OLD-FASHIONED FAIRY TALES
JULIANA HORATIA EWING.
London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, Northumberland Avenue, W.C. New York: E. & J.B. Young & Co. [Published under the direction of the General Literature Committee.]
DEDICATED TO MY DEAR SISTER, UNDINE MARCIA GATTY.
"Know'st thou not the little path That winds about the Ferny brae, That is the road to bonnie Elfland, Where thou and I this night maun gae."
Thomas the Rhymer.
As the title of this story-book may possibly suggest that the tales are old fairy tales told afresh, it seems well to explain that this is not so.
Except for the use of common "properties" of Fairy Drama, and a scrupulous endeavour to conform to tradition in local colour and detail, the stories are all new.
They have appeared at intervals during some years past in "AUNT JUDY'S MAGAZINE FOR YOUNG PEOPLE," and were written in conformity to certain theories respecting stories of this kind, with only two of which shall the kindly reader of prefaces be troubled.
First, that there are ideas and types, occurring in the myths of all countries, which are common properties, to use which does not lay the teller of fairy tales open to the charge of plagiarism. Such as the idea of the weak outwitting the strong; the failure of man to choose wisely when he may have his wish; or the desire of sprites to exchange their careless and unfettered existence for the pains and penalties of humanity, if they may thereby share in the hopes of the human soul.
Secondly, that in these household stories (the models for which were originally oral tradition) the thing most to be avoided is a discursive or descriptive style of writing. Brevity and epigram must ever be soul of their wit, and they should be written as tales that are told.
The degree in which, if at all, the following tales fulfil these conditions, nursery critics must decide.
There are older critics before whom fairy tales, as such, need excuse, even if they do not meet with positive disapprobation.
On this score I can only say that, for myself, I believe them to be—beyond all need of defence—most valuable literature for the young. I do not believe that wonder-tales confuse children's ideas of truth. If there are young intellects so imperfect as to be incapable of distinguishing between fancy and falsehood, it is surely most desirable to develop in them the power to do so; but, as a rule, in childhood we appreciate the distinction with a vivacity which, as elders, our care-clogged memories fail to recall.
Moreover fairy tales have positive uses in education, which no cramming of facts, and no merely domestic fiction can serve.
Like Proverbs and Parables, they deal with first principles under the simplest forms. They convey knowledge of the world, shrewd lessons of virtue and vice, of common sense and sense of humour, of the seemly and the absurd, of pleasure and pain, success and failure, in narratives where the plot moves briskly and dramatically from a beginning to an end. They treat, not of the corner of a nursery or a playground, but of the world at large, and life in perspective; of forces visible and invisible; of Life, Death, and Immortality.
For causes obvious to the student of early myths, they foster sympathy with nature, and no class of child-literature has done so much to inculcate the love of animals.
They cultivate the Imagination, that great gift which time and experience lead one more and more to value—handmaid of Faith, of Hope, and, perhaps most of all, of Charity!
It is true that some of the old fairy tales do not teach the high and useful lessons that most of them do; and that they unquestionably deal now and again with phases of grown-up life, and with crimes and catastrophes, that seem unsuitable for nursery entertainment.
As to the latter question, it must be remembered that the brevity of the narrative—whether it be a love story or a robber story—deprives it of all harm; a point which writers of modern fairy tales do not always realize for their guidance.
The writer of the following tales has endeavoured to bear this principle in mind, and it is hoped that the morals—and it is of the essence of fairy tales to have a moral—of all of them are beyond reproach.
For the rest they are committed to the indulgence of the gentle reader.
Hans Anderssen, perhaps the greatest writer of modern fairy tales, was content to say:
"FAIRY TALE NEVER DIES."
PAGE GOOD LUCK IS BETTER THAN GOLD
THE HILLMAN AND THE HOUSEWIFE
THE NECK, A LEGEND OF A LAKE
THE NIX IN MISCHIEF
THE COBBLER AND THE GHOSTS
THE LAIRD AND THE MAN OF PEACE
THE OGRE COURTING
THE MAGICIANS' GIFTS
THE WIDOWS AND THE STRANGERS
KIND WILLIAM AND THE WATER SPRITE
THE LITTLE DARNER
THE FIDDLER IN THE FAIRY RING
THE MAGIC JAR
THE FIRST WIFE'S WEDDING-RING
THE MAGICIAN TURNED MISCHIEF-MAKER
KNAVE AND FOOL
UNDER THE SUN
GOOD LUCK IS BETTER THAN GOLD.
There was once upon a time a child who had Good Luck for his godfather.
"I am not Fortune," said Good Luck to the parents; "I have no gifts to bestow, but whenever he needs help I will be at hand."
"Nothing could be better," said the old couple. They were delighted. But what pleases the father often fails to satisfy the son: moreover, every man thinks that he deserves just a little more than he has got, and does not reckon it to the purpose if his father had less.
Many a one would be thankful to have as good reasons for contentment as he who had Good Luck for his godfather.
If he fell, Good Luck popped something soft in the way to break his fall; if he fought, Good Luck directed his blows, or tripped up his adversary; if he got into a scrape, Good Luck helped him out of it; and if ever Misfortune met him, Good Luck contrived to hustle her on the pathway till his godson got safely by.
In games of hazard the godfather played over his shoulder. In matters of choice he chose for him. And when the lad began to work on his father's farm the farmer began to get rich. For no bird or field-mouse touched a seed that his son had sown, and every plant he planted throve when Good Luck smiled on it.
The boy was not fond of work, but when he did go into the fields, Good Luck followed him.
"Your christening-day was a blessed day for us all," said the old farmer.
"He has never given me so much as a lucky sixpence," muttered Good Luck's godson.
"I am not Fortune—I make no presents," said the godfather.
When we are discontented it is oftener to please our neighbours than ourselves. It was because the other boys had said—"Simon, the shoemaker's son, has an alderman for his godfather. He gave him a silver spoon with the Apostle Peter for the handle; but thy godfather is more powerful than any alderman"—that Good Luck's godson complained, "He has never given me so much as a bent sixpence."
By and by the old farmer died, and his son grew up, and had the largest farm in the country. The other boys grew up also, and as they looked over the farmer's boundary-wall, they would say:
"Good-morning, Neighbour. That is certainly a fine farm of yours. Your cattle thrive without loss. Your crops grow in the rain and are reaped with the sunshine. Mischance never comes your road. What you have worked for you enjoy. Such success would turn the heads of poor folk like us. At the same time one would think a man need hardly work for his living at all who has Good Luck for his godfather."
"That is very true," thought the farmer. "Many a man is prosperous, and reaps what he sows, who had no more than the clerk and the sexton for gossips at his christening."
"What is the matter, Godson?" asked Good Luck, who was with him in the field.
"I want to be rich," said the farmer.
"You will not have to wait long," replied the godfather. "In every field you sow, in every flock you rear there is increase without abatement. Your wealth is already tenfold greater than your father's."
"Aye, aye," replied the farmer. "Good wages for good work. But many a young man has gold at his command who need never turn a sod, and none of the Good People came to his christening. Fortunatus's Purse now, or even a sack or two of gold—"
"Peace!" cried the godfather; "I have said that I give no gifts."
Though he had not Fortunatus's Purse, the farmer had now money and to spare, and when the harvest was gathered in, he bought a fine suit of clothes, and took his best horse and went to the royal city to see the sights.
The pomp and splendour, the festivities and fine clothes dazzled him.
"This is a gay life which these young courtiers lead," said he. "A man has nothing to do but to enjoy himself."
"If he has plenty of gold in his pocket," said a bystander.
By and by the Princess passed in her carriage. She was the King's only daughter. She had hair made of sunshine, and her eyes were stars.
"What an exquisite creature!" cried the farmer. "What would not one give to possess her?"
"She has as many suitors as hairs on her head," replied the bystander. "She wants to marry the Prince of Moonshine, but he only dresses in silver, and the King thinks he might find a richer son-in-law. The Princess will go to the highest bidder."
"And I have Good Luck for my godfather, and am not even at court!" cried the farmer; and he put spurs to his horse, and rode home.
Good Luck was taking care of the farm.
"Listen, Godfather!" cried the young man. "I am in love with the King's daughter, and want her to wife."
"It is not an easy matter," replied Good Luck, "but I will do what I can for you. Say that by good luck you saved the Princess's life, or perhaps better the King's—for they say he is selfish—"
"Tush!" cried the farmer. "The King is covetous, and wants a rich son-in-law."
"A wise man may bring wealth to a kingdom with his head, if not with his hands," said Good Luck, "and I can show you a district where the earth only wants mining to be flooded with wealth. Besides, there are a thousand opportunities that can be turned to account and influence. By wits and work, and with Good Luck to help him, many a poorer man than you has risen to greatness."
"Wits and work!" cried the indignant godson. "You speak well—truly! A hillman would have made a better godfather. Give me as much gold as will fill three meal-bins, and you may keep the rest of your help for those who want it."
Now at this moment by Good Luck stood Dame Fortune. She likes handsome young men, and there was some little jealousy between her and the godfather so she smiled at the quarrel.
"You would rather have had me for your gossip?" said she.
"If you would give me three wishes, I would," replied the farmer boldly, "and I would trouble you no more."
"Will you make him over to me?" said Dame Fortune to the godfather.
"If he wishes it," replied Good Luck. "But if he accepts your gifts he has no further claim on me."
"Nor on me either," said the Dame. "Hark ye, young man, you mortals are apt to make a hobble of your three wishes, and you may end with a sausage at your nose, like your betters."
"I have thought of it too often," replied the farmer, "and I know what I want. For my first wish I desire imperishable beauty."
"It is yours," said Dame Fortune, smiling as she looked at him.
"The face of a prince and the manners of a clown are poor partners," said the farmer. "My second wish is for suitable learning and courtly manners, which cannot be gained at the plough-tail."
"You have them in perfection," said the Dame, as the young man thanked her by a graceful bow.
"Thirdly," said he, "I demand a store of gold that I can never exhaust."
"I will lead you to it," said Dame Fortune; and the young man was so eager to follow her that he did not even look back to bid farewell to his godfather.
He was soon at court. He lived in the utmost pomp. He had a suit of armour made for himself out of beaten gold. No metal less precious might come near his person, except for the blade of his sword. This was obliged to be made of steel, for gold is not always strong enough to defend one's life or his honour. But the Princess still loved the Prince of Moonshine.
"Stuff and nonsense!" said the King. "I shall give you to the Prince of Gold."
"I wish I had the good luck to please her," muttered the young Prince. But he had not, for all his beauty and his wealth. However, she was to marry him, and that was something.
The preparations for the wedding were magnificent.
"It is a great expense," sighed the King, "but then I get the Prince of Gold for a son-in-law."
The Prince and his bride drove round the city in a triumphal procession. Her hair fell over her like sunshine, but the starlight of her eyes was cold.
In the train rode the Prince of Moonshine, dressed in silver, and with no colour in his face.
As the bridal chariot approached one of the city gates, two black ravens hovered over it, and then flew away, and settled on a tree.
Good Luck was sitting under the tree to see his godson's triumph, and he heard the birds talking above him.
"Has the Prince of Gold no friend who can tell him that there is a loose stone above the archway that is tottering to fall?" said they. And Good Luck covered his face with his mantle as the Prince drove through.
Just as they were passing out of the gateway the stone fell on to the Prince's head. He wore a casque of pure gold, but his neck was broken.
"We can't have all this expense for nothing," said the King: so he married his daughter to the Prince of Moonshine. If one can't get gold one must be content with silver.
"Will you come to the funeral?" asked Dame Fortune of the godfather.
"Not I," replied Good Luck. "I had no hand in this matter."
The rain came down in torrents. The black feathers on the ravens' backs looked as if they had been oiled.
"Caw! caw!" said they. "It was an unlucky end."
However, the funeral was a very magnificent one, for there was no stint of gold.
THE HILLMAN AND THE HOUSEWIFE.
It is well known that the Good People cannot abide meanness. They like to be liberally dealt with when they beg or borrow of the human race; and, on the other hand, to those who come to them in need, they are invariably generous.
Now there once lived a certain Housewife who had a sharp eye to her own interests in temporal matters, and gave alms of what she had no use for, for the good of her soul. One day a Hillman knocked at her door.
"Can you lend us a saucepan, good Mother?" said he. "There's a wedding in the hill, and all the pots are in use."
"Is he to have one?" asked the servant lass who had opened the door.
"Aye, to be sure," answered the Housewife. "One must be neighbourly."
But when the maid was taking a saucepan from the shelf, she pinched her arm, and whispered sharply—"Not that, you slut! Get the old one out of the cupboard. It leaks, and the Hillmen are so neat, and such nimble workers, that they are sure to mend it before they send it home. So one obliges the Good People, and saves sixpence in tinkering. But you'll never learn to be notable whilst your head is on your shoulders."
Thus reproached, the maid fetched the saucepan, which had been laid by till the tinker's next visit, and gave it to the dwarf, who thanked her, and went away.
In due time the saucepan was returned, and, as the Housewife had foreseen, it was neatly mended and ready for use.
At supper-time the maid filled the pan with milk, and set it on the fire for the children's supper. But in a few minutes the milk was so burnt and smoked that no one could touch it, and even the pigs refused the wash into which it was thrown.
"Ah, good-for-nothing hussy!" cried the Housewife, as she refilled the pan herself, "you would ruin the richest with your carelessness. There's a whole quart of good milk wasted at once!"
"And that's twopence," cried a voice which seemed to come from the chimney, in a whining tone, like some nattering, discontented old body going over her grievances.
The Housewife had not left the saucepan for two minutes, when the milk boiled over, and it was all burnt and smoked as before.
"The pan must be dirty," muttered the good woman, in great vexation; "and there are two full quarts of milk as good as thrown to the dogs."
"And that's fourpence," added the voice in the chimney.
After a thorough cleaning, the saucepan was once more filled and set on the fire, but with no better success. The milk was hopelessly spoilt, and the housewife shed tears of vexation at the waste, crying, "Never before did such a thing befall me since I kept house! Three quarts of new milk burnt for one meal!"
"And that's sixpence," cried the voice from the chimney. "You didn't save the tinkering after all Mother!"
With which the Hillman himself came tumbling down the chimney, and went off laughing through the door.
But thenceforward the saucepan was as good as any other.
A Legend of a Lake.
On a certain lake there once lived a Neck, or Water Sprite, who desired, above all things, to obtain a human soul. Now when the sun shone this Neck rose up and sat upon the waves and played upon his harp. And he played so sweetly that the winds stayed to listen to him, and the sun lingered in his setting, and the moon rose before her time. And the strain was in praise of immortality.
Furthermore, out of the lake there rose a great rock, whereon dwelt an aged hermit, who by reason of his loneliness was afflicted with a spirit of melancholy; so that when the fit was on him, he was constantly tempted to throw himself into the water, for his life was burdensome to him. But one day, when this gloomy madness had driven him to the edge of the rock to cast himself down, the Neck rose at the same moment, and sitting upon a wave, began to play. And the strain was in praise of immortality. And the melody went straight to the heart of the hermit as a sunbeam goes into a dark cave, and it dispelled his gloom, and he thought all to be as well with him as before it had seemed ill. And he called to the Neck and said, "What is that which thou dost play, my son?"
And the Neck answered, "It is in praise of immortality."
Then said the hermit, "I beg that thou wilt play frequently beneath this rock; for I am an aged and solitary man, and by reason of my loneliness, life becomes a burden to me, and I am tempted to throw it away. But by this gracious strain the evil has been dispelled. Wherefore I beg thee to come often and to play as long as is convenient. And yet I cannot offer thee any reward, for I am poor and without possessions."
Then the Neck replied, "There are treasures below the water as above, and I desire no earthly riches. But if thou canst tell me how I may gain a human soul, I will play on till thou shalt bid me cease."
And the hermit said, "I must consider the matter. But I will return to-morrow at this time and answer thee."
Then the next day he returned as he had said, and the Neck was waiting impatiently on the lake, and he cried, "What news, my father?"
And the hermit said, "If that at any time some human being will freely give his life for thee, thou wilt gain a human soul. But thou also must die the selfsame day."
"The short life for the long one!" cried the Neck; and he played a melody so full of happiness that the blood danced through the hermit's veins as if he were a boy again. But the next day when he came as usual the Neck called to him and said, "My father, I have been thinking. Thou art aged and feeble, and at the most there are but few days of life remaining to thee. Moreover, by reason of thy loneliness even these are a burden. Surely there is none more fit than thou to be the means of procuring me a human soul. Wherefore I beg of thee, let us die to-day."
But the hermit cried out angrily, "Wretch! Is this thy gratitude? Wouldst thou murder me?"
"Nay, old man," replied the Neck, "thou shalt part easily with thy little fag-end of life. I can play upon my harp a strain of such surpassing sadness that no human heart that hears it but must break. And yet the pain of that heartbreak shall be such that thou wilt not know it from rapture. Moreover, when the sun sets below the water, my spirit also will depart without suffering. Wherefore I beg of thee, let us die to-day."
"Truly," said the hermit, "it is because thou art only a Neck, and nothing better, that thou dost not know the value of human life."
"And art thou a man, possessed already of a soul, and destined for immortality," cried the Neck, "and dost haggle and grudge to benefit me by the sacrifice of a few uncertain days, when it is but to exchange them for the life that knows no end?"
"Our days are always uncertain," replied the hermit; "but existence is very sweet, even to the most wretched. Moreover, I see not that thou hast any claim upon mine." Saying which he returned to his cell, but the Neck, flinging aside his harp, sat upon the water, and wept bitterly.
Days passed, and the hermit did not show himself, and at last the Neck resolved to go and visit him. So he took his harp, and taking also the form of a boy with long fair hair and a crimson cap, he appeared in the hermit's cell. There he found the old man stretched upon his pallet, for lie was dying. When he saw the Neck he was glad, and said, "I have desired to see thee, for I repent myself that I did not according to thy wishes. Yet is the desire of life stronger in the human breast than thou canst understand. Nevertheless I am sorry, and I am sorry also that, as I am sick unto death, my life will no longer avail thee. But when I am dead, do thou take all that belongs to me, and dress thyself in my robe, and go out into the world, and do works of mercy, and perchance some one whom thou hast benefited will be found willing to die with thee, that thou mayst obtain a soul."
"Now indeed I thank thee!" cried the Neck. "But yet one word more—what are these works of which thou speakest?"
"The corporal works of mercy are seven," gasped the hermit, raising himself on his arm. "To feed the hungry and give the thirsty drink, to visit the sick, to redeem captives, to clothe the naked, to shelter the stranger and the houseless, to visit the widow and fatherless, and to bury the dead." Then even as he spoke the last words the hermit died. And the Neck clothed himself in his robe, and, not to delay in following the directions given to him, he buried the hermit with pious care, and planted flowers upon his grave. After which he went forth into the world.
Now for three hundred years did the Neck go about doing acts of mercy and charity towards men. And amongst the hungry, and the naked, and the sick, and the poor, and the captives, there were not a few who seemed to be weary of this life of many sorrows. But when he had fed the hungry, and clothed the naked, and relieved the sick, and made the poor rich, and set the captive free, life was too dear to all of them to be given up. Therefore he betook himself to the most miserable amongst men, and offering nothing but an easy death in a good cause, he hoped to find some aged and want-worn creature who would do him the kindness he desired. But of those who must look forward to the fewest days and to the most misery there was not one but, like the fabled woodcutter, chose to trudge out to the end his miserable span.
So when three hundred years were past, the Neck's heart failed him, and he said, "All this avails nothing. Wherefore I will return to the lake, and there abide what shall befall." And this he accordingly did.
Now one evening there came a tempest down from the hills, and there was a sudden squall on the lake. And a certain young man in a boat upon the lake was overtaken by the storm. And as he struggled hard, and it seemed as if every moment must be his last, a young maid who was his sweetheart came down to the shore, and cried aloud in her agony, "Alas, that his young life should be cut short thus!"
"Trouble not thyself," said the Neck; "this life is so short and so uncertain, that if he were rescued to-day he might be taken from thee to-morrow. Only in eternity is love secure. Wherefore be patient, and thou shalt soon follow him."
"And who art thou that mockest my sorrow?" cried the maiden.
"One who has watched the passing misfortunes of many generations before thine," replied the Neck.
And when the maiden looked, and saw one like a little old man wringing out his beard into the lake, she knew it was a Neck, and cried, "Now surely thou art a Neck, and they say, 'When Necks play, the winds wisht;' wherefore I beg of thee to play upon thy harp, and it may be that the storm will lull, and my beloved will be saved."
But the Neck answered, "It is not worth while."
And when the maiden could not persuade him, she fell upon her face in bitter grief, and cried, "Oh, my Beloved! Would GOD I could die for thee!"
"And yet thou wouldst not if thou couldst," said the Neck.
"If it be in thy power to prove me—prove me!" cried the maiden; "for indeed he is the only stay of aged parents, and he is young and unprepared for death. Moreover his life is dearer to me than my own."
Then the Neck related his own story, and said, "If thou wilt do this for me, which none yet has done whom I have benefited, I will play upon my harp, and if the winds wisht, thou must die this easy death; but if I fail in my part, I shall not expect thine to be fulfilled. And we must both abide what shall befall, even as others." And to this the maiden consented most willingly. Only she said, "Do this for me, I beg of thee. Let him come so near that I may just see his face before I die." And it was so agreed.
Then the aged Neck drew forth his harp and began to play. And as he played the wind stayed, as one who pauses to hearken with cleft lips, and the lake rose and fell gently, like the bosom of a girl moved by some plaintive song, and the sun burst forth as if to see who made such sweet music. And so through this happy change the young man got safe to land. Then the Neck turned to the maiden and said, "Dost thou hold to thy promise?" And she bowed her head.
"In the long life be thy recompense!" cried the Neck, fervently, and taking his harp again, he poured his whole spirit into the strain. And as he played, it seemed as if the night wind moaned among pine-trees, but it was more mournful. And it was as the wail of a mother for her only son, and yet fuller of grief. Or like a Dead March wrung from the heart of a great musician—loading the air with sorrow—and yet all these were as nothing to it for sadness. And when the maiden heard it, it was more than she could bear, and her heart broke, as the Neck had said. Then the young man sprang to shore, and when she could see his face clearly, her soul passed, and her body fell like a snapped flower to the earth.
Now when the young man knew what was befallen, he fell upon the Neck to kill him, who said, "Thou mayest spare thyself this trouble, for in a few moments I shall be dead. But do thou take my robe and my harp, and thou shalt be a famous musician."
Now even as the Neck spoke the sun sank, and he fell upon his face. And when the young man lifted the robe, behold there was nothing under it but the harp, across which there swept such a wild and piteous chord that all the strings burst as if with unutterable grief.
Then the young man lifted the body of his sweetheart in his arms, and carried her home, and she was buried with many tears.
And in due time he put fresh strings to the harp, which, though it was not as when it was in the hands of the Neck, yet it made most exquisite music. And the young man became a famous musician. For out of suffering comes song.
Furthermore, he occupied himself in good works until that his time also came.
* * * * *
And in Eternity Love was made secure.
THE NIX IN MISCHIEF.
A certain lake in Germany was once the home of a Nix, who became tired of the monotony of life under water, and wished to go into the upper world and amuse himself.
His friends and relations all tried to dissuade him. "Be wise," said they, "and remain where you are safe, seeing that no business summons you from the lake. Few of our kindred have had dealings with the human race without suffering from their curiosity or clumsiness; and, do them what good you may, in the long run you will reap nothing but ingratitude. From how many waters have they not already banished us? Wherefore let well alone, and stay where you are."
But this counsel did not please the Nix—(as, indeed, there is no reason to suppose that advice is more palatable under water than on dry land)—and he only said, "I shall not expect gratitude, for I have no intention of conferring benefits; but I wish to amuse myself. The Dwarfs and Kobolds play what pranks they please on men and women, and they do not always have the worst of it. When I hear of their adventures, the soles of my feet tingle. This is a sign of travelling, and am I to be debarred from fun because I live in a lake instead of a hill?"
His friends repeated their warnings, but to no purpose. The Nix remained unconvinced, and spent his time in dreaming of the clever tricks by which he should outwit the human race, and the fame he would thereby acquire on his return to the lake.
Mischief seldom lacks opportunity, and shortly after this it happened that a young girl came down to the lake for water to wash with; and dipping her pail just above the Nix's head, in a moment he jumped in, and was brought safe to land. The maid was Bess, the washerwoman's daughter; and as she had had one good scolding that morning for oversleeping herself, and another about noon for dawdling with her work, she took up the pail and set off home without delay.
But though she held it steadily enough, the bucket shook, and the water spilled hither and thither. Thinking that her right arm might be tired, she moved the weight to her left, but with no better success, for the water still spilled at every step. "One would think there were fishes in the pail," said Bess, as she set it down. But there was nothing to be seen but a thin red water-worm wriggling at the bottom, such as you may see any day in a soft-water tub. It was in this shape, however, that the Nix had disguised himself, and he almost writhed out of his skin with delight at the success of his first essay in mischief.
When they once more set forward the Nix leaped and jumped harder than ever, so that not only was the water spilled, but the maiden's dress was soaked, and her tears dropped almost as fast as the wet dripped from her clothes.
"The pail is bewitched!" cried the poor girl. "How my mother will beat me for this! And my back aches as if I were carrying lead, and yet the water is nearly all gone."
"This is something like fun!" laughed the Nix. "When I go home and relate my adventures, no dwarfs pranks will be named again!" But when Bess looked into the pail, he was the same slimy, stupid-looking worm as before. She dared not return to the lake for more water—"for," said she, "I should be as much beaten for being late as for bringing short measure, and have the labour to boot." So she took up her burden again, and the Nix began his dance afresh, and by the time they came to their journey's end, there was not a quart of water in the pail.
"Was ever a poor woman plagued with such a careless hussy?" cried the mother when she saw the dripping dress; and, as Bess had expected, she seasoned her complaints with a hearty slap. "And look what she calls a pailful of water!" added the mother, with a second blow.
"Late in the morning's unlucky all day," thought poor Bess, and, as her mother curled her, she screamed till the house rang with the noise; for she had good lungs, and knew that it is well to cry out before one gets too much hurt.
Meanwhile the Nix thought she was enduring agonies, and could hardly contain his mischievous glee; and when the woman bade her "warm some water quickly for the wash," he was in no way disturbed, for he had never seen boiling water, and only anticipated fresh sport as he slipped from the pail into the kettle.
"Now," cried the mother sharply, "see if you can lift that without slopping your clothes."
"Aye, aye," laughed the Nix, "see if you can, my dear!" and as poor Bess seized it in her sturdy red hands he began to dance as before. But the kettle had a lid, which the pail had not. Moreover Bess was a strong, strapping lass, and, stimulated by the remembrance of her mother's slaps, with a vigorous effort she set the kettle on the fire. "I shall be glad when I'm safely in bed," she muttered. "Everything goes wrong to-day."
"It is warm in here," said the Nix to himself, after a while; "in fact—stuffy. But one must pay something for a frolic, and it tickles my ears to hear that old woman rating her daughter for my pranks. Give me time and opportunity, and I'll set the whole stupid race by the ears. There she goes again! It is worth enduring a little discomfort, though it certainly is warm, and I fancy it grows warmer."
By degrees the bottom of the kettle grew quite hot, and burnt the Nix, so that he had to jump up and down in the water to keep himself cool. The noise of this made the woman think that the kettle was boiling, and she began to scold her daughter as before, shouting, "Are you coming with that tub to-night or not? The water is hot already."
This time the Nix laughed (as they say) on the other side of his mouth; for the water had now become as hot as the bottom of the kettle, and he screamed at the top of his shrill tiny voice with pain.
"How the kettle sings to-night!" said Bess, "and how it rains!" she added. For at that moment a tremendous storm burst around the house, and the rain poured down in sheets of water, as if it meant to wash everything into the lake. The kettle now really boiled, and the lid danced up and down with the frantic leaping and jumping of the agonized Nix, who puffed and blew till his breath came out of the spout in clouds of steam.
"If your eyes were as sharp as your ears you'd see that the water is boiling over," snapped the woman; and giving her daughter a passing push, she hurried to the fire-place, and lifted the kettle on to the ground.
But no sooner had she set it down, than the lid flew off, and out jumped a little man with green teeth and a tall green hat, who ran out of the door wringing his hands and crying—
"Three hundred and three years have I lived in the water of this lake, and I never knew it boil before!"
As he crossed the threshold, a clap of thunder broke with what sounded like a peal of laughter from many voices, and then the storm ceased as suddenly as it had begun.
The woman now saw how matters stood, and did not fail next morning to fasten an old horseshoe to the door of her house. And seeing that she had behaved unjustly to her daughter, she bought her the gayest set of pink ribbons that were to be found at the next fair.
It is on record that Bess (who cared little for slaps and sharp speeches) thought this the best bargain she had ever made. But whether the Nix was equally well satisfied is not known.
THE COBBLER AND THE GHOSTS.
Long ago there lived a cobbler who had very poor wits, but by strict industry he could earn enough to keep himself and his widowed mother in comfort.
In this manner he had lived for many years in peace and prosperity, when a distant relative died who left him a certain sum of money. This so elated the cobbler that he could think of nothing else, and his only talk was of the best way of spending the legacy.
His mother advised him to lay it by against a rainy day.
"For," said she, "we have lived long in much comfort as we are, and have need of nothing; but when you grow old, or if it should please Heaven that you become disabled, you will then be glad of your savings."
But to this the cobbler would not listen. "No," said he, "if we save the money it may be stolen, but if we spend it well, we shall have the use of what we buy, and may sell it again if we are so minded."
He then proposed one purchase after another, and each was more foolish than the rest. When this had gone on for some time, one morning he exclaimed: "I have it at last! We will buy the house. It cannot be stolen or lost, and when it is ours we shall have no rent to pay, and I shall not have to work so hard."
"He will never hit on a wiser plan than that," thought the widow; "it is not to be expected." So she fully consented to this arrangement, which was duly carried out; and the bargain left the cobbler with a few shillings, which he tied up in a bag and put in his pocket, having first changed them into pence, that they might make more noise when he jingled the bag as he walked down the street.
Presently he said; "It is not fit that a man who lives in his own house, and has ready money in his pocket too, should spend the whole day in labouring with his hands. Since by good luck I can read, it would be well that I should borrow a book from the professor, for study is an occupation suitable to my present position."
Accordingly, he went to the professor, whom he found seated in his library, and preferred his request.
"What book do you want?" asked the professor.
The cobbler stood and scratched his head thoughtfully. The professor thought that he was trying to recall the name of the work; but in reality he was saying to himself: "How much additional knowledge one requires if he has risen ever so little in life! Now, if I did but know where it is proper to begin in a case full of books like this! Should one take the first on the top shelf, or the bottom shelf, to the left, or to the right?"
At last he resolved to choose the book nearest to him; so drawing it out from the rest, he answered—
"This one, if it please you, learned sir." The professor lent it to him, and he took it home and began to read.
It was, as it happened, a book about ghosts and apparitions; and the cobbler's mind was soon so full of these marvels that he could talk of nothing else, and hardly did a stroke of work for reading and pondering over what he read. He could find none of his neighbours who had seen a ghost, though most had heard of such things, and many believed in them.
"Live and learn," thought the cobbler; "here is fame as well as wealth. If I could but see a ghost there would be no more to desire." And with this intent he sallied forth late one night to the churchyard.
Meanwhile a thief (who had heard the jingle of his money-bag) resolved to profit by the cobbler's whim; so wrapping himself in a sheet, he laid wait for him in a field that he must cross to reach the church.
When the cobbler saw the white figure, he made sure, that he had now seen a ghost, and already felt proud of his own acquaintance, as a remarkable character. Meanwhile, the thief stood quite still, and the cobbler walked boldly up to him, expecting that the phantom would either vanish or prove so impalpable that he could pass through it as through a mist, of which he had read many notable instances in the professor's book. He soon found out his mistake, however, for the supposed ghost grappled him, and without loss of time relieved him of his money-bag. The cobbler (who was not wanting in courage) fastened as tightly on to the sheet, which he still held with desperate firmness when the thief had slipped through his fingers; and after waiting in vain for further marvels, he carried the sheet home to his mother, and narrated his encounter with the ghost.
"Alack-a-day! that I should have a son with so little wit!" cried the old woman; "it was no ghost, but a thief, who is now making merry with all the money we possessed."
"We have his sheet," replied her son; "and that is due solely to my determination. How could I have acted better?"
"You should have grasped the man, not the sheet," said the widow, "and pummelled him till he cried out and dropped the money-bag."
"Live and learn," said the cobbler. The next night he went out as before, and this time reached the churchyard unmolested. He was just climbing the stile, when he again saw what seemed to be a white figure standing near the church. As before, it proved solid, and this time he pummelled it till his fingers bled, and for very weariness he was obliged to go home and relate his exploits. The ghost had not cried out, however, nor even so much as moved, for it was neither more nor less than a tall tombstone shining white in the moonlight.
"Alack-a-day!" cried the old woman, "that I should have a son with so little wit as to beat a gravestone till his knuckles are sore! Now if he had covered it with something black that it might not alarm timid women or children, that would at least have been an act of charity."
"Live and learn," said the cobbler. The following night he again set forth, but this time in another direction. As he was crossing a field behind his house he saw some long pieces of linen which his mother had put out to bleach in the dew.
"More ghosts!" cried the shoemaker, "and they know who is behind them. They have fallen flat at the sound of my footsteps. But one must think of others as well as oneself, and it is not every heart that is as stout as mine." Saying which he returned to the house for something black to throw over the prostrate ghosts. Now the kitchen chimney had been swept that morning, and by the back door stood a sack of soot.
"What is blacker than soot?" said the cobbler; and taking the sack, he shook it out over the pieces of linen till not a thread of white was to be seen. After which he went home, and boasted of his good deeds.
The widow now saw that she must be more careful as to what she said; so, after weighing the matter for some time, she suggested to the cobbler that the next night he should watch for ghosts at home; "for they are to be seen," said she, "as well when one is in bed as in the fields."
"There you are right," said the cobbler, "for I have this day read of a ghost that appeared to a man in his own house. The candles burnt blue, and when he had called thrice upon the apparition, he became senseless."
"That was his mistake," said the old woman. "He should have turned a deaf ear, and even pretended to slumber; but it is not every one who has courage for this. If one could really fall asleep in the face of the apparition, there would be true bravery."
"Leave that to me," said the cobbler. And the widow went off chuckling, to herself, "If he comes to any mischance by holding his tongue and going to sleep, ill-luck has got him by the leg, and counsel is wasted on him."
As soon as his mother was in bed, the cobbler prepared for his watch. First he got together all the candles in the house, and stuck them here and there about the kitchen, and sat down to watch till they should burn blue. After waiting some time, during which the candles only guttered with the draughts, the cobbler decided to go to rest for a while. "It is too early yet," he thought; "I shall see nothing till midnight."
Very soon, however, he fell asleep; but towards morning he awoke, and in the dim light perceived a figure in white at his bedside. It was a blacksmith who lived near, and he had run in in his night-shirt without so much as slippers on his feet.
"The ghost at last!" thought the cobbler, and, remembering his mother's advice, he turned over and shut his eyes.
"Neighbour! neighbour!" cried the blacksmith, "your house is on fire!"
"An old bird is not to be caught with chaff," chuckled the cobbler to himself; and he pulled the bed-clothes over his head.
"Neighbour!" roared the blacksmith, snatching at the quilt to drag it off, "are you mad? The house is burning over your head. Get up for your life!"
"I have the courage of a general, and more," thought the cobbler; and holding tightly on to the clothes he pretended to snore.
"If you will burn, bum!" cried the blacksmith angrily, "but I mean to save my bones"—with which he ran off.
And burnt the cobbler undoubtedly would have been, had not his mother's cries at last convinced him that the candles had set fire to his house, which was wrapped in flames. With some difficulty he escaped with his life, but of all he possessed nothing remained to him but his tools and a few articles of furniture that the widow had saved.
As he was now again reduced to poverty, he was obliged to work as diligently as in former years, and passed the rest of his days in the same peace and prosperity which he had before enjoyed.
THE LAIRD AND THE MAN OF PEACE.
In the Highlands of Scotland there once lived a Laird of Brockburn, who would not believe in fairies. Although his sixth cousin on the mother's side, as he returned one night from a wedding, had seen the Men of Peace hunting on the sides of Ben Muich Dhui, dressed in green, and with silver-mounted bridles to their horses which jingled as they rode; and though Rory the fiddler having gone to play at a christening did never come home, but crossing a hill near Brockburn in a mist was seduced into a Shian or fairy turret, where, as all decent bodies well believe, he is playing still—in spite, I say, of the wise saws and experience of all his neighbours, Brockburn remained obstinately incredulous.
[Footnote 1: Shian, a Gaelic name for fairy towers, which by day are not to be told from mountain crags.]
Not that he bore any ill-will to the Good People, or spoke uncivilly of them; indeed he always disavowed any feeling of disrespect towards them if they existed, saying that he was a man of peace himself, and anxious to live peaceably with whatever neighbours he had, but that till he had seen one of the Daoine Shi he could not believe in them.
[Footnote 2: Daoine Shi (pronounced Dheener Shee) = Men of Peace.]
Now one afternoon, between Hallowmas and Yule, it chanced that the Laird, being out on the hills looking for some cattle, got parted from his men and dogs and was overtaken by a mist, in which, familiar as the country was to him, he lost his way.
In vain he raised his voice high, and listened low, no sound of man or beast came back to him through the thickening vapour.
Then night fell, and darkness was added to the fog, so that Brockburn needed to sound every step with his rung before he took it.
[Footnote 3: Rung = a thick stick.]
Suddenly light footsteps pattered beside him, then Something rubbed against him, then It ran between his legs. The delighted Laird made sure that his favourite collie had found him once more.
"Wow, Jock, man!" he cried; "but ye needna throw me on my face. What's got ye the night, that you should lose your way in a bit mist?"
To this a voice from the level of his elbow replied, in piping but patronizing tones;
"Never did I lose my way in a mist since the night that Finn crossed over to Ireland in the Dawn of History. Eh, Laird! I'm weel acquaint with every bit path on the hill-side these hundreds of years, and I'll guide ye safe hame, never fear!"
The hairs on Brockburn's head stood on end till they lifted his broad bonnet, and a damp chill broke out over him that was not the fog. But, for all that, he stoutly resisted the evidence of his senses, and only felt about him for the collie's head to pat, crying:
"Bark! Jock, my mannie, bark! Then I'll recognize your voice, ye ken. It's no canny to hear ye speak like a Christian, my wee doggie."
"I'm nae your doggie, I'm a Man of Peace," was the reply. "Dinna miscall your betters, Brockburn: why will ye not credit our existence, man?"
"Seein's believin'," said the Laird, stubbornly; "but the mist's ower thick for seein' the night, ye ken."
"Turn roun' to your left, man, and ye'll see," said the Dwarf, and catching Brockburn by the arm, he twisted him swiftly round three times, when a sudden blaze of light poured through the mist, and revealed a crag of the mountain well known to the Laird, and which he now saw to be a kind of turret, or tower.
Lights shone gaily through the crevices or windows of the Shian, and sounds of revelry came forth, among which fiddling was conspicuous. The tune played at that moment was "Delvyn-side."
Blinded by the light, and amazed at what he saw, the Laird staggered, and was silent.
"Keep to your feet, man—keep to your feet!" said the Dwarf, laughing. "I doubt ye're fou, Brockburn!"
"I'm nae fou," said the Laird, slowly, his rung grasped firmly in his hand, and his bonnet set back from his face, which was deadly pale. "But—man-is yon Rory? I'd know his fiddle in a thousand."
"Ask no questions, and ye'll be tellt no lees," said the Dwarf. Then stepping up to the door of the Shian, he stood so that the light from within fell full upon him, and the astonished Laird saw a tiny but well-proportioned man, with delicate features, and golden hair flowing over his shoulders. He wore a cloak of green cloth, lined with daisies, and had silver shoes. His beautiful face quivered with amusement, and he cried triumphantly, "D'ye see me?—d'ye see me noo, Brockburn?"
"Aye, aye," said the Laird; "and seein's believin'."
"Then roun' wi' ye!" shouted the Man of Peace; and once more seizing the Laird by the arm, he turned him swiftly round—this time, to the right—and at the third turn the light vanished, and Brockburn and the Man of Peace were once more alone together in the mist.
"Aweel, Brockburn," said the Man of Peace, "I'll alloo ye're candid, and have a convincible mind. I'm no ill disposit to ye, and yese get safe hame, man."
As he spoke he stooped down, and picking up half-a-dozen big stones from the mountain-side, he gave them to the Laird, saying, "If the gudewife asks ye about the bit stanes, say ye got them in a compliment."
[Footnote 4: "In a compliment" = "as a present."]
Brockburn put them into his pocket, briefly saying, "I'm obleeged to ye;" but as he followed the Man of Peace down the hill-side, he found the obligation so heavy, that from time to time he threw a stone away, unobserved, as he hoped, by his companion. When the first stone fell, the Man of Peace looked sharply round, saying:
"It'll be me striking my rung upon the ground," said the Laird.
"You're mad," said the Man of Peace, and Brockburn felt sure that he knew the truth, and was displeased. But as they went on, the stones were so heavy, and bumped the Laird's side so hard, that he threw away a second, dropping it as gently as he could. But the sound of its fall did not escape the ears of the Man of Peace, who cried as before:
"It's jest a nasty hoast that I have," said the Laird.
[Footnote 5: "Hoast" = cough.]
"Man, you're daft," said the Dwarf, contemptuously; "that's what ails ye."
The Laird now resolved to be prudent, but the inconvenience of his burden was so great that after a while he resolved to risk the displeasure of the Man of Peace once more, and gently slipped a third stone to the ground.
"Third time's lucky," he thought. But the proverb failed him, for the Dwarf turned as before, shouting: "What's yon?"
"It'll be my new brogues that ye hear bumpin' Upon the muckle stanes," said the Laird.
[Footnote 6: "Brogues" = shoes.]
"Ye're fou, Brockburn, I tellt ye so. Ye're fou!" growled the Man of Peace, angrily, and the Laird dared not drop any more of the Dwarfs gifts. After a while his companion's good-humour seemed to return, and he became talkative and generous.
"I mind your great-grandfather weel, Brockburn. He was a hamely man, I found his sheep for him one nicht on this verra hill-side. Mair by token, ye'll find your beasties at hame, and the men and the dogs forebye."
The Laird thanked him heartily, and after a while the Dwarf became more liberal-spirited still.
"Yese no have to say that ye've been with the Daoine Shi and are no the better for it," he said. "I'm thinking I'll grant ye three wushes. But choose wisely, man, and dinna throw them away. I hae my fears that ye're no without a bee in your bonnet, Brockburn."
Incensed by this insinuation, the Laird defended his own sagacity at some length, and retorted on his companion with doubts of the power of the Daoine Shi to grant wishes.
"The proof of the pudding's in the eating o't," said the Man of Peace. "Wush away, Brockburn, and mak the nut as hard to crack as ye will."
The Laird at once began to cast about in his mind for three wishes sufficiently comprehensive to secure his lifelong prosperity; but the more he beat his brains the less could he satisfy himself.
How many miles he wandered thus, the Dwarf keeping silently beside him, he never knew, before he sank exhausted on the ground, saying:
"I'm thinking, man, that if ye could bring hame to me, in place of bringing me hame, I'd misdoubt your powers nae mair. It's a far cry to Loch Awe, ye ken, and it's a weary long road to Brockburn."
[Footnote 7: "It's a far cry to Loch Awe."—Scotch Proverb.]
"Is this your wush?" asked the Man of Peace.
"This is my wush," said the Laird, striking his rung upon the ground.
The words had scarcely passed his lips when the whole homestead of Brockburn, house and farm buildings, was planted upon the bleak hill-side.
The astonished Laird now began to bewail the rash wish which had removed his home from the sheltered and fertile valley where it originally stood to the barren side of a bleak mountain.
The Man of Peace, however, would not take any hints as to undoing his work of his own accord. All he said was:
"If ye wush it away, so it'll be. But then ye'll only have one wush left. Ye've small discretion the nicht, Brockburn, I'm feared."
"To leave the steading in sic a spot is no to be thought on," sighed the Laird, as he spent his second wish in undoing his first. But he cannily added the provision:
"And ye may tak me wi' it."
The words were no sooner spoken than the homestead was back in its place, and Brockburn himself was lying in his own bed, Jock, his favourite collie, barking and licking his face by turns for joy.
"Whisht, whisht, Jock!" said the Laird. "Ye wouldna bark when I begged of ye, so ye may hand your peace noo."
And pushing the collie from him, he sat up in bed and looked anxiously but vainly round the chamber for the Man of Peace.
"Lie doun, lie doun," cried the gudewife from beside him. "Ye're surely out o' your wuts, Brockburn. Would ye gang stravaging about the country again the nicht?"
"Where is he?" cried the Laird.
"There's not a soul here but your lawful wife and your ain dear doggie. Was there ae body that ye expected?" asked his wife.
"The Man o' Peace, woman!" cried Brockburn. "I've ane o' my wushes to get, and I maun hae't."
"The man's mad!" was the gudewife's comment. "Ye've surely forgotten yoursel, Brockburn. Ye never believed in the Daoine Shi before."
"Seein's believin'," said the Laird. "I forgathered with a Man o' Peace the nicht on the hill, and I wush I just saw him again."
As the Laird spoke the window of the chamber was lit up from without, and the Man of Peace appeared sitting on the window-ledge in his daisy-lined cloak, his feet hanging down into the room, the silver shoes glittering as they dangled.
"I'm here, Brockburn!" he cried. "But eh, man! ye've had your last wush."
And even as the stupefied Laird gazed, the light slowly died away, and the Man of Peace vanished also.
On the following morning the Laird was roused from sleep by loud cries of surprise and admiration.
The good wife had been stirring for some hours, and in emptying the pockets of her good man's coat she had found three huge cairngorms of exquisite tint and lustre. Brockburn thus discovered the value of the gifts, half of which he had thrown away.
But no subsequent visits to the hill-side led to their recovery. Many a time did the Laird bring home a heavy pocketful of stones, at the thrifty gudewife's bidding, but they only proved to be the common stones of the mountain-side. The Shian could never be distinguished from any other crag, and the Daoine Shi were visible no more.
Yet it is said that the Laird of Brockburn prospered and throve thereafter, in acre, stall, and steading, as those seldom prosper who have not the good word of the People of Peace.
THE OGRE COURTING.
In days when ogres were still the terror of certain districts, there was one who had long kept a whole neighbourhood in fear without any one daring to dispute his tyranny.
By thefts and exactions, by heavy ransoms from merchants too old and tough to be eaten, in one way and another, the Ogre had become very rich; and although those who knew could tell of huge cellars full of gold and jewels, and yards and barns groaning with the weight of stolen goods, the richer he grew the more anxious and covetous he became. Moreover, day by day, he added to his stores; for though (like most ogres) he was as stupid as he was strong, no one had ever been found, by force or fraud, to get the better of him.
What he took from the people was not their heaviest grievance. Even to be killed and eaten by him was not the chance they thought of most. A man can die but once; and if he is a sailor, a shark may eat him, which is not so much better than being devoured by an ogre. No, that was not the worst. The worst was this—he would keep getting married. And as he liked little wives, all the short women lived in fear and dread. And as his wives always died very soon, he was constantly courting fresh ones.
Some said he ate his wives; some said he tormented, and others, that he only worked them to death. Everybody knew it was not a desirable match, and yet there was not a father who dare refuse his daughter if she were asked for. The Ogre only cared for two things in a woman—he liked her to be little, and a good housewife.
Now it was when the Ogre had just lost his twenty-fourth wife (within the memory of man) that these two qualities were eminently united in the person of the smallest and most notable woman of the district, the daughter of a certain poor farmer. He was so poor that he could not afford properly to dower his daughter, who had in consequence remained single beyond her first youth. Everybody felt sure that Managing Molly must now be married to the Ogre. The tall girls stretched themselves till they looked like maypoles, and said, "Poor thing!" The slatterns gossiped from house to house, the heels of their shoes clacking as they went, and cried that this was what came of being too thrifty.
And sure enough, in due time, the giant widower came to the farmer as he was in the field looking over his crops, and proposed for Molly there and then. The farmer was so much put out that he did not know what he said in reply, either when he was saying it, or afterwards, when his friends asked about it. But he remembered that the Ogre had invited himself to sup at the farm that day week.
Managing Molly did not distress herself at the news.
"Do what I bid you, and say as I say," said she to her father, "and if the Ogre does not change his mind, at any rate you shall not come empty-handed out of the business."
By his daughter's desire the farmer now procured a large number of hares, and a barrel of white wine, which expenses completely emptied his slender stocking, and on the day of the Ogre's visit, she made a delicious and savoury stew with the hares in the biggest pickling tub, and the wine-barrel was set on a bench near the table.
When the Ogre came, Molly served up the stew, and the Ogre sat down to sup, his head just touching the kitchen rafters. The stew was perfect, and there was plenty of it. For what Molly and her father ate was hardly to be counted in the tubful. The Ogre was very much pleased, and said politely:
"I'm afraid, my dear, that you have been put to great trouble and expense on my account, I have a large appetite, and like to sup well."
"Don't mention it, sir," said Molly. "The fewer rats the more corn. How do you cook them?"
"Not one of all the extravagant hussies I have had as wives ever cooked them at all," said the Ogre; and he thought to himself, "Such a stew out of rats! What frugality! What a housewife!"
When he broached the wine, he was no less pleased, for it was of the best.
"This, at any rate, must have cost you a great deal, neighbour," said he, drinking the farmer's health as Molly left the room.
"I don't know that rotten apples could be better used," said the farmer; "but I leave all that to Molly. Do you brew at home?"
"We give our rotten apples to the pigs," growled the Ogre. "But things will be better ordered when she is my wife."
The Ogre was now in great haste to conclude the match, and asked what dowry the farmer would give his daughter.
"I should never dream of giving a dowry with Molly," said the farmer, boldly. "Whoever gets her, gets dowry enough. On the contrary, I shall expect a good round sum from the man who deprives me of her. Our wealthiest farmer is just widowed, and therefore sure to be in a hurry for marriage. He has an eye to the main chance, and would not grudge to pay well for such a wife, I'll warrant."
"I'm no churl myself," said the Ogre, who was anxious to secure his thrifty bride at any price; and he named a large sum of money, thinking, "We shall live on rats henceforward, and the beef and mutton will soon cover the dowry."
"Double that, and we'll see," said the farmer, stoutly.
But the Ogre became angry, and cried; "What are you thinking of, man? Who is to hinder my carrying your lass off, without 'with your leave' or 'by your leave,' dowry or none?"
"How little you know her!" said the farmer. "She is so firm that she would be cut to pieces sooner than give you any benefit of her thrift, unless you dealt fairly in the matter."
"Well, well," said the Ogre, "let us meet each other." And he named a sum larger than he at first proposed, and less than the farmer had asked. This the farmer agreed to, as it was enough to make him prosperous for life.
"Bring it in a sack to-morrow morning," said he to the Ogre, "and then you can speak to Molly; she's gone to bed now."
The next morning, accordingly, the Ogre appeared, carrying the dowry in a sack, and Molly came to meet him.
"There are two things," said she, "I would ask of any lover of mine: a new farmhouse, built as I should direct, with a view to economy; and a feather-bed of fresh goose feathers, filled when the old woman plucks her geese. If I don't sleep well, I cannot work well."
"That is better than asking for finery," thought the Ogre; "and after all the house will be my own." So, to save the expense of labour, he built it himself, and worked hard, day after day, under Molly's orders, till winter came. Then it was finished.
"Now for the feather-bed," said Molly. "I'll sew up the ticking, and when the old woman plucks her geese, I'll let you know."
When it snows, they say the old woman up yonder is plucking her geese, and so at the first snowstorm Molly sent for the Ogre.
"Now you see the feathers falling," said she, "so fill the bed."
"How am I to catch them?" cried the Ogre.
"Stupid! don't you see them lying there in a heap?" cried Molly; "get a shovel, and set to work."
The Ogre accordingly carried in shovelfuls of snow to the bed, but as it melted as fast as he put it in, his labour never seemed done. Towards night the room got so cold that the snow would not melt, and now the bed was soon filled.
Molly hastily covered it with sheets and blankets, and said: "Pray rest here to-night, and tell me if the bed is not comfort itself. To-morrow we will be married."
So the tired Ogre lay down on the bed he had filled, but, do what he would, he could not get warm.
"The sheets must be damp," said he, and in the morning he woke with such horrible pains in his bones that he could hardly move, and half the bed had melted away. "It's no use," he groaned, "she's a very managing woman, but to sleep on such a bed would be the death of me." And he went off home as quickly as he could, before Managing Molly could call upon him to be married; for she was so managing that he was more than half afraid of her already.
When Molly found that he had gone, she sent the farmer after him.
"What does he want?" cried the Ogre, when they told him the farmer was at the door.
"He says the bride is waiting for you," was the reply.
"Tell him I'm too ill to be married," said the Ogre.
But the messenger soon returned:
"He says she wants to know what you will give her to make up for the disappointment."
"She's got the dowry, and the farm, and the feather-bed," groaned the Ogre; "what more does she want?"
But again the messenger returned:
"She says you've pressed the feather-bed flat, and she wants some more goose feathers."
"There are geese enough in the yard," yelled the Ogre, "Let him drive them home; and if he has another word to say, put him down to roast."
The farmer, who overheard this order, lost no time in taking his leave, and as he passed through the yard he drove home as fine a flock of geese as you will see on a common.
It is said that the Ogre never recovered from the effects of sleeping on the old woman's goose feathers, and was less powerful than before.
As for Managing Molly, being now well dowered, she had no lack of offers of marriage, and was soon mated to her mind.
THE MAGICIANS' GIFTS.
There was once a king in whose dominions lived no less than three magicians.
When the king's eldest son was christened, the king invited the three magicians to the christening feast, and to make the compliment the greater, he asked one of them to stand godfather. But the other two, who were not asked to be godfathers, were so angry at what they held to be a slight, that they only waited to see how they might best revenge themselves upon the infant prince.
When the moment came for presenting the christening gifts, the godfather magician advanced to the cradle and said, "My gift is this: Whatever he wishes for he shall have. And only I who give shall be able to recall this gift." For he perceived the jealousy of the other magicians, and knew that, if possible, they would undo what he did. But the second magician muttered in his beard, "And yet I will change it to a curse." And coming up to the cradle, he said, "The wishes that he has thus obtained he shall not be able to revoke or change."
Then the third magician grumbled beneath his black robe, "If he were very wise and prudent he might yet be happy. But I will secure his punishment." So he also drew near to the cradle, and said, "For my part, I give him a hasty temper."
After which, the two dissatisfied magicians withdrew together, saying, "Should we permit ourselves to be slighted for nothing?"
But the king and his courtiers were not at all disturbed.
"My son has only to be sure of what he wants," said the king, "and then, I suppose, he will not desire to recall his wishes."
And the courtiers added, "If a prince may not have a hasty temper, who may, we should like to know?"
And everybody laughed, except the godfather magician, who went out sighing and shaking his head, and was seen no more.
Whilst the king's son was yet a child, the gift of the godfather magician began to take effect. There was nothing so rare and precious that he could not obtain it, or so difficult that it could not be accomplished by his mere wish. But, on the other hand, no matter how inconsiderately he spoke, or how often he changed his mind, what he had once wished must remain as he had wished it, in spite of himself; and as he often wished for things that were bad for him, and oftener still wished for a thing one day and regretted it the next, his power was the source of quite as much pain as pleasure to him. Then his temper was so hot, that he was apt hastily to wish ill to those who offended him, and afterwards bitterly to regret the mischief that he could not undo. Thus, one after another, the king appointed his trustiest counsellors to the charge of his son, who, sooner or later, in the discharge of their duty, were sure to be obliged to thwart him; on which the impatient prince would cry, "I wish you were at the bottom of the sea with your rules and regulations;" and the counsellors disappeared accordingly, and returned no more.
When there was not a wise man left at court, and the king himself lived in daily dread of being the next victim, he said, "Only one thing remains to be done: to find the godfather magician, and persuade him to withdraw his gift."
So the king offered rewards, and sent out messengers in every direction, but the magician was not to be found. At last, one day he met a blind beggar, who said to him, "Three nights ago I dreamed that I went by the narrowest of seven roads to seek what you are looking for, and was successful."
When the king returned home, he asked his courtiers, "Where are there seven roads lying near to each other, some broad, and some narrow?" And one of them replied, "Twenty-one miles to the west of the palace is a four-cross road, where three field-paths also diverge."
To this place the king made his way, and taking the narrowest of the field-paths, went on and on till it led him straight into a cave, where an old woman sat over a fire.
"Does a magician live here?" asked the king.
"No one lives here but myself," said the old woman. "But as I am a wise woman I may be able to help you if you need it."
The king then told her of his perplexities, and how he was desirous of finding the magician, to persuade him to recall his gift.
"He could not recall the other gifts," said the wise woman. "Therefore it is better that the prince should be taught to use his power prudently and to control his temper. And since all the persons capable of guiding him have disappeared, I will return with you and take charge of him myself. Over me he will have no power."
To this the king consented, and they returned together to the palace, where the wise woman became guardian to the prince, and she fulfilled her duties so well that he became much more discreet and self-controlled. Only at times his violent temper got the better of him, and led him to wish what he afterwards vainly regretted.
Thus all went well till the prince became a man, when, though he had great affection for her, he felt ashamed of having an old woman for his counsellor, and he said, "I certainly wish that I had a faithful and discreet adviser of my own age and sex."
On that very day a young nobleman offered himself as companion to the prince, and as he was a young man of great ability, he was accepted: whereupon the old woman took her departure, and was never seen again.
The young nobleman performed his part so well that the prince became deeply attached to him, and submitted in every way to his counsels. But at last a day came when, being in a rage, the advice of his friend irritated him, and he cried hastily, "Will you drive me mad with your long sermons? I wish you would hold your tongue for ever." On which the young nobleman became dumb, and so remained. For he was not, as the wise woman had been, independent of the prince's power.
The prince's grief and remorse knew no bounds. "Am I not under a curse?" said he. "Truly I ought to be cast out from human society, and sent to live with wild beasts in a wilderness. I only bring evil upon those I love best—indeed, there is no hope for me unless I can find my godfather, and make him recall this fatal gift."
So the prince mounted his horse, and, accompanied by his dumb friend, who still remained faithful to him, he set forth to find the magician. They took no followers, except the prince's dog, a noble hound, who was so quick of hearing that he understood all that was said to him, and was, next to the young nobleman, the wisest person at court.
"Mark well, my dog," said the prince to him, "we stay nowhere till we find my godfather, and when we find him we go no further. I rely on your sagacity to help us."
The dog licked the prince's hand, and then trotted so resolutely down a certain road that the two friends allowed him to lead them and followed close behind.
They travelled in this way to the edge of the king's dominions, only halting for needful rest and refreshment. At last the dog led them through a wood, and towards evening they found themselves in the depths of the forest, with no sign of any shelter for the night. Presently they heard a little bell, such as is rung for prayer, and the dog ran down a side path and led them straight to a kind of grotto, at the door of which stood an aged hermit.
"Does a magician live here?" asked the prince.
"No one lives here but myself," said the hermit, "but I am old, and have meditated much. My advice is at your service if you need it."
The prince then related his history, and how he was now seeking the magician godfather, to rid himself of his gift.
"And yet that will not cure your temper," said the hermit. "It were better that you employed yourself in learning to control that, and to use your power prudently."
"No, no," replied the prince; "I must find the magician."
And when the hermit pressed his advice, he cried, "Provoke me not, good father, or I may be base enough to wish you ill; and the evil I do I cannot undo."
And he departed, followed by his friend, and calling his dog. But the dog seated himself at the hermit's feet, and would not move. Again and again the prince called him, but he only whined and wagged his tail, and refused to move. Coaxing and scolding were both in vain, and when at last the prince tried to drag him off by force, the dog growled.
"Base brute!" cried the prince, flinging him from him in a transport of rage. "How have I been so deceived in you? I wish you were hanged!" And even as he spoke the dog vanished, and as the prince turned his head he saw the poor beast's body dangling from a tree above him. The sight overwhelmed him, and he began bitterly to lament his cruelty.
"Will no one hang me also," he cried, "and rid the world of such a monster?"
"It is easier to die repenting than to live amending," said the hermit; "yet is the latter course the better one. Wherefore abide with me, my son, and learn in solitude those lessons of self-government without which no man is fit to rule others."
"It is impossible," said the prince. "These fits of passion are as a madness that comes upon me, and they are beyond cure. It only remains to find my godfather, that he may make me less baneful to others by taking away the power I abuse." And raising the body of the dog tenderly in his arms, he laid it before him on his horse, and rode away, the dumb nobleman following him.
They now entered the dominions of another king, and in due time arrived at the capital. The prince presented himself to the king, and asked if he had a magician in his kingdom.
"Not to my knowledge," replied the king. "But I have a remarkably wise daughter, and if you want counsel she may be able to help you."
The princess accordingly was sent for, and she was so beautiful, as well as witty, that the prince fell in love with her, and begged the king to give her to him to wife. The king, of course, was unable to refuse what the prince wished, and the wedding was celebrated without delay; and by the advice of his wife the prince placed the body of his faithful dog in a glass coffin, and kept it near him, that he might constantly be reminded of the evil results of giving way to his anger.
For a time all went well. At first the prince never said a harsh word to his wife; but by and by familiarity made him less careful, and one day she said something that offended him, and he fell into a violent rage. As he went storming up and down, the princess wrung her hands, and cried, "Ah, my dear husband, I beg of you to be careful what you say to me. You say you loved your dog, and yet you know where he lies."
"I know that I wish you were with him, with your prating!" cried the prince, in a fury; and the words were scarcely out of his mouth when the princess vanished from his side, and when he ran to the glass coffin, there she lay, pale and lifeless, with her head upon the body of the hound.
The prince was now beside himself with remorse and misery, and when the dumb nobleman made signs that they should pursue their search for the magician, he only cried, "Too late! too late!"
But after a while he said, "I will return to the hermit, and pass the rest of my miserable life in solitude and penance. And you, dear friend, go back to my father."
But the dumb nobleman shook his head, and could not be persuaded to leave the prince. Then they took the glass coffin on their shoulders, and on foot, and weeping as they went, they retraced their steps to the forest.
For some time the prince remained with the hermit, and submitted himself to his direction. Then the hermit bade him return to his father, and he obeyed.
Every day the prince stood by the glass coffin, and beat his breast and cried, "Behold, murderer, the fruits of anger!" And he tried hard to overcome the violence of his temper. When he lost heart he remembered a saying of the hermit: "Patience had far to go, but she was crowned at last." And after a while the prince became as gentle as he had before been violent. And the king and all the court rejoiced at the change; but the prince remained sad at heart, thinking of the princess.
One day he was sitting alone, when a man approached him, dressed in a long black robe.
"Good-day, godson," said he.
"Who calls me godson?" said the prince.
"The magician you have so long sought," said the godfather. "I have come to reclaim my gift."
"What cruelty led you to bestow it upon me?" asked the prince.
"The king, your father, would have been dissatisfied with any ordinary present from me," said the magician, "forgetting that the responsibilities of common gifts, and very limited power, are more than enough for most men to deal with. But I have not neglected you. I was the wise woman who brought you up. Again, I was the hermit, as your dog was sage enough to discover. I am come now to reclaim what has caused you such suffering."
"Alas!" cried the prince, "why is your kindness so tardy? If you have not forgotten me, why have you withheld this benefit till it is too late for my happiness? My friend is dumb, my wife is dead, my dog is hanged. When wishes cannot reach these, do you think it matters to me what I may command?"
"Softly, prince," said the magician; "I had a reason for the delay. But for these bitter lessons you would still be the slave of the violent temper which you have conquered, and which, as it was no gift of mine, I could not remove. Moreover, when the spell which made all things bend to your wish is taken away, its effects also are undone. Godson! I recall my gift."
As the magician spoke the glass sides of the coffin melted into the air, and the princess sprang up, and threw herself into her husband's arms. The dog also rose, stretched himself, and wagged his tail. The dumb nobleman ran to tell the good news to the king, and all the counsellors came back in a long train from the bottom of the sea, and set about the affairs of state as if nothing had happened.
The old king welcomed his children with open arms, and they all lived happily to the end of their days.
THE WIDOWS AND THE STRANGERS.
In days of yore, there were once two poor old widows who lived in the same hamlet and under the same roof. But though the cottages joined and one roof covered them, they had each a separate dwelling; and although they were alike in age and circumstances, yet in other respects they were very different. For one dame was covetous, though she had little to save, and the other was liberal, though she had little to give.
Now, on the rising ground opposite to the widows' cottages, stood a monastery where a few pious and charitable brethren spent their time in prayer, labour, and good works. And with the alms of these monks, and the kindness of neighbours, and because their wants were few, the old women dwelt in comfort, and had daily bread, and lay warm at night.
One evening, when the covetous old widow was having supper, there came a knock at her door. Before she opened it she hastily put away the remains of her meal.
"For," said she, "it is a stormy night, and ten to one some belated vagabond wants shelter; and when there are victuals on the table every fool must be asked to sup."
But when she opened the door, a monk came in who had his cowl pulled over his head to shelter him from the storm. The widow was much disconcerted at having kept one of the brotherhood waiting, and loudly apologized, but the monk stopped her, saying, "I fear I cut short your evening meal, my daughter."
"Now in the name of ill-luck, how came he to guess that?" thought the widow, as with anxious civility she pressed the monk to take some supper after his walk; for the good woman always felt hospitably inclined towards any one who was likely to return her kindness sevenfold.
The brother, however, refused to sup; and as he seated himself the widow looked sharply through her spectacles to see if she could gather from any distention of the folds of his frock whether a loaf, a bottle of cordial, or a new winter's cloak were most likely to crown the visit. No undue protuberance being visible about the monk's person, she turned her eyes to his face, and found that her visitor was one of the brotherhood whom she had not seen before. And not only was his face unfamiliar, it was utterly unlike the kindly but rough countenances of her charitable patrons. None that she had ever seen boasted the noble beauty, the chiselled and refined features of the monk before her. And she could not but notice that, although only one rushlight illumined her room, and though the monk's cowl went far to shade him even from that, yet his face was lit up as if by light from within, so that his clear skin seemed almost transparent. In short, her curiosity must have been greatly stirred, had not greed made her more anxious to learn what he had brought than who he was.
"It's a terrible night," quoth the monk, at length. "Such tempest without only gives point to the indoor comforts of the wealthy; but it chills the very marrow of the poor and destitute."
"Aye, indeed," sniffed the widow, with a shiver. "If it were not for the charity of good Christians, what would poor folk do for comfort on such an evening as this?"
"It was that very thought, my daughter," said the monk, with a sudden earnestness on his shining face, "that brought me forth even now through the storm to your cottage."
"Heaven reward you!" cried the widow, fervently.
"Heaven does reward the charitable!" replied the monk. "To no truth do the Scriptures bear such constant and unbroken witness; even as it is written: 'He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord; and look, what he layeth out it shall be paid him again.'"
"What a blessed thing it must be to be able to do good!" sighed the widow, piously wishing in her heart that the holy man would not delay to earn his recompense.
"My daughter," said the monk, "that blessing is not withheld from you. It is to ask your help for those in greater need than yourself that I am come to-night." And forthwith the good brother began to tell how two strangers had sought shelter at the monastery. Their house had been struck by lightning, and burnt with all it contained; and they themselves, aged, poor, and friendless, were exposed to the fury of the storm. "Our house is a poor one," continued the monk. "The strangers' lodging room was already full, and we are quite without the means of making these poor souls comfortable. You at least have a sound roof over your head, and if you can spare one or two things for the night, they shall be restored to you to-morrow, when some of our guests depart."
The widow could hardly conceal her vexation and disappointment. "Now, dear heart, holy father!" cried she, "is there not a rich body in the place, that you come for charity to a poor old widow like me, that am in a case rather to borrow myself than to lend to others?"
"Can you spare us a blanket?" said the monk. "These poor strangers have been out in the storm, remember."
The widow started. "What meddling busybody told him that the Baroness gave me a new blanket at Michaelmas?" thought she; but at last, very unwillingly, she went to an inner room to fetch a blanket from her bed.
"They shan't have the new one, that's flat," muttered the widow; and she drew out the old one and began to fold it up. But though she had made much of its thinness and insufficiency to the Baroness, she was so powerfully affected at parting with it, that all its good qualities came strongly to her mind.
"It's a very suitable size," she said to herself, "and easy for my poor old arms to shake or fold. With careful usage, it would last for years yet; but who knows how two wandering bodies that have been tramping miles through the storm may kick about in their sleep? And who knows if they're decent folk at all? likely enough they're two hedge birds, who have imposed a pitiful tale on the good fathers, and never slept under anything finer than a shock of straw in their lives."
The more the good woman thought of this, the more sure she felt that such was the case, and the less willing she became to lend her blanket to "a couple of good-for-nothing tramps." A sudden idea decided her. "Ten to one they bring fever with them!" she cried; "and dear knows I saw enough good bedding burnt after the black fever, three years ago! It would be a sin and a shame to burn a good blanket like this." And repeating "a sin and a shame" with great force, the widow restored the blanket to its place.
"The coverlet's not worth much," she thought; "but my goodman bought it the year after we were married, and if anything happened to it I should never forgive myself. The old shawl is good enough for tramps." Saying which she took a ragged old shawl from a peg, and began to fold it up. But even as she brushed and folded, she begrudged the faded rag.
"It saves my better one on a bad day," she sighed; "but I suppose the father must have something."
And accordingly she took it to the monk, saying, "It's not so good as it has been, but there's warmth in it yet, and it cost a pretty penny when new."
"And is this all that you can spare to the poor houseless strangers?" asked the monk.
"Aye, indeed, good father," said she, "and that will cost me many a twinge of rheumatics. Folk at my age can't lie cold at night for nothing."
"These poor strangers," said the monk, "are as aged as yourself, and have lost everything."
But as all he said had no effect in moving the widow's compassion, he departed, and knocked at the door of her neighbour. Here he told the same tale, which met with a very different hearing. This widow was one of those liberal souls whose possessions always make them feel uneasy unless they are being accepted, or used, or borrowed by some one else. She blessed herself that, thanks to the Baroness, she had a new blanket fit to lend to the king himself, and only desired to know with what else she could serve the poor strangers and requite the charities of the brotherhood.
The monk confessed that all the slender stock of household goods in the monastery was in use, and one after another he accepted the loan of almost everything the widow had. As she gave the things he put them out through the door, saying that he had a messenger outside; and having promised that all should be duly restored on the morrow, he departed, leaving the widow with little else than an old chair in which she was to pass the night.
When the monk had gone, the storm raged with greater fury than before, and at last one terrible flash of lightning struck the widows' house, and though it did not hurt the old women, it set fire to the roof, and both cottages were soon ablaze. Now as the terrified old creatures hobbled out into the storm, they met the monk, who, crying, "Come to the monastery!" seized an arm of each, and hurried them up the hill. To such good purpose did he help them, that they seemed to fly, and arrived at the convent gate they hardly knew how.
Under a shed by the wall were the goods and chattels of the liberal widow.
"Take back thine own, daughter," said the monk; "thy charity hath brought its own reward."
"But the strangers, good father?" said the perplexed widow.
"Ye are the strangers," answered the monk; "and what thy pity thought meet to be spared for the unfortunate, Heaven in thy misfortune hath spared to thee."
Then turning to the other widow, he drew the old shawl from beneath his frock, and gave it to her, saying, "I give you joy, dame, that this hath escaped the flames. It is not so good as it has been; but there is warmth in it yet, and it cost a pretty penny when new."
Full of confusion, the illiberal widow took back her shawl, murmuring, "Lack-a-day! If I had but known it was ourselves the good father meant!"
The monk gave a shrewd smile.
"Aye, aye, it would have been different, I doubt not," said he; "but accept the lesson, my daughter, and when next thou art called upon to help the unfortunate, think that it is thine own needs that would be served; and it may be thou shalt judge better as to what thou canst spare."
As he spoke, a flash of lightning lit up the ground where the monk stood, making a vast aureole about him in the darkness of the night. In the bright light, his countenance appeared stern and awful in its beauty, and when the flash was passed, the monk had vanished also.
Furthermore, when the widows sought shelter in the monastery, they found that the brotherhood knew nothing of their strange visitor.
KIND WILLIAM AND THE WATER SPRITE.
There once lived a poor weaver, whose wife died a few years after their marriage. He was now alone in the world except for their child, who was a very quick and industrious little lad, and, moreover, of such an obliging disposition that he gained the nickname of Kind William.
On his seventh birthday his father gave him a little net with a long handle, and with this Kind William betook himself to a shallow part of the river to fish. After wandering on for some time, he found a quiet pool dammed in by stones, and here he dipped for the minnows that darted about in the clear brown water. At the first and second casts he caught nothing, but with the third he landed no less than twenty-one little fishes, and such minnows he had never seen, for as they leaped and struggled in the net they shone with alternate tints of green and gold.
He was gazing at them with wonder and delight, when a voice behind him cried, in piteous tones—
"Oh, my little sisters! Oh, my little sisters!"
Kind William turned round, and saw, sitting on a rock that stood out of the stream, a young girl weeping bitterly. She had a very pretty face, and abundant yellow hair of marvellous length, and of such uncommon brightness that even in the shade it shone like gold. She was dressed in grass green, and from her knees downwards she was hidden by the clumps of fern and rushes that grew by the stream.
"What ails you, my little lass?" said Kind William.
But the maid only wept more bitterly, and wringing her hands, repeated, "Oh, my little sisters! Oh, my little sisters!" presently adding in the same tone, "The little fishes! Oh, the little fishes!"
"Dry your eyes, and I will give you half of them," said the good-natured child; "and if you have no net you shall fish with me this afternoon."
But at this proposal the maid's sobs redoubled, and she prayed and begged with frantic eagerness that he would throw the fish back into the river. For some time Kind William would not consent to throw away his prize, but at last he yielded to her excessive grief, and emptied the net into the pool, where the glittering fishes were soon lost to sight under the sand and pebbles.
The girl now laughed and clapped her hands.
"This good deed you shall never rue, Kind William," said she, "and even now it shall repay you threefold. How many fish did you catch?"
"Twenty-one," said Kind William, not without regret in his tone.
The maid at once began to pull hairs out of her head, and did not stop till she had counted sixty-three, and laid them together in her fingers. She then began to wind the lock up into a curl, and it took far longer to wind than the sixty-three hairs had taken to pull. How long her hair really was Kind William never could tell, for after it reached her knees he lost sight of it among the fern; but he began to suspect that she was no true village maid, but a water sprite, and he heartily wished himself safe at home.
"Now," said she, when the lock was wound, "will you promise me three things?"
"If I can do so without sin," said Kind William.
"First," she continued, holding out the lock of hair, "will you keep this carefully, and never give it away? It will be for your own good."
"One never gives away gifts," said Kind William, "I promise that."
"The second thing is to spare what you have spared. Fish up the river and down the river at your will, but swear never to cast net in this pool again."
"One should not do kindness by halves," said Kind William. "I promise that also."
"Thirdly, you must never tell what you have now seen and heard till thrice seven years have passed. And now come hither, my child, and give me your little finger, that I may see if you can keep a secret."
But by this time Kind William's hairs were standing on end, and he gave the last promise more from fear than from any other motive, and seized his net to go.
"No hurry, no hurry," said the maiden (and the words sounded like the rippling of a brook over pebbles). Then bending towards him, with a strange smile, she added, "You are afraid that I shall pinch too hard, my pretty boy. Well, give me a farewell kiss before you go."
"I kiss none but the miller's lass," said Kind William, sturdily; for she was his little sweetheart. Besides, he was afraid that the water witch would enchant him and draw him down. At his answer she laughed till the echoes rang, but Kind William shuddered to hear that the echoes seemed to come from the river instead of from the hills; and they rang in his ears like a distant torrent leaping over rocks.
"Then listen to my song," said the water sprite. With which she drew some of her golden hairs over her arm, and tuning them as if they had been the strings of a harp, she began to sing:
"Warp of woollen and woof of gold: When seven and seven and seven are told."
But when Kind William heard that the river was running with the cadence of the tune, he could bear it no longer, and took to his heels. When he had run a few yards he heard a splash, as if a salmon had jumped, and on looking back he found that the yellow-haired maiden was gone.
Kind William was trustworthy as well as obliging, and he kept his word. He said nothing of his adventure. He put the yellow lock into an old china teapot that had stood untouched on the mantelpiece for years. And fishing up the river and down the river he never again cast net into the haunted pool. And in course of time the whole affair passed from his mind.
Fourteen years went by, and Kind William was Kind William still. He was as obliging as ever, and still loved the miller's daughter, who, for her part, had not forgotten her old playmate. But the miller's memory was not so good, for the fourteen years had been prosperous ones with him, and he was rich, whereas they had only brought bad trade and poverty to the weaver and his son. So the lovers were not allowed even to speak to each other.
One evening Kind William wandered by the river-side lamenting his hard fate. It was his twenty-first birthday, and he might not even receive the good wishes of the day from his old playmate. It was just growing dusk, a time when prudent bodies hurry home from the neighbourhood of fairy rings, sprite-haunted streams, and the like, and Kind William was beginning to quicken his pace, when a voice from behind him sang:
"Warp of woollen and woof of gold: When seven and seven and seven are told."
Kind William felt sure that he had heard this before, though he could not recall when or where; but suspecting that it was no mortal voice that sang, he hurried home without looking behind him. Before he reached the house he remembered all, and also that on this very day his promise of secrecy expired.