of the oak close to him.

"Well, squirrel," said Bevis, sitting up; "the toad said I was to
remember him to you. And now be very quick, and tell me all you know
about Kapchack, and who it is he is in love with, and all about the
rebel, Choo Hoo, and everything else, in a minute."

"Well, you are in a hurry," said the squirrel, laughing; "and so am I,
generally; but this afternoon I have nothing to do, and I am very glad
you have come, dear. Now, first----"

"First," said Bevis, interrupting, "why did the starling say it was a
great secret, when everybody knew it?"

"It was a great secret," said the squirrel, "till Prince Tchack-tchack
came down here (he is the heir, you know) in a dreadful fit of temper,
and told the tomtit whom he met in the fir-tree, and the tomtit told the
woodpecker, and the woodpecker told the starling, who told his lady-love
on the chimney, and the fly heard him, and when you opened the window
the fly went out and buzzed it to everybody while you were at breakfast.
By this time it is all over the world; and I daresay even the sea-gulls,
though they live such a long way off, have heard it. Kapchack is beside
himself with rage that it should be known, and Tchack-tchack is afraid
to go near him. He made a great peck at Tchack-tchack just now."

"But why should there be so much trouble about it?" said Bevis.

"Oh," said the squirrel, "it is a very serious business, let me tell
you. It is not an ordinary falling in love, it is nothing less than a
complete revolution of everything, and it will upset all the rules and
laws that have been handed down ever since the world began."

"Dear me!" said Bevis. "And who is it Kapchack is in love with? I have
asked twenty people, but no one will tell me."

"Why, I am telling you," said the squirrel. "Don't you see, if it had
been an ordinary affair--only a young magpie--it would not have mattered
much, though I daresay the queen would have been jealous, but this----"

"Who is it?" said Bevis, in a rage. "Why don't you tell me who it is?"

"I am telling you," said the squirrel, sharply.

"No, you're not. You're telling me a lot of things, but not what I want
to know."

"Oh, well," said the squirrel, tossing his head and swishing his tail,
"of course, if you know more about it than I do it is no use my
staying." So off he went in a pet.

Up jumped Bevis. "You're a stupid donkey," he shouted, and ran across to
the other side, and threw a piece of stick up into an elm-tree after the
squirrel. But the squirrel was so quick he could not see which way he
had gone, and in half-a-minute he heard the squirrel say very softly:
"Bevis dear," behind him, and looked back, and there he was sitting on
the oak bough again.

The squirrel, as the toad had said, was really a very good fellow; he
was very quick to take offence, but his temper only lasted a minute.
"Bevis dear," he said, "come back and sit down again on the moss, and I
will tell you."

"I sha'n't come back," said Bevis, rather sulkily. "I shall sit here."

"No, no; don't stop there," said the squirrel, very anxiously. "Don't
stop there, dear; can't you see that great bough above you; that
elm-tree is very wicked, and full of malice, do not stop there, he may
hurt you."

"Pooh! what rubbish!" said Bevis; "I don't believe you. It is a very
nice elm, I am sure. Besides, how can he hurt me? He has got no legs and
he can't run after me, and he has no hands and he can't catch me. I'm
not a bit afraid of him;" and he kicked the elm with all his might.
Without waiting a second, the squirrel jumped down out of the oak and
ran across and caught hold of Bevis by his stocking--he could not catch
hold of his jacket--and tried to drag him away. Seeing the squirrel in
such an excited state, Bevis went with him to please him, and sat down
on the moss under the oak. The squirrel went up on the bough, and Bevis
laughed at him for being so silly.

"Ah, but my dear Sir Bevis," said the squirrel, "you do not know all, or
you would not say what you did. You think because the elm has no legs
and cannot run after you, and because he has no hands and cannot catch
you, that therefore he cannot do you any harm. You are very much
mistaken; that is a very malicious elm, and of a very wicked
disposition. Elms, indeed, are very treacherous, and I recommend you to
have nothing to do with them, dear."

"But how could he hurt me?" said Bevis.

"He can wait till you go under him," said the squirrel, "and then drop
that big bough on you. He has had that bough waiting to drop on somebody
for quite ten years. Just look up and see how thick it is, and heavy;
why, it would smash a man out flat. Now, the reason the elms are so
dangerous is because they will wait so long till somebody passes. Trees
can do a great deal, I can tell you; why, I have known a tree, when it
could not drop a bough, fall down altogether when there was not a breath
of wind, nor any lightning, just to kill a cow or a sheep, out of sheer
bad temper."

"But oaks do not fall, do they?" asked Bevis, looking up in some alarm
at the oak above him.

"Oh, no," said the squirrel; "the oak is a very good tree, and so is the
beech and the ash, and many more (though I am not quite certain of the
horse-chestnut, I have heard of his playing tricks), but the elm is not;
if he can he will do something spiteful. I never go up an elm if I can
help it, not unless I am frightened by a dog or somebody coming along.
The only fall I ever had was out of an elm.

"I ran up one in a hurry, away from that wretch, the weasel (you know
him), and put my foot on a dried branch, and the elm, like a treacherous
thing as he is, let it go, and down I went crash, and should have hurt
myself very much if my old friend the ivy had not put out a piece for me
to catch hold of, and so just saved me. As for you, dear, don't you ever
sit under an elm, for you are very likely to take cold there, there is
always a draught under an elm on the warmest day.

"If it should come on to rain while you are out for a walk, be sure and
not go under an elm for shelter if the wind is blowing, for the elm, if
he possibly can, will take advantage of the storm to smash you.

"And elms are so patient, they will wait sixty or seventy years to do
somebody an injury; if they cannot get a branch ready to fall they will
let the rain in at a knot-hole, and so make it rotten inside, though it
looks green without, or ask some fungus to come up and grow there, and
so get the bough ready for them. That elm across there is quite rotten
inside--there is a hole inside so big you could stand up, and yet if
anybody went by they would say what a splendid tree.

"But if you asked Kauhaha, the rook, he would shake his head, and
decline to have anything to do with that tree. So, my dear Sir Bevis, do
not you think any more that because a thing has no legs, nor arms, nor
eyes, nor ears, that therefore it cannot hurt you. There is the earth,
for instance; you may stamp on the earth with your feet and she will not
say anything, she will put up with anything, but she is always lying in
wait all the same, and if you could only find all the money she has
buried you would be the richest man in the world; I could tell you
something about that. The flints even----"

"Now I do not believe what you are going to say," said Bevis, "I am sure
the flints cannot do anything, for I have picked up hundreds of them and
flung them splash into the brook."

"But I assure you they can," said the squirrel. "I will tell you a story
about a flint that happened only a short time since, and then you will
believe. Once upon a time a waggon was sent up on the hills to fetch a
load of flints; it was a very old waggon, and it wanted mending, for it
belonged to a man who never would mend anything."

"Who was that?" said Bevis. "What a curious man."

"It was the same old gentleman (he is a farmer, only he is like your
papa, Sir Bevis, and his land is his own), the same old gentleman who is
so fond of Kapchack, whose palace is in his orchard. Well, the waggon
went up on the hills, where the men had dug up some flints which had
been lying quite motionless in the ground for so many thousand years
that nobody could count them. There were at least five thousand flints,
and the waggon went jolting down the hill and on to the road, and as it
went the flints tried to get out, but they could not manage it, none but
one flint, which was smaller than the rest.

"This one flint, of all the five thousand, squeezed out of a hole in the
bottom of the waggon, and fell on the dust in the road, and was left
there. There was not much traffic on the road (it is the same, dear,
that goes to Southampton, where the ships are), so that it remained
where it fell. Only one waggon came by with a load of hay, and had the
wheel gone over the flint of course it would have been crushed to
pieces. But the waggoner, instead of walking by his horses, was on the
grass at the side of the road talking to a labourer in the field, and
his team did not pass on their right side of the road, but more in the
middle, and so the flint was not crushed.

"In the evening, when it was dark, a very old and very wealthy gentleman
came along in his dog-cart, and his horse, which was a valuable one,
chanced to slip on the flint, which, being sharp and jagged, hurt its
hoof, and down the horse fell. The elderly gentleman and his groom, who
was driving, were thrown out; the groom was not hurt, but his master
broke his arm, and the horse broke his knees. The gentleman was so angry
that no sooner did he get home than he dismissed the groom, though it
was no fault of his, for how could he see the flint in the night? Nor
would he give the man a character, and the consequence was he could not
find another place. He soon began to starve, and then he was obliged to
steal, and after a while he became a burglar.

"One night he entered a house in London, and was getting on well, and
stealing gold watches and such things, when somebody opened the door
and tried to seize him. Pulling out his pistol, he shot his assailant
dead on the spot, and at once escaped, and has not since been heard of,
though you may be sure if he is caught he will be hung, and they are
looking very sharp after him, because he stole a box with some papers in
it which are said to be of great value. And the person he shot was the
same gentleman who had discharged him because the horse fell down. Now
all this happened through the flint, and as I told you, Bevis dear,
about the elm, the danger with such things is that they will wait so
long to do mischief.

"This flint, you see, waited so many years that nobody could count them,
till the waggon came to fetch it. They are never tired of waiting. Be
very careful, Bevis dear, how you climb up a tree, or how you put your
head out of window, for there is a thing that is always lying in wait,
and will pull you down in a minute, if you do not take care. It has been
waiting there to make something fall ever since the beginning of the
world, long before your house was built, dear, or before any of the
trees grew. You cannot see it, but it is there, as you may prove by
putting your cap out of window, which in a second will begin to fall
down, as you would if you were tilted out.

"And I daresay you have seen people swimming, which is a very pleasant
thing, I hear from the wild ducks; but all the time the water is lying
in wait, and if they stop swimming a minute they will be drowned, and
although a man very soon gets tired of swimming, the water never gets
tired of waiting, but is always ready to drown him.

"Also, it is the same with your candle, Bevis dear, and this the bat
told me, for he once saw it happen, looking in at a window as he flew
by, and he shrieked as loud as he could, but his voice is so very shrill
that it is not everybody can hear him, and all his efforts were in vain.
For a lady had gone to sleep in bed and left her candle burning on the
dressing-table, just where she had left it fifty times before, and found
it burnt down to the socket in the morning, and no harm done. But that
night she had had a new pair of gloves, which were wrapped up in a piece
of paper, and she undid these gloves and left the piece of paper
underneath the candlestick, and yet it would not have hurt had the
candle been put up properly, but instead of that a match had been stuck
in at the side, like a wedge, to keep it up. When the flame came down to
the match the match caught fire, and when it had burnt a little way
down, that piece fell off, and dropped on the paper in which the gloves
had been wrapped. The paper being very thin was alight in an instant,
and from the paper the flame travelled to some gauze things hung on the
looking-glass, and from that to the window curtains, and from the window
curtains to the bed curtains, till the room was in a blaze, and though
the bat shrieked his loudest the lady did not wake till she was very
much burnt.

"Also with the sea; for the cod-fish told the seagull, who told the
heron, who related the fact to the kingfisher, who informed me. The
cod-fish was swimming about in the sea and saw a ship at anchor, and
coming by the chain-cable the fish saw that one of the links of the
chain was nearly eaten through with rust; but as the wind was calm it
did not matter. Next time the ship came there to anchor the cod-fish
looked again; and the rust had gone still further into the link. A third
time the ship came back to anchor there, and the sailors went to sleep
thinking it was all right, but the cod-fish swam by and saw that the
link only just held. In the night there came a storm, and the sailors
woke up to find the vessel drifting on the rocks, where she was broken
to pieces, and hardly any of them escaped.

"Also, with living things, Bevis dear; for there was once a little
creeping thing (the sun-beetle told me he heard it from his grandfather)
which bored a hole into a beam under the floor of a room--the hole was
so tiny you could scarcely see it, and the beam was so big twenty men
could not lift it. After the creeping thing had bored this little hole
it died, but it left ten children, and they bored ten more little holes,
and when they died they left ten each, and they bored a hundred holes,
and left a thousand, and they bored a thousand holes, and they left a
thousand tens, who bored ten thousand holes, and left ten thousand tens,
and they bored one hundred thousand holes, and left one hundred thousand
tens, and they bored a million holes; and when a great number of people
met in the room to hear a man speak, down the beam fell crash, and they
were all dreadfully injured.

"Now, therefore, Bevis, my dear little Sir Bevis, do you take great care
and never think any more that a thing cannot hurt you, because it has
not got any legs, and cannot run after you, or because it has no hands,
and cannot catch you, or because it is very tiny, and you cannot see it,
but could kill a thousand with the heel of your boot. For as I told you
about the malice-minded elm, all these things are so terribly dangerous,
because they can wait so long, and because they never forget.

"Therefore, if you climb up a tree, be sure and remember to hold tight,
and not forget, for the earth will not forget, but will pull you down to
it thump, and hurt you very much. And remember if you walk by the water
that it is water, and do not forget, for the water will not forget, and
if you should fall in, will let you sink and drown you. And if you take
a candle be careful what you are doing, and do not forget that fire will
burn, for the fire will not forget, but will always be on the look-out
and ready, and will burn you without mercy. And be sure to see that no
little unseen creeping thing is at work, for they are everywhere boring
holes into the beam of life till it cracks unexpectedly; but you must
stay till you are older, and have eaten the peck of salt your papa tells
you about, before you can understand all that. Now----"

"But," said Bevis, who had been listening to the story very carefully,
"you have not told me about the wind. You have told me about the earth,
and the water, and the fire, but you have not said anything about the
wind."

"No more I have," said the squirrel. "You see I forget, though the earth
does not, neither does the water, nor the fire. Well, the wind is the
nicest of all of them, and you need never be afraid of the wind, for he
blows so sweetly, and brings the odour of flowers, and fills you with
life, and joy, and happiness. And oh, Bevis dear, you should listen to
the delicious songs he sings, and the stories he tells as he goes
through the fir-tree and the oak. Of course if you are on the ground, so
far below, you can only hear a sound of whispering, unless your ears are
very sharp; but if you were up in the boughs with me, you would be
enchanted with the beauty of his voice.

"No, dear, never be afraid of the wind, but put your doors open and let
him come in, and throw your window open and let him wander round the
room, and take your cap off sometimes, and let him stroke your hair. The
wind is a darling--I love the wind, and so do you, dear, for I have seen
you racing about when the wind was rough, chasing the leaves and
shouting with delight. Now with the wind it is just the reverse to what
it is with all the others. If you fall on the earth it thumps you; into
the water, it drowns you; into the fire, it burns you; but you cannot do
without wind.

"Always remember that you must have wind, dear, and do not get into a
drawer, as I have heard of boys doing, from the mouse, who goes about a
good deal indoors, and being suffocated for want of wind; or into a
box, or a hole, or anywhere where there is no wind. It is true he
sometimes comes along with a most tremendous push, and the trees go
cracking over. That is only because they are malice-minded, and are
rotten at the heart; and the boughs break off, that is only because they
have invited the fungus to grow on them; and the thatch on your papa's
ricks is lifted up at the corner just as if the wind had chucked them
under the chin.

"But that is nothing. Everybody loses his temper now and then, and why
not the wind? You should see the nuts he knocks down for me where I
could not very well reach them, and the showers of acorns, and the
apples! I take an apple out of your orchard, dear, sometimes, but I do
not mean any harm--it is only one or two. I love the wind! But do not go
near an elm, dear, when the wind blows, for the elm, as I told you, is a
malicious tree, and will seize any pretence, or a mere puff, to do
mischief."

"I love the wind too!" said Bevis. "He sings to me down the chimney, and
hums to me through the door, and whistles up in the attic, and shouts at
me from the trees. Oh, yes, I will do as you say; I will always have
plenty of the wind. You are a very nice squirrel. I like you very much;
and you have a lovely silky tail. But you have not told me yet who it is
Kapchack is in love with."

"I have been telling you all the time," said the squirrel; "but you are
in such a hurry; and, as I was saying, if it was only a young magpie,
now--only an ordinary affair--very likely the queen would be jealous,
indeed, and there would be a fight in the palace, which would be nothing
at all new, but this is much more serious, a very serious matter, and
none can tell how it will end. As Kauc, the crow, was saying to Cloctaw,
the jackdaw, this morning----"

"But who is it?" asked Bevis, jumping up again in a rage.

"Why, everybody knows who it is," said the squirrel; "from the ladybird
to the heron; from the horse to the mouse; and everybody is talking of
it, and as since the raven went away, there is no judge to settle any
dispute----"

"I hate you!" said Bevis, "you do talk so much; but you do not tell me
what I want to know. You are a regular donkey, and I will pull your
tail."

He snatched at the squirrel's tail, but the squirrel was too quick; he
jumped up the boughs and showed his white teeth, and ran away in a
temper.

Bevis looked all round, but could not see him, and as he was looking a
dragon-fly came and said that the squirrel had sent him to say that he
was very much hurt, and thought Bevis was extremely rude to him, but he
had told the dragon-fly to show him the way to the piece of timber, and
if he would come back to-morrow, and not be so rude, he should hear all
about it. So the dragon-fly led Bevis to the piece of timber, where the
hare was waiting, and the hare led him to the wheat-field, and showed
him the top of the great oak-tree, and from there he easily found his
way home to tea.



CHAPTER VII.

THE COURTIERS.


The next morning passed quickly, Bevis having so much to do. Hur-hur,
the pig, asked him to dig up some earth-nuts for him with his knife, for
the ground was hard from the heat of the sun, and he could not thrust
his snout in. Then Pan, the spaniel, had to be whipped very severely
because he would not climb a tree; and so the morning was taken up.
After the noontide heat had decreased, Bevis again started, and found
his way by the aid of the oak to the corner of the wheat-field. The
dragon-fly was waiting for him with a message from the hare, saying that
she had been invited to a party on the hills, so the dragon-fly would
guide him into the copse.

Flying before him, the dragon-fly led the way, often going a long
distance ahead, and coming back in a minute, for he moved so rapidly it
was not possible for Bevis to keep pace with him, and he was too
restless to stand still. Bevis walked carefully over the bridge, holding
to the rail, as the toad had told him; and passing the thistles, and the
grass, and the ferns, came to the piece of timber. There he sat down to
rest, while the dragon-fly played to and fro, now rising to the top of
the trees, and now darting down again, to show off his dexterity. While
he was sitting there a crow came along and looked at him hard, but said
nothing; and immediately afterwards a jackdaw went over, remarking what
a lovely day it was.

"Now take me to the raspberries," said Bevis; and the dragon-fly,
winding in and out the trees, brought him to the thicket, showed him the
place to creep in, and left, promising to return by-and-by and fetch him
when it was time to go home. Bevis, warm with walking in the sunshine,
after he had crept in to the raspberries, went across and sat down on
the moss under the oak; and he had hardly leant his back against the
tree than the squirrel came along the ground and sat beside him.

"You are just in time, my dear," he said, speaking low and rapidly, and
glancing round to see that no one was near; "for there is going to be a
secret council of the courtiers this afternoon, while Kapchack takes his
nap; and in order that none of the little birds may play the spy and
carry information to the police, Kauc, the crow, has been flying round
and driving them away, so that there is not so much as a robin left in
the copse. This is an employment that suits him very well, for he loves
to play the tyrant. Perhaps you saw him coming in. And this council is
about Kapchack's love affair, and to decide what is to be done, and
whether it can be put up with, or whether they must refuse to receive
her."

"And who is she?" said Bevis; "you keep on talking, but you do not tell
me." The squirrel pricked up his ears and looked cross, but he heard
the people coming to the council, and knew there was no time to be lost
in quarrelling, so he did not go off in a pet this time. "The lady is
the youngest jay, dear, in the wood; La Schach is her name; she is
sweetly pretty, and dresses charmingly in blue and brown. She is sweetly
pretty, though they say rather a flirt, and flighty in her ways. She has
captivated a great many with her bright colour, and now this toothless
old Kapchack--but hush! It is a terrible scandal. I hear them coming;
slip this way, Bevis dear."

Bevis went after him under the brambles and the ferns till he found a
place in a hollow ash-stole, where it was hung all round with
honeysuckle, and then, doing as the squirrel told him, he sat down, and
was quite concealed from sight; while the squirrel stopped on a bough
just over his head, where he could whisper and explain things. Though
Bevis was himself hidden, he could see very well; and he had not been
there a minute before he heard a rustling, and saw the fox come
stealthily out from the fern, and sit under an ancient hollow pollard
close by.

The stoat came close behind him; he was something like the weasel, and
they say a near relation; he is much bolder than the weasel, but not one
quarter so cunning. He is very jealous, too, of the power the weasel has
got on account of his cunning, and if he could he would strangle his
kinsman. The rat could not attend, having very important business at the
brook that day, but he had sent the mouse to listen and tell him all
that was said. The fox looked at the mouse askance from the corner of
his eye; and the stoat could not refrain from licking his lips, though
it was well understood that at these assemblies all private feelings
were to be rigidly suppressed. So that the mouse was quite safe; still,
seeing the fox's glance, and the stoat's teeth glistening, he kept very
near a little hole under a stole, where he could rush in if alarmed.

"I understood Prince Tchack-tchack was coming," said the fox, "but I
don't see him."

"I heard the same thing," said the stoat. "He's very much upset about
this business."

"Ah," said the fox, "perhaps he had an eye himself to this beautiful
young creature. Depend upon it there's more under the surface than we
have heard of yet." Just then a message came from the weasel regretting
very much that he could not be present, owing to indisposition, but
saying that he quite agreed with all that was going to be said, and that
he would act as the others decided, and follow them in all things. This
message was delivered by a humble-bee, who having repeated all the
weasel had told him to, went buzzing on among the thistles.

"I do not quite like this," said a deep hollow voice; and looking up,
Bevis saw the face of the owl at the mouth of a hole in the
pollard-tree. He was winking in the light, and could not persuade
himself to come out, which was the reason the council was held at the
foot of his house, as it was necessary he should take part in it. "I do
not quite like this," said the owl, very solemnly, "Is the weasel
sincere in all he says? Is he really unwell, or does he keep away in
order that if Kapchack hears of this meeting he may say: 'I was not
there. I did not take any part in it'?"

"That is very likely," said the stoat. "He is capable of anything--I say
it with sorrow, as he is so near a relation, but the fact is, gentlemen,
the weasel is not what he ought to be, and has, I am afraid, much
disgraced our family."

"Let us send for the weasel," said the hawk, who just then came and
alighted on the tree above the owl. "Perhaps the squirrel, who knows the
copse so well, will go and fetch him."

"I really do not know where he lives," said the squirrel. "I have not
seen him lately, and I am afraid he is keeping his bed." Then the
squirrel whispered down to Bevis: "That is not all true, but you see I
am obliged not to know too much, else I should offend somebody and do
myself no good".

"Well, then," said the rook, who had just arrived, "send the mouse; he
looks as if he wanted something to do."

"I cannot agree to that," said the owl; "the mouse is very clever, and
his opinion worthy of attention; we cannot spare him." The truth was,
the owl, squinting down, had seen what a plump mouse it was, and he
reflected that if the weasel saw him he would never rest till he had
tasted him, whereas he thought he should like to meet the mouse by
moonlight shortly. "Upon the whole, I really don't know that we need
send for the weasel," he went on, thinking that if the weasel came he
would fasten his affections upon the mouse.

"But I do," said the stoat.

"And so do I," said the fox.

"And I," said Kauc, the crow, settling down on a branch of the pollard.

"For my part," said Cloctaw, the old jackdaw, taking his seat on a
branch of horse-chestnut, "I think it is very disrespectful of the
weasel."

"True," said the wood-pigeon. "True-whoo," as he settled on the ash.

"Quite true-oo," repeated the dove, perching in the hawthorn.

"Send for the weasel, then," said a missel-thrush, also perching in the
hawthorn. "Why all this delay? I am for action. Send for the weasel
immediately."

"Really, gentlemen," said the mouse, not at all liking the prospect of a
private interview with the weasel, "you must remember that I have had a
long journey here, and I am not quite sure where the weasel lives at
present."

"The council is not complete without the weasel," screamed a jay, coming
up; he was in a terrible temper, for the lady jay whom Kapchack was in
love with had promised him her hand, till the opportunity of so much
grandeur turned her head, and she jilted him like a true daughter of the
family, as she was. For the jays are famous for jilting their lovers.
"If the mouse is afraid," said the jay, "I'll fetch the humble-bee
back, and if he won't come I'll speak a word to my friend the shrike,
and have him spitted on a thorn in a minute." Off he flew, and the
humble-bee, dreadfully frightened, came buzzing back directly.

"It falls upon you, as the oldest of the party, to give him his
commands," said Tchink, the chaffinch, addressing the owl. The owl
looked at the crow, and the crow scowled at the chaffinch, who turned
his back on him, being very saucy. He had watched his opportunity while
the crow went round the copse to drive away the small birds, and slipped
in to appear at the council. He was determined to assert his presence,
and take as much part as the others in these important events. If the
goldfinches, and the thrushes, and blackbirds, and robins, and
greenfinches, and sparrows, and so on, were so meek as to submit to be
excluded, and were content to have no voice in the matter till they were
called upon to obey orders, that was their affair. They were a bevy of
poor-spirited, mean things. He was not going to be put down like that.
Tchink was, indeed, a very impudent fellow: Bevis liked him directly,
and determined to have a chat with him by-and-by.

"If I am the oldest of the party, it is scarcely competent for you to
say so," said the owl with great dignity, opening his eyes to their full
extent, and glaring at Tchink.

"All right, old Spectacles," said Tchink; "you're not a bad sort of
fellow by daylight, though I have heard tales of your not behaving quite
so properly at night." Then catching sight of Bevis (for Tchink was
very quick) he flew over and settled near the squirrel, intending, if
any violence was offered to him, to ask Bevis for protection.

The owl, seeing the fox tittering, and the crow secretly pleased at this
remark, thought it best to take no notice, but ordered the humble-bee,
in the name of the council, to at once proceed to the weasel, and inform
him that the council was unable to accept his excuses, but was waiting
his arrival.

"Is Tchack-tchack coming?" asked the mouse, recovering his spirits now.

"I too-whoo should like to know if Tchack-tchack is coming," said the
wood-pigeon.

"And I so, too-oo," added the dove. "It seems to me a most important
matter."

"In my opinion," said Cloctaw, speaking rather huskily, for he was very
old, "Tchack-tchack will not come. I know him well--I can see through
him--he is a double-faced rascal like--like (he was going to say the
fox, but recollected himself in time) his--well, never matter; like all
his race then. My opinion is, he started the rumour that he was coming
just to get us together, and encourage us to conspire against his
father, in the belief that the heir was with us and approved of our
proceedings. But he never really meant to come."

"The jackdaw is very old," said the crow, with a sneer. "He is not what
he used to be, gentlemen, you must make allowance for his
infirmities."

"It seems to me," said the missel-thrush, interrupting, "that we are
wasting a great deal of time. I propose that we at once begin the
discussion, and then if the weasel and Tchack-tchack come they can join
in. I regret to say that my kinsman, the missel-thrush who frequents the
orchard (by special permission of Kapchack, as you know), is not here.
The pampered fawning wretch!--I hate such favourites--they disgrace a
court. Why, all the rest of our family are driven forth like rogues, and
are not permitted to come near! If the tyrant kills his children in his
wanton freaks even then this minion remains loyal: despicable being! But
now without further delay let us ask the owl to state the case plainly,
so that we can all understand what we are talking about."

"Hear, hear," said Tchink.

"I agree too," said the wood-pigeon.

"I too," said the dove.

"It is no use waiting for Tchack-tchack," said the hawk.

"Hum! haw! caw!" said the rook, "I do not know about that."

"Let us go on to business," said the stoat, "the weasel knows no more
than we do. His reputation is much greater than he deserves."

"I have heard the same thing," said the fox. "Indeed I think so myself."

"I am sure the owl will put the case quite fairly," said the mouse, much
pleased that the owl had saved him from carrying the message to the
weasel.

"_We_ are all waiting, Owl," said Tchink.

"_We_, indeed," said the hawk, very sharply.

"Hush! hush!" said the squirrel. "This is a privileged place, gentlemen;
no personal remarks, if you please."

"I think, think, the owl is very stupid not to begin," said the
chaffinch.

"If you please," said the fox, bowing most politely to the owl, "we are
listening."

"Well then, gentlemen, since you all wish it," said the owl, ruffling
out his frills and swelling up his feathers, "since you all wish it, I
will endeavour to put the case as plainly as possible, and in as few
words as I can. You must understand, gentlemen, indeed you all
understand already, that from time immemorial, ever since the oak bore
acorns, and the bramble blackberries, it has been the established custom
for each particular bird and each particular animal to fall in love
with, and to marry some other bird or animal of the same kind.

"To explain more fully, so that there cannot by any possibility be the
least chance of any one mistaking my meaning, I should illustrate the
position in this way, that it has always been the invariable custom for
owls to marry owls; for crows to marry crows; for rooks to fall in love
with rooks; for wood-pigeons to woo wood-pigeons; doves to love doves;
missel-thrushes to court lady missel-thrushes; jackdaws, jackdaws;
hawks, hawks; rats, rats; foxes, foxes; stoats, stoats; weasels,
weasels; squirrels, squirrels; for jays to marry jays ('Just so,'
screamed the jay); and magpies to marry magpies."

"And chaffinches to kiss chaffinches," added Tchink, determined not to
be left out.

"This custom," continued the owl, "has now existed so long, that upon
looking into the archives of my house, and turning over the dusty
records, not without inconvenience to myself, I can't discover one
single instance of a departure from it since history began. There is no
record, gentlemen, of any such event having taken place. I may say,
without fear of contradiction, that no precedent exists. We may,
therefore, regard it as a fixed principle of common law, from which no
departure can be legal, without the special and express sanction of all
the nation, or of its representatives assembled. We may even go further,
and hazard the opinion, not without some authority, that even with such
sanction, such departure from constitutional usage could not be
sustained were an appeal to be lodged.

"Even the high court of representatives of all the nation, assembled in
the fulness of their power, could not legalise what is in itself and of
its own nature illegal. Customs of this kind, which are founded upon the
innate sense and feeling of every individual, cannot, in short, be
abolished by Act of Parliament. Upon this all the authorities I have
consulted are perfectly agreed. What has grown up during the process of
so many generations, cannot be now put on one side. This, gentlemen, is
rather an abstruse part of the question, being one which recommends
itself for consideration to the purely legal intellect. It is a matter,
too, of high state policy which rises above the knowledge of the common
herd. We may take it for granted, and pass on from the general to the
special aspect of this most remarkable case.

"What do we see? We see a proposed alliance between an august magpie and
a beautiful jay. Now we know by experience that what the palace does one
day, the world at large will do to-morrow. It is the instinct of nature
to follow the example of those set so high above us. We may therefore
conclude, without fear of contradiction, that this alliance will be
followed by others equally opposed to tradition. We shall have hundreds
of other equally ill-assorted unions. If it could be confined to this
one instance, a dispensation might doubtless be arranged. I, for one,
should not oppose it. ('I hate you!' shouted the jay.) But no one can
for a moment shut his eye to what must happen. We shall have, as I
before remarked, hundreds of these ill-assorted unions.

"Now I need not enlarge upon the unhappy state of affairs which would
thus be caused: the family jars, the shock to your feelings, the pain
that must be inflicted upon loving hearts. With that I have nothing to
do. It may safely be left to your imagination. But what I, as a
statesman and a lawyer, have to deal with, is the legal, that is the
common-sense view of the situation, and my first question is this: I ask
myself, and I beg you, each of you, to ask yourselves--I ask myself,
What effect would these ill-assorted unions produce upon the inheritance
of property?"

"True-whoo!" said the wood-pigeon.

"Hum! Haw!" said the rook.

"Law-daw!" said Cloctaw.

"Very important, very!" said the fox. "The sacred laws of property
cannot with safety be interfered with."

"No intrusion can be thought of for a moment," said the stoat.

"Most absurd!" said the jay.

"The very point!" said the missel-thrush.

"Very clear, indeed!" said the mouse; "I am sure the rat will echo the
sentiment."

"Every one will agree with you," said Ki Ki, the hawk.

"I think the same," said the chaffinch.

"The question is undoubtedly very important," continued the owl, when
the buzz had subsided, and much pleased at the sensation he had caused.
"You all agree that the question is not one to be lightly decided or
passed over. In order to fully estimate the threatened alteration in our
present system, let us for a moment survey the existing condition of
affairs. I, myself, to begin with, I and my ancestors, for many
generations, have held undisputed possession of this pollard. Not the
slightest flaw has ever been discovered in our title-deeds; and no
claimant has ever arisen. The rook has had, I believe, once or twice
some little difficulty respecting his own particular tenancy, which is
not a freehold; but his townsmen, as a body, possess their trees in
peace. The crow holds an oak; the wood-pigeon has an ash; the
missel-thrush a birch; our respected friend the fox here, has a burrow
which he inherited from a deceased rabbit, and he has also contingent
claims on the witheybed, and other property in the country; the stoat
has a charter of free warren."

"And I have an elm," said Tchink; "let anybody come near it, that's
all."

"The squirrel," continued the owl, "has an acknowledged authority over
this copse; and the jay has three or four firs of his own."

"And St. Paul belongs to me," said Cloctaw, the jackdaw.

"Well, now," said the owl, raising his voice and overpowering the husky
Cloctaw, "about these various properties little or no dispute can take
place; the son succeeds to the father, and the nephew to the uncle.
Occasional litigation, of course, occurs, which I have often had the
pleasure of conducting to an amicable and satisfactory termination. But,
upon the whole, there is very little difficulty; and the principle of
inheritance is accepted by all. Your approval, indeed, has just been
signified in the most unanimous manner. But what shall we see if the
example set by the palace spreads among society? The ash at the present
moment is owned by the wood-pigeon; were the wood-pigeon's heir to marry
the missel-thrush's heiress, just imagine the conflicting claims which
would arise.

"The family would be divided amongst itself; all the relations upon the
paternal side, and the relations upon the maternal side would join the
contest, and peace would be utterly at an end. And so in all other
instances. The crow would no longer have a fee-simple of the oak, the
jackdaw of the steeple, the rook of the elm, the fox of the burrow, or I
of my pollard. We might even see the rook claiming the----But I will not
follow the illustration further, lest I be charged with descending to
personalities. I will only add, in conclusion, that if this ill-fated
union takes place, we must look forward to seeing every home broken up,
our private settlements, our laws of hereditary succession set upon one
side, our property divided among a miscellaneous horde of people, who
will not know their own grandfathers, and our most cherished sentiments
cast to the winds of heaven." With which words the owl concluded, and
was greeted with marks of approval from all parts of the circle.

"We are all very much indebted to the owl," said the fox, "for putting
the true aspect of the case so clearly before us. His learned
discourse--not more learned than lucid--has convinced us all of the
extreme inexpediency of this alliance."

"If this course is persisted in," said the crow, "it can only end, in my
opinion, in a way disastrous to the state. The king cannot decline to
listen to our representations, if we are united."

"Haw!" said the rook; "I'm not so sure of that. Kapchack likes his own
way."

"Kapchack is very self-willed," said the hawk. "It is almost our turn to
have our way once now."

"So I should say," screamed the jay, who could never open his beak
without getting into a temper. "So I should say; Kapchack is a wicked
old----"

"Hush, hush," said the squirrel; "you can't tell who may be listening."

"I don't care," said the jay, ruffling up his feathers; "Kapchack is a
wicked old fellow, and Tchack-tchack is as bad."

"Capital!" said Tchink, the chaffinch; "I like outspoken people. But I
have heard that you (to the jay) are very fond of flirting." At this
there would have been a disturbance, had not the fox interfered.

"We shall never do anything, unless we agree amongst ourselves," he
said. "Now, the question is, are we going to do anything?"

"Yes, that is it," said the missel-thrush, who hated talking, and liked
to be doing; "what is it we are going to do?"

"Something must be done," said the owl, very solemnly.

"Yes; something must be done," said Cloctaw.

"Something must be done," said Ki Ki.

"I think, think so," said Tchink.

"I, too," said the dove.

"Quite true," said the wood-pigeon.

"Something must be done," said the stoat.

"Let us tell Kapchack what we think," said the mouse, getting bold, as
he was not eaten.

"A good idea," said the crow; "a very good idea. We will send the mouse
with a message."

"Dear me! No, no," cried the mouse, terribly frightened; "Kapchack is
awful in a rage--my life would not be worth a minute's purchase. Let the
stoat go."

"Not I," said the stoat; "I have had to suffer enough already, on
account of my relation to that rascal the weasel, whom Kapchack suspects
of designs upon his throne. I will not go."

"Nor I," said the fox; "Kapchack has looked angrily at me for a long
time--he cannot forget my royal descent. Let the hawk go."

"I! I!" said Ki Ki. "Nonsense; Kapchack does not much like me now; he
gave me a hint the other day not to soar too high. I suppose he did not
like to think of my overlooking him kissing pretty La Schach."

"Wretch! horrid wretch!" screamed the jay, at the mention of the
kissing, in a paroxysm of jealousy. "Pecking is too good for him!"

"Send the jackdaw or the crow," said Ki Ki.

"No, no," said Kauc and Cloctaw together. "Try the wood-pigeon."

"I go?--whoo," said the pigeon. "Impossible. Kapchack told me to my face
the other day that he more than half suspected me of plotting to go over
to Choo Hoo. I dare not say such a thing to him."

"Nor I," said the dove. "Why not the owl?"

"The fact is," said the owl, "my relations with Kapchack are of a
peculiar and delicate nature. Although I occupy the position of a
trusted counsellor, and have the honour to be chief secretary of state,
that very position forbids my taking liberties, and it is clear if I
did, and were in consequence banished from the court, that I could not
plead your cause. Now, the rat----"

"I am sure the rat will not go," said the mouse. "My friend the rat is
very particularly engaged, and could not possibly stir from home at this
juncture. There is the missel-thrush."

"Ridiculous," said the missel-thrush. "Everybody knows I had to leave my
hawthorn-tree because Prince Tchack-tchack took a fancy to it. He would
very likely accuse me to his father of high treason, for he hates me
more than poison ever since he did me that injury, and would lose no
chance of compassing my destruction. Besides which my relative--the
favourite--would effectually prevent me from obtaining an audience. Now,
there's the squirrel."

"My dear sir," said the squirrel, "it is well known I never meddle with
politics. I am most happy to see you all here, and you can have the use
of my copse at any time, and I may say further that I sympathise with
your views in a general way. But on no account could I depart from my
principles."

"His principles," muttered the crow, always a cynical fellow. "His
principles are his own beech-trees. If anybody touched them he would not
object to politics then."

"This is rather awkward," said the owl. "There seems an embarrassment on
the part of all of us, and we must own that to venture into the presence
of a despotic monarch with such unpleasant advice requires no slight
courage. Now, I propose that since the weasel has attained so high a
reputation for address, that he be called upon to deliver our message."

"Hear, hear," said the fox.

"Hear, hear," said the stoat.

"Capital," said the chaffinch. "Old Spectacles can always see a way out
of a difficulty."

"Haw!" said the rook. "I'm doubtful. Perhaps the weasel will not see it
in this light."

"Buzz," said the humble-bee, just then returning. "Gentlemen, I have
seen the weasel. His lordship was lying on a bank in the sun--he is very
ill indeed. His limbs are almost powerless; he has taken a chill from
sleeping in a damp hole. He sends his humble apology, and regrets he
cannot move. I left him licking his helpless paw. Buzz, buzz."

"Hark! hark!" said the woodpecker, bursting into the circle with such a
shout and clatter that the dove flew a little way in alarm. "Kapchack is
waking up. I have been watching all the time to let you know. And there
is no chance of Prince Tchack-tchack coming, for he told me that
Kapchack ordered him not to leave the orchard while he was asleep."

"I do not believe it," said the jay. "He is a false scoundrel, and I
daresay Kapchack never gave any such order, and never thought about it.
However, there is no help for it, we must break up this meeting, or we
shall be missed. But it is clear that something must be done."

"Something must be done," said the wood-pigeon, as he flew off.

"Something must be done," repeated the dove.

"Something must be done," said the owl, as he went down into the pollard
to sleep the rest of the day. Off went the mouse as fast as he could go,
anxious to get away from the neighbourhood of the weasel. The
missel-thrush had started directly he heard what the woodpecker said,
disgusted that there was no action, and nothing but talk. The jay went
off with the hawk, remarking as he went that he had expected better
things of the fox, whose royal ancestors had so great a reputation, and
could contrive a scheme to achieve anything, while their ignoble
descendant was so quiet, and scarce spoke a word. It seemed as if the
weasel would soon outdo him altogether. The rook flew straight away to
the flock to which he belonged, to tell them all that had been said. The
chaffinch left at the same time; the fox and the stoat went away
together; the crow and the jackdaw accompanied each other a little way.
When they had gone a short distance the crow said he wanted to say
something very particular, so they perched together on a lonely branch.

"What is it?" said Cloctaw.

"The fact is," said the crow, "my belief is--come a little nearer--my
belief is that Kapchack's reign is coming to an end. People won't put
up with this."

"Ah," said the jackdaw, "if that is the case who is to be king?"

"Well," said the crow, "let me whisper to you; come a little nearer." He
hopped towards Cloctaw. Cloctaw hopped the other way. The crow hopped
towards him again, till Cloctaw came to the end of the branch, and could
go no farther without flying, which would look odd under the
circumstances. So he kept a very sharp eye on Kauc, for the fact was
they had had many a quarrel when they were younger, and Cloctaw was not
at all sure that he should not have a beak suddenly driven through his
head.

"The truth is," said the crow, in a hoarse whisper, "there's a chance
for you and me. Can't you see the fox is very stupid, quite abject, and
without the least spirit; the stoat is very fierce, but has no mind;
everybody suspects the weasel, and will not trust him; as for the rat,
he is no favourite; the hawk is--well, the hawk is dangerous, but might
be disposed of ('You black assassin,' thought Cloctaw to himself); the
rook has not a chance, for his friends would be too jealous to let one
of their number become a king; and for the rest, they are too weak.
There's only you and me left."

"I see," said Cloctaw; "but we could not both be king."

"Why not?" said the crow; "you wear the crown and live in the palace;
you are old, and it would be nice and comfortable; you have all the
state and dignity, and I will do the work."

"It is very kind of you to propose it," said Cloctaw, as if considering.
In his heart he thought: "Oh, yes, very convenient indeed; I am to wear
the crown, and be pecked at by everybody, and _you_ to do all the
work--that is, to go about and collect the revenue, and be rich, and
have all the power, while I have all the danger".

"It is quite feasible, I am sure," said the crow; "especially if Prince
Tchack-tchack continues his undutiful course, and if Choo Hoo should
come up with his army."

"I must think about it," said Cloctaw; "we must not be too hasty."

"Oh, dear no," said the crow, delighted to have won over one important
politician to his cause so easily; "we must wait and watch events. Of
course this little conversation is quite private?"

"Perfectly private," said Cloctaw; and they parted.

The crow had an appointment, and Cloctaw flew direct to the steeple. His
nest was in the highest niche, just behind the image of St. Paul; and it
was not only the highest, but the safest from intrusion, for there was
no window near, and, on account of some projections below, even a ladder
could not be put up, so that it was quite inaccessible without
scaffolding. This niche he discovered in his hot youth, when he won
renown by his strength and courage: he chose it for his home, and
defended it against all comers. He was now old and feeble, but his
reputation as a leading politician, and his influence at the court of
King Kapchack, were too great for any to think of ousting him by force.

But the members of his family, in their extreme solicitude for his
personal safety, frequently represented to him the danger he incurred in
ascending so high. Should a wing fail him, how terrible the
consequences! more especially for the race of which he was so
distinguished an ornament. Nor was there the least reason for his
labouring to that elevation; with his reputation and influence, none
would dare to meddle with him. There were many pleasant places not so
exposed, as the gurgoyle, the leads, the angle of the roof, where he
could rest without such an effort; and upon their part they would
willingly assist him by collecting twigs for a new nest.

But Cloctaw turned a deaf ear to these kindly proposals, and could not
be made to see the advantages so benevolently suggested. He would in no
degree abate his dignity, his right, power, or position. He adhered to
St. Paul. There he had built all his days, and there he meant to stay to
the last, for having seen so much of the world, well he knew that
possession is ten points of the law, and well he understood the envy and
jealousy which dictated these friendly counsels.

At the same time, as the fox and the stoat were going through the fern,
the stoat said: "It appears to me that this is a very favourable
opportunity for ruining the weasel. Could we not make up some tale, and
tell Kapchack how the weasel asked us to a secret meeting, or
something?"

Now the fox had his own ideas, and he wanted to get rid of the stoat.
"Another time," he said, "another time, we will consider of it; but why
waste such a capital chance as you have to-day?"

"Capital chance to-day?" said the stoat; "what is it you mean?"

"Did you not see the mouse?" said the fox. "Did you not see how fat he
was? And just think, he has a long and lonely road home; and it would be
very easy to make a short cut (for he will not leave the hedges which
are round about) and get in front of, and so intercept him. I should go
myself, but I was out last night, and feel tired this afternoon."

"Oh, thank you," said the stoat; "I'll run that way directly." And off
he started, thinking to himself: "How silly the fox has got, and how
much he has fallen off from the ancient wisdom for which his ancestors
were famous. Why ever did he not hold his tongue, and I should never
have thought of the mouse, and the fox could have had him another day?"

But the fact was the fox recollected that the mouse had had a long
start, and it was very doubtful if the stoat could overtake him, and if
he did, most likely the rat would come to meet his friend, and the stoat
would get the worst of the encounter.

However ill the rat served the mouse, however much he abused his
superior strength, wreaking his temper on his weaker companion, still
the mouse clung to him all the more. On the other hand the rat, ready
enough to injure the mouse himself, would allow no one else (unless with
his permission) to touch his follower, wishing to reserve to himself a
monopoly of tyranny.

So soon as the stoat was out of sight, the fox looked round to see that
no one was near, and he said to a fly: "Fly, will you carry a message
for me?"

"I am very busy," said the fly, "very busy indeed."

So the fox went a little farther, and said to a humble-bee: "Humble-bee,
will you carry a message for me?"

"I am just going home," said the humble-bee, and buzzed along.

So the fox went a little farther, and said to a butterfly: "Beautiful
butterfly, will you carry a message for me?" But the disdainful
butterfly did not even answer.

The fox went a little farther, and met a tomtit. "Te-te," said he,
addressing the tomtit by name, "will you carry a message for me?"

"What impudence!" said Te-te. "Mind your own business, and do not speak
to gentlemen."

"I see how it is," said the fox to himself, "the fortunes of my family
are fallen, and I am disregarded. When we were rich, and had a great
reputation, and were the first of all the people in the wood, then we
had messengers enough, and they flew to do our bidding. But now, they
turn aside. This is very bitter. When I get home, I must curl round and
think about it; I cannot endure this state of things. How dreadful it
is to be poor! I wish we had not dissipated our wealth so freely.
However, there is a little left still in a secret corner. As I said, I
must see about it. Here is a gnat. Gnat, will you carry a message for
me?"

"Well, I don't know," said the gnat; "I must think about it. Will
to-morrow do?"

"No," said the fox quickly, before the gnat flew off. "Go for me to
Kapchack, and say there has been a secret----"

"A secret?" said the gnat; "that's another matter." And he went down
closer to the fox.

"Yes," said the fox, "you fly as fast as you can, and whisper to
Kapchack--you have free admittance, I know, to the palace--that there
has been a secret meeting in the copse about his love affair, and that
the courtiers are all against it, and are bent on his destruction,
especially the owl, the hawk, the crow, the rook, the weasel (the weasel
worst of all, for they would have chosen him as their deputy), the
stoat, and the jackdaw, and that he has only one true friend, the fox,
who sends the message."

"All right!" said the gnat; "all right, I'll go!" And off he flew,
delighted to be entrusted with so great a secret.

While the courtiers were thus intriguing, not only against Kapchack, but
against each other, Bevis and the squirrel went back into the
raspberries, and Bevis helped himself to the fruit that had ripened
since yesterday.

"It seems to me," said Bevis, after he had eaten as much as he could,
"that they are all very wicked."

"So they are," said the squirrel. "I am sorry to say they are rather
treacherous, and I warned you not to believe all they said to you. I
would not let them use my copse, but the fact is, if they are wicked,
Kapchack is a hundred times more so. Besides, it is very hard on the
jay, who is an old acquaintance of mine--we often have a chat in the
fir-trees--to have his dear, sweet, pretty lady stolen away from him by
such a horrid old wretch, whose riches and crown have quite turned her
head!"

"What a business it all is," said Bevis. "Everybody seems mixed up in
it. And so it is true that Prince Tchack-tchack is also in love with the
pretty jay?"

"Yes, that it is," said the squirrel; "and, between you and me, I have
seen her flirt with him desperately, in that very hawthorn bush he
forced the missel-thrush to give up to him. And that is the reason he
will not let Kapchack peck his eye out, as he is so vain, and likes to
look nice."

"Let Kapchack peck his eye out! But Kapchack is his father. Surely his
papa would not peck his eye out?"

"Oh, dear me!" said the squirrel, "I almost let the secret out.
Goodness! I hope nobody heard me. And pray, Bevis dear, don't repeat
it--oh, pray don't!--or it will be sure to be traced to me. I wish I had
never heard it. If I had not listened to that vile old crow; if I had
not been so curious, and overheard him muttering to himself, and
suggesting doubts at night! Bevis dear, don't you ever be curious, and
don't you say a word."

The squirrel was in a terrible fright, till Bevis promised not to repeat
anything.

"But," said he, "you have not told me the secret."

"No," said the squirrel, "but I very nearly did, and only just stopped
in time. Why, if the trees heard it, they would pass it from one to the
other in a moment. Dear, dear!" He sat down, he was so frightened he
could not frisk about. But Bevis stroked him down, and soothed him, and
said he had the most lovely silky tail in the world, and this brought
him to himself again.

"All this comes," said the squirrel, "of my having run up the wrong side
of the tree first this morning. Take care, Bevis dear, that you too do
not make a mistake, and put the wrong foot first out of bed when you get
up." Bevis laughed at this, and asked which was his wrong foot. "Well,"
said the squirrel, "the fact is, it depends: sometimes it is one, and
sometimes it is the other, and that is the difficulty, to know which it
is, and makes all the difference in life. The very best woman I ever
knew (and she was a farmer's wife) always, when she was out walking, put
one foot before the other, and so was always right."

"Nonsense," said Bevis, "how could she walk without putting one foot
before the other?"

"Oh, yes," said the squirrel, "many people, though they think they put
one foot before the other, really keep the wrong foot foremost all the
time. But do you remember to-morrow morning when you get up."

"I do not see what difference it can make," said Bevis.

"If you put one foot out first," said the squirrel, "it will very likely
lead you to the looking-glass, where you will see yourself and forget
all the rest, and you will do one sort of thing that day; and if you put
the other out first it will lead you to the window, and then you will
see something, and you will think about that, and do another sort of
thing; and if you put both feet out of bed together they will take you
to the door, and there you will meet somebody, who will say something,
and you will do another kind of thing. So you see it is a very important
matter, and this woman, as I said, was the best that ever lived."

"No she wasn't," said Bevis, "she was not half so good as my mother is."

"That is true, dear," said the squirrel. "Your mother is the very best
of all. But don't forget about your feet to-morrow morning, dear."

"Look up," said Bevis, "and tell me what bird that is."

The squirrel looked up, and saw a bird going over at a great height.
"That is a peewit," he said. "He is a messenger; you can see how fast
and straight he is flying. He is bringing some news, I feel sure, about
Choo Hoo. Kapchack sent an out-post of peewits over the hills to watch
Choo Hoo's movements, and to let him know directly if he began to
gather his army together. Depend upon it, dear, there is some very
important news. I must tell the woodpecker, and he will find out; he is
very clever at that." The squirrel began to get restless, though he did
not like to tell Bevis to go.

"You promised to tell me about Choo Hoo," said Bevis.

"So I did," said the squirrel, "and if you will come to-morrow I will do
so; I am rather in a hurry just now."

"Very well," said Bevis, "I will come to-morrow. Now show me the way to
the felled tree." As they were going Bevis recollected the weasel, and
asked if he was really so ill he could not move, but was obliged to lick
his paw to cure the pain.

The squirrel laughed. "No," he whispered; "don't you say I said so: the
truth is, the weasel is as well as you or I, and now the council is
broken up I daresay he is running about as quickly as he likes. And,
Bevis dear, stoop down and I'll tell you (Bevis stooped), the fact is,
he was at the council all the time."

"But I never saw him," said Bevis, "and he never said anything."

"No," whispered the squirrel very quietly, "he wanted to hear what they
said without being present; he was in the elm all the time; you know,
dear, that malice-minded elm on the other side of the raspberries, which
I told you was rotten inside. He lives there in that hole; there is a
way into it level with the ground; that is his secret hiding-place."

"I will bring my cannon-stick to-morrow," said Bevis, delighted to have
discovered where the weasel lived at last, "and I will shoot into the
hole and kill him."

"I could not let you do that," said the squirrel. "I do not allow any
fighting, or killing, in my copse, and that is the reason all the birds
and animals come here to hold their meetings, because they know it is a
sanctuary. If you shoot off your cannon the birds are sure to hear it,
and you will not be present at any more of their meetings, and you will
not hear any more of the story. Therefore it would be very foolish of
you to shoot off your cannon; you must wait, Bevis dear, till you can
catch the weasel outside my copse, and then you may shoot him as much as
you like."

"Very well," said Bevis, rather sulkily, "I will not shoot him in the
hole if you do not want me to. But how could the weasel have been in the
elm all the time, when the humble-bee said he found him lying in the
sunshine on a bank licking his paw?"

"Why, of course he told the humble-bee to say that."

"What a cheater he is, isn't he?" said Bevis. "And how did you find out
where he lived? I looked everywhere for him, and so did Pan--Pan sniffed
and sniffed, but could not find him."

"Nor could I," said the squirrel. "After you shot the--I mean after the
unfortunate business with the thrush, he kept out of the way, knowing
that you had vowed vengeance against him, and although I go about a
good deal, and peep into so many odd corners, I could not discover his
whereabouts, till the little tree-climber told me. You know the
tree-climber, dear, you have seen him in your orchard at home; he goes
all round and round the trees, and listens at every chink, and so he
learns almost all the secrets. He heard the weasel in the elm, and came
at once and told me. Here is the timber, and there is the dragon-fly.
Good-afternoon, Bevis dear; come to-morrow, and you shall hear the
peewit's news, and be sure and not forget to put the right foot out of
bed first in the morning." Bevis kissed his hand to the squirrel, and
went home with the dragon-fly.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE EMPEROR CHOO HOO.


When he woke next morning, Bevis quite forgot what the squirrel had told
him; he jumped out of bed without thinking, and his right foot touched
the floor first, and led him to the window. From the window he saw the
brook, and recollected that the brook had promised to tell him what he
was singing, so as soon as ever he could get out of doors away he went
through the gateway the grasshopper had shown him, and down to the
hatch. Instead of coming quietly on tip-toe, as the brook had told him,
he danced up, and the kingfisher heard him, and went off as before,
whistling: "Weep, weep". Bevis stood on the brink and said: "Brook,
Brook, what are you singing? You promised to tell me what you were
saying."

The brook did not answer, but went on singing. Bevis listened a minute,
and then he picked a willow leaf and threw it into the bubbles, and
watched it go whirling round and round in the eddies, and back up under
the fall, where it dived down, and presently came up again, and the
stream took it and carried it away past the flags. "Brook, Brook," said
Bevis, stamping his foot, "tell me what you are singing."

And the brook, having now finished that part of his song, said: "Bevis
dear, sit down in the shadow of the willow, for it is very hot to-day,
and the reapers are at work; sit down under the willow, and I will tell
you as much as I can remember."

"But the reed said you could not remember anything," said Bevis, leaning
back against the willow.

"The reed did not tell you the truth, dear; indeed, he does not know
all; the fact is, the reeds are so fond of talking that I scarcely ever
answer them now, or they would keep on all day long, and I should never
hear the sound of my own voice, which I like best. So I do not encourage
them, and that is why the reeds think I do not recollect."

"And what is that you sing about?" said Bevis, impatiently.

"My darling," said the brook, "I do not know myself always what I am
singing about. I am so happy I sing, sing, and never think about what it
means; it does not matter what you mean as long as you sing. Sometimes I
sing about the sun, who loves me dearly, and tries all day to get at me
through the leaves and the green flags that hide me; he sparkles on me
everywhere he can, and does not like me to be in the shadow. Sometimes I
sing to the wind, who loves me next most dearly, and will come to me
everywhere, in places where the sun cannot get. He plays with me
whenever he can, and strokes me softly, and tells me the things he has
heard in the woods and on the hills, and sends down the leaves to float
along, for he knows I like something to carry. Fling me in some leaves,
Bevis dear.

"Sometimes I sing to the earth and the grass; they are fond of me too,
and listen the best of all. I sing loudest at night, to the stars, for
they are so far away they would not otherwise hear me."

"But what do you say?" said Bevis; but the brook was too occupied now to
heed him, and went on.

"Sometimes I sing to the trees; they, too, are fond of me, and come as
near as they can; they would all come down close to me if they could.
They love me like the rest, because I am so happy, and never cease my
chanting. If I am broken to pieces against a stone, I do not mind in the
least; I laugh just the same, and even louder. When I come over the
hatch, I dash myself to fragments; and sometimes a rainbow comes and
stays a little while with me. The trees drink me, and the grass drinks
me, the birds come down and drink me; they splash me, and are happy. The
fishes swim about, and some of them hide in deep corners. Round the bend
I go, and the osiers say they never have enough of me. The long grass
waves and welcomes me; the moor-hens float with me; the kingfisher is
always with me somewhere, and sits on the bough to see his ruddy breast
in the water. And you come too, Bevis, now and then to listen to me; and
it is all because I am so happy."

"Why are you so happy?" said Bevis.

"I do not know," said the brook. "Perhaps it is because all I think of
is this minute; I do not know anything about the minute just gone by,
and I do not care one bit about the minute that is just coming; all I
care about is this minute, this very minute now. Fling me in some more
leaves, Bevis. Why do you go about asking questions, dear? Why don't you
sing, and do nothing else?"

"Oh, but I want to know all about everything," said Bevis. "Where did
you come from, and where are you going, and why don't you go on and let
the ground be dry--why don't you run on, and run all away? Why are you
always here?"

The brook laughed, and said: "My dear, I do not know where I came from,
and I do not care at all where I am going. What does it matter, my love?
All I know is I shall come back again; yes, I shall come back again."
The brook sang very low, and rather sadly now: "I shall go into the sea,
and shall be lost; and even you would not know me--ask your father,
love, he has sailed over the sea in the ships that come to Southampton,
and I was close to him, but he did not know me. But by-and-by, when I am
in the sea, the sun will lift me up, and the clouds will float
along--look towards the hills, Bevis dear, every morning, and you will
see the clouds coming and bringing me with them; and the rain and the
dew, and sometimes the thunder and the lightning, will put me down
again, and I shall run along here and sing to you, my sweet, if you will
come and listen. Fling in some little twigs, my dear, and some bits of
bark from the tree."

Then the brook sang very low and very sad, and said: "I shall come back
again, Bevis; I always come back, and I am always happy; and yet I do
not know either if I am really happy when I am singing so joyously.
Bevis dear, try and think and tell me. Am I really happy, Bevis? Tell
me, dear; you can see the sun sparkling on me, and the wind stroking me,
just as he strokes your hair (he told me he was very fond of you, and
meant to tell you a story some day), and the reeds whispering, and the
willows drooping over me, and the bright kingfisher; you can hear me
singing, Bevis, now am I happy?"

"I do not know," said Bevis; "sometimes you sound very happy, but just
now you sound very sad. Stop a little while and think about it."

"Oh, no, Bevis; I cannot stop, I must keep running. Nothing can stop,
dear: the trees cannot stop growing, they must keep on growing till they
die; and then they cannot stop decaying, till they are all quite gone;
but they come back again. Nor can you stop, Bevis dear."

"I will stop," said Bevis.

"You cannot," said the brook.

"But I will."

"You cannot. You are a very clever boy, Bevis, but you cannot stop; nor
can your papa, nor anybody, you must keep on. Let me see, let me think.
I remember, I have seen you before; it was so many, many thousand years
ago, but I am almost sure it was you. Now I begin to think about it, I
believe I have seen you two or three times, Bevis; but it was before the
hippopotamus used to come and splash about in me. I cannot be quite
certain, for it is a long time to remember your face, dear."

"I do not believe it," said Bevis; "you are babbling, Brook. My mamma
says you babble--it is because you are so old. I am sure I was not born
then."

"Yes, you were, dear; and I daresay you will come back again, when all
the hills are changed and the roads are covered with woods, and the
houses gone. I daresay you will come back again and splash in me, like
the blackbirds."

"Now you are talking nonsense, you silly Brook," said Bevis; "the hills
will never change, and the roads will always be here, and the houses
will not be gone: but why are you sighing, you dear old Brook?"

"I am sighing, my love, because I remember."

"What do you remember?"

"I remember before the hills were like they are now; I remember when I
was a broad deep river; I remember the stars that used to shine in me,
and they are all gone, you cannot see them now, Bevis ('Pooh,' said
Bevis); I remember the stories the lions used to tell me when they came
down to drink; I remember the people dancing on the grass by me, and
sing, singing; they used to sing like me, Bevis, without knowing what it
was they sung, and without any words (not stupid songs, Bevis, like your
people sing now), but I understood them very well. I cannot understand
the songs the folk sing now, the folk that live now have gone away so
far from me."

"What nonsense you say, old Brook; why, we live quite close, and the
waggons go over your bridge every day."

"I remember (the brook took no notice, but went on), I remember them
very well, and they loved me dearly too; they had boats, Bevis, made out
of trees, and they floated about on me."

"I will have a boat," said Bevis, "and float about on you."

"And they played music, which was just like my singing, and they were
very happy, because, as I told you about myself, they did not think
about the minute that was coming, or the minute that had gone by, they
only thought about this minute."

"How long was that ago?" said Bevis.

"Oh," said the brook, "I daresay your papa would tell you it was
thousands upon thousands of years, but that is not true, dear; it was
only a second or two since."

"I shall not stay to listen much longer, silly Brook, if you talk like
that; why, it must be longer than that, or I should have seen it."

"My dear," said the brook, "that which has gone by, whether it happened
a second since, or a thousand thousand years since, is just the same;
there is no real division betwixt you and the past. You people who live
now have made up all sorts of stupid, very stupid stories, dear; I hope
you will not believe them; they tell you about time and all that. Now
there is no such thing as time, Bevis my love; there never was any time,
and there never will be; the sun laughs at it, even when he marks it on
the sun-dial. Yesterday was just a second ago, and so was ten thousand
years since, and there is nothing between you and then; there is no wall
between you and then--nothing at all, dear,"--and the brook sang so low
and thoughtfully that Bevis could not catch what he said, but the tune
was so sweet, and soft, and sad that it made him keep quite still. While
he was listening the kingfisher came back and perched on the hatch, and
Bevis saw his ruddy neck and his blue wings.

"There is nothing between you and then," the brook began again, "nothing
at all, dear; only some stories which are not true; if you will not
believe me, look at the sun, but you cannot look at the sun, darling; it
shines so bright. It shines just the same, as bright and beautiful; and
the wind blows as sweet as ever, and I sparkle and sing just the same,
and you may drink me if you like; and the grass is just as green; and
the stars shine at night. Oh, yes, Bevis dear, _we_ are all here just
the same, my love, and all things are as bright and beautiful as ten
thousand times ten thousand years ago, which is no longer since than a
second.

"But your people have gone away from us--that is their own fault. I
cannot think why they should do so; they have gone away from us, and
they are no longer happy, Bevis; they cannot understand our songs--they
sing stupid songs they have made up themselves, and which they did not
learn of us, and then because they are not happy, they say: 'The world
is growing old'. But it is not true, Bevis, the world is not old, it is
as young as ever it was. Fling me a leaf--and now another. Do not you
forget me, Bevis; come and see me now and then, and throw twigs to me
and splash me."

"That I will," said Bevis; and he picked up a stone and flung it into
the water with such a splash that the kingfisher flew away, but the
brook only laughed, and told him to throw another, and to make haste and
eat the peck of salt, and grow bigger and jump over him. "That I will,"
said Bevis, "I am very hungry now--good-morning, I am going home to
dinner."

"Good-morning, dear," said the brook, "you will always find me here when
you want to hear a song." Bevis went home to dinner humming the tune the
brook had taught him, and by-and-by, when the hot sun had begun to sink
a little, he started again for the copse, and as before the dragon-fly
met him, and led him to the timber, and from there to the raspberries.

The squirrel was waiting for him on a bough of the oak, and while Bevis
picked the fruit that had ripened since yesterday, told him the news the
peewits had brought about the great rebel Choo Hoo. A party of the
peewits, who had been watching ever so far away, thought they saw a stir
and a movement in the woods; and presently out came one of the captains
of the wood-pigeons with two hundred of his soldiers, and they flew over
the border into King Kapchack's country and began to forage in one of
his wheat-fields, where the corn was ripe. When they saw this, the
peewits held a council on the hill, and they sent a messenger to
Kapchack with the news. While they were waiting for him to return, some
of the wood-pigeons, having foraged enough, went home to the woods, so
that there was not much more than half of them left.

Seeing this--for his soldiers who were wheeling about in the air came
and told him--the captain of the peewits thought: "Now is my time! This
is a most lucky and fortunate circumstance, and I can now win the high
approval of King Kapchack, and obtain promotion. The captain of the
wood-pigeons has no idea how many of us are watching his proceedings,
for I have kept my peewits behind the cover of the hill so that he could
not count them, and he has allowed half of the wood-pigeons to go home.
We will rush down upon the rest, and so win an easy victory."

So saying he flew up, and all the peewits followed him in the
expectation of an easy conquest. But, just as they were descending upon
the wheat-field, up flew the wood-pigeons with such a terrible clangour
of their strong wings, and facing towards them, showed such a
determination to fight to the last breath, that the peewits, who were
never very celebrated for their courage, turned tail, and began to
retreat.

They would still have reached the hills in good order, and would have
suffered no great disgrace (for they were but a small party, and not so
numerous as the wood-pigeons), but in the midst of these manoeuvres,
the lieutenant of the pigeons, who had gone home with those who had done
foraging, flew out from the wood with his men, and tried by a flank
movement to cut off the peewits' retreat. At this they were so alarmed
they separated and broke up their ranks, each flying to save himself as
best he might. Nor did they stop till long after the wood-pigeons, being
cautious and under complete control, had ceased to pursue; not till they
had flown back two or three miles into the fastnesses of Kapchack's
hills. Then some of them, collecting again, held a hurried council, and
sent off messengers with the news of this affray.

About the same time, it happened that a missel-thrush arrived at the
court, a son of the favourite missel-thrush, the only bird whom Kapchack
(and the farmer) allowed to build in the orchard. The missel-thrush had
just travelled through part of the country which once belonged to
Kapchack, but which Choo Hoo had over-run the year before, and he
brought Kapchack such a terrible account of the mighty armies that he
saw assembling, that the king was beside himself with terror. Next came
a crow, one of Kauc's warriors, who had been that way, and he said that
two captains of the wood-pigeons, hearing of the peewits' defeat, had
already, and without staying for instructions from Choo Hoo, entered the
country and taken possession of a copse on the slope of the hill from
which the peewits had descended.

"And," said the squirrel, as Bevis, having eaten all the raspberries,
came and sat down on the moss under the oak, "the upshot of it is that
King Kapchack has called a general council of war, which is to be held
almost directly at the owl's castle, in the pollard hard by. For you
must understand that the farmer who lives near Kapchack's palace is so
fierce, he will not let any of the large birds (except the favourite
missel-thrush) enter the orchard, and therefore Kapchack has to hold
these great councils in the copse. What will be the result I cannot
think, and I am not without serious apprehensions myself, for I have
hitherto held undisputed possession of this domain. But Choo Hoo is so
despotic, and has such an immense army at his back, that I am not at all
certain he will respect my neutrality. As for Kapchack, he shivers in
his claws at the very name of the mighty rebel."

"Why does Choo Hoo want King Kapchack's country?" said Bevis. "Why
cannot he stop where he is?"

"There is no reason, dear; but you know that all the birds and animals
would like to be king if they could, and when Choo Hoo found that the
wood-pigeons (for he was nothing but an adventurer at first, without any
title or property except the ancestral ash) were growing so numerous
that the woods would hardly hold them, and were continually being
increased both by their own populousness and by the arrival of fresh
bands, it occurred to him that this enormous horde of people, if they
could only be persuaded to follow him, could easily over-run the entire
country. Hitherto, it was true, they had been easily kept in subjection,
notwithstanding their immense numbers, first, because they had no
leaders among them, nor even any nobles or rich people to govern their
movements and tell them what to do; and next, because they were
barbarians, and totally destitute of art or refinement, knowledge, or
science, neither had they any skill in diplomacy or politics, but were
utterly outside the civilised nations.

"Even their language, as you yourself have heard, is very contracted and
poor, without inflection or expression, being nothing but the repetition
of the same sounds, by which means--that is simply by the number and the
depth of hollowness of the same monosyllables--they convey their wishes
to each other. It is, indeed, wonderful how they can do so, and our
learned men, from this circumstance, have held that the language of the
wood-pigeon is the most difficult to acquire, so much so that it is
scarce possible for one who has not been born among the barbarians to
attain to any facility in the use of these gutturals. This is the reason
why little or no intercourse has ever taken place between us who are
civilised and these hordes; that which has gone on has been entirely
conducted by the aid of interpreters, being those few wood-pigeons who
have come away from the main body, and dwell peaceably in our midst.

"Now, Choo Hoo, as I said, being an adventurer, with no more property
than the ancestral ash, but a pigeon of very extraordinary genius,
considered within himself that if any one could but persuade these
mighty and incredible myriads to follow him he could over-run the entire
country. The very absence of any nobles or rich pigeons among them would
make his sway the more absolute if he once got power, for there would
be none to dispute it, or to put any check upon him. Ignorant and
barbarous as they were, the common pigeons would worship such a captain
as a hero and a demi-god, and would fly to certain destruction in
obedience to his orders.

"He was the more encouraged to the enterprise because it was on record
that in olden times great bodies of pigeons had passed across the
country sweeping everything before them. Nothing could resist their
onward march, and it is owing to these barbarian invasions that so many
of our most precious chronicles have been destroyed, and our early
history, Bevis dear, involved in obscurity. Their dominion--destructive
as it was--had, however, always passed away as rapidly as it arose, on
account of the lack of cohesion in their countless armies. They marched
without a leader, and without order, obeying for a time a common
impulse; when that impulse ceased they retired tumultuously, suffering
grievous losses from the armies which gathered behind and hung upon
their rear. Their bones whitened the fields, and the sun, it is said,
was darkened at noonday by their hastening crowds fleeing in dense
columns, and struck down as they fled by hawks and crows.

"Had they possessed a leader in whom they felt confidence the result
might have been very different; indeed, our wisest historians express no
doubt that civilisation must have been entirely extinguished, and these
lovely fields and delicious woods have been wholly occupied by the
barbarians. Fortunately it was not so. But, as I said, Choo Hoo,
retiring to the top of a lofty fir-tree, and filled with these ideas,
surveyed from thence the masses of his countrymen returning to the woods
to roost as the sun declined, and resolved to lose no time in
endeavouring to win them to his will, and to persuade them to embark
upon the extraordinary enterprise which he had conceived.

"Without delay he proceeded to promulgate his plans, flying from tribe
to tribe, and from flock to flock, ceaselessly proclaiming that the
kingdom was the wood-pigeons' by right, by reason of their numbers, and
because of the wickedness of Kapchack and his court, which wickedness
was notorious, and must end in disaster. As you may imagine, he met with
little or no response--for the most part the pigeons, being of a stolid
nature, went on with their feeding and talking, and took no notice
whatever of his orations. After a while the elder ones, indeed, began to
say to each other that this agitator had better be put down and debarred
from freedom of speech, for such seditious language must ultimately be
reported to Kapchack, who would send his body-guards of hawks among them
and exact a sanguinary vengeance.

"Finding himself in danger, Choo Hoo, not one whit abashed, instead of
fleeing, came before the elders and openly reproached them with
misgovernment, cowardice, and the concealment or loss of certain ancient
prophecies, which foretold the future power of the wood-pigeons, and
which he accused them of holding back out of jealousy, lest they should
lose the miserable petty authority they enjoyed on account of their age.
Now, whether there were really any such prophecies, I cannot tell you,
or whether it was one of Choo Hoo's clever artifices, it is a moot point
among our most learned antiquaries; the owl, who has the best means of
information, told me once that he believed there was some ground for the
assertion.

"At any rate it suited Choo Hoo's purpose very well; for although the
elders and the heads of the tribes forthwith proceeded to subject him to
every species of persecution, and attacked him so violently that he lost
nearly all his feathers, the common pigeons sympathised with him, and
hid him from their pursuit. They were the more led to sympathise with
him because, on account of their ever-increasing numbers, the territory
allotted to them by Kapchack was daily becoming less and less suited to
their wants, and, in short, there were some signs of a famine. They,
therefore, looked with longing eyes at the fertile country, teeming with
wheat and acorns around them, and listened with greedy ears to the
tempting prospect so graphically described by Choo Hoo.

"Above all, the young pigeons attached themselves to his fortunes and
followed him everywhere in continually increasing bands, for he promised
them wives in plenty and trees for their nests without number; for all
the trees in their woods were already occupied by the older families,
who would not, moreover, part with their daughters to young pigeons who
had not a branch to roost on. Some say that the fox, who had long been
deeply discontented at the loss of his ancestors' kingdom and of his own
wealth, which he dissipated so carelessly, did not scruple to advise
Choo Hoo how to proceed. Be that as it may, I should be the last to
accuse any one of disloyalty without evident proof; be that as it may,
the stir and commotion grew so great among the wood-pigeons, that
presently the news of it reached King Kapchack.

"His spies, of whom he has so many (the chief of them is Te-te, the
tomtit, of whom I bid you beware), brought him full intelligence of what
was going on. Kapchack lost no time in calling his principal advisers
around him; they met close by here (where the council is to take place
this afternoon), for he well knew the importance of the news. It was not
only, you see, the immense numbers of the wood-pigeons and the
impossibility of resisting their march, were they once set in motion,
but he had to consider that there was a considerable population of
pigeons in our midst who might turn traitors, and he was by no means
sure of the allegiance of various other tribes, who were only held down
by terror.

"The council fully acknowledged the gravity of the situation, and upon
the advice of the hawk it was resolved that Choo Hoo, as the prime mover
of the trouble, and as the only one capable of bringing matters to a
crisis, should be forthwith despatched. But when the executioners
proceeded to seize him he eluded their clutches with the greatest ease;
for his followers (such was their infatuation) devoted their lives to
his, and threw themselves in the way of Kapchack's emissaries, the
hawks, submitting to be torn in pieces rather than see their beloved
hero lose a feather. Thus baffled, the enraged Kapchack next tried to
get him assassinated, but, as before, his friends watched about him with
such solicitude that no one could enter the wood where he slept at night
without their raising such a disturbance that their evil purpose was
defeated.

"In his rage Kapchack ordered a decimation of the wood-pigeons, which I
myself think was a great mistake; but, as I have told you before, I do
not meddle with politics. Still I cannot help thinking that if he had,
instead, of his royal bounty and benevolence, given the wood-pigeons an
increase of territory, seeing how near they sometimes came to a famine,
that they would have been disarmed and their discontent turned to
gratitude; but he ordered in his rage and terror that they should be
decimated, and let loose the whole army of his hawks upon them, so that
the slaughter was awful to behold, and the ground was strewn with their
torn and mangled bodies. Yet they remained faithful to Choo Hoo, and not
one traitor was found among these loyal barbarians.

"But Choo Hoo, deeply distressed in mind, said that he would relieve
them from the burden of his presence rather than thus be the cause of
their sorrow. He therefore left those provinces and flew out of the
country, leaving word behind him that he would never return till he had
seen the raven, and recovered from him those ancient prophecies that had
so long been lost. He flew away, and disappeared in the distance; the
days and weeks passed, but he did not return, and at last Kapchack,
relieved of his apprehensions, recalled his murderous troops, and the
pigeons were left in peace to lament their Choo Hoo.

"A twelvemonth passed, and still Choo Hoo did not come; the people said
he had been called to the happy Forest of the Heroes, and averred that
sometimes they heard his voice calling to them when no one was near.
There was no doubt that he had gone with the raven. The raven, you must
know, my dear Sir Bevis, was once the principal judge and arbiter of
justice amongst us, so much so that he was above kings, and it is
certain that had he been here we should not have had to submit to the
sanguinary tyranny of Kapchack, nor condemned to witness the scandalous
behaviour of his court, or the still greater scandal of his own private
life. But for some reason the raven mysteriously left this country about
a hundred years ago, leaving behind him certain prophecies, some of
which no doubt you have heard, especially that upon his return there
will be no more famine, nor frost, nor slaughter, nor conflict, but we
shall all live together in peace.

"However that may be, the raven has never come back; the learned hold
that he must have died long since, for he was so aged when he went away
no one knew his years, hinting in their disbelief that he went away to
die, and so surround his death with a halo of mystery; but the common
people are quite of a different opinion, and strenuously uphold the
belief that he will some day return. Well, as I told you, a twelvemonth
went by, and Choo Hoo did not come, when suddenly in the spring (when
Kapchack himself was much occupied in his palace, and most of his spies
were busy with their nests, and the matter had almost been forgotten)
Choo Hoo reappeared, bringing with him the most beautiful young bride
that was ever beheld, as he himself was, on the other hand, the
strongest and swiftest of the wood-pigeons.

"When this was known (and the news spread in a minute) the enthusiasm of
the barbarians knew no bounds. Notwithstanding it was nesting-time, they
collected in such vast numbers that the boughs cracked with their
weight; they unanimously proclaimed Choo Hoo emperor (for they disdained
the title of king as not sufficiently exalted), and declared their
intention, as soon as the nesting-time was over, and the proper
season--the autumn--for campaigning arrived, of following him, and
invading the kingdom of Kapchack.

"Choo Hoo told them that, after many months of wandering, he had at last
succeeded in finding the raven; at least he had not seen the raven
himself, but the raven had sent a special messenger, the hawfinch, to
tell him to be of good cheer, and to return to the wood-pigeons, and to
lead them forth against Kapchack, who tottered upon his throne; and that
he (the raven) would send the night-jar, or goat-sucker, with crooked
and evil counsels to confound Kapchack's wisdom. And indeed, Bevis, my
dear, I have myself seen several night-jars about here, and I am rather
inclined to think that there is some truth in this part at least of what
Choo Hoo says; for it is an old proverb, which I daresay you have heard,
that when the gods design the destruction of a monarch they first make
him mad, and what can be more mad than Kapchack's proposed marriage with
the jay, to which he was doubtless instigated by the night-jars, who,
like genii of the air, have been floating in the dusky summer twilight
round about his palace?

"And they have, I really believe, confounded his council and turned his
wisdom to folly; for Kapchack has been so cunning for so many, many
years, and all his family have been so cunning, and all his councillors,
that now I do believe (only I do not meddle with politics) that this
extreme cunning is too clever, and that they will overreach themselves.
However, we shall see what is said at the council by-and-by.

"Choo Hoo, having told the pigeons this, added that he had further been
instructed by the raven to give them a sacred and mystic pass-word and
rallying cry; he did not himself know what it meant; it was, however,
something very powerful, and by it they would be led to victory. So
saying, he called 'Koos-takke!' and at once the vast assembly seized the
signal and responded 'Koos-takke!' which mystic syllables are now their
war-cry, their call of defiance, and their welcome to their friends. You
may often hear them shouting these words in the depths of the woods;
Choo Hoo learnt them in the enchanted Forest of Savernake, where, as
every one knows, there are many mighty magicians, and where, perhaps,
the raven is still living in its deep recesses. Now this war-cry
supplied, as doubtless the raven had foreseen, the very link that was
wanting to bind the immense crowd of wood-pigeons together.
Thenceforward they had a common sign and pass-word, and were no longer
scattered.

"In the autumn Choo Hoo crossed the border with a vast horde, and
although Kapchack sent his generals, who inflicted enormous losses, such
as no other nation but the barbarians could have sustained, nothing
could stay the advance of such incredible numbers. After a whole autumn
and winter of severe and continued fighting, Choo Hoo, early in the next
year, found that he had advanced some ten (and in places fifteen) miles,
giving his people room to feed and move. He had really pushed much
farther than that, but he could not hold all the ground he had taken for
the following reason. In the spring, as the soft warm weather came, and
the sun began to shine, and the rain to fall, and the brook to sing more
sweetly, and the wind to breathe gently with delicious perfume, and the
green leaves to come forth, the barbarians began to feel the influence
of love.

"They could no longer endure to fly in the dense column, they no longer
obeyed the voice of their captain. They fell in love, and each marrying
set about to build a nest, free and unmolested in those trees that Choo
Hoo had promised them. Choo Hoo himself retired with his lovely bride to
the ancestral ash, and passed the summer in happy dalliance. With the
autumn the campaign recommenced, and with exactly the same result. After
a second autumn and winter of fighting, Choo Hoo had pushed his frontier
another fifteen miles farther into Kapchack's kingdom. Another summer of
love followed, and so it went on year after year, Choo Hoo's forces
meantime continually increasing in numbers, since there were now no
restrictions as to nest trees, but one and all could marry.

"Till at last he has under his sway a horde of trained warriors, whose
numbers defy calculation, and he has year by year pushed into Kapchack's
territory till now it seems as if he must utterly overwhelm and destroy
that monarch. This he would doubtless have achieved ere now, but there
is one difficulty which has considerably impeded his advance, as he came
farther and farther from his native province. This difficulty is water.

"For in the winter, when the Long Pond is frozen, and the brook nearly
covered with ice, and all the ponds and ditches likewise, so vast a
horde cannot find enough to satisfy their thirst, and must consequently
disperse. Were it not for this Choo Hoo must ere now have overwhelmed
us. As it is, Kapchack shivers in his claws, and we all dread the
approaching autumn, for Choo Hoo has now approached so near as to be at
our very doors. If he only knew one thing he would have no difficulty
in remaining here and utterly destroying us."

"What is that?" said Bevis.

"Will you promise faithfully not to tell any one?" said the squirrel,
"for my own existence depends upon this horde of barbarians being kept
at bay; for, you see, should they pass over they will devour everything
in the land, and there will certainly be a famine--the most dreadful
that has ever been seen."

"I will promise," said Bevis. "I promise you faithfully."

"Then I will tell you," went on the squirrel. "In this copse of mine
there is a spring of the clearest and sweetest water (you shall see it,
I will take you to it some day) which is a great secret, for it is so
hidden by ferns and fir-trees overhanging it, that no one knows anything
about it, except Kapchack, myself, the weasel, and the fox; I wish the
weasel did not know, for he is so gluttonous for blood, which makes him
thirsty, that he is continually dipping his murderous snout into the
delicious water.

"Now this spring, being so warm in the fern, and coming out of ground
which is, in a manner, warm too, of all the springs in this province
does not freeze, but always runs clear all the winter. If Choo Hoo only
knew it, don't you see, he could stay in Kapchack's country, no matter
how hard the frost, and his enormous army, whose main object is plunder,
would soon starve us altogether. But he does not know of it.

"He has sent several of his spies, the wood-cocks, to search the
country for such a spring, but although they are the most cunning of
birds at that trick, they have not yet succeeded in finding my spring
and thrusting their long bills into it. They dare not come openly, but
fly by night, for Kapchack's hawks are always hovering about; well
enough he knows the importance of this secret, and they would pay for
their temerity with their lives if they were seen. All I am afraid of is
lest the weasel or the fox, in their eagerness for empire, should betray
the secret to Choo Hoo.

"The fox, though full of duplicity, and not to be depended upon, is at
least brave and bold, and so far as I can judge his character would not,
for his own sake (hoping some day to regain the kingdom), let out this
secret. But of the weasel I am not so sure; he is so very wicked, and so
cunning, no one can tell what he may do. Thus it is that in the highest
of my beech trees I do not feel secure, but am in continual fear lest a
wood-cock should steal in, or the weasel play the traitor, for if so a
famine is imminent, and that is why I support, so far as I can without
meddling with politics, the throne of Kapchack, as the last barrier
against this terrible fate.

"Even now could he but be brought to reform his present life something
might be hoped for, for he has a powerful army; but, as you have seen,
this affair with the jay has caused ambitious ideas to spring up in the
minds of his chief courtiers, some of whom (especially, I think, the
crow and the weasel) are capable of destroying a country for their
private and personal advantage. Therefore it is that I look forward to
this council, now about to be held, with intense anxiety, for upon it
will depend our future, the throne of Kapchack, our existence or
destruction. And here comes the rook; the first as usual."



CHAPTER IX.

THE COUNCIL.


Before Bevis could ask any questions, the squirrel went off to speak to
the rook, and to show him a good bough to perch on near the owl's
castle. He then came back and conducted Bevis to the seat in the
ash-stole, where he was hidden by the honeysuckle, but could see well
about him. Hardly had Bevis comfortably seated himself than the
councillors began to arrive. They were all there; even the rat did not
dare stay away, lest his loyalty should be suspected, but took up his
station at the foot of the pollard-tree, and the mouse sat beside him.
The rook sat on the oak, no great way from the squirrel; Kauc, the crow,
chose a branch of ash which projected close to the pollard. So envious
was he of the crown that he could not stay far from it.

Cloctaw, the jackdaw, who had flown to the council with him, upon
arrival, left his side, and perched rather in the rear. Reynard, the
fox, and Sec, the stoat, his friend, waited the approach of the king by
some fern near the foot of the pollard. The owl every now and then
appeared at the window of his castle, sometimes to see who had arrived,
and sometimes to look for the king, who was not yet in sight. Having
glanced round, the owl retreated to his study, doubtless to prepare his
speech for this important occasion. The heaving up of the leaves and
earth, as if an underground plough was at work, showed that the mole had
not forgotten his duty; he had come to show his loyalty, and he brought
a message from the badger, who had long since been left outside the
concert of the animals and birds, humbly begging King Kapchack to accept
his homage.

It is true that neither the hare nor the rabbit were present, but that
signified nothing, for they had no influence whatever. But the pheasant,
who often stood aloof from the court, in his pride of lineage despising
Kapchack though he was king, came on this occasion, for he too, like the
squirrel, was alarmed at the progress of Choo Hoo, and dreaded a
scarcity of the berries of the earth. Tchink, the chaffinch, one of the
first to come, could not perch still, but restlessly passed round the
circle, now talking to one and now to another, and sometimes peering in
at the owl's window. But merry as he was, he turned his back upon Te-te,
the tomtit, and chief of the spies, disdaining the acquaintance of a
common informer. Te-te, not one whit abashed, sat on a willow, and
lifted his voice from time to time.

The jay came presently, and for some reason or other he was in high good
spirits, and dressed in his gayest feathers. He chaffed the owl, and
joked with Tchink; then he laughed to himself, and tried to upset the
grave old Cloctaw from his seat, and, in short, played all sorts of
pranks to the astonishment of everybody, who had hitherto seen him in
such distress for the loss of his lady-love. Everybody thought he had
lost his senses. Eric, the favourite missel-thrush (not the
conspirator), took his station very high up on the ash above Kauc, whom
he hated and suspected of treason, not hesitating even to say so aloud.
Kauc, indeed, was not now quite comfortable in his position, but kept
slyly glancing up at the missel-thrush, and would have gone elsewhere
had it not been that everybody was looking.

The wood-pigeon came to the hawthorn, some little way from the castle;
he represented, and was the chief of those pigeons who dwelt peacefully
in Kapchack's kingdom, although aliens by race. His position was
difficult in the extreme, for upon the one hand he knew full well that
Kapchack was suspicious of him lest he should go over to Choo Hoo, and
might at any moment order his destruction, and upon the other hand he
had several messages from Choo Hoo calling upon him to join his
brethren, the invaders, on pain of severe punishment. Uncertain as to
his fate, the wood-pigeon perched on the hawthorn at the skirt of the
council place, hoping from thence to get some start if obliged to flee
for his life. The dove, his friend, constant in misfortune, sat near him
to keep him in countenance.

The humble-bee, the bee, the butterfly, the cricket, the grasshopper,
the beetle, and many others arrived as the hour drew on. Last of all
came Ki Ki, lord of all the hawks, attended with his retinue, and
heralding the approach of the king. Ki Ki perched on a tree at the side
of the pollard, and his warriors ranged themselves around him: a
terrible show, at which the mouse verily shrank into the ground.
Immediately afterwards a noise of wings and talking announced the
arrival of Kapchack, who came in full state, with eight of his finest
guards. The king perched on the top of the pollard, just over the owl's
window, and the eight magpies sat above and around, but always behind
him.

"What an ugly old fellow he is!" whispered Bevis, who had never before
seen him. "Look at his ragged tail!"

"Hush!" said the squirrel, "Te-te is too near."

"Are they all here?" asked the king, after he had looked round and
received the bows and lowly obeisance of his subjects.

"They are all here," said the owl, sitting in his porch. "They are all
here--at least, I think; no, they are not, your majesty."

"Who is absent?" said Kapchack, frowning, and all the assembly cowered.

"It is the weasel," said the owl. "The weasel is not here."

Kapchack frowned and looked as black as thunder, and a dead silence fell
upon the council.

"If it please your majesty," said the humble-bee, presently coming to
the front. "If it please your majesty, the weasel----"

"It does _not_ please me," said Kapchack.

But the humble-bee began again: "If it please your majesty----"

"His majesty is _not_ pleased," repeated the owl, severely.

But the humble-bee, who could sing but one tune, began again: "If it
please your majesty, the weasel asked me to say----"

"What?" said the king, in a terrible rage. "What did he say?"

"If it please your majesty," said the humble-bee, who must begin over
again every time he was interrupted, "the weasel asked me to say that he
sent his humble, his most humble, loyal, and devoted obedience, and
begged that you would forgive his absence from the council, as he has
just met with a severe accident in the hunting-field, and cannot put one
paw before the other."

"I do not believe it," said King Kapchack. "Where is he?"

"If it please your majesty," said the humble-bee, "he is lying on a bank
beyond the copse, stretched out in the sunshine, licking his paw, and
hoping that rest and sunshine will cure him."

"Oh, what a story!" said Bevis.

"Hush," said the squirrel.

"Somebody said it was a story," said the owl.

"So it is," said Te-te. "I have made it my business to search out the
goings-on of the weasel, who has kept himself in the background of late,
suspecting that he was up to no good, and with the aid of my lieutenant,
the tree-climber, I have succeeded in discovering his retreat, which he
has concealed even from your majesty."

"Where is it?" said Kapchack.

"It is in the elm, just there," said Te-te, "just by those raspberries."

"The rascal," said the owl, in a great fright. "Then he has been close
by all the time listening."

"Yes, he has been listening," said Te-te, meaningly.

The owl became pale, remembering the secret meeting of the birds, and
what was said there, all of which the treacherous weasel must have
overheard. He passed it off by exclaiming: "This is really intolerable".

"It _is_ intolerable," said Kapchack; "and you," addressing the
humble-bee, "wretch that you are to bring me a false message----"

"If it please your majesty," began the humble-bee, but he was seized
upon by the bee (who was always jealous of him), and the butterfly, and
the beetle, and hustled away from the precinct of the council.

"Bring the weasel here, this instant," shouted Kapchack. "Drag him here
by the ears."

Everybody stood up, but everybody hesitated, for though they all hated
the weasel they all feared him. Ki Ki, the hawk, bold as he was, could
not do much in the bushes, nor enter a hole; Kauc, the crow, was in the
like fix, and he intended if he was called upon to take refuge in the
pretence of his age; the stoat, fierce as he was, shrank from facing the
weasel, being afraid of his relation's tricks and stratagems. Even the
fox, though he was the biggest of all, hesitated, for he recollected
once when Pan, the spaniel, snapped at the weasel, the weasel made his
teeth meet in Pan's nostrils.

Thus they all hesitated, when the rat suddenly stood out and said: "I
will fetch the weasel, your majesty; I will bring that hateful traitor
to your feet".

"Do so, good and loyal rat," said the king, well pleased. And the rat
ran off to compel the weasel to come.

As the elm was so close, they all looked that way, expecting to hear
sounds of fighting; but in less than half-a-minute the rat appeared,
with the weasel limping on three legs in his rear. For when the weasel
heard what the rat said, he knew it was of no use to stay away any
longer; but in his heart he vowed that he would, sooner or later, make
the rat smart for his officious interference.

When he came near, the weasel fell down and bowed himself before the
king, who said nothing, but eyed him scornfully.

"I am guilty," said the weasel, in a very humble voice; "I am guilty of
disobedience to your majesty's commands, and I am guilty of sending you
a deceitful message, for which my poor friend the humble-bee has been
cruelly hustled from your presence; but I am not guilty of the treason
of which I am accused. I hid in the elm, your majesty, because I went in
terror of my life, and I feigned to be ill, in order to stay away from
the council, because there is not one of all these (he pointed to the
circle of councillors) who has not sworn to destroy me, and I feared to
venture forth. They have all banded together to compass my destruction,
because I alone of all of them have remained faithful to your throne,
and have not secretly conspired."

At these words, there was such an outcry on the part of all the birds
and animals, that the wood echoed with their cries; for the stoat
snapped his teeth, and the fox snarled, and the jay screamed, and the
hawk napped his wings, and the crow said "Caw!" and the rook "Haw!" and
all so eagerly denied the imputation, that it was some minutes before
even King Kapchack could make himself heard.

When the noise in some degree subsided, however, he said: "Weasel, you
are so false of tongue, and you have so many shifts and contrivances
('That he has!' said Bevis, who was delighted at the downfall of the
weasel), that it is no longer possible for any of us to believe anything
you say. We have now such important business before us, that we cannot
stop to proceed to your trial and execution, and we therefore order that
in the meantime you remain where you are, and that you maintain complete
silence--for you are degraded from your rank--until such time as we can
attend to your contemptible body, which will shortly dangle from a tree,
as a warning to traitors for all time to come. My lords, we will now
proceed with our business, and, first of all, the secretary will read
the roll-call of our forces."

The owl then read the list of the army, and said: "First, your majesty's
devoted body-guard, with--with Prince Tchack-tchack (the king frowned,
and the jay laughed outright) at their head; Ki Ki, lord of hawks, one
thousand beaks; the rooks, five thousand beaks; Kauc, the crow, two
hundred beaks;" and so on, enumerating the numbers which all the tribes
could bring to battle.

In the buzz of conversation that arose while the owl was reading (as it
usually does), the squirrel told Bevis that he believed the crow had not
returned the number of his warriors correctly, but that there were
really many more, whom he purposely kept in the background. As for
Prince Tchack-tchack, his absence from the council evidently disturbed
his majesty, though he was too proud to show how he felt the defection
of his eldest son and heir.

The number of the rooks, too, was not accurate, and did not give a true
idea of their power, for it was the original estimate furnished many
years ago, when Kapchack first organised his army, and although the
rooks had greatly increased since then, the same return was always made.
But it was well understood that the nation of the rooks could send, and
doubtless would send, quite ten thousand beaks into the field.

"It is not a little curious," said the squirrel, "that the rooks, who,
as you know, belong to a limited monarchy--so limited that they have no
real king--should form the main support of so despotic a monarch as
Kapchack, who obtains even more decisive assistance from them than from
the ferocious and wily Ki Ki. It is an illustration of the singular
complexity and paradoxical positions of politics that those who are
naturally so opposed, should thus form the closest friends and allies.
I do not understand why it is so myself, for as you know, dear, I do not
attempt to meddle with politics, but the owl has several times very
learnedly discoursed to me upon this subject, and I gather from him that
one principal reason why the rooks support the tyrant Kapchack, is
because they well know if he is not king some one else will be. Now
Kapchack, in return for their valuable services, has, for one thing,
ordered Ki Ki on no account to interfere with them (which is the reason
they have become so populous), and under the nominal rule of Kapchack
they really enjoy greater liberty than they otherwise could.

"But the beginning of the alliance, it seems, was in this way. Many
years ago, when Kapchack was a young monarch, and by no means firmly
established upon his throne, he sought about for some means of gaining
the assistance of the rooks. He observed that in the spring, when the
rooks repaired their dwellings, they did so in a very inferior manner,
doing indeed just as their forefathers had done before them, and
repeating the traditional architecture handed down through innumerable
generations. So ill-constructed were their buildings, that if, as often
chanced, the March winds blew with fury, it was a common thing to see
the grass strewn with the wreck of their houses. Now Kapchack and all
his race are excellent architects, and it occurred to him to do the
rooks a service, by instructing them how to bind their lower courses, so
that they should withstand the wind.

"With some difficulty, for the older rooks, though they would loudly
deny it, are eminently conservative (a thing I do not profess to
understand), he succeeded in persuading the younger builders to adopt
his design; and the result was that in the end they all took to it, and
now it is quite the exception to hear of an accident. Besides the
preservation of life, Kapchack's invention also saved them an immense
amount in timber for rebuilding. The consequence has been that the
rooks have flourished above all other birds. They at once concluded an
alliance with Kapchack, and as they increased in numbers, so they became
more firmly attached to his throne.

"It is not that they feel any gratitude--far from it, they are a selfish
race--but they are very keen after their own interest, which is,
perhaps, the strongest tie. For, as I observed, the rooks live under a
limited monarchy; they had real kings of their own centuries since, but
now their own king is only a name, a state fiction. Every single rook
has a voice in the affairs of the nation (hence the tremendous clamour
you may hear in their woods towards sunset when their assemblies are
held), but the practical direction of their policy is entrusted to a
circle or council of about ten of the older rooks, distinguished for
their oratorical powers. These depute, again, one of their own number to
Kapchack's court; you see him yonder, his name is Kauhaha. The council
considers, I have no doubt, that by supporting Kapchack they retain
their supremacy, for very likely if they did not have a foreigner to
reign over them, some clever genius of their own race would arise and
overturn these mighty talkers.

"On the other hand Kapchack fully appreciates their services, and if he
dared he would give the chief command of his forces to the generalissimo
of the rooks--not the one who sits yonder--the commander's name is Ah
Kurroo. But he dreads the jealousy of Ki Ki, who is extremely off-handed
and high in his ways, and might go off with his contingent. I am curious
to see who will have the command. As for the starlings, I daresay you
will notice their absence; they are under the jurisdiction of the rooks,
and loyal as their masters; the reason they are not here is because they
are already mobilised and have taken the field; they were despatched in
all haste very early this morning, before you were awake, Bevis dear, to
occupy the slope from whence the peewits fled. Now they are discussing
the doubtful allies."

"The larks," the owl was saying as the squirrel finished, "have sent a
message which I consider extremely impertinent. They have dared to say
that they have nothing whatever to do with the approaching contest, and
decline to join either party. They say that from time immemorial they
have been free mountaineers, owing allegiance to no one, and if they
have attended your court it has been from courtesy, and not from any
necessity that they were under."

"They are despicable creatures," said the king, who was secretly
annoyed, but would not show it. "Ki Ki, I deliver them over to you; let
your men plunder them as they like."

"The finches," went on the owl. "I hardly know----"

"We are loyal to the last feather," said Tchink, the chaffinch, bold as
brass, and coming to the front, to save his friends from the fate of the
larks. "Your majesty, we are perfectly loyal--why, our troops, whom you
know are only lightly armed, have already gone forward, and have
occupied the furze on the summits of the hills."

"I am much pleased," said the king, who had been a little doubtful.
"Tell your friends to continue in that spirit."

"With all my heart," said Tchink, laughing in Ki Ki's face; he actually
flew close by the terrible hawk, and made a face at him, for he knew
that he was disappointed, having hoped for permission to tear and rend
the finches as the larks.

"The thrushes," began the owl again.

"Pooh," said the king, "they are feeble things; we can easily keep the
whole nation of them in subjection by knocking out some of their brains
now and then, can't we, Ki Ki?"

"It is a capital way," said Ki Ki. "There is no better."

"They are fit for nothing but ambassadors and couriers," said Kapchack.
"We will not waste any more time over such folk whose opinions are
nothing to us. Now I call upon you all to express your views as to the
best means of conducting the campaign, and what measures had better be
taken for the defence of our dominions. Ki Ki, speak first."

"I am for immediate action," said Ki Ki. "Let us advance and attack at
once, for every day swells the ranks of Choo Hoo's army, and should
there be early frosts it would be so largely increased that the mere
numbers must push us back. Besides which in a short time he will receive
large reinforcements, for his allies, the fieldfares and redwings, are
preparing to set sail across the sea hither. But now, before his host
becomes irresistible, is our opportunity; I counsel instant attack. War
to the beak is my motto!"

"War to the beak," said the crow.

"War to the beak," said the jay, carefully adjusting his brightest
feathers, "and our ladies will view our deeds."

"I agree," said the rook, "with what Ki Ki says." The rook was not so
noisy and impetuous as the hawk, but he was even more warlike, and by
far the better statesman. "I think," Kauhaha went on, "that we should
not delay one hour, but advance and occupy the plain where Choo Hoo is
already diminishing our supplies of food. If our supplies are consumed
or cut off our condition will become critical."

"Hear, hear," said everybody except the crow, who hated the rook. "Hear!
hear! the rook speaks well."

"All are then for immediately advancing?" said Kapchack, much pleased.

"May it please your majesty," said the fox, thus humbling himself, he
who was the descendant of kings, "may it please your majesty, I am not
certain that the proposed course is the wisest. For, if I may be
permitted to say so, it appears to me that the facts are exactly
opposite to what Ki Ki and the rook have put forward as the reason for
battle. My experience convinces me that the very vastness of Choo Hoo's
host is really its weakness. The larger his numbers the less he can
effect. It is clear that they must soon, if they continue to draw
together in these enormous bodies, destroy all the forage of the
country, and unless they are prepared to die of starvation they must
perforce retire.

"If, therefore, your majesty could be prevailed upon to listen to my
counsels, I would the rather suggest, most humbly suggest, that the
defensive is your best course. Here in the copse you have an enclosure
capable with a little trouble of being converted into an impregnable
fortress. Already the ditches are deep, the curtain wall of hawthorn
high and impenetrable, the approaches narrow. By retiring hither with
your forces, occupying every twig, and opposing a beak in every
direction, you would be absolutely safe, and it is easy to foresee what
would happen.

"Choo Hoo, boastful and vainglorious, would approach with his enormous
horde; he would taunt us, no doubt, with his absurd 'Koos-takke,' which
I verily believe has no meaning at all, and of which we need take no
heed. In a few days, having exhausted the supplies, he would have to
retire, and then sallying forth we could fall upon his rear and utterly
destroy his unwieldy army."

This advice made some impression upon Kapchack, notwithstanding that he
was much prejudiced against the fox, for it was evidently founded upon
facts, and the fox was known to have had great experience. Kapchack
appeared thoughtful, and leaning his head upon one side was silent, when
Kauc, the crow (who had his own reasons for wishing Kapchack to run as
much risk as possible), cried out that the fox was a coward, and wanted
to sneak into a hole. Ki Ki shouted applaudingly; the rook said he for
one could not shut himself up while the country was ravaged; and the jay
said the ladies would despise them. Kapchack remembered that the fox had
always had a character for duplicity, and perhaps had some secret motive
for his advice, and just then, in the midst of the uproar, a starling
flew into the circle with part of his tail gone and his feathers greatly
ruffled.

It was evident that he had brought news from the seat of war, and they
all crowded about him. So soon as he had recovered breath the starling
told them that half-an-hour since Choo Hoo had himself crossed the
border, and driving in the outposts of the starlings, despite the most
desperate resistance, had passed the front line of the hills. At this
news the uproar was tremendous, and for some time not a word could be
heard. By-and-by the owl obtained something like order, when the rook
said he for one could not stay in council any longer, he must proceed to
assemble the forces of his nation, as while they were talking his city
might be seized. Ki Ki, too, flapping his wings, announced his intention
of attacking; the jay uttered a sneer about one-eyed people not being
able to see what was straight before them, and thus goaded on against
his better judgment, Kapchack declared his intention of sending his army
to the front.

He then proceeded to distribute the commands. Ki Ki was proclaimed
commander-in-chief (the rook did not like this, but he said nothing, as
he knew Kapchack could not help himself), and the rooks had the right
wing, the crow the left wing (the crow was surprised at this, for his
usual post was to guard the rear, but he guessed at once that Kapchack
suspected him, and would not leave him near the palace), and the owl had
the reserve. As they received their orders, each flew off; even the owl,
though it was daylight, started forth to summon his men, and though he
blundered against the branches, did not stay a second on that account.
The squirrel had charge of the stores, and jumped down to see after
them. Not one was forgotten, but each had an office assigned, and went
to execute it, all except the fox and the weasel. The weasel, obedient
to orders, lay still at the foot of the pollard, humbly hiding his head.

The fox, presently finding that he had been overlooked, crept under
Kapchack, and, bowing to the earth, asked if there was no command and no
employment for him.

"Begone," said Kapchack, who was not going to entrust power to one of
royal descent. "Begone, sir; you have not shown any ability lately."

"But did not the gnat tell you?" began the fox, humbly.

"The gnat told me a great deal," said Kapchack.

"But did he not say I sent him?"

"No, indeed," said Kapchack, for the gnat, not to be outdone, had indeed
delivered the fox's message, but had taken the credit of it for himself.
"Begone, sir (the fox slunk away); and do you (to his guards) go to the
firs and wait for me there." The eight magpies immediately departed, and
there was no one left but the weasel.

The king looked down at the guilty traitor; the traitor hung his head.
Presently the king said: "Weasel, false and double-tongued weasel, did I
not choose you to be my chiefest and most secret counsellor? Did you not
know everything? Did I not consult you on every occasion, and were you
not promoted to high honour and dignity? And you have repaid me by
plotting against my throne, and against my life; the gnat has told me
everything, and it is of no avail for you to deny it. You double
traitor, false to me and false to those other traitors who met in this
very place to conspire against me. It is true you were not among them in
person, but why were you not among them? Do you suppose that I am to be
deceived for a moment? Wretch that you are. You set them on to plot
against me while you kept out of it with clean paws, that you might
seize the throne so soon as I was slain. Wretch that you are."

Here the weasel could not endure it any longer, but crawling to the foot
of the tree, besought the king with tears in his eyes to do what he
would--to order him to instant execution, but not to reproach him with
these enormities, which cut him to the very soul. But the more he
pleaded, the more angry Kapchack became, and heaped such epithets upon
the crouching wretch, and so bitterly upbraided him that at last the
weasel could bear it no more, but driven as it were into a corner,
turned to bay, and faced the enraged monarch.

He sat up, and looking Kapchack straight in the face, as none but so
hardened a reprobate could have done, he said, in a low but very
distinct voice: "You have no right to say these things to me, any more
than you have to wear the crown! I do not believe you are Kapchack at
all--you are an impostor!"

At these words Kapchack became as pale as death, and could not keep his
perch upon the pollard, but fluttered down to the ground beside the
weasel. He was so overcome that for a moment or two he could not speak.
When he found breath, he turned to the weasel and asked him what he
meant. The weasel, who had now regained his spirits, said boldly enough
that he meant what he said; he did not believe that the king was really
Kapchack.

"But I am Kapchack," said the king, trembling, and not knowing how much
the weasel knew.

In truth the weasel knew very little, but had only shot a bolt at random
from the bow of his suspicions, but he had still a sharper shaft to
shoot, and he said: "You are an impostor, for you told La Schach, who
has jilted you, that you were not so old as you looked."

"The false creature!" said Kapchack, quite beside himself with rage. In
his jealousy of Prince Tchack-tchack, who was so much younger, and had
two eyes, he had said this, and now he bitterly repented his vanity.
"The false creature!" he screamed, "where is she? I will have her torn
to pieces! She shall be pecked limb from limb! Where is she?" he
shrieked. "She left the palace yesterday evening, and I have not seen
her since."

"She went to the firs with the jay," said the weasel. "He is her old
lover, you know. Did you not see how merry he was just now, at the
council?"

Then Kapchack pecked up the ground with his beak, and tore at it with
his claws, and gave way to his impotent anger.

"There shall not be a feather of her left!" he said. "I will have her
utterly destroyed! She shall be nailed to a tree!"

"Nothing of the kind," said the weasel, with a sneer. "She is too
beautiful. As soon as you see her, you will kiss her and forgive her."

"It is true," said Kapchack, becoming calmer. "She is so beautiful, she
must be forgiven. Weasel, in consideration of important services
rendered to the state in former days, upon this one occasion you shall
be pardoned. Of course the condition is that what has passed between us
this day is kept strictly private, and that you do not breathe a word of
it."

"Not a word of it," said the weasel.

"And you must disabuse your mind of that extraordinary illusion as to my
identity of which you spoke just now. You must dismiss so absurd an idea
from your mind."

"Certainly," said the weasel, "it is dismissed entirely. But, your
majesty, with your permission, I would go further. I would endeavour to
explain to you, that although my conduct was indiscreet, and so far open
to misconstruction, there was really nothing more in it than an
ill-directed zeal in your service. It is really true, your majesty, that
all the birds and animals are leagued against me, and that is why I have
been afraid to stir abroad. I was invited to the secret council, of
which you have heard from the gnat, and because I did not attend it,
they have one and all agreed to vilify me to your majesty.

"But in fact I, for once, with the service of your majesty in view,
descended (repugnant as it was to my feelings) to play the eavesdropper,
and I overheard all that was said, and I can convince your majesty that
there are far greater traitors in your dominions than you ever supposed
me to be. The gnat does not know half that took place at the council,
for he only had it second-hand from that villain, the fox, who is, I
believe, secretly bent on your destruction. But I can tell you not only
all that went on--I can also relate to you the designs of Kauc, the
crow, who conferred with Cloctaw in private, after the meeting was over.
And I can also give you good reasons for suspecting Ki Ki, the hawk,
whom you have just nominated to the command of your forces, of the
intention of making a bargain with Choo Hoo, and of handing you over to
him a prisoner."

Now this last was a pure invention of the weasel's out of envy, since Ki
Ki had obtained such distinction. Kapchack, much alarmed at these words,
ordered him to relate everything in order, and the weasel told him all
that had been said at the council, all that Kauc, the crow, had said to
Cloctaw, and a hundred other matters which he made up himself. When
Kapchack heard these things he was quite confounded, and exclaimed that
he was surrounded with traitors, and that he did not see which way to
turn. He hopped a little way off, in order the better to consider by
himself, and leant his head upon one side.

First he thought to himself: "I must take the command from Ki Ki, but I
cannot do that suddenly, lest he should go over to Choo Hoo. I will
therefore do it gradually. I will countermand the order for an immediate
attack; that will give me time to arrange. Who is to take Ki Ki's place?
Clearly the weasel, for though he is an archtraitor, yet he is in the
same boat with me; for I know it to be perfectly true that all of them
are bitter against him."

So he went back to the weasel, and told him that he should give him the
chief command of the forces, on the third day following, and meantime
told him to come early in the evening to the drain which passed under
the orchard, where his palace was, so that he could concert the details
of this great state business in secret with him.

The weasel, beyond measure delighted at the turn things had taken, and
rejoicing extremely at the impending fall of Ki Ki, whom he hated,
thanked Kapchack with all his might, till Kapchack, enjoining on him the
necessity of secrecy, said "Good-afternoon"; and flew away towards the
firs, where his guard was waiting for him. Then the weasel, puffed up
and treading the ground proudly, went back to his cave in the elm, and
Bevis, seeing that there was nothing more going on that day, stole back
to the raspberry canes.

None of them had noticed, not even the cunning weasel, that the mole,
when the council broke up, had not left with the rest: indeed, being
under the surface of the earth, they easily overlooked him. Now the
mole, who hated the weasel beyond all, had waited to have the pleasure
of hearing King Kapchack upbraid the traitor, and presently consign him
to execution. Fancy then his feelings when, after all, the weasel was
received into the highest favour, and promised the supreme command of
the army, while he himself was not even noticed, though he was a clever
engineer, and could mine and countermine, and carry on siege operations
better than any of them.

He listened to all that was said attentively, and then, so soon as
Kapchack had flown away, and the weasel had gone to his hole, and Bevis
to the raspberries, he drove a tunnel to the edge of the copse, and
there calling a fly, sent him with a message to the hawk, asking Ki Ki
to meet him beside the leaning stone in the field (which Bevis had once
passed), because he had a secret to communicate which would brook no
delay. At the same time, as Kapchack was flying to the firs where his
guards were waiting, it occurred to him that, although he had no
alternative, it was dangerous in the extreme to trust the army to the
weasel, who, perhaps, just as there was an opportunity of victory, would
retire, and leave him to be destroyed. Thinking about this, he perched
on a low hawthorn bush, and asked himself whether it was worth while to
attempt to defend a kingdom held under such precarious tenure. Would it
not be better to make terms with Choo Hoo, who was not unreasonable, and
to divide the territory, and thus reign in peace and safety over half at
least,--making it, of course, a condition of the compact that Choo Hoo
should help him to put down all domestic traitors?

The idea seemed so good that, first glancing round to see that he was
not observed, he called a thrush, who had been coming to the hawthorn,
but dared not enter it while the king was there. The thrush, much
frightened, came as he was bid, and Kapchack carefully instructed him in
what he was to do. Having learnt his message by heart, the thrush,
delighted beyond expression at so high a negotiation being entrusted to
him, flew straight away towards Choo Hoo's camp. But not unobserved; for
just then Ki Ki, wheeling in the air at an immense height, whither he
had gone to survey the scene of war, chanced to look down and saw him
quit the king, and marked the course he took. Kapchack, unaware that Ki
Ki had detected this manoeuvre, now returned to his guards, and flew
to his palace.

Meantime the weasel, curled up on his divan in the elm, was thinking
over the extraordinary good fortune that had befallen him. Yet such was
his sagacity that even when thus about to attain almost the topmost
pinnacle of his ambition, he did not forget the instability of affairs,
but sought to confirm his position, or even to advance it. He reflected
that Kapchack was not only cunning beyond everything ever known, but he
was just now a prey to anxieties, and consumed with jealousy, which
upset the tenor of his mind, so that his course could not be depended
upon, but might be changed in a moment. The favour of a despotic monarch
was never a firm staff to lean upon; when that monarch was on the brink
of a crisis which threatened both his throne and his life, his smile
might become a frown before any one was aware that a change was
impending.

Impressed with these ideas, the weasel asked himself how he could at
once secure his position and advance himself to further dignity. He
considered that up to the present the forces of Kapchack had always been
compelled to retreat before the overwhelming masses thrown against them
by Choo Hoo. He could scarcely hope under the most favourable
circumstances to do more than defend the frontier, and should Choo Hoo
win the battle, Kapchack would either be taken prisoner, or, what was
not at all unlikely, fall a victim during the confusion, and be
assassinated, perhaps, by the villainous crow. Where, then, would be his
own high command? But by making terms with Choo Hoo he might himself
obtain the throne, and reign perfectly secure as Choo Hoo's regent.

On coming to this conclusion, he called to his old friend the
humble-bee, and said he desired to send a message to Choo Hoo, the
purport of which must not be divulged to any flower upon the route. The
humble-bee instantly guessed that this message must be something to the
injury of Kapchack, and resenting the manner in which he had been
hustled from the council, declared that he would carry it without a
moment's delay.

"Go then, my friend," said the weasel. "Go straight to Choo Hoo, and
say: 'The weasel is appointed to the command of King Kapchack's army,
and will supersede Ki Ki, the hawk, upon the third day. On that day he
will lead forth the army to the south, professing to go upon a flank
march, and to take you in the rear. Be not deceived by this movement,
but so soon as you see that the guards are withdrawn from the frontier,
cross the border in force, and proceed straight towards the palace. When
Kapchack's army finds you between it and its base of supplies it will
disperse, and you will obtain an easy victory.

"'And in proof of his good-will towards you, the weasel, furthermore,
bade me inform you of the great secret which has hitherto been preserved
with such care, and which will enable your army to remain in this place
all the winter. In the squirrel's copse there is a spring, which is
never frozen, but always affords excellent drinking water, and moistens
a considerable extent of ground.'" This was the weasel's message, and
without a moment's delay the humble-bee buzzed away direct to Choo Hoo's
camp.

At the same time the fly with the mole's message reached Ki Ki, the
hawk, as he was soaring among the clouds. Ki Ki, having finished his
observations, and full of suspicions as to the object with which the
king had despatched the thrush to Choo Hoo, decided to keep the mole's
appointment at once, so down he flew direct to the leaning stone in the
meadow, where Bevis had gathered the cowslips, and found the mole
already waiting for him.

Now, the mole hated Ki Ki exceedingly, because, as previously related,
he had killed his wife, but he hated the weasel, who had persecuted him
all his life, even more, and by thus betraying the weasel to the hawk he
hoped to set the two traitors by the ears, and to gratify his own
vengeance by seeing them tear each other to pieces. Accordingly he now
informed Ki Ki of everything--how the weasel had disclosed the names of
all those who attended the secret meeting (except one, _i.e._, the owl,
which, for reasons of his own, the weasel had suppressed), particularly
stating that Ki Ki had taken a foremost part, that Kapchack was enraged
against the hawk, and had already promised the weasel the chief command,
so that in three days Ki Ki would be superseded.

Ki Ki, suppressing his agitation, thanked the mole very cordially for
his trouble, and soared towards the sky, but he had scarce gone a
hundred yards before one of Kapchack's body-guard met him with a message
from the king countermanding the advance of the army which had been
decided upon. Ki Ki replied that his majesty's orders should be
implicitly obeyed and continued his upward flight. He had now no doubt
that what the mole had told him was correct in every particular, since
it had been so immediately confirmed; and as for the thrush, it seemed
clear that Kapchack had some design of saving himself by the sacrifice
of his friends. That must be his reasons for countermanding the
advance--to give time for negotiation. Angry beyond measure, Ki Ki flew
to his own clump of trees, and calling to him a keen young hawk--one of
his guard, and who was only too delighted to be selected for
confidential employment--sent him with a flag of truce to Choo Hoo.

He was to say that Ki Ki, being disgusted with the treachery of King
Kapchack, had determined to abandon his cause, and that on the day of
battle, in the midst of the confusion, if Choo Hoo would push forward
rapidly, Ki Ki would draw off his contingent and expose the centre, when
Kapchack must inevitably be destroyed. Away flew the hawk, and thus in
one hour Choo Hoo received three messengers.



CHAPTER X.

TRAITORS.


The first that arrived was the thrush, hearing the message from the
king. Choo Hoo, delighted beyond expression at so pleasant a solution of
the business, which he knew must, if it came to battle, entail great
slaughter of his friends, received the thrush with the highest honours,
called his principal counsellors around him, and acceded to everything
King Kapchack had proposed. The territory should be equally divided:
Choo Hoo to have the plains, and Kapchack the woods and hills, and peace
should be proclaimed, Choo Hoo engaging to support Kapchack against all
domestic enemies and traitors. This treaty having been completed, the
thrush made as if about to depart, but Choo Hoo would in no wise permit
this. "Remain with us," he said, "my dear Thrush, till the evening;
feast and make merry."

So the thrush was surrounded with a guard of honour, and conducted to
the choicest feeding places, and regaled upon the fat of the land. Thus
enjoying himself, he thought it was the happiest day of his life, and
was not at all desirous of seeing the shadows lengthen.

Hardly had the thrush gone with his guard to the banquet, than the
humble-bee was announced, bearing the message from the weasel. To this
the assembled counsellors listened attentively, but Choo Hoo, being only
a barbarian, could on no account break faith, but was resolved to carry
out his compact with King Kapchack. Nevertheless, he reflected that the
king was extremely cunning, and not altogether to be relied upon (the
humble-bee, for aught he knew, might have been in reality sent by
Kapchack to try him), and therefore he would go so far as this, he would
encourage the weasel without committing himself. "Return," he said to
the humble-bee, "return to him who sent you, and say: 'Do you do your
part, and Choo Hoo will certainly do his part'." With which ambiguous
sentence (which of course the weasel read in his own sense) he dismissed
the humble-bee, who had scarce departed from the camp, than the flag of
truce arrived from Ki Ki, and the young hawk, bright and defiant in his
bearing, was admitted to the great Emperor Choo Hoo.

When the council heard his message they all cried with one accord:
"Koos-takke! koos-takke! the enemy are confounded; they are divided
against each other. They are delivered over to us. Koos-takke!"

So soon as there was silence, Choo Hoo said:--

"Young sir, tell your master that we do not need his assistance," and he
waved the messenger to depart.

But the hawk said: "Mighty emperor, consider that I am young, and that
if I go to my master with so curt a message, you know that he is fierce
beyond reason, and I shall infallibly be torn to pieces".

"Very well," said Choo Hoo, speaking in a harsh tone of voice, for he
hated the whole race of hawks, and could scarce respect the flag of
truce, "very well, tell your master the reason I do not want his
assistance is, first, because Kapchack and I have concluded a treaty;
secondly, because the weasel has been before him, and has told me where
the secret spring is in the squirrel's copse--the spring that does not
freeze in winter."

The hawk, not daring to parley further with the emperor, bowed his way
out, and went direct to Ki Ki with this reply.

All the council of Choo Hoo rejoiced exceedingly, both at the treaty
which assured so peaceful and pleasant a conclusion to their arduous
labours, and to a sanguinary war which had lasted so many years, and in
which they had lost so many of their bravest, and also at the treachery
which prevailed in Kapchack's palace and confounded his efforts. They
cried "Koos-takke!" and the shout was caught up throughout the camp with
such vehemence that the woods echoed to the mysterious sound.

Now the young hawk, winging his way swiftly through the air, soon
arrived at the trees where Ki Ki was waiting for him, and delivered the
answer in fear and trembling, expecting every moment to be dashed to the
ground and despatched. Ki Ki, however, said nothing, but listened in
silence, and then sat a long time thinking.

Presently he said: "You have done ill, and have not given much promise
of your future success; you should not have taken Choo Hoo's answer so
quickly. You should have argued with him, and used your persuasive
powers. Moreover, being thus admitted to the very presence of our
greatest enemy, and standing face to face with him, and within a few
inches of his breast, you should have known what it was your business to
do. I could not tell you beforehand, because it would have been against
my dignity to seem to participate before the deed in things of that
kind. To you the opportunity was afforded, but you had not the ready wit
either to see or to seize it.

"While Choo Hoo was deliberating you should have flown at his breast,
and despatched the archrebel with one blow of your beak. In the
confusion you could have escaped with ease. Upon such a catastrophe
becoming known, the whole of Choo Hoo's army would have retreated, and
hanging upon their rear we could have wreaked our wills upon them. As
for you, you would have obtained fame and power; as for me, I should
have retained the chief command; as for Kapchack, he would have rewarded
you with untold wealth. But you missed--you did not even see--this
golden opportunity, and you will never have another such a chance."

At this the young hawk hung his head, and could have beaten himself to
death against the tree, in shame and sorrow at his folly.

"But," continued Ki Hi, "as I see you are unfeignedly sorry, I will even
yet entrust you with one more commission (the hawk began to brighten up
a little). You know that at the end of the Long Pond there is a very
large wood which grows upon a slope; at the foot of the slope there is
an open space or glade, which is a very convenient spot for an ambush.
Now when the thrush comes home in the evening, bringing the treaty to
Kapchack, he is certain to pass that way, because it is the nearest, and
the most pleasant. Go there and stay in ambush till you hear him coming,
then swoop down and kill him, and tear his heart from his breast. Do not
fail, or never return to my presence.

"And stay--you may be sure of the place I mean, because there is an old
oak in the midst of the glade, it is old and dead, and the route of the
thrush will be under it. Strike him there."

Without waiting a moment, the hawk, knowing that his master liked
instant obedience, flew off swift as the wind, determined this time to
succeed. He found the glade without trouble, and noted the old oak with
its dead gaunt boughs, and then took up his station on an ash, where he
watched eagerly for the shadows to lengthen. Ki Ki, after sitting a
little longer, soared up into the sky to reflect upon further measures.
By destroying the thrush he knew that the war must continue, for Choo
Hoo would never believe but that it had been done by Kapchack's order,
and could not forgive so brutal an affront to an ambassador charged with
a solemn treaty. Choo Hoo must then accept his (Ki Ki's) offer; the
weasel, it was true, had been before him, but he should be able to
destroy the weasel's influence by revealing his treachery to Kapchack,
and how he had told Choo Hoo the secret of the spring which was never
frozen. He felt certain that he should be able to make his own terms,
both with Kapchack and Choo Hoo.

Thus soaring up he saw his messenger, the young hawk, swiftly speeding
to the ambush, and smiled grimly as he noted the eager haste with which
the youthful warrior went to fulfil his orders. Still soaring, with
outstretched wings, he sought the upper sky.

Meantime Bevis had grown tired of waiting for the squirrel, who had gone
off to see about the stores, and flung himself at full length on the
moss under the oak. He hardly stopped there a minute before he got up
again and called and shouted for the squirrel, but no one answered him;
nor did the dragon-fly appear. Bevis, weary of waiting, determined to
try and find his way home by himself, but when he came to look round he
could not discover the passage through the thicket. As he was searching
for it he passed the elm, which was hollow inside, where the weasel lay
curled up on his divan, and the weasel, hearing Bevis go by, was so
puffed up with pride that he actually called to him, having conceived a
design of using Bevis for his own purposes.

"Sir Bevis! Sir Bevis!" he said, coming to the mouth of his hole, "Sir
Bevis, I want to speak to you!"

"You are the weasel," said Bevis, "I know your hateful voice--I hate
you, and if ever I find you outside the copse I will smash you into
twenty pieces. If it was not for the squirrel, whom I love (and I have
promised not to hurt anything in his copse), I would bring my papa's
hatchet, and chop your tree down and cut your head off; so there."

"If you did that," said the weasel, "then you would not know what the
rat is going to do in your house to-night."

"Why should I not know?" said Bevis.

"Because if you cut my head off I could not tell you."

"Well, tell me what it is," said Bevis, who was always very curious,
"and make haste about it, for I want to go home."

"I will," said the weasel, "and first of all, you know the fine large
cake that your mamma is making for you?"

"No," said Bevis, excitedly. "Is she making me a cake? I did not know
it."

"Yes, that she is, but she did not tell you, because she wished it to be
a surprise to you to-morrow morning at lunch, and it is no use for you
to ask her about it, for she would not tell you. But if you are not very
sharp it is certain that you will never touch a mouthful of it."

"Why not?" said Bevis.

"Because," said the weasel, "the mouse has found out where your mamma
has put it in the cupboard, and there is a little chink through which
he can smell it, but he cannot quite get through, nor is he strong
enough to gnaw such very hard wood, else you may depend he would have
kept the secret to himself. But as he could not creep through he has
gone and told Raoul, the rat, who has such strong teeth he can bite a
way through anything, and to-night, when you are all in bed and firm
asleep, and everything is quiet, Yish, the mouse, is going to show the
rat where the chink is, the rat is going to gnaw a hole, and in the
morning there will be very little left of your cake."

"I will tell the bailiff," said Bevis, in a rage, "and the bailiff shall
set a trap for the rat."

"Well, that was what I was going to suggest," said the weasel; "but upon
consideration I am not so sure that it is much use telling the bailiff,
because, as I daresay you recollect, the bailiff has often tried his
hand setting up a trap for the rat, but has never yet caught him, from
which I conclude that the rat knows all the places where the bailiff
sets the trap, and takes good care not to go that way without previous
examination."

"I'll set up the trap," said Bevis, "I'll set it up myself in a new
place. Let me see, where can I put it?"

"I think it would be a very good plan if you did put it up yourself,"
said the weasel, "because there is no doubt you understand more about
these things than the bailiff, who is getting old."

"Yes," said Bevis, "I know all about it--I can do it very well indeed."

"Just what I thought," said the weasel; "I thought to myself, Bevis
knows all about it--Bevis can do it. Now, as the bailiff has set up the
trap by the drain or grating beside the cart-house, and under the
wood-pile, and by the pump, and has never caught the rat, it is clear
that the rat knows these places as well as the bailiff, and if you
remember there is a good deal of grass grows there, so that the rat no
doubt says to himself: 'Aha! They are sure to put the trap here, because
they think I shall not see it in the grass--as if I was so silly.' So
that, depend upon it, he is always very careful how he goes through the
grass there.

"Therefore I think the best place you could select to set up the trap
would be somewhere where there is no kind of cover, no grass, nor
anything, where it is quite bare and open, and where the rat would run
along quickly and never think of any danger. And he would be sure to run
much faster and not stay to look under his feet in crossing such places,
lest Pan should see him and give chase, or your papa should come round
the corner with a gun. Now I know there is one such place the rat passes
every evening; it is a favourite path of his, because it is a short cut
to the stable--it is under the wall of the pig-sty. I know this, because
I once lived with the rat a little while, and saw all his habits.

"Well, under this wall it is quite open, and he always runs by extremely
fast, and that is the best place to put the trap. Now when you have set
the trap, in order to hide it from view do you get your little spade
with which you dig in your garden, and take a spadeful of the dust that
lies about there (as it is so dry there is plenty of dust) and throw it
over the trap. The dust will hide the trap, and will also prevent the
rat (for he has a wonderful sharp nose of his own) from scenting where
your fingers touched it. In the morning you are sure to find him caught.

"By-the-by, you had better not say anything to your mamma that you know
of the cake, else perhaps she will move it from the cupboard, and then
the rat may go on some other moonlit ramble instead. As I said, in the
morning you are sure to find him in the trap, and then do not listen to
anything he has to say, for he has a lying tongue, but let Pan loose,
who will instantly worry him to death."

"I will do as you say," said Bevis, "for I see that it is a very clever
way to catch the rat, but, Sir Weasel, you have told me so many false
stories that I can scarce believe you now it is plain you are telling me
the truth; nor shall I feel certain that you are this time (for once in
your wicked life) saying the truth, unless I know why you are so anxious
for the rat to be caught."

"Why," said the weasel, "I will tell you the reason; this afternoon the
rat played me a very mean and scurvy trick; he disgraced me before the
king, and made me a common laughing-stock to all the council, for which
I swore to have his life. Besides, upon one occasion he bit his teeth
right through my ear--the marks of it are there still. See for
yourself." So the weasel thrust his head out of his hole, and Bevis saw
the marks left by the rat's teeth, and was convinced that the weasel,
out of malice, had at last been able for once to tell the truth.

"You are a horrid wretch," said Bevis, "still you know how to catch the
rat, and I will go home and do it; but I cannot find my way out of this
thicket--the squirrel ought to come."

"The way is under the ash bough there," said the weasel, "and when you
are outside the thicket turn to your left and go downhill, and you will
come to the timber--and meantime I will send for the dragon-fly, who
will overtake you."

"All right, horrid wretch," said Bevis, and away he went. Now all this
that the weasel had said really was true, except about the cake; it was
true that the rat was very careful going through the grass, and that he
knew where the bailiff set the gin, and that he used to run very quickly
across the exposed place under the wall of the pig-sty. But the story
about the cake he had made up out of his cunning head just to set Bevis
at work to put up the trap; and he hoped too, that while Bevis was
setting up the gin, the spring would slip and pinch his fingers.

By thus catching the rat, the weasel meant in the first place to gratify
his own personal malice, and next to get rid of a very formidable
competitor. For the rat was very large and very strong, and brave and
bold beyond all the others; so much so that the weasel would even have
preferred to have a struggle with the fox (though he was so much
bigger), whose nostril he could bite, than to meet the rat in fair and
equal combat. Besides, he hated the rat beyond measure, because the rat
had helped him out of the drain, which was when his ear was bitten
through. He intended to go down to the farmyard very early next morning
when the rat was caught, and to go as near as he dared and taunt the
rat, and tell him how Pan would presently come and crunch up his ribs.
To see the rat twist, and hear him groan, would be rare sport; it made
his eyes glisten to think of it. He was very desirous that Bevis should
find his way home all right, so he at once sent a wasp for the
dragon-fly, and the dragon-fly at once started after Bevis.

Just after the weasel had sent the wasp, the humble-bee returned from
Choo Hoo, and delivered the emperor's message, which the weasel saw at
once was intended to encourage him in his proposed treachery. He thanked
the humble-bee for the care and speed with which his errand had been
accomplished, and then curled himself up on his divan to go to sleep, so
as to be ready to go down early in the morning and torment the rat. As
he was very happy since his schemes were prospering, he went to sleep in
a minute as comfortable as could be.

Bevis crept through the thicket, and turned to the left, and went down
the hill, and found the timber, and then went along the green track till
he came to the stile. He got over the bridge and followed the footpath,
when the dragon-fly overtook him and apologised most sincerely for his
neglect. "For," said he, "we are so busy making ready for the army, and
I have had so much to do going to and fro with messages, that, my dear
Sir Bevis, you must forgive me for forgetting you. Next time I will send
a moth to stay close by you, so that the moment you want me the moth can
go and fetch me."

"I will forgive you just this once," said Bevis; and the dragon-fly took
him all the way home. After tea Bevis went and found the gin, and tried
to set it up under the pig-sty wall, just as the weasel had told him;
but at first he could not quite manage it, being as usual in such a
hurry.

Now there was a snail on the wall, and the snail looked out of his shell
and said: "Sir Bevis, do not be too quick. Believe me, if you are too
quick to-day you are sure to be sorry to-morrow."

"You are a stupid snail," said Bevis. Just then, as the weasel had
hoped, he pinched his fingers with the spring so hard that tears almost
came into his eyes.

"That was your fault," he said to the snail; and snatching the poor
thing off the wall, he flung him ever so far; fortunately the snail fell
on the grass, and was not hurt, but he said to himself that in future,
no matter what he saw going on, he would never interfere, but let people
hurt themselves as much as they liked. But Bevis, though he was so
hasty, was also very persevering, and presently he succeeded in setting
up the trap, and then taking his spade he spread the dust over it and so
hid it as the weasel had told him to. He then went and put his spade
back in the summer-house, and having told Pan that in the morning there
would be a fine big rat for him to worry, went indoors.

Now it is most probable that what the weasel had arranged so well would
all have happened just as he foresaw, and that the trap so cleverly set
up would have caught the rat, had not the bailiff, when he came home
from the fields, chanced to see Bevis doing it. He had to attend to
something else then, but by-and-by, when he had finished, he went and
looked at the place where Bevis had set the gin, and said to himself:
"Well, it is a very good plan to set up the gin, for the rat is always
taking the pigs' food, and even had a gnaw at my luncheon, which was
tied up in my handkerchief, and which I--like a stupid--left on the
ground in my hurry instead of hanging up. But it is a pity Sir Bevis
should have set it here, for there is no grass or cover, and the rat is
certain to see it, and Bevis will be disappointed in the morning, and
will not find the rat. Now I will just move the gin to a place where the
rat always comes, and where it will be hidden by the grass, that is,
just at the mouth of the drain by the cart-house; it will catch the rat
there, and Sir Bevis will be pleased."

So the bailiff, having thought this to himself, as he leant against the
wall, and listened to the pigs snoring, carefully took up the gin and
moved it down to the mouth of the drain by the cart-house, and there set
it up in the grass.

The rat was in the drain, and when he heard the bailiff's heavy
footsteps, and the noise he made fumbling about with the trap, he
laughed, and said to himself: "Fumble away, you old stupid--I know what
you are doing. You are setting up a gin in the same place you have set
it twenty times before. Twenty times you have set the gin up there and
never caught anything, and yet you cannot see, and you cannot
understand, and you never learn anything, and you are the biggest dolt
and idiot that ever walked, or rather, you would be, only I thank heaven
everybody else is just like you! As if I could not hear what you are
doing; as if I did not look very carefully before I come out of my hole,
and before I put my foot down on grass or leaves, and as if I could not
smell your great clumsy fingers: really I feel insulted that you should
treat me as if I was so foolish. However, upon the whole, this is rather
nice and considerate of you. Ha! Ha!" and the rat laughed so loud that
if the bailiff had been sharp he must have heard this unusual chuckling
in the drain. But he heard nothing, but went off down the road very
contented with himself, whistling a bar from "Madame Angôt" which he had
learnt from Bevis.

When Bevis went to bed he just peeped out of the window to look at the
moon, but the sky was now overcast, and the clouds were hurrying by, and
the wind rising--which the snail had expected, or he would not have
ventured out along the wall. While Bevis was peeping out he saw the owl
go by over the orchard and up beside the hedge.

The very same evening the young hawk, as has been previously related,
had gone to the glade in the wood, and sat there in ambush waiting for
the thrush. Like Sir Bevis, the hawk was extremely impatient, and the
time as he sat on the ash passed very slowly till at last he observed
with much delight that the sun was declining, and that the shadow of the
dead oak-tree would soon reach across towards him.

The thrush, having sat at the banquet the whole of the afternoon, and
tasted every dainty that the camp of Choo Hoo afforded, surrounded all
the time by crowds of pleasant companions, on the other hand, saw the
shadows lengthening with regret. He knew that it was time for him to
depart and convey the intelligence to King Kapchack that Choo Hoo had
fully agreed to his proposal. Still loth to leave he lingered, and it
was not until dusk that he quitted the camp, accompanied a little way
over the frontier by some of Choo Hoo's chief counsellors, who sought in
every way to do him honour. Then wishing him good-night, with many
invitations to return shortly, they left him to pursue his journey.

Knowing that he ought to have returned to the king before this, the
thrush put forth his best speed, and thought to himself as he flew what
a long account he should have to give his wife and his children (who
were now grown up) of the high and important negotiation with which he
had been entrusted, and of the attentions that had been paid to him by
the emperor. Happy in these anticipations, he passed rapidly over the
fields and the woods, when just as he flew beneath the old dead oak in
the glade down swooped the hawk and bore him to the ground. In an
instant a sharp beak was driven into his head, and then, while yet his
body quivered, the feathers were plucked from his breast and his heart
laid bare. Hungry from his fast, for he had touched nothing that day,
being so occupied with his master's business, the hawk picked the bones,
and then, after the manner of his kind, wishing to clean his beak, flew
up and perched on a large dead bough of the oak just overhead.

The moment he perched, a steel trap which had been set there by the
keeper flew up and caught him, with such force that his limbs were
broken. With a shriek the hawk flapped his wings to fly, but this only
pulled his torn and bleeding legs, and overcome with the agony, he
fainted, and hung head downwards from the bough, suspended by his
sinews. Now this was exactly what Ki Ki had foreseen would happen. There
were a hundred places along the thrush's route where an ambush might
have been placed, as well as in the glade, but Ki Ki had observed that a
trap was set upon the old dead oak, and ordered his servant to strike
the thrush there, so that he might step into it afterwards, thus killing
two birds with one stone.

He desired the death of his servant lest he should tell tales, and let
out the secret mission upon which he had been employed, or lest he
should boast, in the vain glory of youth, of having slain the
ambassador. Cruel as he was, Ki Ki, too, thought of the torture the
young hawk would endure with delight, and said to himself that it was
hardly an adequate punishment for having neglected so golden an
opportunity for assassinating Choo Hoo. From the fate of the thrush and
the youthful hawk, it would indeed appear that it is not always safe to
be employed upon secret business of state. Yet Ki Ki, with all his cruel
cunning, was not wholly successful.

For the owl, as he went his evening rounds, after he had flown over the
orchard where Bevis saw him, went on up the hedge by the meadow, and
skirting the shore of the Long Pond, presently entered the wood and
glided across the glade towards the dead oak-tree, which was one of his
favourite haunts. As he came near he was horrified to hear miserable
groans and moans, and incoherent talking, and directly afterwards saw
the poor hawk hanging head downwards. He had recovered his consciousness
only to feel again the pressure of the steel, and the sharp pain of his
broken limbs, which presently sent him into a delirium.

The owl circling round the tree was so overcome by the spectacle that he
too nearly fainted, and said to himself: "It is clear that my lucky star
rose to-night, for without a doubt the trap was intended for me. I have
perched on that very bough every evening for weeks, and I should have
alighted there to-night had not the hawk been before me. I have escaped
from the most terrible fate which ever befell any one, to which indeed
crucifixion, with an iron nail through the brain, is mercy itself, for
that is over in a minute, but this miserable creature will linger till
the morning."

So saying, he felt so faint that (first looking very carefully to see
that there were no more traps) he perched on a bough a little way above
the hawk. The hawk, in his delirium, was talking of all that he had done
and heard that day, reviling Ki Ki and Choo Hoo, imploring destruction
upon his master's head, and then flapping his wings and so tearing his
sinews and grinding his broken bones together, he shrieked with pain.
Then again he went on talking about the treaty, and the weasel's
treason, and the assassination of the ambassador. The owl, sitting close
by, heard all these things, and after a time came to understand what the
hawk meant; at first he could not believe that his master, the king,
would conclude a treaty without first consulting him, but looking
underneath him he saw the feathers of the thrush scattered on the grass,
and could no longer doubt that what the hawk said was true.

But when he heard the story of Ki Ki's promised treason on the day of
battle, when he heard that the weasel had betrayed the secret of the
spring, which did not freeze in winter, he lifted up his claw and opened
his eyes still wider in amazement and terror. "Wretched creature!" he
said, "what is this you have been saying." But the hawk, quite mad with
agony, did not know him, but mistook him for Ki Ki, and poured out such
terrible denunciations that the owl, shocked beyond measure, flew away.

As he went, after he had gone some distance under the trees, and could
no longer hear the ravings of the tortured hawk, he began to ask himself
what he had better do. At first he thought that he would say nothing,
but take measures to defeat these traitors. But presently it occurred to
him that it was dangerous even to know such things, and he wished that
he had never heard what the hawk had said. He reflected, too, that the
bats had been flying about some time, and might have heard the hawk's
confessions, and although they were not admitted at court, as they
belonged to the lower orders, still under such circumstances they might
obtain an audience. They had always borne him ill-will, they must have
seen him, and it was not unlikely they might say that the owl knew all
about it, and kept it from the king. On the other hand, he thought that
Kapchack's rage would be terrible to face.

Upon the whole, however, the owl came to the conclusion that his safest,
as well as his most honourable course, was to go straight to the king,
late as it was, and communicate all that had thus come to his knowledge.
He set out at once, and upon his way again passed the glade, taking care
not to go too near the dead oak, nor to look towards the suspended hawk.
He saw a night-jar like a ghost wheeling to and fro not far from the
scaffold, and anxious to get from the ill-omened spot, flew yet more
swiftly. Round the wood he went, and along the hedges, so occupied with
his thoughts that he did not notice how the sky was covered with
clouds, and once or twice narrowly escaping a branch blown off by the
wind which had risen to a gale. Nor did he see the fox with his brush
touching the ground, creeping unhappily along the mound, but never
looked to the right nor left, hastening as fast as he could glide to
King Kapchack.

Now the king had waited up that night as long as ever he could,
wondering why the thrush did not return, and growing more and more
anxious about the ambassador every moment. Yet he was unable to imagine
what could delay him, nor could he see how any ill could befall him,
protected as he was by the privileges of his office. As the night came
on, and the ambassador did not come, Kapchack, worn out with anxieties,
snapped at his attendants, who retired to a little distance, for they
feared the monarch in these fits of temper.

Kapchack had just fallen asleep when the owl arrived, and the attendants
objected to letting him see the king. But the owl insisted, saying that
it was his particular privilege as chief secretary of state to be
admitted to audience at any moment. With some difficulty, therefore, he
at last got to the king, who woke up in a rage, and stormed at his
faithful counsellor with such fury that the attendants again retired in
affright. But the owl stood his ground and told his tale.

When King Kapchack heard that his ambassador had been foully
assassinated, and that, therefore, the treaty was at an end--for Choo
Hoo would never brook such an affront; when he heard that Ki Ki, his
trusted Ki Ki, who had the command, had offered to retreat in the hour
of battle, and expose him to be taken prisoner; when he heard that the
weasel, the weasel whom that very afternoon he had restored to his
highest favour, had revealed to the enemy the existence of the spring,
he lost all his spirit, and he knew not what to do. He waved the owl
from his presence, and sat alone hanging his head, utterly overcome.

The clouds grew darker, the wind howled, the trees creaked, and the
branches cracked (the snail had foreseen the storm and had ventured
forth on the wall), a few spots of rain came driving along. Kapchack
heard nothing. He was deserted by all: all had turned traitors against
him, every one. He who had himself deceived all was now deceived by all,
and suffered the keenest pangs. Thus, in dolour and despair the darkness
increased, and the tempest howled about him.



CHAPTER XI.

THE STORM IN THE NIGHT.


When the fox, after humbling himself in the dust, was rudely dismissed
by King Kapchack, he was so mortified, that as he slunk away his brush
touched the ground, and the tip of his nostrils turned almost white.
That he, whose ancestors had once held regal dignity, should thus be
contemned by one who in comparison was a mere upstart, and that, too,
after doing him a service by means of the gnat, and after bowing
himself, as it were, to the ground, hurt him to his soul. He went away
through the fern and the bushes to his lair in the long grass which grew
in a corner of the copse, and having curled himself up, tried to forget
the insult in slumber.

But he could not shut his eyes, and after a while he went off again down
the hedgerow to another place where he sometimes stayed, under thick
brambles on a broad mound. But he could not rest there, nor in the osier
bed, nor in the furze, but he kept moving from place to place all day,
contrary to his custom, and not without running great danger. The sting
lingered in him, and the more so because he felt that it was true--he
knew himself that he had not shown any ability lately. Slowly the long
day passed, the shadows lengthened and it became night. Still
restlessly and aimlessly wandering he went about the fields noticing
nothing, but miserable to the last degree. The owl flew by on his errand
to King Kapchack; the bats fluttered overhead; the wind blew and the
trees creaked; but the fox neither saw, nor heard, nor thought of
anything except his own degradation. He had been cast forth as
unworthy--even the very mouse had received some instructions, but he,
the descendant of illustrious ancestors, was pointedly told that the wit
for which they had been famous did not exist in him.

As the night drew on, the wind rose higher, the clouds became thicker
and darker, the branches crashed to the earth, the tempest rushed along
bearing everything before it. The owls, alarmed for their safety, hid in
the hollow trees, or retired to their barns; the bats retreated into the
crevices of the tiles; nothing was abroad but the wildfowl, whose cries
occasionally resounded overhead. Now and then, the fall of some branch
into a hawthorn bush frightened the sleeping thrushes and blackbirds,
who flew forth into the darkness, not knowing whither they were going.
The rabbits crouched on the sheltered side of the hedges, and then went
back into their holes. The larks cowered closer to the earth.

Ruin and destruction raged around: in Choo Hoo's camp the ash poles beat
against each other, oaks were rent, and his vast army knew no sleep that
night. Whirled about by the fearful gusts, the dying hawk, suspended
from the trap, no longer fluttered, but swung unconscious to and fro.
The feathers of the murdered thrush were scattered afar, and the leaves
torn from the boughs went sweeping after them. Alone in the scene the
fox raced along, something of the wildness of the night entered into
him; he tried, by putting forth his utmost speed, to throw off the sense
of ignominy.

In the darkness, and in his distress of mind, he neither knew or cared
whither he was going. He passed the shore of the Long Pond, and heard
the waves dashing on the stones, and felt the spray driven far up on the
sward. He passed the miserable hawk. He ran like the wind by the camp of
Choo Hoo, and heard the hum of the army, unable to sleep. Weary at last,
he sought for some spot into which to drag his limbs, and crept along a
mound which, although he did not recognise it in his stupefied state of
mind, was really not far from where he had started. As he was creeping
along, he fancied he heard a voice which came from the ground beneath
his feet; it sounded so strange in the darkness that he started and
stayed to listen.

He heard it again, but though he thought he knew the voices of all the
residents in the field, he could not tell who it was, nor whence it
came. But after a time he found that it proceeded from the lower part or
butt of an elm-tree. This tree was very large, and seemed perfectly
sound, but it seems there was a crack in it, whether caused by lightning
or not he did not know, which did not show at ordinary times. But when
the wind blew extremely strong as it did to-night, the tree leant over
before the blast, and thus opened the crack. The fox, listening at the
crack, heard the voice lamenting the long years that had passed, the
darkness and the dreary time, and imploring every species of vengeance
upon the head of the cruel King Kapchack.

After a while the fox came to the conclusion that this must be the toad
who, very many years ago, for some offence committed against the state,
was imprisoned by Kapchack's orders in the butt of an elm, there to
remain till the end of the world. Curious to know why the toad had been
punished in this terrible manner, the fox resolved to speak to the
prisoner, from whom perhaps he might learn something to Kapchack's
disadvantage. Waiting, therefore, till the crack opened as the gust
came, the fox spoke into it, and the toad, only too delighted to get
some one to talk to at last, replied directly.

But the chink was so small that his voice was scarcely audible; the
chink, too, only opened for a second or two during the savage puffs of
the gale, and then closed again, so that connected conversation was not
possible, and all the fox heard was that the toad had some very
important things to say. Anxious to learn these things, the fox tried
his hardest to discover some way of communicating with the toad, and at
last he hit upon a plan. He looked round till he found a little bit of
flint, which he picked up, and when the elm bent over before the gale,
and the chink opened, he pushed the splinter of flint into the crevice.

Then he found another piece of flint just a trifle larger, and, watching
his opportunity, thrust it in. This he did three or four times, each
time putting in a larger wedge, till there was a crack sufficiently open
to allow him to talk to the toad easily. The toad said that this was the
first time he had spoken to anybody since his grandson, who lived in the
rhubarb patch, came to exchange a word with him before the butt of the
tree grew quite round him.

But though the fox plied him with questions, and persuaded him in every
way, he would not reveal the reason why he was imprisoned, except that
he had unluckily seen Kapchack do something. He dared not say what it
was, because if he did he had no doubt he would be immediately put to
death, and although life in the tree was no more than a living death,
still it was life, and he had this consolation, that through being
debarred from all exercise and work, and compelled to exist without
eating or drinking, notwithstanding the time passed and the years went
by, still he did not grow any older. He was as young now as when he was
first put into the dungeon, and if he could once get out, he felt that
he should soon recover the use of his limbs, and should crawl about and
enjoy himself when his grandson who lived in the rhubarb patch, and who
was already very old and warty, was dead.

Indeed by being thus shut up he should survive every other toad, and he
hoped some day to get out, because although he had been condemned to
imprisonment till the end of the world, that was only Kapchack's
vainglorious way of pronouncing sentence, as if his (Kapchack's)
authority was going to endure for ever, which was quite contrary to
history and the teachings of philosophy. So far from that he did not
believe himself that Kapchack's dynasty was fated to endure very long,
for since he had been a prisoner immured in the earth, he had heard many
strange things whispered along underground, and among them a saying
about Kapchack. Besides which he knew that the elm-tree could not exist
for ever; already there was a crack in it, which in time would split
farther up; the elm had reached its prime, and was beginning to decay
within. By-and-by it would be blown over, and then the farmer would have
the butt grubbed up, and split for firewood, and he should escape. It
was true it might be many years hence, perhaps a century, but that did
not matter in the least--time was nothing to him now--and he knew he
should emerge as young as when he went in.

This was the reason why he so carefully kept the secret of what he had
seen, so as to preserve his life; nor could the fox by any persuasion
prevail upon him to disclose the matter.

"But at least," said the fox, "at least tell me the saying you have
heard underground about King Kapchack."

"I am afraid to do so," said the toad; "for having already suffered so
much I dread the infliction of further misery."

"If you will tell me," said the fox, "I will do my very best to get you
out. I will keep putting in wedges till the tree splits wide open, so
that you may crawl up the chink."

"Will you," said the toad, excited at the hope of liberty, "will you
really do that?"

"Yes, that I will," said the fox; "wait an instant, and I will fetch
another flint."

So he brought another flint which split the tree so much that the toad
felt the fresh air come down to him. "And you really will do it?" he
said.

"Yes," repeated the fox, "I will certainly let you out."

"Then," said the toad, "the saying I have heard underground is this:
'When the hare hunts the hunter in the dead day, the hours of King
Kapchack are numbered'. It is a curious and a difficult saying, for I
cannot myself understand how the day could be dead, nor how the hare
could chase the sportsman; but you, who have so high a reputation for
sagacity, can no doubt in time interpret it. Now put in some more wedges
and help me out."

But the fox, having learnt all that the toad could tell him, went away,
and finding the osiers, curled himself up to sleep.

The same night, the weasel, having had a very pleasant nap upon his
divan in the elm in the squirrel's copse, woke up soon after midnight,
and started for the farm, in order to enjoy the pleasure of seeing the
rat in the gin, which he had instructed Bevis how to set up. Had it not
been for this he would not have faced so terrible a tempest, but to see
the rat in torture he would have gone through anything. As he crept
along a furrow, not far outside the copse, choosing that route that he
might be somewhat sheltered in the hollow from the wind, he saw a wire
which a poacher had set up, and stayed to consider how he could turn it
to his advantage.

"There is Ulu, the hare," he said to himself, "who lives in the
wheat-field; I had her son, he was very sweet and tender, and also her
nephew, who was not so juicy, and I have noticed that she has got very
plump of late. She is up on the hill to-night I have no doubt,
notwithstanding the tempest, dancing and flirting with her disreputable
companions, for vice has such an attraction for some minds that they
cannot forego its pleasures, even at the utmost personal inconvenience.
Such revels, at such a time of tempest, while the wrath of heaven is
wreaked upon the trees, are nothing short of sacrilege, and I for one
have always set my mind against irreverence. I shall do the world a
service if I rid it of such an abandoned creature." So he called to a
moor-hen, who was flying over from the Long Pond at a tremendous pace,
being carried before the wind, and the moor-hen, not without a great
deal of trouble, managed to wheel round (she was never very clever with
her wings) to receive his commands, for she did not dare to pass over or
slight so high a personage.

"Moor-hen," said the weasel, "do you go direct to the hills and find
Ulu, the hare, and tell her that little Sir Bevis, of whom she is so
fond, is lost in the copse, and that he is crying bitterly because of
the darkness and the wind, and what will become of him I do not know. I
have done my very best to show him the way home, but he cherishes an
unfortunate prejudice against me, and will not listen to what I say.
Therefore if the hare does not come immediately and show him the way I
greatly fear that he will be knocked down by the branches, or cry his
dear pretty darling heart out; and tell her that he is at this minute
close to the birches. Go quickly, Moor-hen."

"I will, my lord," said the moor-hen, and away she flew.

Then the weasel proceeded on his way, and shortly afterwards arrived at
the farm. As he came quietly down from the rick-yard, he said to
himself: "I will keep a good way from the wall, as it is so dark, and I
do not know the exact place where Bevis has put the trap. Besides, it is
just possible that the rat may not yet have passed that way, for he does
most of his business in the early morning, and it is not yet dawn."

So he crossed over to the wood-pile and listened carefully, but could
hear no groans, as he had expected; but, on consideration, he put this
down to the wind, which he observed blew the sound away from him. He
then slipped over to the grass by the cart-house wall, intending to
listen at the mouth of the drain to hear if the rat was within, and then
if that was not the case, to go on along towards the wall of the
pig-sty, for he began to think the rat must have been stunned by the
trap, and so could not squeak.

If that was the case, he thought he would just bite off the end of the
rat's tail, in revenge for the terrible meal he had once been obliged to
make upon his own, and also to wake up the rat to the misery of his
position. But just as he approached the mouth of the drain, sniffing and
listening with the utmost caution, it happened that a drop of rain fell
through a chink in the top of Pan's tub, and woke him from his slumber.
Pan shook himself and turned round, and the weasel, hearing the
disturbance, dreaded lest Pan was loose, and had caught scent of him. He
darted forwards to get into the drain, when the trap, which the bailiff
had so carefully removed from where Bevis had set it, snapped him up in
a second. The shock and the pain made him faint; he turned over and lay
still.

About the same time the moor-hen, borne swiftly along by the wind on her
way to the river, reached the hills, and seeing the hare, flew low down
and delivered the weasel's message as well as she could. The hare was
dreadfully alarmed about Sir Bevis, and anxious to relieve him from his
fright in the dark copse, raced down the hill, and over the fields as
fast as she could go, making towards that part of the copse where the
birches stood, as the weasel had directed, knowing that in running there
she would find her neck in a noose.

It happened just as he had foreseen. She came along as fast as the wind,
and could already see the copse like a thicker darkness before her, when
the loop of the wire drew up around her neck, and over she rolled in the
furrow.

Now the weasel had hoped that the wire would not hang her at once. He
intended to have come back from the farm, and from taunting the rat in
the trap, in time to put his teeth into her veins, before, in her
convulsive efforts to get free, she tightened the noose and died.

And this, too, happened exactly as the weasel had intended, but in a
different manner, and with a different result; for it had chanced that
the wind, in the course of its ravages among the trees, snapped off a
twig of ash, which rolling over and over before the blast along the
sward, came against the stick which upheld the wire, and the end of the
twig where it had broken from the tree lodged in the loop. Thus, when
Ulu kicked, and struggled, and screamed, in her fear, the noose indeed
drew up tight and half-strangled her, but not quite, because the little
piece of wood prevented it. But, exhausted with pain and terror, and
partially choked, the poor hare at last could do nothing else but crouch
down in the furrow, where the rain fell on and soaked her warm coat of
fur. For as the dawn came on the wind sank, and the rain fell.

In this unhappy plight she passed the rest of the night, dreading every
moment lest the fox should come along (as she could not run away), and
not less afraid of the daybreak, when some one would certainly find her.

After many weary hours, the bailiff coming to his work in the morning
with a sack over his shoulders to keep out the rain, saw something on
the grass, and pounced upon the wretched hare. Already his great thumb
was against the back of her neck--already she was thrown across his
knee--already she felt her sinews stretch, as he proceeded to break her
neck, regardless of her shrieks--when suddenly it occurred to him how
delighted Bevis would be with a living hare. For the bailiff was very
fond of Bevis, and would have done anything to please him. So he took
the hare in his arms, and carried her down to the farm.

When Bevis got up and came to breakfast, the bailiff came in and brought
him the hare, expecting that he would be highly pleased. But Bevis in an
instant recognised his friend who had shown him his way in the cowslips,
and flew into a rage, and beat the bailiff with his fist for his
cruelty. Nothing would satisfy him but he must let the hare go free
before he touched his breakfast. He would not sit down, he stamped and
made such a to-do that at last they let him have his own way.

He would not even allow the bailiff to carry the hare for him; he took
her in his arms and went with her up the footpath into the field. He
would not even permit them to follow him. Now, the hare knew him very
well but could not speak when any one else was near, for it is very well
known to be a law among hares and birds, and such creatures, that they
can only talk to one human being, and are dumb when more than one are
present. But when Bevis had taken her out into the footpath, and set her
down, and stroked her back, and her long ears, black at the tip, and had
told her to go straight up the footpath, and not through the long
grass, because it was wet with the rain, the hare told him how she came
in the wire through the wicked weasel telling her that he was lost in
the copse.

"I was not lost," said Bevis; "I went to bed, and saw the owl go by. The
weasel told another of his stories--now, I remember, he told me to set
the trap for the rat."

"Did he?" said the hare; "then you may depend it is some more of his
dreadful wickedness; there will be no peace in the world while he is
allowed to go roaming about."

"No," said Bevis, "that there will not: but as sure as my papa's gun,
which is the best gun in the country, as sure as my papa's gun I will
kill him the next time I see him. I will not listen to the squirrel, I
will cut the weasel's tree down, and chop off his head."

"I hope you will, dear," said the hare. "But now I must be gone, for I
can hear Pan barking, and no doubt he can smell me; besides which, it is
broad daylight, and I must go and hide; good-bye, my dear Sir Bevis."
And away went the hare up the footpath till Bevis lost sight of her
through the gateway.

Then he went to his breakfast, and directly afterwards, putting on his
greatcoat, for it still rained a little, he went up to the wall by the
pig-sty expecting to find the rat in the trap. But the trap was gone.

"There now," said he, falling into another rage, twice already that
morning; "I do believe that stupid bailiff has moved it," and so the
bailiff trying to please him fell twice into disgrace in an hour.

Looking about to see where the bailiff had put the trap, he remembered
what the weasel had told him, and going to the cart-house wall by the
drain, found the trap and the weasel in it: "Oh! you false and
treacherous creature!" said Bevis, picking up a stone, "now I will smash
you into seventy thousand little pieces," and he flung the stone with
all his might, but being in too much of a hurry (as the snail had warned
him) it missed the mark, and only knocked a bit of mortar out of the
wall. He looked round for a bigger one, so that he might crush the
wretch this time, when the weasel feebly lifted his head, and said:
"Bevis! Bevis! It is not generous of you to bear such malice towards me
now I am dying; you should rather----"

"Hold your tongue, horrid thing," said Bevis; "I will not listen to
anything you have to say. Here is a brick, this will do, first-rate, to
pound you with, and now I think of it, I will come a little nearer so as
to make quite sure."

"Oh, Bevis!" said the weasel with a gasp, "I shall be dead in a minute,"
and Bevis saw his head fall back.

"Tell the hare I repented," said the weasel. "I have been very wicked,
Bevis--oh!--but I shall never, never do it any more--oh!----"

"Are you dead?" said Bevis. "Are you quite dead?" putting down the
brick, for he could not bear to see anything in such distress, and his
rage was over in a minute.

"I am," said the weasel, "at least I shall be in half-a-minute, for I
must be particular to tell the exact truth in this extremity. Oh! there
is one thing I should like to say----"

"What is it?" said Bevis.

"But if you smash me I can't," said the weasel; "and what is the use of
smashing me, for all my bones are broken?"

"I will not smash you," said Bevis, "I will only have you nailed up to
the stable door so that everybody may see what a wretch you were."

"Thank you," said the weasel, very gratefully, "will you please tell the
hare and all of them that if I could only live I would do everything I
could to make up to them, for all the wickedness I have
committed--oh!--I have not got time to say all I would. Oh! Bevis,
Bevis!"

"Yes, poor thing," said Bevis, now quite melted and sorry for the
wretched criminal, whose life was ebbing so fast, "what is it you want?
I will be sure to do it."

"Then, dear Sir Bevis--how kind it is of you to forgive me, dear Sir
Bevis; when I am dead do not nail me to the door--only think how
terrible that would be--bury me, dear."

"So I will," said Bevis; "but perhaps you needn't die. Stay a little
while, and let us see if you cannot live."

"Oh, no," said the weasel, "my time is come. But when I am dead, dear,
please take me out of this cruel trap in which I am so justly caught,
as I set it for another; take me out of this cruel trap which has broken
my ribs, and lay me flat on the grass, and pull my limbs out straight,
so that I may not stiffen all in a heap and crooked. Then get your
spade, my dear Sir Bevis, and dig a hole and bury me, and put a stone on
top of me, so that Pan cannot scratch me up--oh! oh!--will you--oh!"

"Yes, indeed I will. I will dig the hole--I have a capital spade," said
Bevis; "stay a minute."

But the weasel gave three gasps and fell back quite dead. Bevis looked
at him a little while, and then put his foot on the spring and pressed
it down and took the weasel out. He stroked down his fur where the trap
had ruffled it, and rubbed the earth from his poor paws with which he
had struggled to get free, and then having chosen a spot close by the
wood-pile, where the ground was soft, to dig the hole, he put the weasel
down there, and pulled his limbs out straight, and so disposed him for
the last sad ceremony. He then ran to the summer-house, which was not
far, and having found the spade came back with it to the wood-pile. But
the weasel was gone.

There was the trap; there was the place he had chosen--all the little
twigs and leaves brushed away ready for digging--but no weasel. He was
bewildered, when a robin perched on the top of the wood-pile put his
head on one side, and said so softly and sadly: "Bevis, Bevis, little
Sir Bevis, what have you done?" For the weasel was not dead, and was not
even very seriously injured; the trap was old, and the spring not very
strong, and the teeth did not quite meet. If the rat, who was fat, had
got in, it would have pinched him dreadfully, but the weasel was
extremely thin, and so he escaped with a broken rib--the only true thing
he had said.

So soon as ever Sir Bevis's back was turned, the weasel crawled under
the wood-pile, just as he had done once before, and from there made his
way as quickly as he could up the field sheltered by the aftermath,
which had now grown long again. When Bevis understood that the weasel
had only shammed dying, and had really got away, he burst into tears,
for he could not bear to be cheated, and then threw his spade at the
robin.



CHAPTER XII.

THE OLD OAK.--THE KING'S DESPAIR.


The very same morning, after the rain had ceased, the keeper who looked
after the great woods at the other end of the Long Pond set out with his
gun and his dogs to walk round the preserves. Now the dogs he took with
him were the very best dogs he had, for that night a young gentleman,
who had just succeeded to the estate, was coming down from London, and
on the following morning would be sure to go out shooting. This young
gentleman had unexpectedly come into the property through the death of
the owner, who was shot in his bedroom by a burglar. The robber had once
been his groom, and the squirrel told Bevis how it all happened through
a flint falling out of the hole in the bottom of the waggon which
belonged to the old farmer in whose orchard Kapchack had his palace.

The heir had been kept at a distance during the old gentleman's
lifetime, for the old gentleman always meant to marry and have a son,
but did not do so, and also always meant to make a will and leave the
best part of his estate to somebody else, but he did not do so, and as
the old toad in the rhubarb patch told Bevis afterwards when he heard
the story, if you are only going to do a thing, it would be no use if
you lived a thousand years, it would always be just the same. So the
young fellow, who had been poor all his life, when he thus suddenly
jumped into such a property, was not a little elated, and wrote to the
keeper that he should come down and have some shooting.

The keeper was rather alarmed at this, for the former owner was not a
sporting man, and did not look strictly after such things, so that the
game had been neglected and had got scarce; and what was worse, the dogs
were out of training. He therefore got up early that morning, intending
to go his rounds quickly, and then take the dogs out into the stubble,
and try and thrash them into some use. Presently, as he walked along, he
came to the glade in the woods, and saw the dead hawk hanging from the
trap up in the old oak-tree. Pleased to find that his trap, so cunningly
placed, had not been prepared in vain, he went up to the oak, leaned his
gun against the trunk, ordered the dogs to lie down (which they did with
some reluctance), and then climbed up into the tree to re-set the gin.

He took the hawk from the trap (his feathers were all draggled and wet
from the rain), and threw the dead bird down; and, whether it was that
the act of throwing it caused an extra strain upon the bough, or whether
the storm had cracked it in the night, or whether it had rotted away
more than appeared on the surface, or whether it was all of these things
together, certain it is the bough broke, and down came the keeper thud
on the sward. The bough fell down with him, and as it fell it struck
the gun, and the gun exploded, and although the dogs scampered aside
when they heard the crack, they did not scamper so quick but one of them
was shot dead, and the other two were mortally wounded.

For a while the keeper lay there stunned, with the wet grass against his
face. But by-and-by, coming to himself, he sat up with difficulty, and
called for assistance, for he could not move, having sprained one ankle,
and broken the small bone of the other leg. There he sat and shouted,
but no one came for some time, till presently a slouching labourer (it
was the very same who put up the wire by the copse in which the hare was
caught) chanced to pass by outside the wood. The keeper saw him, but
hoarse with shouting, and feeling faint too (for a sprained ankle is
extremely painful), he could not make him hear. But he bethought him of
his gun, and dragging it to him, hastily put in a cartridge and fired.

The report drew the labourer's attention, and peering into the wood, he
saw some one on the ground waving a white handkerchief. After looking a
long time, he made up his mind to go and see what it was; but then he
recollected that if he put his foot inside the wood he should be
trespassing, and as he had got a wire in his pocket that would be a
serious matter. So he altered his mind, and went on.

Very likely the keeper was angry, but there was no one to hear what he
said except the dead hawk. He would have fired off fifty cartridges if
he had had them, but as he did not like a weight to carry he had only
two or three, and these did not attract attention. As for the labourer,
about midday, when he sat down to lunch in the cart-house at the farm
where he worked with the other men, he did just mention that he thought
he had seen something white waving in the wood, and they said it was
odd, but very likely nothing to speak of.

One of the wounded dogs ran home, bleeding all the way, and there crept
into his kennel and died; the other could not get so far, but dropped in
a hedge. The keeper's wife wondered why he did not come home to dinner,
but supposed, with a sigh, that he had looked in at an alehouse, and
went on with her work.

The keeper shouted again when his throat got less hoarse, but all the
answer he obtained was the echo from the wood. He tried to crawl, but
the pain was so exquisite he got but a very little way, and there he had
to lie. The sun rose higher and shone out as the clouds rolled away, and
the rain-drops on the grass glistened bright till presently they dried
up.

With the gleaming of the sun there was motion in the woods: blackbirds
came forth and crossed the glades; thrushes flew past; a jay fluttered
round the tops of the firs; after a while a pheasant came along the
verge of the underwood, now stepping out into the grass, and now back
again into the bushes. There was a pleasant cawing of rooks, and several
small parties of wood-pigeons (doubtless from Choo Hoo's camp) went
over. Two or three rabbits hopped out and fed; humble-bees went buzzing
by; a green woodpecker flashed across the glade and disappeared among
the trees as if an arrow had been shot into the woods.

The slow hours went on, and as the sun grew hotter the keeper, unable to
move, began to suffer from the fierceness of the rays, for anything
still finds out the heat more than that which is in movement. First he
lifted his hat from time to time above his head, but it was not much
relief, as the wind had fallen. Next he tried placing his handkerchief
inside his hat. At last he took off his coat, stuck the barrels of his
gun into the ground (soft from the rain), and hung the coat upon it.
This gave him a little shadow. The dead oak-tree having no leaves cast
but a narrow shade, and that fell on the opposite side to where he was.

In the afternoon, when the heat was very great and all the other birds
appeared to have gone, a crow came (one of Kauc's retainers) and perched
low down on an ash-tree not more than fifty yards away. Perhaps it was
the dead dog; perhaps it was the knowledge that the man was helpless,
that brought him. There he perched, and the keeper reviled him, wishing
that he had but saved one of his cartridges, and forgetting that even
then the barrels of his gun were too full of earth. After a while the
crow flew idly across to the other side of the glade, and went out of
sight; but it was only for a short time, and presently he came back
again. This the crow did several times, always returning to the ash.

The keeper ran over in his mind the people who would probably miss him,
and cause a search to be made. First there was his wife; but once, when
he had been a long time from home, and she in a great alarm had sought
for him, she found him drunk at the alehouse, and he beat her for her
trouble. It was not likely that she would come. The lad who acted as his
assistant (he had but one, for, as previously stated, the former owner
did not shoot) was not likely to look for him either, for not long
since, bringing a message to his superior, he discovered him selling
some game, and was knocked down for his pains. As for his companions at
the alehouse, they would be all out in the fields, and would not
assemble till night: several of them he knew were poachers, and though
glad enough to share his beer would not have looked towards him if in
distress.

The slow hours wore on, and the sun declining a little, the shadow of
the dead oak moved round, and together with his coat sheltered him
fairly well. Weary with the unwonted labour of thinking, the tension of
his mind began to yield, and by-and-by he dropped asleep, lying at full
length upon his back. The crow returned once more to the ash, and looked
at the sleeping man and the dead dog, cleaned his beak against the
bough, and uttered a low croak. Once he flew a little way out towards
them, but there was the gun: it was true he knew very well there was no
powder (for, in the first place, he could not smell any, and, secondly,
if there had been any he knew he should have had the shot singing about
his ears long before this; you see, he could put two and two together),
still there was the gun. The dog does not like the corner where the
walking-stick stands. The crow did not like the gun, though it was stuck
in the ground: he went back to the ash, cleaned his bill, and waited.

Something came stealthily through the grass, now stopping, now advancing
with a creeping, evil motion. It was the weasel. When he stole away from
the wood-pile, after escaping from the trap, he made up the field
towards the copse, but upon reflection he determined to abandon his lair
in the hollow elm, for he had so abused Bevis's good-nature that he
doubted whether Bevis might not attack him even there despite the
squirrel. He did not know exactly where to go, knowing that every
creature was in secret his enemy, and in his wounded state, unable to
move quickly or properly defend himself, he dreaded to trust himself
near them. After a while he remembered the old dead oak, which was also
hollow within, and which was so far from the copse it was not probable
Bevis would find it.

Thither he bent his painful steps, for his broken rib hurt him very
much, and after many pauses to rest, presently, in the afternoon, he
came near. Lifting his head above the grass he saw the dead dog, and the
sleeping keeper; he watched them a long time, and seeing that neither of
them moved he advanced closer. As he approached he saw the dead hawk,
and recognised one of Ki Ki's retainers; then coming to the dog, the
blood from the shot wounds excited his terrible thirst. But it had
ceased to flow; he sniffed at it and then went towards the man.

The crow, envious, but afraid to join the venture, watched him from the
ash. Every few inches the weasel stayed, lifted his head; looked, and
listened. Then he advanced again, paused, and again approached. In five
minutes he had reached the keeper's feet; two minutes more and he was by
his waist. He listened again; he sniffed, he knew it was dangerous, but
he could not check the resistless prompting of his appetite.

He crept up on the keeper's chest; the crow fidgeted on the ash. He
crept up to the necktie; the crow came down on a lower bough. He moved
yet another inch to the collar; the crow flew out ten yards and settled
on the ground. The collar was stiff, and partly covered that part of the
neck which fascinated the weasel's gaze. He put his foot softly on the
collar; the crow hopped thrice towards them. He brought up his other
foot, he sniffed--the breath came warm from the man's half-open lips--he
adventured the risk, and placed his paw on the keeper's neck.

Instantly--as if he had received an electric shock--the keeper started
to his knees, shuddering; the weasel dropped from his neck upon the
ground, the crow hastened back to the ash. With a blow of his open hand
the keeper knocked the weasel yards away; then, in his rage and fear,
with whitened face, he wished instead he had beaten the creature down
upon the earth, for the weasel, despite the grinding of his broken rib,
began to crawl off, and he could not reach him.

He looked round for a stick or stone, there was none; he put his hand in
his pocket, but his knife had slipped out when he fell from the tree. He
passed his hands over his waistcoat seeking for something, felt his
watch--a heavy silver one--and in his fury snatched it from the swivel,
and hurled it at the weasel. The watch thrown with such force missed the
weasel, struck the sward, and bounded up against the oak: the glass
shivered and flew sparkling a second in the sunshine; the watch glanced
aside, and dropped in the grass. When he looked again the weasel had
gone. It was an hour before the keeper recovered himself--the shuddering
terror with which he woke up haunted him in the broad daylight.

An intolerable thirst now tormented him, but the furrow was dry. In the
morning, he remembered it had contained a little water from the rain,
which during the day had sunk into the earth. He picked a bennet from
the grass and bit it, but it was sapless, dried by the summer heat. He
looked for a leaf of sorrel, but there was none. The slow hours wore on;
the sun sank below the wood, and the long shadows stretched out.
By-and-by the grass became cooler to the touch; dew was forming upon it.
Overhead the rooks streamed homewards to their roosting trees. They
cawed incessantly as they flew; they were talking about Kapchack and
Choo Hoo, but he did not understand them.

The shadows reached across the glade, and yonder the rabbits appeared
again from among the bushes where their burrows were. He began now to
seriously think that he should have to pass the night there. His ankle
was swollen, and the pain almost beyond endurance. The slightest attempt
at motion caused intense agony. His one hope now was that the same
slouching labourer who had passed in the morning would go back that way
at night; but as the shadows deepened that hope departed, and he doubted
too whether any one could see him through the underwood in the dark. The
slouching labourer purposely avoided that route home. He did not want to
see anything, if anything there was.

He went round by the high road, and having had his supper, and given his
wife a clout in the head, he sauntered down to the alehouse. After he
had taken three quarts of beer, he mentioned the curious incident of the
white handkerchief in the woods to his mates, who congratulated him on
his sense in refraining from going near it, as most likely it was one of
that keeper's tricks, just to get somebody into the wood. More talk, and
more beer. By-and-by the keeper's wife began to feel alarmed. She had
already found the dead dog in the kennel; but that did not surprise her
in the least, knowing her husband's temper, and that if a dog disobeyed
it was not at all unusual for a cartridge to go whistling after him.

But when the evening came, and the darkness fell; when she had gone down
to the alehouse, braving his wrath, and found that he was not there,
the woman began to get hysterical. The lad who acted as assistant had
gone home, so she went out into the nearest stubble herself, thinking
that her husband must have finished his round before lunch, and was
somewhere in the newly-reaped fields. But after walking about the
rustling stubble till she was weary, she came back to the alehouse, and
begged the men to tell her if they had seen anything of him. Then they
told her about the white handkerchief which the slouching poacher had
seen in the wood that morning. She turned on him like a tiger, and
fiercely upbraided him; then rushed from the house. The sloucher took up
his quart, and said that he saw "no call" to hurry.

But some of the men went after the wife. The keeper was found, and
brought home on a cart, but not before he had seen the owl go by, and
the dark speck of the bat passing to and fro overhead.

All that day Bevis did not go to the copse, being much upset with the
cheat the weasel had played him, and also because they said the grass
and the hedges would be so wet after the storm. Nor did anything take
place in the copse, for King Kapchack moped in his fortress, the
orchard, the whole day long, so greatly was he depressed by the
widespread treason of which the owl had informed him.

Choo Hoo, thinking that the treaty was concluded, relaxed the strictness
of discipline, and permitted his army to spread abroad from the camp and
forage for themselves. He expected the return of the ambassador with
further communications, and ordered search to be made for every dainty
for his entertainment; while the thrush, for whom this care was taken,
had not only ceased to exist, but it would have been impossible to
collect his feathers, blown away to every quarter.

The vast horde of barbarians were the more pleased with the liberty
accorded to them, because they had spent so ill a night while the gale
raged through their camp. So soon as the sun began to gleam through the
retreating clouds, they went forth in small parties, many of which the
keeper saw go over him while lying helpless by the dead oak-tree.

King Kapchack, after the owl had informed him of the bewildering maze of
treason with which he was surrounded, moped, as has been said before,
upon his perch. In the morning, wet and draggled from the storm, his
feathers out of place, and without the spirit to arrange them, he seemed
to have grown twenty years older in one night, so pitiable did he
appear. Nor did the glowing sun, which filled all other hearts with joy,
reach his gloomy soul. He saw no resource; no enterprise suggested
itself to him; all was dark at noonday.

An ominous accident which had befallen the aged apple-tree in which his
palace stood contributed to this depression of mind. The gale had
cracked a very large bough, which, having shown signs of weakness, had
for many years been supported by a prop carefully put up by the farmer.
But whether the prop in course of time had decayed at the line where the
air and earth exercise their corroding influence upon wood; or whether
the bough had stiffened with age, and could not swing easily to the
wind; or whether, as seems most likely, the event occurred at that
juncture in order to indicate the course of fate, it is certain that the
huge bough was torn partly away from the trunk, leaving a gaping cavity.

Kapchack viewed the injury to the tree, which had so long sustained his
family and fortune, with the utmost concern; it seemed an omen of
approaching destruction so plain and unmistakable that he could not look
at it; he turned his mournful gaze in the opposite direction. The day
passed slowly, as slowly as it did to the keeper lying beneath the oak,
and the king, though he would have resented intrusion with the sharpest
language, noticed with an increasing sense of wrong that the court was
deserted, and with one exception none called to pay their respects.

The exception was Eric, the favourite missel-thrush, who alone of all
the birds was allowed to frequent the same orchard. The missel-thrush,
loyal to the last, came, but seeing Kapchack's condition, did not
endeavour to enter into conversation. As for the rest, they did not
venture from fear of the king's violent temper, and because their
unquiet consciences made them suspect that this unusual depression was
caused by the discovery of their treachery. They remained away from
dread of his anger. Kapchack, on the other hand, put their absence down
to the mean and contemptible desire to avoid a falling house. He
observed that even the little Te-te, the tomtit, and chief of the
secret police, who invariably came twice or thrice a day with an account
of some gossip he had overheard, did not arrive. How low he must have
fallen, since the common informers disdained to associate with him!

Towards the evening he sent for his son, Prince Tchack-tchack, with the
intention of abdicating in his favour, but what were his feelings when
the messenger returned without him! Tchack-tchack refused to come. He,
too, had turned away. Thus, deserted by the lovely La Schach, for whom
he had risked his throne; deserted by the whole court and even by his
own son; the monarch welcomed the darkness of the night, the second of
his misery, which hid his disgrace from the world.

The owl came, faithful by night as the missel-thrush by day, but
Kapchack, in the deepest despondency, could not reply to his remarks.
Twice the owl came back, hoping to find his master somewhat more open to
consolation, and twice had to depart unsuccessful. At last, about
midnight, the king, worn out with grief, fell asleep.

Now the same evening the hare, who was upon the hills as usual, as she
came by a barn overheard some bats who lived there conversing about the
news which they had learnt from their relations who resided in the woods
of the vale. This was nothing less than the revelations the dying hawk
had made of the treacherous designs of Ki Ki and the weasel, which, as
the owl had suspected, had been partly overheard by the bats. The hare,
in other circumstances, would have rejoiced at the overthrow of King
Kapchack, who was no favourite with her race, for he had, once or twice,
out of wanton cruelty, pecked weakly leverets to death, just to try the
temper of his bill. But she dreaded lest if he were thrust down the
weasel should seize the sovereignty, the weasel, who had already done
her so much injury, and was capable of ruining not only herself but her
whole nation if once he got the supreme power.

Not knowing what to do herself for the best, away she went down the
valley and over the steep ridges in search of a very old hare, quite
hoar with age--an astrologer of great reputation in those parts. For the
hares have always been good star-gazers, and the whole race of them, one
and all, are not without skill in the mystic sciences, while some are
highly charged with knowledge of futurity, and have decided the fate of
mighty battles by the mere direction in which they scampered. The old
hare no sooner heard her information than he proceeded to consult the
stars, which shone with exceeding brilliance that night, as they often
do when the air has been cleared by a storm, and finding, upon taking
accurate observations, that the house of Jupiter was threatened by the
approach of Saturn to the meridian, he had no difficulty in pronouncing
the present time as full of danger and big with fate.

The planets were clearly in combination against King Kapchack, who must,
if he desired to avoid extinction, avoid all risks, and hide his head,
as it were, in a corner till the aspect of the heavens changed. Above
all things let him not make war or go forth himself into the combat; let
him conclude peace, or at least enter into a truce, no matter at what
loss of dignity, or how much territory he had to concede to conciliate
Choo Hoo. His person was threatened, the knife was pointed at his heart;
could he but wait a while, and tide as it were over the shallows, he
might yet resume the full sway of power; but if he exposed his life at
this crisis the whole fabric of his kingdom might crumble beneath his
feet.

Having thus spoken, the hoary astrologer went off in the direction of
Stonehenge, whose stones formed his astrolabe, and the hare, much
excited with the communication she had received (confirmed as it was too
by the facts of the case), resolved to at once warn the monarch of his
danger. Calling a beetle, she charged him with a message to the king:
That he should listen to the voice of the stars, and conclude peace at
no matter what cost, or at least a truce, submitting to be deprived of
territory or treasure to any amount or extent, and that above all things
he should not venture forth personally to the combat. If he hearkened he
would yet reign; if he closed his ears the evil influence which then
threatened him must have its way. Strictly enjoining the beetle to make
haste, and turn neither to the right nor the left, but to speed straight
away for the palace, she dismissed him.

The beetle, much pleased to be employed upon so important a business,
opened his wing-cases, began to hum, and increasing his pace as he went,
flew off at his utmost velocity. He passed safely over the hills,
descended into the valley, sped across the fields and woods, and in an
incredibly short space of time approached the goal of his journey. The
wall of the orchard was in sight, he began to repeat his message to
himself, so as to be sure and not miss a word of it, when going at this
tremendous pace, and as usual, without looking in front, but blundering
onwards, he flew with his whole force against a post. His body, crushed
by the impetus of its own weight, rebounded with a snap, and he fell
disabled and insensible to the earth.



CHAPTER XIII.

THE COURTSHIP IN THE ORCHARD.


The next morning Bevis's papa looking at the almanac found there was
going to be an eclipse of the sun, so Bevis took a piece of glass (part
of one of the many window panes he had broken) and smoked it over a
candle, so as to be able to watch the phenomenon without injury to his
eyes. When the obscuration began too, the dairy-maid brought him a
bucket of clear water in which the sun was reflected and could be
distinctly seen. But before the eclipse had proceeded beyond the mere
edge of the sun, Bevis heard the champing of a bit, and the impatient
pawing of hoofs, and running up to the stable to see who it was, found
that his papa was just on the point of driving over in the dog-cart to
see another farmer (the very old gentleman in whose orchard Kapchack's
palace was situated) about a load of straw.

Bevis of course insisted upon going too, the smoked glass was thrown
aside, he clambered up and held the reins, and away they went, the
eclipse now counting for nothing. After a while, however, as they went
swiftly along the road, they came to a hill, and from the summit saw a
long way off a vast shadow like that cast by some immense cloud which
came towards them over the earth, and in a second or two arrived, and
as it were put out the light. They looked up and the sun was almost
gone. In its place was a dark body, with a rim of light round it, and
flames shooting forth.

As they came slowly down the hill a pheasant crowed as he flew up to
roost, the little birds retired to the thickets, and at the farmyards
they passed the fowls went up to their perches. Presently they left the
highway and drove along a lane across the fields, which had once been
divided from each other by gates. Of these there was nothing now
standing but the posts, some of which could hardly be said to stand, but
declining from the perpendicular, were only kept from falling by the
bushes. The lane was so rough and so bad from want of mending that they
could only walk the impatient horse, and at times the jolting was
extremely unpleasant.

Sometimes they had to stoop down in the trap to pass under the drooping
boughs of elms and other trees, which not having been cut for years,
hung over and almost blocked the track. From the hedges the brambles and
briars extended out into the road, so that the wheels of the dog-cart
brushed them, and they would evidently have entirely shut up the way had
not waggons occasionally gone through and crushed their runners. The
meadows on either hand were brown with grass that had not been mown,
though the time for mowing had long since gone by, while the pastures
were thick with rushes and thistles. Though so extensive there were
only two or three cows in them, and these old and poor, and as it were
broken-down. No horses were visible, nor any men at work.

There were other fields which had once grown wheat, but were now so
choked with weeds as to be nothing but a wilderness. As they approached
the farmhouse where the old gentleman dwelt, the signs of desolation
became more numerous. There were walls that had fallen, and never been
repaired, around whose ruins the nettles flourished. There were holes in
the roofs of the sheds exposing the rafters.

Trees had fallen and lay as they fell, rotting away, and not even cut up
for firewood. Railings had decayed till there was nothing left but a few
stumps; gates had dropped from their hinges, and nothing of them
remained but small bits of rotten board attached to rusty irons. In the
garden all was confusion, the thistles rose higher than the gooseberry
bushes, and burdocks looked in at the windows. From the wall of the
house a pear that had been trained there had fallen away, and hung
suspended, swinging with every puff; the boughs, driven against the
windows, had broken the panes in the adjacent casement; other panes
which had been broken were stuffed up with wisps of hay.

Tiles had slipped from the roof, and the birds went in and out as they
listed. The remnants of the tiles lay cracked upon the ground beneath
the eaves just as they had fallen. No hand had touched them; the hand of
man indeed had touched nothing. Bevis, whose eyes were everywhere, saw
all these things in a minute. "Why," said he, "there's the knocker; it
has tumbled down." It had dropped from the door as the screws rusted;
the door itself was propped up with a log of wood. But one thing only
appeared to have been attended to, and that was the wall about the
orchard, which showed traces of recent mortar, and the road leading
towards it, which had not long since been mended with flints.

Now Bevis, as I say, noting all these things as they came near with his
eyes, which, like gimlets, went through everything, was continually
asking his papa questions about them, and why everything was in such a
state, till at last his papa, overwhelmed with his inquiries, promised
to tell him the whole story when they got home. This he did, but while
they are now fastening up the horse (for there was no one to help them
or mind it), and while Bevis is picking up the rusty knocker, the story
may come in here very well:--

Once upon a time, many, many years ago, when the old gentleman was
young, and lived with his mother at the farmhouse, it happened that he
fell in love. The lady he loved was very young, very beautiful, very
proud, very capricious, and very poor. She lived in a house in the
village little better than a cottage, with an old woman who was said to
be her aunt. As the young farmer was well off, for the land was his own,
and he had no one to keep but his old mother, and as the young lady
dearly loved him, there seemed no possible obstacle in their way. But it
is well known that a brook can never run straight, and thus, though all
looked so smooth, there were, in reality, two difficulties.

The first of these was the farmer's old mother, who having been mistress
in the farmhouse for very nearly fifty years, did not like, after
half-a-century, to give place to a mere girl. She could not refrain from
uttering disparaging remarks about her, to which her son, being fond of
his mother, could not reply, though it angered him to the heart, and at
such times he used to take down his long single-barrelled gun with brass
fittings, and go out shooting. More than once the jealous mother had
insulted the young lady openly in the village street, which conduct, of
course, as things fly from roof to roof with the sparrows, was known all
over the place, and caused the lady to toss her head like a filly in
spring to show that she did not care for such an old harridan, though in
secret it hurt her pride beyond expression.

So great was the difficulty this caused, that the young lady,
notwithstanding she was so fond of the handsome young farmer, who rode
so well and shot so straight, and could carry her in his arms as if she
were no more than a lamb, would never put her dainty foot, which looked
so little and pretty even in the rude shoes made for her by the village
cobbler, over the threshold of his house. She would never come in, she
said, except as a wife, while he on his part, anxious as he was to marry
her, could not, from affection for his mother, summon up courage to
bring her in, as it were, rough-shod over his mother's feelings.

Their meetings, therefore, as she would not come indoors, were always
held in the farmer's orchard, where was a seat in an arbour, a few yards
in front of which stood the ancient apple-tree in which Kapchack, who
was also very young in those days, had built his nest. At this arbour
they met every day, and often twice a day, and even once again in the
evening, and could there chat and make love as sweetly as they pleased,
because the orchard was enclosed by a high wall which quite shut out all
spying eyes, and had a gate with lock and key. The young lady had a
duplicate key, and came straight to the orchard from the cottage where
she lived by a footpath which crossed the lane along which Bevis had
been driven.

It happened that the footpath just by the lane, on coming near the
orchard, passed a moist place, which in rainy weather was liable to be
flooded, and as this was inconvenient for her, her lover had a
waggon-load of flints brought down from the hills where the hares held
their revels, and placed in the hollow so as to fill it up, and over
these he placed faggots of nut-tree wood, so that she could step across
perfectly clean and dry. In this orchard, then, they had their constant
rendezvous; they were there every day when the nightingale first began
to sing in the spring, and when the apple-trees were hidden with their
pink blossom, when the haymakers were at work in the meadow, when the
reapers cut the corn, and when the call of the first fieldfare sounded
overhead. The golden and rosy apples dropped at their feet, they laughed
and ate them, and taking out the brown pips she pressed them between
her thumb and finger to see how far they would shoot.

Though they had begun to talk about their affairs in the spring, and had
kept on all the summer and autumn, and though they kept on as often as
the weather was dry (when they walked up and down the long orchard for
warmth, sheltered by the wall), yet when the spring came again they had
not half finished. Thus they were very happy, and the lady used
particularly to laugh at the antics of the magpie, who became so
accustomed to their presence as to go on with the repairs to his nest
without the least shyness. Kapchack, being then very young and full of
spirits, and only just married, and in the honeymoon of prosperity,
played such freaks and behaved in so amusing a manner that the lady
became quite attached to him, and in order to protect her favourite, her
lover drove away all the other large birds that came near the orchard,
and would not permit any one whatever to get up into Kapchack's
apple-tree, nor even to gather the fruit, which hung on the boughs till
the wind pushed it off.

Thus, having a fortress to retreat to, and being so highly honoured of
men, Kapchack gave the reins to his natural audacity, and succeeded in
obtaining the sovereignty. When the spring came again they had still a
great deal of talking to do; but whether the young lady was weary of
waiting for the marriage-ring, or whether she was jealous of the
farmer's mother, or whether she thought they might continue like this
for the next ten years if she did not make some effort, or whether it
was the worldly counsels of her aunt, or what it was--perhaps her own
capricious nature, it is certain that they now began to quarrel a little
about another gentleman.

This gentleman was very rich, and the owner of a large estate in the
neighbourhood; he did not often reside there, for he did not care for
sport or country life, but once when he came down he happened to see the
young lady, and was much attracted towards her. Doubtless she did not
mean any harm, but she could not help liking people to admire her, and,
not to go into every little particular, in the course of time (and not
very long either) she and the gentleman became acquainted. Now, when her
own true lover was aware of this, he was so jealous that he swore if
ever he saw them together he would shoot his rival with his
long-barrelled gun, though he were hung for it the next day.

The lady was not a little pleased at this frantic passion, and secretly
liked him ten times better for it, though she immediately resorted to
every artifice to calm his anger, for she knew his violent nature, and
that he was quite capable of doing as he had said. But the delight of
two strings to her bow was not easily to be foregone, and thus, though
she really loved the farmer, she did not discourage the gentleman. He,
on his part, finding after a while that although she allowed him to talk
to her, and even to visit her at the cottage, and sometimes (when she
knew the young farmer was at market) go for a walk with him, and once
even came and went over his grand mansion, still finding that it was
all talk, and that his suit got no further, he presently bethought him
of diamonds.

He gave her a most beautiful diamond locket, which he had had down all
fresh and brilliant from London. Now this was the beginning of the
mischief. She accepted it in a moment of folly, and wished afterwards
ten times that she had refused, but having once put it on, it looked so
lovely she could not send it back. She could not openly wear it, lest
her lover should see it, but every morning she put it on indoors, and
frequently glanced in the glass.

Nor is it any use to find fault with her; for in the first place she has
been dead many years, and in the second she was then very young, very
beautiful, and living quite alone in the world with an old woman. Now
her lover, notwithstanding the sweet assurances she gave him of her
faithfulness, and despite the soft kisses he had in abundance every day
in the orchard, soft as the bloom of the apple-trees, could not quite
recover his peace of mind. He did not laugh as he used to do. He was
restless, and the oneness of his mind was gone. Oneness of mind does not
often last long into life, but while it lasts everything is bright. He
had now always a second thought, a doubt behind, which clouded his face
and brought a line into his forehead.

After a time his mother, observing his depression, began to accuse
herself of unkindness, and at last resolved to stand no longer in the
way of the marriage. She determined to quit the house in which she had
lived ever since she came to it a happy bride half-a-century before.
Having made up her mind, that very morning she walked along the footpath
to the young lady's cottage, intending to atone for her former
unkindness, and to bring the girl back to lunch, and thus surprise her
son when he came in from the field.

She had even made up her mind to put up with the cold reception she
would probably meet with, nor to reply if any hard words were used
towards her. Thus thinking, she lifted the latch, as country people do
not use much ceremony, and stepped into the cottage, when what was her
surprise to find the girl she had come to see with a beautiful diamond
locket about her neck, gleaming in the sunshine from the open door! She
instantly understood what it meant, and upbraiding the girl with her
falseness, quitted the place, and lost no time in telling her son, but
first she took the precaution of hiding his gun. As he could not find
that weapon, after the first storm of his jealous anger had gone over he
shut himself up in his room.

The lady came the same evening to the rendezvous in the orchard, but her
lover did not meet her. She came again next day, and in the evening; and
again the third day, and so all through the week, and for nearly a month
doing all she could without actually entering the house to get access to
him. But he sullenly avoided her; once seeing her in the road, he leaped
his horse over the hedge rather than pass her. For the diamond locket
looked so like a price--as if she valued a glittering bauble far above
true love.

At last one day she surprised him at the corner of the village street,
and notwithstanding that the people (who knew all the story) were
looking on, she would speak to him. She walked by his side, and said:
"George, I have put the locket in the arbour, with a letter for you. If
you will not speak to me, read the letter, and throw the locket in the
brook."

More she could not say, for he walked as fast as he could, and soon left
her behind.

He would not go near the orchard all day, but at last in the evening
something prompted him to go. He went and looked, but the locket and the
letter were not there.

Either she had not left them as she had said, or else some one had taken
them. No one could enter the orchard without a key, unless they went to
the trouble of bringing a ladder from the rickyard, and as it was
spring, there were no apples to tempt them to do that. He thought,
perhaps, his mother might have taken his key and gone to the arbour, and
there was a terrible scene and bitter words between them--the first time
he had ever replied to her. The consequence was that she packed a chest
that very day, took a bag of money, which in old-fashioned style she
kept under her bed, and left her home for ever; but not before she had
been to the cottage, and reviled the girl with her duplicity and her
falseness, declaring that if she had not got the locket, she had not put
it in the orchard, but had sold it, like the hussy she was! Fortunately,
however, she added, George could now see through her.

The farmer himself, much agitated at his mother's departure, made
another search for the locket, and mowed the grass in the orchard
himself, thinking that perhaps the lady had dropped it, or that it had
caught in her dress and dragged along, and he also took the rake, and
turned over every heap of dead leaves which the wind had blown into the
corners. But there was no locket and no letter. At last he thought that
perhaps the magpie, Kapchack--as magpies were always famous for their
fondness for glittering things, such as silver spoons--might have picked
up the locket, attracted by the gleaming diamonds. He got a ladder and
searched the nest, even pulling part of it to pieces, despite Kapchack's
angry remonstrances, but the locket was not there.

As he came down the ladder there was the young lady, who had stolen into
the orchard and watched his operations. They stood and faced each other
for a minute: at least, she looked at him, _his_ sullen gaze was bent
upon the ground. As for her, the colour came and went in her cheek, and
her breast heaved so that, for a while, she could not speak. At last she
said very low: "So you do not believe me, but some day you will know
that you have judged me wrongly". Then she turned, and without another
word went swiftly from the orchard.

He did not follow her, and he never saw her again. The same evening she
left the village, she and the old woman, her aunt, quietly and without
any stir, and where they went (beyond the market town) no one knew or
even heard. And the very same evening, too, the rich gentleman who had
given her the locket, and who made an unwonted stay in his country home
because of her, also left the place, and went, as was said, to London.
Of course people easily put two and two together, and said no doubt the
girl had arranged to meet her wealthy admirer, but no one ever saw them
together. Not even the coachman, when the gentleman once more returned
home years afterwards, though the great authority in those days, could
say what had become of her; if she had met his master it was indeed in
some secret and mysterious manner. But the folk, when he had done
speaking, and had denied these things, after he had quaffed his ale and
departed, nudged each other, and said that no doubt his master,
foreseeing the inquiries that would be made, had bribed him with a
pocketful of guineas to hold his tongue.

So the farmer, in one day, found himself alone; his dear lady, his
mother, and his rival were gone. He alone remained, and alone he
remained for the rest of his days. His rival, indeed, came back once now
and then for short periods to his mansion; but his mother never
returned, and died in a few years' time. Then indeed deserted, the
farmer had nothing left but to cultivate, and dwell on, the memory of
the past. He neglected his business, and his farm; he left his house to
take care of itself; the cows wandered away, the horses leaped the
hedges, other people's cattle entered his corn, trampled his wheat, and
fattened on his clover. He did nothing. The hand of man was removed, and
the fields, and the house, and the owner himself, fell to decay.

Years passed, and still it was the same, and thus it was, that when
Bevis and his papa drove up, Bevis was so interested and so inquisitive
about the knocker, which had fallen from the front door. One thing, and
one place only, received the owner's care, and that was the orchard, the
arbour, the magpie's nest, and the footpath that led to the orchard
gate. Everything else fell to ruin, but these were very nearly in the
same state as when the young lady used to come to the orchard daily. For
the old gentleman, as he grew old, and continued to dwell yet more and
more upon the happy days so long gone by, could not believe that she
could be dead, though he himself had outlived the usual span of life.

He was quite certain that she would some day come back, for she had said
so herself; she had said that some day he would know that he had judged
her wrongly, and unless she came back it was not possible for him to
understand. He was, therefore, positively certain that some day she
would come along the old footpath to the gate in the orchard wall, open
it with her duplicate key, walk to the arbour and sit down, and smile at
the magpie's ways. The woodwork of the arbour had of course decayed long
since, but it had been carefully replaced, so that it appeared exactly
the same as when she last sat within it. The coping fell from the
orchard wall, but it was put back; the gate came to pieces, but a new
one was hung in its place.

Kapchack, thus protected, still came to his palace, which had reached an
enormous size from successive additions and annual repairs. As the time
went on people began to talk about Kapchack, and the extraordinary age
to which he had now attained, till, by-and-by, he became the wonder of
the place, and in order to see how long he would live, the gentlemen who
had gamekeepers in the neighbourhood instructed them to be careful not
to shoot him. His reputation extended with his years, and those curious
in such things came to see him from a distance, but could never obtain
entrance to the orchard, nor approach near his tree, for neither money
nor persuasion could induce the owner to admit them.

In and about the village itself Kapchack was viewed by the superstitious
with something like awe. His great age, his singular fortune, his
peculiar appearance--having but one eye--gave him a wonderful prestige,
and his chattering was firmly believed to portend a change of the
weather or the wind, or even the dissolution of village personages. The
knowledge that he was looked upon in this light rendered the other birds
and animals still more obedient than they would have been. Kapchack was
a marvel, and it gradually became a belief with them that he would never
die.

Outside the orchard-gate, the footpath which crossed the lane, and
along which the lady used to come, was also carefully kept in its former
condition. By degrees the nut-tree faggots rotted away--they were
supplanted by others; in the process of time the flints sunk into the
earth, and then another waggon-load was sent for. But the waggons had
all dropped to pieces except one which chanced to be under cover; this,
too, was much decayed, still it held together enough for the purpose. It
was while this very waggon was jolting down from the hills with a load
of flints to fill this hollow that the one particular flint, out of five
thousand, worked its way through a hole in the bottom and fell on the
road. And the rich old gentleman, whose horse stepped on it the same
evening, who was thrown from the dog-cart, and whose discharged groom
shot him in his house in London, was the very same man who, years and
years before, had given the diamond locket to the young lady.

In the orchard the old farmer pottered about every day, now picking up
the dead wood which fell from the trees, now raking up the leaves, and
gathering the fruit (except that on Kapchack's tree), now mowing the
grass, according to the season, now weeding the long gravel path at the
side under the sheltering wall, up and down which the happy pair had
walked in the winters so long ago. The butterflies flew over, the
swallows alighted on the topmost twigs of the tall pear-tree and
twittered sweetly, the spiders spun their webs, or came floating down on
gossamer year after year, but he did not notice that they were not the
same butterflies or the same swallows which had been there in his
youth. Everything was the same to him within the orchard, however much
the world might change without its walls.

Why, the very houses in the village close by had many of them fallen and
been rebuilt; there was scarcely a resident left who dwelt there then;
even the ancient and unchangeable church was not the same--it had been
renovated; why, even the everlasting hills were different, for the
slopes were now in many places ploughed, and grew oats where nothing but
sheep had fed. But all within the orchard was the same; his lady, too,
was the same without doubt, and her light step would sooner or later
come down the footpath to her lover. This was the story Bevis's papa
told him afterwards.

They had some difficulty in fastening up the horse, until they pulled
some hay from a hayrick, and spread it before him, for like Bevis he had
to be bribed with cake, as it were, before he would be good. They then
knocked at the front door, which was propped up with a beam of timber,
but no one answered, nor did even a dog bark at the noise; indeed, the
dog's kennel had entirely disappeared, and only a piece of the staple to
which his chain had been fastened remained, a mere rusty stump in the
wall. It was not possible to look into this room, because the broken
windows were blocked with old sacks to keep out the draught and rain;
but the window of the parlour was open, the panes all broken, and the
casement loose, so that it must have swung and banged with the wind.

Within, the ceiling had fallen upon the table, and the chairs had
mouldered away; the looking-glass on the mantelpiece was hidden with
cobwebs, the cobwebs themselves disused; for as they collected the dust,
the spiders at last left them to spin new ones elsewhere. The carpet, if
it remained, was concealed by the dead leaves which had been carried in
by the gales. On these lay one or two picture frames, the back part
upwards, the cords had rotted from the nails, and as they dropped so
they stayed. In a punch-bowl of ancient ware, which stood upon the old
piano untouched all these years, a robin had had his nest. After Bevis
had been lifted up to the window-ledge to look in at this desolation,
they went on down towards the orchard, as if the old gentleman was not
within he was certain to be there.

They found the gate of the orchard open--rather an unusual thing, as he
generally kept it locked, even when at work inside--and as they stepped
in, they saw a modern double-barrel gun leant against a tree. A little
farther, and Bevis caught sight of Kapchack's nest, like a wooden castle
in the boughs, and clapped his hands with delight. But there was a
ladder against Kapchack's tree, a thing which had not been seen there
these years and years, and underneath the tree was the old farmer
himself, pale as his own white beard, and only kept from falling to the
ground by the strong arms of a young gentleman who upheld him. They
immediately ran forward to see what was the matter.

Now it had happened in this way. It will be recollected that when the
keeper fell from the dead oak-tree, he not only disabled himself, but
his gun going off shot the dogs. Thus when the heir to the estate came
down the same evening, he found that there was neither dog nor keeper to
go round with him the next day. But when the morning came, not to be
deprived of his sport, he took his gun and went forth alone into the
fields. He did not find much game, but he shot two or three partridges
and a rabbit, and he was so tempted by the crowds of wood-pigeons that
were about (parties from Choo Hoo's army out foraging), that he fired
away the remaining cartridges in his pocket at them.

So he found himself early in the day without a cartridge, and was just
thinking of walking back to the house for some more, when the shadow of
the eclipse came over. He stayed leaning against a gate to watch the
sun, and presently as he was looking up at it a hare ran between his
legs--so near, that had he seen her coming he could have caught her with
his hands.

She only went a short way down the hedge, and he ran there, when she
jumped out of the ditch, slipped by him, and went out fifty or sixty
yards into the field, and sat up. How he now wished that he had not shot
away all his ammunition at the wood-pigeons! While he looked at the hare
she went on, crossed the field, and entered the hedge on the other side;
he marked the spot, and hastened to get over the gate, with the
intention of running home for cartridges. Hardly had he got over, than
the hare came back again on that side of the hedge, passed close to
him, and again leaped into the ditch. He turned to go after her, when
out she came again, and crouched in a furrow only some twenty yards
distant.

Puzzled at this singular behaviour (for he had never seen a hare act
like it before), he ran after her; and the curious part of it was, that
although she did indeed run away, she did not go far--she kept only a
few yards in front, just evading him. If she went into a hedge for
shelter, she quickly came out again, and thus this singular chase
continued for some time. He got quite hot running, for though he had not
much hope of catching the creature, still he wanted to understand the
cause of this conduct.

By-and-by the zig-zag and uncertain line they took led them close to the
wall of the old gentleman's orchard, when suddenly a fox started out
from the hedge, and rushed after the hare. The hare, alarmed to the last
degree, darted into a large drain which went under the orchard, and the
fox went in after her. The young gentleman ran to the spot, but could
not of course see far up the drain. Much excited, he ran round the
orchard wall till he came to the gate, which chanced to be open, because
the farmer that day, having discovered that the great bough of
Kapchack's tree had been almost torn from the trunk by the gale, had
just carried a fresh piece of timber in for a new prop, and having his
hands full, what with the prop and the ladder to fix it, he could not
shut the gate behind him. So the sportsman entered the orchard, left
his gun leaning against a tree, and running down to see if he could find
which way the drain went, came upon the old gentleman, and caught sight
of the extraordinary nest of old King Kapchack.

Now the reason Ulu (for it was the very hare Bevis was so fond of)
played these fantastic freaks, and ran almost into the very hands of the
sportsman, was because the cunning fox had driven her to do so for his
own purposes.

After he learnt the mysterious underground saying from the toad
imprisoned in the elm, he kept on thinking, and thinking, what it could
mean; but he could not make it out. He was the only fox who had a
grandfather living, and he applied to his grandfather, who after
pondering on the matter all day, advised him to keep his eyes open. The
fox turned up his nostrils at this advice, which seemed to him quite
superfluous. However, next day, instead of going to sleep as usual, he
did keep his eyes open, and by-and-by saw a notch on the edge of the
sun, which notch grew bigger, until the shadow of the eclipse came over
the ground.

At this he leaped up, recognising in a moment the dead day of the
underground saying. He knew where Bevis's hare had her form, and
immediately he raced across to her, though not clearly knowing what he
was going to do; but as he crossed the fields he saw the sportsman,
without any dogs and with an empty gun, leaning over the gate and gazing
at the eclipse. With a snarl the fox drove Ulu from her form, and so
worried her that she was obliged to run (to escape his teeth) right
under the sportsman's legs, and thus to fulfil the saying: "The hare
hunted the hunter".

Even yet the fox did not know what was going to happen, or why he was
doing this, for such is commonly the case during the progress of great
events. The actors do not recognise the importance of the part they are
playing. The age does not know what it is doing; posterity alone can
appreciate it. But after a while, as the fox drove the hare out of the
hedges, and met and faced her, and bewildered the poor creature, he
observed that her zig-zag course, entirely unpremeditated, was leading
them closer and closer to the orchard where Kapchack (whom he wished to
overthrow) had his palace.

Then beginning to see whither fate was carrying them, suddenly he darted
out and drove the hare into the drain, and for safety followed her
himself. He knew the drain very well, and that there was an outlet on
the other side, having frequently visited the spot in secret in order to
listen to what Kapchack was talking about. Ulu, quite beside herself
with terror, rushed through the drain, leaving pieces of her fur against
the projections of the stones, and escaped into the lane on the other
side, and so into the fields there. The fox remained in the drain to
hear what would happen.

The sportsman ran round, entered the gate, and saw the old farmer
trimming the prop, the ladder just placed against the tree, and caught
sight of the palace of King Kapchack. As he approached a missel-thrush
flew off--it was Eric; the farmer looked up at this, and saw the
stranger, and was at first inclined to be very angry, for he had never
been intruded upon before, but as the young gentleman at once began to
apologise for the liberty, he overlooked it, and listened with interest
to the story the sportsman told him of the vagaries of the hare. While
they were talking the sportsman looked up several times at the nest
above him, and felt an increasing curiosity to examine it. At last he
expressed his wish; the farmer demurred, but the young gentleman pressed
him so hard, and promised so faithfully not to touch anything, that at
last the farmer let him go up the ladder, which he had only just put
there, and which he had not himself as yet ascended.

The young gentleman accordingly went up the ladder, being the first who
had been in that tree for years, and having examined and admired the
nest, he was just going to descend, when he stayed a moment to look at
the fractured bough. The great bough had not broken right off, but as
the prop gave way beneath it had split at the part where it joined the
trunk, leaving an open space, and revealing a hollow in the tree. In
this hollow something caught his eye; he put in his hand and drew forth
a locket, to which an old and faded letter was attached by a mouldy
ribbon twisted round it. He cast this down to the aged farmer, who
caught it in his hand, and instantly knew the locket which had
disappeared so long ago.

The gold was tarnished, but the diamonds were as bright as ever, and
glittered in the light as the sun just then began to emerge from the
eclipse. He opened the letter, scarce knowing what he did; the ink was
faded and pale, but perfectly legible, for it had been in a dry place.
The letter said that having tried in vain to get speech with him, and
having faced all the vile slander and bitter remarks of the village for
his sake, she had at last resolved to write and tell him that she was
really and truly his own. In a moment of folly she had, indeed, accepted
the locket, but that was all, and since the discovery she had twice sent
it back, and it had twice been put on her dressing-table, so that she
found it there in the morning (doubtless by the old woman, her aunt,
bribed for the purpose).

Then she thought that perhaps it would be better to give it to him (the
farmer), else he might doubt that she had returned it; so she said, as
he would not speak to her, she should leave it in the arbour, twisting
the ribbon round her letter, and she begged him to throw the locket in
the brook, and to believe her once again, or she should be miserable for
life. But, if after this he still refused to speak to her, she would
still stay a while and endeavour to obtain access to him; and if even
then he remained so cruel, there was nothing left for her but to quit
the village, and go to some distant relations in France. She would wait,
she added, till the new moon shone in the sky, and then she must go, for
she could no longer endure the insinuations which were circulated about
her. Lest there should be any mistake she enclosed a copy of a note she
had sent to the other gentleman, telling him that she should never
speak to him again. Finally, she put the address of the village in
France to which she was going, and begged and prayed him to write to
her.

When the poor old man had read these words, and saw that after all the
playful magpie must have taken the glittering locket and placed it, not
in his nest, but a chink of the tree; when he learned that all these
years and years the girl he had so dearly loved must have been waiting
with aching heart for a letter of forgiveness from him, the orchard swam
round, as it were, before his eyes, he heard a rushing sound like a
waterfall in his ears, the returning light of the sun went out again,
and he fainted. Had it not been for the young gentleman, who caught him,
he would have fallen to the ground, and it was just at this moment that
Bevis and his papa arrived at the spot.



CHAPTER XIV.

THE GREAT BATTLE.


Early the same morning when Kapchack awoke, he was so much refreshed by
the sound slumber he had enjoyed, that much of his depression--the sharp
edge of his pain as it were--had passed away. The natural vivacity of
his disposition asserted itself, and seemed to respond to the glory of
the sunshine. Hungry from his long fast, away he flew to well-known
places reserved for his own especial feeding-ground, and having
satisfied his appetite went up into a hawthorn, trimmed his feathers,
and began to think things over.

He at once decided that something of an exceptional character must be
attempted in order to regain his authority. Half measures, delays, and
intrigues were now in vain; some grand blow must be struck, such as
would fill all hearts with admiration or dismay. Another treaty with
Choo Hoo was out of the question, for the overbearing rebel would throw
in his face the assassination of the envoy, and even could it be thought
of, who could he entrust with the mission? His throne was completely
surrounded with traitors. He ground his beak as he thought of them, and
resolved that terrible indeed should be the vengeance he would take if
once he got them again into his power. The hope of revenge was the
keenest spur of all to him to adventure something bold and unexpected;
the hope of revenge, and the determination that the house of Kapchack
should not fall without an effort worthy of a monarch.

He resolved to at once attack the mighty horde Choo Hoo commanded with
the only troops he could get quickly together in this emergency. These
were the rooks, the praetorian guard of his state, the faithful,
courageous, and warlike tenth legion of his empire. No sooner did he
thus finally resolve than his whole appearance seemed to change. His
outward form in some degree reflected the spirit within. His feathers
ruffled up, and their black and white shone with new colour. The glossy
green of his tail gleamed in the sunshine. One eye indeed was gone, but
the other sparkled with the fire of war; he scented the battle, and
sharpened his bill against the bough.

He only regretted that he had not taken this course before, instead of
idling in the palace, and leaving his kingdom to the wiles of traitorous
courtiers and delegates. If he had only bestirred himself like the
ancient Kapchack of former days this extremity would not have arisen.
Even yet it was not too late; war was a desperate and uncertain game,
and it was not always the greatest army, in point of numbers, that
rejoiced in the victory. He would trust in his fortune, and swoop down
upon the enemy. Calling to his body-guard, he flew at once straight
towards the plain, where, at that time in the morning, he knew the main
body of the rooks would be foraging. Full of these resolutions he did
not observe the maimed beetle lying helpless in the grass, but looking
neither to the right nor the left, taking counsel of no one--for to whom
could he apply for honest advice?--he winged his way swiftly onward.

In about half-an-hour he reached the plain, and saw the rooks scattered
over the ground; he rested here upon the lower branch of an elm, and
sent forward a messenger, one of the eight magpies who attended him, to
tell the commander-in-chief to wait upon him. Upon receiving the
message, the general, hoping that at last the king had decided upon
action, since so abrupt a summons to his side was somewhat unusual, flew
hastily to the elm and saluted the monarch. Kapchack, without any
preamble, announced his intention of forming the rooks into column, and
falling at once upon the horde of barbarians. In the rooks, he said, and
their loyal commander, lay the last hope of the state--he placed himself
in their midst and relied upon them solely and alone.

Ah Kurroo Khan, the commander-in-chief, could scarcely refrain from
shouting with delight. He was not only wild with the joy of coming
combat, but this straightforward speech and conduct went to his heart,
and never in all his long, long reign had Kapchack so complete and
autocratic an empire as at that moment over the rooks.

Ah Kurroo, when he had in some degree expressed his pleasure at these
commands, and the readiness with which he placed himself and his army
at Kapchack's orders, proceeded first to pass the word to the legions to
fall into their ranks, and next to inform the monarch of the position
held by the enemy.

They were, he said, dispersed in all directions foraging, and discipline
was much relaxed, insomuch that several bands of them had even fallen to
blows amongst themselves. To attack these scattered positions, which
could individually be easily overwhelmed, would be a mistake, for these
reasons. The advantage of destroying one or two such bands of marauders
would be practically nothing, and while it was being accomplished the
rest would carry the information to Choo Hoo, and he would assemble his
enormous horde. Thus the chance of surprising and annihilating his army
would be lost.

But it appeared that Choo Hoo's son, Tu Kiu, who was also the second in
command of the barbarians, finding that already the country was becoming
denuded of supplies close to the camp, had during the previous day, at
his father's orders, marched a large division--in itself an immense
army--into a plain at a few miles' distance, which was surrounded with
the hills, and out of sight from the camp. The best strategy therefore
open to Kapchack, was either to assail Choo Hoo's camp, or else to fall
upon the divisions of Tu Kiu.

The difficulty in the case of the camp was that amidst the trees the
assailants would suffer as much loss from crushing and confusion as
would be inflicted upon the enemy. It was impossible, when once
involved in a forest conflict, to know which way the issue was tending.
The battle became split up into a thousand individual combats,
discipline was of no avail, no officer could survey the scene or direct
the movements, and a panic at any moment was only too probable. On the
other hand, the division of Tu Kiu offered itself for annihilation. It
was not only several miles distant from the main body, but a range of
hills between prevented all view, and obstructed communication. There
was a route by which the plain could be approached, through a narrow
valley well sheltered with woods, which would screen the advancing
troops from sight, and enable them to debouch at once into the midst of
the invaders. Without doubt, thus suddenly attacked, Tu Kiu must give
way; should victory declare for them decisively, it was easy to foretell
what would happen. Tu Kiu falling back in disorder would confuse the
regiments of Choo Hoo coming to his assistance, a panic would arise, and
the incredible host of the barbarians would encumber each other's
flight.

Kapchack listened to the Khan with the deepest attention, approved of
all he had put forward, and gave the order to attack Tu Kiu.

Without a sound--for Ah Kurroo had strictly enjoined silence, lest the
unusual noise should betray that something was intended--the legions
fell into rank, and at the word of command, suppressing even the shout
of joy which they wished so much to utter, moved in a dense column to
the southwards. Kapchack, with his guards behind him, and Ah Kurroo
Khan at his side, led the van.

The Khan secretly congratulated himself as he flew upon his
extraordinary good fortune, that he should thus enter the field of
battle unhampered with any restrictions, and without the useless and
unpleasant companionship of a political officer, appointed by the
council of his nation. Well he knew that had Kapchack given the least
notice of his intention, the rook council would have assembled and held
interminable discussions upon the best method of carrying out the
proposed object, ending, as usual, with a vote in which mere numbers
prevailed, without any reference to reason or experience, and with the
appointment of a state official to overlook the conduct of the general,
and to see that he did not arrogate too much to himself.

Thus in fact the rooks were accustomed to act, lest a commander should
become too victorious. They liked indeed to win, and to destroy the
enemy, and to occupy his territory, but they did not like all this to be
accomplished by one man, but the rather, at the very zenith of his fame,
provided him with an opportunity for disgracing himself, so that another
might take his place and divide the glory. Ah Kurroo knew all this;
imagine, then, his joy that Kapchack without calling parliament together
had come direct to the camp, and ordered an immediate advance. Himself
choosing the route, trusting to no guides, not even to his own
intelligence department, Ah Kurroo pointed the way, and the legions
with steady and unvarying flight followed their renowned commander.

The noise of their wings resounded, the air was oppressed with their
weight and the mighty mass in motion. Then did Kapchack indeed feel
himself every feather a king. He glanced back--he could not see the
rear-guard, so far did the host extend. His heart swelled with pride and
eagerness for the fight. Now quitting the plain, they wound by a devious
route through the hills--the general's object being to so manage the
march that none of them should appear above the ridges. The woods upon
the slopes concealed their motions, and the advance was executed without
the least delay, though so great was their length in this extended order
that when the head of the column entered the plain beyond, the
rear-guard had not reached the hills behind. This rendered their front
extremely narrow, but Ah Kurroo, pausing when he had gone half-a-mile
into the plain, and when the enemy were already in sight, and actually
beneath them, ordered the leading ranks to beat time with their wings,
while their comrades came up.

Thus, in a few minutes, the place where the narrow valley debouched into
the hill-surrounded plain, was darkened with the deploying rooks.
Kapchack, while waiting, saw beneath him the hurrying squadrons of Tu
Kiu. From the cut corn, from the stubble, from the furrows (where
already the plough had begun its work), from the green roots and second
crops of clover, from the slopes of the hills around, and the distant
ridges, the alarmed warriors were crowding to their standards.

While peacefully foraging, happy in the sunshine and the abundance of
food, without a thought of war and war's hazards, they suddenly found
themselves exposed, all unprepared, to the fell assault of their black
and mortal enemies. The sky above them seemed darkened with the legions,
the hoarse shouts of command as the officers deployed their ranks, the
beating of the air, struck them with terror. Some, indeed, overwhelmed
with affright, cowered on the earth; a few of the outlying bands, who
had wandered farthest, turned tail and fled over the ridges. But the
majority, veterans in fight, though taken aback, and fully recognising
the desperate circumstances under which they found themselves, hastened
with all speed towards Tu Kiu, whose post was in a hedge, in which stood
three low ash-trees by a barn. This was about the centre of the plain,
and thither the squadrons and companies hurried, hoarsely shouting for
their general.

Tu Kiu, undismayed, and brave as became the son and heir of the mighty
Emperor Choo Hoo, made the greatest efforts to get them into some kind
of array and order. Most fell into rank of their own accord from long
use and habit, but the misfortune was that no sooner had one regiment
formed than fresh arrivals coming up threw all into disorder again. The
crowd, the countless multitude overwhelmed itself; the air was filled,
the earth covered, they struck against each other, and Tu Kiu, hoarse
with shouting, was borne down, and the branch of ash upon which he
stood broken with the weight of his own men. He struggled, he called, he
cried; his voice was lost in the din and clangour.

Ah Kurroo Khan, soaring with Kapchack, while the legions deployed,
marked the immense confusion of the enemy's centre. He seized the
moment, gave the command, and in one grand charge the whole army bore
swiftly down upon Tu Kiu. Kapchack himself could scarce keep pace with
the increasing velocity of the charge; he was wrapped, as it were,
around with the dense and serried ranks, and found himself hurled in a
moment into the heart of the fight. Fight, indeed, it could not be
called.

The solid phalanx of the rooks swept through the confused multitude
before them, by their mere momentum cutting it completely in two, and
crushing innumerable combatants underneath. In a minute, in less than a
minute, the mighty host of Tu Kiu, the flower of Choo Hoo's army, was
swept from the earth. He himself, wounded and half-stunned by the shock,
was assisted from the scene by the unwearied efforts of his personal
attendants.

Each tried to save himself regardless of the rest; the oldest veteran,
appalled by such utter defeat, could not force himself to turn again and
gather about the leaders. One mass of fugitives filled the air; the
slopes of the hills were covered with them. Still the solid phalanx of
Kapchack pressed their rear, pushing them before it.

Tu Kiu, who, weary and faint, had alighted for a moment upon an ancient
grass-grown earthwork--a memorial of former wars--which crowned a hill,
found it necessary to again flee with his utmost speed, lest he should
be taken captive.

It was now that the genius of Ah Kurroo Khan showed itself in its most
brilliant aspect. Kapchack, intoxicated with battle, hurried the legions
on to the slaughter--it was only by personal interference that the Khan
could restrain the excited king. Ah Kurroo, calm and far-seeing in the
very moment of victory, restrained the legions, held them in, and not
without immense exertion succeeded in checking the pursuit, and
retaining the phalanx in good order. To follow a host so completely
routed was merely to slay the slain, and to waste the strength that
might profitably be employed elsewhere. He conjectured that so soon as
ever the news reached Choo Hoo, the emperor, burning with indignation,
would arouse his camp, call his army together, and without waiting to
rally Tu Kiu's division, fly immediately to retrieve this unexpected
disaster. Thus, the victors must yet face a second enemy, far more
numerous than the first, under better generalship, and prepared for the
conflict.

Ah Kurroo was, even now, by no means certain of the ultimate result. The
rooks, indeed, were flushed with success, and impelled with all the
vigour of victory; their opponents, however brave, must in some degree
feel the depression attendant upon serious loss. But the veterans with
Choo Hoo not only outnumbered them, and could easily outflank or
entirely surround, but would also be under the influence of his personal
leadership. They looked upon Choo Hoo, not as their king, or their
general only, but as their prophet, and thus the desperate valour of
fanaticism must be reckoned in addition to their natural courage.
Instead, therefore, of relying simply upon force, Ah Kurroo, even in the
excitement of the battle, formed new schemes, and aimed to out-general
the emperor.

He foresaw that Choo Hoo would at once march to the attack, and would
come straight as a line to the battle-field. His plan was to wheel
round, and, making a detour, escape the shock of Choo Hoo's army for the
moment, and while Choo Hoo was looking for the legions that had
overthrown his son, to fall upon and occupy his undefended camp. He was
in hopes that when the barbarians found their rear threatened, and their
camp in possession of the enemy, a panic would seize upon them.

Kapchack, when he had a little recovered from the frenzy of the fray,
fully concurred, and without a minute's delay Ah Kurroo proceeded to
carry out this strategical operation. He drew off the legions for some
distance by the same route they had come, and then, considering that he
had gone far enough to avoid Choo Hoo, turned sharp to the left, and
flew straight for the emperor's camp, sheltered from view on the side
towards it by a wood, and in front by an isolated hill, also crowned
with trees. Once over that hill, and Choo Hoo's camp must inevitably
fall into their hands. With swift, steady flight, the dark legions
approached the hill, and were now within half-a-mile of it, when to Ah
Kurroo's surprise and mortification the van-guard of Choo Hoo appeared
above it, advancing directly upon them.

When the fugitives from the field of battle reached Choo Hoo, he could
at first scarce restrain his indignation, for he had deemed the treaty
in full force; he exclaimed against the perfidy of a Power which called
itself civilised and reproached his host as barbarians, yet thus
violated its solemn compacts. But recognising the gravity of the
situation, and that there was no time to waste in words, he gave orders
for the immediate assembly of his army, and while the officers carried
out his command flew to a lofty fir to consider a few moments alone upon
the course he should take.

He quickly decided that to attempt to rally Tu Kiu's division would be
in vain; he did not even care to protect its retreat, for as it had been
taken so unawares, it must suffer the penalty of indiscretion. To march
straight to the field of battle, and to encounter a solid phalanx of the
best troops in the world, elated with victory, and led by a general like
Ah Kurroo, and inspired, too, by the presence of their king, while his
own army was dispirited at this unwonted reverse, would be courting
defeat. He resolved to march at once, but to make a wide detour, and so
to fall upon the rooks in their rear while they were pursuing Tu Kiu.
The signal was given, and the vast host set out.

Thus the two generals, striving to outwit each other, suddenly found
themselves coming into direct collision. While fancying that they had
arranged to avoid each other, they came, as it were, face to face, and
so near, that Choo Hoo, flying at the head of his army, easily
distinguished King Kapchack and the Khan. It seemed now inevitable that
sheer force must decide between them.

But Choo Hoo, the born soldier, no sooner cast his keen glance over the
fields which still intervened, than he detected a fatal defect in
Kapchack's position. The rooks, not expecting attack, were advancing in
a long dense column, parallel with, and close to, a rising ground, all
along the summit of which stood a row of fine beech-trees. Quick as
thought, Choo Hoo commanded his centre to slacken their speed while
facing across the line the rooks were pursuing. At the same time he sent
for his left to come up at the double in extended order, so as to
outflank Ah Kurroo's column, and then to push it, before it could
deploy, bodily, and by mere force of numbers, against the beeches, where
their wings entangled and their ranks broken by the boughs they must
become confused. Then his right, coming up swiftly, would pass over, and
sweep the Khan's disordered army before it.

This manoeuvre, so well-conceived, was at once begun. The barbarian
centre slackened over the hill, and their left, rushing forward,
enclosed Ah Kurroo's column, and already bore down towards it, while the
noise of their right could be heard advancing towards the beeches above,
and on the other side of which it would pass. Ah Kurroo saw his
danger--he could discover no possible escape from the trap in which he
was caught, except in the desperate valour of his warriors. He shouted
to them to increase their speed, and slightly swerving to his right,
directed his course straight towards Choo Hoo himself. Seeing his
design--to bear down the rebel emperor, or destroy him before the battle
could well begin--Kapchack shouted with joy, and hurried forward to be
the first to assail his rival.

Already the advancing hosts seemed to feel the shock of the combat, when
a shadow fell upon them, and they observed the eclipse of the sun. Till
that moment, absorbed in the terrible work they were about, neither the
rank and file nor the leaders had noticed the gradual progress of the
dark semicircle over the sun's disk. The ominous shadow fell upon them,
still more awful from its suddenness. A great horror seized the serried
hosts. The prodigy in the heavens struck the conscience of each
individual; with one consent they hesitated to engage in carnage with so
terrible a sign above them.

In the silence of the pause they heard the pheasants crow, and the fowls
fly up to roost; the lesser birds hastened to the thickets. A strange
dulness stole over their senses, they drooped, as it were; the
barbarians sank to the lower atmosphere; the rooks, likewise overcome
with this mysterious lassitude, ceased to keep their regular ranks, and
some even settled on the beeches.

Choo Hoo himself struggled in vain against the omen; his mighty mind
refused to succumb to an accident like this; but his host was not so
bold of thought. With desperate efforts he managed indeed to shake off
the physical torpor which endeavoured to master him; he shouted
"Koos-takke!" but for the first time there was no response. The
barbarians, superstitious as they were ignorant, fell back, and lost
that unity of purpose which is the soul of an army. The very
superstition and fanaticism which had been his strength was now Choo
Hoo's weakness. His host visibly melted before his eyes; the vast mass
dissolved; the ranks became mixed together, without order or cohesion.
Rage overpowered him; he stormed; he raved till his voice from the
strain became inaudible. The barbarians were cowed, and did not heed
him.

The rooks, less superstitious, because more civilised, could not,
nevertheless, view the appearance of the sun without dismay, but as
their elders were accustomed to watch the sky, and to deduce from its
aspect the proper time for nesting, they were not so over-mastered with
terror as the enemy; but they were equally subjected by the mysterious
desire of rest which seized upon them. They could not advance; they
could scarce float in the air; some, as already observed, sought the
branches of the beeches. Ah Kurroo, however, bearing up as well as he
could against this strange languor, flew to and fro along the disordered
ranks, begging them to stand firm, and at least close up if they could
not advance, assuring them that the shadow would shortly pass, and that
if they could only retain their ranks victory was certain, for the
barbarians were utterly demoralised.

The drowsy rooks mechanically obeyed his orders, they closed their ranks
as well as they could; they even feebly cheered him. But more than this
they could not do. Above them the sun was blotted out, all but a rim of
effulgent light, from which shone forth terrible and threatening flames.
Some whispered that they saw the stars. Suddenly while they gazed,
oppressed with awe, the woods rang with a loud cry, uttered by Kapchack.

The king, excited beyond measure, easily withstood the slumberous
heaviness which the rest could scarce sustain. He watched the efforts of
the Khan with increasing impatience and anger. Then seeing that although
the army closed up it did not move, he lost all control of himself. He
shouted his defiance of the rebels before him, and rushed alone--without
one single attendant--across the field towards Choo Hoo. In amazement at
his temerity, the rooks watched him as if paralysed for a moment. Choo
Hoo himself could scarce face such supernatural courage; when suddenly
the rooks, as if moved by one impulse, advanced. The clangour of their
wings resounded, a hoarse shout arose from their throats, they strained
every nerve to overtake and assist their king.

Kapchack, wild with desperate courage, was within twenty yards of Choo
Hoo, when the dense column of his own army passed him and crushed into
the demoralised multitude of the enemy, as a tree overthrown by the
wind crushes the bushes beneath it. Kapchack himself whirled round and
round, and borne he knew not whither, scarce recognised whom he struck,
but wreaked his vengeance till his sinews failed him, and he was forced
to hold from sheer weariness. It is not possible to describe the scene
that now took place. The whole plain, the woods, the fields, were hidden
with the hurrying mass of the fugitives, above and mixed with whom the
black and terrible legions dealt destruction.

Widening out as it fled, the host of Choo Hoo was soon scattered over
miles of country. None stayed to aid another; none even asked the other
the best route to a place of safety; all was haste and horror. The
pursuit, indeed, only ended with evening; for seven long hours the
victors sated their thirst for slaughter, and would hardly have stayed
even then had not the disjointed and weary fragments of Choo Hoo's army
found some refuge now in a forest.

Choo Hoo himself only escaped from the ruck by his extraordinary
personal strength; once free from the confused mass, his speed, in which
he surpassed all the barbarians, enabled him to easily avoid capture.
But as he flew his heart was dead within him, for there was no hope of
retrieving this overwhelming disaster.

Meantime King Kapchack, when compelled by sheer physical weariness to
fall out from the pursuit, came down and rested upon an oak. While he
sat there alone and felt his strength returning, the sun began to come
forth again from the shadow, and to light up the land with renewed
brilliance. His attendants, who had now discovered his whereabouts,
crowding round him with their congratulations, seized upon this
circumstance as a fortunate omen. The dark shadow, they said, was past;
like the sun, Kapchack had emerged to shine brighter than before. For
once, indeed, the voice of flattery could not over-estimate the
magnitude of this glorious victory.

It utterly destroyed the invading host, which for years had worked its
way slowly into the land. It destroyed the prestige of Choo Hoo; never
again would his race regard him as their invincible chief. It raised the
reputation of King Kapchack to the skies. It crushed all domestic
treason with one blow. If Kapchack was king before, now he was
absolutely autocratic.

Where now was Ki Ki, the vainglorious hawk who had deemed that without
his aid nothing could be accomplished? Where the villainous crow, the
sombre and dark designing Kauc, whose murderous poniard would be thrust
into his own breast with envy? Where the cunning weasel, whose intrigues
were swept away like spiders' webs? Where were they all? They were
utterly at Kapchack's mercy. Mercy indeed! at his _mercy_--their instant
execution was already certain. His body-guard, crowding about him,
already began the pæan.

He set out to return to his palace, flushed with a victory of which
history furnishes no parallel. It would have been well if he had
continued in this intention to at once return, summon his council, and
proclaim the traitors. Had he gone direct thither he must have met Eric,
the missel-thrush, who alone was permitted to frequent the orchard.
Eric, alarmed at seeing a stranger in the orchard, and at the
unprecedented circumstance of his ascending the ladder into the
apple-tree, had started away to find the king, and warn him that
something unusual was happening, and not to return till the coast was
clear. He had not yet heard of the battle, or rather double battle that
morning, nor did he know which way Kapchack had gone, but he considered
that most probably the woodpecker could tell him, and therefore flew
direct towards the copse to inquire.

If Kapchack had continued his flight straight to his palace he would
have passed over the copse, and the missel-thrush would have seen him
and delivered his message. But as he drew near home Kapchack saw the
clump of trees which belonged to Ki Ki not far distant upon his right.
The fell desire of vengeance seized upon him; he turned aside, intending
to kill Ki Ki with his own beak, but upon approaching nearer he saw that
the trees were vacant. Ki Ki, indeed, had had notice of the victory from
his retainers soaring in the air, and guessing that the king's first
step would be to destroy him, had instantly fled. Kapchack, seeing that
the hawk was not there, again pursued his return journey, but meantime
the missel-thrush had passed him.

The king was now within a few hundred yards of his fortress, the dome of
his palace was already visible, and the voices of his attendants rose
higher and higher in their strain of victory. The missel-thrush had seen
the woodpecker, who informed him that Kapchack had just passed, and like
the wind he rushed back to the orchard. But all the speed of his wings
was in vain, he could not quite overtake the monarch; he shouted, he
shrieked, but the song of triumph drowned his cries. Kapchack was close
to the wall of the orchard.

At the same time Bevis, not caring much about the locket or the letter,
or the old gentleman (whose history he had not yet heard), while his
papa spoke to, and aroused the old gentleman from his swoon, had slipped
back towards the orchard-gate where was an irresistible attraction. This
was the sportsman's double-barrelled gun, leant there against a tree. He
could scarce keep his hands off it; he walked round it; touched it;
looked about to see if any one was watching, and was just on the point
of taking hold of it, when the old gentleman rushed past, but seeing the
gun, stopped and seized it. Finding, however, that it was not loaded, he
threw it aside, and went on towards the house. In a minute he returned
with the long single-barrelled gun, with which, so many years before, he
had vowed to shoot his rival.

He had heard the magpie returning, and mad with anger--since it was the
magpie's theft which had thus destroyed the happiness of his life, for
all might have been well had he had the letter--he hastened for his
gun. As he came to the orchard-gate, Kapchack, with his followers behind
him, neared the wall. The avenger looked along his gun, pulled the
trigger, and the report echoed from the empty, hollow house. His aim was
uncertain in the agony of his mind, and even then Kapchack almost
escaped, but one single pellet, glancing from the bough of an
apple-tree, struck his head, and he fell with darkness in his eyes.

The old gentleman rushed to the spot, he beat the senseless body with
the butt of his gun till the stock snapped; then he jumped on it, and
stamped the dead bird into a shapeless remnant upon the ground. At this
spectacle Bevis, who, although he was always talking of shooting and
killing, could not bear to see anything really hurt, burst out into a
passion of tears, lamenting the magpie, and gathering up some of the
feathers. Nor could they pacify him till they found him a ripe and
golden King Pippin apple to eat.



CHAPTER XV.

PALACE SECRETS.


Next day Sir Bevis, so soon as ever he could get away after dinner, and
without waiting for the noontide heat to diminish, set out in all haste
for the copse, taking with him his cannon-stick. He was full of
curiosity to know what would happen now that Kapchack was dead, who
would now be king, and everything about it, all of which he knew he
should learn from the squirrel. He took his cannon-stick with him
heavily loaded, and the charge rammed home well, meaning to shoot the
weasel; if the wretch would not come out when called upon to receive the
due punishment of his crimes, he would bang it off into his hole in the
tree, and, perhaps, some of the shot would reach the skulking vagabond.

He went up the field, reached the great oak-tree, and crossed over to
the corner of the wheat-field, but neither the hare nor the dragon-fly
were waiting about to conduct him, as was their duty. He sat down on the
grass to see if they would come to him, but although two dragon-flies
passed over they did not stay to speak, but went on their journey.
Neither of them was his guide, but they both went towards the copse.
Immediately afterwards a humble-bee came along, droning and talking to
himself as he flew. "Where is the hare?" said Bevis; "and where is the
dragon-fly?" "Buzz," said the humble-bee, "the usual course on occasions
like the present--buzz--zz," the sound of his voice died away as he went
past without replying. Three swallows swept by next at a great pace,
chattering as they flew.

"Where's my dragon-fly?" said Bevis, but they were too busy to heed him.
Presently a dove flew over too high to speak to, and then a
missel-thrush, and soon afterwards ten rooks, after whom came a whole
bevy of starlings, and behind these a train of finches. Next a thrush
came along the low hedge, then two blackbirds, all so quick that Bevis
could not make them understand him. A crow too appeared, but catching
sight of Bevis's cannon-stick, he smelt the powder, wheeled round and
went by far to the left hand out of talking distance. Still more
starlings rushed overhead, and Bevis waved his hand to them, but it was
no use. Just afterwards he saw a thrush coming, so he jumped up, pointed
his cannon-stick, and said he would shoot if the thrush did not stop.
Much frightened, the thrush immediately perched on the hedge, and begged
Bevis not to kill him, for he remembered the fate of his relation who
was shot with the same cannon.

"Tell me where the hare is, and where is my dragon-fly," said Bevis;
"and why are all the people hurrying away towards the copse, and why
don't they stop and tell me, and what is all this about?"

"I do not know exactly where the hare is," said the
thrush, "but I suppose she is in the copse too, and I have no doubt at
all the dragon-fly is there, and I am going myself so soon as you will
let me."

"Why are you all going to the copse?" said Bevis. "Is it because
Kapchack is dead?"

"Yes," said the thrush, "it is because the king is dead, and there is
going to be an election, that is if there is time, or if it can be
managed; for it is expected that Choo Hoo will return now Kapchack is
overthrown."

"When did Choo Hoo go, then?" asked Bevis--for he had not yet heard of
the battle. So the thrush told him all about it, and how strange it was
that King Kapchack in the hour of victory should be slain by the very
man who for so many years had protected him. The thrush said that the
news had no doubt reached Choo Hoo very soon afterwards, and everybody
expected that the barbarians would gather together again, and come back
to take vengeance, and so, as they now had no king or leader, they were
all hastening to the copse to take sanctuary from Choo Hoo. The only
doubt was whether the emperor would respect the enclosure hitherto
regarded by all the civilised people as a place where they could meet
without danger. The barbarians knew nothing of these tacit agreements,
which make communication so easy and pleasant among educated people.
Still there was nothing else they could do.

"And what is going on in the copse?" said Bevis, "and who is to be
king?"

"I cannot tell you," said the thrush, "I was just going to see, and if
possible to vote against Ki Ki, who treacherously slew my friend and
relation the ambassador, whom the king sent to Choo Hoo."

"We will go together," said Bevis, "and you can tell me some more about
it as we go along. One thing is quite certain, the weasel will never be
king."

"Before I go with you," said the thrush, "you must please leave off
pointing that dreadful cannon-stick at me, else I shall not be able to
converse freely."

So Bevis left off pointing it, and carried his gun over his shoulder,
just as he had seen his papa carry his. The thrush flew slowly along
beside him, but he could not quite manage to keep at exactly the same
pace; his wings would carry him faster than Bevis walked, so he stopped
on the ground every now and then for Bevis to come up.

"I am sure," he said, "I hope the weasel will not be king, and there is
a rumour going about that he is disabled by some accident he has met
with. But I greatly fear myself that he will be, notwithstanding what
you say, for he is so cunning, and has so terrible a reputation that no
one can prevail against him."

"Pooh!" said Bevis, "don't tell me such stuff and rubbish; I say the
weasel shall not be king, for I am going to shoot him as dead as any
nail; after which Pan shall tear him into twenty pieces."

"But you tried to kill him once before, did you not?" said the thrush.

"You hold your tongue, this minute, you impudent thrush," said Bevis, in
a great rage; and he took his cannon-stick off his shoulder, and looked
so black that the thrush, alarmed for his safety, took advantage of a
hedge being near, and slipped through it in a second.

"I'm very glad you're gone," said Bevis, calling after him, "but I'll
shoot you next time I see you for leaving me without permission."

"And that will just serve him right," said a blackbird, as he hastened
by, "for the thrush is the greediest bird in the world, and is always
poaching about the places that belong to me."

Bevis was now very near the copse, and had not the least difficulty in
finding the little bridge over the ditch, but he stopped before he
crossed it, to listen to the noise there was inside among the trees.
Whenever he had come before in the afternoon it was always so quiet, but
now there was a perfect uproar of talking. Hundreds of starlings were
chattering in the fir-trees, and flying round the branches with
incessant motion. In the thick hedge which enclosed it there were crowds
of greenfinches, goldfinches, chaffinches, yellow-hammers, and sparrows,
who never ceased talking. Up in the elms there were a number of rooks,
who were deliberating in a solemn manner; it was indeed the rook council
who had met there to consider as the safest place, the very council that
Ah Kurroo so much disliked. Two or three dozen wood-pigeons cowered on
the lower branches of some ashes; they were the aliens who dwelt in
Kapchack's kingdom. Rabbits were rushing about in all directions;
dragon-flies darting up and down with messages; humble-bees droning at
every corner; the woodpecker yelled out his views in the midst of the
wood; everything was in confusion.

As Bevis walked into the copse along the green track, with the tall
thistles and the fern on each side of him, he caught little bits here
and there of what they were saying; it was always the same, who was
going to be king, and what would Choo Hoo do? How long would it be
before the emperor's army could be got together again to come sweeping
back and exact a dire vengeance for its defeat? Where was the weasel?
What was the last atrocity Ki Ki had committed? Had anybody heard
anything more of Kauc, the crow? Had Prince Tchack-tchack arrived? Had
the rooks made up their mind?--and so on, till Bevis shook his head and
held his hands to his ears, so tremendous was the din.

Just then he saw his own dragon-fly and beckoned to him; the dragon-fly
came at once. "What is all this?" began Bevis.

"My dear, how are you?" interrupted the dragon-fly. "I am so busy," and
off he went again.

"Well I never!" said Bevis, getting excited like the rest, when the hare
came across the path and stopped to speak to him. "What is going on?"
said Bevis.

"That is just what I want to know," said the hare. "Everybody says that
somebody is going to do something, but what it is they do not themselves
know. There never was such a confusion, and, for aught we know, Choo
Hoo may be here any minute, and there's not a single regiment in
position."

"Dear me!" said Bevis, "why ever don't they begin?"

"I cannot tell you," said the hare. "I don't think anybody knows how:
and the fact is, they are all thinking about who shall be king, and
intriguing for the sovereignty, when they should be thinking of their
country, and providing for its defence."

"And who is to be king?" said Bevis. "The weasel shall not, that is
certain; for I am just this very minute going to shoot into his hole!"

"It is no use to do that," said the hare; "though I am very glad to hear
you say that he shall not be king. But it is no use shooting into his
hole, for he is not there, nor anywhere in his old haunts, and we are
all very suspicious as to what he is about. I think you had better come
and see the squirrel; he is in the raspberries, and the jay is there
too, and there is an immense deal of talking going on."

"So I will," said Bevis; and he followed the hare to the raspberries
(all the fruit was now gone), and found the squirrel, who advanced to
welcome him, and the jay up in the oak. Being hot with walking in the
sun, Bevis sat down on the moss at the foot of the oak, and leaned back
against the tree whose beautiful boughs cast so pleasant a shadow. The
hare came close to him on one side, and the squirrel the other, and the
jay perched just overhead, and they all began to tell him the news at
once. Not able to understand what they meant while they were all
speaking together, Bevis held up his hands and begged them to stop a
minute, and then asked the squirrel to explain.

"So I will," said the squirrel, "though I ought to be hiding my stores
as fast as I can from the voracious host of barbarians, who will be here
in a minute. But what am I to do? for I cannot get anybody to help
me--everybody is thinking about himself."

"But the story--the story!" said Bevis; "tell me all about it."

"Well, since I can do nothing," said the squirrel, "I suppose I must,
though there is not a great deal to tell. You must know, then, that the
news of Kapchack's death got here in half-a-minute, for the
missel-thrush came with it, and from here it was all over the country in
less than an hour. Everybody knew it except Ah Kurroo Khan and the
victorious legions, and Choo Hoo and the flying enemy. These were so
busy, the one with slaughter, and the other with trying to escape, that
they could not listen to what the swifts at once flew to tell them, but
continued to fight and fly away till the evening, when the fragments of
Choo Hoo's army took refuge in the forest. Even then they would not
believe so extraordinary a circumstance, but regarded the account that
had reached them as one of the rumours which always fly about at such
times. Choo Hoo continued to go from tree to tree deeper and deeper into
the forest.

"Ah Kurroo Khan, calling off his legions, since nothing further could be
done, drew his victorious army back to some isolated clumps and
avenues, where they intended to make their camp for the night. But in
the course of an hour the rumours increased so much, and so many
messengers arrived with the same intelligence and additional
particulars, that Ah Kurroo Khan, dreading lest it should be true, sent
out a squadron to ascertain the facts.

"Long before it could return, an envoy arrived from the council of the
rooks themselves, with an order to Ah Kurroo Khan to retire at once,
notwithstanding the lateness of the evening, and that the sun was
sinking.

"With much disappointment (for he had hoped to continue the pursuit, and
entirely exterminate the barbarians on the morrow), and not without
forebodings as to his own fate, Ah Kurroo reluctantly communicated the
order to his troops. The wearied legions accordingly started on their
homeward journey, slowly passing over the fields which had witnessed the
conquest of the morning. The sun had already sunk when their van reached
the rooks' city, and Ah Kurroo came to the front to deliver the report
he had prepared upon his way. As he approached the trees where the
council of the rooks was sitting, in dark and ominous silence, an
official stopped him, and informed him that he had been dismissed from
the command, degraded from the rank he held, and the title of Khan taken
from him. He was to retire to a solitary tree at some distance, and
consider himself under arrest.

"Thus they punished him for daring to move without their orders (even at
the direct instance of the king), and thus was he rewarded for winning
the greatest battle known to history. The legions were immediately
disbanded, and each individual ordered to his home. Meantime, the news
had at last reached Choo Hoo, but neither he, nor the fugitive host,
could believe it, till there arrived some of the aliens who had dwelt
with us, and who assured the barbarians that it was correct. Directly
afterwards, the intelligence was confirmed by the retreat of Ah Kurroo
Khan.

"All that livelong night Choo Hoo, once more beginning to hope, flew to
and fro from tree to tree, endeavouring to animate his host afresh with
spirit for the fight; and as messengers continually came in with fresh
particulars of the confusion in Kapchack's kingdom, he began to succeed.
Early this morning, when the sun rose, the mystic syllables,
'Koos-takke,' resounded once more; the forest was alive, and echoed with
the clattering of their wings, as the army drew together and re-formed
its ranks. The barbarians, easily moved by omens, saw in the
extraordinary death of Kapchack the very hand of fate. Once more they
believed in their emperor; once more Choo Hoo advanced at their head.

"Not half-an-hour since a starling came in with the intelligence that
Choo Hoo's advanced guard had already reached his old camp. We suppose
the barbarians will halt there a little while for refreshment, and then
move down upon us in a mass. Would you believe it, instead of preparing
for defence, the whole state is rent with faction and intrigue! Yonder
the council of the rooks, wise as they are, are indeed deliberating,
having retired here for greater safety lest their discussion should be
suddenly interrupted by the enemy; but the subject of this discussion is
not how to defend the country, but what punishment they shall inflict
upon Ah Kurroo. There is a difference of opinion. Some hold that the
established penalty for his offence is to break his wings and hurl him
helpless from the top of the tallest elm. Some, more merciful, are for
banishment, that he be outlawed, and compelled to build his nest and
roost on an isolated tree, exposed to all the insults of the crows. The
older members of the council, great sticklers for tradition, maintain
that the ancient and only adequate punishment is the hanging up of the
offender by one leg to a dead and projecting branch, there to dangle and
die of starvation, a terror to all such evil-doers.

"While they thus talk of torture the enemy is in sight, and their own
army, it is more than whispered, is discontented and angry at the
reception meted out to the victorious Khan. But this, alas! is not all.

"So soon as ever Ki Ki was certain that Kapchack was really dead, he
returned, and he has gathered to himself a crew of the most terrible
ruffians you ever beheld. He has got about him all the scum of the
earth; all the blackguards, villains, vermin, cut-throat scoundrels have
rallied to his standard; as the old proverb says: 'Birds of a feather
flock together'. He has taken possession of the firs, yonder, on the
slope (which are the property of my friend the jay), and which command
my copse. He has proclaimed himself king, and seeks to obtain
confirmation of his title by terrorism. Already he has twice sent forth
his murderous banditti, who, scouring the fields, have committed fearful
havoc upon defenceless creatures. I am in dread every minute lest he
should descend upon the copse itself, for he respects no law of earth or
heaven.

"At the same time Kauc, the crow, has come forth in his true colours; he
too has proclaimed himself king. He has taken his stand in the trees by
the Long Pond--you came close by them just now--they are scarce a
quarter of a mile hence. To our astonishment, he has got at least thrice
as many retainers as he is entered to have in the roll which was read
before Kapchack. He had reckoned, it seems, upon the assistance of
Cloctaw, of St. Paul's, who has great influence among the jackdaws.
Cloctaw, however, avoided him and came hither, and Kauc vows he will
destroy him.

"I know not which is most formidable, the violent Ki Ki or the ruthless
Kauc. The latter, I feel sure, is only waiting till he sees an opening
to rush in and slaughter us. There is not a generous sentiment in his
breast; he would not spare the fledgling in the nest. Between these two,
one on either hand, we are indeed in a fearful predicament; Choo Hoo is
to be preferred to them.

"Whether Raoul, the rat, intends to strike a blow for the throne, I know
not; he is here; he bears an evil character, but for myself I like him
far better than Kauc or Ki Ki. The fox is, of course, out of the
question. But my great fear is the weasel; should he obtain the throne
which of us will be safe? By night as well as by day we shall be
decimated. His Machiavellian schemes, indeed, have thus far gone astray,
and although he could arrange for everything, he could not foresee his
own illness. Yet, though lying by now with a broken rib and other
injuries, I have not the least doubt he is weaving new webs and
preparing fresh deceptions. Thus, while the invader threatens us hourly,
the kingdom of Kapchack is torn to pieces with the dissensions of those
who should defend it."

"But why does not Prince Tchack-tchack take the throne and be king?"
said Bevis. "He is the heir; he is Kapchack's son."

"So he ought," said the squirrel; "but the truth is, people are weary of
the rule of the magpies; nor is this young and flighty prince capable of
taking up the reins of state. He is vain, and dissipated, and
uncertain--no one can depend upon him. And besides, even if they could,
have you not heard the extraordinary secret he has let out, like the
great lout he is, and of which everybody is talking?"

"No," said Bevis; "I have heard nothing--how should I? I have only just
got here. What is the secret? Tell me the secret this minute."

"To think," said the jay, "that we should have been so long deceived.
But I had my suspicions."

"I cannot say I suspected anything," said the hare; "but I remember Kauc
did make a very curious remark on one occasion; he was always looking
askew into things and places that did not concern him, so that I did
not much heed, especially as he had started slanders about me."

"Well," said the jay, "the truth is, my wife--she is, you know, the most
beautiful creature in the world, and quite turned the head of the late
monarch--told me that she all along had her ideas; and Kapchack himself
indeed told her in confidence that he was not so old as he looked, being
jealous of the youth of Tchack-tchack, who objected to having his eye
pecked out, and his feathers ruffled, as if he had any claims to be
handsome;" and the jay surveyed his own bright feathers with pride.

"You stupids!" said Bevis, "what is the use of talking in that way? I
want to know the secret."

"There is no secret," said the jay; "and I am not stupid. How can there
be a secret, when everybody knows it?"

"Hush! hush!" said the hare, trying to make peace; "do not let us
quarrel, at all events, if all the rest do."

"No," said the squirrel; "certainly not."

"Certainly not," repeated the jay.

"Well, what is it, then?" said Bevis, still frowning.

"The fact is," said the squirrel, "Tchack-tchack has babbled out the
great state secret. I myself knew a little of it previously, having
overheard the crow muttering to himself--as Ulu said, he peers into
things that do not concern him. And, if you remember, Bevis, I was in a
great fright one day when I nearly let it out myself. Now Prince
Tchack-tchack, finding that he could not get the crown, has babbled
everything in his rage, and the beautiful jay has told us many things
that prove it to be true. It now turns out that Kapchack was not
Kapchack at all."

"Not Kapchack!" said Bevis. "How could Kapchack not be Kapchack, when he
was Kapchack?"

"Kapchack could not be Kapchack," said the squirrel, "because he never
was Kapchack."

"Then who was Kapchack?" said Bevis, in amazement.

"Well, he was not who he was," said the squirrel; "and I will tell you
why it was that he was not, if you will listen, and not keep
interrupting, and asking questions. The reed once told you how stupid it
is to ask questions; you would understand everything very well, if you
did not trouble to make inquiries. The king who is just dead, and who
was called Kapchack, was not Kapchack, because the real old original
Kapchack died forty years ago."

"What?" said Bevis.

"Extraordinary!" said the jay.

"Extraordinary!" said the hare.

"But true," said the squirrel. "The real old original Kapchack, the
cleverest, cunningest, most consummate schemer who ever lived, who built
the palace in the orchard, and who played such fantastic freaks before
the loving couple, who won their hearts, and stole their locket and
separated them for ever (thinking that would serve his purpose best,
since if they married they would forget him, and have other things to
think about, while if they were apart he should be regarded as a sacred
souvenir), this marvellous genius, the founder of so illustrious a
family, whose dominion stretched from here to the sea--I tell you that
_this_ Kapchack, the real old original one, died forty years ago.

"But before he died, being so extremely cunning, he made provision for
the continuation of himself in this way. He reflected that he was very
old, and that a good deal of the dignity he enjoyed was due to that
fact. The owner of the orchard and warden of his fortress regarded him
with so much affection, because in his youth he had capered before the
young lady whom he loved. It was not possible for the old gentleman to
transfer this affection to a young and giddy magpie, who had not seen
any of these former things. Nor, looking outside the orchard wall, was
it probable that the extensive kingdom he himself enjoyed would pass
under the sway of a youthful prince in its entirety.

"Some of the nobles would be nearly certain to revolt: the empire he had
formed with so much labour, ingenuity, and risk, would fall to pieces,
the life of one ruler not being sufficiently long to consolidate it. The
old king, therefore, as he felt the years pressing heavy upon him, cast
about in his mind for some means of securing his dynasty.

"After long cogitation one day he called to him his son and heir, a very
handsome young fellow, much like the Tchack-tchack whom we know, and
motioning him to come close, as if about to whisper in his ear, suddenly
pecked out his left eye. The vain young prince suffered not only from
the physical pain, but the intense mortification of knowing that his
beauty was destroyed for ever. If he wanted even to look at himself in
the pond, before he could see his own reflection, he had to turn his
head upon one side. He bitterly upbraided his unnatural father for this
cruel deed: the queen joined in the reproaches, and the palace resounded
with rage and lamentation.

"Old King Kapchack the First bore all this disturbance with equanimity,
sustained by the conviction that he had acted for the welfare of the
royal house he had founded. After a time, when the young one-eyed prince
ceased to complain, and was only sullen, he seized an opportunity when
they were alone in the apple-tree, and explained to him the reason why
he had done it.

"'I,' said he, 'I have founded this house, and through me you are
regarded everywhere as of royal dignity; but if I were gone, the wicked
and traitorous world which surrounds the throne would certainly begin to
conspire against you on account of your youth; nor would the warden of
this orchard take any interest or defend you, as you were not the
witness of the caresses bestowed upon him by his young lady. If you look
at me, you will see that a wound, received in the wars which I waged
long since, extinguished my left eye. You will also see that my tail is
not, to say the least, either so glossy or so ample as of yore, and my
neck and temples are somewhat bare, partly because in those wars I
received divers swashing blows upon my head, and partly because of my
increasing age.'

"The prince looked at him, and remarked that he certainly was a draggled
old scarecrow. Not the least annoyed by this unfilial expression, the
old king proceeded to show his heir how, in order for him, first, to
retain the kingdom, and secondly, to keep the interest of the old
gentleman owner of the orchard, it was necessary for him to present the
same appearance as Kapchack himself did. 'In short,' said he, 'when I
die you must be ready to take my place, and to look exactly like me.'
The prince began to see the point, and even to admire the cunning of his
father, but still he could not forgive the loss of his eye.

"'Ah!' said Kapchack I., 'you see I was obliged to take you upon the
hop, otherwise it would never have been accomplished; no persuasion
could have induced you to submit to such a deprivation, and, now I am
about it, let me advise you, indeed, strictly enjoin upon you, when it
becomes your turn, and you, too, are old and failing, to do the same as
I did. Do not tell your son and heir what you are going to do, or depend
upon it he will slip aside and avoid you; but do it first. And now,
since you have already so far the same bleared aspect as myself, you
will feel no difficulty in submitting to certain curtailments behind,
and to the depilation of your head and neck.'

"Well, the result was, that the prince, full of ambition, and
determined to rule at any price, in the end submitted to these
disfigurations; the only thing he groaned over was the fear that none of
the young lady magpies would now have anything to say to him.

"'My dear and most dutiful son,' said the old king, greatly pleased at
the changed attitude of his heir, 'I assure you that you will not
experience any loss of attention upon that score. It is in early youth
indeed a very prevalent mistake for gaudy young fellows (as you appeared
the other day) to imagine that it is the gloss of their feathers, the
brilliance of their eyes, and the carriage of their manly forms that
obtains for them the smiles and favours of the fair. But, believe me,
this gratifying idea is not founded on fact; it is not the glossy
feather, or the manly form, my son, it is the wealth that you possess,
and even more than that, the social dignity and rank, which is already
yours, that has brought a circle of charming darlings around you.

"'It is certainly somewhat mortifying to feel that it is not ourselves
they care for, but merely the gratification of their own vanity. Of
course you must bury this profound secret in your own breast. But if you
ponder over what I have said you will soon see how you can use this
knowledge to your own advantage. And it will at least save you from the
folly of really falling in love, than which, my most dutiful son, there
is no disease so terrible, and so lasting in its effects, as witness
that drivelling fool who keeps this orchard for us, and surrounds our
palace as with an impregnable fortification. Believe me,
notwithstanding your now antique appearance--except at very close
quarters, and without close examination (I don't think you have quite as
many crow's-feet round your cyclopean eye as myself), it is not possible
to distinguish you from me--believe me, in spite of this, the circle of
charming darlings, reflecting that you are the heir to the greatest
crown in the universe, will discover that you are even more attractive
than before.'

"The prince in a day or two found that the old king was right, and
recovered much of his former spirit. As for the old king, having
provided for his dynasty, and feeling certain that his royal house would
now endure, he feasted and laughed, and cracked the oddest jokes you
ever heard. One afternoon, after spending the whole time in this way, he
recollected that he had not yet informed his heir of one important
secret, namely, the entrance to his treasure house.

"This was a chink, covered over with an excrescence of the bark, in the
aged apple-tree, at the juncture of a large bough (the very bough that
was lately cracked by the hurricane), and it was here that he had
accumulated the spoils of the many expeditions he had undertaken, the
loot of provinces and the valuable property he had appropriated nearer
home, including the diamond locket. So cunningly had he chosen his
treasure vault that not one of all his courtiers, not even his queens,
could ever discover it, though they were all filled with the most
intense desire and burning cupidity. The monarch thoroughly enjoyed the
jest, for all the time they were sitting right over it, and that was,
no doubt, why they could not see it, being under their feet. Well, the
old king recollected that afternoon that he had not communicated the
secret to his heir, and decided that the time had come when it was
necessary to do so. He therefore gave out that he felt sleepy after so
much feasting, and desired his friends to leave him alone for a while,
all except the missel-thrush (not the present, of course, but his
ancestor).

"Accordingly they all flew away to flirt in the copse, and so soon as
the court was clear the king told the missel-thrush to go and send his
son to him, as he had something of importance to communicate in private.
The missel-thrush did as he was bid, and in about half-an-hour the young
prince approached the palace. But when he came near he saw that the
king, overcome perhaps by too much feasting, had dozed off into slumber.
As it was a rule in the palace that the monarch must never be awakened,
the prince perched silently close by.

"Now, while he was thus sitting waiting for the king to wake up, as he
watched him it occurred to him that if any one came by--as the warden of
the orchard and--saw the two magpies up in the tree, he would wonder
which was which. Instead of one old Kapchack, lo! there would be two
antique Kapchacks.

"Thought the prince: 'The king is very clever, exceedingly clever, but
it seems to me that he has overreached himself. For certainly, if it is
discovered that there are two old ones about, inquiries will be made,
and a difficulty will arise, and it is not at all unlikely that one of
us will be shot. It seems to me that the old fellow has lived a little
too long, and that his wits are departing (here he gave a quiet hop
closer), and gone with his feathers, and it is about time I succeeded to
the throne. (Another hop closer.) In an empire like this, so recently
founded, the sceptre must be held in vigorous claws, and upon the whole,
as there is no one about----' He gave a most tremendous peck upon the
poor old king's head, and Kapchack fell to the ground, out of the tree,
stone dead upon the grass.

"The prince turned his head upon one side, and looked down upon him;
then he quietly hopped into his place, shut his eye, and dozed off to
sleep. By-and-by the courtiers ventured back by twos and threes, and
gathered on the tree, respectfully waiting till he should awake, and
nodding, and winking, and whispering to each other about the body in the
grass. Presently his royal highness woke up, yawned, complained that the
gout grew worse as he got older, and asked for the prince, who had been
sitting by him just now. Then looking round and seeing that all were a
little constrained in their manner, he glanced in the same direction
they did, and exclaimed that there was his poor son and heir lying in
the grass!

"With great lamentation he had the body laid out in state, and called in
the court physicians to examine how the prince (for so he persisted in
calling the dead monarch) came by his fate. Now, there was no
disguising the fact that the deceased had been most foully murdered,
for his skull was driven in by the force of the blow; but you see those
were dangerous times, and with a despotic king eyeing them all the
while, what could the physicians do? They discovered that there was a
small projecting branch which had been broken off half-way down the tree
and which had a sharp edge, or splinter, and that this splinter
precisely fitted the wound in the head. Without doubt the prince had
been seized with sudden illness, had fallen and struck his head against
the splinter. It was ordered that this bough should be at once removed.
Kapchack raised a great lamentation, as he had lost his son and heir,
and in that character the dead monarch was ceremoniously interred in the
royal vaults, which are in the drain the hunted hare took refuge in
under the orchard.

"And so complete was the resemblance the prince bore to his dead parent,
owing to the loss of his eye and the plucking of his feathers, that for
the most part the courtiers actually believed that it really was the
prince they had buried, and all the common people accepted it without
doubt. One or two who hinted at a suspicion when they were alone with
Kapchack the Second received promises of vast rewards to hold their
tongues; and no sooner had they left his presence than he had them
assassinated. Thus the dynasty was firmly consolidated, just as the dead
founder had desired, though in rather a different manner to what he
expected.

"But the new (or as he appeared the old) king had not been many days on
the throne when he remembered the immense treasure of which his parent
had been possessed. Sending every one away on one pretext and another,
he searched the palace from attic to basement, peeped into all the
drawers his father had used, turned over every document, sounded every
wall, bored holes in the wainscot, ripped up the bark, and covered
himself with dust in his furious endeavours to find it. But though he
did this twenty times, though he examined every hollow tree within ten
miles, and peered into everything, forcing even the owl's ancestor to
expose certain skeletons that were in his cupboard, yet could he never
find it.

"And all the while the greatest difficulty he encountered was to hold
his tongue; he did not dare let out that he was looking for the
treasure, because, of course, everybody thought that he was Kapchack,
the same who had put it away. He had to nip his tongue with his beak
till it bled to compel himself by sheer pain to abstain from reviling
his predecessor. But it was no good, the treasure could not be found. He
gave out that all this searching was to discover an ancient deed or
treaty by which he was entitled to a distant province. As the deed could
not be found (having never existed), he marched his army and took the
province by force. And, will you believe it, my friends, the fact is
that from that time to this (till the hurricane broke the bough the
other day) none of the King Kapchacks have had the least idea where
their treasure was. They have lived upon credit.

"Everybody knew there was a treasure, and as time went on and new
generations arose, it became magnified as the tale was handed down, till
only lately, as you know, the whole world considered that Kapchack
possessed wealth the like of which had never been seen. Thus it happened
that as each succeeding Kapchack got farther and farther away from the
reality and lost all trace of the secret, the fame of these riches
increased. But to return. In course of years this Kapchack also found
himself growing old, and it became his turn to prepare a son and heir
for the throne by pecking out his left eye, and denuding him of his tail
feathers. I need not go into further details; suffice it to say the
thing was managed, and although the old fellows well knew their danger
and took all sorts of precautions, the princes thus mutilated always
contrived to assassinate their parents, and thus that apple-tree has
been the theatre of the most awful series of tragedies the earth has
ever known.

"Down to the last King Kapchack, the thing was always managed
successfully, and he was the sixth who had kept up the deception. But
the number six seems in some way fatal to kings, the sixth always gets
into trouble, and Kapchack VI. proved very unfortunate. For in his time,
as you know, Choo Hoo arose, the kingdom was invaded, and quite half of
it taken from him. Whether he shrank from the risk attending the
initiation of Prince Tchack-tchack (his heir) I do not know, but for
some reason or other he put it off from time to time, till the prince in
fact grew rather too old himself, and too cunning, and getting about
with disreputable companions--that gross old villain Kauc, the crow,
for one--it is just possible that some inkling of the hereditary
mutilation in store for him was insinuated (for his own purposes) by
that vile wretch.

"Still, most likely, even if he had known of it he would have come in
time to submit (so powerful a motive is ambition) rather than lose the
crown, had not it happened that both he and Kapchack fell violently in
love with the beautiful young jay, La Schach. Very naturally and very
excusably, being so young and so beautiful, she was perhaps just a
little capricious. Jealous to the last degree, old King Kapchack told
her the secret, and that he really was not nearly so old as the world
believed him to be--he was the sixth of the race, and not the original
antiquity. No doubt the beauty laughed in her sleeve at him, and just
for fun told Tchack-tchack all about it, and that she would never marry
a one-eyed bird. Kapchack, full of jealousy, bethought him that it was
high time to destroy his heir's good looks, so he attempted to peck out
his left eye in accordance with the usage of the house.

"But Tchack-tchack, having now learnt the secret, vain of his beauty,
and determined to have the lovely jay at any cost, was alive to the
trick, and eluded his parent. This was the reason why Tchack-tchack
towards the last would never go near the palace. Thus it happened that
the hereditary practice was not resorted to, for poor old Kapchack VI.
fell, as you know, in the very hour of victory. Tchack-tchack, who has
both eyes, and the most glossy tail, and a form of the manliest beauty,
is now at this minute chattering all round the copse in a terrible rage,
and quite beside himself, because nobody will vote for him to be king,
especially since through the breaking of the bough the vaunted treasure
is at last revealed and found to consist of a diamond locket and one
silver spoon--a hollow business you see--so that he has no money, while
the beautiful jay has just been united to our friend here--and, goodness
me, here she comes in a flutter!"



CHAPTER XVI.

THE NEW KING.


Up came the lovely young bride, full of news, and told them that the
most extraordinary thing had just happened.

"Whatever is it, my love?" said her husband.

"Quick, whatever is it?" said the squirrel.

"I can't wait," said Bevis.

"Nor I," said the hare.

"Well," said the lovely creature--for whom an empire had been thrown
away--"while the rook council was deliberating about the punishment to
be awarded to Ah Kurroo, the legions, disgusted with the treatment they
had received after so wonderful a victory, have risen in revolt,
overthrown the government, driven the council away, taken the Khan from
the tree where he was a prisoner and proclaimed him dictator!"

"Extraordinary!" said the hare; "the rooks always would have it that
theirs was the most perfect form of government ever known."

"No such rebellion was ever heard of before," said the squirrel, "there
is nothing like it in history; I know, for I've often slipped into the
owl's muniment room (between you and me) on the sly, and taken a peep
at his ancient documents. It is most extraordinary!"

"I can't see it," said the jay; "I don't agree with you; I am not in the
least surprised. I always said they would never get on with so much
caw-cawing and talking every evening; I always said----"

"Gentlemen," shouted the woodpecker, rushing up breathless with haste,
"I am sent round to tell you from the dictator that you can now proceed
to the election of a king without fear of any kind, for he will keep the
enemy employed should they appear, and he will over-awe the two
pretenders, Ki Ki and Kauc. Let every one say what he thinks without
dread, and let there be no bribery and no intimidation. In the name of
Ah Kurroo Khan!" and away he flew through the copse to make the
proclamation.

Immediately afterwards the owl, blundering in the daylight, came past
and said that they had better come on to his house, for he had just had
a private interview with the Khan, and had orders to preside over this
business. So Bevis and the squirrel, the hare and the two jays proceeded
to the pollard-tree; there was no need for Bevis to hide now, because he
was recognised as a great friend of the squirrel's and the enemy of the
weasel. A noisy crowd had already collected, which was augmented every
minute, and there was a good deal of rough pushing and loud talking, not
unmingled with blows. They were all there (except the weasel), the
goldfinch, the tomtit, the chaffinch, the thrush, the blackbird, the
missel-thrush, all of them, jays, the alien pigeons, doves,
woodpeckers, the rat, the mouse, the stoat, and the fox.

As the crowd increased, so did the uproar, till the owl appeared at the
balcony of his mansion, and the woodpecker called for silence. The owl,
when he could get a hearing, said they were all to give their opinions
and say who they would have for their king. And that there might be less
confusion he would call upon the least of them in size and the youngest
in age to speak first, and so on upwards to the oldest and biggest.

"I'm the least," cried the wren, coming forward without a moment's
delay, "and I think that, after all I have seen of the ins and outs of
the world, I myself should make a very good king."

"Indeed you're not the smallest," said Te-te, the tomtit; "I am the
smallest, besides which you are a smuggler. Now I, on the contrary, have
already rendered great services to my country, and I am used to official
life."

"Yes, you spy," cried Tchink, the chaffinch; and all the assembly hissed
Te-te, till he was obliged to give way, as he could not make himself
heard.

"Why not have a queen?" said the goldfinch. "I should think you have had
enough of kings; now, why not have me for queen? I have the richest
dress of all."

"Nothing of the kind," said the yellow-hammer, "I wear cloth of gold
myself."

"As for that," said the woodpecker, "I myself have no little claim on
the score of colour."

"But you have no such azure as me," said the kingfisher.

"Such gaudy hues are in the worst possible taste," said the blackbird,
"and very vulgar. Now, if I were chosen----"

"Well," said the thrush, "well, I never heard anything equal to the
blackbird's assurance; he who has never held the slightest appointment.
Now, my relation was ambassador----"

"I think," said the dove, "I should be able, if I held the position, to
conciliate most parties, and make everything smooth."

"You're much too smooth for me," said Tchink. "It's my belief you're
hand-in-glove with Choo Hoo, for all your tender ways--dear me!"

"If experience," said Cloctaw, "if experience is of any value on a
throne, I think I myself----"

"Experience!" cried the jay, in high disdain, "what is he talking of?
Poor Cloctaw has gone past his prime; however, we must make allowance
for his infirmities. You want some one with a decided opinion like
myself, ladies and gentlemen!"

"If I might speak," began one of the alien wood-pigeons, but they
shouted him down.

"I don't mean to be left out of this business, I can tell you," said the
mole, suddenly thrusting his snout up through the ground; "I consider I
have been too much overlooked. But no election will be valid without my
vote. Now, I can tell you that there's not a fellow living who knows
more than I do."

"Since the throne is vacant," said the mouse, "why should not I be
nominated?"

"I do not like the way things have been managed," said the rat; "there
were too many fine feathers at the court of the late king. Fur must have
a turn now--if I am elected I shall make somebody who wears fur my prime
minister." This was a bold bid for the support of all the four-footed
creatures, and was not without its effect.

"I call that downright bribery," said the jay.

"Listen to me a minute," said Sec, the stoat; but as they were now all
talking together no one could address the assembly.

After a long time Bevis lost all patience, and held up his cannon-stick,
and threatened to shoot the next one who spoke, which caused a hush.

"There's one thing _I_ want to say," said Bevis, frowning, and looking
very severe, as he stamped his foot. "I have made up my mind on one
point. Whoever you have for king you shall not have the weasel, for I
will shoot him as dead as a nail the first time I see him."

"Hurrah!" cried everybody at once. "Hurrah for little Sir Bevis!"

"Now," said Bevis, "I see the owl wants to speak, and as he's the only
sensible one among you, just be quiet and hear what he's got to say."

At this the owl, immensely delighted, made Sir Bevis a profound bow, and
begged to observe that one thing seemed to have escaped the notice of
the ladies and gentlemen whom he saw around him. It was true they were
all of noble blood, and many of them could claim a descent through
countless generations. But they had overlooked the fact that, noble as
they were, there was among them one with still higher claims; one who
had royal blood in his veins, whose ancestors had been kings, and kings
of high renown. He alluded to the fox.

At this the fox, who had not hitherto spoken, and kept rather in the
background, modestly bent his head, and looked the other way.

"The fox," cried Tchink, "impossible--he's nobody."

"Certainly not," said Te-te, "a mere nonentity."

"Quite out of the question," said the goldfinch.

"Out of the running," said the hare.

"Absurd," said the jay; and they all raised a clamour, protesting that
even to mention the fox was to waste the public time.

"I am not so sure of that," muttered Cloctaw. "We might do worse; I
should not object." But his remark was unheeded by all save the fox,
whose quick ear caught it.

Again there was a great clamour and uproar, and not a word could be
heard, and again Bevis had to lift up his cannon-stick. Just then Ah
Kurroo Khan sent a starling to know if they had finished, because Choo
Hoo had quitted his camp, and his outposts were not a mile off.

"In that case," said the owl, "our best course will be to stop further
discussion, and to put the matter to the test of the vote at once.
('Hear, hear.') Do you then all stand off a good way, so that no one
shall be afraid to do as he chooses, and then come to me one at a time,
beginning with the wren (as she spoke first), and let each tell me who
he or she votes for, and the reason why, and then I will announce the
result."

So they all stood off a good way, except Sir Bevis, who came closer to
the pollard to hear what the voters said, and to see that all was done
fairly. When all was ready the owl beckoned to the wren, and the wren
flew up and whispered: "I vote for the fox because Te-te shall not have
the crown".

Next came Te-te, and he said: "I vote for the fox because the wren shall
not have it".

Then Tchink, who said he voted for the fox so that the goldfinch should
not have the throne.

The goldfinch voted for the fox that the yellow-hammer should not have
it, and the yellow-hammer because the goldfinch should not succeed. The
jay did the same because Tchack-tchack should not have it; the dove
because the pigeon should not have it; the blackbird to oust the thrush,
and the thrush to stop the blackbird; the sparrow to stop the starling,
and the starling to stop the sparrow; the woodpecker to stop the
kingfisher, and the kingfisher to stop the woodpecker; and so on all
through the list, all voting for the fox in succession, to checkmate
their friends' ambition, down to Cloctaw, who said he voted for the fox
because he knew he could not get the throne himself, and considered the
fox better than the others. Lastly, the owl, seeing that Reynard had got
the election (which indeed he had anticipated when he called attention
to the modest fox), also voted for him.

Then he called the fox forward, and was about to tell him that he was
duly elected, and would sit on a throne firmly fixed upon the wide base
of a universal plebiscite, when Eric, the missel-thrush (who had taken
no part in the proceedings, for he alone regretted Kapchack), cried out
that the fox ought to be asked to show some proof of ability before he
received the crown. This was so reasonable that every one endorsed it;
and the missel-thrush, seeing that he had made an impression, determined
to set the fox the hardest task he could think of, and said that as it
was the peculiar privilege of a monarch to protect his people, so the
fox, before he mounted the throne, ought to be called upon to devise
some effectual means of repelling the onslaught of Choo Hoo.

"Hear, hear!" shouted the assembly, and cried with one voice upon the
fox to get them out of the difficulty, and save them from the barbarian
horde.

The fox was in the deepest bewilderment, but he carefully concealed his
perplexity, and looked down upon the ground as if pondering profoundly,
whereas he really had not got the least idea what to do. There was
silence. Every one waited for the fox.

"Ahem!" said Cloctaw, as if clearing his throat.

The fox detected his meaning, and slyly glanced towards him, when
Cloctaw looked at Bevis and winked. Instantly the fox took the hint
(afterwards claiming the idea as entirely his own), and lifting his
head, said:--

"Ladies and gentlemen, you have indeed set me a most difficult task--so
difficult, that should I succeed in solving this problem, I hope shall
obtain your complete confidence. Gentlemen, we have amongst us at this
moment a visitor, and one whom we all delight to honour, the more
especially as we know him to be the determined foe of that mercenary
scoundrel the weasel, who, should I be so fortunate as to obtain the
crown, shall, I promise you, never set foot in my palace--I allude to
the friend of the squirrel and the hare--I allude to Sir Bevis. ('Hear,
hear! Hurrah for little Sir Bevis! Three cheers more!') I see that you
respond with enthusiasm to the sentiment I have expressed. Well, our
friend Sir Bevis can, I think, if we call upon him in a respectful and
proper manner, help us out of this difficulty.

"He carries in his hand an instrument in which the ignition of certain
chemical substances causes an alarming report, and projects a shower of
formidable missiles to a distance. This instrument, which I hear he
constructed himself, thereby displaying unparalleled ingenuity, he calls
his cannon-stick. Now if we could persuade him to become our ally, and
to bang off his cannon-stick when Choo Hoo comes, I think we should soon
see the enemy in full retreat, when the noble dictator, Ah Kurroo Khan,
could pursue, and add another to his already lengthy list of brilliant
achievements. I would therefore propose, with the utmost humility, that
Sir Bevis be asked to receive a deputation; and I would, with your
permission, nominate the hare, the squirrel, and Cloctaw as the three
persons best able to convey your wishes."

At this address there was a general buzz of admiration; people whispered
to each other that really the fox was extraordinarily clever, and well
worthy to ascend the throne--who would have thought that any one so
retiring could have suggested so original, and yet at the same time so
practical a course? The fox's idea was at once adopted. Bevis went back
with the jay to his seat on the moss under the oak, and there sat down
to receive the deputation.

Just as it was about to set out, the fox begged permission to say one
word more, which being readily granted, he asked if he might send a
message by the starling to Ah Kurroo Khan. The present, he said, seemed
a most favourable moment for destroying those dangerous pretenders, Ki
Ki and Kauc. Usually their brigand retainers were scattered all over the
country, miles and miles apart, and while thus separated it would
require an immense army--larger than the state in the present exhausted
condition of the treasury could afford to pay without fresh taxes--to
hunt the robbers down in their woods and fastnesses. But they were now
concentrated, and preparing no doubt for a raid upon the copse.

Now if Ah Kurroo Khan were asked to fall upon them immediately, he
could destroy them in the mass, and overthrow them without difficulty.
Might he send such a message to the Khan? The assembly applauded the
fox's foresight, and away flew the starling with the message. Ah Kurroo,
only too delighted to have the opportunity of overthrowing his old enemy
Kauc, and his hated rival Ki Ki, immediately gave the order to advance
to his legions.

Meantime the deputation, consisting of the hare, the squirrel, and
Cloctaw, waited upon Sir Bevis, who received them very courteously upon
his seat of moss under the oak. He replied that he would shoot off his
cannon-stick with the greatest pleasure, if they would show him in which
direction they expected Choo Hoo to come. So the hare, the squirrel, and
Cloctaw, with all the crowd following behind, took him to a gap in the
hedge round the copse on the western side, and pointed out to him the
way the enemy would come.

Indeed, Sir Bevis had hardly taken his stand and seen to the priming
than the van-guard of the barbarians appeared over the tops of the
trees. They were pushing on with all speed, for it seems that the
outposts had reported to the emperor that there was a division in the
copse, and that civil war had broken out, being deceived by the attack
delivered by Ah Kurroo upon the black pretender Kauc. Up then came the
mighty host in such vast and threatening numbers that the sun was
darkened as it had been on the day of the eclipse, and the crowd behind
Sir Bevis, overwhelmed with fear, could scarce stand their ground. But
Sir Bevis, not one whit daunted, dropped upon one knee, and levelling
his cannon-stick upon the other, applied his match. The fire and smoke
and sound of the report shook the confidence of the front ranks of the
enemy; they paused and wheeled to the right and left instead of
advancing.

In a minute Bevis had his cannon-stick charged again, and bang it went.
The second rank now turned and fell back and threw the host into
confusion; still the vast numbers behind pushed blindly on. Bevis, in a
state of excitement, now prepared for a grand effort. He filled his
cannon with powder nearly to the muzzle, he rammed it down tight, and
fearing lest it might kick and hurt him, he fixed his weapon on the
stump of an elm which had been thrown some winters since, and whose fall
had made the gap in the hedge. Then he cut a long, slender willow stick,
slit it at one end, and inserted his match in the cleft. He could thus
stand a long way back out of harm's way and ignite the priming. The
report that followed was so loud the very woods rang again, the birds
fluttered with fear, and even the fox, bold as he was, shrank back from
such a tremendous explosion.

Quite beside themselves with panic fear, the barbarian host turned and
fled in utter confusion, nor could Choo Hoo, with all his efforts, rally
them again, for having once suffered defeat in the battle of the
eclipse, they had lost confidence. Ah Kurroo Khan, just as he had driven
in the defenders and taken Kauc's camp (though Kauc himself, like the
coward he was, escaped before the conflict began), saw the confusion and
retreat of Choo Hoo's host, and without a moment's delay hurled his
legions once more on the retiring barbarians. The greater number fled in
every direction, each only trying to save himself; but the best of Choo
Hoo's troops took refuge in their old camp.

Ah Kurroo Khan surrounded and invested the camp, but he hesitated to
storm it, for he knew that it would entail heavy losses. He prepared to
blockade Choo Hoo with such strictness that he must eventually surrender
from sheer hunger. He despatched a starling with a message, describing
the course he had taken at once to the copse, and the starling, flying
with great speed, arrived there in a few minutes. Meanwhile the
assembly, delighted with the success which had attended Bevis's
cannonading, crowded round and overwhelmed him with their thanks. Then
when their excitement had somewhat abated, they remembered that the idea
had emanated from the fox, and it was resolved to proceed with his
coronation at once. Just then the starling arrived from the Khan.

"Ah! yes," said Eric, the missel-thrush, who wanted Tchack-tchack to
ascend the throne of his fathers, "it is true Choo Hoo is driven back
and his camp surrounded. But do you bear in mind that Tu Kiu is not in
it. He, they say, has gone into the west and has already collected a
larger host than even Choo Hoo commanded, who are coming up as fast as
they can to avenge the Battle of the Eclipse. You must also remember
that Sir Bevis cannot be always here with his cannon-stick; he is not
often here in the morning, and who can tell that some day while he is
away Tu Kiu may not appear and, while Choo Hoo makes a sortie and
engages Ah Kurroo's attention, come on here and ravage the whole place,
destroy all our stores, and leave us without a berry or an acorn! It
seems to me that the fox has only got us into a deeper trouble than
ever, for if Choo Hoo or Tu Kiu ever does come down upon us, they will
exact a still worse vengeance for the disgrace they have suffered. The
fox has only half succeeded; he must devise something more before he can
claim our perfect confidence."

"Hear, hear!" shouted the assembly, "the missel-thrush is right. The fox
must do something more!"

Now the fox hated the missel-thrush beyond all expression, for just as
he was, as it seemed, about to grasp the object of his ambition, the
missel-thrush always suggested some new difficulty and delayed his
triumph, but he suppressed his temper and said: "The missel-thrush is a
true patriot, and speaks with a view not to his own interest but to the
good of his country. I myself fully admit the truth of his observations;
Choo Hoo is indeed checked for a time, but there is no knowing how soon
we may hear the shout of 'Koos-takke' again. Therefore, gentlemen, I
would, with all humility, submit the following suggestion.

"There can be no doubt but that this invasion has gone on year after
year, because the kingdom of Kapchack had become somewhat unwieldy with
numerous annexations, and could not be adequately defended. This policy
of annexation which the late government carried on for so long, bore,
indeed, upon the surface the false glitter of glory. We heard of
provinces and principalities added to the realm, and we forgot the cost.
That policy has no doubt weakened the cohesive power of the kingdom: I
need not pause here to explain to an audience of the calibre I see
before me the difference between progress and expansion, between
colonisation and violent, uncalled-for, and unjust annexation.

"What I am now about to suggest will at once reduce taxation, fill our
impoverished treasury, secure peace, and I believe impart a lasting
stability to the state. It will enable us one and all to enjoy the
fruits of the earth. I humbly propose that a treaty be made with Choo
Hoo ('Oh! Oh!' from the missel-thrush and Tchack-tchack), that upon the
payment of an ample war indemnity--say a million nuts, two million
acorns, and five million berries, or some trifling figure like that, not
to be too exorbitant--he be permitted to withdraw ('Shame!' from
Tchack-tchack), and that the provinces torn by force and fraud by the
late government from their lawful owners be restored to them ('Which
means,' said the missel-thrush, 'that as the lawful owners are not
strong enough to protect themselves, Choo Hoo may plunder half the world
as he likes'), and that peace be proclaimed. I, for my part, would far
rather--if I be so fortunate as to be your king--I say I would far
rather rule over a contented and prosperous people than over an empire
in which the sword is never in the scabbard!"

"Hear, hear!" shouted the assembly. "We have certainly selected the
right person: this is truly wisdom. Let the treaty be concluded; and
what a feast we will have upon the war indemnity," they said to one
another.

"It is selling our honour--making a bargain and a market of our
ancestors' courage," said the missel-thrush.

"It is a vile infringement of my right," said Tchack-tchack; "I am
robbed of my inheritance, and the people of theirs, under a false
pretext and sham. The country will be ruined."

"Begone," shouted the crowd, "begone, you despicable wretches," and away
flew the missel-thrush and Tchack-tchack in utter disgust and despair.

So soon as they had gone the assembly proceeded to appoint a Commission
to negotiate the treaty of peace. It consisted of the woodpecker, the
thrush, and Cloctaw: the stoat muttered a good deal, for having been
almost the only adherent of the fox in his former lowly condition, he
expected profitable employment now his friend had obtained such dignity.
The fox, however, called him aside and whispered something which
satisfied him, and the Commission having received instructions proceeded
at once to Ah Kurroo, who was to furnish them with a flag of truce. A
company of starlings went with them to act as couriers and carry
intelligence. When the Commission reached Ah Kurroo, he declined to
open a truce with Choo Hoo, even for a moment, and presently, as the
Commission solemnly demanded obedience in the name of the fox, he
decided to go himself to the king-elect and explain the reasons--of a
purely military character--which led him to place this obstruction in
their way.

The fox received Ah Kurroo with demonstrations of the deepest respect,
congratulated him upon his achievements, and admired the disposition he
had made of his forces so as to completely blockade the enemy. Ah
Kurroo, much pleased with this reception, and the appreciation of his
services, pointed out that Choo Hoo was now so entirely in his power,
that in a few days he would have to surrender, as provisions were
failing him. Long ere Tu Kiu could return with the relieving column the
emperor would be a captive. Ah Kurroo begged the fox not to throw away
this glorious opportunity.

The king-elect, who had his own reasons for not desiring the Khan to
appear too victorious, listened attentively, but pointed out that it was
not so much himself, but the nation which demanded instant peace.

"Moreover," said he in a whisper to the Khan, "don't you see, my dear
general, that if you totally destroy Choo Hoo your occupation will be
gone; we shall not require an army or a general. Now as it is my
intention to appoint you commander-in-chief for life----"

"Say no more," said Ah Kurroo, "say no more;" then aloud: "Your royal
highness' commands shall be immediately obeyed;" and away he flew, and
gave the Commission the flag of truce.

Choo Hoo, confined in his camp with a murmuring and mutinous soldiery,
short of provisions, and expecting every moment to see the enemy pouring
into his midst, was beyond measure delighted when he heard that peace
was proposed, indeed he could scarcely believe that any one in his
senses could offer such a thing to an army which must inevitably
surrender in a few hours. But when he heard that the fox was the
king-elect, he began to comprehend, for there were not wanting
suspicions that it was the fox who, when Choo Hoo was only a nameless
adventurer, assisted him with advice.

The Commission, therefore, found their task easy enough so far as the
main point was concerned, that there should be peace, but when they came
to discuss the conditions it became a different matter. The fox, a born
diplomat, had instructed them to put forward the hardest conditions
first, and if they could not force these upon Choo Hoo to gradually
slacken them, little by little, till they overcame his reluctance. At
every step they sent couriers to the king-elect with precise information
of their progress.

The negotiations lasted a very long time, quite an hour, during which
the couriers flew incessantly to and fro, and Bevis, lying on his back
on the moss under the oak, tried which could screech the loudest,
himself or the jay. Bevis would easily have won had he been able to
resist the inclination to pull the jay's tail, which made the latter
set up such a yell that everybody started, Bevis shouted with laughter,
and even the fox lost his gravity.

Choo Hoo agreed to everything without much difficulty, except the
indemnity; he drew back at that, declaring it was too many millions, and
there was even some danger of the negotiations being broken off. But the
fox was equally firm, he insisted on it, and even added 10,000 bushels
of grain to the original demand, at which Choo Hoo nearly choked with
indignation. The object of the fox in requiring the grain was to secure
the faithful allegiance of all his lesser subjects, as the sparrows, and
indeed he regarded the indemnity as the most certain means of beginning
his reign at the height of popularity, since it would be distributed
among the nation. People could not, moreover, fail to remark the extreme
disinterestedness of the king, since of all these millions of berries,
acorns, nuts, grain, and so forth, there was not one single mouthful for
himself. Choo Hoo, as said before, full of indignation, abruptly turned
away from the Commission, and, at a loss what to do, they communicated
with the fox.

He ordered them to inform Choo Hoo that under certain restrictions
travellers would in future be permitted access to the spring in the
copse which did not freeze in winter. The besieged emperor somewhat
relaxed the austerity of his demeanour at this; another pourparler took
place, in the midst of which the fox told the Commission to mention (as
if casually) that among others there would be a clause restoring
independence to all those princes and archdukes whose domains the late
Kapchack had annexed. Choo Hoo could scarce maintain decorum when he
heard this; he could have shouted with delight, for he saw in a moment
that it was equivalent to ceding half Kapchack's kingdom, since these
small Powers would never be able to defend themselves against his hosts.

At the same moment, too, he was called aside, and informed that a
private messenger had arrived from the fox: it was the humble-bee, who
had slipped easily through the lines and conveyed a strong hint from the
king-elect. The fox said he had done the best he could for his brother,
the emperor, remembering their former acquaintance; now let the emperor
do his part, and between them they could rule the earth with ease. Choo
Hoo, having told the humble-bee that he quite understood, and that he
agreed to the fox's offer, dismissed him, and returned to the
Commission, whose labours were now coming to a close.

All the clauses having been agreed to, Ess, the owl, as the most
practised in such matters, was appointed by the fox to draw up the
document in proper form for signature. While this was being done, the
king-elect proceeded to appoint his Cabinet: Sec, the stoat, was
nominated treasurer; Ah Kurroo Khan, commander-in-chief for life; Ess,
the owl, continued chief secretary of state; Cloctaw was to be grand
chamberlain; Raoul, the rat, lieutenant-governor of the coast (along the
brook and Long Pond), and so on.

Next the weasel, having failed to present himself when summoned by the
woodpecker, was attainted as contumacious, and sentenced, with the
entire approval of the assembly, to lose all his dignities and estates;
his woods, parks, forests, and all his property were escheated to the
Crown, and were by the king handed over to his faithful follower Sec.
The weasel (whose whereabouts could not be discovered) was also
proclaimed an outlaw, whom any one might slay without fear of trial. It
was then announced that all others who absented themselves from the
court, and were not present when the treaty was signed, would be treated
as traitors, and receive the same punishment as the weasel.

Immediately he heard this, Yiwy, son and heir of Ki Ki, the hawk, who
had fled, came and paid homage to the fox, first to save the estates
from confiscation, and secondly that he might enjoy them in his father's
place. Ki Ki was accordingly declared an outlaw. Directly afterwards,
Kauc, the crow, crept in, much crestfallen, and craved pardon, hoping to
save his property. The assembly received him with hisses and hoots:
still the fox kept his word, and permitted him to retain his estates
upon payment of an indemnity for the cost of the troops employed against
him under Ah Kurroo, of 100,000 acorns. Kauc protested that he should be
ruined: but the crowd would not hear him, and he was obliged to submit.

Then Eric, the missel-thrush, and Prince Tchack-tchack flew up: the
prince had yielded to good advice, and resolved to smother his
resentment in order to enjoy the immense private domains of his late
parent. The protocols were now ready, and the fox had already taken the
document to sign, when there was a rush of wings, and in came six or
seven of those princes and archdukes--among them the archduke of the
peewits--to whom independence was to be restored. They loudly proclaimed
their loyalty, and begged not to be cast off: declaring that they were
quite unable to defend themselves, and should be mercilessly plundered
by the barbarian horde. The fox lifted his paw in amazement that there
should exist on the face of the earth any such poltroons as this, who
preferred to pay tribute and enjoy peace rather than endure the labour
of defending their own independence. The whole assembly cried shame upon
them, but the princes persisted, and filled the court with their
lamentations, till at a sign from the king they were hustled out of the
copse.

The treaty itself filled so many pages of parchment that no one
attempted to read it, the owl certifying that it was all correct: an
extract, however, divested of technical expressions, was handed about
the court, and was to the following effect:--


The Treaty of Windflower Copse.

1. The high contracting parties to this treaty are and shall be, on the
one side, King Reynard CI., and on the other side, Choo Hoo the emperor.

2. It is declared that Kapchack being dead honour is satisfied, and
further fighting superfluous.

3. Choo Hoo agrees to pay a war indemnity of one million nuts, two
million acorns, five million berries, and ten thousand bushels of grain,
in ten equal instalments, the first instalment the day of the full moon
next before Christmas, and the remainder at intervals of a fortnight.

4. The spring in the copse, which does not freeze in winter, is declared
free and open to all travellers, not exceeding fifty in number.

5. The copse itself is hereby declared a neutral zone, wherein all
councils, pourparlers, parliaments, commissions, markets, fairs,
meetings, courts of justice, and one and all and every such assembly for
public or private purposes, may be and shall be held, without let or
hindrance, saving only:--(_a_) Plots against His Majesty King Reynard
CI.; (_b_) plots against His Imperial Majesty Choo Hoo.

6. The unjust annexations of the late King Kapchack are hereby
repudiated, and all the provinces declared independent.

7. Lastly, peace is proclaimed for ever and a day, beginning to-morrow.

(Signed)
His Majesty King Reynard CI.
His Imperial Majesty the Emperor Choo Hoo.
B. (for Sir Bevis).
Sec, the stoat (Treasurer).
Ah Kurroo Khan (Commander-in-Chief).
Ess, the owl (Chief Secretary of State).
Cloctaw, the jackdaw (Grand Chamberlain).
Raoul, the rat (Lieutenant-Governor of the Coasts).
Phu, the starling.
Tchink, the chaffinch.
Te-te, the tomtit.
Ulu, the hare.
Eric, the missel-thrush.
Tchack-tchack, the magpie, etc., etc., etc.


Every one in fact signed it but the weasel, who was still lying sullenly
_perdu_. The B. was for Bevis; the fox, who excelled in the art of
paying delicate compliments, insisted upon Bevis signing next to the
high contracting parties. So taking the quill, Bevis printed a good big
B, a little staggering, but plain and legible. Directly this business
was concluded, Ah Kurroo withdrew his legions; Choo Hoo sallied forth
from the camp, and returning the way he had come, in about an hour was
met by his son Tu Kiu at the head of enormous reinforcements. Delighted
at the treaty, and the impunity they now enjoyed, the vast barbarian
horde, divided into foraging parties of from one hundred to a thousand,
spread over a tract of country thirty miles wide, rolled like a
devastating tidal wave in resistless course southwards, driving the
independent princes before them, plundering, ravaging, and destroying,
and leaving famine behind. Part of the plunder indeed, of the provinces
recently attached to Kapchack's kingdom, and now declared independent,
furnished the first instalment of the war indemnity the barbarians had
engaged to pay.

Meantime, in the copse, preparations were made for the coronation of
the king, who had assumed, in accordance with well-known precedents,
that all his ancestors, whether acknowledged or not, had reigned, and
called himself King Reynard the Hundred and First. The procession having
been formed, and all the ceremonies completed, Bevis banged off his
cannon-stick as a salute, and the fox, taking the crown, proceeded to
put it on his head, remarking as he did so that thus they might see how
when rogues fall out honest folk come by their own.



CHAPTER XVII.

SIR BEVIS AND THE WIND.


Some two or three days after peace was concluded, it happened that one
morning the waggon was going up on the hills to bring down a load of
straw, purchased from the very old gentleman who in his anger shot King
Kapchack. When Bevis saw the horses brought out of the stable, and
learnt that they were to travel along the road that led towards the
ships (though but three miles out of the sixty), nothing would do but he
must go with them. As his papa and the bailiff were on this particular
occasion to accompany the waggon, Bevis had his own way as usual.

The road passed not far from the copse, and Bevis heard the woodpecker
say something, but he was too busy touching up the horses with the
carter's long whip to pay any heed. If he had been permitted he would
have lashed them into a sharp trot. Every now and then Bevis turned
round to give the bailiff a sly flick with the whip; the bailiff sat at
the tail and dangled his legs over behind, so that his broad back was a
capital thing to hit. By-and-by, the carter left the highway and took
the waggon along a lane where the ruts were white with chalk, and which
wound round at the foot of the downs. Then after surmounting a steep
hill, where the lane had worn a deep hollow, they found a plain with
hills all round it, and here, close to the sward, was the straw-rick
from which they were to load.

Bevis insisted upon building the load, that is putting the straw in its
place when it was thrown up; but in three minutes he said he hated it,
it was so hot and scratchy, so out he jumped. Then he ran a little way
up the green sward of the hill, and lying down rolled over and over to
the bottom. Next he wandered along the low hedge dividing the stubble
from the sward, so low that he could jump over it, but as he could not
find anything he came back, and at last so teased and worried his papa
to let him go up to the top of the hill, that he consented, on Bevis
promising in the most solemn manner that he would not go one single inch
beyond the summit, where there was an ancient earthwork. Bevis promised,
and his eyes looked so clear and truthful, and his cheek so rosy and
innocent, and his lips so red and pouting, that no one could choose but
believe him.

Away he ran thirty yards up the hill at a burst, but it soon became so
steep he had to stay and climb slowly. Five minutes afterwards he began
to find it very hard work indeed, though it looked so easy from below,
and stopped to rest. He turned round and looked down; he could see over
the waggon and the straw-rick, over the ash-trees in the hedges, over
the plain (all yellow with stubble) across to the hills on the other
side, and there, through a gap in them, it seemed as if the land
suddenly ceased, or dropped down, and beyond was a dark blue expanse
which ended in the sky where the sky came down to touch it.

By his feet was a rounded boulder-stone, brown and smooth, a hard
sarsen; this he tried to move, but it was so heavy that he could but
just stir it. But the more difficult a thing was, or the more he was
resisted, the more determined Bevis always became. He would stamp and
shout with rage, rather than let a thing alone quietly. When he did this
sometimes Pan, the spaniel, would look at him in amazement, and wonder
why he did not leave it and go on and do something else, as the world
was so big, and there were very many easy things that could be done
without any trouble. That was not Bevis's idea, however, at all; he
never quitted a thing till he had done it. And so he tugged and strained
and struggled with the stone till he got it out of its bed and on the
sloping sward.

Then he pushed and heaved at it, till it began to roll, and giving it a
final thrust with his foot, away it went, at first rumbling and rolling
slowly, and then faster and with a thumping, till presently it bounded
and leaped ten yards at a time, and at the bottom of the hill sprang
over the hedge like a hunter, and did not stop till it had gone twenty
yards out into the stubble towards the straw-rick. Bevis laughed and
shouted, though a little disappointed that it had not smashed the
waggon, or at least jumped over it. Then, waving his hat, away he went
again, now picking up a flint to fling as far down as he could, now
kicking over a white round puff ball--always up, up, till he grew hot,
and his breath came in quick deep pants.

But still as determined as ever, he pushed on, and presently stood on
the summit, on the edge of the fosse. He looked down; the waggon seemed
under his feet; the plain, the hills beyond, the blue distant valley on
one side, on the other the ridge he had mounted stretched away, and
beyond it still more ridges, till he could see no further. He went into
the fosse, and there it seemed so pleasant that he sat down, and in a
minute lay extended at full length in his favourite position, looking up
at the sky. It was much more blue than he had ever seen it before, and
it seemed only just over his head; the grasshoppers called in the grass
at his side, and he could hear a lark sing, singing far away, but on a
level with him. First he thought he would talk to the grasshopper, or
call to one of the swallows, but he had now got over the effort of
climbing, and he could not sit still.

Up he jumped, ran up the rampart, and then down again into the fosse. He
liked the trench best, and ran along it in the hollow, picking up stray
flints and throwing them as far as he could. The trench wound round the
hill, and presently when he saw a low hawthorn-bush just outside the
broad green ditch, and scrambled up to it, the waggon was gone and the
plain, for he had reached the other side of the camp. There the top of
the hill was level and broad: a beautiful place for a walk.

Bevis went a little way out upon it, and the turf was so soft, and
seemed to push up his foot so, that he must go on, and when he had got a
little farther, he heard another grasshopper, and thought he would run
and catch him; but the grasshopper, who had heard of his tricks, stopped
singing, and hid in a bunch, so that Bevis could not see him.

Next he saw a little round hill--a curious little hill--not very much
higher than his own head, green with grass and smooth. This curious
little hill greatly pleased him; he would have liked to have had it
carried down into his garden at home; he ran up on the top of it, and
shouted at the sun, and danced round on the tumulus. A third grasshopper
called in the grass, and Bevis ran down after him, but he, too, was too
cunning; then a glossy ball of thistledown came up so silently, Bevis
did not see it till it touched him, and lingered a moment lovingly
against his shoulder. Before he could grasp it, it was gone.

A few steps farther and he found a track crossing the hill, waggon-ruts
in the turf, and ran along it a little way--only a little way, for he
did not care for anything straight. Next he saw a mushroom, and gathered
it, and while hunting about hither and thither for another, came upon
some boulder-stones, like the one he had hurled down the slope, but very
much larger, big enough to play hide-and-seek behind. He danced round
these--Bevis could not walk--and after he had danced round every one,
and peered under and climbed over one or two, he discovered that they
were put in a circle.

"Somebody's been at play here," thought Bevis, and looking round to see
who had been placing the stones in a ring, he saw a flock of rooks far
off in the air, even higher up than he was on the hill, wheeling about,
soaring round with outspread wings and cawing. They slipped past each
other in and out, tracing a maze, and rose up, drifting away slowly as
they rose; they were so happy, they danced in the sky. Bevis ran along
the hill in the same direction they were going, shouting and waving his
hand to them, and they cawed to him in return.

When he looked to see where he was he was now in the midst of long
mounds or heaps of flints that had been dug and stacked; he jumped on
them, and off again, picked up the best for throwing, and flung them as
far as he could. There was a fir-copse but a little distance farther, he
went to it, but the trees grew so close together he could not go
through, so he walked round it, and then the ground declined so gently
he did not notice he was going downhill. At the bottom there was a wood
of the strangest old twisted oaks he had ever seen; not the least like
the oak-trees by his house at home that he knew so well.

These were short, and so very knotty that even the trunks, thick as they
were, seemed all knots, and the limbs were gnarled, and shaggy with grey
lichen. He threw pieces of dead stick, which he found on the ground, up
at the acorns, but they were not yet ripe, so he wandered on among the
oaks, tapping every one he passed to see which was hollow, till
presently he had gone so far he could not see the hills for the boughs.

But just as he was thinking he would ask a bee to show him the way out
(for there was not a single bird in the wood), he came to a place where
the oaks were thinner, and the space between them was covered with
bramble-bushes. Some of the blackberries were ripe, and his lips were
soon stained with their juice. Passing on from bramble-thicket to
bramble-thicket, by-and-by he shouted, and danced, and clapped his hands
with joy, for there were some nuts on a hazel bough, and they were ripe
he was sure, for the side towards the sun was rosy. He knew that nuts do
not get brown first, but often turn red towards the south. Out came his
pocket-knife, and with seven tremendous slashes, for Bevis could not do
anything steadily, off came a branch with a crook. He crooked down the
bough and gathered the nuts, there were eight on that bough, and on the
next four, and on the next only two. But there was another stole beyond,
from which, in a minute, he had twenty more, and then as he could not
stay to crack them, he crammed them into his pocket and ceased to
reckon.

"I will take fifty up to the squirrel," he said to himself, "and the
nut-crackers, and show him how to do it properly with some salt." So he
tugged at the boughs, and dragged them down, and went on from stole to
stole till he had roamed into the depths of the nut-tree wood.

Then, as he stopped a second to step over a little streamlet that oozed
along at his feet, all at once he became aware how still it was. No
birds sang, and no jay called; no woodpecker chuckled; there was not
even a robin; nor had he seen a rabbit, or a squirrel, or a dragon-fly,
or any of his friends. Already the outer rim of some of the hazel leaves
was brown, while the centre of the leaf remained green, but there was
not even the rustle of a leaf as it fell. The larks were not here, nor
the swallows, nor the rooks; the streamlet at his feet went on without a
murmur; and the breeze did not come down into the hollow. Except for a
bee, whose buzz seemed quite loud as he flew by, there was not a moving
thing. Bevis was alone; he had never before been so utterly alone, and
he stopped humming the old tune the brook had taught him, to listen.

He lifted his crook and struck the water; it splashed, but in a second
it was still again. He flung a dead branch into a tree; it cracked as it
hit a bough, on which the leaves rustled; then it fell thump, and lay
still and quiet. He stamped on the ground, the grass gave no sound. He
shouted "Holloa!" but there was no echo. His voice seemed to slip away
from him, he could not shout so loud as he had been accustomed to. For a
minute he liked it; then he began to think it was not so pleasant; then
he wanted to get out, but he could not see the hill, so he did not know
which way to go.

So he stroked a knotted oak with his hand, smoothing it down, and said:
"Oak, oak, tell me which way to go!" and the oak tried to speak, but
there was no wind, and he could not, but he dropped just one leaf on
the right side, and Bevis picked it up, and as he did so, a nut-tree
bough brushed his cheek.

He kissed the bough, and said: "Nut-tree bough, nut-tree bough, tell me
the way to go!" The bough could not speak for the same reason that the
oak could not; but it bent down towards the streamlet. Bevis dropped on
one knee and lifted up a little water in the hollow of his hand, and
drank it, and asked which way to go.

The stream could not speak because there was no stone to splash against,
but it sparkled in the sunshine (as Bevis had pushed the bough aside),
and looked so pleasant that he followed it a little way, and then he
came to an open place with twisted old oaks, gnarled and knotted, where
a blue butterfly was playing.

"Show me the way out, you beautiful creature," said Bevis.

"So I will, Bevis dear," said the butterfly. "I have just come from your
waggon, and your papa and the bailiff have been calling to you, and I
think they will soon be coming back to look for you. Follow me, my
darling."

So Bevis followed the little blue butterfly, who danced along as
straight as it was possible for him to go, for he, like Bevis, did not
like too much straightness. Now the oak knew the butterfly was there,
and that was why he dropped his leaf; and so did the nut-tree bough, and
that was why he drooped and let the sun sparkle on the water, and the
stream smiled to make Bevis follow him to where the butterfly was
playing. Without pausing anywhere, but just zig-zagging on, the blue
butterfly floated before Bevis, who danced after him, the nuts falling
from his crammed pockets; knocking every oak as he went with his stick,
asking them if they knew anything, or had anything to tell the people in
the copse near his house. The oaks were bursting with things to tell
him, and messages to send, but they could not speak, as there was no
breeze in the hollow. He whipped the bramble bushes with his crook, but
they did not mind in the least, they were so glad to see him.

He whistled to the butterfly to stop a moment while he picked a
blackberry; the butterfly settled on a leaf. Then away they went again
together till they left the wood behind and began to go up the hill.
There the butterfly grew restless, and could scarce restrain his pace
for Bevis to keep up, as they were now in the sunshine. Bevis raced
after as fast as he could go uphill, but at the top the butterfly
thought he saw a friend of his, and telling Bevis that somebody would
come to him in a minute, away he flew. Bevis looked round, but it was
all strange and new to him; there were hills all round, but there was no
waggon, and no old trench or rampart; nothing but the blue sky and the
great sun, which did not seem far off.

While he wondered which way to go, the wind came along the ridge, and
taking him softly by the ear pushed him gently forward and said: "Bevis,
my love, I have been waiting for you ever so long; why did you not come
before?"

"Because you never asked me," said Bevis.

"Oh yes, I did; I asked you twenty times in the copse. I beckoned to you
out of the great oak, under which you went to sleep; and I whispered to
you from the fir-trees where the squirrel played, but you were so busy,
dear, so busy with Kapchack, and the war, and Choo Hoo, and the court,
and all the turmoil, that you did not hear me."

"You should have called louder," said Bevis.

"So I did," said the wind. "Don't you remember I whirled the little
bough against your window, and rattled the casement that night you saw
the owl go by?"

"I was so sleepy," said Bevis, "I did not know what you meant; you
should have kissed me."

"So I did," said the wind. "I kissed you a hundred times out in the
field, and stroked your hair, but you would not take any notice."

"I had so much to do," said Bevis; "there was the weasel and my
cannon-stick."

"But I wanted you very much," said the wind, "because I love you, and
longed for you to come and visit me."

"Well, now I am come," said Bevis. "But where do you live?"

"This is where I live, dear," said the wind. "I live upon the hill;
sometimes I go to the sea, and sometimes to the woods, and sometimes I
run through the valley, but I always come back here, and you may always
be sure of finding me here; and I want you to come and romp with me."

"I will come," said Bevis; "I like a romp, but are you very rough?"

"Oh no, dear; not with you."

"I am a great big boy," said Bevis; "I am eating my peck of salt very
fast: I shall soon get too big to romp with you. How old are you, you
jolly Wind?"

The wind laughed and said: "I am older than all the very old things. I
am as old as the brook."

"But the brook is very old," said Bevis. "He told me he was older than
the hills, so I do not think you are as old as he is."

"Yes I am," said the wind; "he was always my playfellow; we were
children together."

"If you are so very, very old," said Bevis, "it is no use your trying to
romp with me, because I am very strong; I can carry my papa's gun on my
shoulder, and I can run very fast; do you know the stupid old bailiff
can't catch me? I can go round the ricks ever so much quicker than he
can."

"I can run quick," said the wind.

"But not so quick as me," said Bevis; "now see if you can catch me."

Away he ran, and for a moment he left the wind behind; but the wind blew
a little faster, and overtook him, and they raced along together, like
two wild things, till Bevis began to pant. Then down he sat on the turf
and kicked up his heels and shouted, and the wind fanned his cheek and
cooled him, and kissed his lips and stroked his hair, and caressed him
and played with him, till up he jumped again and danced along, the wind
always pushing him gently.

"You are a jolly old Wind," said Bevis, "I like you very much; but you
must tell me a story, else we shall quarrel. I'm sure we shall."

"I will try," said the wind; "but I have forgotten all my stories,
because the people never come to listen to me now."

"Why don't they come?" said Bevis.

"They are too busy," said the wind, sighing; "they are so very, very
busy, just like you were with Kapchack and his treasure and the war, and
all the rest of the business; they have so much to do, they have quite
forsaken me."

"I will come to you," said Bevis; "do not be sorry. I will come and play
with you."

"Yes, do," said the wind; "and drink me, dear, as much as ever you can.
I shall make you strong. Now drink me."

Bevis stood still and drew in a long, long breath, drinking the wind
till his chest was full and his heart beat quicker. Then he jumped and
danced and shouted.

"There," said the wind, "see, how jolly I have made you. It was I who
made you dance and sing, and run along the hill just now. Come up here,
my darling Sir Bevis, and drink me as often as ever you can, and the
more you drink of me the happier you will be, and the longer you will
live. And people will look at you and say: 'How jolly he looks! Is he
not nice? I wish I was like him.' And presently they will say: 'Where
does he learn all these things?'

"For you must know, Bevis, my dear, that although I have forgotten my
stories, yet they are all still there in my mind, and by-and-by, if you
keep on drinking me I shall tell you all of them, and nobody will know
how you learn it all. For I know more than the brook, because, you see,
I travel about everywhere: and I know more than the trees; indeed, all
they know I taught them myself. The sun is always telling me everything,
and the stars whisper to me at night: the ocean roars at me: the earth
whispers to me: just you lie down, Bevis love, upon the ground and
listen."

So Bevis lay down on the grass, and heard the wind whispering in the
tufts and bunches, and the earth under him answered, and asked the wind
to stay and talk. But the wind said: "I have got Bevis to-day: come on,
Bevis," and Bevis stood up and walked along.

"Besides all these things," said the wind, "I can remember everything
that ever was. There never was anything that I cannot remember, and my
mind is so clear that if you will but come up here and drink me, you
will understand everything."

"Well then," said Bevis, "I will drink you--there, I have just had such
a lot of you: now tell me this instant why the sun is up there, and is
he very hot if you touch him, and which way does he go when he sinks
beyond the wood, and who lives up there, and are they nice people, and
who painted the sky?"

The wind laughed aloud, and said: "Bevis, my darling, you have not drunk
half enough of me yet, else you would never ask such silly questions as
that. Why, those are like the silly questions the people ask who live in
the houses of the cities, and never feel me or taste me, or speak to me.
And I have seen them looking through long tubes----"

"I know," said Bevis; "they are telescopes, and you look at the sun and
the stars, and they tell you all about them."

"Pooh!" said the wind, "don't you believe such stuff and rubbish, my
pet. How can they know anything about the sun who are never out in the
sunshine, and never come up on the hills, or go into the wood? How can
they know anything about the stars who never stopped on the hills, or on
the sea all night? How can they know anything of such things who are
shut up in houses, dear, where I cannot come in?

"Bevis, my love, if you want to know all about the sun, and the stars,
and everything, make haste and come to me, and I will tell you, dear. In
the morning, dear, get up as quick as you can, and drink me as I come
down from the hill. In the day go up on the hill, dear, and drink me
again, and stay there if you can till the stars shine out, and drink
still more of me.

"And by-and-by you will understand all about the sun, and the moon, and
the stars, and the earth which is so beautiful, Bevis. It is so
beautiful, you can hardly believe how beautiful it is. Do not listen,
dear, not for one moment, to the stuff and rubbish they tell you down
there in the houses where they will not let me come. If they say the
earth is not beautiful, tell them they do not speak the truth. But it is
not their fault, for they have never seen it, and as they have never
drank me their eyes are closed, and their ears shut up tight. But every
evening, dear, before you get into bed, do you go to your window--the
same as you did the evening the owl went by--and lift the curtain and
look up at the sky, and I shall be somewhere about, or else I shall be
quiet in order that there may be no clouds, so that you may see the
stars. In the morning, as I said before, rush out and drink me up.

"The more you drink of me, the more you will want, and the more I shall
love you. Come up to me upon the hills, and your heart will never be
heavy, but your eyes will be bright, and your step quick, and you will
sing and shout----"

"So I will," said Bevis, "I will shout. Holloa!" and he ran up on to the
top of the little round hill, to which they had now returned, and danced
about on it as wild as could be.

"Dance away, dear," said the wind, much delighted. "Everybody dances who
drinks me. The man in the hill there----"

"What man?" said Bevis, "and how did he get in the hill? just tell him I
want to speak to him."

"Darling," said the wind, very quiet and softly, "he is dead, and he is
in the little hill you are standing on, under your feet. At least, he
was there once, but there is nothing of him there now. Still it is his
place, and as he loved me, and I loved him, I come very often and sing
here."

"When did he die?" said Bevis. "Did I ever see him?"

"He died about a minute ago, dear; just before you came up the hill. If
you were to ask the people who live in the houses, where they will not
let me in (they carefully shut out the sun too), they would tell you he
died thousands of years ago; but they are foolish, very foolish. It was
hardly so long ago as yesterday. Did not the brook tell you all about
that?

"Now this man, and all his people, used to love me and drink me, as much
as ever they could all day long and a great part of the night, and when
they died they still wanted to be with me, and so they were all buried
on the tops of the hills, and you will find these curious little mounds
everywhere on the ridges, dear, where I blow along. There I come to them
still, and sing through the long dry grass, and rush over the turf, and
I bring the scent of the clover from the plain, and the bees come
humming along upon me. The sun comes too, and the rain. But I am here
most; the sun only shines by day, and the rain only comes now and then.

"But I am always here, day and night, winter and summer. Drink me as
much as you will, you cannot drink me away; there is always just as much
of me left. As I told you, the people who were buried in these little
mounds used to drink me, and oh! how they raced along the turf, dear;
there is nobody can run so fast now; and they leaped and danced, and
sang and shouted. I loved them as I love you, my darling; there, sit
down and rest on the thyme, dear, and I will stroke your hair and sing
to you."

So Bevis sat down on the thyme, and the wind began to sing, so low and
sweet and so strange an old song, that he closed his eyes and leaned on
his arm on the turf. There were no words to the song, but Bevis
understood it all, and it made him feel so happy. The great sun smiled
upon him, the great earth bore him in her arms gently, the wind caressed
him, singing all the while. Now Bevis knew what the wind meant; he felt
with his soul out to the far-distant sun just as easily as he could feel
with his hand to the bunch of grass beside him; he felt with his soul
down through into the earth just as easily as he could touch the sward
with his fingers. Something seemed to come to him out of the sunshine
and the grass.

"There never was a yesterday," whispered the wind presently, "and there
never will be to-morrow. It is all one long to-day. When the man in the
hill was you were too, and he still is now you are here; but of these
things you will know when you are older, that is if you will only
continue to drink me. Come, dear, let us race on again." So the two went
on and came to a hawthorn-bush, and Bevis, full of mischief always,
tried to slip away from the wind round the bush, but the wind laughed
and caught him.

A little farther and they came to the fosse of the old camp. Bevis went
down into the trench, and he and the wind raced round along it as fast
as ever they could go, till presently he ran up out of it on the hill,
and there was the waggon underneath him, with the load well piled up
now. There was the plain, yellow with stubble; the hills beyond it and
the blue valley, just the same as he had left it.

As Bevis stood and looked down, the wind caressed him, and said:
"Good-bye, darling, I am going yonder, straight across to the blue
valley and the blue sky, where they meet; but I shall be back again when
you come next time. Now remember, my dear, to drink me--come up here and
drink me."

"Shall you be here?" said Bevis, "are you quite sure you will be here?"

"Yes," said the wind, "I shall be quite certain to be here; I promise
you, love, I will never go quite away. Promise me faithfully, too, that
you will come up and drink me, and shout and race and be happy."

"I promise," said Bevis, beginning to go down the hill; "good-bye, jolly
old Wind."

"Good-bye, dearest," whispered the wind, as he went across out towards
the valley. As Bevis went down the hill, a blue harebell, who had been
singing farewell to summer all the morning, called to him and asked him
to gather her and carry her home as she would rather go with him than
stay now autumn was near.

Bevis gathered the harebell, and ran with the flower in his hand down
the hill, and as he ran the wild thyme kissed his feet and said: "Come
again, Bevis, come again". At the bottom of the hill the waggon was
loaded now; so they lifted him up, and he rode home on the broad back of
the leader.





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