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Title: River Legends; Or, Father Thames and Father Rhine
Author: Brabourne, Edward Hugessen Knatchbull-Hugessen, Baron
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 "River Legends; Or, Father Thames and Father Rhine" ***

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RIVER LEGENDS

OR FATHER THAMES AND FATHER RHINE

By E. H. Knatchbull-Hugessen

With Illustrations By Gustave Doré

1875



LIST OF ENGRAVINGS.


FULL-PAGE ILLUSTRATIONS.

     Hans and his Prisoner................Frontispiece

     The Baron’s Oath.....To face page.............107

     The Father of all Giants......................140

     Powle’s Advance on the Castle.................242


TEXT ILLUSTRATIONS.

     Father Thames and Father Rhine................003

     The Messenger.................................005

     Father Thames after his Ale...................006

     The Boar......................................008

     The Boar’s Family.............................010

     The Infant Smith..............................013

     The Sacrifice of Smith’s Father...............015

     Smith in Toad-land............................018

     The Snakes....................................022

     Bertha the Druidess...........................027

     The Road into the Forest......................035

     The Last of the Boar..........................046

     The Baroness and her back hair................056

     Father Rhine and his Elves....................059

     The River-Demon Thief.........................064

     The Greedy Child..............................067

     The Devilet...................................072

     Martha rousing the Peasants...................078

     Father Rhine and the three Baronesses.........081

     The Swan-sisters..............................084

     Crazy Timothy.................................092

     The Old Harper................................097

     She keeps the Pigs............................115

     She watches the Battle........................132

     Giants Mountain-building......................143

     Bramble-buffer Storm-making...................148

     He uproots the Tree...........................153

     Hans sent aloft...............................163

     Hans in the Giant’s Mouth.....................166

     The Mouth Fortified...........................167

     The Giant weeps...............................170

     The Giant’s Release...........................173

     The Castle....................................181

     Mannikins at Play.............................187

     Goody Tickleback’s Steed......................188

     Flight of the Witches.........................202

     The Sea-serpent...............................225

     Father Rhine’s Retreat........................252


{001}



RIVER LEGENDS

OR

FATHER THAMES AND FATHER RHINE

I HAD been down to spend a summer’s day at Eton. Dear old Eton! There is
no place where a summer’s day can be more happily spent, especially by
those to whom the spot is hallowed by the memory of boyish days. The
“playing-fields” are delightful, in spite of the passage through the
same being a service of danger when cricket-balls whiz recklessly past
your ear, and a courteous “thank you!” invites your hand to restore to
its owner the engine which has nearly broken your head. “Poet’s Walk”
 is charming, although its memories may not be entirely pleasant if you
chance in your boyhood to have been “fag” to some “sixth-form”
 master whose tea you had to carry out to that pleasant resort. The
“school-yard” also is not without its recommendations, though when one
has attained the mature age of forty-five one feels rather as if one had
no business there, standing among a crowd of fellows of a younger and
happier age, the only idler among the number.

On {002}the particular day of which I speak, I had rambled about
with those boys I knew, gathered as much pleasure as I could from
the memories which clung around the precincts of the old college, and
afterwards strolled out along the banks of the river in the direction of
Surly. The weather being rather hot, although evening was approaching,
I thought it well to halt in the immediate neighbourhood of Surly Hall,
and having seated myself in the shadiest place I could find, began to
think over the various “Fourths of June” and “Election Saturdays” which
I had witnessed in that famous locality, until I not unnaturally fell
fast asleep. I do not know how long I remained in this comfortable
state, but I was suddenly aroused by the sound of voices, and
immediately opened my eyes and looked around to discover the quarter
from which they proceeded. It was not long before I was enlightened upon
this point.

Nearly opposite the spot upon which I had seated myself was a little
island in the very middle of the river, dividing the water which flowed
on each side of it and left it high and dry. This island was of no great
size, and, I should imagine, of no great value either, being covered
with reeds and willows, and apparently fit for nothing except to afford
shelter to moor-hens and water-rats, which creatures probably found
it an exceedingly convenient habitation. Upon the present occasion,
however, beings of a different nature altogether appeared to have taken
possession of the island. At a plain deal table were seated two ancient
individuals of kingly and majestic mien. He who sat at the end of the
table wore a white beard of mighty size, which streamed downward to his
waist; whilst his companion, who {003}sat at his right hand, and was of
a dark and swarthy complexion, boasted but little beard, but made up
for the deficiency by the size and length of the black appendages which
adorned his upper lip. Each of these two kings (for such the crowns upon
their heads betokened them to be, and the regal dignity of their general
appearance gave further proof of their condition) grasped in his hand a
tumbler which was apparently full of liquor more potent than the water
which flowed around them, whilst a huge pewter pot (which constituted
the only other furniture of their table) bore witness to the quarter
from whence their potations had been supplied.

[Illustration: 016]

As I regarded these two strange beings with an astonishment not
altogether unmixed with reverential awe (for I saw at once that they
were more than ordinary mortals), he at the end of the table broke
silence, and striking his fist upon the board in an emphatic manner,
thus addressed his companion: “Brother Rhine!” {004}said he, “welcome to
old England. Thames gives thee hearty welcome.” The other gravely bowed
his head in acknowledgment of this cordial speech, but uttered no word
in reply, and methought I perceived upon his royal countenance some
signs such as appear upon the face of a passenger between Dover and
Calais whom the ocean has rudely shaken. Father Thames (for as such I
instinctively recognised the first speaker) appeared to make a somewhat
similar observation, for he forthwith addressed his friend a second time
in these words: “What aileth thee, Brother Rhine? Lovest thou not this
change of climate, or dost thou fear that thy waters will overflow or
thy tributary streams rebel during thy brief absence?”

He who was thus accosted smiled grimly, and stroked his dark moustache
as he made answer: “Neither the one nor the other, Brother Thames. It
is but thine English ale which is somewhat more potent than my native
drink. But, craving thy pardon, the matter will soon be set right. A
trusty messenger should by this time be arriving with a supply of mine
own Rhine wine, and I would fain have thee try the vintage.”

The countenance of Father Thames visibly darkened. “I forsake not mine
ale,” said he gloomily. “It gladdens the heart and strengthens the frame
more than the juice of grape.”

“And yet,” replied the other, “there are merry hearts, strong frames,
and brave spirits in plenty upon my banks; and thus it has ever been, as
many an old legend can well bear witness.”

“Doubtless,” responded Father Thames, though still somewhat moodily.
“But yet for legends and stories of {005}the olden time my river lacketh
not a good supply, nor are British hearts less merry or British spirits
less brave than those of whom thou makest thy boast.”

[Illustration: 018]

“I doubt it not, I doubt it not,” rejoined the monarch of the Rhine.
“But see, here comes my messenger!” As he spoke, I looked up and beheld
an enormous eagle, carrying a huge silver flagon in his beak and another
in each of his claws, and hovering immediately over the heads of the two
kings. Presently he alighted, deposited his precious burdens upon the
table directly in front of the Rhine king, and obediently waited for
orders {006}behind his master. The latter lost no time in hesitation
over his course of procedure. Taking up the vessel from which he had
recently drank, he dipped it several times in the running water at his
feet until all traces of the ale had disappeared, then, filling it
full with sparkling wine from one of the flagons before him, he looked
steadily at his companion, gravely inclined his head towards him, and
then tossed off his liquor with an air of supreme satisfaction, and
replaced his tumbler upon the table.

[Illustration: 019]

Father Thames meanwhile had not been idle. Whilst his brother king
was thus engaged, he had drawn the pewter pot nearer to himself and
replenished his tumbler with foaming ale. “Your health, Brother Rhine,”
 he shouted in a stentorian voice, and winking one eye in a peculiar but
not unpleasant manner, he drained his glass to the dregs. A change at
once appeared to come over his countenance--it positively sparkled with
fun; a species of light appeared to play around his head as if the rays
of the sun had come to give a parting radiance to his crown before they
retired for the night. His whole face beamed with internal and intense
satisfaction, and once more striking his hand on the table, he spoke
thus: “Brother Rhine, we have each his own liquor and each his own
river. Let {007}each enjoy his own! Live and let live. But whilst we sit
here so happily, let us while away the time by recounting some of the
legends for which our banks are so famous, and of which we each have a
good store.”

“Agreed!” cried he of the Rhine; “and as thou hast proposed the pastime,
Brother Thames, do thou begin.” Thus adjured, Father Thames, having
previously filled and emptied his tumbler once more, cleared his throat
and commenced the history of--



THE GREAT BOAR OF WINDSOR FOREST

I need scarcely tell you that England was not always what it is to-day,
and that the advance of time has wrought very considerable changes in
the scenery of the country through which the waters of the Thames hold
their course. The river which bears my name now washes fertile shores
which were once barren plains, and pleasant towns and smiling meadows
have replaced wild thickets and dense forests. I suppose there never
was a more delightful forest than that of which Windsor can boast. When
mortals speak of Windsor Forest, they generally associate therewith the
name of Herne the Hunter, who was quite a character in his way, had an
oak of his own, and has had more than one very readable story written
about him. But Herne the Hunter is quite a modern hero compared with
those of whom I am about to tell you. I speak of old, very old days,
and if I do not give you the exact date when the events occurred which I
shall presently relate, it is only because I haven’t the least idea
what that {008}date may have been. But, be it what you will, it is an
undoubted fact that long, long ago there was a forest which stretched
down to the very edge of my river near to this particular spot, and this
forest was the abode of many strange and incomprehensible beings.

[Illustration: 021]

Perhaps the most curious and most disagreeable of these in the days
I speak of was a personage familiarly termed the Wild {009}Boar of
Windsor. This creature was of enormous size and strength, and was
generally acknowledged as the king of his tribe.

Wild boars were at that time numerous in England, and I believe, if the
truth were known, that fairies and Fairyland power had much to do with
their existence. That power has passed away now, or at least has so
greatly diminished that, although there are plenty of persons left who
may be correctly described by a word which sounds exactly like the name
of the animal in question, yet the fairies have nothing to do with
this. Magic power no longer converts the objects of its wrath into brute
beasts or hideous monsters, as was frequently the case in the good old
times of which I speak. Whether the Wild Boar in question was the victim
of some such vengeance, or whether he had always been what he appeared
in those days, it is not necessary to inquire. Anyhow, he was certainly
more than mortal. He had apparently the gift of prophecy, for his grunts
were often repeated by his subservient followers as having foretold
subsequent events with singular accuracy, and he was not unfrequently
sought out by persons who desired to be acquainted beforehand with
future events, which has in all ages been a foolish weakness to which
human nature has been subject.

This Boar had a numerous family, who were daily fed out of silver
dishes, sitting all in a row and eating with as much decorum as could be
expected. It is not, however, of his family or domestic life that I am
about to tell you to-day, but of the extraordinary events which occurred
in connection with the efforts made by mankind to rid themselves of this
exceedingly troublesome creature. {010}For although, as I have already
said, the ignorant peasants of the neighbourhood held the Boar in great
reverence, and used to creep timidly into the forest in search of the
knowledge which he was said to possess, and which _they_ certainly
lacked, there were others who regarded the kingly Boar as an unmitigated
nuisance. This was scarcely wonderful, since he and his tribe had the
most unpleasant habit of issuing forth from the forest, and devastating
the country far and wide, making everybody as uncomfortable as possible.

[Illustration: 023]

Ever since I have known this country, which is now a good many years
ago, the people who inhabit it have liked to be as comfortable as they
could be, especially when living quietly in their own homes, intrusion
into which they have always greatly resented. “An Englishman’s house is
his castle” is a very old proverb amongst them, and they have a strong
attachment to the particular localities in which they have been bom and
bred. So that when this Boar ravaged right and left, {011}respected no
man’s castle, uprooted everybody’s crops, and made himself generally
disagreeable, it was quite natural that the worthy people who suffered
from his depredations should feel exceedingly annoyed. After a while,
this annoyance took the form of an earnest desire to get rid of
the monster. The question, however, of the means to be employed to
accomplish this desirable result was by no means easy of solution. To
dig pits, such as were in those days commonly used for the destruction
of wild animals, would have been an utterly useless proceeding when
employed against a creature of such supernatural sagacity. Guns had not
been invented; no dog could be found strong and fierce enough to attack
the monster; and the more the poor people thought of the matter the more
hopeless did their case appear. Law and order were not then what they
are now, and there existed no county constabulary to whom, in the
present day, the business would at once be referred with a perfect
certainty that the wrong-doer would be forthwith arrested and punished.
Nor had the pious founder of Eton College as yet existed, or doubtless
aid would have been sought by the sufferers from the provost and fellows
of that famous abode of learning. Their prayers at least would have been
invoked, for these saintly men have always been persons of great age,
profound wisdom, and extreme piety, and the only doubt might have been
lest, as the Boar had been so long in existence, they might not have
considered him as one of the institutions of their country, and declined
to take any steps against him in consequence. But, as they themselves
did not then exist, the question did not arise, and the Boar continued
supreme.

For {012}aught I know, he might have continued so down to this day but
for the circumstances which I am about to relate.

A poor woman of the neighbourhood dreamed that she was about to become
the mother of the largest family that the world had ever seen. This
being a thing which her husband, being in straitened circumstances,
deemed by no means desirable, he received the news with disgust only
tempered by disbelief, and treated his helpmate to language of a rough
and discourteous character. His frame of mind changed, however, when,
as years rolled on, one child only claimed him for its father, which
of course entitled him to sneer at his wife and her dreams as a good
husband would naturally do under such circumstances. The child, however,
was one of no ordinary description. Not only was he the largest and
most strongly made child ever seen in these parts, but he showed from an
early age a singular and precocious intelligence. Before the time when
infants are supposed to be able to convey their meaning to their friends
by intelligible utterances, a very remarkable instance of this precocity
occurred. The father and mother (whose names have not been handed down
to posterity) were discussing the future of their promising babe in his
presence, and one asked of the other the question what distinguishing
name should be given to so fine a child. The astonishment of the
parents may be imagined when the infant, suddenly sitting upright in his
mother’s lap, and steadfastly regarding his father, winked his left eye
violently, laid the first finger of his right hand against his little
nose in a confidential manner, and emphatically pronounced the word
“Smith.”

Whether {013}this proceeding was, by the powers of magic, ordered
and decreed with a view to the fulfilment of the dream of the child’s
mother, is a question upon which (like most others) various opinions may
be entertained. Certain, however, it is that the result justifies the
idea, inasmuch as the astonished parents obeyed the commands of their
offspring, and gave him that name which has since been borne by so many
of the inhabitants of this island, and of which, (despite all other
accounts bearing the stamp of probability) this child was the inventor
and founder.

[Illustration: 026]

As the babe grew older, his wondrous strength was the subject of general
remark. His favourite plaything was a club, much thicker at one end than
the other, and nearly as tall as himself. This he would brandish about
over his head to the imminent danger of the bystanders, {014}or would
lovingly encircle with his arm, leaning his head against it, as he sat
upon the ground pondering over some plans only known to himself with a
more than childish gravity.

These, you must know, were the days of the worthy Druids, who guided
the religious feelings of the country, and, as has been occasionally
the fashion of ecclesiastics in all ages, used the ignorance and
superstition of the people to establish their own authority.’Take them
all in all, I don’t know that they were worse than other priests whom I
have seen upon my banks in later ages; but they had an awkward habit of
occasionally discovering that their personal enemies were required by
the gods as a sacrifice, and thus not unfrequently managed to propitiate
their own vengeance and that of the irate deities at one and the same
moment. Smith’s father, having been unlucky enough to fall under the ban
of one of these respectable gentlemen, was sacrificed one fine
morning, in spite of all his protestations; and, his mother having died
previously, the child was left an orphan, poor and desolate. Under these
circumstances you will wonder what became of him.

There were no poor-laws, and consequently no workhouses, in those days.
“Relieving officers” were unknown, and even parish beadles had not come
into being. Indeed, if this had been the case, I should have no legend
to relate to you upon my present theme. Smith would have lived
a different life altogether. He would very likely have been the
interesting subject of discussion between several parishes, each
laudably anxious to escape being called upon to pay for his nurture and
education, who would possibly have spent in {015}the contest more than
would have fed and educated twenty Smiths.

[Illustration: 028]

Eventually he would have been consigned to the workhouse school until
he had arrived at an age when he might possibly have been able to learn
something, {016}at which moment this would very properly have been
prevented by his being transferred to the enlivening employment of
rook-keeping, from which he would have gradually risen to the position
of a day-labourer upon some neighbouring farm, unless he had evinced
sufficient intellectual ability to have aspired to the rank and dignity
of “waggoner’s mate.” This brilliant career, however, was not open to
our hero in the benighted days of which I speak. This being so, he not
unnaturally did something else. He disappeared from the eyes of the
world in a manner which would have been perfectly marvellous if there
had been anybody who cared to marvel at it. This, however, was not the
case.

The venerable Druid who had sacrificed the child’s father took no
trouble about the child, though he would probably have sacrificed him
too with the greatest pleasure had any hint been given him upon the
subject. The people who had permitted and sanctioned the deed never
gave a thought to the infant who had thereby been left destitute. Public
opinion was not in existence, and as this island had not then, as it
has now, what is popularly called “the blessing of a Free Press,”
 the attention of the neighbourhood was not called to such trifling
occurrences. So Smith’s father perished and Smith disappeared, without
notice or remark from anybody. What really happened to the lad is known,
of course, to me, and is sufficiently laughable. He wandered into the
forest, and became the friend and companion of the toads, for which
Windsor has always been famous.

Now, although mortals are not generally aware of the fact, it is well
known, brother, to you and me, that toads {017}are among the wisest and
most intelligent of animals. They may be called ugly by those who only
judge of character and worth by the standard of that beauty which is
after all but skin-deep; they may be termed slimy and unpleasant by
those who cannot see below the surface; they may even be deemed stupid
by people who are unable to discern the intellectual vigour which shines
forth in the extraordinary brightness of the eye of a well-bred toad.
But, as we know full well, a toad is one of the most powerful of created
beings in his knowledge of magic and of hidden art. How many are the
buried treasures over which a toad sits as guardian, laughing to himself
at the busy mortals above who would give their eyes and ears to possess
that which is really within their reach if they did but know it!
And, apart from this peculiar point of view, how happy the life of a
well-regulated toad!--how simple his tastes; how free from care his
heart, how tranquil his existence, so long as he is permitted to enjoy
it without being stamped upon by the cruel heel of mortal, or swallowed
by the voracious mouth of snake. With the toads of the forest, then,
Smith made his home; and often did I see him in those old days, sporting
with his strange playmates among the roots of the gigantic trees which
grew down to my very water’s edge, sometimes playing leap-frog, at other
moments hopping races, and not unfrequently reclining by the side of one
of the worthy toads, his arm thrown around it, and its body serving as a
resting-place for his infant head and shoulders.

From these strange instructors did little Smith receive an education
which fitted him for the career which {018}he had chalked out for
himself. From them he learned more than ordinary mortals could have
taught him; and meanwhile the wholesome and quiet life which he led in
the forest caused him to increase daily in bodily strength, so that he
bid fair to rival Hercules before he arrived at manhood.

[Illustration: 031]

All this time the Boar continued to pursue his ravages unchecked and
unmolested, and had become more than ever the terror of the surrounding
country. In vain did the Druids denounce him: the more they cursed the
more he seemed to prosper, and the whole framework of society was shaken
by this terrible animal, The effect, moreover, {019}throughout the whole
island, was the reverse of agreeable.

We have noticed, in the struggles of mankind for supremacy, that when
one particular nation has obtained, whether by good fortune or good
organization, great military successes, it sometimes happens that the
citizens of that nation become puffed up and insolent beyond measure,
considering that the mere fact of belonging to that victorious country
stamps a man (however intellectually poor or morally imbecile) as
something superior to his fellow-creatures, and gives him a right to
be as rude and disagreeable as he pleases. Such was at this time the
precise result of the Boar’s undiminished power. Every pig in the island
thought himself far superior to any other animal. The insolence of
Pigdom became rapidly intolerable; these unpleasant animals thrust their
snouts into everybody else’s dish, and England was threatened with a
porcine yoke which would inevitably have interfered with that great
future which she was destined to achieve in afteryears. However, England
has never been without her Smith in the hour of danger, and this, the
first individual of that illustrious name, set the example which his
descendants, have so often followed.

Having formed the noble determination to free his country or perish in
the attempt, he next determined to avoid the latter alternative if he
possibly could. The manner in which he should proceed required, indeed,
his most careful consideration. Instructed as he had been in magic arts
by the excellent toads, he knew full well that he had to cope with
an adversary who was said to be able to fight with the same weapons.
Caution, {020}therefore, as well as skill, was certainly necessary, and
his first object was to discover the extent of the enemy’s power, and
whether there existed any means by which it could be lessened. To
do this, however, it was necessary to employ some spy to obtain
intelligence upon which reliance might be placed.

No mortal had ever dared to penetrate the lair of the great Boar; and
those who wished to hear him grunt had never ventured to do more than
creep, with stealthy step and timorous aspect, on the outer verge of
the great thicket which he had been seen to enter after his marauding
excursions. Nor, indeed, was it easy to find any four-footed animal who
would undertake the task. The wolves and foxes, of which there were a
very great number in Windsor Forest, respectfully but firmly declined;
the hares and rabbits squeaked and ran away at the very idea; and the
stoats and weasels declared that it was no business of theirs, and they
could not interfere in such matters. Then there were the birds; but
these simple creatures have always had a horror of magic and witchcraft,
and there was nothing to be done with _them._ The tender wood-pigeons
coo’d out their reluctance to dabble with anything which was not pure
and holy and loving; the robin pretended not to hear, and sang his
morning hymn with a provoking vehemence whilst Smith was accosting him;
the owl shook her head gravely and gave vent to a low hoot of determined
refusal; while the gaudy jays flew away laughing and shrieking in a most
impertinent manner, which left no hope of their compliance.

Thus baffled in his first attempt, Smith once more consulted the toads,
and asked the oldest and wisest of them {021}for his advice, which was
promptly given. “The Foul Swine,” said he, “is not the great magician
which he pretends. His tusks are long and his years many, but there are
those within and without the forest more powerful than he. Your task
is certainly one of some difficulty. Nevertheless, there is an ancient
proverb well known among us toads which will be of great use to you,
and which we are bound never to repeat to mortal ear save under certain
conditions. The first of these is, that the mortal to whom we may repeat
it must have passed at least half his life with our own people, and have
learned to speak the toad language like a native. As you have now passed
considerably more than the prescribed period among us, and (except
perhaps as regards spitting) are in all respects a regular toad, this
first condition has evidently been fulfilled in your case. The second
condition requires that the person to whom the proverb shall be imparted
must have rendered service to the toad people by killing at least
twenty of our natural enemies, the snakes. This service you have yet to
perform. The third condition simply stipulates that the individual
in question shall bind himself by the most solemn oath known to
toads--namely, by the eyes of the two golden toads which sit day and
night at the foot of the throne of the Emperor of China--that he
will set himself strenuously to perform the task to which the proverb
alludes. About this you will probably find no difficulty, and therefore
it is really only with the second condition that you need trouble
yourself at all.”

Smith listened with great attention to the remarks made by his ancient
friend, and lost no time in qualifying {022}himself to be the recipient
of the desired information by destroying the requisite number of
snakes. That very evening his art as a snake-charmer was so successfully
practised, that more than fifty of the creatures lay twisting and
writhing in front of the toads’ favourite trees, and were presently
dispatched by vigorous blows from the stalwart arm of Smith.

[Illustration: 035]

This feat having been performed, he requested the venerable toad to
impart the proverb upon which so much might depend. The worthy old
gentleman was nothing loath, and, having given an exulting croak over
the bodies of his slain foemen, spat twice in the air for joy, and
proceeded to administer the toad-oath, which pledged Smith to strive
his utmost to perform some task as yet unknown. Great, however, was his
delight at finding that this task was {023}none other than the very
one to which he had already determined to devote his life, namely, the
destruction of the Great Boar. And thus ran the proverb:--

     “Blood of slayer and of slain
          Must together blended be
     Ere the Boar’s detested reign
          Cease, and Windsor shall be free.”

These words having been pronounced by the toad with due solemnity, he
again went through the apparently unnecessary, not to say unpleasant,
process of spitting twice, after which he quietly subsided, and crept
under a large root, with a view to a long nap, which might last for a
day, a year, or a century, as the humour took him.

Smith now set himself seriously to consider what should be done, and
what was the exact meaning of the proverb. It was his earnest wish that
the “detested reign” of the Boar should cease as soon as possible, but
what the blending together of the blood of the slayer and the slain
could possibly mean was an exceedingly hard puzzle, and one which he
knew not how to unravel. As, however, he was bound to do his best to
perform the task to the accomplishment of which he had pledged himself,
he determined to sally forth from the forest and endeavour to seek the
aid which the birds and beasts within it were unable to afford him.
Accordingly, he marched back into society, which, if not precisely
civilised, was somewhat different from that of the toads and other
creatures who had for the best part of his life been his only
companions. Had he lived some years later, there can be little doubt
that his reappearance would {024}have created considerable surprise, and
his costume would have been in singular contrast with that of ordinary
men. As, however, at that period of the island’s history, men wore very
little costume at all beyond that which nature had bestowed upon them,
this was no difficulty in the way of our hero’s return. Moreover, the
education given him by the toads had been so vastly superior to that
which he would have received at the hands of his fellow-men, that there
was nothing strange, uncouth, or remarkable either in his speech or
manners, which, in fact, contrasted favourably with those of the human
beings whom he was likely to meet.

In those days the villages were small and the dwellings comparatively
few and far between. The country upon the borders of the forest
presented a barren and miserable appearance, mainly in consequence
of the extreme poverty of its inhabitants, who were deterred from the
agricultural pursuits which they would otherwise have followed by the
constant ravages of the cruel Boar. It was, therefore, a rare thing to
see many people in that part of the country, and Smith, had he known it,
would have been surprised at the number he saw as he strode forward
on his way. As, however, he had been so long in the forest as to
have forgotten the usual habits of the peasantry outside, he was not
astonished at all, and saw without wonder that people were hurrying
along in the same direction as himself from every quarter. It struck him
as rather strange that they should all be going the same way, and, being
desirous ol knowing the reason why, he took the not unnatural course of
asking a peasant woman whom he overtook. “Do you not know?” she replied.
“Are you a stranger in {025}the country, not to have heard that the
great Druidess Bertha sacrifices to-day on Ascot Heath?”

“I knew it not,” returned Smith, and followed up his answer by an
inquiry as to who the great Druidess Bertha might be. The peasant woman
appeared to be quite shocked at his ignorance, but, with the gossiping
propensity which occasionally besets the weaker portion of her sex,
began instantly to impart to him all she knew and a good deal more.

Bertha, it seemed, was a person whose origin was shrouded in mystery.
She had been educated by the Druids, and brought up as a female
priestess of that reverend society. Although still young, she was
supposed to have attained to great sanctity, and was immensely venerated
by the peasantry. One thing alone distinguished her from the other
Druids, namely, her unconquerable objection to human sacrifice; and
Smith found, on further inquiry, that to-day’s ceremony was to consist
only of the slaughter of oxen and sheep, and the offering of corn and
fruits to the deities, whose aid was to be once more invoked against
the tyranny of the Great Boar of Windsor. The account which he had heard
made our hero more than ever desirous to witness the ceremony and to see
the Druidess, and he accordingly followed the crowd to the sacred heath
upon which it was to take place.

Ascot Heath was at that time somewhat different from its present
condition. You remember, Brother Rhine, when you were last in England,
what a sight we saw together in that celebrated locality. All London
seemed to have emptied itself upon Windsor and its neighbourhood. The
heath was thronged with excited crowds.

Hundreds {026}upon hundreds of carts, gigs, and carriages of every
description crowded one upon the other, and you owned that Rhineland
had nothing to equal our Ascot week. Very different was the condition of
things at the time of which I speak. I need hardly tell you that there
was no “grand stand” in those days; the “ring” was as yet unknown; “Aunt
Sally” was not, and never a gipsy had as yet appeared in the country.
But the heath was wide and wild, rough and rugged, a fit place for the
enactment of any such strange rites as those which his companion had led
Smith to anticipate. He pushed boldly forward until he reached a spot
from whence he could view the ceremony.

On the very edge of the forest, beneath a gigantic oak, upon a piece of
rising ground, stood a figure upon which he, in common with every one
else around him, riveted his eyes with the most intense interest and
attention. It was a woman of more than ordinary height, clothed from
head to foot in white drapery, her hair failing loosely upon her
shoulders, with a simple chaplet of oak-leaves over her forehead. Her
features were such as impelled you to look a second time after you had
once gazed upon her. Nobility was stamped upon her brow. Courage,
truth, and every other virtue which ennobles those of mortal mould were
imprinted upon the lineaments of that countenance. Erect she stood,
gazing down upon the peasant crowd below; and while her right hand held
the sickle with which she had been performing some of the mystic rites
of her order, her left arm was far outstretched as she pointed in the
direction of that part of the forest in which the mighty Boar had made
his home.

[Illustration: 040]

It {027}was evident to Smith that the sacrifice, whatever it that
{028}not one word should escape him; and as all the people seemed
animated by the same desire, a solemn and almost awful silence prevailed
throughout the whole crowd. Then the Druidess spoke; her words fell
clear and shrill upon the ears of her audience like the clarion notes of
the trumpet which calls forth hosts to battle, and they pierced at once
to the heart of Smith as they rang through the startled air. And thus
spoke the Druidess:--

           “Men of Britain’s Holy Isle,
                Spiritless and idle still
           Rest ye here, and all the while
                Forest demons work their will?

           Barren lie your hungry fields,
                Yielding nought for human food,
           While your spirit tamely yields
                To the Tyrant of the Wood.

           Hear the Future! To the gods
                While libations Druids pour,
           Britain’s Oak to ruin nods,
                Rotten to the very core!

           Craven spirits fear and hide
                From the devastating foe.
           Can the gods be satisfied
                With a race of cowards? No!

           What the mighty gods inspire
                Bertha to her race imparts.
           Hear ye all! the gods require
                Stalwart arms and valiant hearts.

           All the blood of victims slain
                Never can your country save,
           Till that country you sustain
                With the daring of the brave.

           Yet are ye no craven race;
                If yourselves ye learn’d to know,
           Never would ye turn your face
                From the coming of the foe.

           Ah! the spirit moves me now,
                Ancient spirit of the oak;
           ‘Neath its mighty spell I bow,
                Hear the words the gods evoke!

           ‘Mid the throng I see below
                Stands a man of courage true,
           And I see a light I know
                Flashing from his eye of blue.

           ‘Tis the light of valiant strength,
                And its flash reveals to me
           That the hour is near at length
                When my people shall be free;

           Free from terror and from yoke
                Of the sanguinary Boar.
           Let the hero strike the stroke;
                Ye are free for evermore!”

The {029}Priestess pronounced her last words with such intense
animation, as if inspired by some supernatural power, that they produced
a wondrous effect upon those to whom they were addressed. Indeed, it was
not only her manner of speaking, but the matter of the words to which
she gave utterance, which was well calculated to excite the people.
Bowed down and dispirited for years under a great misfortune, they
suddenly heard that deliverance was at hand, and that he by whom it
might be wrought was actually standing among them at that moment. The
greatest excitement, therefore, naturally prevailed, and a low murmur of
mingled joy, surprise, and awe ran through the crowd.

The Druidess, meanwhile, stood still as a stone statue upon the hillock
under the oak, gazing forward with eyes, fixed upon vacancy as if she
were reading far into the Book of the Future, under the influence of
some mighty spell. Her appearance, as of one in a trance, increased
the reverential awe of the superstitious people, who remained for a few
moments in a state of increasing doubt and wonder. Then some of them
gathered courage and found voice to express the dearest wish of their
hearts. “Holy Bertha!” they cried. “Sacred Maiden! {030}Tell us who is
our deliverer. Who is he that shall strike the stroke for our freedom?
Where is he? How shall we find him?” And, as he spoke, the people
pressed forward eagerly as near to the sacred hillock as their dread of
the maiden’s sanctity would permit them to approach. With an imperious
gesture she waved them back, and then, passing her hand across her brow,
as if to brush away the trance which still partially obscured her vision
for things present, she uttered the following words in a low and hurried
tone:--

     “The strength of a god and the skill of a toad
          Unite in the man who shall Windsor deliver;
     His name shall be hallow’d in every abode,
          And henceforth shall be known in old England for ever!”

These words, although they possibly went but a very little way towards
giving to the inquiring crowd the information they so anxiously desired,
were of course very intelligible to Smith, even without the aid of any
of that magic knowledge which he had acquired from his forest teachers.
He was now certain, beyond all reasonable doubt, that the Druidess
referred to him as the deliverer from the Great Boar, and that, having
committed herself to such a prophecy, she and the priests of her order
would, for their own sakes if for no better reason, do their very best
to secure its fulfilment. But I am bound to say that other thoughts also
occupied the breast of our hero. From the very first moment that he had
set eyes upon the Druidess he had been struck with wondrous admiration.
There was something in her appearance so majestic, so noble, and at
the same time so winning, that the heart of Smith throbbed with new
emotions, nor did he cease to gaze earnestly {031}at the sacred maiden
during the whole time of her discourse. In fact, I believe that, almost
unconsciously to himself, a fervent desire that Bertha the Druidess
should become Mrs. Smith took possession of our hero’s soul, and he fell
a hopeless victim to “Love at first sight” without being aware of the
fact.

Any friendly feeling, moreover, which might have been suggested by the
outward appearance of the holy maid was tenfold increased when her words
gave evidence that she was ready to help his accomplishment of that
great object to which he had devoted his life. To be singled out from
the crowd for praise, compliment, and prophecy of future distinction is
an honour of which any man may be proud under general circumstances; but
when the person who singles you out happens to be young and lovely, the
flattery is not unfrequently of double sweetness, and tends to evoke a
feeling which, if it takes its origin in gratitude, is not unlikely to
become something warmer. Be this as it may, Smith felt towards the young
Druidess as he had never felt before, and was by no means sorry that the
circumstances in which he found himself rendered it absolutely necessary
that he should seek a private interview with her as soon as possible.
For, as no one but he himself could know that her words referred
unmistakably to him, it was unlikely that he would be recognised as
a leader or clothed with any authority unless some further steps were
taken in the matter.

After having pronounced the last words, Bertha had hastily retreated
behind the oak, and there was little chance that she would show herself
again upon that occasion.. But Smith had underrated both the foresight
of {032}the Druidess and the intelligence of her hearers. Many of these
had observed the presence amongst them of an entire stranger, and as,
from a very early period of their history, Britons have been tolerably
good hands at “putting two and two together,” they had arrived at the
conclusion that this individual was extremely likely to be the deliverer
whom the Priestess had declared she saw amid the throng below.

In those days, bashful modesty was not, as now, the characteristic of
a British crowd. Instinctively they pressed around the stranger, and
addressed to him several observations which savoured more of curiosity
than politeness. They were good-natured, to be sure, as British crowds
are even to the present day; but not recognising in him at once the
qualities which had been so easily perceptible to the inspired Bertha,
they questioned him familiarly and as one of themselves. It was not
long, however, before their manner changed. Smith told them plainly that
he came from the forest, that toads and toad-mysteries were known to
him, and that so far at least he answered to the description which they
had lately heard as that of their deliverer.

As they listened to his words, the respect of the simple rustics for the
speaker greatly increased; his answers were whispered from one to the
other, and there appeared a general disposition to welcome him as their
leader, if leader indeed there was to be. Seeing that the opportunity
was favourable, but yet too cautious to push matters far upon the first
onset, Smith begged the crowd to disperse, but promised that, if they
were of the same mind three days hence, he would meet them upon the
heath at that time. To this they agreed; and {033}having with some
difficulty escaped from sundry loiterers who followed him, gaping
and staring as if he had been some newly discovered monster, our hero
returned to the forest and reported his adventures to his friends the
toads. The latter listened with much satisfaction to his account of
all that had happened, and gave him valuable advice as to his future
proceedings. In accordance with their instructions, he again journeyed
to the oak of Ascot Heath upon the next evening, and sought an interview
with the Priestess upon whom his hopes were centred.

Interviews with Druidesses were not, in those days, very easy of
accomplishment, and were not unattended with danger. For, if the Druids
did not happen to approve, and _did_ happen to discover the fact, the
culprit stood an excellent chance of being speedily sacrificed. Smith,
however, had no fear, and, as is proverbially the case, fortune favoured
the brave. He met the holy maiden walking in the forest before he
reached the oak. I really cannot tell you exactly what passed at the
interview, but I know it resulted (as such interviews not unfrequently
do) in the appointment of another. This also took place without any
obstacle arising, and the result was that, when the time appointed for
the reassembling of the people had arrived, Smith’s plans were pretty
well matured.

Standing near the sacred oak, he addressed the crowd before him in
brief but energetic words. He pointed out to them the misery which their
country had so long endured through the ravages of the Great Boar. He
declared that the thing, was intolerable, and that it only rested with
themselves to put an end to it by a great {034}and united effort. He
professed himself willing to lead them if they would only engage to
follow him, and was confident that, if he were obeyed, all would go
well. If, indeed, they had any doubt about his being a fit person to
lead them, let them only say so and he would at once yield to another.
These words were received with much favour by many of his audience, but
some of the more timid and doubtful still hesitated as to their course,
when suddenly a voice spoke from the old oak in words of unmistakable
import:--

          “This is the man and this the hour
               To break the tyrant’s hateful power.
          No longer, Englishmen, delay;
               Choose--listen--follow--and obey!”

These words at once reassured every one, and effectually settled the
question. Smith was unanimously elected leader, and, like other leaders,
proceeded at once to declare his policy. He told his followers that the
first thing to be done was to make a good road right into the heart
of the forest. People are apt to magnify dangers about which they know
little, and the thick and impenetrable nature of the Boar’s retreat
greatly added to the idea of his wondrous power. The first thing, then,
was to let the light of day in upon him, and, accordingly, the very next
morning, a strong body of labourers commenced to work at a good, broad
road, which should penetrate the heart of the forest.

Of course this undertaking occupied some time, during which the secret
interviews between Smith and the fair Druidess were not unfrequent,
and the brave young leader obtained much good advice as to his mode of
procedure.

The {035}most extraordinary part of the story is that, all this time,
no one heard or saw anything of the Boar. Whether he knew less of magic
than was supposed, and, being engaged on the other side of the forest,
did not know what was going on near Ascot Heath--or whether he knew
and didn’t think it worth while to interfere--or whether he was idle,
sleepy, ill, or anything else--I don’t know; but he never interfered at
all until a long length of road had been made, and a gang of labourers
had got very near his lair.

[Illustration: 048]

Then, one fine morning, he rushed out with a number of his followers,
ripping and goring right and left, and driving everything before him.
It so happened that Smith was not with the workmen that day. Probably
he had gone on some errand for the Druidess; but, however this may have
been, the result was the same, and, in the absence of {036}our hero, the
Boar had it all his own way. In consequence of this triumph, the monster
gave a great feast of hogwash and potatoes to all his subjects,
and their grunting afterwards was so loud and horrible that it was
remembered for a period of many years in the neighbourhood of Windsor.

Smith, as you may suppose, was thoroughly disgusted when he found what
had occurred, and all the more so as he felt that his presence might,
and probably would, have prevented the misfortune. Nothing daunted,
however, he resolved to repair the mischief as quickly as possible. He
sent far and wide throughout the country for all the white horses which
could possibly be secured, and begged as many of their owners as felt
martially inclined to accompany their steeds. This was done under
the sage advice of the toads, to whom it was well known that to white
animals beyond all others has been given the power of resisting the
influences of magic arts. The knowledge that Smith’s movement was
supported by the Druids materially operated to promote the success of
his request. From all quarters white horses and horsemen came flocking
to the appointed place on Ascot Heath, and upon a certain day which he
had fixed the leader found himself at the head of a numerous body of
cavalry. He next proceeded to arm every man with a long wooden spear
pointed with iron, and having given them their watchword and rallying
cry, “Bacon,” marched boldly towards the forest. And now began the
contest with the powers of magic.

The Boar sent forth his legions, having for the nonce converted hundreds
of pigs into creatures bearing the form {037}of man, whilst his own
regiment of sharp-tusked boars acted as a reserve force in their own
shape and form. They could not, however, prevail against the white army,
protected by the wisdom of the toads and backed by the incantations of
the saintly Druids. After a combat along the whole line which lasted for
some hours, the magic forces of the Boar gave way on every side. Their
resistance, indeed, stout and dogged as it had been at first, gave way
at the sight of an enormous ham, boiled and ready for use, which at a
critical moment of the contest was displayed by the orders of Smith at
the top of a long pole. No porcine nature could withstand this spell,
sure be-tokener of the fate of every vanquished and slaughtered pig. The
enchanted animals (as the toads had privately told Smith would certainly
be the case) resumed their natural shape by hundreds at the sight
of this wondrous emblem, and fled with wild grunts into the forest,
followed by the victorious army. On every side the white horsemen rode
down the flying porkers, impaling them on their iron-tipped spears, and
shouting “Bacon” until the forest rang again with the martial sound.
Smith himself performed prodigies of valour, overthrowing and slaying
numbers of the foe, and greatly assisting in bringing about the complete
and terrible defeat which befell the forces of the Boar.

So it was that towards eventide the battle was practically over, for not
a pig but had resumed his natural shape, not a foe but had either
fallen or fled into the deep recesses of the forest and sought safety in
ignominious concealment from the face of day. Yet fast within his lair
remained the Great Boar himself, and no one {038}had as yet beheld him
upon that day so fatal to his tribe. Why or wherefore he had not headed
his troops is more than I can say. One would have supposed that his
presence would have encouraged them, and that his continued seclusion
within his lair must have been the most foolish proceeding on the part
of the chief of an army who had so much at stake. But whatever reason
he had, it is certain that he never appeared, and his people were
slaughtered right and left without his ever coming to the rescue.

Smith, however, was not to be treated in this manner by his mighty
enemy. Unless the latter were dealt with in some satisfactory way, he
knew well enough that his victory would have been all in vain, and that
the evil with which his country had so long been afflicted would be by
no means ended. He hesitated not, therefore, to push boldly forward into
the heart of the forest, and seek the tyrant in his lair. The wood was
uncommonly thick, and progress extremely difficult. Gigantic brambles
formed an almost insuperable barrier, twining round the legs of the
traveller in a manner remarkably disagreeable, and forming at certain
places an almost impregnable network of defence. The bushes, too, grew
thickly where the brambles did not, huge oaks stood about wherever there
was any space clear from bush and bramble, strange weeds cropped up
around, and altogether the place was as wild and difficult of access
as you can well imagine. Yet Smith pushed bravely on, with some of his
chosen companions, until he suddenly found himself in an open space some
sixty feet square, almost entirely surrounded by oak-trees, plentifully
encircled by ivy of the most luxuriant growth. As he entered {039}this
space, a deep voice uttered these words in terrible accents:--

          “How dares the child of loathsome toad.
               Unasked to enter this abode?
          No longer press thy childish whim,
               Back! or I tear thee limb from limb.”

The followers of the great deliverer were visibly staggered by these
awful words, more especially as the speaker was nowhere to be seen.
Smith himself, however, being perfectly prepared for some such
proceeding on the part of his enemy, was not for a moment disconcerted
in the smallest degree. By the advice of the powers which had directed
and shielded him throughout the whole of his arduous enterprise, he had
armed himself with an oaken staff, cut from a sacred tree which grew
near to my banks, and which was held in peculiar estimation by the
people. This staff, having been dipped in my river, and afterwards
heavily tipped with lead, was a weapon of considerable power, and the
gallant Smith brandished it on high above his head as he replied to his
invisible enemy in the following words:--

          “Boast loud and long, thou villain Boar,
               And trust in dealings magic;
          More humbly shalt thou shortly roar,
               And meet an ending tragic.

          Come forth and try! I thee defy,
               By mighty aid of Druid,
          And this good staff, which lately I
               Have dipt in Thames’s fluid.

          Come forth, I say! No more delay!
               You rascal! what, you _won’t_ stir?
          I brand thee, in the face of day,
               A vile and hideous monster! ”

The words were scarcely out of his mouth, when a horrible {040}noise
between a grunt and a roar burst upon the ears of the attacking party,
and the Great Boar of Windsor broke from his lair and rushed furiously
upon his enemies. His eyes glared like fireballs--his bristles were
erect and awful to see--his tusks seemed sharper and more enormous than
any one would have supposed possible--and his whole appearance evinced
such a mixture of strength and ferocity as might well have caused
the stoutest heart to quail before his approach. Fury was in his
countenance, and frightful was the expression of his face as he charged
headlong down upon Smith, with a force which it seemed impossible to
withstand. Uttering his war-cry in the shape of a suppressed but horrid
grunt, he held his head low, and was evidently bent upon ripping up the
intruder with the least possible delay.

To be ripped up, however, was by no means Smith’s intention. Springing
hastily aside, he dealt the Boar a blow with his staff as he passed in
the mad career which he was unable to check. The blow, dealt with the
hero’s full force upon the back of the monster’s head, changed his grunt
into a squeak of pain, but otherwise had no visible effect upon him.
Rendered doubly furious by the failure of his first rush, the Boar now
turned upon some of Smith’s companions, upon whom he trusted to have
wreaked an easy vengeance. But, with admirable sagacity, Smith had
foreseen the possibility of such an occurrence, and, instructed by the
toads, had carefully provided against it. Each of his followers who had
entered the lair, besides being armed with spears as I have described,
had in his hand a short stick upon the end of which was fastened a
sausage.

The {041}order given was, that, if the Boar attacked, this should simply
be held out in front of the person in danger, which order you may well
believe was faithfully obeyed. The effect was certainly marvellous. At
the sight of each sausage the Boar’s powers appeared to fail him, and
he turned with a disappointed groan to find another victim. One man,
indeed, found the protection useless, and was miserably ripped up
and destroyed by the monster. A momentary panic prevailed, but it was
fortunately remembered that the luckless individual had brought his own
sausage from his own manufactory, and that sundry of his neighbours who
had lost their cats had more than once thrown the darkest suspicion
upon the character and quality of the article which he supplied. It is
therefore probable that the virtue inherent in sausages made from the
lawful animal was wanting in his case, and that he perished justly as a
deceiver of his fellow-men.

But the Boar could make no head against a body of men so well prepared
for his assault. He foamed at the mouth--he roared--he grunted--he
howled--he rushed madly to and fro--but all his efforts were useless.
Then once more he turned himself round and rushed with a frantic force
upon the leader of his foes. Smith was at that instant standing close to
an oak-tree, and so sudden was the Boar’s attack that he had barely time
to avoid it by a vigorous spring which he made, catching as he did so a
branch above his head, and swinging himself up out of harm’s way.

The Boar, meanwhile, unable to stop himself, rushed with great
force against the tree. To his infinite surprise, and indeed to the
astonishment of all who saw it, the {042}hard surface of the oak yielded
to his touch, his tusks penetrated the bark, and he remained there
firm and fast, caught by the head and held as if by a vice. At the same
moment a strain of sweet and solemn music burst upon the ears of those
who were present, and from behind the oak-tree stepped the figure of the
Priestess Bertha, clad as she had been on the previous occasion of her
addressing the people, save that she wore upon her head a wreath of
mistletoe, bright and glistening with berries. Walking up to the still
struggling Boar, she calmly sat down upon him, just as if he had been a
camp-stool, upon which he groaned audibly, but remained perfectly still.
Then the Priestess proceeded to speak:--

          “The Boar is vanquished in the fight,
               And ended is his former might.
          Cursed by his yoke no more ye be,
               But Windsor’s children shall be free.

          Yet be ye cautious, firm, and wise,
               Or other foes may still arise,
          And ye may scarcely yet escape
               From boars in brute or human shape.

          Still, good advice I give to you:
               Be honest, loyal, just, and true;
          Drink not the wine that tastes of cork;
               Keep down the pigs by eating pork;

          Love sausages (avoiding shams);
               And don’t forget to cure your hams.
          So, if your lives are good and pure,
               Your happiness shall be secure;

          Windsor to high renown shall soar,
               And ne’er again be spoiled by boar.
          Meanwhile, ’tis time I play my part,
               And banish hence foul magic art!”

Then, slowly rising from her strange seat, and extending her arm high
in the air above the miserable Boar, She began to mutter to herself in
a low tone mystic words {043}of dark and wondrous import, which had
all the more effect upon her hearers because nobody understood them.
Presently she turned again to the listening army, and thus addressed
the Boar, her countenance bearing a stern expression and her whole
appearance being one of queenly dignity:--

          “Foul beast! henceforth thy power is stayed,
               Thy former vassals shall be free;
          Thine art no more shall be displayed,
               But Windsor Forest boarless be!

          Yet must thou not this forest leave,
               Or quit the place, alive or dead,
          Whence thou hast caused the land to grieve,
               And tears in oceans to be shed.

          In altered form remaining here,
               Receive, vile tyrant, this thy ban:
          Be filled henceforth with timid fear,
               And tremble at the sight of man.

          Henceforth on roots and insects feed;
               And yet, when nobler creatures die,
          Be thou suspected of the deed,
               A hated sight to keeper’s eye!”

She spoke; and as the words fell from her inspired lips, a wondrous
and melancholy change came over the unhappy animal to whom they were
addressed. His tusks fell off, his head diminished, his body grew
smaller even while she was speaking, and, as she ceased, the once great
Boar stood there in the presence of his enemies, neither more nor less
than an unusually large hedgehog. Shouts of mingled joy and astonishment
broke from the surrounding peasants as they perceived this highly
satisfactory transformation taking place upon their dreaded foe. There
he stood, trembling and shivering before them, furtively casting his
eyes right and left as if in search of some hiding-place to which he
{044}might betake himself at once. Then, after a moment or two, he
curled himself up after the general manner of hedgehogs into a round,
impenetrable ball, a proceeding which evoked shouts of laughter from
those who had lately trembled at his very glance, but who now felt the
most supreme contempt for their vanquished enemy. As they stood and
gazed upon him, the transformed animal presently unrolled himself again,
and scuttled away as fast as he could among the dry leaves, making, with
a new but natural instinct, for a place of concealment beneath the roots
of the enormous trees which grew around the spot. And in fact, so far as
this history concerns the Great Boar of Windsor, Brother Rhine, I might
as well bring it to a close at once, for little more was ever heard
of him. The blow struck at Boardom throughout the kingdom by the
destruction of his power was very great, and the race gradually died
away and became extinct. Not so by any means the hedgehogs, who from
that time forth mightily increased all over England, and who down to the
present day love to make it their boast that they are lineally descended
from the Great Boar of Windsor. So proud of ancient ancestry are even
the brute beasts of creation, aping that arrant fool, man, in this as
well as sundry other follies.

It is curious to observe how exactly the prophecy of the Druidess has
been fulfilled with regard to these hedgehogs. They live, as we know,
upon roots and insects, and it has been over and over again demonstrated
by learned naturalists that their physical formation is such as to
preclude the possibility of their being carnivorous animals. But tell a
gamekeeper this, and he will laugh you {045}to scorn. The words of the
Druidess have come true enough in this instance; and if a nest of eggs
is found destroyed, or a young pheasant torn or slain, the hedgehog is
declared to be the culprit, and his unhappy race is persecuted even unto
death.

Tradition says, however, that death has never fallen upon the Great Boar
himself, or that if his body has really perished, as one would suppose
to have been the case long ago, his spirit still haunts the locality
which his power and his crimes rendered so celebrated in those days of
yore. Certain it is, that if you happen to know the site of the Boar’s
lair, which of course I know, Brother Rhine, but which is hidden from
the knowledge of all mortals save those favoured by Fairyland power,
you may sometimes hear tidings of its former occupant. Wander forth on
a clear moonlight night, hide yourself securely among the brushwood or
behind the gigantic oaks which still exist, and you will see all that is
left of the monster who was so long the scourge and terror of the place.
A large hedgehog, bearing the weight of many years upon his back, will
issue from beneath the roots of some of the old trees, followed by
several smaller beings of the same species. Slowly and sadly he will
creep, with feeble steps and decrepit gait, down the open space in front
of the trees, and pass before you, uttering a low grunt of retrospective
misery as he crawls over the altered scenes of his departed greatness.
Move not; raise not a finger; keep entire silence; and as you gaze upon
the unhappy wretch, let pity rather than scorn take possession of your
heart; and when after his short walk he returns shaking with age and
sorrow, and once more creeps into his humble hiding-place, {046}ponder
over the shortness and instability of earthly power and wealth, and
remember that you have beheld all that remains of that terrible being
who was once so infamously notorious as the Great Boar of Windsor.

[Illustration: 059]

But although I told you that, so far as the Boar was concerned, my story
might very well have ended here, you cannot have listened to me with
the attention which you have deigned to bestow without wishing to know
something more of the fortunes of the other personages of whom I
have spoken. As soon as the hedgehog had retired, {047}and their
apprehensions were once and for all removed, the worthy peasants broke
out into what is nowadays called a “truly British cheer.” While they
did this, the Priestess Bertha took the opportunity of retiring into
the forest, so that when the good people had cheered enough, and were
getting rather hoarse, they found that she had disappeared. The whole
of their attention, therefore, was concentrated upon Smith, whom they
surrounded with expressions of the warmest gratitude, and overwhelmed
with thanks for the ability, courage, and discretion which he had
evinced in the conduct of the whole affair. Had it been a few centuries
later, they would doubtless have presented him with the freedom of their
city, supposing them to have had one. As it was, they could do little
but thank him, and declare themselves anxious that he should be their
chief, or king, or anything else he pleased. Smith, however, stood
moodily aside, leaning upon his spear, and declined to accept the
offered dignity. The people were still crowding around him and urging
him to complete the good work which he had just begun, by ruling over
those whom he had freed from an intolerable yoke, when an event took
place which entirely changed the character of the proceedings.

Suddenly there appeared among the trees and amid the people a number
of Druids, clad in the vestments which they habitually wore, and
brandishing the weapons with which they usually perpetrated the
sacrifices which accompanied their most solemn rites. Without more
ado they proceeded to seize upon Smith, and declared to the astonished
people that the gods had intimated their will that he should be
immediately sacrificed.

This {048}was by no means welcome news to those who heard it, nor could
they readily understand why the Druids should desire the life of one who
had hitherto shown the greatest reverence for them and their religion,
and who had, moreover, just rendered a great public service.

Murmurs began to arise from the crowd, murmurs deep and angry, to the
effect that jealousy of Smith’s influence was at the bottom of the
movement, and that the Druids, who had never been able to get rid of the
Boar until Smith had appeared on the scene, were ready to kill him out
of the way as soon as ever he had accomplished the task which had been
too much for themselves. Anxious to remove an impression which, if
allowed to remain, might become the source of danger to their authority
over the people, one of the chief Druids jumped upon the trunk of
a fallen tree and begged leave to explain. This having been readily
granted, the venerable man stated that the people ought to know by this
time that reverend ecclesiastics never did anything wrong, and that mean
or ignoble motives were never harboured in their holy hearts. “But,” he
continued, “although Smith had certainly rendered considerable service
to the people (and this the Druids would be the last to deny), he had
nullified all his claims to their gratitude by the commission of an
offence which struck a deep blow at the very root of that religion which
was the sole basis of their social order, and their only hope alike for
the present and the future. He had ventured to speak of love to the holy
Druidess Bertha, and there was every reason to believe that they were
privately married!”

At {049}these words a thrill of horror ran through the crowd, who had
been taught to believe a Druidess to be a species of being superior to
the ordinary feelings of mortals, and one to whom marriage should have
been an entire impossibility. They dared offer no further opposition
to the Druids, and were about to suffer their gallant defender and
deliverer to be dragged away to a cruel death without further effort
to save him. But all was not over yet. Smith had allies of whom his
cowardly followers and his bigoted persecutors were alike ignorant.
With a mighty effort he shook off the priests who held him, and in a
stentorian voice shouted aloud the words of magic token, “Help, oh,
my Toddlekins!” Scarce were the words out of his mouth when a toad
of extraordinary size hopped from the forest into the open space, and
looked around with eyes that sparkled with angry indignation. At the
sight of him the Druids felt their hearts fail; their arms dropped by
their sides, their weapons fell from their hands, and they lacked alike
the will and the power to harm their intended victim.

Meanwhile the toad who had been adjured under the name of Toddlekins
gave a jerk with his legs right and left, shook off his toad-skin,
and appeared in the shape of a young man of singularly prepossessing
appearance. His form was tall and manly, his beautifully shaped head
was covered with dark hair, and the remarkably sweet expression of his
countenance was enhanced by the extraordinary beauty and brightness of
his eyes. Looking about him right and left, and waving his hand in a
careless manner, he addressed the people as follows: “My friends,” he
said, “you will excuse me for making the remark that you are a set of
very particular {050}fools. In order to convince you that I have a right
to say this, I will tell you with plain brevity who and what _I_ am. I
was born, never mind when or where, into this world, and being found in
all respects much too good for it, the Fates decided that I should
wait for a certain number of centuries before I again came into it as a
mortal, and should meanwhile pass my time as a powerful fairy. As such
I have lived in Toadland for some time past, and have especially watched
over the education of my friend Smith. That is all I shall tell you
about myself, except that my power has aided you to achieve your
freedom, and will now prevent you from suffering a crime to be
perpetrated which would disgrace you for ever. But I have something more
to tell you about the person called Smith. He is one for whom I cherish
a particular regard, and you ought to do the same. For has he not
delivered you from your ancient enemy? But he has done more. The very
crime of which he is accused, if crime it be, has been done in _your_
service. He has fulfilled the old proverb, which it was necessary to do
before the Boar’s power could be destroyed. This proverb declared that
the blood of the ‘slayer and the slain’ must be blended together before
the Boar’s reign should cease. Do you ask how this has been done? I will
read you the riddle. The father of the Priestess Bertha was none other
than an old Druid who sacrificed (most improperly) the male parent of my
friend Smith. He had no right to a daughter at all, but of this I will
say nothing except that the holy maiden has possession of the very
spectacles which he always wore on sacrificing days, and which he
bestowed upon her at his death, conveying {051}to her at the same time
the information respecting her birth which I have just given you. Thus,
then, the blood of the slayer and slain have been blended together by
the marriage of the daughter of the former with the son of the latter.
The Boar has consequently been got rid of, and unless you are the most
ungrateful set of varlets that ever breathed, you will tell the Druids
to go home and mind their own business, will celebrate the nuptials of
the happy couple by a jolly good dinner, and break up at the close of
the evening with ‘three cheers for Smith!’”

This speech of the fairy Toddlekins was received with rapturous applause
by every one present, especially the closing allusion to a “jolly good
dinner,” which in every age has had a decided attraction for Englishmen.
The Druids, who were wise in their generation, at once determined not to
risk the loss of their influence by further opposition to that which was
evidently the popular will, and was moreover supported by the powers of
Fairyland. So, determined to make the best of it without further delay,
they pretended to have been entirely convinced by the speech they
had just heard, and not only joined in the cheers which greeted its
conclusion, but volunteered to stand the dinner into the bargain! They
proceeded to do still more; within an incredibly short space of time
they fetched Bertha (who had previously stood no inconsiderable chance
of being sacrificed too), and presented her and Smith together before
the fairy youth for his approving benediction. This, as you may easily
suppose, was freely and kindly given.

I hardly think I need tell you any more. Smith still declined {052}to
reign over the people, and, considering the experience he had had of
their fickle nature, I don’t think he was far wrong. Nor do I deem
him to have erred in his determination to leave that particular
neighbourhood, being under the belief that when holy men have once
intended to sacrifice a fellow, they are never very safe customers for
him afterwards. So the happy couple very soon departed from Windsor,
and I know very little more about them except that their family is not
extinct at the present day, and is by no means likely to become so. I
believe they lived very happily, and I never heard of any unpleasantness
between them. Still I confess that, if I had been Smith, I should have
been afraid to marry a woman who could change a boar into a hedgehog,
lest at any time she should take it into her head to exercise her powers
upon her husband in a manner which might have been inconvenient, to say
the least of it.

I am scarcely in a position to tell you whether the fairy Toddlekins has
ever left Toadland again and come once more upon earth as a mortal.
I might make a guess, Brother Rhine, if I chose, even at _this_, but
perhaps I had better be silent. Many a pleasant youthful face, worthy of
Fairyland, frequents my waters at times, and the old college of Eton
has sent me such over and over again. But if I should single out any
particular face and form, and declare to the astonished world that
therein I recognised the noble fairy Toddlekins of the Druid times, I
don’t suppose anybody would believe me; and even you, Brother Rhine,
might think it possible that I was mistaken. So now I have finished my
legend, and as I see that you {053}have not neglected your flagon
of wine meanwhile, I hope that you have derived therefrom sufficient
inspiration to be able to give me a tale of your own fair country which
shall eclipse in interest the account which I have ventured to give you
of the Great Boar of Windsor!

As soon as Father Thames had thus concluded his story, his companion
clapped his hands in an approving manner. “That,” he remarked, “is a
capital legend, and ends, as a legend should, in a comfortable manner. I
have many curious tales of my own river, but none, I think, more curious
than the one you have related. However, as it is now my turn, I will do
my best, and, with your good leave, will tell you the famous story of
‘Martha’s Vengeance.’”

Father Thames having gravely bowed approval, the monarch of the Rhine
thus proceeded:--



MARTHA’S VENGEANCE

The Baroness Von Bandelboots was a woman of an awful temper. Her husband
trembled before her, her servants hardly felt that their souls were
their own when she spoke, the vassals of the Bandelboots estates
shivered in their shoes when they met her, and the neighbours all kept
out of her way as much as possible. And yet there was no reason why this
lady should have been so violent and have made herself and others so
miserable! You would have thought she had everything to content her. The
husband, good easy man, let her do just as she liked, and cared nothing
for her indulgence {054}of all her whims and fancies, so long as he was
secure of his favourite pipe and his comfortable armchair after dinner.

She had several daughters of various ages who had never caused her a
moment’s uneasiness, and after some years of anxious expectation a son
had been bom who would in due course of time succeed to the honours
of the family, and who meanwhile was, naturally enough, the legitimate
object of her maternal devotion. Moreover, the Baroness lacked not
riches. Not only were the estates of the Baron large and productive
around his castle on the Rhine, but he had other distant property which
brought him in no inconsiderable revenue, and he readily gave to his
beloved wife control over wealth sufficient to have contented the most
extravagant of females. Besides this, she had a house which was really
charming, built upon an island in the middle of a lake, only a short
distance from my beloved river, and furnished with everything that
good taste could support and a full purse supply. Nor was she without
neighbours, even in a country wherein neighbours are generally scarce.
Several other castles stood within driving distance of the Bandelboots
domain, and the Baroness could with very little exertion procure for
herself society, if society she desired.

Nevertheless the good dame’s temper was a curse to herself and everybody
she came near, and she seemed to delight in scolding for scolding’s
sake. This unfortunate propensity had been productive of much discomfort
and inconvenience to the Baron’s household, even before the particular
events which I am about to relate. Several old and valuable servants had
left, either having been {055}dismissed by the Baroness in moments of
passion, or having found themselves unable to stay consistently with
their self-respect, after having been subjected to the strong language
which she frequently used upon such occasions, which was, I am sorry to
say, more than once followed by personal violence.

One servant she had indeed retained for several years, and this was
her own maid, Martha Scweinvolt. This woman was one of a singularly
unprepossessing appearance, and of a certain age. Her nose was long
and somewhat like a hook, her forehead receded in a strange angle
immediately above her eyebrows, her ears were remarkably large and low
down on her head, her chin protruded, her neck was of unnatural length,
her hands and feet larger than those of ordinary women, and her figure
tall, lank, and ungainly. To such a person did the Baroness entrust the
care of her wardrobe and the adorning of her noble self; and although
she frequently indulged her with a good scolding, the maid received it
all with stolid indifference, perhaps because, as her vinegar aspect
seemed to denote, she herself could be cross upon occasions, and thought
it not unreasonable that her mistress should be the same.

One day it chanced, indeed, that the kettle, so to speak, boiled over.
Martha Scweinvolt had been engaged upon her mistress’s back hair, and
the latter, seated in “demi-toilette” upon a low stool, had been reading
a novel. Suddenly she took it into her head to drop the book and take
up a small hand looking-glass to see how her maid was getting on. In
so doing she made a forward movement, which, as Martha happened at that
instant to have the hair tight in hand, had the {056}natural effect
of making the lady feel as if her maid had suddenly given her hair a
violent and unpleasant pull. Without for a moment considering that
it was entirely her own fault, the Baroness directly flew into a most
furious passion. She stormed and raved against the woman until she was
almost black in the face, and then, to finish matters off, struck her
with either hand a violent box on the ears on each side of her head,
and hustled her out of the room as if she was more than half inclined to
kick her down-stairs then and there.

[Illustration: 069]

Once outside the door, Martha Scweinvolt became perfectly livid with
rage. She turned round on the top of the stairs, faced the Baroness’s
room, and shook her fist {057}vehemently towards it, vowing by her
eleven-o’clock bread and cheese and beer (the most solemn oath known
among domestic servants of the feminine gender) that she would have
her revenge. Nor was Martha a person by any means likely to forget
or neglect such a vow. Day and night she brooded over the matter, and
ground her teeth savagely together as she remembered the indignity
to which she had been subjected. And the more she brooded, the more
determined did she become to seek vengeance from some quarter whence it
could be surely and safely obtained. By herself she knew she could do
but little; and as she was by no means popular among the other servants
of the household, she could place but little reliance on any assistance
from them. How to proceed, therefore, she had great doubts, but to
proceed in some manner she was quite determined.

Now unfortunately for me, Brother Thames, as you may perhaps be aware, a
part of my stream has always been more or less under the influence of
a class of river demons from which you in England are happily free.
I believe a milder kind of demon exists in Scotland under the name of
water kelpie, and possibly there may be something of the sort here and
there even in your favoured English rivers, but you have nothing to
match the demons of the Rhine. It is not a theme upon which I love to
dwell. No respectable river desires to have anything to do with such
creatures, and I frankly confess that at times they have brought my
waters into great disrepute.

Well (or rather not at all “well,” according to my view of the case), it
happened that the Rhine near the castle of the Baron von Bandelboots was
terribly infested {058}by these noxious spirits, only too ready at all
times to do any mischief in their power to any human being, or to assist
one mortal in gratifying his or her malice against another. To these
demons did Martha Scweinvolt determine to appeal, and made up her mind
to risk, if necessary, body and soul in order to obtain vengeance upon
her hated mistress.

Very often I am able to prevent the wicked plans and machinations of
these spirits, and I never fail to do so if I can manage it. If things
had gone rightly, I should have stopped the affair of which I am about
to tell you, and nipped it in the bud if possible, either by overflowing
my banks suddenly and drowning the wretch Martha, or by some other means
which my knowledge of the world would have enabled me to provide. But
it most unfortunately happened that the nymphs and trolls and friendly
elves of the river and forests near had given me an entertainment that
very evening, at which they played me several very curious tricks.
The jovial rascals insisted on my drinking my Steinbergh in large pint
measures, so that I got rather more than my usual allowance; then they
fastened a huge white beard upon my chin, pulled my whiskers, combed
my hair, whispered soft things in my ear, climbed on my knees, and
altogether kept me so well amused, that I never went out at all that
evening to patrol the river banks, according to my usual habit, and was
therefore entirely ignorant of all that occurred, until I was told it
some time after by a member of the Rhine Conservancy Board, who had it
from good authority.

It. seems that Martha Scweinvolt, having gone out late {059}that
evening, wandered down to the river, and there prayed vehemently to
the demons for aid. Such prayers are hardly necessary to procure the
assistance of bad spirits, when their object is to do mischief to
somebody else.

[Illustration: 072]

A demon, therefore, who happened to be near the spot, forthwith
presented himself to the waiting-maid, and that so suddenly that she
fainted away immediately. Demons, however, being very skilful in the
ways of women, know perfectly well that the best way to ensure their
speedy recovery in such cases is to take no notice whatever of their
proceeding. The evil spirit, therefore, followed this sensible plan,
and waited patiently until Martha “came to,” when he politely inquired
{060}what her wishes might be and what service he could render.

The woman unfolded her grievance, and used several bad expressions
with regard to her mistress, which caused her companion to grin with
sympathetic pleasure. He then inquired what revenge she desired to take;
to which Martha replied that she should like to have the power given her
of inflicting severe personal chastisement upon the Baroness. But the
demon scouted the idea. The pride of birth and rank work too much good
to the objects which are dear to evil spirits to make them partial to
any plan for the degradation of either one or the other, and such a
degradation would have been inflicted had the well-born Baroness been
subjected to personal chastisement at the hands of her menial. Besides
this, the power of the demon was but limited, and this would have been
possibly beyond it.

Martha suggested several other things, but at length she broke out in
joyful tones, as if an unusually bright idea had suddenly struck her:
“I know!” she cried; “let’s do something to the child, the young Baron
Hubert. Strangle him, or lame him for life, or make him humpbacked; that
will wring her old heart-strings!”

On hearing these words, the demon, who was a decent fellow at bottom,
though withal up to any mischief of a reasonable kind, positively
shuddered at the bitterness of the waiting-maid’s speech, accompanied as
it was with a look of fiendish exultation which would have done credit
to the worst of devils.

“Stop a bit, miss, stop a bit,” said he. “Fair and softly wins the race;
you go too fast, and want too much, all at once. You must know that we
demons cannot do everything {061}just how and when, we please, as you
seem to imagine. Not a bit of it! Fortunately for mortals who have
enemies (and who has not?) our power is limited; and even suppose you
had the child with you at this moment, I could not do what you require.”

“Then,” exclaimed Martha angrily, “what in the name of goodness _can_
you do?”

At these words the demon shuddered visibly. “Don’t use such language,
young lady,” said he, “if you want _my_ help, but listen attentively to
what I am about to say.”

Much flattered at being called a young lady, and probably all the more
so from her knowledge that to neither the substantive nor the adjective
had she any right whatever, Martha bent her head forward eagerly, to
hear what the water-demon had to suggest.

“If you like,” said he, “I can change the child.”

“Change the child!” cried the disappointed woman; “why, what would be
the good of _that?_”

“All the good in the world,” replied her counsellor, “if you really wish
to plague the mother. In the first place, the child I shall put in the
place of the young Baron will not be nearly so pretty as the real child,
and this will gall the mother’s heart not a little, unless baronesses
are unlike other women. Then this false child will have a very much
worse disposition. He will be cunning, ill-natured, greedy, mischievous,
and a plague to the whole household.”

“The deuce he will!” cried Martha hurriedly. “But he won’t plague _me_,
will he?”

“Better language by a good deal, my dear,” rejoined the demon, smiling
good-humouredly at the exclamation {062}of his companion; “but as to
the inquiry you make, I can hardly reply. Should the little changeling,
however, prove any annoyance even to yourself, I am sure you would
willingly submit thereto in consideration of the glorious revenge which
you will wreak upon the wretched mother. Why, your poor ears must even
now be tingling from the effects of those shameful slaps, and, if I were
in your place, it would be long enough before I forgot them!”

“Don’t be afraid, Mr. Demon,” answered the maid, gnashing her teeth
fiercely as she spoke. “I am not one to forget or forgive either, and,
after all, a child can’t really annoy me much. I’ll risk it, anyhow, so
that my brute of a mistress is made to suffer.”

“That’s right, my brave girl,” merrily replied her friend, smiling with
as pleasant a look as he knew how to put on. “That shows the true spirit
of a German lady. Never fear, you shall have your revenge, and that
speedily.” Thereupon he commenced a series of questions as to the habits
of the household and the rooms which were occupied by the youthful
Baron, and having ascertained all the particulars which he required,
bade Martha Scweinvolt return home, and rest assured that her desire
should be accomplished upon the innocent baby, and his mother made to
rue bitterly the hour when she first laid hands upon her waiting-maid.

Martha departed, having, I suppose, in the first instance given some
such pledge to the demon as these creatures are in the habit of exacting
from those who seek their good offices, which usually consists of a
simple arrangement regarding their future which they have no power
whatever to make, and which may hereafter {063}be set aside on an appeal
to the proper tribunal.

Meanwhile, the Baroness von Bandelboots had not the slightest suspicion
of the calamity which was hanging over herself and her family. She ate,
drank, slept, and scolded after her usual fashion, and did not alter her
behaviour one whit after the adventure with her waiting-maid, which had
so painfully affected the latter.

The young Baron Hubert was but a few months old, and his nurse, Sophie
Grutchen, had the sole charge of his precious person. His nursery was,
as luck would have it, on the side of the castle facing the river; but I
apprehend that to demons and creatures of that description the situation
of the apartment would have made but little difference, and indeed there
was the lake to cross in any case.

Late one evening the demon set out to fulfil his promise. He swam the
lake, climbed the wall of the castle, entered the room in which the
young Baron slept by the window, and, during the scarcely more than
momentary absence of the nurse, abstracted the baby from his cot,
deposited therein an elfin child of the same size, and departed with the
real baby by the same way he had come.

Now, the little Baron had, from his first entrance into the world, been
distinguished by his remarkably docile and tractable nature. He rarely
cried, never fretted, and was, in consequence, a general pet, so far as
such a term can be applied to an infant of such tender age. Within an
hour or two, however, after the occurrence which I have just related,
Mother Grutchen began to find {064}her charge less quiet and more
troublesome than had previously been the case. She forthwith reported
the fact to the Baroness, who, however, took her to task sharply for the
same, saying that it was all fancy, and that the dear child was a little
angel. This the poor nurse by no means wished to deny, but it entered
her head that there were different kinds of angels, and that vowed
{065}and declared that this was not the right child.

[Illustration: 077]

This was an unpleasant and curious exclamation, and put Mother Grutchen
in a terrible flurry. She owned that she thought the young Baron looked
rather queer, but remarked that babies varied considerably from time to
time; and, moreover, that as she had scarcely had him out of her sight
since the day he was born, he could not by any possibility be anything
else than the young Baron. Still the Baroness held to her opinion, and
even some of these might occasionally be troublesome. She determined
faithfully to do her duty by the child nevertheless, and to make no more
complaints to her mistress. The latter was not slow, however, to find
out that something was amiss with the infant. The very next morning,
when it was brought to her, she looked at it with a strange and startled
expression, and declared that it was not her child.

Upon this the Baron was appealed to at once. He, poor man, was terribly
annoyed at being asked the question. Proud as he had been from the first
of his infant son, he was one of those who held the theory that all
babies are, up to a certain age, very much alike, and was positively
quite incapable of pronouncing upon the identity of his own child. He
put on his large gold-rimmed spectacles, stared vacantly down upon the
infant, and said several things which had nothing whatever to do with
the question.

This put the Baroness in a passion, which by no means mended matters
at all, and there seemed every probability of a general row. But
Martha Scweinvolt, who had been hovering about the door, waiting to be
summoned, now found an excuse for entering the room, and so strongly
expressed her decided belief and conviction that the child was the right
child, and none other, that the good nurse felt her own opinion coming
more strongly to the same conclusion. The Baron, for very peace and
quietness, agreed with the two servants; and the Baroness, finding them
all against her, had a regular good scold all round, and said no more
about it.

Thus it came to pass, Brother Thames, that the child Hubert was carried
off by the water-demon, and a wretched little changeling put in his
place and accepted as the young heir. It was not long before his evil
propensities began to develop themselves. He could scarcely walk alone
before he was in mischief, and, indeed, long before this time he knocked
over his mother’s morning cup of tea whenever he could manage to do so
in {066}his early visits to her bed, and scratched the Baron’s face, as
he lay asleep, with a tiny fist which seemed hardly capable of hurting
so much as it did.

He grew fast for a short time, and then remained as if he would never
grow any bigger. But his appetite was more like that of a full-grown
man, nor was he particular where or what he ate. At breakfast he would
finish off a huge bowl of porridge, and make his old nurse tilt over
the bowl so that he might lick off the last drop from the edge. He
would clutch at everything on the dining-room table if brought in
during meals, and roar and cry loudly if the things he wanted were not
immediately given to him.

As he grew older, his conduct by no means improved. Not only was he
abominably rude to his supposed father and mother, but he took every
opportunity of endeavouring to make them fall out. He would, with an
utter disregard of truth, but with a wonderful air of innocence, tell
the Baroness how he had heard the Baron say she had a bad temper, and
was a disagreeable woman; whilst he would tell the Baron, as an affair
of everyday occurrence, that his wife spoke of him as a lazy sot,
who was no companion whatever to her, and spent his life in eating,
drinking, and smoking.

These little things were scarcely calculated to improve the happiness
of the worthy couple, but this was by no means the only channel through
which the little wretch poured discomfort upon the household. He
set everybody by the ears whenever he could, and showed an utter
heartlessness of character, coupled with a reckless depravity of
disposition, which was perfectly horrible. He roared with laughter on
being told of any misfortune having {067}happened to another person, and
scowled sulkily when any one fell in with a piece of good luck. Crushing
flies on the windows was one of his earliest amusements, and when this
had become monotonous, he used to torture any animal he could get hold
of with a cruelty beyond belief.

[Illustration: 080]

He would stick pins in his pony’s neck to {068}make it dance, as he
said, and indulge in screams of laughter at its suffering. He snipped
off his dog’s ears with a sharp pair of scissors, put the house-cat into
the copper full of boiling water until its yells brought the cook to
save it, and loved better than anything to get hold of some of the
skewers out of the kitchen, in order to impale upon them any unfortunate
mouse which he could find in the traps.

If any visitor came to the castle, he was fortunate indeed if he escaped
unhurt. The little wretch began upon him as soon as he entered the
house, creeping slyly behind him in order to cut off the buttons of his
coat, give him a cruel pinch when least expected, and even sometimes
went the length of running a pin into his leg. And when the unhappy
gentleman rose to depart, if he did not find his coat-tails tied fast to
the chair, ten to one but he was tripped up, as he ran down the stairs,
by a thin but strong string, tied ankle-high by the young Baron about
half-way down, nearly sure to produce a most awkward fall, the annoyance
of which was increased by the triumphant and insulting chuckle of the
little villain, who, perched on the highest step, or peeping through the
banisters above, would watch with eager delight to witness the effects
of his wicked trick.

It is not surprising that the young rascal was cordially detested
throughout the whole household. Indeed, they had small cause to do
anything else but detest him. There was no trouble he did not give
the servants, and no trick which he did not play them. If he met the
housemaids on the stairs or in the passages he invariably blew out their
candles, or ran hastily against them, as if {069}by accident, so as if
possible to make them drop any tray or jug they might be carrying. He
rang the bell constantly for nothing, and pointed and laughed at the
footman who came hurrying to answer it. He turned the lamp-oil into the
soup just as the cook was about to send it up for the Baron’s dinner,
put a quantity of vinegar into the beer which the butler had carefully
drawn for the “hall” supper, and smeared the groom of the chamber’s
chair in “the room” so thickly with bird-lime, that the respected
individual in question had the greatest difficulty in ever getting out
of it again. In short, he became the torment of the house, and everybody
wished most devoutly that he had never been born.

The only consolation was that, somehow or other, he selected Martha
Scweinvolt as his principal victim. That woman’s life became a burden to
her. Her thimble was constantly missing, and, when put on hastily, was
more than once full of tar or glue, cunningly placed therein by the
malicious urchin. “Booby-traps” were constantly set for her, in the
shape of heavy books or jugs of water skilfully balanced on the top of
the door of the Baroness’s room, which was then left just ajar, and
the bell hastily rung, so that, coming down-stairs and entering the
apartment in a hurry, she was sure to get the benefit of the jug or
books upon her devoted head. These tricks, however, were by no means
his worst. The supposed young Baron, in his visits to the housekeeper’s
room, never missed the chance of paying attention to Martha’s comfort
after his own peculiar fashion. He put salt in her beer when her
head was turned; slyly inserted needles in her bread, which more than
{070}once proved nearly fatal to the woman; and upon one occasion
doctored her tea with some drugs which he had abstracted from his
mother’s medicine-chest, and which produced serious and most unpleasant
results. Not content with these practical jokes, the urchin never spared
the feelings of anybody, and Martha was oftentimes almost goaded
to madness by his insulting remarks upon her personal appearance,
disposition, and situation in life. As time went on, matters seemed to
get rather worse than better, and the wretched woman experienced to her
cost that revenge, sweet as it may be, cannot be purchased without a
heavy sacrifice.

While these things were passing in the castle of Bandelboots, the
question may not unnaturally be asked of me what had become of the real
child, the unfortunate young Hubert, who had been carried away by the
river-demon. It may easily be supposed that his was no pleasant fate.
Fortunately for him, those who had taken him from his happy home had
no power either to kill or injure him, neither could they alter the
goodness of his natural disposition. The latter, however, rendered his
condition somewhat more uncomfortable than would otherwise have been the
case, for being forced to consort with witches, demons, imps, and other
low and disreputable society, he was constantly brought into contact
with many things and people most disagreeable and revolting to anything
pure and good. He was obliged to attend the “bad language class” of
the water-imps, where prizes were given for swearing and wicked
conversation; the art of tormenting was taught him by an elderly demon,
to whom the task was congenial; and general instruction in devilry was
afforded him {071}by means of public lectures delivered by a spirit
specially appointed for the purpose. Such, however, was his natural
goodness, that he steadily refused to be perverted, maintaining a
dignified silence amid the jesting and ribaldry of the imps around, and
invariably declining to join in any of their misconduct.

All that the demons could do, under the circumstances, was to alter,
without permanently injuring, the form with which he had entered the
world. This they did by giving to his well-shaped body the appearance of
a round and ill-made bulk, upon which they placed a bullet-head with a
pair of short horns over the forehead, and ornamented it, moreover, with
a long tail and a pair of bat’s wings. Thus being changed into a regular
little devilet, it was marvellous that the boy should have continued to
preserve the goodness and purity of his disposition. So it was, however;
and as demons who live by tempting mortals to sin have a very large
field over which to practise their skill, and cannot afford to devote to
any one individual more than a fair share of their attention, they got
tired after a while of trying it on with the young Baron, and ended
by leaving him very much to himself. Then it was that the boy found
amusement in flying about along the banks of the river.

By the mysterious laws of magic, he knew, and yet did not know, the
misfortune which had befallen him, and the crime of which he had been
made the victim. In other words, he knew that something was as it should
not be, and that, somehow or other, he had been cruelly wronged, but
of the exact nature of the wrong he was as yet ignorant. Still, some
instinct led him to the lake in which was situated the island upon which
stood his father’s {072}castle, and he loved better than anything else
to fly by night round and round the old place, uttering from time to
time mournful cries, which now and then found their way to the ears
of some of the Baron’s household. Whenever the false heir heard these
sounds, it was noticed that he, shivered terribly, and crept, groaning
and growling; under the nearest sofa, or anywhere out of sight.

And upon one occasion, when the cry sounded louder and clearer than
usual, and there came a noise as if a wing--had flapped against window
of the state-room in which the family were assembled that evening, he
howled miserably, the ground, and almost went into convulsions with
alarm.

[Illustration: 085]

This behaviour on the part of his supposed son struck the Baron as
strange, and was, indeed, the cause of some coldness between him and his
wife. For, being a man somewhat proud of the chivalry and courage of
his high ancestry, this display of cowardice on the part of his
{073}probable heir and successor greatly irritated the old gentleman,
and he boldly declared that he was sure it all came from the mother’s
side. Such an accusation naturally put the Baroness into one of her
passions, in the course of which she went so far as to pull off her
husband’s wig and slap his cheeks. This indignity was one to which the
Baron could scarcely be expected to submit, and having soundly shaken
his respected consort, he left the room in high dudgeon, and took his
meals alone for the next three days, which annoyed the Baroness more
than anything else, as it left her only her daughters and servants to
scold, which had become rather insipid. After a while this conduct of
the child was set down to constitutional timidity, and the Baron only
smiled contemptuously when it was repeated.

So time wore on, and it really seemed as if there was no reason why the
truth should ever be discovered, or the success of Martha Scweinvolt’s
wicked scheme be otherwise than complete. It was not, however, wholly
satisfactory to the waiting-maid herself, for, independently of the
unpleasant behaviour of the false heir towards her, she had not even the
satisfaction of seeing her mistress suffer as she had hoped. So it is
that people who consult demons, or, what is nearly as bad, follow the
dictates of their own evil passions, are generally deceived in the
result, and find that the good to themselves which they expected to
obtain pretty certainly ends in disappointment.

Although the Baroness had at first declared that the child brought to
her by Sophie Grutchen on that eventful morning was not her own, she
had become reconciled to the state of things in a marvellously short
{074}time, fancied that, after all, she must have been under some
delusion, and in a very few days took kindly to the infant. As he grew
up, her fondness for him increased, and, in spite of what has been so
often said and written about the unfailing instinct of a mother, she
firmly believed him to be her own son. Instead, therefore, of her
heart-strings being wrung, as Martha had charitably hoped would have
been the case, she was by no means unhappy. True it is, she suffered
somewhat from the urchin’s behaviour, but, when it did not happen
to affect her own personal comfort, she took his part against the
complaints of others, stood up for him when the Baron found fault, and
scarcely ever endeavoured to check him in his mischievous and tormenting
ways.

Thus did Martha find that she had brought a plague upon herself without
really securing her revenge, and that the only person who had been
punished was the innocent child against whom she had borne no grudge.
This was by no means a pleasant reflection, and in some natures would
have produced a repentance for the evil done, and a sincere desire to
undo it if possible. I regret to be obliged to state that this was by no
means the case with Martha. On the contrary, her desire for revenge was
unappeased, and the more she discovered that she had failed, the more
she resolved that she would, somehow or other, ultimately succeed. With
this view, therefore, she once more sought the river side, and summoned
to her aid her former friend the water-demon.

As there was nothing attractive in her appearance, or delightful in her
society, the demon, who knew moreover {075}that his hold upon her was
sufficiently secure to make it a matter of indifference to him whether
she committed any more crimes or not, did not come until she had adjured
him by many entreaties and employed all the incantations of which
she was the mistress. When at last he appeared, he treated her with
contemptuous coldness, and derided her complaints that she had not
enjoyed her promised revenge. In fact he told her, in so many words,
that he had fulfilled his part of the bargain, and that she had no
business to trouble him any more.

Most people would have taken this for a final answer, but Martha was not
disposed to be put off after such a fashion. She told the demon that she
was quite ready to own that he had done what he had promised, although
the result had not been so satisfactory as she had been led to expect.
She had, however, another plan, in which she required his assistance,
and put it plainly to him, as a well-bred devil, whether he could refuse
a lady under the peculiar circumstances of the case. Besides, she said,
there would be crime committed by other persons, and possibly misery
to many, if her plan could be carried out, and these should be powerful
inducements to any right-minded demon, who understood the interests of
his class, to render his willing and active assistance.

Her plan, then, was to stir up the neighbouring peasants and shepherds
to revolt against the Baron. By constantly dinning into their ears
stories of the lazy and useless life he led, and the abominable temper
and tyranny of the Baroness, Martha had little doubt that a spirit of
disaffection might be excited among these ignorant {076}people which she
would eventually be able to turn to good account. If she could induce
them to rise against the Baron, and suddenly attack the castle, she
would take good care that the Baroness should not escape; and even if
the movement was not successful, she would be able in the confusion to
wreak her revenge, by dagger or poison, upon her hated mistress. Such an
attempt, in any case, could not fail to be productive of much evil and
discomfort to one side or the other, and must, therefore, be a scheme
which should at once recommend itself to the individual whom she was
addressing.

The demon listened with attention to Martha’s speech, and at its
conclusion warmly complimented her upon the fertility of her brain,
and expressed his candid opinion that she deserved to have been a demon
herself. He owned that he felt bound, as a gentleman and a devil, to
give her every assistance in his power, and asked her several questions
as to the manner in which she thought he could be of most use in
furthering her views. The waiting-maid replied that her only fear was
as to her being able to persuade the people to take her advice and
rise against the Baron. The old feudal principle still lurked in their
breasts, and although they were certainly poor they were tolerably
honest, and having been generally treated with kindness by the
inhabitants of the castle, might possibly be weak enough to entertain
towards them sentiments of affection and gratitude.

The demon, however, who knew better than Martha how little of either of
these feelings exists in the heart of man, smiled a contemptuous smile
at her ignorance of human nature, and told her that she need feel no
uneasiness {077}upon the point. He added, however, that as she doubted
her persuasive powers, he would give her such valuable aid as would
materially improve her chances of success. He would forthwith speak to
two highly respectable wehr-wolves of his acquaintance, who would be
ready, for his sake, to accompany her whenever she went out among the
peasants. By following her closely, these animals would add to the
estimation in which the ignorant rustics would hold her, and although
they would not speak when she was in the company of other mortals, they
would give her many private hints which she would find immeasurably
useful in persuading those with whom she would have to do.

Much gratified by this assurance, Martha wended her way homewards in
better spirits than she had enjoyed for some time past, and was even
able to smile contemptuously when she found that the young Baron had
taken the opportunity of her absence to put a hedgehog in her bed, and
empty a bottle of castor oil into her best Sunday boots. She lost no
time in commencing operations, and almost every afternoon walked out
into the country to spread disaffection among the people.

At first, it is true, she was rather frightened at the appearance of the
wehr-wolves, whom the demon had been as good as his word in sending to
meet her. They always waited for her at the corner of a neighbouring
wood, and accompanied her to the cottages of the peasants. After a short
time she began to hold small meetings of the latter, at which she held
forth concerning the wrongs they suffered at the hands of the Baron: how
shameful it was that _he_ should be so rich and _they_ so poor, and how
one man was just as good as another.

She {078}always took care to wind up by attributing much of their
particular miseries to the bad influence of the Baroness, whom she
denounced as an upholder of everything bad, a cruel tyrant in her
household, and altogether a monster of iniquity. As she lectured in this
way, one of the wehr-wolves generally sat just behind her and the other
at the other end of the room, and the presence of these animals made a
vast impression upon the ignorant peasants. In this manner, little by
little, the wicked Martha obtained considerable influence over the poor
people, who became gradually more and more moody and discontented, until
at last they really came to look upon the Baron as a hateful tyrant, and
regarded the Baroness as a monster in human form.

[Illustration: 091]

While all these things were going on, you must not suppose, Brother
Thames, that evil was allowed to enjoy an uninterrupted triumph in
Rhineland. I am glad to be able to say that such has never been the
case for long; and that although my stream has always been more or
less troubled by demons, imps, devilets, and water-rats {079}(which are
nearly as bad), it has never been without a redeeming element in the
shape of good fairies, nymphs, and an occasional stray mermaid, come up
from the sea for change of air and scenery. These creatures have, from
time to time, performed many acts of kindness to mankind, and when the
powers of evil have proved too strong for them for a time, they have now
and then requested me to interfere.

In the present instance a strong deputation of nymphs waited upon me,
and brought before me a particular part of the case which I am now about
to enter upon. Among those persons who were most greatly plagued by the
false heir, were his three supposed sisters, the elder children of the
Baron and Baroness von Bandelboots. These young ladies were endowed
with considerable personal attractions, and were girls of whom a brother
might well have been proud. Dora, Bertha, and Elladine were the names of
the three, and up to the time of the changing of the children they
had lived lives as happy and contented as was compatible with the
ever-varying temper of their worthy mother. They were quite young,
indeed, when the event occurred which so destroyed the comfort of the
Bandelboots household, and at the time at which I have now arrived in my
narration were just budding into womanhood, three as fair flowers as you
would wish to see. Their young devilet of a brother, or rather he who
was supposed to be their brother, contrived to make their existence
perfectly miserable; and as the Baroness invariably took his part
against them, their lives at last became positively unendurable.

It was not only that a chignon was constantly hidden or {080}stolen just
when it was wanted, stays were mysteriously cut, gloves spoiled, best
bonnets crammed up the chimney, and best boots deposited in the bath.
These discomforts were unpleasant enough, but the little wretch went far
beyond them. He pinched and nipped the poor girls whenever he met them,
trod on their toes suddenly, drew away their chairs just as they were
about to sit down, and put rhubarb and magnesia into their five o’clock
tea. Moreover, he carried all kinds of tales about them to the Baroness,
and told falsehood upon falsehood for the mere purpose of getting them
into disgrace. Then, when the Baroness inflicted punishment upon them,
he would jeer and taunt and tease the poor girls, rendering it doubly
disagreeable by his ill-natured and malicious joy. Nothing delighted
him so much as to see others suffer, and it seemed as if he lived
for nothing else save to procure as much misery as possible for his
neighbours.

This state of things gradually drove Dora, Bertha, and Elladine to
desperation; and, after many plans and consultations, they determined to
seek advice from some of the good spirits of my river. As it happened,
however, that, although they are very willing to give good advice and to
assist mortals whenever they can, my nymphs and fairies are restrained
by etiquette from active interference with the demons in those parts
of the river especially appropriated to the latter, the good creatures
thought it better to bring the matter before me; and on being consulted
by the young ladies, the nymph who saw them upon the subject told them
to come again at a certain time, before which she waited upon me, as I
have said, with a deputation.

When {081}the case had been fairly represented to me, I saw at once that
it was one in which something should be done, and I accordingly promised
that if the three young persons would bathe together at a certain spot
on the following morning, I would present myself before them and hear
their story.

[Illustration: 094]

The time came, and I can assure you, Brother Thames, that in order to
inspire confidence in the breasts of the maidens, I made my appearance
as venerable as I could previous to my appearance before their
astonished eyes.

The {082}sweet creatures stood in the water clinging fondly to each
other, as they implored my assistance; and whilst I listened to their
artless tale of woe, I leaned my head upon my hand, and pondered deeply
over the best course to be taken in order to afford them that assistance
which I at once determined to render.

I was not long in making up my mind, and in resolving that the demons
should not be allowed to have things all their own way. However, as you
know very well, the laws of magic must not be broken, and it would never
have done for me to have rudely and suddenly exercised my superior power
in order to set matters right in the castle of Bandelboots. All I could
fairly do was to put mortals in the way of helping themselves, at the
same time interfering, if need should arise, with just as much exercise
of power as might be necessary. So, having spoken words of comfort
to the three girls, I told them to go home and try and bear their
misfortunes for three days more, and at the end of that time, if matters
were no better, they might again pay me a visit.

There was, as you may suppose, no improvement in their condition during
the appointed time. In fact, their supposed brother was, if possible,
rather worse than ever. He cut off a great bit of Bertha’s back hair,
stole up behind Elladine and boxed her ears violently, and finished up
by giving Dora’s pet canary to the cat, which he afterwards hung, as he
said, for the murder. It was no matter of surprise to me, then, when
the three maidens again presented themselves before me, weeping bitterly
over their many misfortunes and sorrows.

I no longer hesitated as to the course which I should pursue, {083}but
immediately changed the sisters into three magnificent swans, desiring
them to frequent as much as possible the lake on which their father’s
castle stood. This course, as you will readily perceive, had a double
effect of a most useful character. For one thing, it of course showed
the inhabitants of the castle that something was wrong, and aroused
both the Baron and Baroness to exertions for the recovery of their lost
daughters which would very likely result in their finding out from
the powers of magic something, as the lawyers say, “very much to their
advantage.” But above and beyond this was the circumstance that, as
swans are gifted with the miraculous power of seeing through magical
disguises, the young ladies would be perfectly certain to encounter and
recognise their real brother in some of his flittings over the lake, and
thus would eventually be brought about the consummation so devoutly to
be desired.

You may well believe that the disappearance of the three girls plunged
the castle into the direst confusion. No one could imagine where they
had gone to, and all kinds of surmises were afloat. The Baron smoked
twice as many pipes as usual; the Baroness flew into a more violent
passion than had been the case for a month before; poor old nurse
Grutchen wept bitterly; Martha Scweinvolt seemed to have more vinegar
than ever in her countenance; and the false heir ran about teasing and
worrying everybody twice as much as usual, and was apparently in the
highest possible spirits at the loss of his sisters. Every hole and
corner of the castle was searched, the river was dragged, the crier
was sent through the straggling hamlets of the neighbourhood, special
{084}messengers were despatched in every direction, but it is needless
to say that no success attended any of these proceedings.

[Illustration: 097].

And the stately swans swam all the time around the ancient walls of
their ancestral home, and floated upon the waters of the lake they knew
so well, thankful for the peace and rest which they at last enjoyed,
and caressing each other with the tender love of creatures who knew
that upon their mutual love and sympathy depended the whole comfort and
happiness of their lives. Nor indeed were they long left in ignorance of
the truth as to their unhappy brother. Scarcely had they been two days
upon the old lake, before the transformed child came flying up from the
river to take his mournful look at the home from which he had been so
cruelly ravished. As he flew low over the waters he passed close to the
three lovely swans, and they, casting their eyes upon him as they
sat mournfully watching, recognised their brother at once through the
hideous disguise {085}he wore, and called him to them with loud cries of
joy.

The bat-boy paused in his flight, hovered for a moment near to the noble
birds, and then, as he heard them speak, the whole of his sad story came
back to him, the memories of his first few months upon earth as a mortal
child were stirred in his bosom, and he knew clearly and fully his true
nature and origin, and the cruel wrongs he had endured at the hands of
the treacherous waiting-maid and her wicked ally the river-demon. As
soon as he had fully realised the truth, the boy tenderly embraced
his swan-sisters, and the four wept together over the sorrows of their
family. Being well aware, however, that weeping would be of very little
service unless followed by active measures, they discontinued that
amusing pastime after a while, and consulted together as to the best
course to be pursued.

Although comparatively happy in their new shape, the sisters readily
confessed that they should infinitely prefer to resume their human
bodies, provided that they could be assured of being able to live
quietly and comfortably, and of being no longer troubled with the malice
of the devilet heir. The youthful Hubert had of course no affection
whatever for the form to which he had been condemned, and therefore the
object of the four was clear enough, namely, to return to their natural
shapes as soon as possible under more favourable conditions than those
in which they had left them. The question was as to the wisest and best
means of securing this desirable object, and here the magic knowledge
generally possessed by swans came to their assistance.

They {086}knew full well that their brother could never become his
former self until the devilet who now possessed his shape and claimed
rights which were his should be compelled to abandon both. They knew,
moreover, that to bring this about would be a work requiring caution,
since the river-demon was powerful and cunning enough to counteract all
their efforts unless they could contrive to outwit him. It was, however,
revealed to the sisters that there was one way in which this might
be done, and by which the retransformation of their brother might be
effected, and the false heir be obliged to return to him that sent him.

There lived far up in the great mountains, which could be seen in the
distance from the castle windows, a being endowed with wondrous powers.
He was commonly known by the name of the Harper, and a strange fellow
he certainly was. No one quite knew whether he was merely mortal or
something more. All that was certain was, that he lived the life of a
hermit, was by no means particular in his dress or remarkably clean
in his appearance, and wore a flat hat with ivy and oak leaves
woven together on the crown. His harp was of the rudest and simplest
character, but it had such extraordinary virtue that if he played it,
accompanying himself while he sang or chanted to its tune, everybody and
everything seemed obliged to yield to its magic powers. The sisters
of Bandelboots knew full well that if this individual’s aid could be
secured things would be pretty sure to go right, and therefore made up
their minds to seek it without delay.

That night nothing could be done; the swans brooded quietly on the lake,
and their brother flitted mournfully round {087}the castle, uttering
his melancholy cries, and hovering close to the windows of the home that
should have been his. But early next morning the three swans rose from
the water and took their flight towards the great mountains. Upwards
and upwards they flew, pausing not for one moment’s rest, until they had
crossed the river, passed over the large forest beyond, and reached the
steep rocks and crags amid which the Harper had his home. There was snow
on the heights, and the poor birds felt the chill strike through their
warm plumage to their tender breasts as they flew higher and higher.
Suddenly they came to a small grove of trees which grew on a platform
of flat land, which was curiously placed just beneath one of the highest
crags. At the extremity of this was a cave hollowed out in the rock,
and in this cave dwelt the worthy Harper, only coming forth to the world
below when specially summoned for some purpose beneficial to weak and
suffering humanity.

Alighting at the mouth of the cave, the three sisters began to sing
their sweetest song, which not unnaturally brought the owner of the
cave out to see what was the matter. This his knowledge of magic soon
enabled him to ascertain, and it is hardly necessary that I should
give you the details of the interview. Suffice it to say that when they
parted the worthy old gentleman nodded his head and winked his eyes
knowingly at the young ladies, as much as to assure them that it
would be “all right,” and that the three swans flew back to the lake
exceedingly well satisfied with the result of their expedition.

Meanwhile, Martha Scweinvolt had very nearly brought {088}her plans to
maturity. The peasantry had become thoroughly discontented, and were
prepared to take action against the family whom they had been taught
to regard as their oppressors. Martha’s desire was that they should
surprise the castle by a sudden assault, she on her part undertaking
that one of the gates should be unfastened when they arrived, and only
stipulating that, if success attended their attempt, the Baroness should
be delivered up to her mercy. The chief difficulty was in the means
of transit, for the castle, being upon an island, could not easily be
attacked except the latter were first reached by its assailants.

At one side the island was very near the mainland, from which a strip of
land jutted out into the lake, and a large wooden bridge connected the
two. This was the ordinary means of approach; and as a strong gate was
placed at the island end of the bridge, over which a sentinel always
watched, it was not very easy for any considerable body of men to cross
over without their coming being made known to the inhabitants of the
castle. Martha, however, was equal to the occasion. She managed to make
friends with the sentinel on the night for which the attack was planned,
and having induced him to abandon his post for a time, gave him a cup of
tea so well drugged that he was quite unable to return there. The
effect upon this man, I may here mention, was a melancholy one. From
thenceforth he eschewed tea for ever, and took to drinking ale and
spirits for the rest of his life, which should be a warning to all
persons to take care what they put into their tea, and by whom they
allow themselves to be tempted to partake of that usually refreshing
beverage.

Having {089}thus obtained possession of the key, Martha stole out and
unlocked the bridge-gate, and returned to the castle delighted with her
success. Once on the little island, the invaders of the castle would
have little difficulty. The drawbridge was left down, the doors
generally left open, and such was the security of the Baron in
those peaceful days, that no precautions, further than guarding the
bridge-gate, were ever taken against surprise. Besides the servants,
there were not above five-and-twenty men-at-arms in the castle; and as
several hundred peasants were likely to attack, there could be little
doubt of the result, provided always that the surprise was as complete
as Martha intended.

The night was clear and moonlight when the attacking party drew near.
They were a strange-looking body of men, rudely and poorly clad, and
armed with weapons of a varied and curious character. Some had clubs,
some stakes sharpened at the points, some knives, daggers, and oddly
fashioned swords, whilst not a few had only spades or prongs, and some
appeared unprovided with any weapons save those which nature had given
them. They crossed the bridge without opposition, found to their delight
that the gate was open, passed quietly through it, and got safely upon
the island. They advanced to the drawbridge, crossed it, and had nothing
to do but to enter the doors beyond, and find themselves inside the
castle.

The family had passed a somewhat unpleasant day. The Baron had taken
deeply to heart the loss of his daughters, of whom he had become more
than usually fond since his supposed son had shown himself of such
a disagreeable character. The latter had been that day more
{090}mischievous and troublesome than ever: as the Baroness had a
headache, he had amused himself with making as much noise as he possibly
could, and had, moreover, indulged his passion for practical jokes
by putting live toads into the maid-servants’ beds, and turning the
ink-bottle into the Baron’s after-dinner decanter of port wine. The
household not having been rendered more comfortable or harmonious by
these innocent pastimes of the pretended Hubert, were about to retire
to rest, when the sudden arrival of the insurgent peasants gave them
something else to think of.

As soon as they were well inside the doors, the attacking party kept
silence no longer, but, with loud shouts, began their work of plunder.
The defenders of the castle were really so completely surprised, that
resistance was almost impossible. The trembling servants hid themselves
wherever they could--the groom of the chamber shutting himself up
securely in the housemaid’s closet, the housekeeper flying instantly
to the butler’s pantry, and the latter functionary betaking himself
immediately to the beer-cellar, from which he was with difficulty
dragged when the affair was over, but was never the same man afterwards.
The men-at-arms, I am sorry to say, did but little better. Utterly
bewildered at the whole business, they made no attempt at resistance
until it was too late, and within a very short time the castle was in
the hands of the invaders.

As soon as the Baron heard the first outcry he rang the bell loudly,
and, as nobody answered, presently repeated the performance, with a
precisely similar result. He had been just about to retire to rest, but
finding that the {091}uproar increased, and that something serious had
certainly happened, he desisted from the act of pulling off his boots,
seized his sword, and rushed down into the large state-room, where he
was presently joined by some eight or ten of the men-at-arms and two or
three of the household servants. As soon as he found that the castle
had been attacked, and was actually in possession of an enemy, the Baron
gnashed his teeth with rage at having been thus caught unprepared; but,
being a man of courage, despite his natural laziness, determined to sell
his life dearly at the least. He and his few retainers had just time
to barricade the door at one end of the room, and place the large
library-table and some other articles of furniture in such a position
as to give them a better chance of self-defence if attacked by numbers,
when the doors at the other end of the room were thrown violently open,
and a crowd of peasants rushed in, yelling and bawling in loud and
discordant tones as they advanced towards the master of the castle. It
was at this moment that the old blood of the Bandelboots showed itself
to advantage. The Baron displayed no signs of fear, but, drawing himself
up to his full height (which, being barely four feet six inches, was of
itself not imposing), and violently stamping his foot upon the floor, he
thus addressed the intruders:--

“How now, varlets! Whence and for what object come ye here? How do ye
dare, ye scum of the earth, to enter your Baron’s castle and beard a
Bandelboots in his lair?”

Then stepped there forth a tattered, ragged, famished-looking man, well
known in those parts by the name of Crazy Timothy; his eyes were wild
and staring, his dress {092}torn, and his whole appearance seemed amply
to justify his nickname.

[Illustration: 105]

“We want our rights!” he cried in a loud voice. “What is a Bandelboots
to us more than anybody else? We are starving, whilst you and your vile
Baroness revel in plenty. Give us our rights--these are the days when
the poor are as good as the rich! No more starvation for the poor
peasant! Give us our rights!”

And thereupon the whole crew took up the chorus. “Our rights! our
rights!--give us our rights!” and made as though they would advance upon
the old Baron. The latter quailed not for a moment, but, curling his
lips scornfully, thus made reply:--

“Rights? But what are they? Is it your rights to enter a peaceful
dwelling and rob its owner? If these are your rights, why are they
_yours_ more than the rights of all the rest of the world? What better
title have you to your homes than I to mine? And if you may enter and
rob my castle, what protection has any one of you for his own cottage,
which some one may say it is _his_ right to enter and destroy? Poor
churls! ye are deceived, and will but bring ruin upon yourselves. Retire
before it is too late, and ye shall yet be pardoned!” Whatever might
have been the Baron’s intention in uttering {093}these words, I am sorry
to say that they had no conciliatory effect upon those to whom they were
addressed. Shouting aloud and brandishing their weapons, they were about
to advance upon the venerable nobleman, when, from a side door, some
new personages suddenly appeared upon the scene. Pushed along in a chair
upon wheels, to which she was securely bound, came the Baroness, in the
custody of several peasants, who were under the more immediate guidance
and control of Martha Scweinvolt. The latter, with a face beaming with
delight, followed triumphantly behind, whilst the false heir, weeping
and howling piteously, trotted by the side of the chair, driven forward
by the peasants who ushered the Baroness into the room.

The poor Baroness presented a spectacle sad indeed to behold. She was in
a towering rage, but at the same time perfectly helpless, and foamed at
the mouth with fury as she strove in vain to get loose from the cords
with which she was tied.

When these new arrivals had advanced into the room between the Baron and
the peasants, there was a momentary pause, during which Martha stepped
in front of the chair upon which the poor Baroness was fastened, and,
pointing at her with outstretched arm and scornful gesture, addressed
the peasants in these words:--

“Here she is, good people; here is the source of all your ills--the
cause of all your woes! The poor fool of a Baron would do no harm but
for this vile woman. See what a passion she is in now! This is her usual
temper; and no wonder she is such a tyrant, and makes her husband the
same!”

At {094}this point the Baroness broke in, having previously-vented her
rage in sobs and incoherent shrieks. “Let me loose! let me loose!”
 she cried. “You riff-raff--you vagabonds--you traitors--let me loose
directly! This wretched creature has deceived you all; she is a
worthless, good-for-nothing hussy. Let me loose, or I vow you shall all
be hanged!” And the Baroness shrieked for fury again, her temper being
by no means improved by the false heir, who, despite all his fears for
himself, seeing her securely tied, could not resist the temptation of
giving her a fearful pinch in the fleshy part of the arm, for which a
peasant instantly knocked him down.

Before Martha could speak again, the Baron, who was a good old chap in
the main, roared out aloud: “By my grandfather’s monument!” cried he (an
oath all the more terrible from the edifice in question being well known
to be the largest and ugliest of its kind for miles around); “this is
past all bearing! Knaves! will ye list to the falsehoods of this base
harridan, who has eaten our salt for years, and now wags her evil tongue
against a kind, though perhaps somewhat hasty, mistress? Never has the
Baroness said a word against one of ye. _My_ faults, whatever they be,
are mine own, and for them _I_ will answer. But what has the Baroness
done? Who sends ye alms and food when sickness is amongst ye? Who helps
your wives and children when trouble is in your homes? Who but the
Baroness? And is _this_ your gratitude?”

There was some truth in what the Baron now said, for his wife was by no
means unkind to the poor, nor would they have readily turned against her
but for the wiles {095}of Martha, assisted by the magical powers of the
wehr-wolves. But Martha knew too well to let the Baron continue. She
broke in upon his discourse with her shrill, sharp voice: “Hear the good
man, my friends; he is right to stand up for his wife, no doubt, but he
knows well that he is false to the truth. She is a wretch, a tyrant,
a termagant! Yes, Madam the Baroness,” she continued, coming close in
front of the chair, and approaching her face much nearer to that of the
poor lady than the latter deemed at all pleasant--“yes, your reign is at
an end--do you hear, you old fright? Your back hair shall be pulled out;
though, as it is nearly all false, it will cause you but little pain.
Your nose shall be wrung!--your ears shall be slit!--and you shall serve
_me_--do you hear? Oh, _you’re_ a pretty one to box a person’s ears.
I’ll pay you out _now_ for _that_, I’ll warrant me!” And as she spoke
she lifted up her arm, about to give the Baroness a box on the ears
with her full force. But in the very act she paused--stopped--and stood
trembling and irresolute, as if suddenly arrested by some superior
power.

At the same moment, and apparently by the same influence, the peasants
one and all felt themselves restrained from moving forwards, the
Baroness ceased to scream, and a dead silence fell upon the whole of
the party, whilst, with a low and miserable moan, the false heir crept
behind the coal-scuttle, and crouched himself down within as small a
compass as possible. The whole of this marvellous effect had apparently
been produced by a very trifling cause. The low, tinkling sound of a
harp was heard, and those who looked round in the right direction saw,
standing in the embrasure of one {096}of the windows which looked
out upon the lake, an old man of by no means noble or prepossessing
exterior, with a leaf-crowned hat upon his head, and a harp of very
simple construction in his hands, from the strings of which he elicited
the sound they had heard, to which he now added that of his own
voice. And thus he sang, in a dull, monotonous tone, to the astonished
audience:--

          “Whoever murders, robs, and loots,
               Within these walls of Bandelboots,
          Must hear his doom and take his choice,
               Instructed by the Harper’s voice.

          Ye men of form and manners rough,
               Old Bandelboots has woes enough,
          The which when ye have heard and known
               You’ll leave the worthy man alone.

          To you and yours he’s done no harm,
               But, subject to a potent charm,
          Has suffered woes, by demon sent,
               Enough to make your hearts relent.

          T’ expose the wickedness be mine
               (In spite of demons of the Rhine),
          And ye who list shall know ere long
               The truth and justice of my song.

          There was an infant once, who smiled
               On those around like angel child;
          A child of soul and temper rare--
               Of Bandelboots the precious heir.

          Where now that child is to be found,
               Who knows? I pause, and look around,
          And ask if this description suits
               The present heir of Bandelboots?

          What is that wretched changeling worth?
               Come forth, vile elf, at once come forth!”

Here the stranger paused, and, to the wonder and surprise of all those
who heard and saw, the supposed young heir crept moaning and whining
from behind the coal-scuttle, and shambled across the room towards the
window {097}at which the old harper was standing. As he did so, the
strange bard continued his song,--

          “Form of boy, with heart of ape,
               Resume at once thy former shape!”

As he spoke, a strange transformation came at once over the wretched
imp. His boyish shape disappeared; a tail shot out where tails usually
grow; the wings of a bat sprang upon his shoulders; his form became ugly
and misshapen, and he stood before them all a regular devilet, and no
mistake! At the very same instant the window behind the harper flew open
as if by magic, and in flew a figure similar to that before them, from
which, however, the wings and tail dropped, the evil shape disappeared,
and a handsome, well-proportioned boy, with a remarkably sweet
expression upon his countenance, stood before the astonished party.

[Illustration: 110]

In an instant a shriek of joy was heard from the corner in which some
of the trembling servants were assembled, and old nurse Grutchen rushed
forward and threw herself upon the boy’s neck with a burst of mingled
sobs and laughter. “My pet! my darling! my child!” she cried. “It _is_
you! I know it is you! Come to old Sophie then, my pearl of the world;”
 and again she shrieked with joy.

More {098}wonders followed before any of the audience had recovered from
their astonishment at what had already occurred. With a yell and a
howl the devilet flew towards the window, his passage through which was
mightily assisted by a hearty kick from the old harper, and he was seen
no more. Scarcely, however, had he left the scene when the rushing of
wings was heard, and three magnificent swans sailed through the window
and alighted in the room, exactly in front of the old harper, to whom
they looked up with longing and affectionate glances. The worthy man at
once struck his harp again, and sang as follows:--

          “Old Bandelboots, as well ye wot,
               Had once three lovely daughters,
          For whom the place became too hot,
               Through imps from river waters.

          Then the Rhine King (a wondrous thing,
               Which needs some explanation)
          His aid did to the maidens bring,
               Gave each Swan’s plumage, neck, and wing,
          And caused their transformation.

          Now here the three together be
               (Performed their destined duties),
          And I decree they shall be free
               Once more. Arise, my beauties!”

As he ceased speaking the feathers fell off from the three swans, their
beaks changed into beautiful noses, their forms became those of lovely
young ladies, and Dora, Bertha, and Elladine once more stood in their
proper shapes before their surprised and delighted parents.

Whilst this had been going on, the youthful Hubert, making one bound
forward, sprang to his mother’s chair, and, seizing a dagger from the
hand of a bewildered {099}peasant, set her free in an instant. Upon this
the Baroness, overcome by mingled emotions of joy and wonder, wept upon
her boy’s neck, and the old harper thus continued, addressing himself
emphatically to the crowd of peasants before him:--

          “Poor knaves! who quake and shake with fear,
               O’erwhelmed with terror and with shame,
          The powers of evil lured ye here:
               Theirs and not yours, the chiefest blame.

          Hence! fly! be off! your injured lord
               For this day’s work will pardon give:
          For him I speak this kindly word:,
               To-day he knows his children live.

          Begone, I say! and, as to wrongs,
               Yours are but small; the fiends beshrew ye.
          If e’er ye listen to false tongues
               Which lie about your masters to ye!

          Be each contented with his lot--
               Both rich and poor this world containeth;
          But let this truth be ne’er forgot--
               O’er rich and poor ‘tis God that reigneth;

          Nor is full happiness e’er given
               To mortal man this side of heaven.”

He spoke, and, as he concluded, the peasants, half frightened and half
ashamed, began to steal away by twos and threes at a time, until none
of them were left behind. The Baron, who had listened with the utmost
attention to the words of the old harper, now stepped forward and
tenderly embraced his daughters, after which he clasped his recovered
boy to his heart, and vowed that upon that joyous day no one should be
punished, and even the treacherous peasants who had invaded his castle
should be freely forgiven.

The Baroness fell weeping on her husband’s heart, loudly bewailed her
own infirmity of temper, and vowed that she would never fly into a
passion again. At this the {100}Baron, whilst her face was hidden upon
his shoulder, slowly elevated his right hand, placed his forefinger
horizontally against the side of his nose, and winked knowingly at his
daughters.

Presently the Baroness raised her head, and, in tones of some feeling,
asked what had become of that wretched Martha, gnashing her teeth as
she spoke with an air that inspired considerable doubts as to her being’
able to keep her new resolution. This, however, was not put to the test
as far as Martha was concerned. As soon as she perceived that things
were going wrong, but that the harper was not alluding to _her_ in his
verse, that worthy person slipped quietly from the room and the castle,
and sought refuge in the wood where her wehr-wolves usually met her. The
animals were there as at other times, but their reception of her was not
the same. No sooner was she within the wood than the expression of their
countenances grew strange and fierce, so that the woman trembled all
over. In another instant they seized upon her and dragged her, one on
each side, near to where the wood touched the banks of the river. Wildly
she shrieked for aid, and in another moment the form of the River-demon
appeared upon the bank. This time, however, he had no cheering counsel
to give. With a wild and derisive laugh he pointed jeeringly at
the unhappy woman, whom the wehr-wolves held fast, while they
growled-fearfully and savagely all the while.

“Ha, Martha!” he cried, “hast thou come to the end of thy revenge at
last? They who seek demon-help must have demon-punishment, and thine
hour is come to-day. Know this, poor wretch! that those who yield to
their passions cherish within them that which will one {101}day tear and
destroy them as the wehr-wolves are about to do to thee, and those who
wish for a happy end must control and govern themselves on the
journey!” Then, with a fiendish leer and grin, he nodded his head to the
wehr-wolves, and in another moment the wretched Martha was tom limb from
limb, and perished miserably. Folks say that her spirit still haunts
that wood, and that on dark and stormy nights her shrieks may be heard,
accompanied by the growling of the wehr-wolves and the laugh of the
exulting demon. But you and I, Brother Thames, know well how foolish
mortals are with their tales of horror, and how ready they are to
mistake a creaking tree for a shriek and a moonbeam for a spirit.

I have nothing more to say except that when the Baron and Baroness
turned round to bless the old harper for his kindly aid, they saw
nothing where he had been standing save the light of the sweet, pale
moon shining in through the window. The harper had gone without waiting
to be thanked, and they saw him no more. From thenceforth no spirits
troubled the Bandelboots family, save when the Baron took an extra glass
of brandy, which occasionally flew to his toe. The Baroness decidedly
improved in temper, profiting by the example of her son, who grew up to
be one of the most sweet-tempered and agreeable young noblemen that ever
lived upon the banks of my river. Of the three girls, I can only
say that as they made excellent daughters and capital sisters, they
succeeded equally well when they entered upon the cares and joys of
matrimony, and no women, married or single, were more often toasted
in good Steinburgh than the three famous beauties, {102}the swan-like
daughters of the Baron von Bandelboots.

Father Rhine here ceased, and as soon as he had done so Father Thames
struck a tremendous blow upon the table and vowed that the story he
had just heard was one of the best that had ever been told. “I wish,
however,” said he, “that you could have told us a little more upon one
or two points, Brother Rhine. It would be satisfactory to know that the
rascally little scamp of a devilet was well punished when he got home;
but I suppose you know not whether such was the case or what became of
him afterwards?”

“No,” Brother Thames, gravely replied the monarch of the Rhine, “I know
not; and in fact I have always kept as much as possible aloof from the
demons of my river, only showing them that ordinary civility which is
rendered necessary by my position. I have little doubt, however, that
the imp had misery enough in his future existence. No one who habitually
annoys and injures others can ever have any real happiness himself, and,
whether imp or mortal, unkindness and malice always recoil upon those
who practise the one and are influenced by the other.”

“Certainly,” remarked Father Thames, “your words are true. But what
became of the Baroness? Did she outlive the Baron, and was he cured of
his laziness as well as she of her bad temper?”

“Brother,” said his companion in an expostulating tone, “you really ask
more than I can recollect. There are very many castles in the vicinity
of my river, and to remember the details of the family history of all
their inhabitants {103}is more than even I, as a river monarch, can
venture to ‘undertake. I may, however, safely say that the Baroness died
before the Baron, for I happen to be able to recall the circumstances of
her death. She was inordinately fond of dried cherries, and would insist
upon swallowing the stones. For some time this had no effect, but at
last she was taken ill and died of a disease so mysterious that they
determined to have her body opened, when no less than two hundred and
forty-six cherry-stones were found inside her.”

“You don’t say so!” exclaimed Father Thames in great surprise. “But now
tell me what happened to the Baron.”

“I must positively decline,” answered the other. “A legend is a legend,
and I have told you mine. It is now your turn, and I hope you will lose
no time, for I expect the Rhone, the Danube, and the Seine upon a matter
of business to-morrow, and shall be late for my appointment if we waste
our time in unnecessary talking.”

“All right, brother,” shouted Father Thames, and, clearing his throat,
began without further delay the story of--



THE FAMILY FEUD

The Baron Simon de Guerre-à-mort (whose name, considerably transformed
by his Saxon neighbours, was familiarly rendered as “Old Grammar”) was
an individual who, not to belie the said name, was of a somewhat warlike
disposition. His ancestors had come over to these peaceful shores with
“Billy the Norman, that very great war-man,” as the old song calls him,
and very {104}great war-men had _they_ been also from the time of their
first arrival. They warred against the Saxons as long as the latter
showed fight; then they warred with their brother barons; then they went
to the crusades; afterwards they joined Simon de Montfort in his gallant
struggle for English liberties; they had a turn at the Welsh at one
time, and took their share in the Scotch wars at another; in short,
wherever and whenever opportunity for fighting offered itself, the
Guerre-à-mort family or its representative eagerly seized it and rushed
into the thickest of the battle as cheerfully as a duck into water. Nor
was the Baron Simon one whit behind his ancestors in this respect.
On the contrary, he was as ready for war as any of them, and fully
maintained the character and traditions of his house.

In the days of which I write it was very much the fashion for great
families to indulge in the luxury of hereditary foes, and a feud of long
standing between this and that ancient house was such a customary thing
that a nobleman who lived peaceably with all his neighbours was regarded
as a slow kind of fellow, whose acquaintance was hardly worth having.
There were generally wars of greater or less magnitude going on either
within England herself or with some foreign enemy, which, one would have
imagined, might have furnished sufficient employment to the fighting
nobility of the day. This, however, was by no means the case; and though
private feuds were sometimes left in abeyance for a time, when something
more attractive in the way of battle and bloodshed happened to
offer, yet they were never allowed to slumber too {105}long, and were
invariably revived as soon as more peaceful times permitted their
proprietors to indulge their private feelings and natural love of
quarrelling.

The hereditary enemy of Simon de Guerre-à-mort was the house of St.
Aunay, which, like his own, had been first known in England after the
Battle of Hastings had flooded the country with Norman nobility, and
which was at the moment of which we speak represented by Count Horace as
the head of its race. It is difficult to say why or wherefore these
two families should have been at variance, since there was no apparent
reason for such a state of things. Their castles were upon opposite
sides of my dear old river, at no great distance, though neither of
them within sight of it. Their lands stretched down to my waters, which
formed a reasonable and proper boundary, and there was consequently none
of that intermingling of field with field or farm with farm which has in
all ages proved a fertile source of unpleasantness between neighbouring
landed proprietors. Moreover, the two noblemen had never brushed against
each other or differed materially upon any public matters. In fact there
was no probability of their doing so; for Baron Simon was at this time
the wrong side of sixty by several years, whilst Count Horace had not
lived half the years which constitute that respectable age. No: it was a
good, respectable old family feud, and I verily believe that it was
more from family feeling than for any other reason that it was still
cherished by both houses.

It was, according to my firm belief, entirely in consequence of their
private differences that, when the wars {106}of the Roses broke out,
the two Norman noblemen took different sides, the Count of St. Aunay
standing forward boldly for the House of York, whilst the Lord of
Guerre-à-mort was Lancastrian to the backbone. As the latter was
a leader of great repute, and could muster around his standard no
inconsiderable number of retainers, he might probably have rendered
great service to the cause he had espoused if he had acted with those
well-known men who led its armies and managed its councils. But the
Baron greatly preferred going his own way and fighting for his own
hand and as soon as the country was well into the war, and everybody
was harassing and worrying everybody else as much as they could, he
determined that by far the best thing he could do to aid Henry of
Lancaster was to cross the river and demolish the Castle of St. Aunay.
Accordingly, he collected his forces, summoned his vassals and friends
from all quarters and prepared for the expedition.

I remember, as well as if it were but yesterday, when the Baron’s army
was halted along my banks preparatory to their crossing the river early
on the following morning. The old chieftain himself, mounted on his
powerful black charger, from whose eyes and nostrils the fire of war
seemed to stream forth as he impatiently pawed the ground, rode out upon
a hill above his troops, and gazed upon the scene before him. The moon
was rising behind the distant hills, the evening was calm and still;
but the heavens were cloudy, and strange lights from time to time darted
across the sky, as if presaging the days of war and bloodshed which were
about to come upon unhappy England. The old Baron was {107}completely
armed, and his long, straggling beard fell down upon his horse’s mane
before him as he sat erect in his saddle. I saw him elevate his mighty
sword and shield, raising each arm on high as he looked with flashing
eye and threatening gesture upon the country upon the other side of the
river, and then and there he vowed a solemn vow that before he recrossed
the Thames the Castle of St. Aunay should be sacked, his pride lowered,
and his banner trailed in the dust. On high he shook his weapon as he
took the oath, and full well I knew that the proud Norman would not
fail to keep it, unless his foeman (who was probably taking an oath of
a similar character about the same time) should have strength or cunning
enough to prevent its accomplishment.

[Illustration: 121]

But before I proceed any further with my story I am bound to introduce
you to a person who, as you will soon perceive, is the main cause and
reason why I have any story at all to tell. The Baron de Guerre-à-mort
had an only daughter. As, from the beginning of time, it has been the
constant habit of maidens similarly circumstanced to fall in love with
the person most objectionable to their respected father, Mathilde de
Guerre-à-mort formed no exception to this most natural and reasonable
rule. As a matter of course, she was desperately attached to Horace de
St. Aunay, who, for his part, having fallen head over ears in love
with her at their first interview, remained in the same condition with
unwearied resolution. How they first came to meet I cannot say. One
would have supposed that there would have been difficulties, considering
the hostility, existing between the two families; but the young lady’s
mother having {108}been dead for many years, she enjoyed more liberty
than was common to females of her rank and age in those days, and
probably met the Count in some of her country rambles after birds’
nests, violets, or blackberries--three things which all young people who
have lived much in the country find more or less attractive at certain
seasons of the year. However this may be, it is certain that these two
individuals met, took a mutual fancy to each other, and would, in all
human probability, have been thought by their friends to have been
exactly suited, had it not been for the highly respectable feud of which
I have already spoken.

The Baron, who had not the remotest idea of the state of the case,
grieved and afflicted his daughter beyond measure by the manner in which
he abused her lover upon every possible occasion. Mathilde, poor
girl, bore it all with exemplary fortitude, although she invariably
endeavoured to turn the conversation into more pleasant channels. But
when the matter went beyond words, and her father actually commenced to
make preparations to invade his enemy’s country and destroy his castle,
the agony of the poor young lady can be more easily imagined than
described. She came down each morning with eyes red from crying all
through the night; she grew daily paler and paler; lost her appetite;
could scarcely take her five o’clock tea; sat with her hands before her,
doing nothing; and burst out into hysterical fits of sobbing upon the
slightest provocation. This sad condition of his daughter troubled the
worthy baron not a little, and, naturally attributing it to any and
every cause but the right one, he determined to try what change of air
would do for her, and accordingly sent her to stay with {109}his sister,
who was the superior of a convent in Reading. Here it was his hope that
the society of the nuns would cheer the sweet damsel and restore her
spirits, whilst the change of air and scenery might benefit her health.
There were those, indeed, including her faithful old Saxon nurse
Elfreda, who declared that the conversation of nuns was, as a rule,
anything but enlivening, and Reading by no means particularly healthy or
reinvigorating; but as nobody dared question the Baron’s superior wisdom
upon every subject, nothing was said against his plan, and Mathilde de
Guerre-à-mort was safely transmitted to and domesticated in the convent
just before the expedition against her lover’s castle was undertaken by
her respected parent.

Horace de St. Aunay, although he received warning of the coming attack,
was by no means in a condition to offer such resistance as he could
have wished. The Lancastrians were by far the stronger party in his
neighbourhood, and the Baron’s forces greatly outnumbered his own. I
need not dwell upon the particulars of the events which followed. The
Guerre-à-mort army crossed the river, defeated the levies of St. Aunay
in a skirmish on the plain, and drove them in every direction before
their victorious advance. Horace de St. Aunay, wounded by an arrow, was
reported killed, and it was impossible to rally his people under another
leader. The haughty Baron had it all his own way; he plundered the
farmyards, raised a bonfire of what he didn’t want to carry away, and
made himself as unpleasant as possible to the harmless population, who,
naturally and properly enough, no doubt, always have to suffer for the
whims and quarrels of the great. He next {110}marched upon the Castle of
St. Aunay, but found that it was deserted, and, having by that time
had enough of burning and plundering for a time, contented himself with
throwing down the big gates, breaking a few windows, and flaunting
his own banner over the highest turret. Then, having collected all his
booty, he turned homewards, and, having satisfied his private grudge
against his neighbour, felt his interest in the Lancastrian cause
wonderfully lessened, and began to want his daughter back again.

She, poor girl, had passed by no means a happy time in her convent,
where the good nuns devoutly prayed for the Lancastrians, and especially
for her worthy father, upon every possible opportunity, and where she
never had a chance of hearing any news of her lover, or of saying a
kind word for him or any other of his party. At last, one day, the lady
superior informed her with an air of triumph that news had come of the
defeat of St. Aunay’s people by her father, and that the Count had been
killed in the battle. The poor girl turned deadly pale, and swooned away
at this intelligence. Fortunately for her, the Lady Superior, being a
person of extraordinary intelligence, knew at once that such a result
must certainly have been produced by Mathilde’s alarm for her father’s
safety, and gratitude for his success. Having therefore taken the usual
means to recover her from her fainting fit, the good lady loudly praised
her filial affection, and held her up to the rest of the sisterhood
as an example worthy of imitation, Mathilde thought it best to receive
these compliments without taking any steps to alter the opinion of her
worthy relative, but her suspense and anxiety were very {111}great, and
all the more so from the fact that the difficulty of obtaining news of
an authentic character was so considerable, that in all probability
it would be weeks, and perhaps months, before she learned for certain
whether her beloved Horace was alive or dead.

Days rolled on--days of miserable uncertainty, which was scarcely
removed by a missive from her noble sire, which informed her indeed of
the triumph of his arms, but at the same time only casually mentioned
that the head of the rival house of St. Aunay had received a blow from
which he would never recover. Now, it was obvious that this might be
interpreted in two ways--either that the young Count had been grievously
wounded in body, or that the fortunes of his house had been seriously
injured. The latter was undoubtedly the case; but was the former also
true? In this state of things uncertainty became madness, and Mathilde
felt herself almost driven to desperation. This, however, being
a condition of mind hardly suitable to a Norman lady of rank, she
determined not to give way to it, but to take measures to relieve her
anxiety. She resolved that she would, if possible, leave the convent
and obtain, somehow or other, tidings of the being whom she so tenderly
loved. It was not, however, in those days, a very easy thing to leave
convents just when you pleased. If you were rich and well born, you
could enter these institutions with but little difficulty; but quitting
them was a different question altogether. Nor do I believe Mathilde
would have accomplished her purpose had she not chanced to have a great
friend in a worthy person who carried on the trade of a washerwoman
in the town, and was fortunate enough to have secured the convent
{112}custom. Being devoted to the Guerre-à-mort family, and especially
so to the young Baroness, this worthy woman agreed to smuggle her out of
the convent in a large basket of dirty linen, in which pleasant manner
she successfully carried out her project.

Once free, the question which Mathilde naturally had to consider was,
what should she do next? She had forgotten to settle this before leaving
her late abode, and yet it was a question which must certainly be
settled without delay. The poor washerwoman, who had incurred great
peril by assisting the escape of an inmate of a religious house, dared
not keep her a moment longer than she could avoid, and there was no one
in the town to whom she could trust herself. Under these circumstances
she thought that the best thing to be done was to wander forth into the
country, and this she accordingly did, having made such alterations
in her dress as appeared necessary to prevent her being recognised as
something different from the peasant woman for whom she wished to pass.
The police were not very efficient in those days, and there were no
detectives to speak of, so that she was not likely to be discovered by
such agency. Newspapers also had not yet begun, and the advertisement
system was unknown; otherwise her escape might have been attended with
greater difficulties than was actually the case. As it was, she walked
away from Reading without anybody taking the slightest notice of her,
and wandered for many miles perfectly unmolested.

At last, as luck would have it, she reached a large farmhouse, and as
she had by this time become weary and hungry, she followed her natural
instincts, knocked at {113}the door, and asked for victuals and leave to
rest herself. It was an old woman who opened the door, whose husband was
the occupier of the farm, and being kindly-disposed people, they granted
Mathilde’s request, allowed her to sit down in the kitchen, and gave her
a bowl of milk and a large piece of brown bread, which she gratefully
devoured, and felt much the better for it. Then the old couple began
to question her about her condition and ways of life, and when she had
invented some tale about having seen better days, and being driven by
misfortune to seek a living where she could get it, they expressed great
pity, and professed themselves very willing to assist her in any manner
within their power. True, they had not much to offer; but the boy who
kept the pigs had lately gone off to the wars, and if pig-keeping was
not beyond her, why, the place was very much at her service.

Now, if there was anything which Mathilde disliked, it was a pig. The
greediness and dirtiness of the animal she deemed objectionable, and
extended her dislike to it even when cooked and salted. She never
touched roast pork, avoided it all the more when boiled, abhorred
sausages, and looked the other way when anybody offered her bacon. But,
having no very definite idea as to where she could go to if she left
the farm, and thinking that, at all events, it might serve her as a
temporary home until something better should turn up, she determined
upon accepting the generous offer of the worthy couple, and expressed
her gratitude in terms which increased the favourable opinion they had
already formed of her manners and character.

That night she slept beneath their hospitable roof, and {114}next
morning her duties were pointed out to her, and she wandered forth upon
the side of the hill near the farm, in close attendance upon a herd
of pigs, to watch whom would be her daily duty. Although Mathilde’s
objection to the creatures may have been foolish and unreasonable,
it will probably be conceded that the pig is not an animal which the
majority of mankind would choose as a special pet or favourite; and to
a person nurtured in the luxurious habits of a baronial castle,
and trained in the intellectual refinement of conventual life, the
occupation of keeping pigs on the side of a hill could hardly ever be
congenial. It is, therefore, not surprising that Mathilde found it
first monotonous, secondly tiresome, thirdly exceedingly disagreeable.
She would sit for hours together, grasping in both hands her pig-driving
stick, and musing upon things far removed from considerations of pigs or
pork.

At nights she would return to the farmhouse, heavy and dispirited,
so that the old farmer and his wife would rally her on her dejected
appearance, and declare to each other that she must either be in love,
or have committed some offence over which she now brooded with remorse.
Yet her youth appeared to contradict the probability of the latter
supposition, and she looked them both so straight in the face when she
spoke, that the old man remarked that no one who did _that_ could be
guilty of anything serious.

Meanwhile, it may be supposed that the Baron was not very well pleased
when the news reached him that his daughter had disappeared. He hurried
off at once to the convent, and refused for some time to believe that
it {115}could really be the case. If he had lived a little later there
would have been plenty of people to suggest to him that Mathilde’s
disappearance was only an invention of the Lady Superior’s, and that
the poor girl was certainly either bricked up alive, or immersed in some
dungeon below the convent.

[Illustration: 130]

As it was, however, that age being comparatively ignorant, the Baron
was told the simple truth, and actually believed it. His daughter
had disappeared, and no one was more distressed thereat than the Lady
Superior herself. The discipline of her convent was so good, and the
sisterhood were all so much attached to her, that it was with difficulty
that she could {116}bring herself to believe that any of them had
assisted the runaway to escape; and as to the washerwoman, no thought
of her connivance ever entered the Lady Superior’s head. Had it done so,
indeed, she would never have believed that a daughter of the noble house
of Guerre-à-mort would have so far demeaned herself as to hide in a
box of dirty clothes, or wander forth, alone and unattended, into the
country. The good Lady, never having admitted the god of love into her
well-regulated breast, did not know his powers, which experience has
proved to be such as are able to overcome all considerations of rank and
dignity, and occasionally to make people do things even more strange and
incongruous than hide in dirty-linen boxes or keep pigs on a hill-side.

The Baron was easily convinced that no blame was to be attributed to his
saintly relative, but this by no means put an end to his trouble.
His daughter had gone, and he had no clue whatever to her place of
concealment. Under these circumstances, he determined that the best
thing he could do was to consult the powers of magic, who in those
days were the substitute for our present Rural Police, and occasionally
discharged their functions in a manner equally satisfactory. Those were
not days in which witches and warlocks were so common as in earlier
ages; but, scattered about the country, there were a goodly number of
the creatures; and the Baron had little difficulty in determining whom
to consult.

The Witch of Salt Hill was a famous personage in those days. The
vicinity of Eton and Slough was at that time a favourite resort of
witches, who used to flit about {117}through Windsor Forest at
nights, and, I suppose, preferred to have their day-residences not
inconveniently remote therefrom. It is not improbable that they would
have continued to frequent the neighbourhood down to the present day,
but for the establishment of the sacred foundation of Eton College.
There, as we know, the Provost and Fellows have, from the very earliest
days of the college, been a body of men of singularly holy as well as
learned reputation. Their blameless and saintly lives have driven evil
far from the locality in which they dwell, and in the days of which
I tell their power was already beginning to be felt. It gradually
increased until, as I say, all witches and warlocks left the
neighbourhood, although one of the last of them is said to have uttered
a prophecy that the powers of evil should again return when Eton should
be governed by others than her own children; and if what I have lately
heard be true--namely, that the ancient government by Provost and
Fellows has been superseded, and a new authority instituted, of which
a portion is non-Etonian--it may be that the days of witchcraft will
return, and the powers of darkness once more inhabit the neighbourhood.
All this, however, has nothing to do with my present story.

No sooner had the Baron made up his mind that this was the best course
to pursue than he rode off to Salt Hill to consult the celebrated
witch whom I have mentioned. He found her with very little trouble,
principally from knowing exactly where to look for her, which it is
always well to ascertain, if you can, before you go in search of any one
whom you wish to find. There was a very large thorn-tree, growing near
a spring {118}at the side of a hill, close to which a species of rude
cottage had been built into the hill, so that it had the appearance of
being--and perhaps was--the way by which those who had the right, and
the will to do so, could enter into the bowels of the earth. When the
witch chose to come forth, she sat under the thorn-tree; at other times,
those who sought her had to approach the door of the cottage, and strive
to attract her attention in the best way they could.

When the Baron arrived near the place, with some dozen of retainers, he
left his horse with the latter at a short distance from the spot, and
walked up to the spring alone. The witch was not to be seen outside, so
the anxious father strode up to the cottage, and would have knocked at
the door, only there did not happen to be any. The place was built of
huge stones, and the entrance was through a large hole, left open as if
for a door, which had never been put up. It was as dark as pitch
when you looked in, and the Baron, fearless as he was, felt a kind of
unpleasant sensation stealing over him as he stood opposite the hole.
However, he had come on business which could not be delayed; so, after a
moment’s hesitation, he shouted out at the top of his voice, “Halloa!
is any one within?” and waited for a reply. As none came, the Baron
presently tried again, saying, in an equally loud voice, “I am come to
consult the wise woman of Salt Hill. Is it here she dwells?” Still no
answer came from within, and the haughty Norman stamped impatiently on
the ground, chafing at the delay which his imperious spirit could have
ill brooked at any time, but which was more than ever galling at the
present moment, when his anxiety about his {119}daughter had thrown him
into a state of feverish irritation and excitement. He doubted as to the
next step which he should take, and was just considering whether he had
omitted any form which ought to have been observed in approaching such a
person as a witch, when a voice suddenly spoke from within the cottage,
saying, in a somewhat gruff voice--

          “Who comes to Salt Hill’s ancient dame?
               Tell both thine errand and thy name.”

Now the Baron was little accustomed to be addressed so unceremoniously,
or to be asked his name in this manner, so his first impulse was to
refuse to reply, or at least to rebuke the speaker for the incivility
of the question. However, as he had come on important business, and was
really desirous of obtaining information as to his beloved daughter, a
moment’s reflection convinced him that it would be an act of folly on
his part to fly into a passion about a trifle, or to stand upon ceremony
with a power which might be able to assist him, and willing to do so or
not according to his own behaviour. So he made up his mind to tell his
name and errand at once, and was about to do so, when, even whilst he
hesitated, the voice spoke again:--

          “Our Norman lords are men of war,
               And love their foemen to defy;
          But, come he here from near or far,
               Who with the Guerre-à-mort can vie?”

At this unexpected mention of his own name, the Baron started back, but
immediately recovering himself, he spoke in as reverential a tone as
he could manage to find for the occasion. “Since thou knowest who I
am, good {120}dame,” said he, “mine errand is very likely also known to
thee. I want my beloved daughter, who has disappeared from the convent
at Reading, and can nowhere be found. If thou canst find her for me and
restore her to mine arms, I will grudge thee no reward that my castle
can give.”

At these words a low sigh proceeded from the interior of the cottage,
as if the offer of a bribe had given pain to its virtuous inmate, or
the Baron’s request had been of an unexpected and afflicting character.
However, after a few moments’ pause, the same voice again spoke:--

          “Whi’st on this earth we live and move,
               Some sweetness in our lives is found;
          But what more sweet than children’s love,
               Our very heart-strings twined around?

          Yet to each parent comes an hour
               (Though fain he would the same delay)
          When other and resistless power
               Will steal the youthful heart away.

          And when a father here inquires
               For daughter lost; then, let him learn
          That daughters, though they love their sires,
               To other loves some day will turn;

          Nor convent rules nor home’s own charms,
               Will keep them from a lover’s arms.”

As the voice uttered these strange and not altogether consoling words,
the Baron stroked his beard, pulled his moustache, and racked his brains
in the vain endeavour to bring to mind any lover with whom it was at all
likely that his daughter should have eloped. The idea of her eloping
at all was unpleasant; but those were strange times, and he knew well
enough that such things had happened before, and would not improbably
happen {121}again. The puzzle to him was as to the happy-individual upon
whom Mathilde could possibly have placed her affections. He thought
of all their acquaintances, turning over in his mind the circumstances
under which his child had met them, and, one after the other, he
rejected the possibility of any one of them being the favoured
individual. There was Baron Eau-de-vie, who lived within calling
distance, but his habits of intemperance put him at once out of the
question; then the lord of Burnham was a worthy man, but being past
eighty, and totally blind, was scarcely likely to have become the object
of a maiden’s affection; these and various others he thought over, and
remained musing for a short time before he spoke again.

Then it came into his head that perhaps it was all false after all, and
the witch was either chaffing him, or knew nothing about it at all,
and was making a guess at a solution of his difficulty, which, however
likely to be correct as regarded the generality of young ladies, was
most improbable with respect to a damsel of high degree, so well and
carefully brought up as he considered his child to have been. As this
thought struck him, he spoke out aloud at once. “What meanest thou?” he
cried. “Men will woo, and girls will have lovers, as we all know full
well; but to suppose that the young Baroness of Guerre-à-mort would fly
from her convent with any lover that ever was born is an error and an
insult to boot. Trifle not with me, then, whoever thou art, but tell me
truly, an thou knowest, what has really become of my daughter?”

A low laugh issued from the cottage as the same voice replied to this
appeal with the following words:--

     “Oh mighty are Barons in battle array,
          Full swift are their steeds and full sharp are their swords;
     But the heart of a maiden must have its own way,
          And Love is far stronger than Barons and Lords.

     He climbs the high walls of the castle so strong,
          In vain your defences your treasure to shield;
     To words which are whispered by lover’s true tongue,
          The peeress and peasant will equally yield.”

This {122}reply was by no means more satisfactory to the Baron than
the first had been, and he saw that there was evidently but little
information to be obtained from the Witch of Salt Hill. Turning away,
therefore, with a moody air, he rejoined his servants, mounted his
steed, and returned to his castle, very much disgusted with his want of
success. Scarcely had he left the place before the head of an old woman
peered forth from the entrance of the cottage, and presently the whole
figure followed. It was that of an aged crone, clad in a long grey
cloak, with a strange head-covering of handkerchiefs twined in the form
of a turban, from which a few grey locks escaped and fluttered in the
wind around the venerable head. She held in her hand a strong staff,
upon which she leaned, whilst she carefully looked right and left
to make sure that her visitors had all departed. As soon as she had
convinced herself of this fact, she turned round again to the entrance
of the cottage and called in a low voice--“It is quite safe; come forth,
my lord, come forth!” Upon this there was a movement inside the place,
and there presently stepped forth a young man, the pallor of whose
handsome countenance betokened recent illness, and who supported himself
upon a stout oaken staff. Had the Baron stood where he had been standing
but a few {123}minutes before, he would scarcely have departed so
easily, for in this individual he would have seen the hereditary enemy
of his house standing close beside him.

In truth, Brother Rhine, the witch of Salt Hill had been, somehow or
other, greatly indebted to the St. Aunay family; and after Count Horace
had been wounded in his skirmish with the Baron, he had found a secure
retreat in her abode at Salt Hill. There, carefully nursed, and perhaps
doctored by some wondrous charms of which mortals who do not happen to
be witches know nothing, the young nobleman had rapidly recovered from
the effects of his wound. The country, however, was still so much under
the control of the Lancastrian party, that Count Horace deemed it his
wisest plan to remain for some time in concealment, especially since
he found that the report of his death had evidently so far softened the
Baron that he had not pursued his work of devastation as he probably
would have done if he had believed that the head of the house of St.
Aunay was still alive and likely to take the field against him upon a
favourable opportunity. This, then, was the reason of the Count’s being
in the cottage of the witch upon the very day of the Baron’s visit, and
as soon as the latter had departed, the wise woman began to discuss the
subject of his daughter and her supposed elopement. Whether or not her
arts had enabled her to discover the direction of Mathilde’s flight, and
her present place of abode, is a question we need hardly pause to ask.
It is very likely that her statement to the Baron had been little more
than a shrewd guess that if a young lady fled secretly from a convent,
there was in all probability {124}a gentleman in the case, in which
surmise she was certainly not far wrong. But if she had known where
Mathilde was she certainly would not have disclosed it to the anxious
father whilst St. Aunay was close by, nor indeed under any circumstances
without the consent of the latter. He had informed her fully of the true
state of the case between the young Baroness and himself, and after the
Baron had gone off, eagerly inquired of her as to where the fair lady
was really to be found.

Now witches, although exceedingly wise, cannot tell more than they
know, and are not obliged to tell all that they _do_ know, except under
extraordinary circumstances, therefore the witch of Salt Hill thought it
best to assume a very grave and solemn air, and mysteriously assured her
friend that all would be right, and that he would know everything that
ought to be known as soon as the proper time for knowing it had arrived.
This assurance was scarcely satisfactory to the young man, who pressed
hard for an answer which should at least give him some indication of the
course which he had better pursue in order to obtain tidings of the lost
one. No such answer, however, could he obtain; and all that the old dame
would tell him was to “keep his heart up,” and to “have patience”--two
pieces of advice which are excellent in themselves, but little
calculated to allay the impatience of a young man who has lost his
sweetheart and wants to find her as soon as possible. Patience the young
Count found it impossible to have, and, finding himself very much better
the next day, he determined to set out and see what he could accomplish
by his own exertions.

It {125}was a lovely morning, and as St. Aunay walked through the
fields, he felt new life rising in his’ veins, and his whole being
seemed reinvigorated by the bright sun and fresh air. He walked for
miles without any very definite idea as to where he was going or what
he should do, in which it will be observed he strongly resembled the
condition of his beloved Mathilde. Still, disguised in the garb of a
peasant, he wandered on, and towards evening reached no other place than
the very farm at which the young Baroness was employed as a pig-keeper.
Nor was this his only piece of good fortune, for, as luck would have it,
he came upon the fair damsel herself, disconsolately sitting by the side
of her pigs, and wishing herself anywhere else. This wish, as may easily
be imagined, was immediately changed when she found that the strange
peasant who approached was no other than her own Horace. She flew into
his arms with the smallest possible delay, and he was forthwith able
satisfactorily to explain to her that he was by no means dead, and
almost entirely recovered from his wound.

The prospects of the two lovers did not, however, seem particularly
bright even after they had thus met; and after a long discussion they
could hardly make up their minds what would be the best course to
pursue. Mathilde had the greatest objection to returning home, where
she should hear nothing but abuse of her Horace and his family, not
improbably coupled with reproaches directed against herself for having
quitted the convent. To return to the latter was out of the question,
and equally so to accompany the Count, who had no home to which he
could take her. The only conclusion, therefore, at which {126}they found
themselves able to arrive was that the lady had better continue
her pig-keeping at least for a time, and that they should both wait
patiently until better days. This arrangement though not exactly
pleasant to either of them, seemed most expedient upon the whole, and
having finally come to the determination that such was the case, they
took an affectionate leave of each other, and again separated.

From that day Mathilde passed several months of weary suspense, being
quite unable to content herself with the unusual pastime of looking
after pigs, although she found some consolation in reading and
writing--two accomplishments in which she had become tolerably perfect
during her stay in the convent. Books, however, were, not in those days
what they now are, and those young ladies who depend for their literary
amusement upon circulating libraries and sensation novels, may thank the
good fortune which decreed that they should come into the world some few
centuries later than the days I speak of. Mathilde had one vast book of
curious manuscript, which she had discovered in the farmhouse, and which
was her constant companion. I am not sure as to the subjects of which
it treated, but as it was probably of monkish compilation, it is most
likely that it dealt either with the lives of saints or the theories of
cookery, which were two subjects much in favour with the Eccelesiastical
fraternities of that day. Whatever it was however, Mathilde made it the
subject of her constant study, and varied her amusement by the use of
the quill pens which she manufactured, from the good farmer’s geese. You
must not ask me questions, Brother Rhine, as to the manner in which she
obtained paper and {127}ink. None of these particulars have ever been
handed down, and I have never cared to inquire. I can only say that in
a certain noble family a huge scroll, covered with curious writing, has
been long preserved, which tradition attributes to the ancestress who
once kept pigs on that. Berkshire hill-side; and if the tradition is
not strictly true, I would merely observe that it is just as provable as
many another, upon the veracity of which the scoffer has never ventured
to cast a doubt.

During this time the Baron de Guerre-à-mort was not sitting idly at
home. He made every inquiry for his daughter, and was exceedingly vexed
at his total want of success in discovering where she was. It is likely
enough that he would have found her if she had been further off or
more carefully concealed. But it may be observed as a rule which obtains
pretty generally, that the things which are immediately under our noses
escape our observation more than those which require a careful search. A
hare sometimes squats-securely in the middle of a ploughed field whilst
the sportsman is seeking her in the thick wood; the nest of the grey
thrush, built in the bare cleft of a laurel-tree, often escapes the eye
of the school-boy more easily than the nest more carefully hidden in
the thick bushes; or, to take another comparison an elderly gentleman
sometimes makes entirely ineffectual search for the spectacles which
he has pushed up from his nose to his forehead, whereas, had they been
hidden among papers, or left in some unusual place, he would quickly
have discovered them. So it was, at any rate, that the Baron sought far
and wide for his daughter without success, whilst she, poor girl,
was keeping pigs on the hill-side all the time, a very {128}few miles
distant from the castle of her respected parent.

The good man, however, found that before long he had other business
to attend to than the agreeable occupation of daughter-hunting. The
fortunes of the two great parties in the state underwent a considerable
change. Instead of being any longer in the ascendant, the Lancastrians
experienced heavy reverses, and those who had espoused the cause of the
House of York gained ground continually on every side. In those times it
was not so easy to change one’s politics or one’s party as has been the
case in some later periods of the history of this country, especially if
one had supported one’s opinions by the carrying of fire and sword into
the territory of one’s opponents. Therefore the old Baron, who, as we
have seen, had adopted this old-fashioned method of proceeding, would
have found it somewhat difficult to change sides even if he had wished
to do so. Nothing, however, could have been further from his intention.
He believed the cause of the House of Lancaster to be just and right,
and even if he had thought otherwise, I do not believe that he would
ever have deserted a cause which he had once thoroughly espoused. So he
remained loyal to the Lancastrian standard, and was as ready to fight
for it in adversity as he had ever been when it seemed likely to
triumph. The consequences, however, were not likely to be agreeable.

The Yorkists were daily gathering strength, and so devoted an adherent
of the rival house could hardly escape their kind attention. Moreover,
those who had seen their own homes despoiled by the Baron’s invasion
were not unmindful of their oppressor when the opportunity {129}for
revenge appeared to present itself. So it came about that the Baron’s
position was somewhat precarious. Some of his outlying farms were
plundered; his retainers, when caught singly or in small numbers, were
insulted and rudely treated, and threats of something worse likely to
happen occasionally reached his ears. As yet, however, no armed body
of Yorkists had appeared in the neighbourhood, and the strength of his
castle, as well as the number and devotion of his followers, rendered
the Baron de Guerre-à-mort tolerably secure against any attack save one
from a powerful and well-organized force. Still he could see the storm
lowering in the distance, and gathering in strength sufficient to give
him cause for uneasiness. At last it seemed ready to burst. Small bands
of Yorkists had been reported as hovering about various places in the
vicinity of the castle, and rumour now had it that these bands were
likely to be united at Reading under the command of some leader of
note, who would forthwith proceed to march through Berkshire and
Buckinghamshire, putting down all those who still dared to uphold the
falling fortunes of the House of Lancaster.

Up to this time the Baron had remained within his castle walls, gloomily
watching the signs of the times, and only taking precautions to preserve
the efficiency of his troops by constant drill, and to protect his
fortress and people against possible attack. But as soon as the
above-mentioned rumours became well authenticated, he bethought himself
that some more active steps should be taken. If the enemy should once
concentrate his forces at Reading, he would probably carry all before
him, and resistance would be doubly difficult, if not impossible.
{130}But if such concentration could be prevented, and the various
bodies of Yorkists, who were said to be scattered over the face of the
country, could be attacked and routed in detail, the tide might even
yet be turned, and the drooping flag of Lancaster be once more raised
as high as ever. Animated by such thoughts as these, and determined,
if possible, to carry out the plan which appeared to him, and which
probably was, the best under the circumstances, the Baron summoned his
men, and leaving a small detachment to guard the castle, sallied forth
with the intention of cutting off the advance of the Yorkists upon
Reading.

It is difficult, however, for one body of men, unless greatly superior
in numbers, position, and generalship, to act with success against four
or five, and so it happened that before he had been many days in the
field the Baron de Guerre-à-mort found that he had before him a task
beyond his powers. A detachment of Yorkists was marching from Oxford,
whilst at the same moment another party moved from Windsor; and from the
direction of Basingstoke in one quarter, and Marlborough in another,
a third and fourth body converged towards the same point. It will be
easily understood that the Baron now ran no inconsiderable risk in his
daring attempt. In the first place, he was by no means certain that his
army was more numerous than any one of the Yorkist parties; and in the
second, if he should engage and defeat one, he might have another on his
flank before he was by any means ready to renew the combat. Prudence,
therefore, would have seemed to dictate a retreat, unless indeed he
could be sure of encountering his various enemies at the place and
moment of his own choosing.

Such {131}was the state of things on one lovely day in June, when
Mathilde was engaged in her usual employment, which day by day grew more
irksome to her as time wore on. She was seated under a tree, shading
herself from the rays of the summer sun, her pen held listlessly in her
hand, her scroll and book by her side, whilst she mused on the past,
made plans for the future, and forgot the present, after the custom of
persons when pretty comfortably seated and rather sleepily inclined. A
distant noise aroused her from her reverie after a time, and as it drew
nearer and nearer she knew but too well that she heard the shouts of
men engaged in battle, and that one of those struggles was taking place
which at that time, alas! were but too common in unhappy England.

From the tree under which she was seated she commanded an extensive
view over the plain below, and ere long she was able to discern the
contending forces as they issued from a pass between the hills, one
party being apparently driven before the other. In the plain they
rallied, and a desperate combat appeared to be going on; then, whilst
the wave of men surged to and fro, horse and foot apparently mingled
in an undistinguishable mass, a third body appeared upon the scene,
marching round the base of one of the hills, and joining themselves to
those who had first emerged from the pass. For a time all was confusion
and clamour, and, amid the dust and din, Mathilde could make out nothing
as to the exact character of the combatants. Presently, however, a light
breeze lifted the dust, and she had a clearer view of the sight before
her eyes. The reinforcements which had just arrived had at once altered
the {132}fortunes of the battle, and the party which had at first driven
its opponents victoriously before it was now evidently giving way. It
needed no second glance to tell which was the winning side, for the
banner of the white rose floated on high, and triumphant shouts of “A
York! a York!” rent the air.

[Illustration: 147]

Baffled and beaten, the Lancastrians vainly endeavoured to hold
together; slowly but surely they gave way before the pressure of
superior numbers, and it was evident that the question was now only
between an orderly retreat and an utter rout. Straining her eyes to the
utmost, {133}Mathilde beheld at the head of the retreating party a tall
and martial figure which she recognised but too clearly. Conspicuous
among the throng by his height and noble bearing, and carrying him right
gallantly even when matters were going so decidedly against him, the
noble old Baron little knew whose eyes were fixed upon him with eager
and agonized gaze.

At that moment I doubt whether Mathilde had a thought even for the lover
for whose sake she had suffered so much; her father, the fond parent who
had nurtured her from earliest infancy, upon whose knees she had sat
and prattled, whose eyes had never lighted on her save with glances of
tender love, whose conduct towards her had been one continued indulgence
from the first hour of her recollection,--the father, moreover, whom she
had selfishly left to live alone and bear his solitary lot in the world
without his idolised child--that father was now in peril of his life,
and probably about to perish before the very eyes of his ungrateful
daughter. There she saw him, the brave old man, sitting upon his charger
as if he were part of the animal, dealing blows right and left with the
strength and vigour of a far younger man, parrying strokes aimed with
right good will at his devoted head, and ever and anon shielding from
attack some wounded follower, and covering the retreat of some retiring
friends. And whilst the battle raged furiously around him, ever and
anon the old man raised his war-cry aloud, “A Guerre-à-mort! a
Guerre-à-mort!” and at each cry it seemed as if a new spirit animated
his yielding troops, and with fresh energy they rallied and made head
against the superior forces of their opponents. But the fight was
too unequal to last. {134}That had happened which might have been
anticipated. The Baron had attacked and partially routed a Yorkist band,
when another party, directed by the shouts of battle, had hastened from
their line of march and arrived in time to take part in the fray, and
to throw a great preponderance of numbers on the side of the cause for
which they fought.

The Baron strove in vain to perform an impossibility, and to convert
defeat into victory. His men fell fast by his side, and he was soon left
almost alone, surrounded by the triumphant enemy. Mathilde could bear
the sight no longer, and, covering her face with her hands, burst into
a flood of tears. But even thus the suspense was too terrible to bear.
Presently, she lifted her eyes, and beheld the Lancastrians scattering
in headlong flight, pursued by the triumphant partisans of the House of
York. But where, oh! where was her father? She had not far to look. The
old horse she knew so well lay dead upon the plain, but around him
were clustered a group of men, evidently still engaged in some fierce
conflict. In another moment they fell back, and she perceived a figure
recumbent upon the ground, whilst a second figure stood over it, not
to destroy, but to guard it from the blows of others. Could she--was
it possible that she could--be mistaken? No: it was as she thought and
hoped--her own Horace standing over the prostrate body of her father,
was guarding his hereditary enemy from the destroying Yorkists.

Aye, so it was indeed, Brother Rhine, nor was this the first nor the
last instance where love has proved stronger than hate in this curious
world, and where chivalrous and valiant men have respected in others
the bravery {135}which they so well knew how to practise themselves. St.
Aunay was the commander of the Yorkist party who had turned the tide of
that day’s battle. Recognising his ancient foe, he would no doubt have
sought him out with every intention of then and there taking his revenge
for the past, had it not been for the special reasons which induced him
to adopt a contrary course of proceeding. He watched, with an admiration
which it was impossible to withhold, the gallant behaviour of the
old nobleman when fighting against fearful odds. He refrained from
interference whilst it could do no good; but when he saw the Baron’s
horse slain by the thrust of a pike, and its rider thrown upon the
ground, he rushed forward to protect the fallen leader from those who
would otherwise very speedily have disposed of him after a ruthless
fashion. It was no easy or pleasant task; for the soldiery were excited
by the stubborn resistance of the old Baron, and St. Aunay had to
strike, strongly and fiercely, before he could rescue his foe from his
own friends. He succeeded, however, and, in a few moments, the Baron,
who had been partially stunned, as well by his fall, as by several blows
by no means of a light character, which he had received in spite of
St. Aunay’s efforts for his preservation, rose from the ground without
having sustained any such vital injury as had recently appeared to be
almost inevitable. Bitter, however, were his feelings when he discovered
to whom it was that he owed his life; for so deeply had the family feud
become engraven upon his heart, that it is almost doubtful whether he
would not have preferred death, to escape therefrom by means of the aid
of a St. Aunay.

There {136}was no time, however, for much to be said on either side. The
Yorkists were pursuing their flying foes, and but few were left around
the two noblemen, when from the hill-side, but a short distance off,
they beheld a female figure hurrying towards them with eager gestures
and evident excitement. Both recognised her at the same moment--both
hastened to meet her--and in a brief space of time Mathilde was once
more folded to her father’s heart. Horace de St. Aunay could have wished
that another breast had been the resting-place, but could hardly have
expected it under the peculiar circumstances. He waited patiently,
therefore (having no other reasonable alternative), until the father and
daughter had indulged their natural affection for each other, and had
entered upon certain mutual explanations, which appeared upon the whole
to be satisfactory. Then the Baron turned to him, and for some time was
unable to utter a word. The struggle was severe in his heart between his
natural affection for his child and his cherished hatred for the foe of
his house. But, luckily for all parties, the former prevailed.

The Baron was no fool, and probably felt that if Mathilde had run away
once to look for her lover, it was exceedingly likely that she might do
it again. Moreover, the Lancastrian cause was now in that condition
that those who still upheld it would ere long have nothing else to
uphold, and, whatever might become of himself, the old Baron had no
desire to see his beloved daughter dispossessed of her patrimony, and
possibly driven from house and home, or reduced to that employment as
a necessity which she had recently adopted as a temporary--though most
uncongenial--occupation.

So, {137}like a sensible man, he allowed his reason and common sense to
overcome his prejudice, and gave his consent to his daughter’s marriage
with the Count of St. Aunay. He could not have done a wiser thing. The
Count’s influence with the winning party in the state was naturally
considerable, and was efficiently exercised in favour of his
father-in-law, who was allowed to retain his castle and property, when
others, less fortunate in their daughters’ marriages, lost both on
account of their political opinions.

Horace and Mathilde were speedily united, and, as old story-books
usually say, “they lived very happily all the rest of their lives.”
 It will also be doubtless satisfactory to you to know that none of the
convent authorities ever discovered that the old washerwoman had had
anything whatever to do with the disappearance of the young Baroness;
that the farmer and his wife were liberally rewarded for their kindness
to the latter; and that the followers and believers in the Witch of Salt
Hill had a higher opinion than ever of her supernatural powers, since it
had so plainly been proved that it was, as she had said, on account of
a lover that the Baron’s daughter had left the convent. And this is the
way that there came a happy termination to “The Family Feud.”

Father Thames here paused, and took a deep draught of ale; whilst he was
engaged with which, his brother of the Rhine calmly and gravely put
to him the singular question: “And what became of the pigs, Brother
Thames?”

The potentate of our English river hastily put down his {138}glass,
choked violently as he did so, and then answered with a laugh, “Confound
your jokes, Brother Rhine, you made my liquor go the wrong way, which is
a very unpleasant thing, let me tell you. But, after all, the rebuke
was deserved, for my cross-questioning you so closely after your last
legend. I own that legends are things which should be received with much
faith and no questions, or the beauty of them is lost at once.”

“I quite agree with you,” responded he of the Rhine, “and it was with
the object of bringing you to express your concurrence in this view that
I asked the remarkably stupid question about the pigs. There are some
people who always want to know a great deal more than is good for them,
and who insist upon asking what became of each and every character of
whom mention has been made in a legend. This is simply ridiculous,
and very disagreeable to the teller of the story, who is obliged to
introduce many minor characters into his tale, in order to fill up gaps,
and illustrate the position of the principal personages, but who cannot
be expected to know the final history and eventual fate of them all.
Since, then, you agree with me, Brother Thames, I shall ask you to be
good enough to listen to my next legend with a sincere determination
to believe it if you can, and in any case to demand no explanation of
circumstances which may seem strange, or with regard to persons who may
appear to be unusual in name or character, or in both the two together.”

“I promise to do as you wish,” replied Father Thames to this request,
upon which the other commenced at once as follows:--



THE GIANT BRAMBLE-BUFFER

“There {139}was once a Daddyroarer--”

“What the deuce is a Daddyroarer?” hastily interposed Father Thames.

The monarch of the Rhine gave him an indignant glance. “Is this the
way you keep your promise?” he inquired, in a tone of some severity.
“Another such interruption and I shall decline to continue the amusement
of legend-telling. I have no objection, however, to inform you that the
word Daddyroarer signifies a giant, though whence its derivation I am
unable to tell you with any degree of certainty. It probably comes from
two Teutonic words, but I should be sorry to attempt to give them in the
original. There is something about the name, however, which conveys
the idea of a giant. ‘Daddy,’ indeed, being the familiar appellation by
which children occasionally designate their male parent, points, not
so much to the paternal relationship of a giant with mankind, as to his
size and proportions, which are as much larger than those of man as are
the proportions and size of a father to those of his young children. I
presume that the term ‘roarer’ is not intended to convey, as in the case
of a horse, the notion of broken wind, but has rather reference to the
gruff and deep-toned voice which usually characterizes the giant.

“But, be this as it may, I repeat the fact that there was once a certain
Daddyroarer, or giant, who lived among the mountains near a certain part
of my beautiful river. For many years, indeed, in the old, old times,
the men of Rhineland were grievously troubled with giants {140}of
different sorts and sizes. Tradition tells us that they all sprang from
the mighty giant Senoj, who, as is well known, was born, nobody knows
how or where, among the loftiest peaks of the Alps, and is down to this
day popularly known in Rhineland as the father of all giants.

[Illustration: 156]

“Certain it is that his descendants, if such they were, proved
exceedingly troublesome to mankind in general, and Rhenish mankind in
particular. These creatures were, indeed, a plague and a pest to the
country. They ate voraciously, and were not particular as to the food
with which they satisfied their appetites. I am not prepared to say
whether or no they were actually cannibals, and will therefore give them
the benefit of the doubt; nevertheless, they were exceedingly unpleasant
neighbours. The quantity of food which they required was alone
sufficient to have placed this fact beyond question, for if you
recollect the feats performed in the way of swallowing by your own old
giant--

          ‘Robin-a-bobbin-a-Bilberry Ben,
              Who ate more victuals than three-score men,’

and consider what would have been the effect upon your country of
half-a-dozen Robins, you will have no trouble in understanding the
difficulty which Rhineland experienced in supporting these worthies.

“What made it much worse, too, was the exceedingly loose notions which
these beings entertained upon the subject of the rights of property.
They apparently laboured under the delusion that the world was made for
giants, and for giants alone--a theory exceedingly convenient for those
who happened to be giants, but the reverse {141}of agreeable to those
who did not come within that somewhat limited category. These excellent
individuals took exactly what they pleased from its owner, without so
much as ‘by your leave’ or ‘with your leave,’ and never for a moment
dreamed of paying the value of the article in question. This was not a
comfortable state of things for the people of the land, who saw their
sheep and oxen, pigs and poultry, and other possessions which they
prized, taken away by the great bullies against whom they dared not lift
a voice nor wag a finger.

“But this was not all. It is bad enough to be robbed by another person,
and not pleasant to be assaulted, but I am not sure whether to be
utterly ignored and despised is not worse than either, especially when
accompanied by such aggravating circumstances as those to which I am now
going to allude. These huge creatures used to go walking about just as
if there were no such things as men and women in the world. They would
kick over a cottage for fun, sit down upon a barn or outhouse and crush
its roof with their weight, out of mere ignorance or wanton folly; and
even now and then set their foot on a human being and crush him into the
earth, as if he were a snake, taking no account whatever of his prayers
and struggles. In fact, they got into the habit of treating people as if
they were merely an inferior part of creation placed upon the earth to
cultivate and make it more useful for giants, and intended to be robbed,
maltreated, trodden under foot, and put out of the way, just when and
how it suited their imperious masters, for whom, and for whose sake
alone, the universe had been created.

“You {142}may well imagine, Brother Thames, that this state of affairs
was pre-eminently unsatisfactory to my poor people. No man’s life or
property was secure, and all improvement was entirely prevented. Indeed,
what was the use of building a house which was liable to be knocked down
or kicked over by a giant at any moment? Of what avail would it have
been to plant a field with wheat, oats, or barley, when at any and
every period of the year all might be trodden down by the ruthless
foot of the same monster, and the reapers possibly be stamped into the
ground, together with the crops which they were gathering? Who would
rear sheep and oxen of which he was sure to be robbed? and who would
spend time, labour, and money upon anything when all was so insecure and
uncertain? So it came about that the population diminished, no houses
were built, few fields were sown, lands went out of cultivation, and it
seemed as if, in a little time longer, the country would be neither more
nor less than a dreary wilderness. Indeed, the whole face of the country
was changed by the strange freaks of the Daddyroarers.

“Sometimes they would amuse themselves by lifting huge masses of rock,
and therewith building a mountain; at another time they would fling
enormous stones at each other in sport, which was pastime anything but
delightful to their neighbours, whose lives and property were thereby
grievously imperilled. And not the least part of the mischief they did
was when they took a fancy to snowball each other, which the survivors
of them still practise, especially in some parts of Switzerland, where
the avalanche, which occasionally overwhelms the unhappy traveller,
although mistakenly attributed to natural {143}causes, is in reality
nothing more than the fall of a larger snowball than usual, hurled by
the mighty arm of one of those mountain giants.

[Illustration: 160]

“At the time I speak of there was one particular giant who had for a
long while been remarkably troublesome. Not only was his appetite more
insatiable than that of his brethren, but he was endowed with a spirit
of mischief, which rendered him an especially disagreeable neighbour.
If he met a man he generally gave him a kick, which sent him off fifty
yards up in the air, and in most instances proved fatal. He never passed
a cottage without sitting down on the roof, or kicking the wall down,
and would walk away from a farm with a couple of haystacks, one under
each arm, simply for the love of plunder, and when he really did not
require the hay for his own purposes.

“You {144}will hardly require much argument in order to convince you
that this giant was a most obnoxious person, and was consequently held
in great detestation by all the poor creatures who had the misfortune to
dwell near him. By these he was generally called by the euphonious name
of ‘Old Bramble-Buffer,’ although the title by which he was known among
his own kith and kin was probably quite different, and has not been
handed down to posterity. For many years he tyrannized over the country
round, and the story which I am about to tell you will show how great
his fame and physical strength must have been, and thus remove any
surprise which you might otherwise possibly have felt at the power of
one monster to keep a whole neighbourhood in subjection.

“When their houses had been again and again destroyed, the wretched
inhabitants began to seek shelter in holes in the caves and rocks, in
which they hid themselves, their wives, families, and effects, and only
issued forth by stealth at night, or when they had reason to believe
that their terrible oppressor was away from home. In consequence of
this state of things, our friend the Daddyroarer found his fun somewhat
diminished. He seldom encountered a man now, the opportunities afforded
him for kicking down houses were comparatively rare, and he began to
think life in the country, under such circumstances, rather tedious. It
was in vain that he occupied himself in mountain-building with some of
his fellow-giants, snowballing was cold work, and became tiresome after
a time; and when he once tried to amuse himself by baling out my river,
he found the task too great for even one of his gigantic strength.
{145}He kept on at it for some time, being too stupid to understand
that my river, being well supplied at its sources, and aided by many a
tributary stream and mountain torrent, was in no sort of way affected by
the abstraction of the few millions of gallons of which his puny efforts
robbed it, and his exertions only caused intense mirth to my elves and
demons, without for a moment lessening the volume of water in the river,
or in any way diminishing the strength and rapidity of the current.

“So when Master Bramble-buffer became tired of all these occupations and
amusements he had few resources left. Persons of his description are not
given to literary or intellectual pursuits, and in all probability
both reading and writing were accomplishments entirely unknown to the
ordinary class of giants. Eating, drinking, and sleeping appeared to
be the chief objects for which these creatures existed, except to make
themselves generally disagreeable to their neighbours, which was an
object in which it is quite true that they rarely failed to achieve
complete success. So when the excellent Bramble-buffer had found out
that the task of emptying the Rhine was beyond his powers, and cared
not to fall back upon the old pastimes, of which he had had his fill,
he took to the practice of taking long walks, and journeying into other
countries wherein he might find fresh people to terrify, new fields to
destroy, and a wider scope for the exercise of his vast strength and
malevolent disposition.

“He marched over a great extent of ground, and did a vast deal of
mischief during these excursions. Such was his size and weight, that the
commonest action on his part {146}was sometimes fraught with the most
unexpected results and the direst consequences to mankind. For instance,
if he carelessly slung his walking-stick as he moved along the road,
the implement, being of the size and thickness of a well-grown fir-tree,
brushed off the heads of trees--and of people too, for that matter,
if it came in contact with them,---just as a stick in the hand of an
ordinary mortal knocks over poppies and thistles if employed for that
purpose. Then if he sat down on a small hill to rest, it was as if a man
had jumped with his full weight on a mole-hill of which the earth was
newly thrown up and consequently soft. The ground trembled beneath
his weight as if with the shock of a sudden earthquake; and very often
squashed under him so as to jut out on either side, and cause sudden and
most inconvenient alterations in the fields and woods on each side of
the hill, more especially so in those cases in which dwellings happened
to have been erected thereupon. And woe betide the owner of ponds or
wells when the Daddyroarer happened to be thirsty as he passed by them.
It was no unusual thing for him to empty a pond at a draught, and I have
known a whole village affected with drought for weeks together because
old Bramble-buffer had taken a fancy to drink of the wells by which it
was supplied with water.

“In his journey at last the old fellow came to the seashore, and having
never before visited the blue ocean, he was abundantly delighted at all
he saw. Even the coarse and blunted nature of a giant cannot fail to be
struck with admiration at the first sight of the glorious sea. The waves
breaking with regular and solemn force upon the shore, as if protesting
ever against their enforced {147}restraint within prescribed limits: the
foam dancing lightly upon the water far away out at sea; the bright rays
of the sun reflected in varying lights upon the shifting waters; the
ships riding at anchor, or merrily cleaving the waves asunder in their
onward course; the sea-birds skimming along the bosom of the sea, ever
and anon with shrill scream dipping their long wings in the spray of the
wave, and mounting again in high air with joyous flight; the huge fish
showing his scaled form for an instant in the light of day, and the next
moment burying himself fathoms deep in the world of waters below;
all these things, passing before the eye at the same moment with the
rapidity of thought, strike the beholder, be he giant or man, with
mingled awe and wonder.

“In the case of old Bramble-buffer, however, neither feeling lasted
long, and after a very short space of time the spirit of mischief arose
within his breast, and tempted him to try his powers of doing evil
under the new circumstances before him. Placing himself in a recumbent
posture, and supporting his huge frame upon his two stalwart arms, he
began to blow violently down upon the sea below, with all the force of
his mighty lungs. The effect was instantaneous. The bosom of the deep
was troubled as with a terrible hurricane. The waves reared up their
heads, the foam danced higher than ever, the sea-birds shrieked more
loudly, and the fishes were astonished at the wondrous commotion which
had arisen upon the surface of their watery home. The poor mariners,
who were taken totally unawares by the extraordinary suddenness of the
storm, were, as may well be supposed, in considerable trouble. Their
ships were {148}driven from their moorings, masts were snapt asunder,
sails and rigging rent and injured irreparably, and several men and boys
blown overboard by the violence of the terrible blast. Indeed, more
than one vessel was lost, and an immense amount of property utterly
destroyed; and all because of this mad freak of the mischievous old
giant.

[Illustration: 165]

“But the best of the joke in this case was that the poor mortals had
no idea whatever of the cause of the disaster which had so unexpectedly
befallen them, and a lengthy correspondence was carried on in the
newspapers {149}of a certain country whose inhabitants think themselves
wiser than anybody else, as to the cause of storms, the efficacy of
storm signals, and the possibility of foretelling when the weather is
going to be calm or rough. Some people wrote letters which appeared to
the world exceedingly wise, whilst others published ideas which every
one agreed to be remarkably foolish, but none of them ever hit upon
the right cause of this catastrophe, and possibly many others of a like
character, nor did any person ever dream for a moment that the whole of
the affair was owing to the whim of old Bramble-buffer and his desire to
try his strength upon the waves of the ocean. When he had accomplished
his purpose, put everybody and everything into the greatest confusion,
and done all the mischief he could in the shortest possible time, the
fellow sat up, folded his arms, and indulged in a series of hearty
laughs and strange roars of pleasure which the innocent people of the
neighbourhood took for claps of thunder, and said it was a good thing;
that the thunder-storm would clear the air, and the wind would soon be
lulled.

“Giants, however, like men, find pleasures greater in anticipation than
in realisation, and our old friend thought it too much trouble to repeat
the experiment of raising the wind, which is one never to be performed
without a certain amount of difficulty. Accordingly, he resolved to seek
for some other amusement, and turning away from the sea-shore, again
penetrated into the interior of the country. It would be endless to
tell: you all the strange pranks he played, and how gradually his name
became known and detested throughout the whole country through which
the river which bears my name holds {150}its course. It he desired
notoriety, he certainly had it to his heart’s content, and never was
there a being more feared and hated since the beginning of the world.

“At last, having travelled far enough, he returned by easy stages to the
country from whence he had set out, and there recommenced his old
evil practices with the smallest possible delay. He had always a spite
against my beautiful river, I suppose because he had failed in emptying
it; but, whatever the reason may have been, he liked it not, and used to
vary his occupations sometimes by pitching pieces of mountain into
it, and close by its side, so as to make its shores if possible
unapproachable by mortal foot, in doing which he added greatly to the
wild beauty of the scenery, without in reality doing the smallest harm
either to the river or to mankind.

“After a while, old Bramble-buffer began to find that the effects of his
bad and cruel conduct towards mankind had so diminished the number
of those who used to dwell in houses, that he had some difficulty in
obtaining supplies from farms and homesteads as before. He therefore,
much against his will, was obliged to take to hunting and trapping wild
animals, in which he was not very skilful, but for this he was in
some measure compensated by the advantages of size and strength, which
enabled him to catch creatures which his skill alone would never have
brought within reach of his devouring jaws.

“In his search after game he was in the habit of roaming far and wide
over the mountains and through the forests of Rhine-land, and his loud
cries and roars were often heard for miles, sending the frightened
people into their holes and caves, where with trembling hearts they
sought {151}a refuge from the mighty Daddyroarer. At last, one day, the
old fellow had been more than commonly successful in his hunting. Chance
had thrown in his way several roe-buck and sundry hares, of which he had
made a very hearty meal, and naturally felt rather sleepy afterwards.
He therefore wandered slowly through the forest, looking for some
convenient and comfortable spot upon which he might deposit his huge
carcase, and indulge in that after-dinner nap which is ordinarily so
agreeable to persons of a certain age. In a giant’s case, such naps are
almost always unnaturally long and deep, and in fact these vast beings
have been known not unfrequently to sleep round from one dinnertime to
another, when their repast has happened to be somewhat larger and more
satisfactory to themselves than common.

“Old Bramble-buffer looked about, and not seeing any eligible
resting-place at hand, determined to make one for himself by pulling
up a tree or two, and so finding a pillow in their roots and the earth
which would be upturned therewith. So taking hold of a large tree near
him, he gave it a twist and a turn, such as a gardener might do in
pulling up a radish, or a labourer in performing the same office upon a
turnip, and produced precisely the same effect. The tree was uprooted,
and remained in the hands of its destroyer. But it so happened that this
was not an ordinary tree, or rather that there were some extraordinary
circumstances connected with it. It was of very great size, and growing
on the side of a hill; in which a large cave had been excavated beneath
and among the roots of the trees, which served as props and supports for
the sides and roof of the same.

“This {152}cave was inhabited by a number of unhappy mortals, who had
been driven hither by the careless cruelty of the great giant, and who
little thought that the tyranny of their oppressor would follow them
even into this dark and hidden retreat. They, of course, were thrown
into the most terrible consternation by his present feat. The uprooting
of the tree was to them the destruction of their home once more, the
ruin of all they loved, the literal annihilation of their property,
and the loss of all that could still make life dear to them. Fancy the
miserable, the extraordinary results which would happen if one’s house
were suddenly lifted up, and the walls, ceilings, beams, and rafters
fell in around us on every side. Well, this was precisely what happened
to these unfortunate creatures. Nor had they the smallest time for
preparation. It all came upon them in a moment.

“As we have seen, it was only the desire of the giant to provide himself
with a pillow which caused him to pull up the tree, and although he
would probably have done so just the same, or perhaps all the more, if
he had known what the result would be, there is no reason to suppose
that of such result he had the least idea, or indeed that he ever
troubled his head about the possible or probable result of his action to
anybody but himself. As soon, however, as he had pulled up the tree, and
perceived the effects which he had thus produced, the old rascal burst
into a roar of laughter. Indeed the sight was probably as amusing to him
as it must have been horrible to one of the sufferers. The poor little
mortals were running to and fro, each with the most woebegone expression
of countenance, unable to make out {153}what had happened to them. Some,
indeed, were entangled in the roots of the tree, and whirled up aloft
with it in the giant’s hands, some were half smothered by the fallen
earth, and the rest were endeavouring to make their escape best manner
that they could to repair the injury he had done, or leaving the poor
creatures whom he had so cruelly disturbed to repair it for themselves
if they could.

[Illustration: 170]

On the contrary, he made matters worse, and just for the fun of the
thing, stamped several of the mortals into the earth as they were wildly
flying from the ruins of their home, and thus put an {154}end to their
lives and troubles together. Probably, out of mere mischief, he would
have destroyed more of them, if he had happened to have fallen in with
the pastime before dinner. Having dined, however, he was much less
inclined to any active exertion, and therefore contented himself with
putting his foot upon those who were more immediately within his reach,
and then, feeling somewhat fatigued, sat down on that very spot and
prepared for his usual nap. First, however, he indulged in another laugh
at the curious incident which had just occurred; then he peered down
into the cave below, and wondered how any living creatures could exist
in such a dark, dismal place, and what the nature and habits of such
creatures could be. This being a subject too vast and deep for the
intellect of a giant, he could not entertain it without giving a
tremendous yawn, which still more inclined him to sleep. So, arranging
his position as comfortably as he could upon his back, which is a
giant’s natural posture when about to turn in for the night, he composed
himself to slumber, without a thought of remorse for the unhappy beings
whom he had just treated in so ruthless a manner, and in a very short
time was buried in the land of dreams.

“Now, amongst those who had been driven from the shelter of the cave,
and rendered houseless and homeless in a moment by the act of the giant,
was a worthy person of the name of Hans. His other name is unknown to
me, or at least I have forgotten it at the present moment, which comes
to much the same thing. Hans had followed the honourable profession of
a tailor in happier days, before the tyranny of the giant had destroyed
trade, crippled commerce, and made men careless {155}as to whether they
wore coats or trousers at all when their whole lives were so full of
misery and uncertainty. When tailoring, like other handicrafts, thus
fell into disuse, and men who were homeless and houseless frequently
became clothes-less also, Hans faced the matter boldly, and lived by his
wits like the others, making himself exceedingly useful in the cave-life
which he and his companions found themselves obliged to adopt. No one
knew better how to arrange the interior of the caves after the best
and most convenient fashion; no one was more urbane to the men, or
more courteous and obliging to the women; no one, in short, had
proved himself a more useful and agreeable companion in that banished
community.

“Having been engaged in some domestic occupation within the cave at
the time of the misfortune which befell its inmates, Hans bore his full
share in the general calamity, and indeed only owed his escape with life
to his activity and presence of mind. Whirled upwards with the tree, he
clung tightly to the nearest root, and had the wisdom to drop himself
just at the right moment upon the ground, and run lightly away into the
brushwood. As soon, however, as the assault was over, and the destroyer
of his brethren had lain down to sleep, the bold Hans again came forth.

“Many men would have fled as far as possible from that scene of sorrow
and destruction, and thought only of the preservation of their own lives
from the fate which had befallen so many of their kind. But Hans had too
much public spirit to take any such selfish course. He descended without
delay into the cave, and ascertained as well as he could the full extent
of the damage which had {156}been sustained. Then he ran to and fro
among his fellows, exhorting them to bear with courage this terrible
reverse, and begging them to meet at once in a cave hard by, and consult
as to the best measures which could be taken under the circumstances in
which they found themselves.

“In a very short time, owing to his exertions, more than a hundred of
the unhappy mortals assembled together and began to take counsel for
the future. As is usual in all such cases, there was a great variety of
opinion. One man advised that they should all forthwith hang themselves,
as life had become so insecure as to be almost worthless. It was urged,
however, that this would afford no remedy for the existing state of
things, and would be like throwing away your gold because you had been
robbed of your silver. Besides, it would be an undignified thing to come
to a general termination of so inglorious a character, and the proposal
was speedily scouted as one totally unworthy of consideration.

“Then it was suggested by another person that a subscription should
immediately be raised for the sufferers, and advertisements to that
effect be inserted in all the daily papers. As the speaker was the
proprietor and editor of one of these, it is possible that he had an eye
to business in making the suggestion, which, however, fell flat upon the
ears of the audience. No one there had any money to spare, and everybody
was more or less a sufferer from a calamity which had fallen so
generally upon the race of man. Some advised that they should all
emigrate, but then they didn’t know where to go to, and, in short, it
seemed as if they were likely {157}to come to no agreement; everybody
objected to everything that anybody else said, no one seemed to have any
weight or authority in the assembly, and it really appeared a hopeless
case altogether.

“At last Hans, who had kept a respectful silence for some time, as
became one in his position, whilst others talked nonsense (which is
occasionally done at public meetings, as well as elsewhere, down to
the present day), came forward, and asked leave to offer his advice.
‘Gentlemen,’ he said, ‘I hope you will agree with me that it is
necessary to do something in this case. To sit still with our hands
folded, and do nothing, would be certainly the very worst course we
could possibly pursue. The horrible cruelty of the vile Daddyroarer
has first driven us from our former happy homes, destroyed our hopes of
prosperity, and condemned us to an almost savage life; then, not content
with the amount of misery which he had already inflicted on us, the
tyrant has followed us even into the forest, uprooted and ruined the new
home which we had formed for ourselves, and once more turned adrift upon
the wide world those of us who have been lucky enough to escape with
life. How long then are we to endure such a state of things as this?
While this huge monster walks the earth unchecked and unrestrained, no
man’s life will be safe; and even if we run away and find for ourselves
fresh hiding-places, what security have we that at any moment he may not
appear amongst us and again inflict upon us ruin and destruction? Depend
upon it, gentlemen, this question must be looked in the face. It cannot
be evaded any longer. Running away is useless. The enemy must be
no longer avoided. At this moment he sleeps in security over our
{158}ruined homes. He must be attacked! Never was there a more
auspicious moment! Let us take courage, and assail the giant where he
lies!’

“As Hans spoke a thrill of horror ran through the meeting, who could by
no means bring themselves to realise the idea of attacking a monster
so many sizes larger than themselves, and gifted with strength so
infinitely greater” than the united efforts of many ‘of them put
together. So a murmur of voices, all in the negative, greeted the little
tailor when he resumed his seat; and presently one of those present,
who, being the oldest, was reputed the wisest (which, however, is by
no means a safe rule to go by), stood up and spoke in his turn. He said
that it was folly to talk after the fashion of the speech to which they
had just listened; and, as this remark was somewhat personal, it was at
once much applauded, which encouraged the orator to proceed. He remarked
that since the first man came into the world down to that day no man had
ever-dreamed of attacking a giant, and, therefore, that it could not now
be done. This sentiment also commended itself to many of his
hearers, who cherished the belief that no new scheme ought ever to be
entertained, as the world had gone on so far very well without it,
and that what had never been done before had better not be attempted.
Finding his audience possessed with such a good conservative spirit, the
old man said further, that as giants had from time immemorial tyrannized
over man, it was doubtless intended that they should do so, and it might
savour of impiety to endeavour to alter a state of things which had
lasted so long. Moreover, the power and authority of giants over men was
so well established {159}that it would be almost impossible to reverse
the order of things. Comparing such an attempt with efforts made in
other countries, it seemed to him to be almost as absurd as an attempt
to reform a House of Lords, or reverse the decision of a Governing Body.
Then, hazarding a joke (which was very well received), he said, that
if his friend the little tailor wanted ‘his goose cooked,’ no doubt he
could get that operation performed by attacking authority, and if he
chose to run his head against a wall, no one could prevent him. But
he (the speaker) would appeal to those before him, as sensible and
practical men, and ask them to reject as idle and absurd the wild
theories placed before them by little Hans. Giants would be giants, and
men would be men to the end of the world, and they must put up with the
misfortune which had befallen them as well as they could, and not make
it worse by entering upon such a hopeless enterprise as that which had
been proposed.

“This speech met with so much approval from the mortals there assembled,
who were thoroughly cowed and subdued in spirit by the long course of
suffering which they had undergone, that Hans at first felt his heart
sink within him. He knew well enough that he could do nothing alone, and
it seemed as if all were against him. But, remembering the old adage,
that ‘Fortune favours the brave,’ and being a man of undaunted pluck
and resolution, he determined not to be put down either by taunts or
claptrap. He therefore rose again, and ignoring, like a wise man, the
foolish and vulgar joke directed against his own most respectable trade,
proceeded to state his views to the best of his ability. He acknowledged
that reverence ought to be paid {160}to age, and that the last speaker
was consequently-entitled to every attention. At the same time he could
not but observe, that if his doctrine were to hold good, that things
should be left to go on as they are merely _because_ they are, and that
nothing new ought ever to be attempted for fear of failure, the world
would be in a very lamentable condition, and no improvement would
ever take place in anything. He modestly remarked that, according to
tradition, mankind at one period of their history wore only the skins of
animals, and at a previous time no clothes at all, and that, if the old
gentleman’s views were correct, they never ought to have quitted the
latter condition. ‘Moreover,’ said he, to cut a long story short,
‘it has been suggested to me that _I_ may attack the giant alone if
I please, and no one will interfere. Be it so: I only ask for six
others--half-a-dozen volunteers--and sooner than submit any longer to
the present misery and degradation in which I and my fellow-men are
placed, I will make the attempt; I can but perish, and, in such a cause,
death will be glorious.’

“At these words of the valiant tailor a low murmur of applause ran
through the audience, who now began to perceive that he was really in
earnest, and had not spoken at first out of mere bravado. For the honour
of that oppressed race, I am glad to be able to add, that before any
long time had elapsed, the six volunteers whom Hans had demanded were
forthcoming in the persons of that number of sturdy young men, who felt
that the hour had come when one great effort must be made to set their
race free from slavery, and were prepared to follow their brave leader
in his perilous enterprise. {161}Indeed, a number of others offered
themselves as soon as the thing was fairly started, for man is an
imitative animal, and like a flock of sheep, if the leader once makes a
dash down a lane or up a bank, there are always plenty to follow. Hans,
however, carefully selected six of his own acquaintance, whom he knew to
be skilled in certain trades, of which a knowledge would be requisite in
order to carry out his plans, and upon whom he knew he could thoroughly
rely. He now looked proudly round upon the other mortals, and calling
his six friends to follow him, left the place of meeting, attended
by the good wishes of those whose deliverance he was about to
attempt,--not, however, altogether unmixed with sundry depreciatory
sneers on the part of the old gentleman and his immediate followers.

“Without any delay, Hans journeyed back to the spot upon which the
mighty Bramble-buffer lay fast asleep, his gigantic carcase resting
at full length upon the ground. Hard by, the little tailor stopped
his troop, and unfolded to them the plan which his fertile brain
had conceived, and for the execution of which he depended upon their
assistance. This was none other than to capture the monster, and either
put him to death or render him the dependant and slave of those over
whom he had so long tyrannized. It would of course be no easy task, but,
on the contrary, one which would require much courage and determination,
not to say self-sacrifice, as a possibility by no means remote. For,
should the giant awake during the operations which were contemplated, he
would probably make short work of Hans and his six followers; and thus,
in attempting {162}to achieve the freedom of their people, they would
emphatically have walked out of the frying-pan into the fire.

“Nothing daunted, however, Hans, speaking in a low tone of voice,
informed his friends of all that he had planned in his head, and,
knowing how valuable is example upon all such occasions, he told them
that he would himself approach the enemy in the first instance, so that
if he should suddenly awake, none other save the leader of the attack
need of necessity be lost. The gallant six all expressed their readiness
to go too, but Hans told them that they must in every respect obey his
orders if he was to continue their leader, and upon this they yielded
the point, and graciously consented to remain in comparative safety,
whilst the valiant tailor advanced upon the foe. This he did very
cautiously, and walked twice all round the sleeping giant in order to be
quite sure that he was really fast asleep. This was indeed the case, as
he speedily assured himself: there was no pretence about the matter; the
deep, regular breathing of the sleeper, his closed eyes, and the air of
repose visible in every feature, told their own tale, and Hans felt
that no moment could be more propitious for his design. Accordingly, he
climbed up into the branches of a neighbouring tree, and choosing one
of them, which appeared from its position and size to be suitable to his
purpose, swung himself lightly down, and alighted upon the giant’s
chin, close to his mouth, to reconnoitre which was his first object and
intention.

“He had a stick in his hand, and in entering the mouth, which was to him
like some enormous cave, unfortunately touched with it some tender place
in the skin, {163}which caused the monster to be seized with a violent
desire to sneeze, which he accordingly did with an effect hardly
anticipated by the luckless Hans, who, stick and all (the latter being
broken in several’ pieces), was sent up many feet in the air, and fell,
more nearly frightened than he had ever been before in his life, upon
the enormous breast of the creature who had thus treated him.

[Illustration: 180]

“Most fortunately for the little fellow, giants sleep longer and more
soundly than any other created beings, and it was not one sneeze that
could cause old Bramble-buffer to awake from an after-dinner nap. The
fall of Hans upon his breast was to him no more than would have been
the dropping of a nut from an overhanging tree, {164}and with a kind of
half-grunt, half-snore, he almost immediately became again completely
unconscious, and, with his mouth wide open, returned to the land of
dreams and snored audibly.

“This, then, was the opportunity for which Hans had earnestly hoped, and
he beckoned forward his followers, who approached at once, in order to
perform their part of the tremendous task before them. They were divided
into two parties, whose occupation was essentially different. Three
of them employed themselves upon the beard and hair of the sleeping
monster. They’ carefully, and with the lightest possible touch,
separated hair from hair, and then fastening to each single hair a
strong rope, as far as their ropes would go, bound it down to the ground
with pegs or nails, or fastened it securely to the branch of some tree
near at hand. They took every precaution not to wake the creature upon
whom they were at work, and they performed their business with a skill
and quickness which showed that Hans had made a good selection in the
volunteers whom he had accepted. The monster was ere long bound by
innumerable ties to the earth, and the number and strength of these was
momentarily increased. Nor, indeed, were the operations of the three men
confined to the hairs of the head and beard: the old Daddyroarer was a
very hairy person, and they found upon his legs and arms so many hairs
of the thickness of a large-sized rope, that by turning their attention
to these limbs and to other parts of his body, they multiplied many
times over the links by which they gradually bound him more and more
securely to mother earth.

“Meanwhile the other three volunteers were actively engaged {165}in an
occupation if possible still more dangerous. It was the mouth of the
giant upon which Hans had always known he should have to make his great
attempt. For should every other part of his huge frame be brought under
subjection and his mouth left free, the direst consequences might be
apprehended. His roars might bring to his assistance others of his kind
from a distance; and even if this did not actually occur, the whole
population of the country would be alarmed, if indeed the volunteers
themselves were not deafened and rendered senseless by the sound. It
was bad enough even when they commenced, for the snores of the sleeping
giant were like very loud thunder, closer to the earth than common, or
the roar of many cannons in some great conflict of human armies. Luckily,
however, he only snored at intervals, between which much could be done,
and by carefully filling their ears with cotton wool, the four men were
able to proceed with their task, the noise being somewhat deadened by
this wise precaution.

“Hans, armed with a long spear sharpened at both ends, boldly entered
the mouth first. It was as dark as an oven, and almost as hot, whilst
the odour was far less agreeable, as the monster liked his venison high,
and had eaten rather an unusual quantity that day. In fact, from time to
time the men were obliged to creep out, faint and sick, and take a whiff
of fresh air and a drop of brandy before they could go on with their
work. Hans carefully placed his long spear in such a position between
the jaws that they could not possibly be closed upon him. He was obliged
to be exceedingly careful in climbing round and over the teeth, which
were of such size, {166}length, and sharpness, that to traverse them was
like climbing over a wall with enormously long pointed iron spikes at
the top of it. In fact, but for the circumstance of the existence of
various holes and crevices through which he could creep, Hans would have
found his task even more difficult than was actually the case.

[Illustration: 183]

“His three companions, meanwhile, had provided themselves with a great
quantity of beams, joists, rafters, and all other necessary articles
for the purpose which they intended to accomplish. They set to work with
great zeal to fortify the giant’s mouth after a novel fashion, fixing
strong beams of oak between the teeth, and building in planks of oak and
fir so as to create a fixed and strong roof within the mouth which
no power could remove save in the same manner by which it had been
{167}erected, namely, by carpenters’ work performed by skilful
operators. As the darkness of the interior of the mouth rendered it
difficult to work therein, the workmen, who became bolder after they had
worked for some time without interruption, fetched a lantern, which
Hans carefully hung from one of the beams, and, by the assistance of its
light, the work proceeded more rapidly; and after a time the four men
arrived at the conclusion that there was little more to do in order to
secure the object for which they had undertaken their hazardous task.

[Illustration: 184]

“Accordingly they all left the mouth, except their valiant leader, who
now struck a severe blow upon the tongue of the giant with a fragment of
beam, in order to awake and summon him to surrender. Such, however, was
the thickness of the monster’s skin, that even upon this most sensitive
part a second and harder blow was necessary before the desired effect
could be produced.

Having {168}dealt this with all his force, Hans went forth and stood
upon the protruding lip of the giant, whence lie was presently hurled
down once more upon his breast, as the huge frame trembled and, with a
sigh, the monster awoke. Hans was speedily upon his legs again, climbed
at once boldly through the beard and whiskers of his prostrate enemy,
and standing upon the lower part of his cheek, and elevating his
lantern, shouted at the top of his voice, ‘You vile old murdering
Daddy-roarer! surrender yourself as my prisoner. Villain, you shall now
pay dearly for all the mischief you have done, and the innocent lives
which you have sacrificed. Monster, you must die!’

“Old Bramble-buffer, half asleep and half awake, at first made no
response whatever to this appeal, which, in fact, he scarcely heard.
Neither could he see the individual by whom he was addressed; all he
heard was a noise as of a shrill penny trumpet close to his ear, and it
was some few seconds before he recovered his senses sufficiently to make
out what was said to him. All he saw was the feeble ray of a lantern,
and he waited for awhile in hopeless confusion. Then, at last, he
perceived the strange little figure which had addressed him in so
haughty a tone, and for an instant a feeling of contemptuous mirth took
possession of his soul. This, however, did not last long, for Hans spoke
again.

“‘You don’t believe you are captive, don’t you?’ he cried. ‘Just try to
move, you old beggar, will you, and you’ll soon know the rights of it!’

“Bramble-buffer, on hearing these words, immediately followed the advice
which they gave, but found that he was so firmly secured to the ground
by more than {169}half the hairs of his head and body, that he could not
move an inch. Then he tried to roar, or at all events to speak to his
vanquisher, and discover what it all meant, but found himself totally
unable to do so. His mouth was so carefully and solidly fortified, that
he could no more close it than fly, and he found that he was completely
and absolutely in the power of those who had taken advantage of his
sleep to make him a helpless captive.

“As soon as he saw that the giant was aware of his condition, Hans
carefully kicked him on the nostril, and went on to say, ‘Now, you old
rascal, you will have time to repent, perhaps, but no more. The crows
and ravens will soon come and pick out your eyes, and the wolves and
other animals for whom the flesh of an old giant is not too strong, will
doubtless make an end of you before long. If, however, these should not
arrive soon, you may starve here as comfortably as you can, and die
of hunger at your leisure.’ With these words the little tailor stamped
violently on the old Daddy-roarer’s cheek, and laughed scornfully as he
did so.

“Perfectly helpless, overcome with sorrow at his miserable condition,
and struck with horror at the melancholy and wretched fate which he saw
impending, Bramble-buffer could bear up no longer, but burst into
tears, in doing which he very nearly destroyed his conqueror, who
would certainly have been washed away by the stream which suddenly came
gushing down the cheek on which he was standing, had he not with his
wonted agility jumped on one side, and swung himself off by the whiskers
on to the ground.

“Seeing his enemy thus completely prostrate in body and {170}soul, and
evidently perfectly conscious of the helplessness of his position, the
acute brain of Hans began immediately to consider whether there might
not be some better way of turning the giant to account than by either
killing him or leaving him to die, especially as there would be
considerable practical inconvenience in getting rid of so huge a
carcase, which would moreover attract all the wolves, foxes, vultures,
crows, and other disagreeable animals from far and near, and render the
place unbearable for months to come. A happy thought struck him, and he
instantly struck the giant in consequence, climbing back again on to his
lip in order to do so. ‘Listen to me, Daddy roarer!’ he cried at the top
of his voice. ‘You can purchase your life if you wish it. What do you
say to that?’

[Illustration: 187]

“Fastened as he was, and unable to speak or move his mouth, the old
fellow could only signify his delight by {171}winking his eyes, which he
forthwith did with as much expression as could be expected from a
person of his intellectual capacity. Hans perfectly understood that an
affirmative reply was intended, and he thus proceeded to explain his
meaning to the giant. ‘Now, look here, old chap! you must confess that
you have been a regular ruffian: destroying crops, throwing down houses,
bagging sheep and cattle, stamping upon people who never did _you_ any
harm, and generally playing Old Harry with the whole country. Now, if I
and my mates let you off this time, and spare your life, you must vow,
promise, and solemnly declare that you will do just exactly the reverse
and opposite of all you have hitherto done. You must watch over the
interests of mankind, and, in fact, you must be our slave, perform the
tasks which we shall impose upon you, and yield a ready and implicit
obedience to all commands which shall be laid upon you by properly
constituted authorities among mankind, from the Emperor of Germany down
to the parish constable. If you’re game for this, old fellow, wink your
eye again, and it’s a bargain.’

“It may perhaps be objected to our hero Hans, Brother Thames, that his
language was somewhat of what is termed a ‘slang’ character; but if
critics make, as critics will, such remarks, they should remember that,
in the days of which I am speaking, tailors were not, as now, upon an
equality with educated gentlemen, and their language was not unnaturally
somewhat less polished and refined than might otherwise have been the
case. I should willingly put into the mouth of Hans expressions of a
nature better calculated to please the superlatively well-conditioned
gentlemen who, in these days {172}when all men are equal, speak with
acknowledged accuracy of taste and grammar, whether they chance to have
been half, wholly, or not at all educated, and cannot endure in the
mouths of others anything which falls short of their own high standard;
but I speak of things and people as they really were in those old days,
and I cannot alter the truth for anybody.

“Hans was only a tailor, and perhaps a little vulgar into the bargain,
and he certainly accosted the old giant with more slang expressions and
less respect than his age and rank might have entitled him to expect. So
it was, however, and, what is more, the result was the same as it would
probably have been if Hans had used other and better language to express
his meaning.

“Old Bramble-buffer no sooner heard the conditions imposed than he
winked his eye again without the smallest hesitation, in order to
signify that he agreed to the bargain. Upon this our friend Hans
immediately summoned his companions, who came at once, and, being
ordered by him to do so, climbed upon the face of the still-prostrate
foe, and, at Hans’ further commands, took up the positions which he
indicated. Three of them sat quietly upon his forehead, whilst two
others sat, one over each of his eyes, holding in their hands a sharp
dagger which they kept suspended just above his eyelids.

“‘Now, old boy,’ shouted Hans again, right into the ear of the giant,
‘look here; I am going to keep my part of the bargain, and begin to set
you free. If, when your mouth is open, you cry out for help, or say or
do anything unpleasant, straight into your eyes go these two daggers,
and you will find that you will fare much {173}worse than if you had
kept your word. As soon as your voice is free, you will swear the Big
Oath of the giants to be the slave of our people henceforth; and
you shall then be set free from the other bonds by which you are now
constrained.’

[Illustration: 190]

“Having said these words, Hans boldly descended once more into the huge
mouth of his former enemy, accompanied by his remaining companions, who
carried a lantern. Then, taking up his spear, which he had removed from
its position in the giant’s jaws as soon as the beams and rafters had
been all fixed and securely built in, he carefully moved one of these,
which was the key {174}to the whole edifice, and then, jumping out of
the mouth, told the owner thereof that he could do the rest himself.
This, indeed, was the case, for with a vigorous crunch of his jaws,
Bramble-buffer now smashed beams, rafters, joists, and planks all into
one shapeless mass, which he forthwith spat out of his mouth as fast as
he could, and afterwards indulged in a long, deep sigh of relief. It was
a moment of agonizing suspense to the men. Suppose the giant should play
false? They might indeed put out his eyes, but his roars would probably
bring other giants to his aid before long, and, when free, his vengeance
would be terrible. A very few seconds, however, put an end to their
doubts, and dissipated all their fears. The race of giants are a curious
combination of good and evil, and if the latter generally predominates,
it is really not so much from natural or inherent vice as from defective
education, there being a sad want of elementary schools among giants,
and few people big enough to undertake the instruction of their youth.
But no well-born giant of average respectability breaks the great giant
oath, and this was what Bramble-buffer had promised to take. Nor was he
false to his promise: as soon as he had recovered his powers of speech,
his very first words were as follows, pronounced in rhyme, doubtless for
the sake of emphasis:--

          ‘By the mountains of the earth;
               By the ground which gave me birth;
          By the streams which here do flow;
               By the cots I’ve oft laid low;

          By the woods and forests great;
               By the woven web of Fate;
          By the waters of the Rhine,
               Swear I now this oath of mine:--

          War with man henceforth t’ eschew,
               To their cause for e’er be true,
          All their mandates to obey,
               Willing slave by night or day,

          To their will submissive bow,
               Since they grant my freedom now!’

“It {175}is but doing justice to the estimation in which the character
of the giants as vow-keepers stood, to say that from the moment that old
Bramble-buffer pronounced these words, not one of the seven heroes who
stood on and about his face at the time of his dozing had the smallest
fear for themselves, or for those to whom he had just vowed obedience.
They felt, on the contrary, such entire confidence in the moral probity
of their old enemy, and in his honest intention to observe his oath
in the most religious manner, that they immediately threw down their
daggers (in such a reckless manner as might have proved serious to
the face of the old giant if they had not fortunately fallen in his
whiskers), and proceeded without delay to climb down and set free the
hairs which they had so securely fastened with cords and ropes. Little
by little they separated those disagreeable knots and ties, and the
emancipated Bramble-buffer at last rose once more from the ground a free
giant.

“As soon as he was upon his legs, the first thing he did was to shake
himself violently, and in so doing cause the earth to tremble beneath
him as from the shock of an earthquake. He then spoke humbly to Hans,
and asked his will; but as in doing this he employed his ordinary voice,
which was not unlike thunder, his conqueror made the first use of
his power by desiring his slave to speak in a whisper for the future,
{176}unless he should happen to be standing at a great distance from the
person addressed. He next directed the captive Bramble-buffer to carry
him and his companions to the cave in which they had left the rest of
the mortals. This cave was formed out of rocks, close to the vast ruins
of an ancient castle, which at some distant time had been built in a
very strong position, but which age or giants had long ago partially
demolished. In front of the cave huge rocks jutted out on all sides, and
on a plateau of rock there came out several of the mortals to receive
Hans and his prisoner, as soon as the news had spread that they were
near at hand.

“Bramble-buffer had meekly obeyed the commands of his master, and
brought him and his six volunteers safely to the place they desired.
Then Hans, having directed that he should be placed upon a table of rock
just opposite that on which the other mortals were standing, and which
was about on a level with the giant’s head as he stood below, introduced
their new slave to his fellow-men, and related to them the perils and
adventures through which he and his six friends had passed, and the
successful issue to which they had brought the affair which had been
entrusted to them. Upon this the men all set up a shout of joy, as they
gazed with unfeigned delight upon their old enemy, humbled and brought
low as he was.

“Then there followed the usual course of action in such matters.
Everybody praised Hans, and everybody pretended that _they_ had known
his talents, skill, and bravery from the first, and had always been in
favour of the expedition which he had planned and executed.

One {177}would have thought that the old gentleman, at least, would have
remained silent, but this was far from being the case. On the contrary,
he was foremost in offering his congratulations to the triumphant Hans,
and even went so far as to say that he could not help taking some credit
to himself in the matter, for that, highly approving of his scheme from
the first moment he heard it, and being most anxious for its success, he
had known that a little pretended opposition was the only way to get up
a feeling in favour of it among the general throng, and had therefore
spoken doubtfully in order to secure this result. His wisdom, he added,
had been amply justified; Hans had succeeded as he, the old gentleman,
had always known he must and would succeed, and he hoped he would ever
be grateful to those whose age and experience had assisted him at the
first beginning of the affair.

“Hans listened with respectful attention to this speech, and to many of
a similar character from that large class of persons who always tell
one after an event has happened that they perfectly well knew it would
occur, and had often prophesied it beforehand. He did not deem it
necessary to make any answer, but accepted all the compliments offered
him with becoming modesty, and told his friends plainly that he had
acted for the general benefit, and was very thankful that success had
crowned his efforts. Many rewards were, of course, bestowed upon the
hero: he was made a knight of several orders, which conferred the right
to wear certain stars and crosses at court, which was accounted a great
privilege in those days, and was all the more valued because it was
always so uncertain to whom {178}it would be given, some persons who had
done nothing to deserve it being frequently thus decorated, while
others were left out who had fairly earned it by service rendered to the
public. But everybody rejoiced in the honours showered upon Sir Hans,
and tailoring immediately grew fashionable and has so continued ever
since.

“From that time forth there is but little of interest to relate to
you concerning the giant Bramble-buffer. He honestly and diligently
performed his duty to his masters, making and altering mountains for
them when required, holding a gigantic umbrella over particular crops
which the rain would have damaged when a storm happened to break over
them, and performing very many other offices for the performance of
which brute strength was required. In short, he proved a most faithful,
useful, and obedient servant, never grumbled at being required to rise
early, complained of his victuals, or said that, ‘it wasn’t his place’
to do any particular service asked of him, but did his duty like a true
and good giant, and was consequently happy and contented during the
whole of his remaining life. I cannot tell you precisely when that life
terminated, but I rather fancy his head got confused when two great
nations took to quarrelling as to which of them had the best claim to
my river, and consequently to the giant who served the population of the
country near, and if this absurdity on the part of mortals turned with
them into madness, it is not a matter of surprise that the same disease
fell upon the less powerful intellect of the poor giant, and that he put
an end to himself when, like the nations themselves, he was labouring
under ‘temporary insanity.’ At all events, I have told you his legend
as {179}far as it has been well authenticated, and will now leave you to
pass your opinion thereupon.”

“A good tale, indeed, Brother Rhine,” remarked Father Thames at the
conclusion of this story.

“I am glad you approve of it,” replied the other. “Have you never had
giants of this kind in your own country, Brother Thames?”

Thus addressed, the old king pondered for awhile, and then made answer
as follows:--“Yes, we have had giants, of one sort or another, in old
England, but rarely of the size, and scarce even of the mischievous
character, of your Daddyroarers. But since you have told me a tale of
the giant, let me give you a legend of the small people;” and so saying
Father Thames commenced the history of--



THE MANNIKINS’ CASTLE

I don’t pretend, Brother Rhine, to have as many haunted castles upon my
banks as you have on and about the sides of your famous river. I have
always denied that the chief merit of a castle consists in its being
haunted, and the simple-minded people who inhabit this old England of
ours look to the circumstance of their houses being comfortable to live
in, free from draughts and bad smells, large enough to entertain their
friends, and possessed of good kitchen arrangements, rather than to
their being the residence of any supernatural beings such as those of
which you and your castles appear to be so proud. Moreover I have often
observed that the presence of such creatures is constantly connected
with the commission of some frightful {180}crime at a distant period of
time, the perpetrator of which appears desirous to perpetuate its
memory by haunting the place where it was performed as much as he or she
conveniently can. We islanders, on the contrary, when any of us happen
to commit a crime, prefer that it should be forgotten as soon as
possible, and think it very indecent and improper of any member of a
respectable family who may have distinguished himself in the paths of
vice if he seeks to keep up the remembrance thereof, and throw a stain
upon the escutcheon of his house by coming back again to earth after he
has once left it for the benefit of the survivors. There are exceptions,
of course, to this rule, but I state what I believe to be the popular
feeling here upon the subject; and although I am going to tell you a
story which concerns a castle, and also beings not strictly mortal or
ordinary, I may at once tell you that, so far as I know, no murder was
ever committed there, and no ghost or demon of an unpleasant character
ever entered the place, except under the casual circumstances which I
shall presently relate.

It was an old castle, however; a very old castle, built much more
massively than the structures of modern times, and full of curious old
bits of wall, over which antiquaries would puzzle nowadays to determine
their date, and having here and there wonderful windows with huge stone
mullions set into the great, deep walls, and apparently built with the
intention of lasting until the end of the world. In the chief window
of this old ruin--for a ruin it was at the time of my story--there
habitually sat a large black owl, who was generally supposed to be the
lord and ruler of the place.

[Illustration: 181]

[Illustration: 198]

Perhaps _he_ was a spirit if one only knew it, but as no one _did_ know
{182}it, it never entered anybody’s head to say so. He was hardly mortal
though, for he not only hooted like an ordinary owl, but spoke like
a Christian; at least so I suppose, or how would he have made himself
understood by other beings who were _not_ owls, and who yet had to
communicate with him? For beings more extraordinary than owls inhabited
the old castle. A large number of mannikins had taken possession of it
some years after its abandonment by mortals, and here the merry little
creatures would sport and gambol all the livelong day. They used to
clamber about the strong ivy-trees that grew up the sides of the old
walls, playing at hide and seek among the thick leaves, and making the
place re-echo with their joyous shouts. They were wont to sport and play
with the large lizards which basked upon the walls when the sun came out
with rays bright and strong, and warm enough to tempt them to do so, and
they would scamper up and down the whole place, trying their skill in
ascending and descending the steepest and most perpendicular places in
the old walls, where the stone was crumbling away from sheer age, and
where no being of mortal frame and mould could have found a secure
footing for a moment. Oh, they were merry little chaps, those mannikins!

Within the precincts of the castle itself, in the ancient courtyards
which once reverberated with the shrill blast of trumpets calling men
forth to war; where men-at-arms formerly strode boldly along, filled
with warlike ardour, and where martial sounds rang out loud and oft in
the days of old, grass was now growing long and rank, which was trodden
under foot only by the lively mannikins in their daily and nightly
dances, whilst their shrill and merry cries replaced those sterner
sounds which had long {183}since ceased, and those who had caused them
had passed for ever from mortal ken and mortal vision. All was indeed
changed; but I am not prepared to say that the change was not for the
better, for I was never fond of the old feudal times myself; and the
barons who used to possess such castles, and send forth their retainers
to fight, were much more troublesome people to the world at large,
and their neighbours in particular, than were the little mannikins who
played around the old place, or the wise old owl who blinked his eyes
cosily and comfortably in the stone window.

You would have thought that such innocent creatures as owls and
mannikins could have had no enemies, but must have been on good terms
with all their fellow-creatures of every description. True, they
sometimes made themselves disagreeable in the way of taking new-laid
eggs from farmyards which were within temptingly easy reach of their own
abode, and now and then they were shrewdly suspected of having milked a
cow with which they had no business, and stolen cream when the dairymaid
had been careless enough to leave the dairy-door unlocked. In these
particulars, though, they were, after all, no worse than mortals have
frequently been, and in fact not half so bad, inasmuch as they made
what return they could to the country people who might have now and then
suffered from their depredations, sometimes going out in the moonlight
nights and making their hay for them or finishing the cutting of a
cornfield, and even condescending so far, on more than one occasion, as
to sweep a chimney and thoroughly dust a kitchen floor. For they were
very active little fellows, those mannikins, and could turn their hands
to almost anything if they saw fit to do so.

They {184}had some enemies no doubt, in wild and evil-disposed animals,
for they loved to warn the lamb when the wolf was lying in wait for him,
and often saved the poultry by a timely notice that the fox was coming,
whereby they incurred the wrath and hatred of these midnight marauders.
But the chief and principal of their enemies were the witches, who have
during all ages been a plague to this otherwise favoured land. I say
advisedly, in all ages, because this is indeed the truth, although in
their form and shape, as well as in their method of doing mischief,
persons of this class have wonderfully changed. In old times they were
generally of repulsive appearance, oftentimes clad in a red cloak,
generally with a stick in one hand, and almost invariably humpbacked or
misshapen in some way, and attended by a familiar in the shape of a cat.
They were consulted only on serious affairs, or when somebody wanted to
be revenged upon somebody else; they were malicious in their words
and actions; hated everything good, respectable, and handsome; and, if
possible, transformed it as soon as they could into something quite the
reverse. Nowadays, our English witches are entirely different: their
shape is usually beautiful, their figure perfect, their eyes bright and
full of expression, and their dress made in admirable good taste and
after an exceedingly becoming fashion. They have no familiar spirit, and
the best of them allow no one to be too familiar with them; neither
do they change the form and shape of mankind into those of hideous
creatures, but, on the contrary, rather prefer that men should be
handsome and well shaped; but they still exercise over them an almost
resistless sway, which, however, is far more {185}willingly obeyed
than was the power of the witches of the old times; and they are now
consulted, not so much on matters of hate and revenge, as on those which
concern feelings far more desirable to be cherished in the human breast.

But the witches of whom I have to speak to-day hated the mannikins as
much as a certain person is said to hate holy water. The reason of
this was sufficiently obvious, and arose from the entire and radical
difference between the views of the two sets of beings. The mannikins
were, as I have said, although mischievous, the friends of mankind; the
witches were the enemies of everything human which was not as wicked
as themselves: the mannikins found pleasure in the most innocent
amusements; the witches had no satisfaction in anything which did
not injure or give pain to somebody else: the mannikins were gay and
cheerful, the witches dull and morose, save when under the influence of
strong drink: the mannikins generally ran about on their own legs; the
witches habitually rode broomsticks, or toads, or whatever else came in
their way and could be made to serve as a horse--in fine, the mannikins
and witches did not, could not, and were never likely to, agree upon any
one point or in any one feature of resemblance, and therefore it was not
unnatural that they should be animated by feelings of hostility the one
against the other. I am bound to say, however, that the mannikins never
wished to interfere with or annoy the witches, and would have been well
content to keep out of their way altogether if they could only have
managed to do so. It was the witches who went out of their way to tease
and bully the mannikins whenever they could, and who were {186}entirely
responsible for all the troubles which occurred in consequence.

Not far from the owl’s castle was a large forest, in which all kinds
of creatures dwelt, and of which the little people from the castle made
great and frequent use. They dearly loved to wander amongst the enormous
trees, climbing over their branches, and playing around their gigantic
trunks. One tree in particular there was which they held very precious.
It had fallen down, and lay in the forest, covering a prodigious space
of ground. On, under, and around it, wherever they could do so, the
little mannikins planted a large number of fungi, under which they
sought shelter from the rays of the sun or the pelting of the storm, and
which they called their summer palace. Here they would spend hour after
hour when the weather was favourable, and I have often wandered up from
my river to have a sly peep at the merry little creatures sporting and
playing whilst the distant moon shone upon them from afar, lighting up
the walls of the old castle in the distance, and bathing with a flood
of light the forest and fallen tree and the mannikins’ playground around
the latter. There they would be, sure enough, night after night, running
one after the other round the tree and under the fungi, having sometimes
coaxed a butterfly or two, a big blue-bottle fly, or some other lively
insect, to sit up with them and make a night of it.

One would have thought that it would have been scarcely worth the
witches’ while to have troubled themselves with these harmless people,
when there was so much more mischief of a practical character to be done
in the world without. But there is no accounting for tastes, {187}and
when the evil passion of malice once seizes upon any one, whether mortal
or witch, no one can tell to what extremities it will lead. Accordingly,
several of the most notorious witches in that part of the country (and
ever since England was a country, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire have
been the favourite abodes of witches) resolved to harass and worry the
mannikins by every means within their power.

[Illustration: 204]

Dame Stokes, Mother Wandle, and old Goody Tickleback {188}were the names
of the three principal plotters, and a rare bad lot they were when you
came to know them. Dame Stokes lived at Datchet, whence she generally
sallied forth upon one of the biggest broomsticks ever known in that
part of the country.

[Illustration: 205]

Mother Wandle frequently assumed the shape of a large bat, under
which disguise she flitted about all over the country; whilst Goody
Tickleback, who resided not far from the playing-fields at Eton,
habitually rode the carcase of a fearful antediluvian monster whose
skeleton she had found in some queer place, and which, animated by her
particular evil spirit, made her a capital horse, and struck terror
{189}into the souls of all those who were unfortunate enough to see
it. These foul creatures, having secured the aid of others as bad as
themselves, determined to root out the family of mannikins if they
possibly could, or at all events drive them once for all from the castle
and its neighbourhood.

They first endeavoured to obtain as allies the nymphs who frequented
my banks, coming down oftentimes to bathe from their homes in the shady
recesses of Windsor Forest, where their dances were most beautiful to
behold, showing off their graceful figures to perfection, and making me
anxious that they should become permanent residents within the waters
of my river. These ladies, however, would have nothing to say to the
witches, whom they declared to be frightful as well as disreputable
people, not fit for the society of well-conducted females who had any
respect for themselves. They stated, moreover, that, in their opinion,
the mannikins had done nothing for which they deserved to be punished,
but were inoffensive and gentlemanlike little people, who ought rather
to be encouraged than the reverse. Then the witches tried to cajole my
elves, and to persuade them to splash, duck, and, if possible, drown
their enemies when they came down to play upon the river banks. But
the elves were exceedingly indignant at the request, remarking that the
witches had nothing whatever to do with _them_, whilst the mannikins
were their first cousins once removed, and that “blood was thicker than
water.”

So, as they could get no other allies, the old hags were obliged to
content themselves with the snakes and bats, the inferior class of
toads, rats, hedgehogs, and other {190}low-lived and despicable animals.
And, first of all, they determined to try and get rid of the old owl,
who was the guardian and protector of the mannikins, and the extent of
whose power was very little known. So they began by spreading all kinds
of false and wicked reports about the worthy bird. They caused it to be
said that he had been seen carrying off young chickens, that he had been
detected in robbing several pheasants’ nests, and that his private life
was no better than it should be. Unfortunately, however, for the
success of this scheme, the owl took no newspapers and saw no company.
Consequently, he never heard or read of the reports in question, and
therefore of course never took the trouble to contradict them. The
result was that, as is usually the case under similar circumstances,
people, seeing that the individual attacked took no notice of what was
said, thought they had better take the same course, and the reports
dropped gradually out of circulation, until no one believed them at all.

It was thus made evident to the witches that they must resort to more
active measures if they desired to disturb the owl. So they poisoned
a young rabbit, and put it near the window in which the ancient bird
commonly sat. But the owl was too many for them. A fox came and looked
at the rabbit, but having done so, although its appearance was tender
and tempting, he winked his eye and passed on. Then the owl slowly
raised his claws to his beak, chuckled a little in a sepulchral tone,
and told a couple of mannikins to bury that carcass out of the way,
and watch any one who came and brought such an article again, and, if
possible, bring them to his presence.

It {191}was plain that the owl was not to be caught asleep, and the
witches must betake themselves to some new plan. So they sent for some
hawks, and persuaded them that the owl was the natural and terrible
enemy of their race, and that by a combined attack upon him, they might
get rid of him at once and for ever. The hawks went to take a look at
the bird and the place, and, after a careful inspection, came to the
conclusion that there was nothing to be gained by attacking either.
Their eyes were so sharp, that they saw through the plan of the witches,
and were perfectly certain that they had some end of their own in view.
So they told the old ladies that they had been entirely mistaken in the
matter, that the owl was by no means a bad sort of person, and that they
could not interfere in any way in the private quarrels of other people.

Disappointed at this, the three witches next went to the jays, and
easily succeeded in inducing these mischievous birds to make such a
frightful and discordant screaming around the owl’s abode as would, in
all probability, oblige him to leave it. But the owl did no such thing.
He simply told the mannikins to tell the jays that unless their noise
instantly ceased, and was not again renewed, a birdsnesting party should
be organized by the little people as soon as ever the nesting season
should arrive, and that every jay in or near the wood should have to
deplore the loss of eggs and young. This was most alarming news to the
jays, who knew pretty well that the owl had full power to carry out his
threat, and that if he did so, the mannikins, who had eyes like needles,
and could climb with so much ease and agility, would certainly take
every jay’s egg in the place, and thus {192}wreak a fearful vengeance on
the disturbers of their monarch’s rest. So the birds desisted forthwith
from their noise, and observed that they had only done it for a “lark,”
 and meant no harm; to which the wise bird replied, that there was a
great difference between an owl and a lark, which difference they had
better fully recognise before troubling him again in such a manner.

Still the witches would not desist from their attempt to obtain, by
secret cunning, the result which they feared to seek by open attack.
They hired bats to flit around the castle walls by night, with the
intention of pulling out the owl’s tail and wing-feathers, and thus
crippling him in his sleep, when he might be attacked with less fear
of evil consequences to the aggressors. The attempt, however, miserably
failed. The worthy bats, who really belonged to the castle, had
experienced such great and unvarying kindness from the owl, that they
had neither reason nor desire to prove faithless to him. They easily and
immediately detected the strange birds who entered the precincts of
the castle, and, having forced them to declare the object of their
intrusion, drove them out with blows and insults, so that they retired
in the utmost confusion.

Then the witches began to see that the owl was not to be outwitted by
cunning, or destroyed by fraud. War, open war, was the only resource
left; and the next question would be how it could be carried on with the
best chance of success. They had the impudence to send a deputation of
little witchlings to me, calmly asking me to overflow and put the castle
and its grounds under water, so that it might become too damp for
the mannikins to dwell in any longer. This, however, I naturally
{193}refused to do, having much better use to make of the waters of my
river than to employ them upon any such purpose to suit the pleasure of
such low and wicked creatures, and, moreover, I told them that, if they
dared to come to me any more with such base proposals, I would drown
half-a-dozen of them by way of teaching them manners.

They retired somewhat discomfited; but, knowing that I was too
good-natured to do them any injury as long as they left me quiet,
very soon came down to my banks again, and entered into successful
negotiations with a large number of water-rats. These creatures they
hired, with a bribe of moorhens’ eggs, which they took from the poor
birds in a cruel and reckless manner, to join with a number of land-rats
in an attack upon the castle. The rat-contingent was to unite on the
banks of the river, and thence to advance upon the castle through that
part of the wood which lay nearest the stream. They were to be supported
by a strong auxiliary force of frogs and toads of the worst character,
and a body of snakes would simultaneously creep upon the doomed place
from the other side. A number of bats, hooded crows, night-hawks, and
such evil birds and beasts as they could obtain for the service, would
constitute the reserve, which the three witches themselves would command
in person. The plan was that the castle should be invested on all
sides at once by the noxious reptiles and animals which constituted the
witches’ army, and that a bold, and it was hoped decisive, effort should
be made to destroy the whole race of mannikins.

Some difficulty was experienced from the fact of the frogs, toads, and
rats objecting to fight side by side with the {194}snakes, who were
not averse to them as food, and might perhaps remember their natural
instincts if overtaken by hunger in the hour of battle. The witches had
foreseen this probable objection on the part of the weaker animals, and
took measures to remove it without delay. Each of them was made to pass
before the great witch, Goody Tickleback, who dropped upon the body of
every one a single drop of magic fluid of extraordinary virtue, which
was warranted to prevent the creature so touched from being eaten by
any other. As she performed this strange process, she pronounced these
words:--

          “This wondrous sign of magic art
               From hurting thee each snake shall stop
          For forty hours. If out of heart,
               Come back and take another drop.”

This went on until the whole of that part of the army which had
entertained fears, founded upon the habits and natures of those with
whom they were about to serve as comrades, had passed before the witch,
and been treated in the manner which I have described.

All now seemed ready, and at the appointed time the attacking force
moved forward in the order which had been previously arranged. It was a
lovely evening; not a breath was stirring in the sky above, the moon was
shining clearly, and everything was calm and peaceful, save the hearts
of the wicked creatures who were plotting and endeavouring to accomplish
the utter ruin and destruction of the innocent mannikins. They,
meanwhile, would very likely have been taken by surprise if they had
been left to their own unassisted strength. Such was the simplicity of
their nature, that they suspected {195}no evil, even when preparations
against them were being made so actively and openly that they might
easily have guessed that mischief was brewing. Nevertheless, they paid
no attention whatever to what was going on, but played about just the
same as usual until the enemy had matured his plans and was almost ready
for action. Then, indeed, they were roused by the wise and powerful
protector whose authority they acknowledged.

The owl summoned them from their sports upon the very day for which the
witches had appointed the assault upon the castle, and informed them
that they must prepare to defend themselves against an enemy who was
about to attack them. He gave minute instructions as to what was to be
done, and how the castle was to be saved, if possible, from its enemies;
and pointed out to his subjects that upon the result of the combat their
happiness for the future, nay, their very lives, depended. Should the
witches be successful, the mannikins would be either killed or driven
away, unless, indeed, they suffered the still worse fate of being taken
prisoners, in which case they would probably be transformed into ugly
and loathsome creatures by their victorious enemies, whom they would
have to serve in abject and miserable slavery for the remainder of their
existence. It therefore behoved them to be up and stirring, in order to
save themselves and their friends from so cruel a fate.

The little people required no further words in order to awaken their
martial enthusiasm: they had already suffered enough from the cruel and
unprovoked enmity of the witches, and this daring attempt to destroy
their beloved {196}home and themselves was enough to excite the spirit
of the quietest and most peaceable mannikin. So without delay they began
their preparations for resistance to the coming attack, and implicitly
obeyed the directions of their monarch in each and every particular.
They were hurrying to and fro all the day, but by nightfall all was
ready, and the inhabitants of the castle awaited with calmness and
confidence the approach of the hostile army.

The wood around the castle seemed alive that night. The eyes of the
numerous creeping animals glittered like fireballs as they crawled
through the leaves, and the rustling of the bats’ wings sounded like the
wind among the trees as they hastened forward. On all sides the castle
was surrounded by its enemies, and the witches gave the signal for an
immediate assault. With marvellous rapidity the snakes glided in at
every hole and crevice of the old walls; the rats scampered up them in
every direction, squeaking violently; whilst the hoarse croaking of the
frogs, mingled with the spitting of the toads, sounded fearfully through
the forest in the stillness of that summer’s night.

The attacking party found their first obstacle to be one of an
unexpected character. Hardly had any of the snakes insinuated his
wriggling body into a hole before he found that it was in every instance
full of minute fragments of broken glass, with the sharp points upwards,
which so lacerated his skin that he could hardly move backwards or
forwards without considerable pain, and some of those who had dashed
forward with the greatest impetuosity, so injured themselves in
the passage that they never reached the interior of the castle, but
{197}remained fixed in the holes which they had attempted to pass,
lingering until sunset next day (at which time alone snakes can die),
and then perishing miserably. The rats found a similar difficulty, but,
being resolute and crafty, ran over the walls where they could not creep
through, and arrived in the courtyard of the castle without losing any
considerable number of their forces. But the toads and frogs had a rough
time of it. To them it would have been a long and tedious business to
climb over the walls, and the few breaches which were left temptingly
open and undefended on their side of the attack were the only mode of
entrance which they could try with any hopes of success. These, however,
were entirely flooded with liquid tar, which the mannikins had poured
with great care upon the flat stones and hard ground, and which caused
the attacking party the greatest possible difficulty, a great many of
them remaining fast stuck in the disagreeable mixture, until death by
starvation terminated their sufferings. After a time, however, by dint
of clambering over each other’s bodies, a large number of them succeeded
in obtaining an entrance, and the courtyards of the castle were filled
with noxious creatures of all sorts.

All this time not a mannikin had shown himself, and no visible sign,
other than the obstacles which I have mentioned, had been given that the
castle was defended by any one. The witches, who of course were close
at hand, scarcely liked the ominous silence which prevailed on the part
of their enemies; there was something mysterious about it which they did
not understand. They knew, however, that their friends within must not
be left unsupported, and accordingly sounded the advance {198}of the
reserve. Mother Wandle, heading a large force of bats, flew gallantly
forward on one side; Dame Stokes, with a body of Cats and evil animals,
charged on the other; whilst old Goody Tickleback hovered about close
by on her awful steed, surrounded by the hooded crows and other wicked
birds who had joined the witches’ army; for the wary old woman, who knew
more about magic than any of her mates, had her own suspicions as to
the possible strength of the powers arrayed against her, and had always
determined from the first that she would throw as much of the hard work
of fighting as she could upon the others, and, Under pretence of keeping
a small force in reserve for contingencies, would remain outside the
walls of the owl’s castle. You will presently judge of her wisdom by the
events which followed.

Scarcely had the bats On one side, and the cats on the other, passed
the castle walls, when a voice, the loud and clear accents of which were
distinctly heard above the cries of the assaulting party, exclaimed,
“Light the gas!” and in another moment a blaze of light illuminated the
whole place with a brightness beyond that of the sun’s own rays. Every
corner and crevice was lighted up with wondrous brilliancy, and no
concealment was any longer possible for any mortal being. Then, in every
niche of the old walls, upon the old staircases, at the windows, and
on the crumbling ledges around, a quantity of armed mannikins were seen
standing ready for action, whilst one window alone remained unlit and
mysteriously dark, and there were those present who knew at that moment,
if they had never known before, that the owl who sat in that window was
a mighty magician, {199} and that a Power unseen and unfelt as yet, but
too terrible for evil witches and their followers, dwelt within those
old walls.

The effect of the light upon the unhappy bats was perfectly marvellous;
dazzled and blinded, they knew not what to do nor where to fly; some
dashed themselves up against the walls and put an end to their own
lives; others flew straight up to the mannikins, and fell an easy prey
to the latter, who, with their little swords drawn, stood ready to
strike down each foeman as he approached, and dealt stout blows upon the
blinded bats who came within their reach. Mother Wandle herself by no
means relished her reception; she was nearly overwhelmed by her own
retreating forces, and at the same time the light, to which she had a
great objection, annoyed her extremely, and she began to consider that
her best course would be to retreat as fast as possible. As she did so,
however, she felt, to her great disgust and horror, an invisible hand,
or rather claw, laid upon her neck, whilst a voice whispered in low but
perfectly audible tones close to her ear--

     “Vile daughter of evil, who wast not afraid
          The mighty Owl’s castle and home to invade,
     Do thou and thy sisters look well to this text--.
          _A whipping the first time; beware of the next!_”

And, as the voice ceased, the claw was loosened from her neck, and she
instantly felt upon her bat’s body severe strokes as of a birch-rod
aimed by the strong arm and unerring eye of a resolute head-master:
quick and sharp the blows descended upon the luckless old hag, and as
the skin of a witch (these creatures being, from the evil consciences
which prevent their getting fat, {200}rarely burdened with much flesh)
is proverbially tender, she suffered considerably more than any of my
boys here at Eton would have done under similar circumstances. Mother
Wandle, however, shrieked and fled as fast as she could, followed by as
many of her bats as were destined to escape at all from that ill-fated
day.

Dame Stokes and her cats fared but little better on their side. Although
the light had not the same effect upon this party as upon the bats, they
found it exceedingly disagreeable, whilst there was something else which
affected their nerves even in a still greater degree. The mannikins who
stood upon a portion of the inner walls of the castle exactly opposite
to that outer wall upon which the cats had climbed to the assault,
opened upon the latter a fire, so to speak, of a novel character. They
had arranged and brought to bear upon this part of the wall several
garden watering-engines of great power, numerous squirts, and the
special engine of the Windsor Fire Brigade of that day. By means of
these instruments they received the invaders with such a continuous
volley and volume of water as would have checked persons to whom the
element is more agreeable than is the case with cats. These animals
have, as is well known to the student of natural history, an instinctive
aversion to wetting their fur. Under the peculiar circumstances of the
case, they might have put up with a shower of rain, or have endured a
casual wetting, followed by facilities for drying themselves immediately
afterwards. But to be received by a heavy and violent shower of water
right in their faces, drenching them at once through and through,
{201}and being immediately repeated, and continued without any
intermission, was more than the bravest cat could bear; and as soon as
they found what kind of reception they were to experience, no thought of
shame or disgrace deterred the feline contingent from turning tail and
retreating as fast as ever they could by the same way they had come,
only some twenty or thirty dropping down within the castle wall. As they
fled in this manner, the same mysterious voice whispered to Dame
Stokes the identical words of warning which had greeted the ears of her
sister-witch, Mother Wandle; and although, having assumed no other
form than her own, her sex might have protected her from so great
an indignity, I grieve to say that precisely the same punishment was
administered to the old creature, and that so efficaciously that she
presently fled, shrieking and rubbing herself with pain as she left the
castle, which she devoutly wished she had never entered.

The results which I have just described occupied barely ten minutes,
and within a quarter of an hour the three witches, with their attendant
bats, cats, hooded crows, and other animals who had constituted the
reserve, were in full flight from the castle. A certain number of the
snakes also made their escape in a curious manner. A strange-looking
being, in the shape of a man, with a huge vessel before him, had
mysteriously appeared near the castle wall just as the assault began,
and as soon as it was plain that the day was going against the attacking
party, he gathered up as many of the snakes as he could from their
painful position on and about the walls, filled the aforesaid vessel
with them (handling them all the while with the greatest tenderness),
and throwing it on his {202}shoulders, joined the witches in their
headlong flight, keeping up with them in a manner which would have been
marvellous, had not his love for the reptiles under whose form mankind
was first tempted to sin, his wild glances, and, above all, the tail
with which he was adorned, shown pretty clearly that he was Someone
whom no good people can think of without hoping he is very far from
themselves.

[Illustration: 219]

As the most formidable of their adversaries thus dashed off in headlong
flight from the castle, a ringing cheer arose from the mannikins within,
and a clear hoot of triumph proceeding from the owl {203}evinced his
sympathy with the victory of his subjects and friends.

All, however, was not over yet. A certain quantity of snakes, who had
either wriggled through holes in which the broken glass had been
less plentifully strewn, or the superior toughness of whose skin had
protected them better than that of their comrades, were still hissing
frightfully in the outer courtyard, which was also occupied by a
considerable number of rats, frogs, and toads. These evil creatures,
being left without the guidance of the witches who had lured them to the
place, were in considerable difficulty what, to do, and their alarm and
horror were great indeed when, loud sounding through the air, the
same voice which had given orders for the lighting up of the castle
pronounced the following words:--

          “Those who have sought to enter here,
               Protected by the witches’ charm,
          May learn that nought can interfere
               With power of Owl to work them harm.

          Within this castle’s sacred wall,
               Though mighty may the witches seem,
          Their magic has no might at all--
               The Owl and Nature reign supreme.

          So, creatures foul, who crouch below,
               Your usual instincts quickly take;
          Cats, recognise your rat-like foe;
               Frogs, tremble at the fangs of snake!”

Even as the voice ceased the creatures to whom the above words were
addressed seemed to feel their effects and to act at once upon the
instructions given. Without any delay, the cats who had dropped down
inside the castle walls on receiving the watery deluge with which the
mannikins had greeted them, rushed with fury upon the {204}unhappy rats
whom they saw before them, apparently forgetful of everything except
those natural instincts which led them to destroy and eat animals whom
they had ever been accustomed to regard as fit objects wherewith to
satisfy their hungry appetites. At the same instant it seemed to strike
the snakes that a perfectly legitimate opportunity had arisen for
feasting upon those frogs who were congregated in their immediate
vicinity, and, acting at once upon the idea, they commenced to swallow
the wretched creatures without any unnecessary delay.

The mannikins calmly looked down meanwhile, and watched their enemies
destroying each other until there was scarcely a live rat or frog left
in the place, and the toads had fled frantically into the wood for fear
the snakes should mistake them for frogs and they should be subjected to
a fate from which all their dabblings in magic art might not have been
able to preserve them. When the cries of the devouring and devoured
creatures below had pretty well ceased, and few save cats and snakes
were any longer to be seen in the courtyard, the owl gave a signal at
which the mannikins turned on the water which, unknown to any person
save themselves and their master, had been laid on to supply the castle
in case of fire, and which by a judicious arrangement of pipes could be
made to flood the courtyard at pleasure. The gorged cats and snakes were
unable to make any effort to escape, although the latter might probably
have swum safely off, many of them being water-snakes, and entertaining
no great objection to the element. But, alas for them! there was
one little circumstance which entirely prevented it. The _water was
boiling_; {205}having been conducted through the kitchen of the castle,
the large boilers of which had, by the owl’s orders, been carefully
heated for the occasion. The shrieks of the wretched animals were
dreadful to hear, when they became aware of the trap in which they had
been Caught and the cruel fate which awaited them, from which escape
was hopeless. They strove in vain to clamber up the walls or to creep
through the holes; wherever they succeeded in raising themselves up from
the water on to the walls, the mannikins with drawn swords and fierce
looks relentlessly pushed them back into the hot bath below, so that,
after a space of some twenty minutes or so, any person who desired a
meal of boiled cat and snake-sauce might have been easily accommodated,
and every one of the wretched creatures had perished.

Thus the castle was rid of the last of its invaders, and the mannikins
had only to let the water off, which they did by means of a large sewer
underneath the courtyard, the stone covering of which having been lifted
by means of a spring worked from above, the bodies of the slain were
washed below, and all traces of the battle and its victims were swept
away from that part of the castle in an incredibly short space of time.
Victory, entire and complete, now rested with the defenders of the
castle, and their joy may he easily imagined. Not a mannikin had been
slain or hurt, so effectually had they been protected by the power of
the great owl, and the defeat and loss which had been inflicted upon
their enemies had been of a character to prevent, or at all events
greatly to lessen, the probability of any future attacks.

The {206}little people passed the rest of the night in the most sensible
and proper way possible; that is to say, they put out the lights and
went to bed, which is a thing which every reasonable creature should do
at a proper hour, unless he happens to be desirous of weakening mind and
body by depriving both of their natural rest, and thereby shortening the
term of his existence.

The mannikins were astir early the next morning, putting everything
to rights after the confusion of the night’s adventures. The glass
was carefully picked out of the holes in the wall, the courtyards were
cleaned, the bodies of those of the enemy who had fallen outside
were decently buried, and the whole place resumed its former peaceful
appearance within a very few hours. Then the mannikins returned to their
usual lives; their swords were put away, their angry feelings forgotten,
and their time spent in singing, dancing, and merriment as heretofore.

Meanwhile the three witches were in a frame of mind by no means
enviable. Dame Stokes and Mother Wandle still smarted considerably from
the effects of the severe whipping which they had each received; and
although Goody Tickleback had, by her superior cunning, escaped that
disagreeable punishment, she suffered bitterly from mortified vanity and
disappointment at having been so entirely defeated in the attack which
she had planned against the castle of the mannikins. The three old women
took counsel together as to whether there was anything more to be done
against those whom they chose to consider their deadly enemies, or
whether they had better give it up as a bad job. Evil, however, never
sleeps or remains quiet if it can possibly help it, and {207}so strong
was the spirit of evil’s power over these wretched creatures that they
felt themselves constrained to go on with their wicked work, and to plot
and scheme something more against the innocent objects of their hatred.
Their proceedings, however, had been rendered somewhat more difficult by
the total failure which they had just experienced. They found the cats
resolute in their refusal to embark in any further enterprises of a
similar character to the last. The toads glared and spat dreadfully
from fright when the subject was merely alluded to; and as to the rats,
snakes, and frogs, they had suffered so heavily in the recent disaster
that it was impossible to expect that anything short of absolute
compulsion would induce a single one of them to take the field.

Under these circumstances the witches had recourse to the stoats and
polecats, who were a fierce and bloodthirsty race, and might be of
essential service if they could be persuaded to undertake the matter.
Indeed, Goody Tickleback bit her lips with vexation at having forgotten
to secure these powerful allies before, as she felt that they would have
materially contributed to the strength of her former expedition, and
consequently to its chance of success. Accordingly, having bribed them
with large promises of tender young rabbits, and having paid a portion
of the bribe in advance, which the cunning creatures insisted upon as a
condition of their doing anything at all, the wicked old women succeeded
in bringing a considerable army of stoats into the field, together with
a small but compact band of polecats. The wily dames had sorely tempted
the foxes and badgers of Windsor forest, but the former animals made
various {208}excuses, and the latter, having consulted a famous old
badger who lived at that time in the Brocas clump, declined altogether
to have anything to do with the matter. So the three witches led forth
their army, composed only of the animals I have mentioned, and arranged
to cross the river upon a certain evening. The particular place upon
which they had fixed to cross was at a considerable distance from any
bridge, and some of these animals therefore had to swim, whilst those
who could not or would not do so were provided with boats and rafts
constructed by the magic powers of the old women. They themselves
flew over in the usual manner, one as a bat, another on her famous
broomstick, and the third on her awful steed. Then they stood on the
opposite bank, awaiting their army, who, when they had finished all
their preparations, sharpened their teeth and claws, and made other
necessary arrangements, plunged into the river, and began to follow
their leaders.

And now occurred one of the most singular scenes which it has ever been
my good fortune to witness since I first presided over the destinies of
this noble river. I have seen a great many strange things and people,
Brother Rhine, and been a spectator of a great many curious sights.
Moreover, during a long period of years, I have carefully inquired into
and studied the natural habits and ways of living which distinguish the
numerous animals, birds, and beasts which inhabit the banks and waters
of my stream, in all of whom, indeed, I have ever taken that lively
interest which becomes a person in my position. But I may as well
frankly tell you at once that nothing ever astonished me more than the
scene which followed the attempt of the stoats and polecats to cross
{209}the river in order to attack the owl’s castle. They got nearly
half-way across without anybody offering to dispute their passage. Then,
all of a sudden, a strange, wild sound was heard, and a song was borne
down upon the breeze which I knew full well as the war-song of the noble
swans who honour my river by making it their home, and who are well
known as the finest and handsomest swans in all Christendom.

          “The swan swam up the stream;
               Swim, swan, swim!
          The swan swam down again;
               Well swam, swan!”

This was the whole of the song; the words are simple, and apparently
convey no particular meaning, being little more than the statement of a
fact which may without difficulty be accepted as true, coupled with an
expression of approval of the manner in which the bird in question had
performed a natural and not uncongenial task. But if you were to hear
this song sung by a number of swans together, all keeping tune exactly,
and sailing down upon you as they sung, with flashing eyes and arched
necks, evidently actuated by no friendly feeling, it is very doubtful
whether you would care much about either the words or their meaning, and
not improbable that you would prefer to be somewhat farther off from the
sounds of the entrancing melody. So at least it certainly was with the
allies of the witches, when a body of at least fifty or sixty swans
(being a larger number than I had ever previously seen together in
any part of my river) suddenly appeared sailing down upon them at full
speed. It was altogether a most extraordinary proceeding on the part
of the noble birds, who, although {210}ready and most able to defend
themselves if attacked, are generally of a quiet and peaceful nature,
and had hitherto, as far as my knowledge went, interfered with none of
the other dwellers in or near the river, but lived in friendship and
harmony with all.

Their intentions, however, upon the present occasion were never for a
moment doubtful after their first appearance. They charged down upon
the army of stoats and polecats with a force and velocity which rendered
resistance impossible. The boats and rafts were at once overset by
the impetuous fury of their attack, and the occupants thereof were in
another instant struggling in the waters. Nor did the swimmers fare
any better, for the powerful blows inflicted by a swan’s beak in every
instance either stunned the animal struck, or so disabled him that he
could swim no farther, but sank beneath the water to rise no more. The
wretched creatures could do nothing to defend themselves, for the swans
were too wary to approach their breasts near enough to any of the savage
little animals to allow of their getting hold of their soft feathers.
They kept far enough off for their own safety, after once upsetting the
boats, and yet sufficiently near to deal out the pecks of death upon the
struggling carcases with little or no risk to themselves. They utterly
broke through and dispersed at once the line of the swimming and
floating army, and then, turning round and coming up stream, slew
multitudes of the wretched animals as they swam for their lives one
way or another. A very few moments sufficed for the total rout of the
witches’ army, not one of which ever reached the shore to which they
were bound, though a few managed to swim back in safety, and those who
had been {211}only just about to enter the river naturally gave up
any further idea of doing so, and fled in great confusion back to the
shelter of the forest from which they had come. The swans, meanwhile,
who had ceased singing their war-song as soon as they reached the enemy,
and had commenced a violent and angry hissing, which they only suspended
when they bowed their heads in order to peck an enemy to his death, now
recommenced their musical strains so soon as they had completely routed
and destroyed the invading army, and swam back up the river with heads
elevated high in the air, shaking themselves now and then with an air of
conscious strength and exultation.

During the progress of these events, Brother Rhine, the state of mind
and general feelings of the three witches may be better imagined than
described. They wept, they howled, they tore what hair they had, they
used language with which I will not sully my lips, and manifested every
token of frantic rage and consternation. Charms and incantations they
would have tried, but they knew well enough that they had no power
whatever over things or beings in my sacred waters. The swans only
laughed at their wild fury and strange gesticulations, and the old
women remained upon the bank, perfectly helpless. Once more their plans
against the owl and his mannikins had utterly failed; and they saw the
destruction of the army which they had taken so much pains to raise,
without the smallest power to avert the catastrophe which again dashed
their fondest hopes to the ground.

At the conclusion of the scene which had terminated so disagreeably to
themselves, the witches, having nearly {212}exhausted themselves with
their rage, calmed down a little, and began to look at each other and
wonder what they should do next. This, however, was not a matter long
left within their own choice; even as they stood, the heavens grew dark
with a mysterious and unnatural darkness, low mutterings of distant
thunder were heard, and the wind wailed mournfully as it swept across
the river and through the trees of the adjoining wood in which stood the
castle of the mannikins.

A deep and distant terror seized upon the three witches as these things
occurred; they felt, somehow or other, that those were near against
whom their magic arts were powerless, and that some wonderful and awful
Presence was at hand which they could neither withstand nor avoid.
Trembling in every limb, they cowered upon the bank, shivering as if
with cold, their teeth chattering, their eyes ready to start out of
their heads with fright, and their hearts beating with that fear of
coming judgment which wickedness always brings sooner or later to hearts
that conceive and practise it. Some internal and inscrutable feeling
seemed to warn them that their hour of punishment was near, and that
retribution was at hand--retribution for all the pain and misery which
they had caused to others ever since they first sold themselves to work
evil instead of endeavouring to lead good and pious lives, and to be a
comfort instead of a plague and torment to their fellow-creatures.

The suspense which they endured during this time was probably something
more terribly painful than one can imagine, and the uncertainty of their
coming doom made it all the more dreadful in anticipation. This state
of things lasted for some little while, and a stillness, solemn {213}and
awful in its intensity, reigned around. The wind fell again, and the
sound of thunder ceased; only the old river went rolling on in its calm,
ceaseless stream, the soothing ripple of which smote upon the ear of the
unhappy witches as the solemn tones of a judge must fall upon the guilty
criminal before him. Each moment seemed an hour to the terror-stricken
old hags, and I imagine that no child who has waited in a dentist’s room
until that popular operator was ready for him has ever endured half the
agony of expectation which was experienced at this time by the three
witches.

At last the silence was broken, and that in a manner which it would have
been impossible for them to have anticipated. The low roll of a drum was
heard in the wood, which sound swelled gradually upon the ear, and was
then mingled with other martial music, evidently betokening the approach
of an army. In a few moments more there issued from the direction of
the owl’s castle a strange and unwonted procession. First of all came
a splendid array of cock pheasants, gay with their bright and gaudy
colours, and carrying their well-known banner of dark blue, in the
centre of which is depicted a magnificent bird of their species looking
round with a defiant air, whilst underneath him is inscribed the
celebrated motto of his race--“Game to the last.” The pheasants were
followed by a strong detachment of partridges, each with his brown
horseshoe strongly developed upon his breast, whilst a golden
wheat-sheaf upon a banner of russet brown, and the motto, “Hurrah for
the harvest-fields!” showed the character of the regiment. They were
followed by a body of woodcocks and snipes, marching {214}in alternate
ranks, and displaying their respective banners, being a bird of each
race worked in blue upon a white ground, and represented as tossing his
long beak high in the air and saying, in the inscription below, “Settle
my bill if you can!” To these succeeded a gallant regiment of bantams,
whose arrogant motto, “Cock of the walk,” was displayed upon their
crimson flags; whilst the “Come back! come back!” of the Guinea-fowl was
seen upon the banners of the next comers. Other bands of birds followed,
each with its own peculiar standard and device, and all marched in slow
and solemn order from the wood to the music already mentioned, which was
played by an invisible band within the leafy shade of the same.

As each regiment emerged from the wood, it advanced within a stone’s
throw of the three witches, and took up ground at that distance, so that
the old women found a semicircle gradually forming around them, which
extended on all sides save that on which the river flowed. When numerous
companies of birds had arrived and taken their places, there next
appeared a strong detachment of squirrels--animals to which it is well
known that witches entertain a peculiar dislike, on account of the
restless activity of their nature, and their constant habit of
dropping nutshells suddenly on the heads of persons engaged in unholy
incantations and rites in the forests wherein they happen to dwell. The
old women shuddered afresh then, when these creatures appeared upon the
scene, especially as they came on, each armed with a bag of nuts, and
with eyes full of mischief. They were followed by a quantity of rabbits,
whose grave and martial appearance would have led you to suppose that
there {215}were no such things as weasels or ferrets in the world; and
after the rabbits came the principal part of the performance.

More than one hundred mannikins, fully armed and equipped, rode out of
the wood, each mounted upon a prancing hare. Their saddles were made
of mouse-skin, their bridles were of the best red tape, and their
tortoiseshell bits rattled in the mouths of their fiery steeds. Each
mannikin had upon his head a burnished helmet of mother-of-pearl, in
which was a plume from the wing of a kingfisher, and the armour of each
was of the best wrought tin, and sparkled gaily in the sunlight, which
now again spread over the heavens as the troops emerged from the trees.
The mannikins rode forward in loose order, whilst immediately after
them came a close carriage, drawn by twelve cream-coloured hares, and
surrounded by twenty mannikins on either side, and a number of owls of
every species and description following behind. The mannikins who had
ridden in front gave way when they approached the witches, falling back
on either side so as to allow the carriage to pass between their
ranks. It drew up immediately before the three trembling hags, and the
attendant mannikins, bowing low and uncovering their heads, opened the
doors for its occupant to descend.

You can have little doubt, Brother Rhine, as to who that occupant was,
nor, indeed, was doubt long permitted to the personages most immediately
interested in the drama about to be performed. From forth the carriage
stepped a figure which all at the same moment recognised as that of the
black owl of the castle. Not long, however, did he remain in the shape
in which his audience {216}were most accustomed to behold him. Throwing
back the head-dress and feathery cloak which begirt him, the figure of
a noble youth stood before the astonished witches. His head was thrown
back in contemptuous scorn, his eyes flashed with the indignation which
virtue always experiences in the presence of vice; he stretched forth
his hand, in which was grasped an ash stick, carefully peeled, so that
it shone fresh and white, and this he waved gently in the air as he
spoke in clear and sounding accents--“Vile hags!” he exclaimed; and as
he uttered the words, Dame Stokes, Mother Wandle, and Groody Tickleback
fell on their knees, whining and moaning in piteous tones--“Vile hags!
once more have ye presumed to tempt your fate by plotting and scheming
the destruction of my mannikins. The warning which ye had previously
received seems to have produced no effect whatever upon ye, and ye will
now have to endure the punishment ye have so well earned!”

As he spoke the old women grovelled on the earth at his feet, and
mumbled forth in low and beseeching accents, “Oh, sir! _please_ let us
off this time; just this once; it is the first time--we’ll never, never,
do it again. _Please_ ‘give us first fault’!”

This expression, always well known among witches, and intended to
express the forgiveness of an offence because of its being on that
occasion committed for the first time, appeared greatly to increase the
anger of the person addressed.

“First fault!” he exclaimed, indignantly, “why, how dare you utter such
a falsehood? You have been complained of a dozen times at least by my
mannikins, and I {217}have only spared you hitherto from a hope that you
might reform, and give up your evil practices. You have not only made
yourselves the pest of the whole place for a long time past, but you
have now for the second time projected an attack upon the castle which I
specially protect. First fault indeed! Two of you were well flogged
the other day, and there is now nothing for it but to send you away
altogether.”

At these words the wretched creatures burst into a howl of anguish, upon
which the young man waved his hand, and a burst of sound arose from
the invisible band, in which the tones of the bagpipe were distinctly
audible, and which completely drowned the cries of the miserable
witches. As soon as the latter and the music had ceased together, the
young man continued to speak in a voice as stern as clear--

“I have hesitated,” he said, “as to the precise punishment which I
should inflict upon each of you, for indeed I hardly know of any which
is sufficiently severe for the crimes which you have committed. I had
thought, indeed, of transforming you into shapes different from your
own, but still possessing human form, and causing you to experience in
them the greatest trouble and misery to which human life is subject. I
have still a great mind to do so. I am very much disposed to make one of
you a leader in the world of fashion, the second a Member of Parliament,
and the third the Head Master of a Public School, which is under the
control of a Governing Body.”

At this point such a dreadful shriek broke simultaneously from the three
witches, that the squirrels were obliged to be called in and ordered to
pelt them with nuts, {218}until they again crouched trembling but silent
on the ground before their judge.

“But,” continued he, without noticing the interruption, “it shall never
be said of me that I was guilty of unnecessary cruelty. There _are_,
I must own, punishments too severe even for crimes such as yours,
and among such these might possibly be included. As I am a great and
powerful, so am I a merciful fairy, and I shall not award you one iota
of suffering more than is your due. Dame Stokes of Datchet, though bad
enough, you are in some respects the best of the three. You have at
least, as a rule, preserved your natural form; and could you but have
persuaded yourself to give up that abominable, not to say ridiculous,
habit of riding on a broomstick, you might have passed through life with
all the ordinary comforts of an English peasant, and ended your days
in respectability and the parish workhouse. Since, however, you have
persisted in using as a horse that which was intended as a harmless
and useful domestic implement, you must pay the penalty of your
indiscretion. You will be changed into a donkey, and as such may remain
in your native place.”

Dame Stokes was just commencing a loud howl at the news of her impending
fate, when a gaily attired young mannikin stepped before the fairy,
and, making a low obeisance, craved leave to speak, which was at once
graciously accorded.

“Noble master,” said he, “if a poor mannikin may put in a word, is this
sentence one which requires any transformation at all? A person who,
being able to ride on anything else, chooses a broomstick, must
already be such {219}a donkey as to render a further change in the same
direction quite unnecessary.”

The great fairy smiled.

“Your words are true, my child,” he replied, “in one sense, but they
only tend to confirm the wisdom of my sentence. A donkey in thought and
action is not always a donkey in shape. Were it otherwise, the world
would be much more largely populated by those worthy and industrious
animals. It is no terrible fate to which I condemn the aged Stokes.
She will forthwith enter upon an existence in which she may render no
inconsiderable service to mortals, who, whilst they despise, will not
scruple to use her; and should she, as is highly probable, at any period
of time, become the property of an itinerant vendor of brooms, she will
have every chance of acquiring a further knowledge of the purposes to
which a broomstick may be properly applied.”

He spoke, and as he concluded, a change at once came over the figure
and appearance of Dame Stokes. Great ears sprung up on each side of her
head, which became at once altered and elongated into that of a donkey;
her body followed the example; a huge tail appeared in the usual
place allotted to such appendages, and in another moment she stood, a
veritable ass, before the assembled throng.

Then the young man turned to the terrified Mother Wandle, and sternly
addressed her in her turn.

“You,” he said, “though not so bad as the third, are worse than the
first of your party. Not content with your own shape (which I will,
however, own was not prepossessing), you have gone about the country
in disguise, and have, moreover, disgraced the family of bats (many of
{220}whom are honest and owl-fearing creatures) by-assuming the shape of
one of them, and in this form perpetrating your wicked deeds. Now one of
two things must be true. Either you were _not_ by rights a bat, and
had therefore no right to the shape of one, or, being a bat, you had no
business to disgrace the family. In either case you are equally guilty,
and your punishment must be proportionately severe. Since you have
evinced, by the most practical means within your power, the undoubted
preference which you cherish for the form of a bat, a bat you shall
remain for ever, and, once for all, quit that human shape which you have
so foolishly despised. Henceforth be your life that of the animal whom
you have loved to imitate in your midnight flittings. Behind shutters,
under eaves, beneath old boards and barn-sides be hidden, wretch, from
the face of the sun, and only come forth when the shades of evening
steal over the face of the earth. Shun the gaze of mankind, whom you
have only lived to annoy, and rank for the rest of your existence
amongst the most lowly and feeble of animals.”

He spoke, and, as in the case of Dame Stokes, the form and figure
of Mother Wandle changed even as he ceased speaking, and a huge and
unsightly bat occupied the place of the old woman, whilst a murmur
of applause and approval was uttered by all who witnessed the
transformation.

Then the owl-fairy turned upon the wretched Goody Tickleback, who stood
in gloomy silence awaiting the doom which she full well knew her crimes
had deserved, but which was not likely to be one whit more palatable on
that account.

“Vile {221}and degraded creature,” exclaimed the fairy, regarding the
object of his address with a stern and angry countenance, “you have
at last been brought to account for your numerous crimes, which exceed
those of your companions in guilt, and have rightly made you detested
by every one to whom you are known. You have gone on for a long time in
your nefarious course, unchecked by any consideration for those
innocent beings against whom your evil practices have been directed, and
undeterred either by the pangs of that remorse, which must at times have
overshadowed even such a hardened soul as yours, or by the fear of that
punishment which, though long deferred, was certain to arrive at last.
In your life you have exhibited the ferocity of a tiger, the cruelty of
an hyæna, and the craft of a serpent. A serpent therefore you shall
be for the future, and as you have, like the rest of your fraternity,
always entertained a great horror of water, you shall be consigned for
ever to that element, and become a sea-serpent for the rest of your
existence.”

A wild yell broke from Goody Tickleback as these words left the lips
of the royal fairy, and she burst forth into a desperate cry for a
mitigation of so terrible a sentence..

“Oh no! oh no!” she shrieked aloud in the madness of her despair; “not
that, not that, for mercy’s sake! anything but that! Make me a stone, or
a stick, or a good birch-rod if you will, great fairy. I promise I will
act up to my name, and tickle with good-will every back that comes under
me, if you will only make me this instead of a horrible snake. Oh do! oh
do! oh don’t----”

And {222}she ended her speech with a yell more awful than before as she
felt the dreadful transformation which had been awarded begin slowly but
surely to steal over her decrepit frame.

The fairy smiled coldly.

“Cruel to the last,” he observed. “The vile hag would be made an
instrument of torture in an inanimate shape, since she may no longer
torment people in her original form. But it may not be. The doom has
been pronounced, and already begins to take effect.”

Even as he spoke, the form of the old woman gradually changed into
that of an enormous sea-serpent, and her yells culminated in a fearful
hissing, from which the legions of valiant birds instinctively recoiled.
A scaly monster of the deep occupied the place--and rather more than the
place--lately filled by old Goody Tickle-back, and the last of the three
witches had now received her allotted punishment. The owl-fairy then
struck the ground sharply three times with his ashen stick, and each of
the three culprits departed different ways. The donkey stretched out its
tail, erected its ears, elevated its head, and gave vent to sundry of
those loud and discordant noises by which creatures of that particular
species are distinguished from other four-footed beasts. Then, looking
around once more, it slowly set off at a trot, which presently became
a galop; and, passing through the ranks of the bird and mannikin army,
which divided for its passage, took the direction of Datchet, and
hastened thither as fast as it could lay legs to the ground.

I will not follow the adventures of the poor beast any longer, though
I may as well tell you, Brother. Rhine, that {223}I know for a fact she
lingered in the same neighbourhood for a very long time. Indeed, not
many weeks since, whilst walking upon Dorney Common, I heard cries as
of an animal in distress, and, looking round, beheld a seller of brooms
vehemently belabouring a half-starved ass with a broomstick. The poor
beast was in sad condition. It was laden with a heavy load of brooms,
and its speaking eyes seemed to tell of much privation and suffering. I
seemed somehow or other to remember the expression of the face, and in a
few moments recalled the circumstances of which I have just been telling
you. There indeed was old Dame Stokes, serving out her time in long
apprenticeship to misery and punishment, and experiencing that practical
application of the broomstick which the owl-fairy had foretold. I passed
on my way to the river, and sighed as I thought over her fate, pondering
meanwhile upon the melancholy fact that sin should be so attractive as
it had proved to this old woman, when its punishment, sooner or later,
is so certain and is of so much more enduring a character than the
questionable pleasure which has earned it.

As to Mother Wandle, there is but little to tell of her. As soon as
she was permitted to do so, she flitted away across my river in the
direction of Windsor Forest, and, for anything I know, may be there
still. Bats are not creatures that one ever hears much of, nor have I
been accustomed to interest myself particularly in their proceedings;
but if you happen to see an especially ugly and repulsive bat, it is
quite as likely to be old Mother Wandle as anybody else, and you may be
sure that she is still enduring the punishment so justly inflicted upon
her by a righteous judge.

Goody {224}Tickleback’s exit from the scene was of a more marked and
singular character. It would have been difficult to have disposed of so
gigantic a monster by any ordinary process. It could not have travelled
by land to the ocean, except on wheels; and although it might have been
possible to have paid expenses by sending it thither in the caravan of
a travelling showman--supposing a vehicle of that description, and of
sufficiently large size, to have been in being--such a course would have
been scarcely consistent with the usage of fairyland, or with the nature
and circumstances of the case. It might, of course, have been possible
to have floated the creature down the waters of my river, but against
such a proceeding my nymphs, elves, and swans would have protested
indignantly, even had I been disposed for a moment to sanction it.
Besides this, the inconvenience to traffic, and the bad odour which so
foul a reptile would leave in the water, not to mention its possible
indulgence in some mischievous and destructive habits which would have
brought the river into bad repute, were all difficulties in the way. I
could not allow a “Thames nuisance” to be thus originated which would
have been probably fraught with most unpleasant consequences, and could
have done no possible good to anybody. This, therefore, being out of the
question, it only remained for the owl-fairy to exercise his magic power
somewhat further, and get rid of the vast and cumbrous body which he
had seen fit to create. The wonderful being made not the slightest
difficulty. Waving his rod three times above his head, and describing
with it a circle in the air, he struck upon the ground, which
immediately opened wide beneath the hideous {225}serpent, and exhibited
an enormous chasm, down which it slowly disappeared, and was seen no
more in those regions of the earth.

[Illustration: 242]

Marvellous legends, however, have been told of the great Sea-serpent
since that day, and those who know the circumstances which I have
related are able to judge of their truth better than the ignorant and
unlearned.

At times, when, far out at sea, the waves are running mountains high,
the ship can scarce weather the storm, and some of the affrighted
sailors have betaken themselves to their boats in hopes to preserve
their lives, a hideous monster is said to rise from the deep, encircling
and crushing the boat with its gigantic coil, and striking with its
cruel fangs the drowning mariners. At other times, when all is calm,
and the surface of the ocean ripples softly, like a lake stirred by the
zephyrs’ softest breath, {226}a huge and awful form may be seen floating
on the waves, slowly making its way through the waters, and ever
and anon raising its hideous serpent-head aloft, as if in search of
something to injure or destroy. Wonderful tales do the sailor men bring
home of this extraordinary creature, and wise folk oftentimes shake
their heads and affect to disbelieve in its existence. But we, Brother
Rhine, who know this chronicle of early days which I have just been
telling, shake no heads over the matter, and entertain no doubt of the
reality of the sight which the sons of Neptune aver that they have seen.
Old Goody Tickleback is the great Sea-serpent, and my only wonder is
that, when the great owl-fairy was about it, he did not put her out of
the way altogether, instead of leaving her in a position in which she
could still work so much mischief to mortal men. I suppose, however,
that fairies, like other people, know their own business best; and there
was probably some reason against this self-evidently wise course which
does not occur to those who do not happen themselves to be fairies.

In this manner, anyhow, the three witches were comfortably disposed of,
and, to my mind, there never was a clearer case of “a good riddance of
bad rubbish.” Having accomplished his task, the owl-fairy now reentered
his carriage, and directed the troops to pass before him, which they
accordingly did, each company saluting as it passed. The review being
finished, the whole procession returned to the wood in the same order
as that in which they had emerged from it, and in a very short time the
banks of the river were as quiet as if nothing unusual had happened.
The mannikins were never {227}afterwards molested by witches or any such
nefarious customers, and, as long as they chose to inhabit the castle,
they were perfectly free from disturbance or attack. Time at last did
its work upon the old walls, and when the hum of the steam-engine began
to be heard in the land this was no longer a place for mannikins. They
flitted I know not where, and the owl-fairy doubtless went with them. I
could perhaps tell you more, but melancholy thoughts come over me as I
speak of the departure of old friends and neighbours, and I think, with
your good leave, I will here bring my legend to a conclusion.

“Thanks, good brother,” said the Monarch of the Rhine, as Father Thames
ceased speaking. “Yet would I fain inquire who or what was this great
owl-fairy?”

His companion smiled grimly. “Hast thou so soon forgotten thine own
objection to questions concerning our legends when finished?” he asked.
“Nevertheless I would tell thee if I could, but I fear to speak with
certainty upon a subject which has ever been shrouded in doubt. Most
authorities agree that this mighty being could be none other than he
of whom mention was made in my first legend--that of the Wild Boar
of Windsor Forest. But the great fairy, Toddlekins, did not announce
himself on the occasion of the transformation of the three witches;
and the only proof that it was he who reigned over the mannikins and
delivered them from their enemies consists in the similarity of his
appearance with that of the rescuer of Smith in the Druid days. I
incline to think it may have been him; and we know that wherever
Toddlekins has power good prevails {228}and evil flies from his
presence; but more I cannot tell you.”

“Be it so, brother,” returned he of the Rhine; “the matter, anyhow,
ended well, and I would that my Rhineland had a fairy Toddlekins as well
as thy favoured country.”

Father Thames smiled grimly. “There never could be two such as
Toddlekins in this world,” replied he; “and it is a blessing for me and
mine that there has been one. But come, Brother Rhine, there is yet
time for another legend. Hast thou none of the old war times, and of the
brave German barons who fought so oft and so fiercely?”

“Ay, that have I, many an one,” responded the other. “I bethink me,
moreover, of one which is not strictly or wholly of mine own land, nor
in truth do I know precisely to what land it can be said entirely to
belong. It is one, however, which has been handed down to us in verse,
if you object not to a tale told in such fashion.”

“Object, indeed!” cried jolly old Father Thames in a pleasant voice.
“How or why should I object? Are not some of our very best English
legends told in verse? Witness that excellent old story of--

          ‘Old King Cole was a merry old soul,
               And so was old King Tudor;
          But merrier still was Miss Mary Cole,
               When the Earl of Pembroke woo’d her.’

That _is_ a fine legend, if you please! I heard it all told by a
descendant of the Cole family, who stumbled on the story in an old
manuscript, and instantly went out to Cannes, in the South of France,
where he studied it carefully {229}with a view to producing it for the
benefit of the English public, and was only prevented from doing so by
his sisters, who insisted upon it that the wooing done in their family,
even at a remote period, was a matter of private history which should
never be allowed to become public property. Perhaps they had some affair
of the same kind in hand themselves, and did not want to establish an
inconvenient precedent.”

“Very likely,” remarked the Rhine King somewhat sulkily; “but if you go
on like this I shall never get away. Pray give a fellow a chance, and
don’t keep all the talk to yourself--you and your Coles.”

“Hold hard!” cried Father Thames at this. “I am not going to be ‘called
over the coals’ by any foreigner.”

“A truce to your puns!” said he of the Rhine; and as Father Thames said
no more, he at once began the song of:--



SIR RODERICK FOWLE--A LEGEND OF THE OLDEN TIME.

     I.

     Sir Roderick Fowle has returned from the East,
         Where believers are fighting the Paynim;
     Though they slaughtered his squire, and they wounded his beast,
         No Saracen foeman has slain him.

     II.

     He has crossed the salt seas, and has come to the land
         Where no man of battle afraid is,
     But all have, in war, a keen blade and strong hand,
         And, in peace, a true heart for the ladies.

     III.

     To {230}the land of the Gaul is Sir Roderick come
         (Concluded his Saracen fighting),
     And with joy and delight is struck perfectly dumb,
         On the shores of his country alighting--

     IV.

     The land where he’d lived as an innocent child
        (And now he’s a vigorous man, see!),
     Where Ida, the lovely, had first on him smiled
        And captured his heart and his fancy.

     V.

     Sweet Ida, the daughter of Montmolon’s lord
        (How blest to possess such a daughter!),
     Was fairest of fair demoiselles--in a word,
         All the marrying bachelors sought her.

     VI.

     But “attentions” she cared for but little, said she,
         And, really, seemed scarcely to heed’em;
     And for marrying! oh! ’twas like “felo de se,”
          If you _could_ keep your spinsterly freedom.

     VII.

     So she turned up her aquiline nose at them all,
          And refused a round dozen of offers
     From lords and from knights, who would constantly fall
          At her feet with their hearts and their coffers.

     VIII.

     Till fate in her way threw Sir Roderick Fowle,
          Before he departed this war on,
     Then love made the damsel as blind as an owl,
          And she promised herself to the Baron.

     IX.

     The {231}war was declared--there was no time to woo,
          When legions and armies were forming,
     But, handsome and bold, he knew well what to do,
          So he carried the fortress by storming.

     X.

     And she promised to wed, if he shouldn’t be dead,
         When the Christians had settled the Paynim.
     He must go there, he said; but she wanted, instead,
          By her apron-string still to detain him.

     XI.

     But he’d promised to go, and he would, and he must
         (These men are such obstinate cattle!),
     So his heart to her keeping the lover did trust,
         And set off, like a man, to the battle.

     XII.

     He went, and he came, and sustained his great name,
          For when was a Fowle e’er behindhand?
     And returned to receive the sweet laurels of fame
          From his Ida’s most willing and kind hand.

     XIII.

     When a man’s seeking _laurels_, to keep him at _bay_
          Is a deed most exceedingly cruel,
     So we’ll hasten our baron along on his way
          To the casket which held his bright jewel.

     XIV.

     Lofty and high were the Montmolon towers,
         And fortified, too, beyond measure,
     Lest any bold lord of the neighbouring powers
         Should harry the Montmolon treasure.

     XV.

     Sir {232}Roderick gazed on the gloomy old wall,
          Which the ivy was slowly corroding,
     When a sight met his eyes which his heart did appal,
          And fill with a fearful foreboding.

     XVI.

     Where the Montmolon banner of old used to wave,
          And merrily flaunt in the breezes,
     No banner hung now--all was still as the grave,
          Or the form that death’s quietude seizes.

     XVII.

     The place looked so bleak--‘tis a sad thing to speak,
          But sad things sometimes must be spoken;
     And the winds they did shriek through that castle antique,
          For there wasn’t a window unbroken!

     XVIII.

     The mark of a foe did Sir Roderick know
          Full well--far too well to mistake it;
     And he groaned deep and low, in sad accents of woe,
          Ere he turned round his horse to forsake it.

     XIX.

     But he stopped; for a groan quite as sad as his own
          Seemed to come from the shrubberies near him,
     And an old man he spied, sitting there all alone,
          Who appeared in no manner to fear him.

     XX.

     He approached, and affright half gave way to delight
          At the chance his lost bride to regain her,
     When he recognised quite, in this dolorous wight,
          A Montmolon former retainer.

     XXI.

     “Old {233}man!” he cried out, “what’s this fuss all about?
          And has there been any disaster?
     You seemed crippled, no doubt: is’t rheumatics or gout?
          And where are your mistress and master?”

     XXII.

     With a guttural sigh, like one going to die,
          The man raised him up on his knees, and
     Thus made him reply, though the news, by-the-bye,
          He scarce could get out of his weasand.

     XXIII.

     “I’ve a sad tale to crack. Noble sir, you’ve come back
          To a house sacked from basement to attics;
     Too long do I lack kitchen chimney and jack
          For gout--let alone the rheumatics!

     XXIV.

     “I speak but with pain, for I’m slaughtered and slain
          (Just look at my garments all gory),
     But my breath I would fain a while longer retain
          Till I’ve told you our terrible story.

     XXV.

     “Fair Ida, I fear, you will scarcely find here,
          Though the room which was hers still you may see,
     For ‘tis nearly a year since with bow and with spear
          Hither hastened Sir Marmaduke Tracy.

     XXVI.

     “With soldiers in scores, ammunition, and stores,
          He attacked our unfortunate village;
     He battered our doors [‘twas the greatest of bores).
          And allowed all his people to pillage.

     XXVII.

     “When {234}the storm ‘gan to lower, folks fled to the tower,
          Young and old the same thing very soon did;
     We did all in our power, and young Ida’s own bower
          Was turned into a ward for the wounded.

     XXVIII.

     “For months four or five we continued to strive;
          None ventured on shirking or shamming,
     Till one-half of our hive were no longer alive--
          Consumed between firing and famine.

     XXIX.

     “When our lord ‘gainst the rout could no longer hold out,
          He gave in, like a sensible covey;
     No food was about, save one bottle of stout,
          Half a loaf, and a pot of anchovy.

     XXX.

     “Then at length did we let (though with wondrous regret)
          Sir Marmaduke through the portcullis;
     And the treatment we met no one there will forget,
          Unless he a regular gull is.

     XXXI.

     “The Tracy began, and took ev’ry tenth man ‘
          Of the Baron of Montmolon’s people,
     Saying, ‘Fly, if ye can, for ye soon will be dan--
          Cling from top of the neighbouring steeple.

     XXXII.

     “‘Since ye foolishly list, Tracy’s arms to resist,
          Ye shall see how his mercy shall treat ye;
     And your wives shall be kissed, if by them ye are missed
          In your homes, while the carrion eat ye.’

     XXXIII.

     “His {235}men had the knack; not a rope was too slack,
          Not a victim could loosen or slip cord.
     Our baron looked black; but his arms ‘hind his back
          Were fastened together with whipcord.

     XXXIV.

     “He hanged these poor chaps, but I fancy that, perhaps,
          The other men’s lot was the sorest;
     Without clothes, shoes, or caps, but with plenty of slaps,
          He turned them adrift in the forest.

     XXXV.

     “Some starved, sank, and died; some few went beside
          Themselves with cold, hunger, and sorrow.
     ‘Twas little you spied of the Montmolon pride,
          When you looked at this place on the morrow.

     XXXVI.

     “That truculent Goth, Sir Tracy, took both
          Our lord and his beautiful daughter.
     ‘To wed me,’ he quoth, ‘though the damsel be loth,
          To reason I soon shall have brought her.’

     XXXVII.

     “I, escaping from hurt, more by chance than desert
          (My brother on Tracy’s estate is),
     Have lived, I assert, sitting here in the dirt,
          Upon nothing but berries and praties.

     XXXVIII.

     “I was wounded, indeed; don’t you see how I bleed?
          And I’ve had ne’er a surgeon, which _is_ hard;
     But my master’s sad need, and the loss of his breed,
          ‘Tis _that_, sir, which sticks in my gizzard.

     XXXIX.

     “My {236}strength ‘gins to fail: want of beef and of ale
          (How well I remember the brewin’!)
     My frame doth assail; but I’ve told you the tale,
          And your eyes may behold the sad ruin.”

     XL.

     He stopped: faint and sore, he could utter no more,
          But sank on the ground, softly sighing;
     His troubles were o’er: he was turned of four-score,
          And was dead ere he knew he was dying.

     XLI.

     Sir Roderick stood at the tidings aghast:
          Sad change from glad anticipation;
     But he spoke out at last; not too loud or too fast,
          But in accents of deep indignation.

     XLII.

     “By all that is holy, by all that is blue,
          By the eyes of adorable Ida,
     Sir Marmaduke Tracy shall bitterly rue
          The moment when first he espied her!

     XLIII.

     “I vow and declare, and I solemnly swear,
          That, fearless of dagger or bullet,
     I’ll rout out that bear from his murderous lair,
          And slit his detestable gullet.

     XLIV.

     “My life to the project henceforth I devote;
          All else to this _one_ shall knock under,
     Till I fasten my hand on his treacherous throat
          And tear the vile spoiler asunder!

     XLV.

     “When {237}next here I tread, it shall be to be wed;
          But I mustn’t stay now any longer;
     This old fellow’s dead--there’s no more to be said,
          He has perished of wounds and of hunger.”

     XLVI.

     Then he turned his horse round (who sprang off with a bound,
          Accustomed in battle to dash on),
     And with clattering sound, galloped over the ground
          In a most irrepressible passion.

     XLVII.

     Two months had elapsed since that terrible day
          When the Montmolon castle was taken,
     And the baron and Ida were carried away
          With small prospect of “saving their bacon.”

     XLVIII.

     The Tracy had taken them off to the rock
          On which his own castle was builded;
     Which, he boasted, was safe from an enemy’s shock,
          Whatever his valour or skill did.

     XLIX.

     Glenlighton its name; ’twas a beautiful place,
          As you saw when you came nigh and nigher it;
     But delectable Ida averted her face,
          Too wrapt in her grief to admire it.

     L.

     Arrived, they were placed in a large suite of rooms,
          Locked up, and a strong guard set by ‘em,
     And for weeks they saw none but retainers and grooms,
          Who were ordered with food to supply ‘em.

     LI.

     For {238}Sir Marmaduke Tracy had reason to ride
          To some lord’s in the neighbouring valley:
     Ere he thought of a bride, he the spoils must divide
          With the friends who’d connived at his sally.

     LII.

     But returning (too soon!) one fine morning in June,
          When brightly and warmly the sun shone,
     He came whistling a tune all along the saloon,
          And joined the small party at luncheon.

     LIII.

     “Now, Baron,” quoth he, “prithee hearken to me:
          To escape you may shortly the way see:
     If you e’er would be free, you must quickly agree,
          That your daughter becomes Lady Tracy.

     LIV.

     “I am elderly, true; it were better for you
          That death hadn’t taken my son John.
     But refuse! if you do, why, the day you shall rue
          In a most insalubrious dungeon.”

     LV.

     Says the Baron, “I burn your assault to return,
          And, spite of your luncheons and _he_ cook,
     My child will soon learn your proposals to spurn,
          You lubberly son of a sea-cook!

     LVI.

     “The battle you’ve won, vile son of a gun,
          Though more by your cunning than merit;
     But, much though you’ve done, I can tell you that none
          Can break the true Montmolon spirit.

     LVII.

     “Sir {239}Guy de la Vaux, I assuredly know,
          Will avenge the foul trick that you’ve played me;
     And the Lord Montereaux to my rescue will go,
          Though houseless and homeless you’ve made me.

     LVIII.

     “No daughter of mine to a man will incline
          Who has murdered her father’s retainers.
     Those are _my_ views in fine; my brave girl, I opine,
          Will in language more pretty explain hers!”

     LIX.

     Then Ida, “Papa, all your sentiments are
          My own--you are always so ready.
     And besides, much I fear, that though mighty in war,
          Sir Marmaduke’s rather unsteady.

     LX.

     “And I’m bound to declare, though hardly I dare
          (And my courage is quite down at zero),
     For _another_ I care, and it wouldn’t be fair
          To give up my faithful young hero.

     LXI.

     “I met him, you know, nearly five years ago,
          Abroad, at the Henley regatta,
     So I’m bound to reply to Sir Marmaduke ‘No,’
          Although his attentions may flatter.”

     LXII.

     The Tracy laughed loud at the maiden so proud,
          But, says he, “Come, a truce to your chaffing;
     It must be allowed that you don’t seem much cowed,
          But you’ll find it no matter for laughing.

     LXIII.

     “You, {240}madam, when cool, your affections must school
          To follow Sir Marmaduke’s pleasure;
     And, Baron, you fool and cantankerous mule,
          In a dungeon shall ponder at leisure.

     LXIV.

     “Nor think you secure that your friends will be truer
          Than others have been in like cases;
     Sir Guy is too poor, and I’m perfectly sure
          ‘Twill be long ere the Tracy he faces.

     LXV.

     “And the Lord Montereaux died lately, I know
          (He always was rather dyspeptic);
     ‘Tis a good week ago since they popped him below,
          Carried off by a fit epileptic.

     LXVI.

     “‘Tis never my bent, you must know, to relent,
          And trouble you’re surely enough in,
     So your aid must be lent to make Ida consent,
          Unless you’re a regular muffin.

     LXVII.

     “Meantime, to a dungeon I’ll order you off,
          Where the damp very constant and dense is;
     And when crippled entirely with fever and cough,
          You’ll probably come to your senses.”

     LXVIII.

     He spoke, and withdrew, and the baron they threw
          Into dungeon both damp and unpleasant;
     And left him to ponder, as well he might do,
          On the change from the past to the present.

     LXIX.

     Still, {241}with wonderful pluck, to his orders he stuck
          That his child shouldn’t marry the tyrant;
     And Ida, sweet duck, though quite “down on her luck,”
           Still frowned on the daring aspirant.

     LXX.

     Then Sir Tracy, irate, said she tempted her fate,
          Declining so firmly to choose him;
     For he ne’er could abate in his love for a mate,
          Who he knew would be sorry to lose him.

     LXXI.

     Ten days he’d allow her, he swore, when much vexed,
          And partially drunk on his own ale;
     But each day she refused to be his, on the next
          Should be wrenched from her father a toe-nail!

     LXXII.

     Now the baron was gouty and tender of feet,
          A man, too, of delicate nurture,
     And to injure him thus would be making complete
          The system of underground torture.

     LXXIII.

     So Ida she stood on the turreted wall
          On that very identical even,
     And loudly for aid and assistance did call
          On Roderick Fowle and on Heaven.

     LXXIV.

     What is it she sees through the leaves of the trees?
          By Jove! ’tis a warrior’s banner,
     And men, thick as bees, drawing nigh by degrees
          In a most unmistakable manner.

     LXXV.

     She {242}views them approaching the castle so dread,
          And prays they may soon overwhelm it;
     For she sees they are led by a chief at their head
          With a Hen, painted large, on his helmet.

     [Illustration: 260]

     LXXVI.

     At this gladdening sight, she exclaimed in delight,
          “My Fowle is at hand to assist me!
     I’m positive quite I shall soon be all right,
          And again those dear lips will have kissed me!”

     LXXVII.

     Sir Roderick true, as he came full in view
          And espied his adorable lady,
     Like a cock loudly crew, “Im coming to you!”
           And a spring towards the battlements made he.

     LXXVIII.

     He’d got a siege-train (as I here should explain),
          And a terrible ram for to batter,
     Which with might and with main, plied again and again,
          The walls of the fortress should shatter.

     LXXIX.

     Then he shouted his war-cry,--well known in the East,--’
          “Cock-a-doodle!” and brandished his pennon,
     Rushed on to the castle, not fearing the least,
          But urging his valorous men on.

     LXXX.

     The cruel Sir Marmaduke Tracy, meanwhile,
          Had been taking a quiet siesta,
     For he’d promised poor Ida, with sinister smile,
          That day, that he wouldn’t molest her.

     LXXXI.

     But, {243}hearing the shock, at the foot of the rock,
          He came up by the maiden upon it,
     Of his foeman took stock, and exclaimed, “My young cock,
          ‘Tis a daring attempt, had you won it!”

     LXXXII.

     Fowle, clambering high, could invent no reply;
          Says Tracy, “Though parleying _you_ shun,
     Your end is so nigh, let me hope that to die
          You prepared ere you planned this intrusion.”

     LXXXIII.

     Then a vast mass of brickwork he moved on a ledge
          Just above the unfortunate lover,
     And with all his great strength pushed it just to the edge
          Of the turret, then toppled it over.

     LXXXIV.

     With a rush and a roar, it went tumbling o’er,
          With but little less rumble than thunder;
     Fowle’s chance, small before, what event can restore
          If that terrible mass he lies under?

     LXXXV.

     Then Sir Marmaduke bowed to the maiden quite cowed
          While her flesh with sheer terror was creeping,
     And said, “Madam so proud, it must now be allowed,
          There’s no catching the Tracy a-sleeping.”

     LXXXVI.

     “Come near, without dread,” he tauntingly said,
          “On this ledge I will make by my side room;
     See, your lover is dead! so we now may be wed,
          And I’ll make you a capital bridegroom!”

     LXXXVII.

     But {244}she looked with disdain, for, that moment, again
          From the thick cloud of dust just emerging,
     Fowle stood forth quite plain ‘mid the wounded and slain
          His heroes to energy urging.

     LXXXVIII.

     “False Tracy,” he cried, “from my beautiful bride
          Avert your detestable gazes,
     Descend to my side that the fight may be tried!”
           Says Sir Marmaduke, “Fowle, go to blazes!”

     LXXXIX.

     Quoth he, with a sneer, and a laugh and a jeer,
          “Go home with your battering ram, Fowle;
     ‘Tis perfectly clear I am better up here,
          So I think I shall stay where I am, Fowle!”

     XC.

     He stood, winking his eye, on that battlement high,
          And was turning, poor Ida to wheedle,
     When the maiden, so spry, clapt her hand to his thigh,
          And thrust up to the hilt a sharp needle.

     XCI.

     With pain did he flush--gave a jump and a rush--
          Lost his balance--strove hard to re-win it,
     When she gave him a push, and with terrible crush
          He was over the cliff in a minute!

     XCII.

     The sides of the hill he clutched at, until--
          He found that he couldn’t quite come it,
     So at last had his fill, and, exhausted, lay still,
          Having rolled to the foot from the summit.

     XCIII.

     And {245}there did he lay, dying fast, in a way
          Which nobody willingly chooses;
     For the light of the day did his carcase display,
          A mass of incurable bruises.

     XCIV.

     Fowle’s soldiers stood o’er the poor man in his gore,
          Who groaned, “I must go to ‘Old Harry;’
     ‘Tis a terrible bore! I shall soon be no more,
          And you, Fowle, the damsel will marry.

     XCV.

     “Lady Ida,” quoth he, “has been too much for me;
          Her will in rough fashion she teaches.
     One comfort will be, that Fowle, do you see,
          Will find that his dame ‘wears the breeches’!

     XCVI.

     “I am, I confess, in the deuce of a mess,
          With numbers of sins to repent of:
     There are some you may guess, but a lot more, unless
          I told you, you’d never get scent of.

     XCVII.

     “I’ve had wives a full score: aye, I think twenty-four,
          Who at times I’d by fraud or by force court:
     And I own that before I sought after more
          I ought to have tried the Divorce Court!

     XCVIII.

     “In a dungeon down-stairs you’ll find some of the ‘fairs:’
          I hadn’t the heart to destroy ‘em;
     But, in spite of their prayers, if they gave themselves airs,
          Sent them down, in the dark to enjoy ‘em.

     XCIX.

     “My {246}soldiers are bold; they had better be told
          There’s nothing the fight should be won for:
     Their leader, though old, by a girl has been ‘sold,’
          And is most undeniably ‘done for’!”

     C.

     He raised himself then, and bawled out to his men,
          “No reason, my hearties, to fight on:
     The crest of the Hen will float over my den--
          Farewell to the Lord of Glenlighton!”

     CI.

     Then he gave a great groan (as the Baron had done
          If they’d tortured and made him a sore nail),
     And his side turning on, exclaimed, “Crikey! I’m gone
          And was instantly “dead as a door-nail”!

     CII.

     What need to relate how they opened the gate,
          And admitted Sir Fowle and his forces?
     How he entered in state, and showed clemency great,
          All this a mere matter of course is.

     CIII.

     And how the fair Ida sprang into his arms;
          How they built up the Montmolon Tower, I
     Dare say you can guess; and additional charms
          Fowle found in her ladyship’s dowry.

     CIV.

     Glenlighton they seized; there was none to dispute:
          And Tracy’s broad lands fared the same, too:
     The place and the country their fancy did suit,
          So they took all the land they laid claim to.

     CV.

     Nor {247}need it be said that ere long they were wed,
          These lovers, no more to be parted:
     Full soon the tree spread; and young children were bred;
          True _Fowles_--who were ne’er _chicken-hearted_.

     CVI.

     That fort on the rocks (when repaired from the knocks
          Received in Sir Roderick’s fighting)
     Made a snug little box, where, like true fighting-cocks,
          They live, at the hour I am writing.

     CVIII.

     Fowle’s deeds are well known--not in _that_ land alone,
          But, where’er tales of valour hearts quicken,
     Men exclaim in loud tone to this day, “We must own
          Such or such man’s ‘_as game as a chicken_.’”

     CVIII.

     The Baron lived long; he was healthy and strong,
          And never ate things one had best shun;
     So went in “ding dong” at the sound of the gong,
          And was blest with a wondrous digestion.

     CIX.

     Now I’ve told all I know about Fowle and his foe,
          There’s no more that requires explanation:
     On all I’ll bestow my blessing, and so
          Conclude, with a bow, my narration.

As soon as the Monarch of the Rhine had finished his poetical legend (to
which his companion listened with the most profound attention), he rose
from his seat, and declared {248}that he could really wait no longer,
or he should be late for his appointment with those other continental
rivers to which he had already alluded. Regret was plainly visible upon
the countenance of Father Thames as his Brother Rhine expressed this
determination, and he began to endeavour to persuade him to stay a
little longer. He of the Rhine, however, seemed to be inexorable, and
reminded his entertainer of the good old motto, “Welcome the coming,
speed the parting guest,” which he declared that he had always held to
be an exceedingly wise and proper saying.

Father Thames raised no objection to this, but at the same time observed
that he also had several rivers who desired to see him, but that he had
postponed their visit in order to do full justice to that of his foreign
friend. The Isis and the Cam had indeed sent representatives to wait
upon him, as was their annual custom, and enormous crowds of people
in steamers, on barges, and on his banks had come out to witness the
arrival and triumphant progress of these, which had taken place between
Putney and Mortlake, and had as usual created great excitement. But
other visitors he had put off, and had still more time to devote to the
Rhine Monarch if he could be prevailed upon to stay. This, however, was
impossible, and the two friends were about to part when Father Thames
casually observed, “I hope all will go well with you, Brother Rhine,
until we meet again.”

The other heaved a deep sigh. “I hope so, indeed,” he replied; “but in
these days of progress who can tell what will happen next? Instead of
haunted castles I have now Legislative Bodies, which are often possessed
by much worse spirits than those which occupied the old {249}ruins;
instead of giants I have Ministers; and in the place of river-demons an
enlightened Press; and goodness only knows what may become of me at any
moment.”

“I, too,” responded Father Thames, “have trials which are almost
beyond endurance. What with Water Companies, Conservancy Boards, and
Embankments, I have of late years been driven nearly wild; and although
they have at some places given up the fine old practice of draining into
my waters everything that was foul and abominable, and thus creating
a public nuisance in the shape of disagreeable and unwholesome odours,
which they afterwards had the impudence to attribute to me, and
associate the nuisance with my name, yet I am scurvily treated by
mankind in general, and made the unwilling receptacle of dead cats
and other unpleasant objects, and have my water taken from me in large
quantities, when I would much rather retain it.”

“All this is very bad,” remarked the Rhine King. “Why not leave such a
country and come home with me?”

“No, thank you,” drily returned Father Thames, “not even the blessings
which you have enumerated as now in your possession could tempt me to
take such a step. I should miss my beef and ale too much.”

“Ale!” hastily interrupted his companion. “How you continue to harp upon
that beverage of yours, which, after all, cannot compare with that which
I drink on mine own river. Come, good brother, before I go let me sing
you one of our famous Rhine songs in honour of the immortal wine with
which my banks are blessed.” And without more ado about the matter, the
Rhine {250}Monarch sang as follows in a rich and voice:--


     I.

     “A fig for your sherry or foaming champagne!
          I’d not give a groat for the whole of your stock;
     Of thirst if I hear my companions complain,
          I hold out my bottle with--‘Accipe Hoc!
     Accipe Hoc, Accipe Hoc!’
          I hold out my bottle with--‘Accipe Hoc!’

     II.

     “At night your port-wine bibber drowsily nods,
          And wakes hot and heavy at crowing of cock;
     The liquor offer is fit for the gods,
          And blesses the drinker, so--‘Accipe Hoc!
     Accipe Hoc, Accipe Hoc!’
          It blesses the drinker, so--‘Accipe Hoc!’

     III.

     “Of brandy and whisky I sing not in praise,
          For feet they make stagger and heads they make rock;
     But the man who is hoping to lengthen his days,
          Should list to my counselling--‘Accipe Hoc!
     Accipe Hoc,’ &c.

     IV.

     “Away with your brewing, away with your ale!
          (Though such a proposal your feelings may shock;)
     For all your malt liquors infallibly pale
          Before my Rhine vintage, so--‘Accipe Hoc!
     Accipe Hoc,’ &c.

     V.

     “‘Tis wine that ne’er robs man of senses or wit,
          But hearts can make lively and tongues can unlock;
     Makes dull men for once for good company fit,
          And bright ones still brighter, so--‘Accipe Hoc!
     Accipe Hoc,’ &c.

     VI.

     “Come, fill up your glasses! the toast shall be mine,
          And loud in applause on the table you’ll knock;
     When I give you ‘The glorious vintage of Rhine!’
          And long may each comrade sing, ‘Accipe Hoc!
     Accipe Hoc, Accipe Hoc!’
          Long may each comrade sing, ‘Accipe Hoc!’”

As {251}the Monarch of the Rhine proceeded, I observed a cloud gathering
over the brow of Father Thames, which grew darker when uncomplimentary
allusion was made to his favourite ale, and by the time that his guest
had concluded his song had deepened into a tremendous and awful frown.
Scarcely was the last word out of the singer’s mouth than he burst forth
in fury. “Brooks and fountains!” he exclaimed in a loud voice, “is it
thus I am to be insulted upon mine own waters? and am I to sit still and
be silent while these insolent foreigners extol their thin and miserable
drinks at the expense of the noble beverage upon which Britons have
fattened and thriven ever since they were a people? Off with thee now,
then, as soon as thou listest, thou hock-swilling loon, for I cannot put
up with such trash!”

The Rhine King had already risen; but at these words the greatest
astonishment was depicted upon his countenance, for he had really
meant no offence, so far as I could see, and for my own part I was
myself astonished at the conduct of Father Thames in taking notice of
such a trifle. He did so, however, and was apparently quite ready to
follow up his words with corresponding actions; for, reaching out his
left hand, he raised from beside him a species of instrument somewhat
resembling a three-pronged fork, which I had not noticed before,
and overset his tumbler with his right hand in the action. {252}This
appeared to exasperate him still more, and as his companion muttered
something about the effects of too much ale being to make a man lose his
temper, he appeared to get more and more angry, and made as though he
would rise.

[Illustration: 271]

Upon this the Monarch of the Rhine tarried no longer, but made a sudden
bolt of it, carrying a couple of curiously shaped spears in his left
hand, and leading in his right his attendant eagle, tied with a string
which was fastened to a collar round its neck. In this undignified
manner the Rhine King rushed off the island, and I was so thoroughly
ashamed at the rude and inhospitable conduct of my native river that I
anxiously started forward to stop the stranger king’s flight, to offer
apologies, and, if possible, to set matters right between the two. In so
doing, however, something struck my hat from my head, and with the shock
I awoke, and sat up amazed. There, indeed, was {253}the dear old river
flowing on and on at my feet; there was the island, and upon it were the
reeds and willows as usual, but the River Monarchs were nowhere to be
seen. They had passed away like a dream, and no doubt I should be
told that all I had seen and heard was only the results of a visit to
dreamland during my nap that afternoon.

It was getting dark, and I could only just see the stately shape of
Windsor Castle rearing itself above the town in the distance, whilst, to
the left, the buildings of my beloved Eton appeared to be shadows
fading away in the fast-approaching darkness of night. “Absit omen!” I
exclaimed as I sprang to my feet. “The glory of Eton shall never fail
whilst England is England; and, least of all, shall the love of her sons
for the dear old college ever fade or lessen whilst life endures. I,
at least, will be a boy as long as I live in my love for Eton and Eton
boys, and to their approval will I submit the legends which I have heard
here to-day.”

Filled with these thoughts, I hurried home as fast as I could, and wrote
down from memory what I had heard and seen, resolving, if possible,
to obtain some further information from the same sources if ever the
opportunity should again present itself.

THE END.





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