Uncle Joe's Stories by Brabourne, Edward Hugessen Knatchbull-Hugessen, Baron

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[Illustration: _Front._ ZAC WINS THE PIG-RACE.--P. 57]

UNCLE JOE'S STORIES

by

THE RIGHT HON. E. H. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN, M.P.

With Illustrations by Ernest Griset

London George Routledge and Sons Broadway, Ludgate Hill New York: 416 Broome Street 1879

CONTENTS.

PAGE

UNCLE JOE 1

ZAC'S BRIDE 40

EVELYN WITH THE FAIRIES 106

CAT AND DOG 183

OPHELIA 223

THE CRONES OF MERSHAM 285

TO ALL NAUGHTY CHILDREN

(IF THERE BE ANY SUCH LEFT IN ENGLAND)

This Book

IS AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED.

MY DEAR CHILDREN--

Yes--you are "dear," and will be very "dear" to your parents and friends if you continue to be naughty. I dedicate this little book to you because I have been told (though it is scarcely possible to believe it) that I was once a naughty child myself. If it be true, it was a _very_ long time ago; and then there were not nearly so many pretty "children's books" as there are now, so I had not the same chance as you have of knowing how much best it is to be good. As soon as I found this out, I began to be good directly, and now I advise you all to do the same.

Whilst you are thinking how to manage it, you cannot do better than read a few stories about Fairies, Pigmies, Witches, and such-like interesting creatures. In these stories you will find that the good people always come out right at last, and the naughty people get into the most disagreeable scrapes. Well, this is just the same with creatures who are not Fairies nor Pigmies, nor anything of the sort. So as soon as you have read these stories--or even before doing so if you can--leave off being naughty and be good as fast as possible. By so doing you will make everybody about you happy, will become more and more happy yourselves, and will show that Fairy stories are really of some use. In this case we must have another book next year, and meanwhile I remain your affectionate friend,

E. H. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN.

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.

PAGE

ZACK WINS THE PIG-RACE (_Zac's Bride_) 57

EVELYN MEETS THE FAIRIES (_Evelyn with the Fairies_) 122

THE CAT'S LAST MUSIC-LESSON (_Cat and Dog_) 212

END OF FAMCRAM (_Ophelia_) 280

MARY AND BILLY MEET THE CRONES (_The Crones of Mersham_) 305

SIMPLE STEENIE AND THE GRAY MAN ON THE STROLL (_The Crones of Mersham_) 344

PREFACE.

I had almost made up my mind to write no more Fairy Tales, to let sprites and elves alone for ever, and to refrain from any further research into the dark and mysterious doings of warlocks and witches in the olden time. But fate is stronger than the will of man, and I am powerless to resist the influences brought to induce--nay, to compel--me to alter my determination. It is not only that verbal and written requests have come to me from many quarters which it is difficult to resist; it is not only that I am tired of being asked when my new book is coming out, and of being generally disbelieved when I answer "never." There is a stronger influence still. Fairies and elves have an extraordinary power which they exercise over those who have once sought to pry into their mysteries. If once you have dealings with such creatures, you can rarely, if ever, leave them. There is a fatality which urges you on--an irresistible fascination in the subject which brings you back to it again and again, and obliges you to recur to it in spite of yourself. When I walk out in the woods, or ramble through the fields alone, the objects which appear ordinary and commonplace to people who have, unhappily for themselves, neglected to study Fairy Lore, bear to me quite a different appearance. I see traces of the little beings which are not visible to the careless, still less to the unbelieving eye. I hear voices which are inaudible to the ear of the incredulous; and even without this, Fancy--free, glorious Fancy--clothes the grass, the flowers, the bushes, the trees, with a beauty of her own, and peoples every fairy haunt with a spirit company. Is it only Fancy? Ah! that is just what nobody knows. Only how could I tell so many different stories if nobody told them to me first?

That is a question I should like people to put to themselves calmly and quietly, and if they think, after full consideration, that some person or persons must have told me these curious stories, I hope they will come to the conclusion that I am only doing what is right and fair in passing them on to other people, so that the world may know as much as I do about the strange and wonderful beings to whom these stories relate.

UNCLE JOE'S STORIES.

UNCLE JOE.

I do not think that I ever met so extraordinary a man as Uncle Joe in all my life. We children were all very fond of him, because he had an inexhaustible supply of stories, and those, too, of a kind which are especially popular with children. He had exciting stories of almost every sort: of thrilling adventures by land and sea, of captures by pirates, hair-breadth escapes from Red Indians; fearful conflicts with robbers; terrible struggles with wild animals; and strange encounters with sea-serpents or similarly wonderful creatures. Then he knew an immense deal about giants and dwarfs, witches and wizards, ogres and vampires, and he also possessed no little insight into all that concerned fairies and fairy-land. He could tell of the little sea fairy that rode on the crest of the wave, basking pleasantly when the sun shone down on a calm still ocean, and shrieking madly with frenzied delight when the winds lashed the waves into fury, and carried her forward on the great flakes of snow-like foam; of the fairy who looked after some particular house or family, and always appeared to warn them of danger just at the right moment, or to disclose a buried treasure, exactly in time to save them from ruin; and of the happy little woodland fairies, who are to be found in the deep glades and dark ravines of the wild forest, and about whom such innumerable legends have from time to time been written by some of those fortunate mortals who have visited and been aided by them in time of sickness or danger, and who have in gratitude chronicled their power.

Nothing delighted Uncle Joe so much as to tell one of his charming stories to us, eager listeners as we always were. He liked to get one child on each knee, and to have the others clustering round as near as possible, and then he would start off and go on just for all the world as if he was only reading from a book.

Looking back now, with the calmer judgment of riper years, I hardly know which was most wonderful, the unlimited power of invention of Uncle Joe, or the boundless credulity of us children. Because no man could by any possibility have gone through half the wonderful adventures of which he pretended to have been the hero, if he had lived to twice the ordinary age of man, and kept on searching for adventures all the time. Besides, it would have been five hundred to one against his escaping every time, as Uncle Joe always did, "by the skin o' his teeth."

Once he was tied to the stake, and just going to be scalped by the Indians, when some miraculous thing (I forget what at this moment) occurred to save him; once he was in the very coils of an enormous snake, and was yet preserved; and at another time, he was actually swallowed by a crocodile, (I am sure I don't know how he got down its throat without a disabling nip from some of those teeth which I have noticed in the mouths of stuffed crocodiles in museums,) and escaped by means of employing his penknife in a manner too disagreeable to describe. In short, there never was a man who, according to his own account, had gone through such a series of remarkable adventures as Uncle Joe, and I am therefore quite justified in pronouncing him to have been a most extraordinary man.

I have never discovered what really was Uncle Joe's profession or occupation. For anything I know, he may have been a soldier, a sailor, or a horse-marine; though, for the matter of that, I have so little conception of what may be the duties of persons engaged in the latter profession, that I should dispute the claims of nobody who averred that he had belonged to it. All I know is, that he wore a blue coat with brass buttons, had a hooked nose and a bright eye, and only possessed one arm; the other I solemnly declare I have heard him state, on different occasions, to have been shot off in battle, lost in saving life from a shipwreck, when it got jammed between two planks of the sinking ship, and bitten off by a tiger, under circumstances the details of which I do not happen to remember--it was gone, however, anyhow, was that left-arm of Uncle Joe's, and its loss must have had this great consolation, that it furnished a foundation upon which he built many a romance, pleasing to himself, and interesting to his listeners.

He had been a mighty traveller, had Uncle Joe. From Canada to the farthest extremity of South America, from Constantinople to Hong-Kong, from the Straits of Gibraltar to the Cape, all was familiar to him; whilst, as to continental Europe, there seemed to be no hole or corner which he had not explored. England was like his own house to him; that is to say, he knew every county and town in one as well as he knew every room in the other. In fact, to hear him talk on these subjects, you never would for a moment have guessed that which was the real truth, namely, that he had never been further from England than Paris, and had been so particularly ill in crossing the channel that nothing but the fear of the laughter of his friends, coupled with his total and entire ignorance of the French language, prevented his settling in France for the rest of his life, sooner than again undergo the ordeal of that terrible passage.

Happily for us children, (for this occurred before we were at the age of story-hearing, or indeed at any age at all,) he _did_ face the channel once more, and never sought to tempt it again. But all this I only learned many years after, and during the whole of the early portion of my life, I (in common, I am sure, with the great majority of his acquaintance) set Uncle Joe down as a man who had seen more of the world than most living men, and knew more of the geography of foreign lands, as well as of the customs and manners of their inhabitants, than anyone whom I ordinarily met.

With all this sin, if sin it be, of exaggeration, (one wishes to use a mild word in speaking of a relative,) Uncle Joe's virtues greatly predominated over any defects which he may have possessed. He was good-natured to a fault--forgiving beyond most men--tender-hearted--a faithful friend--and full of sympathy for the woes and sorrows of others. I believe he lost a large sum of money in early life by becoming surety for some one whom he thought to be a friend, and who turned out to be an arrant scoundrel. Anyhow, he was far from rich, and was not one of those uncles who have always got a sovereign ready for a nephew going to school, or for spending at the confectioner's, if he comes to see a young relative during school-time. Still, Uncle Joe was the most popular of all our relations so far as the public opinion of the school-room was concerned, and every juvenile heart rejoiced when we were told that he was coming to spend Christmas at our home.

Upon one occasion he was expected to arrive upon the day before Christmas Eve, and we were all greatly delighted at the prospect. Fanny and Kitty, my two eldest sisters, were looking forward with much pleasure to the visits to the school-room which Uncle Joe always paid about tea-time, not only on account of the stories we were sure to hear, but because it was so very amusing to see the violent efforts which Miss Crinkles, the governess, used to make in order to avoid going into fits of laughter at some of our uncle's jokes, and the entire--though only temporary--loss of dignity which followed her inevitable failure to keep her countenance. Tom and Gerald and I (Harry is my name, and I was about twelve at the time of this story) were equally interested, and little Lucy and Mary were employed for several days beforehand in putting on their dolls' best dresses, that they might be in a fit state to receive this honoured relation.

Well, the day before Christmas Eve came--as it always comes every year, if you only look out for it--and our hearts beat high with expectation of Uncle Joe. But no Uncle Joe appeared at luncheon time (he often turned up about that time) and when tea-time had arrived, the hoped-for visit was not paid. Presently the dressing-bell rang, half-an-hour before dinner, and still no Uncle Joe. Even my father began to fidget now, and to wonder where the expected guest could be, and my mother became positively uneasy. If there was one thing rather than another about which our uncle was particular, it was the important point of being in time for dinner. The reason he always gave for this particularity was his sense of the unfairness to the cook which was occasioned by unpunctuality. No cook, he said, could contend against it, and you had no right to expect a good dinner unless you were ready to eat it at the hour for which it had been ordered.

The knowledge of this opinion on the part of Uncle Joe, and of the firmness--not to say obstinacy--with which he always maintained it--increased the uneasiness of my parents as the dinner hour grew nearer and nearer without his appearance, and when half-past seven arrived, and still no Uncle Joe, matters were held to be so serious that messengers were despatched in several directions to make inquiries whether anything had been heard or seen of the expected visitor. It was fortunate that this step was taken, because otherwise there exists a violent probability that this story might never have been told, and we children should have had to mourn over the loss of our favourite relative.

Uncle Joe was found lying by the roadside, barely a mile from our gate, at a spot where a path ran parallel with the road, but some twelve feet above it. His head was bruised and his left-arm broken, and, when found, he was insensible. There was snow on the ground: it had frozen during the day, and, about seven o'clock, light flakes of snow had begun to fall again, so that if my poor uncle had lain where he was much longer, he would either have been covered with snow, or frozen, and could in no case have come well out of the business. His story was, that, finding that he was at the station, some five miles off, in good time, he thought he would walk over to our house and have his portmanteau sent for from thence.

Some two miles from home there stood (and still stands) a convenient public-house by the road-side, bearing the respectable sign of "The Duke's Head," a staring picture of the head and shoulders of a man, displaying the prominent nose and distinctive features of the great Duke of Wellington, swinging gaily in front of the said inn. I believe it is a very old inn, and was originally named after the great Duke of Marlborough, and if England ever has another "great" Duke, I do not doubt that _his_ picture will replace the present one, and the sign will do equally well for _him_.

At this hostelry, said Uncle Joe, he had pulled up to have a glass of hot brandy-and-water to cheer him on his way, and remembered to have observed several rough-looking characters hanging about the place at the time. He journeyed on, and at the spot at which he was found had been attacked by three foot-pads, whom he declared that he had resisted stoutly, but a blow with a short stick delivered by one of them had felled him to the earth with a broken arm, while he had been rendered insensible by a similar blow upon the head. The robbers seemed to have had some object other than that of mere plunder, for although Uncle Joe declared that they had taken all his money but half-a-crown, which was found in his waistcoat-pocket, yet it was so seldom that he had much more cash about him, that no one imagined that the robbers' booty could have been great, whilst they had left his big silver watch and chain untouched, and also the large old-fashioned silver pencil-case, which he always carried about with him. This he attributed to the stubbornness of his resistance, which had made the thieves glad to get away from the neighbourhood of so desperate a fellow as quickly as possible.

They were never traced, and as the snow soon afterwards came on more heavily, their footsteps could have been scarcely seen after the space of a very short time, and no one could tell in which direction they had fled. There were some people, indeed, who winked their eyes wickedly, and laid their fore-finger waggishly against the side of their noses whenever allusion was made to the attack upon Uncle Joe. They were unkind enough to declare that our good relative's story was true enough up to the time of his stopping at the "Duke's Head," but that at that point he had quitted the limits of strict veracity. They pretended to have the authority of the landlord of that highly respectable inn for the fact, that Uncle Joe, soon after six o'clock, came in and had, not one glass, but three good "stiff" tumblers of brandy-and-water before resuming his journey. They further maintained that he had gone on merrily for a while after this, but that it had had sufficient effect upon him to have rendered it very desirable that he should have kept in the road instead of following the pathway above it. Choosing the latter, however, he had lost his equilibrium at the spot near which he was found, tumbled down the steep bank into the road, and in this manner received the injuries to head and arm which he had undoubtedly sustained. The landlord, moreover, said these unbelievers, indignantly denied that any "rough-looking characters" had been near his house upon that day, and declared that the only people there at or about the time of Uncle Joe's visit were some Christmas ringers and singers preparing for, or proceeding with, their visits to the neighbouring villages, with the view of exchanging carols and hymns for pence and half-pence wherever they found Christian people ready for such a transaction.

These reports and doubts, however, about Uncle Joe's misfortune never reached us children at the time, and, if they had, we should not for a moment have attached the smallest weight to them. In our eyes the matter was one which placed our esteemed relative still higher in the rank of heroes to which our childish thoughts had long since raised him. Nor were we frightened at the idea of foot-pads or highwaymen having suddenly made their unwonted appearance in our happy and tranquil neighbourhood. It seemed to us only natural that curious and unusual things should attend Uncle Joe wherever he went, and it was with him and his life, and not with our home and its surroundings, that we connected the circumstance of this new feature in the locality.

However, the truth or falsehood of the story mattered little to us, so long as we had got our uncle safe and sound after all. There he was, and there he continued for several weeks; for a broken head and arm required attention, and he was nowhere so likely to receive it as at our house. During this long visit we saw more of Uncle Joe than we had ever done before, and it soon became an established practice that, after our tea and before dressing-time, he should narrate to us some of those wonderful stories of which I have spoken.

One of these I will relate, as nearly as possible in the words of my revered uncle, in order that my readers may be able to imagine the kind of way in which all his stories were told. But the other tales which I propose to chronicle I will tell after a different fashion, relating the substance of Uncle Joe's narrative, but leaving out the personal allusions to his own prowess with which it was embellished. Those who read have only to imagine that in the chief personage in every story they discern Uncle Joe, and they will easily discover the little alterations which I have thought it well to make in order to vary the form of each tale. The one which I am now going to tell was a favourite one with us boys, but the girls did not like so much killing, and rather thought Uncle Joe must have been a more cruel man in the days when these adventures happened to him than at the time he recounted them. Since then I have read a great many books from the pen of Cooper, Captain Mayne Reid, and Gustave Aimard, all dealing with the doings of Red Indians, their subtlety, their treachery, their implacable revenge, and other pleasing characteristics, and I have often thought that Uncle Joe must have intended a parody upon some of their most stirring recitals of Indian adventure in the following story. But, most certainly, he told it as having happened to himself, and threw so much vehemence into his manner of telling it, that we children never for a moment doubted that such was the case.

I remember quite well the day he first told it to us; and how intensely interested in it we all were. He began it at tea-time: I think he liked to tell his most extraordinary and unlikely stories at tea-time for the benefit of Miss Crinkles, and I sometimes wonder that the questions she occasionally asked him did not create a suspicion in our minds that there was some doubt as to the truth of some of his facts. But no such suspicion, as far as I can recollect, ever dawned upon our childish imaginations, and the only result of Miss Crinkles' questions was to imbue us with increased awe and respect for our uncle, whom even our governess could not readily understand without asking for further information. It was, I say, at tea-time that this story was begun, and, I think, finished. One of us boys had expressed a great desire to hear of some Indian adventures, and Uncle Joe, ever ready to oblige, at once commenced the following narrative, perhaps one of the least likely of the many marvellous tales with which he ever favoured us.

"It was during the time which I passed in America that some of the strangest and wildest adventures of my life happened. Perhaps none of these was more remarkable than that which I am about to relate to you, and indeed I question whether many people exist who have ever encountered an adventure so extraordinary. I had roamed some way through the dense forest, far from any human habitation, accompanied only by my faithful dog "Jumbo," a magnificent Cuban bloodhound, who never left my side, and was the cleverest as well as the bravest animal I ever possessed. I had with me my trusty double-barrelled rifle, a revolver, and a hunting-knife, and had for many days depended for my supply of food upon my skill as a marksman. I remember that it was a lovely day, and as the dense foliage of the woods protected me from the heat of the sun, I rambled on and on in pleasant and listless security for many a mile. At length it happened that I approached a large tree, standing rather apart from its forest companions, and conspicuous not only by the size of its trunk, but by the magnificent limbs which it threw out on every side. I was already within a few yards of this tree when I observed something which caused me to stand still and gaze upon it before I advanced further. One large branch hung across my line of march, and in a few seconds I should have passed immediately beneath it; but it was something in connection with this very branch which arrested my footsteps. The day was perfectly calm and still; not a breath of wind was to be perceived, and yet I fancied that I saw the leaves with which this branch was thickly covered, tremble and rustle just as if a breeze was blowing through them. As I stood wondering what could be the cause of this strange occurrence, and doubtful whether or not to proceed, my doubts were cleared away in a manner more alarming than agreeable. Suddenly I perceived, rearing itself among the leaves, the hideous head of a gigantic snake. In another instant, whether to re-arrange its position or for what other reason I know not, the reptile dropped down from the branch to the length of some three or four feet, and swing for a moment or two like the pendulum of a clock, from the branch around which its tail and part of its body remained curled. I could not tell how long or large it might be, but I saw quite sufficient to assure me that it was a snake of very great size, and I shuddered to think of my possible fate had I passed beneath the branch in ignorance of its terrible tenant.

"I hastily retraced my steps for a few yards, and passing the tree at some little distance, determined to quit the neighbourhood of so dangerous a creature. The tree upon which it had taken up its position was upon the side of a somewhat steep hill, and it so happened that I had walked some way along the said hill very much lower down, and was now working my way back in a line parallel to my previous passage.

"I had not gone many yards beyond the snake's tree, before the manner of my dog attracted my attention. He threw up his head, sniffed the air uneasily, and then gave vent to a low whine which, from previous experience, I knew full well to betoken the presence of danger. At the same moment, listening with eager attention, and with an acuteness of hearing which those only possess who live such a life of wild, dangerous activity as mine was at that time, I fancied that I heard the cracking of a stick under the foot of man. It seemed to be at some distance off, and apparently far below where I was standing. The trees were too thick to enable me to see far, but creeping forward a little, and standing on the trunk of a fallen tree, I endeavoured to look down the hill as much as the fall of the ground permitted. It so happened that there was a space of ground somewhat less thickly surrounded by trees than the rest of the forest, over which I had passed in my previous journey, and it was upon this space that I looked, being many feet above it. You may imagine my feelings when I caught sight of an Indian, fully armed and decked in his war-paint, just crossing this space, and evidently examining the ground before him with the greatest care. I should have thought but little of this, indeed, but for that which followed. He crossed the space, and immediately after him came nine of his companions, horrible-looking creatures, travelling in single file and closely following in their leader's footsteps. Horror of horrors! they were upon my track. I knew it but too well! there was I, alone in the wild forest, with no less than ten deadly foes after me, whose object undoubtedly was to take my life, and not improbably with some of those tortures with which Indians delight to amuse themselves at the expense of their captives.

"Now I happened to have a decided preference for living, if I could, and, if I _must_ die, for dying in a respectable manner. The idea of having my scalp torn from my head, and hung up in the wigwam of a wild savage, was extremely repugnant to me, and I determined at once to avoid such an unpleasant catastrophe if I possibly could. The question was, however, as to the best way in which this could be accomplished. If I pushed on through the forest, it could not be long before these enemies, hardy and used to the woods, and animated with their savage desire for my life, would overtake me, when, perhaps, I might be too fatigued to offer any real resistance. If I stood firm where I was, what could I hope to do against ten men? If, on the other hand, I assumed a friendly air and advanced to meet them, I knew their treacherous nature too well to harbour for an instant the thought that they would treat me otherwise than as a captive taken in war. Indeed, should it be otherwise, my best fate would probably be to be obliged to join their tribe, very likely to marry several very unpleasant squaws, and to drag out my weary existence far away from scenes into which christianity or civilisation had penetrated. My aim, then, must be to escape from the clutches of these savages by some method or another, and I was indeed puzzled what to do. I had not much time to deliberate, and after a moment's thought, I decided to lie down flat behind the trunk of the tree on which I had been standing, and calmly await the event. I looked carefully to my rifle and revolver, both of which I ascertained to be loaded and ready for action, I bid my brave Jumbo lie down at my feet, which the intelligent animal immediately did, crouching quite close to the fallen tree, and then, having so disposed my body that I could see under one of the branches of the tree, and watch the approach of my enemies, I remained still and hoped for the best. It seemed to me hours before they came near. In reality it could not have been much more than half an hour, for the spot at which I had seen them could have been barely three miles, even by the zig-zag line which I had followed, and as I, having had no suspicion of the presence of a foe, had taken no precaution to conceal my track, they were not delayed in their pursuit by any trouble in discovering my footsteps. On they came, steadily and silently, and I saw them from my hiding-place rapidly approaching me. The foremost Indian had already arrived at the spot from which I had gazed at the overhanging branch and its fearful occupant, and stopped for an instant at the place where my footsteps ended, evidently puzzled as to what I had done, and where I had gone from that point.

"Not long, however, did he hesitate, but, casting a glance right and left, moved rapidly forward towards the tree, to discover whether any traces were to be found in that direction. Three or four of his rapid, noiseless strides brought him beneath the fatal branch: enemy as he was, I longed to warn him, despite the danger to myself, but it was more than I dared venture to do, and in another instant it was too late. With sudden and awful rapidity the snake darted downwards from the branch and struck the unfortunate wretch--a piercing yell rang through the woods, but the victim cried in vain. Encircled by the coils of the mighty reptile, his doom was sealed beyond hope, and I turned my head from the horrible sight of the last struggles of my miserable foe. His companions rushed hastily back as they saw their leader's fate, and I earnestly hoped that this misfortune would have induced them to desist from their pursuit. It was not so, however, but after the lapse of a few moments only, I saw them making casts like hounds directed by a huntsman, and presently they discovered the place where I had turned aside, and came eagerly forward on my track. There was no time to be lost: they were little more than twenty yards from my tree, and I had a full view of them. Nine more savage-looking rascals you never saw. Their war-paint made them appear even more ugly than nature had made them, although that was somewhat difficult. Only three of them carried rifles, the rest being armed, as far as I could see, only with tomahawks and hunting-knives. They were evidently "braves," or warriors, all of them, and by their appearance and the expression upon their faces, I felt very sure that they were in that excited state that my chance of mercy would be but small if I should be so unfortunate as to fall into their hands. I determined, therefore, to act with vigour and decision, and, if the worst came to the worst, to sell my life dearly at all events. When, therefore, my enemies were barely fifteen yards from me, I suddenly sprang to my feet, uttering at the same time the loudest and most outlandish howl I could command, by way of a war-cry, which Jumbo echoed by a bark more like the roar of a lion than the sound made by an ordinary dog. As I had expected, this sudden movement on my part took the Indians entirely by surprise, and caused them to come to a halt on the instant. Whilst they were thus stationary I fired both barrels of my rifle as quickly as possible, selecting as their object two of those who had firearms in their hands. The foremost man threw up his arms and dropped like a log, whilst the bullet of the second barrel, fired somewhat hastily, only struck an Indian in the shoulder. Scarcely waiting, however, to see the result, I had no sooner fired than I bounded down the hill, reloading as fast as I could, and closely followed by the faithful Jumbo. The Indians, disconcerted by the suddenness of my appearance and attack, stood still for a moment without any effort to pursue me. Not long, however, was this the case, for a wild yell of anger and revenge rang through the air, and I knew that my relentless foes were again upon my track. I did not run far, for being expert at loading, my rifle was soon ready, and I well knew that all depended upon my speedy and effective use of the trusty weapon. Not fifty yards from the spot whence I had fired my first shot, I reached an open space, across which I bounded like a deer, and placed myself behind a large tree upon the further side. A few seconds after, and the enemy rushed into the space, and at a glance I perceived that there were only seven. My shots, then, had both told! Inspirited by this good fortune, I felt my nerves grow steadier on the instant, and as the foremost savage bounded towards me, I fired upon him with deadly effect. He fell; and his six comrades immediately sought shelter in the bushes, but not before the shot from my second barrel reduced their number to five. Without an instant's delay, I darted down the hill again, at the base of which flowed a stream which I desired to reach, hoping to find some place on the opposite bank where I might make a stand. But my pursuers, grown wise by experience, no longer followed me together, but, spreading out right and left ran silently yet swiftly towards me. Full well did I know that they would do so, and that I must use every stratagem within my power if I desired to escape with my life.

"Accordingly, after I had gone a short distance, I seized the branch of a tree, and swung myself up as quietly and quickly as I could, motioning to Jumbo with my hand to continue his course, which the clever animal did for some little way, and then stopped. It fell out as I had hoped. Presently a light footstep came nearer and nearer to the tree upon which I sat, and an Indian, creeping softly forward, stole actually within three yards of the spot. He passed me and went silently forward for a few steps, when again the report of my rifle rang through the woods, and I had but four foemen to contend with. But I knew only too well the risk I had run in order thus to diminish their number. _I was no longer certain that all my enemies were behind me._ All I _did_ know was, that four active, unwounded, ferocious men were somewhere near at hand, thirsting for my blood, and that I had but my rifle and my trusty hound to depend on to save me from their clutches.

"I remained perfectly still, not venturing even to reload my rifle, and listened with an eagerness which became agony. Not a sound could I hear of any sort or description. The Indians had evidently become alive to their danger, and were employing all the cunning of their race in order to avoid their own destruction and compass mine. Jumbo also was certainly aware that he had a part to play, and was in all probability lying still until I should summon him to my side. The suspense was awful, and all the more so as I knew perfectly well that a false move--or perhaps any move at all--might be fatal to my hopes of escape.

"How long this state of things endured I can hardly tell you, for my nerves were strung to that tension that I could take no account of time. It might have been, for aught I knew, five minutes or five hours, but probably the former is more nearly correct. As soon as I had shot the last Indian, I had drawn myself back to the thickest part of the branch on which I sat, and believed that I was invisible to the eyes of anyone below. I soon discovered my mistake, however, and that in a manner which very nearly put an end to me and my adventure together. As I waited anxiously for the next scene in this exciting drama, I suddenly felt my hunting cap struck from my head, whilst the sound of a rifle-shot rang unpleasantly near to my ears: a bullet had passed through my cap within an inch of my head!

"One of the Indians had certainly caught sight of me, and, aiming from some hiding-place hard by, had fired the shot which had so nearly proved fatal.

"Of course it would have been sheer madness to remain where I was for one moment longer, for another shot might, and probably would, prove more successful. Quick as lightning the thought flashed through my brain, that my only chance was to deceive my enemy into the belief that he had accomplished his purpose. Accordingly, in an instant I dropped heavily to the ground. Fortunately I had no great distance to fall, and as I did so, I kept my rifle clasped closely to my breast. It happened as I had anticipated, and even better than I had ventured to hope, for the next moment all four of my foes came rushing through the wood from different points, the man who had fired brandishing his rifle over his head as he approached. He was within three or four yards of me when I sprang suddenly to my feet, and fired directly into his breast, with the natural result of checking his career for ever. No sooner had I fired than I rushed again down the hill at full speed, calling to my hound as I ran.

"The three remaining Indians did not stop with their slain friend for an instant, but, incensed beyond measure at his death and the success of my stratagem, followed me at best speed, much too closely to be pleasant. I determined, however, to reach and cross the stream if possible, and made every effort to do so. There was a small space nearly clear of trees and bushes between the edge of the wood and the stream, beyond which the wood again stretched away far and wide. I reached this space, and was within a couple of yards of the stream when my foes were upon me. Fearing that they might take me at disadvantage, I turned and suddenly confronted them--three horrid looking ruffians they were--their eyes gleaming with fury, and their appearance altogether enough to frighten any civilised person out of his wits.

"When I turned they were four or five yards from me--most fortunately none of them had firearms, not having stayed their pursuit to pick up the rifles of their deceased companions--each of them, however, had his tomahawk, and each hurled it at my head as I turned to face them. Dropping suddenly on one knee, I was fortunate enough to escape these weapons, which all whizzed harmlessly over my head: the three men were, however, close at hand, and I had no time to escape them. At this moment, however, I recollected an old trick of which I had read somewhere or other, and which I instantly resolved to put in practice. Rising from my knee, I rushed to meet one of the Indians, and as he furiously came upon me, I suddenly stooped quite low, evaded the blow which he struck over me, and seizing him by both ankles, lifted him by sheer muscular strength over myself, so that he fell with great violence upon his head several yards behind me, carried forward by the force of his own weight and impetus. The other two were so confused at this occurrence, that they lost the single moment in which they might have struck me a deadly blow without the possibility of my warding it off. The next moment Jumbo sprang upon one of them, whilst I confronted the other.

"My first object was to seize the wrist of the hand which held his hunting knife. I had no time to draw my own, and my only hope was to deprive my enemy of his weapon. In an instant we closed and grappled furiously. I kept firm hold of his wrist, however, well knowing that this was my safety. After a short struggle we rolled on the ground together, and the Indian's hand coming in contact with something hard, he dropped the fatal knife. We were now upon more equal terms, but still there were many chances against me. My foe was a tall, brawny, muscular man, a hardy son of the woods, and, like myself, now fighting for his life. Never shall I forget that moment. In the midst of that terrible struggle, when I was putting forth all my strength and concentrating every effort in order to gain the mastery, the pleasant meadows of dear old England came up in a vision, as it were, before my eyes, and familiar home scenes flashed like lightning across my sight. I redoubled my efforts, but the savage had succeeded in grasping my throat with one of his hands, and it was with the greatest difficulty I could draw my breath. My eyes seemed to grow dull and heavy, there was the roar of ten thousand surges in my ears, my temples throbbed as if they would burst, and I felt creeping over me a terrible sensation of despair, which I shall never forget whilst I have power to remember anything.

"All at once there came upon my hearing the sound as of a short, sharp roar of fury--the Indian's grasp was loosened--my sight came back to me, again I heard, I recovered consciousness just sufficiently to see my faithful Jumbo with his mighty teeth fixed in the throat of my dying enemy, and then I sank back in a dead faint.

"How long I remained in this state it is impossible for me to say. I was awakened by a soft, cooling sensation on my forehead, and opening my eyes, regained sufficient consciousness to be aware that an Indian maiden was bathing my feverish brow with cold water from the neighbouring stream, whilst my dog, usually so ferocious, was couched near, regarding her with friendly eyes, and evidently quite aware that she was performing a kindly office, and was not to be interrupted. I strove to speak; but my benefactress forbade me with an expressive gesture, placing her finger lightly upon my lips.

"'White broder no speak,' she said, in the low guttural accents of her race; 'no open him lips. Silence berry good. Talkee hurt.'

"I was too confused and, I hope, too grateful to disobey, and remained perfectly quiet whilst the maiden continued her interesting occupation for several minutes, during which time I had an opportunity of attentively observing her. She was certainly one of the loveliest--nay, _the_ loveliest of Indian maidens. Although she had not quite as many clothes on as an European damsel would consider necessary, their absence only served to disclose the perfect symmetry of her form, the graceful rounding of her limbs, and the natural dignity of her every movement. Her eyes, large and soft as those of the gazelle, were fringed with the most magnificent eye-lashes you can imagine, and when she cast them down, she presented an ideal of female modesty and refinement, which could not be surpassed by the most fashionable young lady that ever graced a London drawing-room. When she smiled, her face lighted up like that of a lovely child when, just awakened, it sees the loving face of its mother bending over it, and, in a word, purity, innocence, and natural beauty seemed all concentrated in the form, features, and expression of this child of the woods. Such at least was the thought which occupied my breast as I lay still and gazed upon the gentle being who was ministering to my wants in so agreeable a manner, and I think I could have stayed in the same position some time longer without any great desire to move. But, after a little while, the maiden ceased to bathe my brow, and addressing me in the same tones as before, said, 'White broder sit up now. Him better. Him no die dis time.' I mechanically obeyed, sat up, and felt much better already. In fact, there was no reason why I should not be so, for, save and except the exertion and excitement which I had undergone, and the near approach to strangulation from which Jumbo had providentially saved me, I had really received no bodily injury. It really seems a strange thing to look back upon, but here had been ten men against one poor wayfarer, and yet the ten had perished, and he was left alive. I did not think, however, of looking back at that moment; my thoughts were fixed upon my new friend: who or what was she,--where did she come from,--could she possibly be one of the tribe who had been upon my trail? If so, why did she not kill and scalp me whilst I lay senseless on the ground? Horrible thought! my head seemed to feel the knife, and I could fancy the awful wrench with which one's scalp would go; but I had no need for such thoughts. My scalp was safe and sound, and the maiden evidently could not belong to my enemies. The only way to find out the truth about her was to ask, so, adopting my style to her own, I began without loss of time.

"'My sister very good;--kind to poor white broder. Where my sister come from? How she happen to be in woods? Is she far from her home? And what my sister's name?'

"The girl laughed, and looked down upon the ground as she replied at once:

"'White broder ask many questions. Pale-face always much talkee. Moon-eye not tell eberything. No good too much talkee.'

"I doubted what to say next. I had gained one piece of information certainly, since the damsel evidently referred to herself as 'Moon-eye,' which was undoubtedly an appropriate name for her, and had been given by someone who was no bad judge of eyes in general, and hers in particular. But I wanted to know a great deal more, whilst at the same time I was anxious not to appear rude or inquisitive. So I remained silent for a little while, when presently she rose to her feet and addressed me in the following words:

"'Pale-face broder come now. "Moon-eye" show way.'

"I obeyed without hesitation, and prepared to go wherever she led, for in fact I had no alternative. It was very unlikely that the girl was alone in the forest, and if not, the eyes and ears of her friends might even at this moment be within sight and hearing, in which case my policy, as well as my inclination, would be to appear to be upon the best possible terms with her, and to approach them in her company and under her guidance. I felt somewhat weak when I attempted to walk, but as it was only weakness, I knew it would soon pass away, and so said nothing, but quietly followed my guide. She walked down to the little stream before mentioned, then turned along its bank and proceeded for several hundred yards until she came to a place where the water was so shallow as to enable us easily to wade over, which we did, and plunged into the woods on the other side. By this time, I thought I might as well try to get a little more conversation out of my friend, and therefore accosted her with some ordinary question, but she immediately turned round and, placing her finger on her lips, said, in a voice so low as to be little more than a whisper:

"'No talkee--enemy in woods. Moon-eye prisoner once. No want catchee again.'

"For the first time the truth now dawned upon me, and I understood the reason of the exceeding kindness bestowed upon me by the Indian damsel, which I had previously attributed either to her own natural humanity, or to admiration for my noble and prepossessing appearance. But, as I afterwards discovered,'Moon-eye' had been carried off from her tribe by a party of thieving Indians, who, in order to elude pursuit, had divided in their journey, ten of them being entrusted with the captive maiden. While passing through this part of the woods, they had struck my trail, and, seeing it to be recent, had left the prisoner bound, and hastily followed, intending to finish me off before they continued their journey. Fortunately for me it had turned out otherwise, but it might not have been fortunate for 'Moon-eye' had she not succeeded in freeing herself from the bonds in which she had been left. They must have been less carefully tied than most Indian fastenings that I have seen; but I fancy the girl had rather deceived her captors by pretending to go with them more willingly than was really the case, and perchance a desire to avoid injuring her in any way had induced the Indians to fasten her less tightly and securely than they might otherwise have done. Anyhow, she contrived to get loose, and also to find her way to the spot where I lay senseless, and where, as we have seen, she treated me with a care and tenderness which I little expected to encounter in the depth of the forest.

"Being admonished to silence I said no more, and we tramped on in silence, followed by the brave Jumbo. We had gone thus above a mile, when we heard a yell which proceeded from the direction of the place we had quitted. My companion stopped short, and turning to me, said, in a low voice:

"'More bad Indian. Him hear shot. Him come back and find him broder shot. Him follow soon now. If catchee Moon-eye and pale-face broder, him killee for sartain.'

"This being very much my own opinion, I asked the girl how far off her friends were, and as she now saw that something more than mere curiosity dictated the question, she replied at once:

"'Two--tree--twenty mile. Bad Indian catchee before get to camp.'

"On further inquiry I found that she thought there must have been full fifty of the robbers who had attacked the camp of her people when most of the warriors were absent--that they had captured several other prisoners besides herself--that they had divided into three parties, doubtless for the sake of greater safety in their flight, and that one of these parties had sundry horses laden with plunder, whilst the other party had the remaining captives. In all probability the shots fired during my combat with the ten Indians, who had been in charge of her, had been heard by one or both of these parties, and the cries we now heard proceeded from them. They would certainly follow upon our trail, and our chances of escape depended as much upon the numbers of our pursuers as upon any skill or strength of ours. For if thirty or forty warriors were behind us, not only would resistance be vain, but we should probably be surrounded before we had travelled far, whereas if only a few of the savages had returned, and made the discovery of the death of their friends, there was greater hope that we might elude them. Our only chance was to push on, and, having more than a mile start, we must make the best of it. Accordingly,'Moon-eye' advanced rapidly and cautiously, and I followed her, through the forest, and we must have gone quite another mile before we exchanged a word. By this time we had arrived at a sort of hill, upon which the trees grew less thickly than at other parts of the forest. At the foot of this hill the ground broke away to the right, the trees became still more scanty, and a wide chasm yawned at the distance of some twenty yards from where we stood, the descent into which was down a precipice many feet in height, whilst on the other side of the chasm the forest rose again, and grew on in unbroken continuity. To the left the trees were somewhat thicker, and some forty or fifty yards before us, as we bore to that side in ascending the hill, we perceived a building of some sort, towards which my companion directed her way. Making me a sign to remain where I was for a moment, she crept forward to reconnoitre, and presently returning, motioned me to follow her, whilst she made her way directly to the right, in the direction of the precipice, to the very edge of which she advanced. Thence we looked down into a frightful abyss, down which, if one had tumbled, one would have had no chance of escape. Bits of jagged rock projected here and there; vegetation seemed suspended for some distance down, and then the eye rested upon thick and tangled bushes jutting out from the sides of the rock, and completely concealing the bottom of the chasm, if, indeed, it had any bottom at all, for it might be endless as far as one could see from the top. Leaning carefully forward, my companion tore a branch or two from the bushes growing near the edge of the precipice, and gave the place the appearance of having been disturbed by the passage of some heavy body. She then took from my neck a handkerchief, which I had on by way of a neck-cloth, and which I did not in the least want to part with, but, of course, gave it up readily at her request; then she calmly dropped it over the side of the precipice, so that it hung upon one of the few bushes which grew a little way down the chasm. She then turned to me and said, in a low voice:

"'Bad Indian tink him fall down cliff--no follow any more;' and with these words noiselessly retraced her way, treading so carefully in her former footsteps as to make it appear as if there was only one trail, and that pointing _towards_ the precipice.

"When we had arrived at the spot from which she had previously gone to reconnoitre, we slowly ascended by the same way she had travelled before, carefully covering up and hiding all trace of our footsteps until we had reached the building to which I have already alluded.

"It was apparently composed entirely of logs, and seemed as if it had been built for the lodge, or more likely a place of refuge, for some hunting party. The logs were roughly hewn, but skilfully laid together, forming a strong building, with only one entrance, and that by means of a door which had long since been broken down and destroyed. There were, however, two stories to the building, and as soon as we had entered the doorway, we found ourselves in a large room, some ten feet high at least, with a strong flooring of logs overhead. 'Moon-eye' rapidly made her way to one corner of this place, where stood some rude wooden steps, above which was an opening in the flooring above. These she ascended, motioning me to follow, and we presently crept through the opening into the upper room. This was lighted by two windows, one at each side, and had a stout roof overhead. There was no furniture whatever in it, but only a number of dried leaves, which seemed to have blown in at the windows from time to time, since the place had been deserted. 'Moon-eye' trod gently across the floor towards one of those windows, and on following her I found that it commanded a view in the direction from which we had come, but a view limited of course by the trees which grew within a short distance of the building. Turning to me, the girl now whispered in her own guttural accents:

"'Bad Indian no come here, 'fraid of wicked spirit--kill much hunter here one day--times ago.'

"I gathered from this remark that the place in which we were, had been the scene of some cruel massacre by the Indians in days past, and that the savages probably avoided it from superstitious fear. This gave me a double pleasure, for whilst it increased my hopes of safety for the maiden as well as for myself, it showed me, that she was one of those Indians whom superior intelligence, and perhaps a better education than is common among the females of her race, had raised above their common prejudices. Her plan was easily to be perceived. Could the pursuers be led to believe that we had fallen down the precipice, perhaps having turned aside from our path with a natural desire to avoid the haunted building, they would perhaps abandon further pursuit, and continue their journey. The place in which we now were, might have been easily defended by a few men against a much larger number of enemies; and, as I had my rifle with me, I might have made a stand even where I was, but it was absolutely necessary to leave the door and the aperture into the upper room open, inasmuch as the sight of any defence, however slight, would at once disclose our hiding-place to those who sought us. Nor, indeed, was there much time for consideration as to the best plan to adopt. In going to and returning from the edge of the precipice, and subsequently in concealing our trail, we had occupied some little time; and scarcely had we reached the upper story, than a yell arose from the forest which betokened the immediate advance of the foe. There was but a moment for reflection; through the chinks of the logs near one of the windows, we could see without being seen, and here we took our station, watching and waiting in breathless suspense. We had not long to wait. For some little time all was silence, and the forest looked so peaceful and lovely, that it was difficult to believe it full of savage enemies thirsting for our blood.

"Meanwhile, I have forgotten to tell you of that which was at one moment our great difficulty, namely, my old friend Jumbo. Invaluable as he was in a fight, when the question became one of concealing a trail, he was very much the reverse. His trail was easy enough to discover, and we were rather puzzled what to do about it. The dog, however, was so intelligent that I felt sure he would understand the necessity of our separation for a time. So when we turned from our first track in order to approach the building, I pointed into the woods in the contrary direction, and bade him in the most impressive manner to go and wait for me there. The clever animal looked at me for a moment as if to fully take in what I had said, and then quietly turned round and entered the forest in obedience to my command. We were, therefore, unincumbered by his presence whilst we awaited the coming of our enemies in breathless anxiety in the upper story of the building.

"The savages were doubtless following up our trail all this time, silently, slowly, but surely. The yells we had heard at first, were of course caused by their discovery of the bodies of their friends: why there had been a second yell, I have never discovered to this day, unless it was that they had lost our trail for a moment, and that it had been found again by some young warrior who had not sufficient experience or self-restraint to prevent his announcing the welcome fact by a shout. However this may be, they yelled no more, and after we had waited for some ten minutes or less, the party arrived at the spot whence we had ascended the hill, that is to say, within some fifty yards of the place where we lay.

"As I have already said, the trees were thinner here than elsewhere, and we could from this cause see sufficiently well to discern objects moving about at that distance.

"It was late in the afternoon now, but the light was still good, and 'Moon-eye' looked with keen and anxious eyes through the chinks of the logs in the direction of the savages. Though we could not count them, we soon saw that there were certainly more than twenty of the rascals.

"The truth was, that _both_ the other two parties had heard the firing which occurred during my fight with the ten who had attacked me, but neither party liked to retrace their steps with their captives, and each had therefore again divided, and sent back a portion of their number to follow up the matter. These two divisions had met, and their meeting and explanations had probably caused just that delay which had enabled us to take shelter in our present place of refuge.

"All was silence for a few moments longer, whilst we saw the dusky forms of the savages flitting, like evil spirits, through the trees at the foot of the hill, and moving in the direction in which we had gone. Then presently came a tremendous yell of mingled surprise and disappointment. They had evidently arrived at the spot where we wished them to believe we had fallen over the precipice. There was no more silence now, but on the contrary a Babel of tongues arose, and the savages chattered one to another like a number of old women over their washing-tubs, if I may make such an irreverent comparison.

"My companion turned her head to me and smiled pleasantly, whilst her eyes laughed with joy:

"'Sioux fool,' she whispered (from which remark I first learned the tribe to which our foes belonged). 'Pawnee girl cheat him well. No cheat Pawnee warrior so!'

"I said nothing, for I did not like the silence that suddenly ensued. Whether some wiser chief had spoken, or what was the reason, I knew not, but the clamour and confusion ceased all at once, and the Indians began to return from the edge of the precipice, and spread themselves around the foot of the hill as if in search of some new trail, or to make sure that they had made no mistake. Still we lay quite quiet, convinced that this was our best chance of safety, and hoping that the superstitious fears of the savages would keep them from entering our hiding-place.

"As they took no particular pains to conceal their movements, we could plainly hear the leaves rustle, and the dried sticks crash as they tramped through the surrounding woods; but for some time no one approached the building. Then, all of a sudden, we heard a footstep close below us. How we wished that it was a couple of hours later, when we might have hidden more securely in one of the dark corners of the room. This, however, was impossible, and we could only lie still where we were, still trusting that even if an Indian were found bold enough to enter the place in which we were, he would be content with inspecting the lower apartment. Presently the step entered the building, stealthily as that of a wolf creeping after his prey. A moment of intense anxiety followed, to be succeeded by one of as intense disgust. The steps creaked beneath the weight of a man, and the head and shoulders of a powerful savage appeared above the opening. For one instant he gazed round, his eyes being as yet unaccustomed to the imperfect light.

"Had I been alone, I should probably have closed the aforesaid eyes with a bullet then and there, but my companion restrained me with a gesture, and in another second it was too late. The Indian naturally said 'Hugh,' in a deep guttural tone. I never knew or read of an Indian who did _not_ say 'Hugh' in a similar emergency, and the next moment he disappeared. Then arose a shout which summoned his comrades, and within a couple of minutes, my companion and I were standing outside the unlucky building, with five-and-twenty of the most unpleasant looking savages howling around us, in a manner doubtless most delightful to themselves, but to us the very reverse.

"The gentleman who had discovered us was evidently the chief of the party. He had got my rifle, confound him, and stood regarding us with such a complacent, self-satisfied air that I would have paid down half-a-crown cheerfully to have had one drive at his nose with my clenched fist. This, however, was out of the question, partly because it would have been a very rash and foolish proceeding under existing circumstances, and partly because it would have been somewhat difficult, seeing that my arms were securely fastened behind my back with ropes of bark. Poor 'Moon-eye' was also bound, and did not seem much to approve of the arrangement.

"The chief now approached us, and looked me steadfastly in the face, whilst I, having nothing better to do, looked back at him. Presently he gave a deep kind of cough or clearing of the throat, and after uttering the usual 'Hugh,' remarked that he was 'Pig-face,' and a very great chief. To this I responded, in plain English, that I didn't think much of the name for beauty, but had no doubt but that he was a tremendous 'swell' in his own country, to which remark he gravely bowed assent, evidently not understanding a word of it. He then came close to me, and, lightly touching me on the shoulder, exclaimed in a somewhat excited tone, 'Pale-face tief--no good--kill Pig-face young man--carry off Pig-face squaw--must die.'

"Before I could by any possibility reply, 'Moon-eye' had interposed with a torrent of invective of which I had scarcely supposed her capable. She was terribly disgusted, I think (and no wonder at it) at being called Pig-face's squaw by that illustrious chief, and she certainly told him so in pretty plain terms, if her language (which I did not understand) at all corresponded to her voice and manner. This scene, however, could not last long. Although the Indian chief had kindly informed me of my doom, it was not his intention that it should be immediately fulfilled. He and his party had travelled many miles that day, and felt inclined for a rest before going further; added to which I imagine that they thought it would be more congenial to their feelings to kill me in their own village. Accordingly, they very kindly postponed that operation for the present, and leading us to a spot not more than half a mile distant from our late refuge, prepared to encamp for the night. Each of us captives, lady as well as gentleman, was bound to a tree, which is by no means the easiest position in which to pass the night, especially when vigilant eyes are upon you the whole time, which was the case in this instance, as the Indians relieved each other every two hours, so that we were closely watched through the whole night, and had no opportunity of communicating with each other. Early in the morning the party again set out, and poor 'Moon-eye' and I, but little rested, were forced to accompany them, much against our inclination. I will do the savages the justice to observe that they loosened the girl's arms during the morning, but as they neglected to perform the same kindness in my case, I felt remarkably uncomfortable. We journeyed along for some distance, until we came to an open grassy space, upon which we halted, and our captors, producing some venison meat, sat down to make a meal, unbinding my arms for a while, and pressed both me and my companion to share their food. I had carefully counted their number during our march, and found that there were twenty-four men, besides the excellent chief Pig-face, so that even if I had been free and armed, I could neither have resisted nor escaped from so great a number. I therefore determined to forbear from any such attempt, which, besides being useless, might increase the severity of our treatment.

"As we sat, the chief again approached us and indulged in some more conversation. He spoke after the usual fashion of Indians, praising himself and his people a good deal, abusing me and all white people generally, and assuring me that my scalp should hang at his belt before many days were past. I bethought me of all the wise things which I had read of as having been said by 'Hawk-eye,' in Fennimore Cooper's immortal books, and could have prated for half an hour about 'White man's gifts,' and 'Red man's gifts,' if I had been so disposed. As, however, the only 'gift' which I desired at that moment was one which would have enabled me to set my companion and myself free, I did not care to indulge in those sage moral reflections which always seemed to me as I read them singularly out of place and extremely unlikely to have formed part of the conversation of a backwoodsman. I therefore merely thanked the savage, and informed him at the same time that my scalp was exceedingly comfortable where it was, and that I had no desire for its removal, a remark which he received with much composure, and probably imagined to be a reply entirely to the purpose. Then he began to tell my beautiful Moon-eye that she was foolish to have run away, that no one could withstand Pig-face, and that she should undoubtedly share his wigwam before long.

"The maiden heard him this time in dignified silence, and after a while he left off talking, and directed his people to prepare to continue their journey.

"We walked for a considerable distance, and having re-crossed the stream near which my first encounter had taken place, travelled for several miles without the occurrence of any incident worthy of note until the second evening arrived. Whether the savages felt more secure on account of being nearer their village, or from any other cause, I cannot say, but certain it is that they now so far relaxed their vigilance as to suffer my arms to be unbound for a time, and neither I nor Moon-eye were apparently so closely watched during the supper hour. Still, we knew but too well that keen eyes were upon us, and that flight was out of the question.

"When the Indians had finished their meal, my companion and I were both tied again, but not so fast as before, or at least not in so objectionable a manner. We were suffered to lie down, our hands were fastened before us, and a rope round one ankle secured each of us to a tree. So darkness crept over the forest, and the savages were soon buried in sleep.

"Presently a low whine attracted my attention, and I perceived my faithful Jumbo, who had evidently followed us all the journey, too wary to expose himself to view before he saw an opportunity of being of use. Creeping gently up to me now, the affectionate brute first licked my hands and face, though the latter was an attention with which I confess I could have dispensed. Then he began gently to gnaw the bark ropes which bound my wrists, and in a very short time succeeded in freeing my hands. At that instant one of the Indians started up. Jumbo slunk away in the shadow of the trees, whilst I kept my position, and endeavoured to appear as if I was fast asleep. The savage was soon satisfied, and lay down again, but I did not move for some minutes. Then I put out my hand and reached a knife which one of the party had carelessly left within my reach; with this I severed the fastening which held me to the tree, and crawling a few yards, performed the same office for my companion.

"Still we were not much better off, for if we ventured to fly, we were certain to be speedily pursued and brought back. Therefore we looked at each other with a mutually disconsolate air, and hesitated what to do next. At this moment the hoot of an owl broke upon our ears. The eyes of the Indian maiden opened to their fullest extent: her nostrils seemed to tremble with excitement as she listened, and her features worked with a convulsive movement. The cry was repeated.

"'Pawnee near--that him cry,' whispered the girl, and sat upright to listen again.

"At that moment Pig-face suddenly sprang to his feet, as if he too had heard and recognized the sound. But before he had time to utter a word or cry, a furious yell broke the stillness of the night, and the well-known war-cry of the Pawnees rang through the air. A band of these brave people had started in pursuit of their enemies as soon as they had discovered the theft of the latter, and the carrying off of Moon-eye, upon their return to the camp. The Sioux would probably have got clear off if, in the first place, the party of ten had not been so desirous of getting my scalp, and if, in the second place, their friends had not thought it necessary to attempt to revenge their death. The time which they had lost in following and capturing us had enabled the Pawnees to overtake them, and their surprise was complete. I must say for the fellows that they lost no time in flying, and that too with amazing dexterity, for they disappeared like magic on all sides, Pig-face included. Fortunately for them, the anxiety of the Pawnees to recover the lost maiden was much in favour of their escape, for it appeared that the warriors had reasoned, wisely enough, that if they surrounded the camp, the position of the captives might be dangerous, whereas if they attacked on one side only the enemy would, in all probability, be principally occupied in securing his own safety.

So, indeed, it turned out, and out of the twenty-five savages who had captured us, I believe that nearly one-half escaped unhurt. More might have done so if the gallant Jumbo had not thought it necessary to take an active part in the combat, which he did by pursuing and pulling down several of the Sioux, who thus became easy victims to their pursuers.

"Pig-face and four of his men were taken unhurt, and when our friends re-assembled, and congratulations had passed between them and Moon-eye, the latter, having introduced me to her tribe, told them of the fate which the Sioux chief had intended for each of us.

"The leader of the Pawnees, who rejoiced in the name of 'the Rattle-snake,' and was painted to represent that interesting animal, approached the unhappy Pig-face after this, and gave him a piece of his mind upon the subject. I did not understand what he said, of course, being, as I told you before, somewhat ignorant of their language; but I knew by the manner of the two that they were going on after the usual Indian fashion, the one telling the other that he should soon be tied to the stake, and what jolly fun it would be to torture him till he howled again, and the other replying that he was a great chief, that the other belonged to a nation of women, and that if he tortured him as he said, he would see that a chief knew how to die.

"When they had satisfied themselves with this little interchange of compliments, 'the Rattle-snake' came up to me and spoke in his own language, saying, I have no doubt, several things which I should have very much liked to understand. I suppose, however, that my countenance showed him that he might as well have been talking to one of the trees, for he presently turned to Moon-eye and beckoned her to approach, which she accordingly did. Then he spoke to her in the same tongue, and she interpreted what he said to me in her pretty broken English.

"'Chief say he tank pale-face broder for kill bad Indian. Pawnee him friend,--white skin, Pawnee heart.'

"When I understood what the girl said, I replied at once that I was very much obliged for his good opinion, but that as a matter of fact my killing the bad Indians was not on account of any particular friendship for his tribe, but because if I had not done so, the beggars would certainly have killed _me_. 'The Rattle-snake' listened to this explanation with great attention, and answered through the interpreter that this was doubtless very true, inasmuch as these thieving Indians would kill any fellow they found in the woods if it suited their purpose; but that, nevertheless, a warrior who had assisted in disposing of so many Sioux _must_ be a friend to the Pawnees, even if he had never heard of them before.

"There was no arguing against such a reason as this, and I therefore at once professed myself as a decided friend to the Pawnees, then and for ever. To tell the truth, I was not disinclined to become so, since Moon-eye had made such a deep impression upon me, that I felt a natural liking towards her people. The thought had several times crossed my mind during the last few days, whether I should not be much happier if I gave up the roving life which I had followed so long, and settled down comfortably in some quiet nook of the world, exchanging continual restlessness for domestic tranquillity. Coupled with this thought came another, namely, that I had become so unused to the polished manners of civilized people, that an Indian home and an Indian bride might possibly bring me more happiness than a return to my native land. So I resolved to accept the offer of the Pawnees to return with them to their own village, and bethought me at the same time that if I could but win the heart of the lovely Moon-eye, I might settle down among her people and become a regular Pawnee.

"Perhaps, my dear children, this might have been the case, and your dear uncle might now have been walking about with his head shaved for the most part, with an eagle's feather behind his ear, moccasins on his feet, and in every respect a perfect Indian. One little circumstance alone prevented me, and this was the painful fact that Moon-eye herself took a different view of the case. I soon discovered that her young affections had long been fixed upon a young chief of her tribe, who enjoyed the appellation of 'the Rising Sun,' and as he seemed to return the young lady's feelings, I thought I should only get into hot water if I acted upon my first idea. So I forthwith made up my mind that it would be a shocking thing for a white man of my education and position to marry an ignorant Indian girl, and that it was evidently my duty to think no more of it.

"I went to the Pawnee's village with them and stayed for a few weeks very happily. You will perhaps be glad to hear that Pig-face and his young men were not tortured after all. They were exchanged for prisoners whom the Sioux had taken in their last raid, and I never heard any more about them. Moon-eye was very gracious to me whilst I was with her people, but it annoyed me to see that fellow 'Rising Sun' always following her about, and I therefore shortened my stay.

"Jumbo and I took our departure early one morning, and were accompanied by a number of the tribe for some distance on our way. We had many more curious adventures together in the woods, my trusty companion and I, and very lucky we were to have come so well out of them all. But on looking back to my forest and wilderness life, I never remember to have had a more stirring adventure than that of which I have just told you. It sometimes comes back to me now, as I lie awake at nights: I fancy I see those ten vagabonds tramping after me through the woods,--then comes the horrid scene with the snake--the battle--the slaughter--the waking--the flight with Moon-eye--the capture--the rescue,--all comes flitting like a vision before my eyes, and I drop to sleep at last, wondering how I have been preserved through so much trouble and so many dangers, and thinking how lucky it is for you young ones to have a respectable old uncle with so many experiences to relate, and such interesting and curious tales with which to instruct and amuse your young minds."

ZAC'S BRIDE.

King Fridolin sat gloomily in the ancient halls of his race. A mighty race, forsooth, had they been for many a long year, and a mighty king was Fridolin. I shall not tell you the precise situation of his kingdom, for it is only by avoiding particular descriptions that we historians escape a variety of impertinent and troublesome questions. Suffice it to say that the monarch ruled over a territory of goodly size, containing mountains, forests, houses, vineyards, cornfields, and everything else which the neighbourhood of a mighty river could supply. For a river, mighty, indeed, in size and reputation, flowed through his kingdom, and was the principal glory of his land. The monarch had succeeded to the throne at an early age, and had reigned for long years over his people. They, poor creatures, had apparently only been created in order to minister to his comfort. Ground down by oppressive taxation, their spirits broken, their bodies subject to the will of their despotic master, their homes held only at his pleasure, and scarcely daring to call their very thoughts their own, they dragged on such a miserable existence as was permitted to them, without a hope or an idea that their condition could ever be improved by any effort of their own. But with him, their imperious lord, the case was surely different. He, one would have imagined, had everything to make him happy. Lands, vassals, money--what would he more? And yet King Fridolin sat gloomily in his ancient halls. His crown was upon his head--surmounted by his favourite crest, representing the figure of an eagle clapping its wings; his left hand rested upon the hilt of the mighty sword which he and his fathers before him had so often wielded in battle, whilst in his right hand he held a watering-pot, by means of which he tormented his Lord Chamberlain, who, having offended him, and being troubled with a bad cold, had been ordered to stand below the balcony upon which his majesty sat, whilst the royal hand let iced water fall upon his bald head. But even as he watered, King Fridolin pondered, and melancholy were his thoughts the while. Broad, indeed, were his lands, full were his coffers, obedient his vassals, but he lacked that sunshine of the heart, without which life is dull and heavy at the best. Moreover, he had no one who dared to contradict him, no one who ventured to suggest to him any alteration in his way of living, no new occupation which could relieve him from the oppressive dulness under which he suffered. So there he sat, watering and thinking and wishing for he knew not what--_anything_ to relieve the dreary monotony of his existence. Suddenly he started up.

"I've hit it!" he cried--which, if he referred to the Lord Chamberlain's head, he certainly had, for, as he spoke, the watering-pot fell directly upon the bald pate of that unlucky functionary.

"I've hit it!" again cried the king--and the Chamberlain was not prepared to dispute the statement. In fact, the king gave him no time to do so, for the next moment, apparently forgetting his cause of displeasure against the high official in question, he eagerly called him up to the balcony, and bade him listen to the development of a new idea which had suddenly entered his royal brain.

"Pompous," he cried (for such was the name of the Lord Chamberlain), "Pompous, I've thought of something!"

"Happy the thing which has had the honour of occupying your majesty's mind," returned the ancient courtier, deeming it right to preserve honey upon his tongue, although bitter gall was in his heart, in consequence of the treatment to which he had just been exposed.

"Don't be an ass, Pompous!" replied the king hastily. "I tell you I've thought of something. Guess what it is."

The Lord Chamberlain drew himself up to his full height, bowed low, coughed, hemmed, and, after repeating this process several times, meekly answered that he could not tell what his gracious majesty might have been pleased to think of.

"Tell? Why, of course not, you old noodle," said the King, whose manner of addressing his attendants was occasionally barely polite. "Who expected you to tell? I told you to _guess_, but since you are too stupid to do so, I may as well tell you what it is. We'll have a pig-race!"

"A _what_, your majesty?" faltered out the Lord Chamberlain.

"A pig-race, you old idiot!" roared the king into his ear. "P I G, pig, R A C E, race--_pig-race_. Do you hear now?"

And the old man was obliged to own that he did; but although he heard, he hardly understood what the king could really mean. Old Pompous, however, was a thorough courtier, and having had the misfortune to offend his royal master _once_ that morning, was far too good a judge to do so again, if he could by any possibility avoid it. He therefore put on a smiling face, declared that the idea was excellent, and pretended to enjoy it vastly, all the time wondering what could have caused the king to think of such a ridiculous project, and by what means it could ever be carried out. Whether any difficulty had suggested itself to the mind of the king, or what had put the project into his head at all, are questions which it is both useless and unnecessary to ask. It is sufficient to know that there it was, and when the despotic king of a country has a practical idea, something generally happens in consequence, and it is a fortunate thing for his people if it is nothing worse than a pig-race. Now it happened that the kingdom of Fridolin was famous for its breed of pigs. They grew to a very large size, and were much thought of by the people of that and neighbouring countries, who bred, bought, sold, and ate them to a great extent. A pig-race, however, was not a common event, nor, indeed, had one ever been heard of in the memory of the oldest inhabitant. A pig had certainly been more than once turned out, on festive occasions, with his tail soaped, and a prize given to the rustic who should succeed in securing the animal by holding on to that appendage; but this was not what the king meant. He announced his intention of giving a prize, to be run for by pigs, each pig to be ridden by a boy under fourteen years of age, and fixed that day month for the event. Pompous received the order with obsequious readiness, and was too wise to raise any objection to the project, or express any doubt as to the possibility of carrying it out. Next morning, accordingly, it was made known to the world, and the whole kingdom was agitated from one end to the other. It was not a great racing country; but, if it had been, a race between pigs, and pigs, too, ridden by boys, would have been a novelty, and the publication of the king's intentions caused a great deal of surprise and excitement. The race was to take place upon a common in the immediate neighbourhood of the capital city of the kingdom, and the course, which was to be half a mile long, was settled and marked out long before the day arrived on which the event was to come off. A great number of competitors had entered for the race, and it was calculated that at least twenty would start. Some complaints there had been of the shortness of time allowed for training either boys or pigs; but that was not a country in which many complaints were made against anything the king did, as those who made them generally had their heads cut off with a promptitude which had a signal effect in preventing others from following their example. So there was very little said against the arrangements which had been made, and people only talked of the curious scene they expected to witness, and speculated upon the chance of success possessed by the pigs which came from their several neighbourhoods. As the day approached, the excitement increased, and every available lodging was occupied in anticipation of the great event. It is right to state, perhaps, that the intensity of the interest caused by the coming race, was not only due to the love of sport which existed in that country. King Fridolin had perhaps no other intention than that of providing amusement for himself, when he first set on foot the race which now attracted so much of public attention, although he had, as a truly gracious monarch, no objection to his subjects sharing that amusement, so long as his own would not be lessened thereby. But when he came to consider the nature of the prize which he should offer, another thought struck him, upon which he had immediately acted.

He had read and heard of many kings who, upon suitable occasions, when they wanted their country to be delivered from some misfortune, or if they desired to obtain the performance of some mighty deed of valour, or some great feat of agility, had endeavoured to get what they wanted by offering the hand of their daughter as the prize for which all efforts should be made.

This kind of proceeding had, of course, its disadvantages, as, in a country where only one wife was permitted, the prize would be one which shut out at once from competition all married men, and thus greatly limited the possible number of competitors. But Fridolin was in a peculiar position in this respect.

In the first place, as only boys of tender age were to ride, there was very little probability that any of them would be married, and, in the next place, he had a daughter whom he thought very unlikely to be married, unless by some clever contrivance such as that which he had now planned. Belinda was the youngest of three princesses who owned Fridolin for their father, and she was at this time just ten years of age. But, unhappily, whilst her two sisters, the Princesses Amabilia and Concaterina were lovely and well shaped, Belinda had no such recommendations. Her mother, having had the misfortune to offend a powerful and wicked witch, had expired, through her machinations, shortly after the birth of her third daughter. One would have supposed that the vengeance of a witch would have been satisfied by the death of its object; but the witch Nuisancenika was not so easily appeased. She visited the dying queen, made use of language which, always objectionable in itself, was doubly improper, when used at such a moment, and solemnly doomed the baby child to ugliness and deformity. This pretty well finished the poor mother of itself, and she actually died outright, when, within ten minutes of the cruel doom having been pronounced, a palpable hump appeared upon the infant's back, and her features assumed an expression of ugliness seldom seen in the females of that country. So the child had grown up, deformed and ugly, though with a sweetness of disposition which atoned for both defects in the eyes of those who knew her well. This scarcely applied to Fridolin, who cared little for his children, although he occasionally had the pretty ones down to dessert to show off to his friends, whilst poor Belinda was left alone and neglected in the nursery.

Under these painful circumstances it was singular that Belinda should not have grown up as deformed in mind as body, and this might very possibly have been the case but for the unwearied love and devotion of her foster-mother. This estimable person was the wife of one of the king's shepherds, and no mother could have watched over her own child more constantly or more tenderly than she tended Belinda. Being moreover of a remarkably even temper, and blessed with a kindly disposition withal, the good woman doubtless did much towards the development of that remarkable sweetness of character, which the princess had inherited from her mother. Be this how it may, she certainly grew up in such a manner as to cause the remark to be frequently made that her mind evinced a marked and singular contrast to her body, and she was generally beloved in the royal household. This, then, was the daughter whose destiny King Fridolin had resolved to determine by the chances of a pig-race, and the fact was duly notified to those concerned, and advertised in the newspapers throughout the whole length and breadth of the country.

Although, as I have said, the circumstances of that country prevented people from commenting too freely upon any proceeding of the king's, yet nothing could prevent this matter being talked about in private circles, and wherever the conversation could be safely carried on great surprise was expressed at the course which Fridolin had thought fit to take. It was argued with some reason that the king, had he so chosen, might have ordered any of his subjects to marry Belinda, should no suitable admirer have appeared from among any of the neighbouring princes, and that, if he deemed it necessary that the princess should be married at all, he might in this manner have at least secured for her a husband more eligible than might now fall to her lot. Besides, the class of people who would be likely to contend for the prize in a pig-race would be of a varied character. It was undoubtedly true that many of the highest nobility of the land were breeders of pigs, but it was equally certain that there were a far greater number of small farmers and even labourers who could also claim to be included in the same category.

Moreover, it was more than probable that the more aristocratic and refined was a pig-breeder, the less likely would it be that one of his own sons would ride in the race, and it was to the rider and not to the owner of the animal that the prize was to be given. So far, indeed, the king seemed to have been kind and considerate, for this plan would secure to his little daughter a husband better suited to her tender age than if she had been bestowed upon some pig-owner of advanced years, to whom she would have made a most unsuitable wife. But the king's intention was plainly declared; whoever won the pig-race would win Belinda too, and although a few years might be permitted to pass, so that her education might be completed and the age of the bridegroom be allowed to ripen, yet at the end of that time, which the king would fix according to circumstances, the nuptials would certainly be celebrated.

As I have already said, everyone in the kingdom knew the conditions before the day arrived, and many and various were the speculations as to the result.

At last the sun shone upon the eventful morning of the day which was to decide the issue of the race and the fate of Belinda. From every quarter people came hurrying into the town; carts, carriages and vehicles of every description and size thronged the roads, which were also crowded with foot-passengers, all dressed in holiday garments, and pushing forward in one direction, namely, to the race-course. There the crowd was enormous, and the grand-stand was filled with a distinguished company, as well as by many of those individuals who are only distinguished by their extraordinary capacity for getting money out of other people's pockets.

In a private stand which was appropriated to royalty, sat Fridolin and his daughters, surrounded by the nobles of the court. The king was in the highest spirits, chaffing old Pompous, flirting with the maids of honour, and teasing his two eldest daughters by telling them that if the affair went off to his satisfaction, he should probably have another on _their_ account before long. The two princesses tossed their heads haughtily at this, although they stood too much in awe of their royal parent to make any open protest. They were both dressed in the extreme of the fashion, and displayed in their features the beauty for which their race had always been celebrated. At a little distance sat poor Belinda, who had been ordered by her father to be present, but who did not seem much to enjoy it, although she endeavoured to preserve a cheerful demeanour. The child was simply dressed in white muslin, and her dress was in no way calculated to remove the disagreeable impression produced by her ugliness and bodily defect. As her sisters were known to be the king's favourites, it was naturally around them that the courtiers clustered, and Belinda sat neglected, and almost alone, though some of the more kindly disposed and tender-hearted of the court ladies paid her a little attention.

There was the usual shouting and betting, card-playing and band-playing, pick-pocketing and cheating, wrangling and chaffing, which accompany a race-course, I am told, even down to the present day; and there was a dog, which issued no one knew where from, and ran down the very centre of the course, howled at by the crowd and vainly chased by the policemen, just before the race began. Carriages of all sorts were drawn up by the side of the course, several rows deep, and the occupants of many of them appeared to have come there principally for the purpose of eating and drinking, for there was a vast and continuous popping of corks, carving of chickens and mixing of salads, apparently much enjoyed by those who were no more immediately concerned in the consumption of the same, and as greatly envied by many hungry lookers-on, who passed and repassed the carriages with eager and longing eyes.

At last the bell for saddling rung, and after a while the course was cleared, and the animals which had been entered for the race came out of the adjoining paddock for their preliminary gallop. There were eighteen who actually started, of whom nine were black pigs and nine sandy coloured. The symmetry of their forms was generally admired, and as they cocked their little ears, twitched their tails, and grunted loudly in anticipation of the struggle, great was the interest and intense the excitement of the spectators. The little jockeys, clad in their jackets of different colours, sat gallantly on their steeds, and although the galloping was of a somewhat curious and uncertain character, no accident occurred, and the eighteen competitors were duly marshalled at the starting post. Then began the difficulty. It seemed as if no power on earth could induce the animals to range themselves as required or to keep any order at all. They grunted, squealed, turned round the wrong way, and exhibited altogether such restlessness and queer temper, that a fair start really seemed to be an impossibility. This went on for nearly half-an-hour, when suddenly the starter effected his purpose--the flag fell--and a hushed whisper of "They're off!" ran through the crowd from one end to another. The excitement was tremendous. Luncheons were abandoned--champagne glasses put down when in the very act of being lifted to thirsty lips--opera-glasses and telescopes were everywhere in requisition, and no one in all that vast assembly had for the moment eyes or ears for anything but the pig-race. Those who were in the secret knew that seven of the animals which were running belonged to members of the aristocracy, whilst no less than eleven were owned by breeders and jobbers of an inferior class. Among these knowing ones there was great speculation as to the class from which the winner would come, also as to the colour, black or sandy, which would be successful. There was no limit as to the sex of the animals, and the only stipulation was that each competitor should be two years old, it being considered in that country injurious to the constitution of pigs that they should be allowed to run in races before that age.

It would take too long to describe the dresses of all the jockeys or to give the names of the animals which they respectively bestrode. If any of my readers desire to know more than I tell, the matter can be easily arranged, for the daily journals of that country inserted the fullest particulars, and were doubtless filed by many racing-men of the time, so that reference can be made to them by the curious inquirer. It is sufficient for me to chronicle the fact that cards were everywhere sold upon the day of the race, which contained the names, weights and colours of the riders, and from these every information could be gleaned. The names of the favourite pigs were Lubin, Toby, Trough-lover, Wallower and Hogwash, and it was thought by those who had, or who assumed to have, most knowledge of such matters, that none of the other competitors had much chance. How far the event realised these expectations will be presently seen. For the first few seconds after the start there was a breathless silence, whilst all eyes were eagerly fixed upon the advancing animals. Two or three could hardly be said to have earned that epithet, for they only advanced a few yards before they stopped, set their fore feet firmly in the ground and stood there squealing loudly and defying every effort of their riders to urge them forward. Another presently turned sharply aside and charged into the crowd of bystanders, grunting fiercely, and as he was a large hog of savage aspect and mighty bristles, the people scattered right and left and he disappeared from the course. But the other pigs pushed on for a while, until some six or seven appeared to have decidedly outstripped the others and to be those from whom the winner would undoubtedly be taken. The "knowing ones" seemed to be pretty right, for all the five animals whose names I have given were among those who led.

Trough-lover, a rough built, sandy-coloured pig, with a rider in a violet jacket with white sleeves, came on with a long steady gallop which augured well for his chance; the scarlet jacket of the boy who rode Toby, also a sandy pig, showed well to the front, and Wallower's dark and bony frame, bestridden by a jockey in pink and white was also well up. But the principal interest of the race was concentrated upon Hogwash and Lubin, who were running neck and neck together in the foremost place, whilst the three already named, with a couple of "outsiders" were several yards behind. The two favourites were both black pigs; Lubin, a remarkably well-shaped animal, whose jockey showed dark blue colours, whilst Hogwash was a beast of huge dimensions, ridden by a boy of complexion almost as dark as his own, whose jacket of lilac had been conspicuous in the front rank from the first moment of the start. They ran on in the order which I have mentioned, after they had shaken off the "ruck" of pigs, until within about a couple of hundred yards from home, when Lubin gradually came back to his pigs, and Hogwash forged slowly but surely ahead. The shouting on all sides was tremendous, and the excitement of the spectators was at its height, when at about a hundred yards from the winning post the position of the leading pigs appeared unaltered, save that Toby seemed to have somewhat gained on the others in the second rank, and Trough-lover was coming along by the rails with a stealthy, steady gallop, which made the backers of Hogwash tremble in their shoes. So it was until within fifty yards from the finish, when a totally unexpected incident suddenly changed the aspect of affairs. Out from the second rank darted a pig of a sandy colour, and with a squeal hardly to be expected from an animal which had gone nearly half a mile at best pace, shot forward from the others and rapidly gained upon the leading pig. The shouts from the crowd now rent the skies, and as the sandy pig closed up with Hogwash, the rider of the latter was observed to be using his whip freely, whilst his rival, a boy of light hair and complexion, displaying a cherry-coloured jacket and black cap, sat firmly but quietly in his saddle, to all appearance neither using nor requiring whip or spur. At twenty yards from home he collared Hogwash, at ten yards they were neck and neck, racing for dear life, and when, amid the most maddening scene of excitement the sandy-coloured pig galloped past the winning post nearly a length ahead, the shout that went up from the crowd was something appalling in its vehemence. There was no doubt about it. Hogwash was beaten and so were all the favourites, and an outsider had won. Who was it? The faces of the book-makers fell, and people looked eagerly to see what number went up, for no one had an idea of what was the name of the winner, except those who were sufficiently calm to consult their cards, and ascertain what pig it was that the "cherry and black" jockey had ridden. It was soon known, Number 17 had won, and Number 17 was "Sandy Sue," the property of Giles Dickson, a small farmer very little known among the great pig-breeders of the kingdom.

Before I go further, I may as well explain the clever manner in which this great race was actually won, which was thought to reflect considerable credit upon those who had contrived it. Farmer Dickson, though not in a large way of business, had plenty of brains, and it has been remarked by men of undoubted sagacity that there are two classes of men into which the world may be divided, namely those who have brains and no money, and those who have money and no brains, the latter being created principally for the benefit of the former. Now Farmer Dickson belonged emphatically to the former class, and as soon as ever the race was announced and the course fixed, he conceived a project which he immediately carried into execution.

At the end of the course, and not above a hundred yards or so therefrom, was a fence, beyond which was situated a small farm, the homestead of which was thus very near the winning post, or at least not above three or four hundred yards distant. Being well acquainted with the tenant of this farm, the sagacious farmer made known his plan to him and they agreed to carry it out together. "Sandy Sue," as the large sow was called upon whom Farmer Dickson had resolved to set his hopes and stake his money, had not long since presented her owner with a fine litter of pigs. These were all removed forthwith to the farm near the racecourse, and their mother was also comfortably housed in the farmyard. Day by day she took her gentle exercise, and day by day was she well fed at a spot as near to the racecourse as could be managed. More than this, her favourite food was always given to her about the time at which the race had been fixed to come off, and to this precaution the strictest attention was given. The consequence was exactly that which the confederates had expected.

Although her condition was probably not quite so good as that of some of the pigs with whom she had to contend, it was sufficiently so to enable her to run her best for a course so short as half a mile. Then, when she came near to the finish, recollections of feeding time not only crowded upon her, but she had directly before her the very spot where her daily food was served out to her, and where she was accustomed to receive the visits of her beloved children. Stimulated to renewed exertions by these facts, she did exactly that which was expected from her, and forgetting every other consideration, made such a splendid "spirt" as to carry her triumphantly to the victory in the manner which I have described. These things all came out afterwards, but they did not affect the decision of those who had to judge upon the race, and "Sandy Sue" was without objection or protest hailed as the winner.

As soon as her jockey had dismounted and been duly weighed, he was summoned to the presence of the king, who was not unnaturally desirous to behold his future son-in-law. The boy accordingly mounted the stairs which led to the royal stand, and was forthwith ushered into the presence of his sovereign. As soon as he appeared, Fridolin advanced a few steps to meet him, and then stood still and regarded him with a curious eye.

He was, as I have said, a boy of light complexion, with light brown hair and light blue eyes, and by no means of an unprepossessing appearance, especially in his jockey dress. He stood bashfully before the king, with blushing cheeks and eyes cast down, until, after a few moments of silence, Fridolin addressed him.

"Well, boy," he said, "thou hast won the race and hast gained the prize. Of what house and lineage dost thou come?"

"Please, sir, my lord, your kingship's majesty," said the boy in trembling accents, entirely mistaking the question, "our house bean't but a small one, and as for linen, mother does the washing and I don't know nothing about it."

At this reply the king burst into a fit of laughter, in which his courtiers joined, although some of them felt a sensation of regret within their hearts when they considered the illiterate ignorance of the youth to whom the Princess Belinda was to be sacrificed. This reflection apparently did not trouble the king greatly, for he presently remarked, "the bridegroom must be introduced to his bride without delay. Come hither, boy," and with these words advanced towards the spot where Belinda was sitting. The poor child, understanding but too well what had happened and what was about to follow, trembled with visible emotion as they came near, and would gladly have made her escape. But Fridolin did not intend that this should be the case by any means. He called to her as she rose from her seat and bade her be ready to receive the winner of the race and her future husband. Meekly and humbly she obeyed, taking her seat again, and fixing her eyes modestly upon the floor.

"There," cried the king as he pushed the boy forward towards the princess, "there is the youth who will one day be your husband, child. Kiss her, boy, and make friends at once."

A deep blush suffused the face of the shrinking Belinda, who had not as yet even looked upon the other's countenance, and she trembled more than ever. But with a grace which no one had expected from the quarter from which it came, the boy, immediately on receiving the king's commands, stepped forward towards Belinda's chair, and, kneeling on one knee, raised her hand gently to his lips.

"Bravo, boy!" cried the king with another laugh. "I vow you're half a courtier already. Two or three years' training and you'll be perfect."

He then proceeded to inquire more particularly about the youth's age and condition, and found that he was called Zachariah Dickson, or usually "Zac" for shortness, that Farmer Dickson had several other sons and daughters, but that this boy, being just under the limit of age, had been selected as the rider of "Sandy Sue." He learned, moreover, that the education of the Dickson family had been somewhat neglected, and that though Master Zac could certainly read and write, he was no great proficient at either accomplishment. Altogether it appeared that the pig-race had secured for Belinda a husband so very much beneath her in rank, position, breeding and education that her future happiness could hardly be said to be very certain.

As, however, Fridolin had made the arrangement without any reference to its probable effect upon his daughter's happiness, but entirely to gratify his own whim, he was not greatly concerned with this reflection. He told the youth, indeed, that he had something to learn, before he could be really fit to be a king's son-in-law, but as in that country a king's word was always sacred, and as good as his bond, he never for one moment entertained the idea of trying to be off the bargain.

No: "Zac" Dickson should be Belinda's husband, come what might. "He had won her and he alone should wear her." So said the king again and again, at the same time avowing his determination that the boy should be forthwith sent at the royal expense to one of the best colleges in the country, in order that he might pursue his studies, and prepare himself to discharge the duties of that lofty position to which he had been called by the voice of Fate. This announcement was received with respectful submission by the boy, and with unfeigned satisfaction by old Dickson, who, besides having won a considerable sum of money on the race, now saw the prospect of having one of his boys entirely taken off his hands and better educated than he could possibly have been without such aid.

The king further declared that three years should elapse before the wedding, but that then, when the bridegroom was seventeen and the bride thirteen, the marriage should certainly be celebrated, youthful marriages being always the fashion in that country. After the interview on the royal Stand, the winner of the race was allowed to return home for the night, but with orders that he was to take up his abode at the palace upon the following day. Then the king ordered his carriages and the royal party left the course. The crowd was already broken up, and people were streaming in every direction over the common upon which the sport had taken place.

The common was ere long left desolate and alone, only tenanted by a grazing donkey or two, and a few wretched human creatures who wandered over every spot upon which carriages had stood and luncheons had been eaten, in the hope of finding something which they might convert into money in order to aid the necessities of their miserable lives. Soon, too, these took their departure: the crowd of people returning home grew smaller and smaller, gradually the road was less and less thronged, the people were only seen going along it by twos and threes, then at last these, too, had found their way home, silence reigned where all had so lately been talk and mirth, noise and revelry, and night came down upon the earth with her sable cloak, extinguishing the last flickering rays of the sun which had so gaily and brightly shone upon the day of the great pig-race.

The Princess Belinda woke next morning with a load upon her young heart, and a novel sense of responsibility which made her feel quite a different being from the child of the day before. She was, indeed, no ordinary child. Even in her appearance _that_ could hardly be said of her, poor girl! for she was not so much ordinary as decidedly ugly, but the epithet was even less applicable to her intellectual powers, which were undeniably of a superior order. Having moreover been debarred by her deformity from the more active pastimes of childhood, she had from a very early period sought her pleasure in books, and was, even at the early age of ten, far better acquainted with the literature of the day than many young ladies of twice her age. Well informed, however, as she was, and fortified as she might be against the storms of the outside world, as much as the fortifications of a prudent heart and well-regulated temper can avail against such adversities, she nevertheless awoke, as I have already said, to a new feeling upon the morning after the pig-race. Her childhood seemed to be over, and the real cares of life to have commenced. She had no longer only her own life to regard, the life of another was thenceforth inseparably bound up with her own. The actual marriage, indeed, was to be deferred for three years, but the boy who had been presented to her as her future husband was practically, for the future, a part and parcel of her life, and his doings must be always of great and paramount interest and importance to her. To tell the truth, he had made a very favourable impression upon the heart of the youthful princess.

Unaccustomed to go much into that society of which her more fortunate sisters were at once the ornaments and the delights, Belinda was less struck than might otherwise have been the case by the somewhat rough and countrified bearing of the boy, and indeed, as has been already said, his action in kneeling before her on his first introduction had been far from ungraceful. She had remarked with pleasure the honest gaze of his blue eyes, and the healthy clearness of his fair complexion, whilst no one could deny that his form was well-shaped, and his figure lithe and active. Still, the age of ten is one at which it is somewhat early to be engaged to be married, and it is scarcely to be considered a matter of wonder that the little princess regarded her prospects with some apprehension.

The youthful Zac was brought to the palace next day, according to the king's orders, and forthwith took up his residence in the royal abode. It was a curious arrangement, and one that was made the subject of much comment by the court, although it was allowed on every hand that, since the king had determined upon bestowing the hand of his youngest daughter upon the winner of the pig-race, there was much good sense, as well as kindness, in his resolution to have that winner properly educated. It must be owned, too, that the lad did no discredit to his teachers. He was diligent, attentive, and showed no small capacity for learning. Whatever there had been of vulgarity in his accent rapidly disappeared, uncouth and ignorant language was banished from his hearing, and consequently very soon from his speech, while his errors of grammar speedily became things of the past. In short, it was confessed even by those who had at first shaken their heads with a gravity befitting the occasion, and had declared that the old proverb "you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear" would be verified in this case, and that a person of humble birth could by no means be converted into a gentleman; even these persons, I say, began to take a different tone, to talk about another proverb, namely that "exceptions prove the rule," and to express their feelings towards Belinda's future husband in no unfavourable terms.

He made such progress in his books that his tutors were quite astonished, and Belinda was herself delighted. Once a week he was allowed to visit her for an hour, and from time to time she found a perceptible difference in his manners and conversation, and a decided improvement in both. In this manner a whole year passed over the heads of the people of whom we are speaking, and during that time no event occurred of a character so specially interesting as to require a separate allusion. People were born, married and died as usual. Whilst they lived they ate, drank, and paid their taxes--three things common to all mankind who happen to be resident in civilized countries--and after they were dead they were comfortably buried by their relations, who then went home and remembered them as long as people usually do, and no longer. The world, in short, went steadily on, and the inmates of the palace did much the same as the rest of the world. Lord Pompous, it is true, fell occasionally into disgrace, being rather a stupid man and apt to offend the king when he most wanted to please him. But as he always got out again very soon, this did not signify. Fridolin was rather fond of the old man, if the truth must be told, and though he enjoyed teasing him now and then, never really meant to get rid of him. So they jogged on together happily enough, and nothing occurred to seriously disturb either of them.

The king, however, felt time hang as heavy upon his hands as is the case with most people who either have nothing to do, or are too idle to do what they really _have_ to do in the shape of work. He often looked back to that idea of a pig-race which had afforded him such a good day's amusement, and once or twice hinted to his two elder daughters that it had turned out remarkably well. The princesses, however, viewed the matter in a different light, for they guessed at once at their father's intentions, and had no notion of allowing them to come to any practical issue. It was all very well for Belinda, indeed: a third sister, with neither beauty nor wealth, might fairly be disposed of in any way that happened to be most convenient. It was entirely different, however, with girls who had beauty to recommend them, and no lack of admirers to tell them so. Wherefore the fair Amabilia and the sweet Concaterina promptly checked their father's most distant allusion to the subject, and as they were the only people of whom he stood at all in awe, he soon abandoned the idea, and gave up all thoughts of having another pig-race.

After young Zac's first entrance into the palace, Fridolin had concerned himself very little about the boy, being content, as many people are, to let matters drift on as long as they gave no trouble to himself. But it happened one day that he overheard some of the courtiers speaking in praise of the lad, and this excited his curiosity to a degree sufficient to induce him to desire that Zac should be summoned to his presence. This occurred about the end of the first year of Zac's residence in the palace, and was really the beginning to him of another existence. For King Fridolin was so pleased with the alteration in the youth, that he thought he should like to see more of him. Having no son of his own, why should not the future husband of one of his daughters be as a son to him? Thus the result of his great idea might turn out altogether fortunate, and he should have conferred a benefit upon himself as well as Belinda after all. He forthwith gave directions that Zac should be present on all occasions when the king appeared in public, or gave a reception to any of his subjects, and he also desired that he should be frequently admitted to the royal presence upon other occasions. The boy always conducted himself so well that he gradually became a great favourite with the king, and not only with the king but with the other princesses.

This occurrence was the reverse of fortunate, but perhaps it was not unnatural. Amabilia was little more than a year older than Zac, and Concaterina about his age. His good looks, his pleasant manner, the unfailing sweetness of his temper, and the general intelligence which he evinced, were all calculated to make an impression upon the tender hearts of the two princesses. Surrounded by flatterers and sycophants, the simple character and honest bearing of the youth had the additional charm of novelty, and this was increased by the natural manner in which, considering these as his future sisters, he accepted his position and treated them frankly as such. Accordingly they both fell deeply in love with him. It was very sad, and I am sorry to be obliged to tell it, but it is no use concealing the truth, and there was and is no mistake about the matter. The two sisters were not long in discovering each other's secret, and as soon as they had made the mutual discovery, a coldness sprang up between them which was most distressing. I am bound to say that no thought of or for Belinda ever crossed the mind of either of them. It was not that they disliked their younger sister, or that they were habitually unkind to her, but they had got into the way of considering her as a kind of inferior being, whose thoughts, hopes, and wishes must never for a moment interfere with their own, and who could on any occasion, and in any matter, be pushed aside as best suited their convenience, so that it scarcely at all, if ever, occurred to either of them that it was either wrong, dishonourable, or unkind to rob Belinda of her promised husband, and if it _had_ occurred to them, I am afraid that they had both been too much accustomed to have their own way to have hesitated even under the influence of such a thought. Nurtured as they had been in their father's court, surrounded by people who had taught them to believe in the divine right of kings to reign over their people, and the enormous privilege which it was to be of royal blood, and the incomparable superiority of beings such as they were over the common herd of mortals, one would have thought it probable that their pride would have prevented them from yielding to the soft influence of love in such a case as that of the boy of humble birth with whom they had thus accidentally been associated. But poets and writers of olden time have always told us that Love is invincible, and I can only suppose that he chose to give another instance of his prowess by conquering the hearts of the two princesses, and forcing them to bow before his resistless sway. At all events, to cut the matter short, they both fell in love with Zac Dickson, so that his very name (though to me there seems nothing at all savouring of melody about it) was music to their ears, their eyes delighted to behold him, and their blushes would soon have told the tale, if indeed their tender looks and affectionate manner had not been such as to reveal to the youth the ill-concealed secret of their young hearts.

Extraordinary though it be to relate, and difficult to believe, Zac was considerably more annoyed than pleased by the discovery. Most boys of fifteen would have been far from insensible to the attentions of beautiful damsels even of their own rank and station, and few there are who would not have been flattered--and perchance fluttered too--by the palpable affection entertained towards them by lovely princesses. Nevertheless, this was not at all the case with Zac. By some curious freak of Nature, he had been constituted with an acute sense and appreciation of the difference between right and wrong, and a steady desire and determination to avoid the latter whenever he possibly could. He remembered full well the manner in which he had obtained access to the palace, and the terms upon which his admission had been arranged, and the means provided for his education. Strange to say, moreover, he had conceived a real regard and affection for Belinda. He remembered her first reception of him as her future husband; he did not forget the uniformly meek and modest nature which she displayed in her weekly interviews with him; nor was he oblivious of the kindly interest she had ever taken in his mental progress and development of those qualities which go to make a man's life both useful and advantageous to himself and others. He had perceived, too, in the youngest princess, that sweetness of disposition for which she had ever been remarkable, and had learned gradually to understand, and, as he understood, to love her better.

If, at his first entrance upon the scene of our history as the winner of the pig-race, he had been offered the choice of any one of the three princesses, it is highly probable that he would never have looked upon Belinda a second time. The beauty of the elder sisters was undeniably great; their manners pleasant, though occasionally haughty; and they were girls who would at once have captivated the susceptible heart of any young man suddenly placed in Zac's position. But a year's residence in the palace, and that under his peculiar circumstances and engagements, had made all the difference. Bound in honour to Belinda, he would as soon have thought of stealing the king's crown as of making love to either of her sisters, nor could he believe for a long time that they had any such intentions towards himself. This, however, only served to make matters worse, because he took no pains to keep out of their way, and was rather glad when any opportunity for meeting either of them chanced to occur. Nay, when Amabilia pressed his hand tenderly, he saw in it nothing more than the regard which Belinda's sister had a right to entertain towards him, and when Concaterina, as they were bending together over a photograph, put her arms softly round his neck, and when their faces were almost touching, pressed her lips softly upon his cheek, he even then deemed it but a proof of sisterly affection, and at once returned the compliment, without a suspicion that anything more was meant. His eyes, however, were opened at last, when the attentions, looks, and words of the two elder princesses became unmistakable, and their design of winning him from Belinda but too apparent.

The boy was grieved beyond measure, for not only was he sharp enough to know that his own position at court might be seriously imperilled by what was before him, but he also felt that, through him, Belinda herself might be made to suffer. Yet what was to be done? Deceit was repugnant to his honest nature, and had it been otherwise, it could scarcely have been long maintained, since not only one, but both sisters were aiming at the same thing, and to deceive the two would have been beyond human skill and subtlety. If he appeared to favour either one, the other would probably be bitterly offended; if he seemed to care for both, but to hesitate between the two, their mutual jealousy would be stimulated, and, besides, if Belinda should hear of it, as would be but too likely, her tender heart would be filled with sorrow. On the other hand, if he spoke his mind out to the two princesses, openly and boldly, they had only to agree together to denounce him to the king, and his position would be most precarious, whilst Belinda would be quite unable to assist him.

The matter caused the poor boy much anxious thought. At first, when he became quite certain that he was not mistaken, he tried, by every means in his power, to avoid Amabilia and Concaterina, and was never alone with either of them if he could possibly help it. But very often he couldn't help it, do what he would. He made his studies a constant excuse for absence from luncheon, to which meal he had latterly been invited, and at which the two elder princesses were always present, although Belinda had her solitary meal in the school-room.

Sometimes the king was there, and then Zac dared not be away, since Fridolin liked him to be present, and sent for him if he was not. But his time of trial was "Five o'clock Tea."

The two sisters had a joint sitting-room, a very comfortable place, with inviting arm-chairs, delightful sofas, all the new novels, and every knick-knack you can imagine, arranged as only a lady's taste _can_ arrange things, but so managed as to make the room wonderfully attractive to the male who has the good fortune to be admitted to a sight of its treasures. Their tea was always brought in on a silver tray soon after five, and to this most enjoyable meal they frequently invited such of the courtiers as they specially favoured. Zac had constant invitations of a general character, but whenever one of the sisters chanced to be absent from any cause whatever, the other was sure to send specially to request his attendance. This was his time of trial. The "request" of a princess in that royalty-loving country was equivalent to a command, and it was entirely contrary to etiquette for any one to refuse compliance, save on the score of ill-health, domestic affliction, or some other equally valid excuse. Therefore it was very difficult for Zac to refuse, though he knew only too well what awaited him. Amabilia or Concaterina, whichever it happened to be--no matter which--was certain to be alone, and always received him with such overpowering affection as quite bewildered him. His only safety lay in the fact that the two girls had become so jealous of each other, that one never left the other alone at five o'clock tea if she could possibly help it. Still, sometimes such an occurrence was unavoidable, and if Amabilia was ever kept up-stairs by a bad cold, or Concaterina had been detained elsewhere by some accidental circumstance, as sure as fate, one of these special invitations came to Zac, and the poor boy had to go and face the lovely princess as best he could.

So things went on for several months, well into the second year of the youth's residence in the palace, until at last matters seemed coming to a crisis. For the second time, Concaterina had indulged him with a kiss, which he could hardly with politeness refrain from returning, and the lovely Amabilia actually began the same game.

She secured him for a five o'clock tea, and whilst sitting by his side on the sofa, and talking in her usually affectionate manner, she suddenly laid her fair head upon his shoulder for an instant, and the next moment as suddenly raising it, exclaimed in an energetic and emphatic tone: "_Dear_ Zac!" and imprinted at the same instant a warm and loving kiss upon his young lips.

Poor Zac was terribly perplexed, but more in thought than in action, for of course he could do no less than promptly return the compliment just paid him by the princess. But when she took his hand in hers, pressed it warmly, and regarded him with loving eyes, with her face still closer to his than any face but Belinda's should have been, he felt that this was really carrying things too far, and that he must somehow or other put an end to it. How he would have done so it is impossible to say, inasmuch as the princess, evidently of a different opinion, appeared desirous of prolonging the situation, and his difficulty in preventing her from doing so would probably have been considerable.

Fortunately--or unfortunately, as the taste of my readers may lead them to determine--the door suddenly flew open, and the princess had barely time to spring to the other end of the sofa when the portly figure of Lord Pompous entered the apartment. As Lord Chamberlain, Old Pompous had the general right of entry everywhere, although he rarely ventured to approach the sitting-room of the princesses without special invitation, and probably would not have done so upon the present occasion had he not been sent directly by the king. I do not think that Amabilia ever quite forgave the old man for his unwelcome intrusion; but he really was not to blame in the matter. King Fridolin had got into a difficulty about some curtains which he had recently ordered for his study, and which, when they came home, he fancied were of colours which did not match; those destined for one window being of a different hue to those which belonged to another. Having referred the matter to Lord Pompous, that worthy ventured to be of an opinion contrary to that of his sovereign, and held that the curtains matched perfectly. Upon this Fridolin first threw a footstool at the head of his lord chamberlain--on dodging which he tumbled over the waste-paper basket into the coal-scuttle, and spoiled a new white waistcoat--and then directed him, since he was such a blind old fool as to be unable to tell one colour from another, to go immediately to Amabilia's room and ask her to come there and decide the knotty point. Accordingly, the submissive Pompous hurried off to obey the orders of the king, and arrived at the particularly opportune or inopportune moment which I have described.

As far as Zac was concerned, the intrusion appeared to him to be little less than providential. The princess could do nothing else than obey, and as it would not have been etiquette for her either to have invited him to accompany her, or told him to await her return, she had no alternative but to dismiss him from the apartment. This she did with a loving look, which certainly could not be misunderstood by its object, and could hardly have escaped the observation of any bystander less blind and stupid than Lord Pompous.

The princess then sought the presence of her father, and Zac, having deeply cogitated upon the whole matter, after his return to his own room, made up his mind that, unless he was to run away--a proceeding which would be difficult, uncomfortable, ruinous to his future interests, and very disagreeable to others beside himself--the only alternative he had was to open his whole heart to Belinda upon the very first opportunity.

Having quite resolved upon this he felt somewhat more happy, for that which had really troubled him most was the apprehension that the young princess might discover something of the truth, and not knowing from himself how matters really stood, might imbibe some false impression concerning the matter, and blame him for having employed unnecessary and unjustifiable concealment in a business so intimately concerning her interests and future happiness. He had not long to wait for the opportunity he desired. At their very next interview he was able to open his heart to Belinda upon the subject, and to tell her all the awkwardness of his position as regarded the king, herself, and her two sisters.

At first the poor child wept bitterly, and was quite unable either to control or to conceal her feelings. She had never expected, for she had never received, great kindness from her elder sisters, but she had thought herself quite safe from molestation with regard to her future husband. Amabilia and Concaterina had so scoffed at the idea of the pig-race when the project was first started, they had laughed so heartily at the ridiculous notion of the hand of a king's daughter being given as the reward of a successful jockey, and they had tossed their heads so high at the idea of a common farmer's son being received and accepted as the future husband of _their_ sister, that it had never entered the poor child's head that there was the slightest chance of either of them ever desiring to obtain his affection. Yet such was the case. She was attacked upon the very side upon which she had felt herself most secure, and her surprise was only equalled by her distress. One consolation, however, she certainly had, than which none could well be greater. The fidelity of Zac was a comfort which was beyond all price, as it was also beyond all praise. When she was fully assured of this--and indeed she was too young and too honest to have ever doubted it--she felt almost glad that the occasion to prove it had arisen. In warm but simple language she expressed at once her gratitude and her affection for the youth, who, on his part, declared his firm adherence to the troth he had plighted, and in homely words vowed that he would never be false to his Belinda.

But this mutual interchange of confidence and regard rendered the present position of affairs by no means less dangerous and uncomfortable. Zac offered to go to the king if Belinda desired it, but to this there was a double objection. In the first place, Fridolin would probably be slow to believe anything to the disadvantage of his favourite daughters, and an appeal to him, certain to lead to an entire denial on the part of the princesses, would not improbably recoil upon the heads of both Belinda and her promised husband. Then, in the second place, Zac had a strong and conscientious objection to betraying a lady's secret, and had only done so in the present case because Belinda was his affianced wife, and he felt himself bound in honour to tell her how matters stood between her sisters and himself.

They decided, therefore, that they certainly would not say anything to the king upon the subject. There was no one else to whom they could appeal, for Amabilia and Concaterina were omnipotent in the palace, and it would have been hopeless to speak to old Pompous or any of the courtiers. All that Belinda could think of was to tell her old foster-mother, who was allowed to see her twice a month, and who was so utterly devoted to her, that if the worst came to the worst, and the poor child had to leave the palace, she knew she could find a refuge in that humble cottage as long as the old woman was allowed to live there. So, after much difficulty, she obtained Zac's permission to confide to her the whole matter, and to ask her counsel regarding it.

The youth left his betrothed with a heavy heart, but rejoiced withal at the thought that, at all events, she knew the truth, and would place in him the trust which he so well deserved.

The cottage of Belinda's foster-mother was not far from the palace, and close to a forest of considerable size, between which and the river which flowed through the fertile plain upon one side of it, were the king's pastures upon which grazed his numerous flocks and herds. As has been already stated, the good old foster-mother was the wife of one of the shepherds whose duty it was to tend the king's flocks. He was now somewhat advanced in years, and so was his wife; but they were a hale and hearty couple, and still performed their duties with diligence and fidelity. According to her resolution, Belinda confided to her foster-mother at the very next interview the whole circumstances of her painful position. The worthy woman was much disturbed at hearing this news. No one was better informed than she was of the state of affairs at the palace. She knew that the word of either Amabilia or Concaterina was law, whilst her nursling had no influence whatever. If, then, the two sisters could agree between themselves as to which of them should appropriate Zac, there seemed but small hope that Belinda would be permitted to retain her lover. True, he might have a word to say upon the subject himself, and would possibly--nay, probably, according to Belinda--be firm and true, but how far that would avail against the will of those with whom he would have to deal, was a very doubtful matter. So when she had heard her child's story, the old woman comforted and petted her at first by condoling with her on the badness of the prospect before her, and the impossibility of its ever being any better. Having thus made both her nursling and herself as miserable as she could, and having cried together a good deal more than the urgency of the case required, they began to think whether anything else could be done, and for some time no thought entered either head of which any use could be made. This interview took place in the palace, and the good old woman said that she never _could_ think in such a grand place as that, but that if Belinda could manage to come and see her one of those days at her own cottage, they would be able to talk the matter over quietly together, and perhaps something might turn up. To this Belinda consented, and the old woman took her departure.

For the next few days things went on much the same, the two elder princesses doing all in their power to attract the affection of Zac, and the honest lad striving to avoid them as much as he possibly could do without actual incivility. One day, however, things really came to a crisis. Zac had finished his work earlier than usual, and went into the palace garden to enjoy the fresh air. He took a book with him, and finding a pleasant seat in a little summer-house, which had been built near a natural waterfall which formed one of the beauties of the place, he sat himself thereupon, and began to read.

It was a lovely spot, and the moment was one which occasionally comes to everybody in the warm summer-time, when the sound of falling water, the rays of the sun just piercing through a thick leafy screen, the low singing of the birds and the humming of the insects, all induce a kind of dreamy happiness which gradually steals over the spirit, and not seldom ends in the forgetfulness of sleep. So it was with Zac. He read a page or two with avidity--for his book was interesting--then another page or two rather less eagerly, then more slowly and lazily still; then he ceased to turn over the pages at all, and finally the book slipped from his hands to his knees, and from his knees to the ground, his eyes closed, and he fell into a sweet, dreamless sleep.

Now, as luck would have it, the lovely Concaterina had observed the youth saunter into the garden, as she was watering the mignonette which grew in a box placed upon her window-sill. The opportunity for a _tête-à-tête_ seemed too good to be lost, and she therefore shortly afterwards descended in pursuit of him, having previously made sure that her beloved elder sister was practising music in their joint sitting-room. The princess did not find the boy directly, as she fancied he had gone further into the shrubberies than was really the case, so that by the time she came upon him in the summer-house he was stretched at full length upon the seat and sleeping as I have described.

She gazed upon him for some few seconds in a transport of maidenly affection--so young and so handsome did he seem in her eyes, with his head leaning upon one of his arms which he had carelessly thrown behind it as he sank to sleep. Should she awaken him? and how? She did not take long to decide. In that country there was a proverbial saying--and I believe it is not confined to that country--that if a gentleman finds a lady asleep he has a right to take a kiss by way of legitimate booty. Concaterina had no idea that such a privilege could be properly or fairly confined to one sex, and she therefore leaned gently over the slumbering Zac, and without more ado kissed him tenderly on the cheek.

The boy started from his sleep, and blushed deeply at having been thus awakened and saluted. He stammered forth some apologies for having been found as he was, but these were soon stopped by Concaterina, who addressed him in the most affectionate terms, and, sitting down by his side, asked him whether he quite hated her.

To this the youth could make but one reply, namely, that it was not for him to hate his king's daughter, and that even were she not so, she and her sister had been too kind to him to make it possible for him to entertain any such feeling towards either of them.

At the mention of her sister the fair one pouted prettily, and continued to talk to him in terms of endearment.

"Dearest Zac," she said, "if you do not hate me cannot you love me a little? I am so fond of _you_--so _very_ fond."

Zac did not know how to answer.

"I _do_ love you," at length he said, "as the Princess Belinda's sister, and therefore one who will some day be _my_ sister too!"

"Ah!" sighed Concaterina, "but I want more than that, you dear boy. Belinda, indeed! you are much too good for _her_, poor ill-favoured, child! How happy we could be together, Zac. You don't think me ugly, do you?"

Zac certainly did _not_, and therefore could not say so, but when the princess went on in the same way, and tried to persuade him to let her usurp the place in his affections which belonged to Belinda, he could only reply that he knew she could not _really_ mean it, and begged her not to play tricks upon him in that manner.

"Ah, Zac," she returned, "they are no tricks; I never before saw anyone whom I could really love, and I do love you, Zac, so _very_ much!" and as she spoke she passed her arm again round the perplexed boy's neck in a loving manner.

What step she would next have taken I am unable to say, for at that moment who should enter the summer-house but the Princess Amabilia.

"Pretty conduct this, indeed!" she cried, when she saw the position of affairs. "Concaterina! I wonder you are not ashamed of yourself, teasing that poor boy with your affection when you know he wants none of it!"

The younger sister had by this time withdrawn the offending arm and turned sharply upon the intruder.

"How tiresome you are, Amabilia," she said pettishly; "always interfering. Zac and I understand each other quite well, and don't want you here at all. Do go away!"

"Hoity-toity!" rejoined the other. "_I_ go away, forsooth, that would be very reasonable, when we both know that dear Zac loves me fifty times better than he does you. Impudence!"

At this Concaterina fired up.

"He does no such thing!" she cried angrily; "he and I are now nearly of an age, and if you were a real good sister you would be glad to see how fond he is of me, instead of trying to take him away, you spiteful thing."

Amabilia replied with equal warmth, and poor Zac's position became one of extreme discomfort, both princesses claiming him as their own, when he in reality neither belonged nor wished to belong to either.

Presently, however, they brought their animated discussion to a close by appealing to Zac himself. Amabilia ingenuously declared that as she was eldest she ought to have the first choice, and that since matters had come to this pass, she would not be ashamed of telling Zac to his face that she loved him dearly, and was prepared to accept him for her husband. To this she added that in most courts such a hint as she had given would be considered equivalent to a command, and that she was thankful to say and feel that, as in their case there was love on both sides, a command would be quite superfluous.

Concaterina then put in her claim. She said that in matters of love it was not a question of being eldest or youngest, the heart must follow its own promptings. She loved Zac--oh, so dearly! and she felt that he returned her love, only diffidence forbade him to confess it. But if he would be hers, she was certain her sister would soon find another mate, and that the king, her father, would make no objection. Thus accosted by two young and beautiful princesses, poor Zac would have had a most difficult task to decide between them, had it not been that the path of duty lay straight before him, and he had all along resolved to follow it.

"Dear ladies!" he said, addressing them both, and bowing respectfully to one and the other, "I thought you were but playing with me, and I would fain hope so still. If not--what reply can I make to you? I love you both--each has been so kind to me since I first entered the palace, that I should be worse than a brute if I did not love you both. But I came here as the promised husband of your sister Belinda. My troth is plighted to her. She believes in and trusts me. How can I break my word and her heart? Dear princesses, you are so beautiful that you can command love whenever and wherever you wish it. It is not so with poor Belinda. She has but me, and I have vowed to be faithful to her!"

Whilst Zac was speaking thus, his eyes fired with animation, and his face beaming with excitement, the princesses thought they had never seen him look so handsome. But when his words showed them that their efforts to wean his heart from their younger sister had been unsuccessful, rage gradually took possession of their souls.

"You despise our love!" they both cried out at once. "You, a mere peasant boy, who was only taken into the palace out of charity, you _dare_ to say that you despise our beauty and ourselves, and take up with that little lump of deformity, Belinda! How can you be such a fool?"

Poor Zac protested that he was far from despising either of them, and admired their beauty greatly, as indeed anyone with eyes must do. This, however, was far from satisfying the enraged damsels. They insisted upon it that the youth had encouraged them both, and the only dispute between them now was as to which of them had been worse treated by him. They told him, moreover, that his pretended fidelity to Belinda should not bring happiness either to him or her. They would plague her life out, for the matter of that. Ugly little toad! why should she have a husband at all? And as for him--he should be punished handsomely for this, and that, too, perhaps, sooner than he thought.

They then left the summer-house, and, I am sorry to say, allowed their anger to carry them far beyond what could in any way be justified. They agreed to go to their father that very afternoon, and tell him that Zac had been very impertinent to both of them, and that Amabilia had surprized him trying to kiss Concaterina against her will in the summer-house. This they accordingly did, and the effects were much what they had expected.

The king flew into a violent passion, threw both his boots with an unerring aim at the head of Lord Pompous, and vowed that the world must certainly be coming to an end. When the courtiers had all agreed to this as a novel but most reasonable remark, he called them a parcel of fools for thinking such a thing at all probable, and ordered Zac to be immediately arrested. When told of what he was accused, the poor boy was almost beside himself with grief. He was sorry enough for the trouble he was in, and for that which might fall upon Belinda in consequence; but he was still more sorry for the cruel conduct of the two princesses, whom he had really liked, and who had behaved so heartlessly to him for only doing his duty. Even now, however, he behaved like a true gentleman.

When Fridolin asked him what he had to allege in his defence, he bowed low before the king, and said "Nothing." When asked if he then confessed himself guilty, he replied:

"May it please your majesty, I should feel guilty if I allowed myself to deny any statement made by the noble princesses, your majesty's royal daughters."

This speech would have touched many hearts, but Fridolin was in too great a passion at that moment to be touched by anything, and he gave orders that Zac should immediately be thrown into a deep dungeon, fed upon bread and water, and confined there until it should be settled whether he should be beheaded or banished, which were the only two punishments which occurred to the king just then. Accordingly, the poor boy was roughly dragged away from the royal presence, taken down a great many stone steps, until he arrived at the dungeon door, and then thrust through it, and left to think over all that had happened.

The Princess Belinda, meanwhile, was quite ignorant of the whole affair until the next morning, when her two sisters visited her in her apartment. They came, as may be supposed, in no very friendly state of mind, and told their story in a manner which would have greatly distressed Belinda, if she had not had the most perfect reliance upon Zac. They pretended to condole with her on the circumstance of his having repeatedly made love to both of them, playing one off against the other, and striving to induce them to persuade the king to let him marry one of them instead of her. They said that they had refrained from telling her this before, for fear of wounding her feelings, but that now they were obliged to do so. Then they told their concocted story about the summer-house, and related all that had subsequently occurred. Poor Belinda shed bitter tears, but showed her disbelief in their story so plainly, that they presently changed their tone, asked who and what _she_ was, forsooth, that a husband should be provided for her--telling her that she should never have him after all, that they would take care he was kept in the dungeon until he came to his senses, and making all kinds of other unpleasant observations, which made the poor child very unhappy. So as soon as her sisters had left her, she determined to go down to her foster-mother's cottage, and seek consolation from her.

Off she set, and walked down to the forest, crying all the way, until she got to the cottage. There, to her dismay, she found the door locked, for the good woman had gone to carry her husband's dinner out to him on the plain, and had locked up the house until her return. Belinda did not know what to do, for as she was not very strong, she felt somewhat tired with her walk, and not equal to walking back again without rest. So she sat down in the trellised arbour by the cottage door, and presently fell fast asleep. As she slept, she dreamed a curious dream. She thought that her mother came and looked upon her. Of course, Belinda could not remember her mother, for the very good reason that she had died very shortly after the child was born. Still, somehow or other, she knew it was her mother, very bright and beautiful, and with such a loving look upon her face as only mothers have when they gaze upon their children. When her mother had looked down upon her for a little while, she stooped down and spoke, in a soft, sweet, gentle tone of voice.

"My little one," she said, "do not despair and be down-hearted: all will yet be well with you. You have had much trouble in the past, but your happiness in the future will be all the brighter by the contrast. If you want help, you are near it now, for Canetto, the Prince of the Forest Mannikins, is my cousin, and you are in his country."

Belinda started up wide-awake, just as her mother seemed to have finished speaking. The words were still ringing in her ears, and she looked round and rubbed her eyes in great amazement. There was nothing to be seen. A soft breeze from the south gently stirred the leaves of the honeysuckle and sweetbriar which enfolded the little arbour in their fragrant embrace. The doves were gently cooing in the fir-trees, and far, far away she heard the distant bleating of the sheep on the plain, but there was no mortal being near her. The loving mother, then, had been but the unreal vision of a dream, and the encouraging words had been no more than a passing thought or fancy of her own, mysteriously clothed for a moment with sound. Yet they seemed so vivid--so true. So certain was she that she had actually heard them, that almost insensibly she found herself repeating them aloud.

"Canetto, the Prince of the Forest Mannikins," she exclaimed, and the next moment started with affright at the effect which her own words had produced.

"Who calls Canetto?" said a voice; and at the same instant she perceived a figure standing a few yards off from the entrance to the arbour. It was the figure of a little old man, about three feet high, dressed in a dark green coat, with a velveteen waistcoat and white corduroys. In his hand he held a hunting-whip, with which he carelessly flicked off the heads of the daisies as he stood. Upon his head was a species of wide-awake, as far as Belinda could judge; at least it was of that kind of shape, and seemed to be made of some light material suited to the heat of the weather. But the most remarkable thing about the old gentleman was the marvellous mixture of intelligence and good-humour which appeared upon his countenance. His eyes sparkled with a kind of light, which told you at the first glance that he was not a man to be easily hum-bugged, whilst the smile which seemed constantly hovering upon his mouth betokened a fund of humour and kind-heartedness which was very reassuring to the young princess.

"Who calls Canetto?" he said again, in a kind voice.

The maiden knew that common politeness, as well as her own interest, required a prompt reply.

"Sir," she said, "I am Belinda, King Fridolin's youngest daughter, and my mother was your cousin, I think, and I am very unhappy, and I don't know what to do, and I dreamed that my mother came and told me to ask you to help me; and oh! pray don't be angry with me, for I do not want to do any harm to anybody, only if I may be a little happier!"

While Belinda spoke the little man kept on flicking his hunting-whip and smiling benignly all the time.

"A little happier, my lambkin?" he said as soon as she had finished. "To be sure you shall. Why not? Your mother my cousin? That she was indeed, poor darling! Not only my cousin was she, but we used to be the best of friends before she married King Fridolin, after which I saw little of her, and knew nothing of her great trouble until it was too late to help her."

At these words the princess quite forgot her own sorrow for the moment, in the intense desire she had to know the history of the mother of whom neither her father nor her sisters ever spoke.

"Oh, sir," she cried in an agitated voice, "please tell me about my dear mother. I have so longed to know all about her, and I never shall know unless somebody tells me, for she died when I was quite little, and no one in the palace ever speaks of her to me."

A tinge of melancholy replaced the smile upon the little man's face as he replied to Belinda's question.

"Your mother," said he, "was neither more nor less than an angel, which is more than I can say for your royal father; although, after all, his faults are rather those of his education than any which arise from his natural disposition, which is far from bad. But it is difficult for kings, who have the world at their feet and always get their own way, to be all that one could wish them. Your mother was as near perfection, in body as well as mind, as any human being can attain. Why she married your father I could never understand, except it was because she chose to do so. There were others," (here the small gentleman drew himself up to his full height, placed his right hand upon his heart, and heaved a deep sigh), "there were others who loved her as well and might have made her happier. But Fridolin carried her off, and for a time they were happy. When your elder sisters were born he was contented, although he had wished for a prince, but he could not object to children of such rare beauty. Then came the trouble.

"The fairy Nuisancenika had, and has, wondrous power over the Plain country--by which I don't mean the country of 'plain' people, though _she_ is 'plain' enough in all conscience, but the flat country, wherever there are no woods and hills. Well, this disagreeable woman was always jealous of your mother's beauty, because she herself possessed none, and was the more angry with her because, I think, she always had a fancy to be queen herself. Still, she dared not injure a queen who had carefully avoided doing anything which might give her reasonable cause of offence. True, she did what she could to poison your father's mind and make him dislike his wife; but, save for an unfortunate accident, I think she would have failed altogether. The poor queen dropped her writing-case upon one occasion, and the wicked fairy, finding it, secured some of her private note paper and envelopes with her own particular cipher thereupon. Of these she made use by writing, in exact imitation of your mother's handwriting, some very disagreeable things about the king, which she took good care should fall into his hands. This caused unpleasantness between the hitherto happy couple, and Nuisancenika made it her business to manage that it should not pass away. Then, most unhappily, in driving out one day in her pony-carriage, your poor mother had the bad luck to drive over one of the fairy's favourite adders, which was fast asleep on a grass ride where it had no earthly business to be, and had no right whatever to complain of being killed. But the wicked mistress was furious beyond measure; and as the event occurred when the queen was in the plain country, driving, I believe, to fetch her husband news how the lambing was going on, this circumstance somehow or other gave the fairy power over her which she cruelly used. Had I only known of it in time, the whole misfortune might have been prevented, but I chanced to be away on a visit, and when I returned, your mother was dead and the mischief done. I heard of it too late, and the wretch Nuisancenika had taken such precautions by her enchantments during my absence that, although my power is greater than hers, I could do nothing at all in the matter; nor could I have even disclosed to you the truth, as I have now done, unless you had, of your own free will, come into my country and asked me the question outright."

By the time Canetto had finished his sad story, the poor child to whom he spoke was bathed in tears. She thought not of herself, for her want of beauty and good shape were misfortunes which she had been long accustomed to regard with resignation; but the sorrows and sufferings of her mother penetrated her gentle spirit with the profoundest emotion. She looked up through her tears at the little man, and thanked him in a soft, low voice, broken by her sobs, for his goodness in satisfying her curiosity.

After a short pause he began again:--

"Dry your tears, my petkin," he said, "for I have not come here to make you miserable, but the very reverse, if I can but manage to do so. It was only right that you should know the sorrows of your mother, and the story of your birth, but I should not have cared to tell you if I could do nothing more. It is now _your_ turn to speak, and tell me the reason of your coming here; because I have had no communication with the palace, and could have none, during the time that the spell lasted, which you have this day broken by coming here."

Belinda did as she was told (which young ladies should always do, if they wish to be respected and beloved, unless they are told to do something which they dislike, in which case of course it is quite a different matter) and then proceeded to tell the Prince of the Forest Mannikins the whole story of her life, her affection for Zac, the conduct of her sisters with regard to that excellent youth, and her present affliction in consequence of his imprisonment by her father.

During the narration of her story, the little man flicked his hunting-whip continually and appeared at once interested and excited. When she had concluded, and seemed much inclined to indulge in another flood of tears, he hastily stopped her.

"Little petkin," he remarked, "crying can do nobody any good at all, and least of all anyone who has another and better cure for their misfortunes. Come with me, Childerkin, and we will see whether something cannot be done to make matters wear a better appearance."

With these words Canetto led the way into the forest behind the shepherd's cottage, and Belinda followed him with the utmost confidence, being quite sure that he meant to help her if he could. And here we must leave our little princess for a time, in order to return to another individual in whom we ought to be equally interested.

Poor Zac had been cast into a most uncomfortable dungeon, in which there was only one half-broken wooden form to sit down upon, whilst the air was close and heavy, the space confined, and the only light came from a grating in one corner of the ceiling, probably placed there for the purposes of ventilation, and opening into the bottom of a kind of deep ditch, which itself could only be reached by the light from a long distance above. This was indeed a sad change for the poor boy, who had so long been accustomed to the comforts and luxuries of the palace. He felt, as was natural, much cast down and dispirited by his sudden reverse of fortune, and his only consolation was that he had not brought it on himself by any bad conduct of his own. It was very unpleasant, certainly, to be accused of behaving badly to the two princesses, when no one could have possibly behaved better; but he thought to himself that it would have been much worse if he had really been guilty. Besides, he had another consolation, in the firm reliance which he felt in the constancy and affection of Belinda. She, he knew, would be true to him, whatever happened, and this thought cheered his drooping spirits.

He felt rather hungry, and, finding a loaf of black bread and a pitcher of water near it, determined to satisfy his craving forthwith. Having done this there was nothing for it but to sit and think, which he accordingly did, going carefully over in his mind all the events of his past life, and wondering much at the curious fate which had befallen him. He could not recollect anything that had happened when he was _very_ young. He only remembered being very unhappy at his father's house, being called by his elder brothers and sisters "the little gentleman," and pushed about here and there and everywhere, as if everybody wished him out of the way. Then he called to mind how hard he had tried to be gentle and loving to all, and how he had gradually seemed to get on better and to be more kindly treated. Then came the circumstance of his having specially to tend the pigs, and then the proclamation of the pig-race, when he remembered a discussion about who should ride "Sandy Sue," and how one of the elder Dicksons had been anxious to do so, but was forbidden by his father, who said that "gentleman Zac" was the only one who could win on her, and ride he should. Since that day of course he remembered everything very distinctly--how he had been introduced to the little princess, and her sisters, and the king--how frightened he had been at first, and how soon he had got over that feeling--how kind they had all been to him--how he had taken to his learning and delighted in his books; and then all the sad and trying events of the last few months and his sudden downfall from his career of promised happiness.

All these thoughts passed through the poor boy's head as he sat in his lonely dungeon, and hours slipped by without his taking any count of them. The shades of evening had now fallen upon the palace, but this made little difference to Zac, and indeed he found he could see rather better than upon his first entrance, since his eyes began to become accustomed to the light. All at once he heard a little noise, as if some animal was scratching close at hand. He looked listlessly round, and thought how little it mattered to him what it was. A rat or a mouse would be a companion to his solitude, but if such a creature appeared it would probably fly as soon as it caught sight of him. The noise continued, and in another moment a little mouse poked its head out of a hole in the corner of the dungeon, and fixed its sharp black eyes upon the prisoner as if it had come on purpose to see him and was very glad to find him disengaged. Zac did not move at first, being fearful lest he should disturb his little visitor; but he need not have been alarmed, for it presently came quite out of the hole and sat a few yards off from him, steadily looking him in the face. Seeing the confidence of the animal, Zac thought there could be no fear of his driving it away by the sound of his voice, so he said, partly to the mouse and partly to himself:--

"Poor little creature, I wonder what _you_ want here?"

To his intense surprise the small creature immediately replied, in a shrill but by no means unpleasant voice:--

"I came to see you, Mr. Zac, and to tell you the latest news."

"To see me!" exclaimed the astonished boy. "Well, you must be the best mouse that ever was born to come and take pity upon a poor prisoner like me. And since you can talk so well, perhaps you will kindly inform me what news it is you have to tell."

"King Fridolin is very, very angry with you, Mr. Zac," replied the mouse.

"Unfortunately, my little darling, _that_ is no news at all," rejoined the boy; "I knew it, to my cost, some hours ago, and it is for that very reason that you find me here."

"But," continued the mouse, "he is so angry that he is determined to punish you with the most terrible punishment ever known, and is only doubting now whether you shall be thrown into the adder-pit, or stripped, smeared with honey and tied to a tree to amuse the wasps and flies."

The poor boy shuddered at these words; but, recovering his firmness immediately, rejoined:--

"Whatever it be, it will be in a good cause that I shall suffer, and I must bear it as best I may."

The mouse went on:--

"You really ought not to have tried to kiss the Princess Concaterina, Mr. Zac," she said.

"If you know anything at all, little mouse," said the boy, indignantly, "you must know that I did no such thing."

"Then," rejoined the other, "why did you not deny it before the king?"

"Do you think I would brand Belinda's own sisters as the tellers of a falsehood?" returned Zac.

"I think _I_ should, sooner than be thrown into a dungeon, and perhaps into an adder-pit afterwards," gravely observed his visitor. "But they say there is some hope for you yet; for the princesses are really fond of you, and if you will consent to marry Concaterina, all may yet be well with you."

"Do you think I would be so base as to save my life upon such terms?" angrily responded the boy.

"Well, I don't know," said the mouse in a slow, hesitating tone of voice, "I think I should, if I were you. I should really advise you to do so. Just consider what a disagreeable, uncomfortable place this is, compared with the palace. Then how _very_ unpleasant it would be to feel the adders, creeping all over you with their cold, slimy touch, and then stinging you to death at their leisure afterwards. Or how painful and distressing to feel the wasps and flies biting and stinging you, cheerfully buzzing about to look out for a tender place. Oh, it would be a horrible death to die! I should _strongly_ advise you to marry Concaterina and escape such a fate!"

"What!" exclaimed Zac, "do you come here pretending to be a friend of mine, and advise me to be false to Belinda and break my plighted word? I am quite ashamed of you for giving such advice, little mouse; as I should be of myself if I could listen to it for one moment!"

"As for Belinda," replied the animal, shaking its head sorrowfully, "I do not think you need concern yourself about _her_. She implicitly believes the charge against you, and is eager that you should be punished; whilst her tender-hearted sisters are inclined to ask their father to pardon you."

At these words Zac started up in a great passion.

"Belinda false!" he cried. "Belinda believe me _guilty_! Mouse, I will never believe it! You have betrayed yourself, and are an enemy instead of a friend. I would sooner believe evil of myself than of the princess against whom you utter this calumny. Take this for your wicked falsehood!" So saying, he seized his shoe to throw at the mouse; when, to his intense surprise, the little animal became suddenly transformed into a human being, and Belinda herself stood before him.

"Dearest Zac!" she said, running up at once to the boy and embracing him tenderly, "forgive me for the trial to which I have put your constancy. It was not _my_ wish to do so, but the order of those who have the right to command. I have found a friend who is as able as he is willing to help us, and by his assistance I believe our happiness will yet be secured. By his power I have been enabled to visit you in your dungeon in the shape of a mouse, in order that I might convey to you some information which is quite necessary to your safety."

"But who is this powerful friend?" asked Zac, when, having returned her caress, he found words to express his feelings.

"He is Canetto, the Prince of the Forest Mannikins," replied Belinda; "and having been a near relative of my dear mother's, he is very well disposed towards me."

"What then am I to do?" asked the boy. "For, shut up, as I am, in this horrid dungeon, it seems to me that nobody can do anything for me, unless indeed they would change me into a mouse, that I might pass out by the same hole as that by which you entered."

"That," said Belinda, "might doubtless be a very good plan, but it is not the one which I am directed to follow. You must know that our friend, all-powerful in the forest, has elsewhere bounds and limits to his power, the reasons and degree of which you and I cannot understand. It is for this cause that he does not come here at once and deliver you from the dungeon; but, though he does not attempt this, he will give you such help as shall assuredly procure your deliverance in due time. He bade me tell you that you will certainly be taken out of this place to-morrow, when the king will advise with his council what to do with you. Be firm--though this I need scarcely tell you: if they give you your choice of death, or if they offer you one wish before you die, choose to be killed in the forest, under the shadow of the trees near my foster-mother's cottage, and if they grant that wish the rest will be easy. If (as is of course possible) they offer you no choice at all in the matter, you must pronounce the magic word which alone can prevent them harming you, but with which you are invulnerable."

"And what may that word be?" anxiously inquired Zac.

"It is not an easy one," replied the princess, "but as I may only say it twice, listen very carefully whilst I do so, that you may remember it well, since the least mistake might be attended with disastrous consequences. The word is--'Ballykaluphmenonabababandleby."

"_What?_" exclaimed Zac in a horrified voice; upon which the princess repeated the word again very slowly; but, though it doubtless appears very easy to the reader, it completely puzzled poor Zac. He shook his head mournfully--

"If it depends upon _that_," said he, "the game is up--I should never be able to pronounce that word, if I waited till apples grow on peach trees."

"I am very sorry," answered the princess in a sorrowful voice, "but you see I can only tell you what Canetto told _me_, and we must hope for the best. But now it is time for me to be off, for if I am not back at the palace soon, my absence will be discovered, and I may be exposed to unpleasant questions." So saying, she once more embraced the boy, and then, approaching the hole, muttered some words which the mannikin king had, no doubt, told her, and in another moment became once more a mouse, and vanished from his sight.

The interview had somewhat encouraged Zac, although he had fearful misgivings about the magic word, which, strange to say, appeared to him both long and difficult. However, he resolved to make the best of it; and having finished his loaf of bread and pitcher of water, lay down on some straw which he found in the corner of his room, and fell fast asleep. In the morning he was awakened by a surly gaoler, who brought him a fresh loaf and some more water, of which he partook with all the relish of a good appetite. Not long after this, he heard the noise of persons descending the steps which led to his dungeon, and presently the door was thrown open, and a guard appeared, whose orders were to conduct the prisoner once more before the king.

Fridolin was sitting in his chair of state, surrounded by his courtiers; and near him stood the two elder princesses, with downcast eyes and cheeks suffused with modest blushes.

When the boy was brought in, the king frowned angrily upon him, and shook his royal fist in a threatening manner.

"Well, you young villain!" he cried; "have you passed the night bewailing your sins, and making ready for the death which certainly awaits you?"

"My lord king," answered the boy, with uplifted head and undaunted eye, "I have done no wrong against you or yours, and I deserve no death at your hands."

"What?" cried the king in a rage. "Didst thou not admit thy crime yesterday? Art thou not guilty of the charge brought against thee by our daughters?"

"Sire," replied the boy, "I said yesterday, and I say again, that I will not deny any statement made by these noble ladies."

"This is nonsense," said the king; "this is mere quibbling--again he admits his guilt. What shall we do with him? I say death!"

The courtiers all immediately said death too, as they would with equal unanimity have said anything else if their sovereign had happened to say it instead.

"Well, then," rejoined the king, "by what death shall he die? What say you, Lord Pompous?"

"Boil him," promptly replied the lord chamberlain, who was quite taken aback at being thus suddenly addressed, and who was at the moment thinking of a turkey which he had ordered for dinner, and with which he confused the prisoner at the moment.

"Pompous, you are a fool!" shouted the king.

"As your majesty pleases," responded the old man, with a low obeisance; and Fridolin went on to ask other opinions, which were all given with a guarded reservation, that they were subject to his majesty thinking the same, and if not, were no opinions at all.

"I think," said Fridolin presently, "that the pit of adders is the best place for him."

"Just so, sire."

"Exactly what we thought."

"The very thing," were the muttered exclamations which immediately passed round.

At this moment, Amabilia, rushed forward and threw herself at her father's feet.

"Oh, no! dear father," she cried in piteous tones; "_not_ such a dreadful fate as that, poor boy. Pray be more merciful, for _my_ sake."

Fridolin raised her affectionately from the ground.

"Well, well," he said, "have it your own way, my queenly girl; he shall _not_ be thrown into the adder-pit if you have the slightest objection. Gentlemen," he continued, turning to his council, "what say you to the honey torture, and giving the wasps and bees and flies a treat?"

"Very good, your Majesty;" "Just the proper punishment for his crime," and similar observations, again proceeded from the crowd of sycophants.

But at this instant Concaterina jumped up and performed precisely the same feat as that of her sister. Throwing herself upon her knees, she clasped those of her father, and begged him not to subject poor Zac to such a dreadful fate.

"All right," said the king, to whom nothing was so disagreeable as to see his daughters cry, which Concaterina was beginning to do, and that copiously. "He shall not die thus, if you don't wish it, my beauty; but what in the name of all that is wonderful do you want me to do with the fellow, if I am not to execute him according to the regular punishments of the country?"

Now both the princesses had begun to be sorry for Zac; for on calmer reflection they had come to the conclusion that it was rather hard that he should die so young, and die, too, for keeping his faith which he had plighted to a lady. True, he was a horrid fool for not preferring one of them; but then fidelity was a virtue, and a rare one, and he punished himself by preferring a plain--not to say ugly--wife to a beauty. They would have been quite content to have given him a little more taste of dungeon life, and then let him off, and all this talk about killing him did not at all chime in with their ideas. Still, they had raised the storm, and, as other people in a similar position have often discovered, knew not how to allay it. If they recommended Zac's pardon, they feared that their father would begin to doubt whether he had really committed any offence at all. So they hung their heads and said nothing, whilst Zac turned upon them a grateful look for having saved him from two such unpleasant alternatives as those which had been suggested.

After the king had pondered a minute, he struck violently at Lord Pompous' toe with his sceptre, and gave vent to his usual exclamation when excited by a sudden idea--"I've hit it!" which, fortunately for the lord chamberlain, was in this instance untrue.

"The prisoner," continued the king, "shall choose his own death and the place of his execution. Thus shall we blend mercy with justice, and maintain our royal reputation for both."

On hearing these gracious words, the courtiers naturally turned their eyes up to the heavens in admiration of such a display of elevated feeling; and Lord Pompous looked wiser than ever, though he instinctively edged a little further off from his august sovereign.

The latter now turned to Zac and demanded of him what death he would choose to die, and where it should take place; calling upon him, at the same time, to take notice of the clemency with which he was treated.

Although this did not strike Zac very forcibly, he was exceedingly glad that matters had fallen out in this way, especially since his treacherous memory had already completely forgotten the magic word, which might otherwise have been his only chance of escape. He therefore lost no time in answering the king's question.

"May it please your majesty," he said, "since my death is resolved upon, I should like to be shot in the breast, so that I may stand face to face with my executioners. For the place, I should like to be taken down to the forest, where of old I kept my father's pigs, a simple boy knowing nothing of palaces and princesses, which have brought me to this. These were the scenes of my happy childhood. There let me end my short life."

When the boy had finished speaking, Amabilia and Concaterina both burst into tears, and would have interceded once more with their royal parent, but the stern frown which he wore on his countenance restrained them from so doing.

Fridolin directed that preparations should be made for the execution within two hours of that time, and that all his court should be summoned to it. It was to take place in a large open space upon the edge of the forest, not far from the shepherd's cottage; and, in consequence of the magnitude of the crime, and the exalted position which the criminal had lately occupied as the affianced husband of one of the king's daughters, the executioners were to be composed of members of the nobility, all of whom were ordered to draw lots by which it should be decided who should undertake this duty. Some little delay was caused by the name of Lord Pompous being first drawn, who was known to entertain a rooted aversion to fire-arms. This being properly represented to the king, and also the extreme probability that the lord chamberlain would in his confusion certainly shoot the wrong man, his majesty was graciously pleased to allow the name to be set aside, and twelve others selected. This done, and all the other arrangements completed, the royal party set forth at the proper time, and came to the spot which had been selected for the execution.

The two princesses who had been the cause of all this were by this time plunged into the deepest distress, for they had never really intended it to go so far, and thought that Zac would probably have been brought to his knees and his senses before this, and would have been pardoned on condition of his marrying one of them. They had not taken into account the necessity of satisfying offended royalty, and that their father, insulted as he believed himself to have been through them, could not possibly pass the matter over without taking summary vengeance on the culprit.

Nobody had thought anything of Belinda; but, to the surprise of many of the party, she emerged from the door of her foster-mother's cottage, leaning upon the old woman's arm, and apparently overwhelmed with grief.

When the prisoner had been brought forward, the king in a loud voice declared to the people what his crime had been, and what was to be his punishment.

Then Zac, in a firm, calm tone, spoke to the crowd in these words. "I have only one thing to answer to what is brought against me. I was betrothed to the Princess Belinda, and I have been loyal and true to her ever since my betrothal."

Before any one could prevent her, Belinda here suddenly sprang forward with an agility of which no one believed her capable, and threw herself into Zac's arms, exclaiming at the same time--"I believe you, my own Zac; let us die together."

The crowd began to murmur. The king began to waver. The elder sisters cried still more bitterly at the sight of such devotion. There was a moment's hesitation, and a hope that Fridolin might relent from his cruel purpose; when at that very moment a loud, hissing noise was heard, and the figure of a little old woman, long past middle age and without the slightest pretensions to beauty, came driving into the middle of the crowd in a car drawn by pole-cats, whilst upon and around her twined numerous snakes and adders, who hissed in such a threatening manner at the crowd that the latter parted right and left in every direction, and made way for her to advance within a very short distance of the spot upon which stood the royal party and the prisoner.

Every eye was at once turned upon the new-comer, who waved her hand in an imperious manner, and looked round with an eye accustomed to command. As soon as it was evident she was about to speak, the snakes and adders left off hissing, and there was a dead silence throughout the whole body of people present. The old woman's voice was not melodious--rather the contrary, in fact--but she spoke clearly enough, and there was not the slightest difficulty in understanding her meaning.

"I am the fairy Nuisancenika," she said, "and I reign, as many of you may possibly know, over the Plain country. Having been particularly busy lately in inventing a new kind of adder whose bite shall be beyond the power of any antidote, I had not heard of the event which has been appointed for to-day. As soon as I _did_ hear, I determined to come and witness a righteous act performed by my old friend, King Fridolin.

"It is now some years ago since I avenged him upon his abominable wife, whom I always detested, and who fortunately gave me power over her by driving over my best viper in my own country. My vengeance, however, was not satisfied by her death. Although I had no power over her elder daughters, I was enabled to endow the last child with certain defects and deformities which it is pleasant to me to find have been rather increased than lessened by time. But if this girl gets a good and loving husband, these things will cease to trouble her, and I shall be robbed of one half my revenge. The low-born person she has chosen for her husband would be beneath my notice but that she has fixed her affections upon him. That is enough for me. He must die; and, when Fridolin considers that this fellow has insulted his elder and beautiful daughters, I cannot doubt that he will be of my opinion, and direct that the sentence be carried out without further delay."

She ceased; and a dead silence prevailed for a few seconds.

Then Fridolin turned sharply to Pompous. "Lord chamberlain, what had I better do?"

"What your majesty deems best under the circumstances," responded the high functionary thus addressed.

"Pompous, you are a fool," retorted the king, angrily.

"If your majesty please to say so," replied the courtier, with a low bow, and once more the sovereign had to think for himself. "There is much force, madam, in what you advance upon this subject," he remarked to the fairy.

"If there had not been I should not have taken the trouble to advance it," answered she. "Do not make fool of yourself by pretending to doubt as to what you ought to do. Have the young man shot directly, unless you prefer that I should let my adders loose upon him."

Scarcely were these words out of her mouth, when a clear, flute-like voice was heard ringing through the assembly. "Who talks of letting loose adders in _my_ country?"

The people looked up and beheld a little man in a dark green coat, velveteen waistcoat, and white corduroys, coming out of the forest with a hunting-whip in his hand, which he leisurely flicked about as he walked towards the royal party.

But this strange figure was not alone. There trooped after him, three and three at a time, a whole regiment of little men, all dressed in green, and apparently belonging to the first comer. They had also whips, but kept them quiet, whilst they gradually increased in number, until there were really more than you could have easily counted.

"I say!" repeated the little man in the same voice. "Who talks of letting loose adders in _my_ country?"

"_Your_ country?" asked Fridolin indignantly. "It is _mine_!"--but he was checked by the fairy, who put him aside at once, telling him that his claim was not disputed, but had nothing to do with the question.

"_Your_ country?" she asked of the little man. "I like that! why you know quite well it is _mine_, and has been for ages."

"I beg your pardon," said the other.

"I beg _yours_," retorted the fairy. "What do you mean by your mannikin impudence? It is my country, and I mean to have the prince killed, and settle once for all with this last child of your doll-faced cousin."

"Not so fast, madam," replied the little man, calmly. "It has never been disputed that my kingdom--that is, the forest territory--includes all the land within the limits of the forest, and the forest is held by our greatest fairy lawyers, beyond all doubt, to mean all the land upon and within which trees grow which are not separated from the bulk of the forest by any fence. Cast your eyes behind you and you will see that within the last few years, whilst you have been breeding adders, and I have been hunting and travelling, King Fridolin has planted largely, and those chestnut plantations, stretching from the forest on the extreme right, quite across to the fringe of forest on the left, have enclosed every yard of ground on which we are standing to-day, and have rendered it beyond all doubt, part and parcel of the forest territory, and consequently my country."

The fairy Nuisancenika looked right and left, and her countenance fell considerably.

"Upon my word," she said, reluctantly, "I believe you are right. I had overlooked those plantations. I don't know that I have any right to interfere--I have given my advice--perhaps I had better go--" and she took her whip up as if to lash her polecats forward.

"Stop!" cried the little man in a clear, strong voice. "There are two words to that bargain: those who enter the forest territory cannot quit it without my permission!" So saying, he made a sign to his mannikins, who immediately formed a ring, several deep, around the fairy and the whole royal party. Then the little man made a courteous bow to Fridolin, and proceeded as follows:

"Do not think for a moment, King Fridolin," he said, "that any usurpation of your rights is intended by my claim, undoubted as it is, to sovereignty over this forest country. It is yours as kingdoms are reckoned among mortals, and mine is a species of power which will never clash with your authority. But you have several things to learn to-day which it would have been well for you if you had learned before. I am Canetto, king like yourself, and cousin to your late lamented wife. Your conduct to her would be perfectly inexcusable if it had not been that your mind was poisoned and you were utterly deceived by this vilest of wicked fairies, Nuisancenika."

"'Tis false, villain!" shrieked this person, on finding herself alluded to in this uncomplimentary manner.

"Hag!" replied Canetto, with a glance of wrath at her, "I should be sorry to be obliged to proceed at once to extremities, but another such interruption will expose you to the violent probability of being whipped to death with your own adders immediately."

The fairy made a gesture of impotent wrath, and gnashed her teeth savagely while the mannikin thus continued:

"The letters, king, which you believed to have been written by Queen Rosetta, were all forged by this wretch, and written upon paper which she had stolen from my poor cousin. She it was, moreover, who poisoned the queen by viper-broth, and caused Belinda to be deformed and afflicted as you see her. Fortunately, she was powerless to deprave her mind, or debase her intellect, and you are happy in the possession of such a daughter. But this wrinkled old sinner was not content with this mischief. She it is who has been endeavouring to sow dissension in your family, first, by putting it into the heads of both your elder daughters to try and take away their sister's promised husband, and next, by hardening your heart and preventing your showing mercy when all your children would desire you to do so. But for this she has a reason beyond her hatred of Rosetta, which has lasted even after her death. Did you hear her mention the word 'prince' just now in speaking of Zac? Well, Zac _is_ a prince!"

Here all three of the princesses started, and the two elder screamed aloud.

"Yes!" continued Canetto, "that which I tell you is quite true, surprising though it be. Zac's father is a powerful monarch, the king of the country of the Red Camellias, which lies beyond my forest. Having a spite against the king, this vile sorceress stole the boy at an early age, and left him at a spot where he was found and taken home by Farmer Dickson, who will verify all that I say. By my magic art I knew this, but as I could do little or nothing beyond my forest, I thought it best to keep quiet. Now, however, you know the secret of Zac's gentle manners and general good behaviour, which, whenever you observe in a boy, you may be perfectly sure that he is either the son of a king, or of somebody else. The continuous and cruel hatred of Nuisancenika has carried her to such a pitch, that she has come here to-day to gratify her vengeance, and feast her murderous old eyes upon the death of this poor boy, and the sufferings of your youngest daughter. Her first punishment, therefore, shall be to witness something precisely the reverse."

Then turning to Zac he touched his fetters with the hunting-whip which he held in his hand, when they immediately fell off. He next raised the whip and laid the lash lightly across Belinda's shoulders, at the same time pronouncing the words--"Marlika, Marlika, humphty cambia," which all the world knows to be Mannikin expressions of vast power. In this instance their effect was both instantaneous and marvellous. Belinda's hump fell off, formed itself into a round ball like a cannon ball; bounded up, hit the wicked Fairy a tremendous blow in the chest which knocked her backwards for a moment, and then utterly disappeared. But this was not nearly all. Every defect in the young princess's form and features vanished as if by magic, and she stood before the king, tall, upright, straight as an arrow, and blushing in all the pride of conscious beauty. At this moment, I am glad to say that Amabilia and Concaterina, instead of showing any jealous feeling at a change which really made their younger sister more charming than themselves, gave vent to loud exclamations of joy, and rushed to congratulate and embrace her. The latter ceremony had already been performed by Zac, and all the royal family began to shed tears of happiness together.

But Fridolin had buried his face in his hands, and when he lifted up his head, the marks of deep sorrow were set upon his features. "Oh, my Rosetta!" he cried, in bitter anguish. "My lost and loved Rosetta! my only love! my noble queen!" and as he spoke he swung his right arm violently round in the extremity of his grief, catching Lord Pompous full upon the nose with his fist, and causing it to bleed profusely.

"Do not grieve so much," observed Canetto with a smile; "look behind you and see what is to be seen."

The king turned and perceived a lady of great beauty and stately mien slowly advancing from the shepherd's cottage.

"'Tis she! 'Tis she!" he shrieked at the top of his voice, hit Lord Pompous a tremendous blow on the third button of his waistcoat, which doubled him up in no time, and with another cry of "Rosetta!" rushed into the arms of his long lost wife.

"You see," said Canetto, still smiling, "Adder-broth is not so deadly but what the forest has an antidote. Although I could not disclose it until now, and even pretended to Belinda that her mother had died during my absence, it was not so. By my magic art I contrived that you should bury a waxen figure instead of your queen, whom I safely conveyed to the forest. Had I not seen that you really repented of your sins against her, and was I not captivated by Belinda's goodness, I really think I should never have let you have her again. But, since she wishes to return to you and to her children, I have agreed that it shall be so. Take care you treat her well and tenderly for the future.

"The royal family were now full of joy, and even Amabilia and Concaterina came in for their share of good luck, for the King of the Mannikins chucked each of them pleasantly under the chin, told them that he knew they were good girls at heart, and promised that both should have royal husbands before they were twenty. Then he turned to the fairy Nuisancenika with a dark frown upon his countenance.

"Miserable reprobate!" he exclaimed, apparently taking particular delight in finding new epithets applicable to the old woman. "It only remains now to deal with you. During an existence now prolonged to an extent greater than that which any person kindly disposed towards mankind could have wished, you have done an infinite quantity of mischief. You have had considerable power, which you have consistently employed as badly as possible. You are a pitiless, revengeful, remorseless, black-hearted old hag. And now at last you are completely in my power. Nothing can save you."

"Oh, mercy, mercy, dear, good King Canetto!" piteously whined the fairy, as she crouched down in her car.

"Such mercy as you showed Rosetta and Belinda, and such as you wished to show Zac. Such, I say, and no more, shall be your own portion. And now for the first scene of the last act. Kill the polecats!"

He turned to his mannikins as he said this, and in another moment every polecat was knocked on the head.

"Now for the adders," said Canetto; and the little men cut them to pieces with their whips in less time than you would have thought possible.

Then the king turned to Nuisancenika and spoke again.

"I might have you dealt with in the same way," he said; "and if I did so, there is no one present who would not warmly approve and say, 'served her right.' But a true mannikin is never bloodthirsty, and I will not adjudge to you that fate which you so richly deserve. Still, since your power has been always exercised for ill, it must remain to you no longer. I sentence you to be immediately and henceforth confined in a cave at the extreme eastern corner of the world, never to emerge thence until the hour comes when women leave off caring for dress, men labour no more for power, and donkeys abandon braying."

Scarcely had Canetto finished speaking, when the unfortunate being, upon whom he had pronounced this appalling sentence, uttered one frantic yell, and then disappeared in a whirlwind, which carried her right away over the forest. Nobody ever saw or heard of her again to my knowledge, but there is very little doubt that the sentence of the King of the Mannikins was duly carried out. The wise men, who have studied these things carefully, say that there is very clear and certain proof of this. In the spring-time of the year, especially about March, a cold, bitter, spiteful wind blows from the east, seizes delicate throats and tender noses, keeps people indoors when they much desire air and exercise; and if they attempt to get either, afflicts them with heavy colds, and what modern doctors call "bronchial affections," meaning much the same thing as that which our poor benighted fathers and mothers used to call "sore throats." Well, do you think this east wind is a common, ordinary, respectable wind? Not at all. It is nothing more nor less (say these wise ones) than the wicked old Fairy Nuisancenika, who, heartily tired of her imprisonment in the cavern, fumes and rages madly about, and sometimes gets near enough to the mouth of the cave to spit and blow out some of her venom into the world. Then comes disease to man and beast, and whenever I think of it I regret that Canetto did not serve the wretched old hag as he did her polecats and adders, and direct his mannikins to cut her in pieces with their hunting-whips. Just fancy if he had! Perhaps we should have had no more of those cruel east winds. But it was fated otherwise, and this is the result.

At all events, the bad fairy was comfortably got rid of so far as the royal family of King Fridolin were concerned, and there is very little more to be said about the rest that followed. Of course everything now went rightly. Messages were sent to Zac's real father--the story of Canetto having been entirely confirmed by Farmer Dickson--and the result was in every respect satisfactory. The king of the country of the Red Camellias was delighted to recover his long lost son, and showed his sense of what was right and proper under the circumstances by dying shortly after the wedding of Zac and Belinda had been duly celebrated. The young prince consequently conveyed his lovely and loving bride to his own country, where they reigned for many years in great happiness and prosperity.

Amabilia and Concaterina, having a mother's influence to guide them, improved daily in every respect, and had no difficulty whatever in securing royal husbands within the time prophesied by Canetto, whose courts they adorned by their beauty and whose homes they made happy by their domestic virtues.

As for King Fridolin, he passed the evening of his days more happily than any other part of his life. Conscious of his former folly, he learned to appreciate his restored queen as she deserved, and their renewed affection for each other was romantic in its strength and fervour. Canetto paid them occasional visits, and was always received by them with that respect and regard which his conduct had so well earned. Everything flourished thenceforward in Fridolin's kingdom. Even Lord Pompous hailed the change with delight, since his sovereign, occupied constantly in the enjoyment of his newly recovered happiness, omitted the practical jokes upon his lord chamberlain with which he had frequently been wont to solace his idle hours. And during the long years that followed before Fridolin's reign and life ended, the king constantly called to mind the thrilling scenes of interest which I have recounted, and invariably spoke with the greatest thankfulness of the happy thought which came into his head upon that memorable day when he first projected the pig-race.

EVELYN WITH THE FAIRIES.

There was once a little girl who was exceedingly fond of fairy tales. She had read almost all the books that had ever been written about fairies and elves, and never lost an opportunity of hearing a story upon the same subject. The result of so much attention to this particular branch of study was that which might have been expected. She became the most devout believer in the existence of the dear little creatures about whom she read, and had no greater desire than that she might some day or other become personally acquainted with one or more of them.

Her chief regret was caused by the fact (which was, unhappily, too true) that no fairy godmother had presided over her birth, and that none of those pleasant adventures had befallen her which usually follow such an event. Not only was this the case, but, so far as she could ascertain, neither her father, mother, or any of her relations had ever come in contact with a fairy, and she had been, little by little, driven to the conclusion that she belonged to a commonplace, unromantic family, with whom the dwellers in fairyland had no concern and no connection whatever.

This was a sad thought to the child, who was possessed of an extremely lively imagination, and would have liked nothing better than to have lived in those good old days when either a fairy or a witch, an ogre or a dwarf, were to be found at every corner. She looked back to those days with fond delight, and often wished that they might come again. She loved to muse over the tales she had read and heard, and to imagine curious scenes and strange creatures on every side of her, as she rambled through the shrubberies around her father's house, or strolled away into the great woods on one side of the park.

One day she had taken a longer stroll than usual, and suddenly came upon a part of the wood which she never remembered to have seen before. Somehow or other, she had strayed out of the path, and all around her were tangled masses of fern, old pollard-trees bowed down to the ground by age and the weight of their branches, and thickets of thorns and brambles, and here and there patches of smooth grass and moss, without either trees, fern or brambles upon them.

The birds were singing sweetly in the wood, the sun was shining brightly in the heavens above (although his rays could not penetrate the dense foliage of the trees), the dewdrops were glistening on the leaves, and everything seemed as beautiful as human eye could behold or human heart desire. The child looked around her for a moment, entranced with the loveliness of the scene; then she heaved a deep sigh (too deep, you would have thought, for so young a creature, who could hardly as yet have sorrows heavy enough to cause such a sigh), and said to herself with a sorrowful air:

"What a place this would be for my fairy godmother to meet me, if only I _had_ a fairy godmother! Heigho! Why are there not any fairies here?"

Scarcely had she spoken when she started back astonished, for the speech was hardly out of her mouth than the concluding word, "fairies here," seemed repeated by a myriad of tiny voices all round her, in tones so soft, so plaintive, and dying away with such a melancholy cadence that it needed no great amount of cleverness to assure the child that they came from no ordinary or mortal throats.

For an instant she trembled, but it was more with expectation than fear, and she looked around her with eager eyes, to the right and left, longing to see the beings who had uttered those soft and touching sounds. She saw nothing, however, and began to fear that, after all, she would hear and see no more, and that nobody at home would believe her when she told of the mysterious voices. But, being a child of courage, and remembering, moreover, that in most of the fairy tales of which she knew, the mortal to whom the kind fairies condescended to speak or appear, was never frightened, but always did exactly the right thing, unless he or she happened to be wicked, when they invariably did the _wrong_ thing and suffered accordingly. So she looked round once again, and then said, in her most polite tones:

"Are there _really_ any fairies here?"

Scarcely were the words out of her mouth, when the same sounds arose once more, even more distinctly than before, on every side of her. This time, however, there was something more than sound. The fern and the trees, the brambles and the leaves, all seemed to be suddenly agitated as if by the wind swaying gently through them, though there was not a breath of wind in the air.

There was one universal rustling all round, and the next moment Evelyn (for that was the little girl's name) saw that she was standing in the middle of a crowd of living, moving, active beings, who looked out upon her from every corner of the place. Every leaf seemed tenanted by one of them; each stem of fern appeared to afford cover, every thicket to give protection to a small creature: they were perched on the trees above her head, and peeped out from the tufts of moss almost beneath her feet. Bright restless eyes seemed to peer eagerly out upon her on all sides, and in an instant she knew that her long-cherished hopes and dreams were at last realized, and that she was in the presence of undeniable fairies.

Although Evelyn had read so many fairy tales, and had so often fancied herself in the position she now was, and settled what she ought to do and say in such case, it must be confessed that when the reality came thus suddenly upon her, she was as much at a loss as if she had never read or thought anything at all about the subject.

She stood still and stared with eyes wide open with astonishment, just as any child would naturally do under similar circumstances. The little beings about her had nothing in their appearance or demeanour at all likely to frighten her. They were neither ugly in feature, deformed in figure, or evil in the expression of their faces. On the contrary they were graceful, beautiful, and looked remarkably good-natured. Very little they certainly were, for none of them could have been above a foot high, and very numerous also, for, turn her head which way she would, the whole place seemed alive with them.

Evelyn stood, as I have said, perfectly silent, and looked about her as if struck dumb with surprise at the unlooked-for appearance of the little creatures. She had not long to wait before one of them hopped lightly from the stem of a venerable hornbeam hard by, and stood immediately in front of her.

It was a charming little figure that did this: barely a foot high, but of a form perfectly symmetrical, a face bright with exceeding beauty, and with an air of nobility conspicuous in its features, and, indeed, in its whole bearing. It was dressed in some light drapery, which floated around it in such a manner as to add to instead of concealing, the beauty of its faultless form, and, as it stood erect before Evelyn, she thought she had never seen anything so exquisitely beautiful in the whole course of her existence.

[Illustration: EVELYN AND THE FAIRIES.--P. 122]

The little being regarded her for one moment in silence, and then it spoke. Spoke! it was hardly like speaking: the voice that came from its throat was a mixture of all the most delightful sounds that ever rejoiced the human ear. Think of the soothing, contented hum of the bees in the early summer, when they are sipping the sweetest honey from their favourite flowers; think of the softest murmuring of the sea-waves when they gently break upon the shore, and lovingly kiss the rocks against which, in their hours of anger, they dash so madly; think again, of the blessed sound of distant church bells heard across the water as you stand listening upon a silent summer's eve; think of the warbling of the tender nightingale in the old shrubbery, full of home memories; and think, more than all, of the loving words whispered for the first time in the happy ears of the gentle maiden; think, I say, of all these sounds, and of the music they possess, and you will be able to form some idea of the melody which sounded in the fairy's voice.

She spoke in poetry, of course, by which Evelyn was more than ever convinced that she was a regular, proper fairy, because poetry is the natural language of such people, and no fairy, who is at all equal to the position she aspires to hold, ever begins a conversation with a mortal in prose. Of course they get to it, after a bit, because too much rhyme bores people, and fairies never do _that_, because there are so many people in the world who can and do perform that feat to perfection, and fairies only care to do that which human beings cannot accomplish so easily of themselves. And thus ran the speech of the fairy, since such she was beyond all reasonable doubt.

"Welcome, gentle maiden child, To the forest grand and wild: Welcome to the lofty trees Gently waving in the breeze: Welcome to the leafy shade, By their spreading branches made: Welcome to the mossy bed, 'Neath their shadows overhead: Welcome to each grassy mound In the open spaces found, And to every flower that springs Near the mighty forest kings. Thou hast wandered here full oft, Never at the fairies scoft, But hast aye essayed to learn From the lovely maiden-fern, From the honeysuckle sweet, From the dew-drops 'neath thy feet, Lessons of the fairy race Not for mortal ken to trace. But to maid of gentle mind Fairy elves are ever kind; If she love them, they can prove (Giving fondly love for love) How their might can work to aid Manly youth or gentle maid. Say, then, maiden, would'st thou seek Knowledge which an elf may speak? Would'st thou (such I scarce suppose) Fairy succour 'gainst thy foes? Would'st thou have another's heart Made thine own by magic art? Would'st thou wealth--or, better still, Freedom from some mortal ill? Speak thy wish, then, maiden dear: Speak it low and speak it clear."

Evelyn listened with amazement not unmixed with pleasure. Pleasure it certainly was to find herself at last in the presence of a real live fairy, and amazement she undoubtedly felt both at the sight before her, and at the speech to which she had just listened. She was perfectly aware that her reply ought to be given in verse, and the difficulty was that she was particularly stupid at making rhymes. She was one of those children who always tried to beg off if any of those amusing games was proposed in the evenings at home, in which either everybody has to make four rhymes or more on a certain given subject, generally answering a question and introducing some noun which has nothing to do with it, or else four rhymes are given out, and everybody has to write the previous part of the four lines in any metre they please.

Evelyn, I say, always either begged to be excused playing, or else nestled up close to her father (who was rather handy at that kind of thing), and asked him to write her lines quietly for her, which he unfortunately was in the habit of doing--unfortunately, because the consequence was that at the present momentous crisis, the poor child could not by any means think what to say. One reason, perhaps, was that she had nothing particular for which she wished to ask the fairies, but, whatever the reason, no rhyme _would_ come to her mind.

All she could think of was an occasional line of some of Dr. Watts's hymns, which did not seem to have anything at all to do with fairies, and one or two old pieces of poetry which she had heard long ago in the school-room and which kept coming into her head now, and probably keeping out something which might have answered her purpose much better.

The fairy waited for a few seconds without impatience, but as no answer appeared to be forthcoming, she stamped her foot upon the ground, and appeared visibly annoyed. Conscious that she was hardly acting either a wise or dignified part in remaining silent, Evelyn now made a great effort to remember or to invent something that might be suitable to the occasion, and as the fairy stamped her foot a second time, somewhat impatiently, she hastily blurted out:--

"Let dogs delight to bark and bite-- I don't know how to answer right;"

and then stood blushing and trembling just as if she had certainly answered _wrong_. Upon this the fairy gave vent to a low, musical laugh, like the last notes of a _very_ good musical box, and then once more accosted the child as follows:

"When fairies speak in kindly mood, To answer nothing back were rude; Yet need you never rack your brain To answer me in rhyme again. Though verse be sweet to us, forsooth, Prose, if it comes of simple truth, From child-like lips and guileless tongue, May pass with elves as well as song. But say, fair child, for what intent, With spirit young and innocent, Untainted with the world's cold touch; (Ah! would that we might keep thee such!) Unfettered yet by Fashion's chain, Untouched by pride or high disdain, As yet unvisited by cares Which fate for mortal life prepares, Why hast thou left the haunts of men To seek the lonely fairy glen?"

Whilst the fairy was speaking, Evelyn gathered together her ideas, and resolved to show that she not only had something to say, but knew how to say it. So as soon as the speaker had concluded, she replied, keeping still to rhyme, as if determined not to appear more stupid than she really was,

"How doth the little busy bee Improve each shining hour-- For years and years I've longed to see A fairy's woodland bower.

How skilfully she builds her cell, How neat she spreads the wax-- Since, now, dear elves, I've seen you well, My spirit nothing lacks."

As soon as Evelyn had got through these verses, which she did with some little pride, she was rather surprised and even annoyed to find that their only effect was to cause all the little beings around her to indulge in a hearty fit of laughter. Their musical sounds rang through the forest, and the echo faintly returned them, whilst the child stood listening and wondering at the result of her attempt. Then the fairy queen, for such Evelyn thought she must be, spoke once again:--

"If nothing lack'st thou, mortal child, Why wander through the forest wild And seek, with meditative air, The beings who inhabit there? Since hither thou hast found thy way, Be satisfied awhile to stay: For those who have not been afraid To trespass on the fairy glade, And long, with curious mortal eye, Our elfin mysteries to spy, When once they know where fairies hide, Most there be ready to abide."

As Evelyn heard these words, a cold chill ran through her veins, for they betokened to her that something was going to happen upon which she had never calculated. In an instant her thoughts flew back to the many instances of which she had read in fairy tales, of children being changed into dogs, cats, birds, toads, or something which no sensible child has the least wish to become; and the terrible fear arose that she was about to become the victim of some such unpleasant transformation. On second thoughts, however, she remembered that in most of these cases the child concerned had either been naughty and disagreeable at home, or disbelieving in or impertinent to the fairies, and had therefore deserved punishment. In her own case, she had done nothing recently at home more naughty than accidentally dropping some marmalade on her clean frock at breakfast, and had entertained such full and constant belief and respect in and for the fairies, that she was quite sure she deserved no punishment at their hands. Besides, the voice of the queen (if such she was), and the looks and gestures of her companions, had displayed neither anger nor offence at her intrusion into their glen, and she could not believe that any harm was intended to her. All these thoughts passed through the child's mind much faster than I can write them, and although she stood there in uncertainty and doubt, her momentary fear was gone directly. She was not prepared, however, for what followed.

The fairy queen waved a sprig of fern three times over her head, advancing nearer and nearer to Evelyn as she did so. At each wave of the hand, the child felt herself growing downwards and becoming smaller and smaller. Yes! there really was no doubt about it; down and down she grew, until the horrible thought crossed her mind that she might grow right down into the earth, and disappear altogether.

At the same time a strange drowsiness stole over her, everything appeared to grow less and less distinct, and gradually to fade quite away from sight; sounds grew fainter and fainter, and she seemed to be about to sink into a deep, fast, heavy sleep. Then, all of a sudden, she was as wide awake as ever again, and looked up, bright and lively, trying to remember where she was, and what had happened to her. There was very little doubt about _that_. She was a regular fairy like the rest of them. She was of the same height; she had the same kind of light dress (though what it was made of, she could never describe, although she was very often questioned on the subject,) and she felt such an extraordinary sensation of lightness and elasticity as quite surprised her. She knew in a moment that she could move about in a manner which had been quite impossible to her as a mortal child: that she could stand upon branches and plants and tufts of fern without causing them to bend or break, that she could tread upon the leaves and soft moss without leaving the impression of her tiny feet, and that she possessed new powers, new knowledge, and a new being altogether.

But more wonderful still, was the transformation which everything around her seemed to have undergone. The trees, the leaves, the fern, the moss--all appeared ten times as beautiful as they were before. The dewdrops that glistened upon the grass and fern sparkled with twenty-fold brilliancy; the green of the leaves was by far more tender and exquisite than before her change; the mighty trunks of the old trees were more majestic than ever, the whole glen was enriched with greater beauties, and the notes of the woodland birds possessed more melody than she had ever fancied in her old, childish wanderings through the forest.

It was as if all these beauties had been but imperfectly seen, and only feebly appreciated by the child of mortals, whose natural perceptions had been blunted by the sin and sorrow of her kind; but, that the moment the earthly nature and form had been shaken off, a purer and more intellectual state of being had brought with it the power to see, to know, and to appreciate in a higher degree the beauties of nature and of nature's God. Never had Evelyn experienced such a delicious sensation of entire pleasure as at that moment.

Curiously enough, no recollections of home, of parents, of relations, came across her; all seemed blotted out for the moment as if they had never existed. She only felt the intense pleasure of her present existence--a pleasure so pure and at the same time so utterly absorbing and engrossing that it seemed to leave room for no other thought or sensation, and the child stood as one in a trance--but a trance exquisitely delightful!

Presently the fairy queen turned aside, apparently about to occupy herself with other matters, and having no more to say to Evelyn. The latter, however, was not neglected. Two of the other fairies took her, each by one hand, and led her under the great spreading trees, beneath whose branches was a wide open space, where there was room enough for hundreds of such small creatures to sport and play. There they began to dance, lightly and gracefully, first joining hand in hand, then separating and dancing the most curious figures you can imagine, in and out of the hollow of the tree under which they were, round its trunk and its roots, and now and then catching hold of the lower branches and swinging themselves up. Such a dance it was! And the most extraordinary thing was that it all seemed to come quite as natural to Evelyn as if she had been at it all her life. She danced and skipped and swung in the branches with the best of them, and had not the slightest feeling of fatigue after the exertion. She felt, moreover, a lightness and buoyancy of spirit such as she had never felt before, and as to being shy or bashful in the presence of strangers, she experienced no such sensation for a single moment. On the contrary, she laughed and talked with the little elves as happily and merrily as if she had known them from her cradle, and there was no difficulty about learning their language, for they all spoke English as well as any English child could have done. Perhaps they _were_ English children, which would in some measure account for it. However that may be, Evelyn never had a cheerier or more enjoyable dance than this one, and she thoroughly entered into it.

Presently they took to climbing. Up the trees they swarmed, ran out on the branches, and balanced themselves on the ends (roaring with laughter when one or other of them lost his balance and had a fall, which he always broke by cleverly catching hold of the next branch below), pelted each other with leaves, and chased one another wildly through the tops of the trees. Then they played at hide-and-seek in and around the trees. One hid in a rabbit-hole under the roots, another in a crevice on the top of one of the hornbeam pollards, and great was the laughter when one little scamp crept into an old magpie's nest, and lay hidden there for several minutes before he was found. But perhaps the best fun of all was when they chased a squirrel, who was thoroughly puzzled by the proceeding, and caused them immense merriment by his chattering, as well as by his various dodges to elude his pursuers. Sometimes he would climb to the very tops of the highest trees, and appear astonished beyond measure when the little elves followed him so high; then, again, he would throw himself off, and catch a branch in falling, as quickly and as cleverly as if he had been himself a fairy. Once more he would lie pressed up so close against the thick branch of a tree, that he would appear to be a part of the tree himself; and then he would betake himself to his nest, and occasionally peer out with his sparkling little eyes, as if to ascertain whether anyone would be daring enough to follow him _there_. But the fairies never attempted to hurt him, and Evelyn soon found that these woodland fairies were not of a sort which at all enjoyed making other people unhappy. _She_ was certainly anything but unhappy, and enjoyed her afternoon amazingly. Nevertheless, as all things come to an end, so at last did these fairy gambols.

Suddenly there sounded through the forest a low, sweet, but thrilling whistle, like an unusually melodious railway whistle heard at a long distance off in a still evening. Every elf knew it at once to be the queen's signal, and accordingly they all hurried back to the spot where Evelyn had first seen them, from which they had been wandering right and left through the merry green wood in their sports. The queen graciously smiled as her obedient children flocked around her, and proceeded to give them her directions for the employment of their evening.

"Sprightly," said she, addressing one little fellow, whom Evelyn had observed to be particularly lively in the dancing and other games, "go you, with a couple more of your friends, to old Farmer Grubbins. He was very cross this morning to two poor boys who picked a couple of apples from one of his trees which overhung the footpath, and is going to take them before the magistrates to-morrow morning. He goes to bed early and will be asleep before nine. But you need not wait for _that_, for he is sure to doze heavily in his arm-chair after supper. Go and plague him well. Pinch his toe till he thinks it is gout; whisper to him that the rats are in his barn, and that a man with a lucifer matchbox has been seen in his rick-yard. And if _that_ neither keeps him from sleep nor gives him uncomfortable dreams, tell him that wheat is down in the market ten shillings a quarter, American beef is coming into this country in such quantities, that homefed beef will never sell well again, and all his rates and taxes are going to be doubled directly. Give him a real bad night of it, and when he is lying awake, thoroughly uncomfortable, whisper to him a few words in favour of the poor lads in any way you think most likely to be useful.

"Mirthful, do you go off to poor old Mrs. Marshall at Nettlebush Cottage. She is down with the rheumatism, very bad, and in a good deal of pain. Cheer the old dame up a bit, whisper all kinds of pleasant things in her ear, gently rub her poor aching limbs, and keep the dust quiet so that her room may be kept cheerful and clean. Sweeten the taste of what food she has, and do what you can to lighten the time to her.

"Flittermouse, Childerkin, Gadaway, go to Doctor Backbrusher's school, and comfort the hearts of the youngsters there. The old fellow has flogged a lot of them as usual to-day. Go and cheer them up; and if you _could_ put a few crumbs--good, hard, sleep-stopping crumbs--into the doctor's bed, so much the better. Do it just when he has put his candle out, and is going to step into bed, and one of you take away the box of matches he always has by his bedside, and hide it in his brown pitcher. He'll never find it there, and if he is once well in bed with those crumbs, he'll have a rough time of it.

"You, Pitiful and Hoverer, go to little Miss Wilson's room at The Priory, and teach her to remember her French verbs. Poor child! they are sadly too much for her, and it would be a real kindness to get rid of the grammar for her, only they would be sure to get another; so the better way will be to help her to remember.

"The rest of you go where you like; sleep or play, visit mortals, or remain unseen by them, only do nothing unkind to anyone, and be sure to be back here precisely at midnight for the ring dance."

As soon as the fairy queen had finished speaking, the little elves to whom she had given special directions set off without any delay to obey her orders, while the rest scattered themselves in every direction through the forest, each following the pursuit which seemed best to him.

As Evelyn felt herself not only at liberty to go where she pleased, but able to keep up with any of her companions and to go where they went and do as they did, she thought she should very much like to see how Sprightly performed the commission entrusted to him, and as the elf made no objection, off they tripped together, accompanied by another little being whose name I forget, but who was as lively and merry as the rest of them. They went at a pace at which our young friend Evelyn had never gone before, but which somehow or other seemed quite natural to her, and which very speedily brought them to the house of Farmer Grubbins.

Arrived there, they walked quietly up to the door, which opened to them without any of the people inside knowing that it had done so, although the fact of its having opened was proved to Evelyn not only by her passing through with the others, but by the remark which she heard the old farmer make as she and her companions entered, namely, that there was a terrible draught from that door.

The farmer was an old bachelor, and there was no one in the house with him but his niece and the servants. He and his niece were just finishing supper when the fairies entered, and on seeing this Sprightly winked knowingly at his companions, and they all stood quietly aside until the old man should be asleep and their duties would begin.

They had not long to wait. Farmer Grubbins pushed back his chair with a remark to his niece upon the supper, to the effect that the beefsteak pie had been uncommon good, to which she readily assented. The old man then settled himself in his own particular arm-chair by the fireside, drew a long breath, and quietly composed himself to sleep. In a very few moments, after a contented snort or two, much after the fashion of a grampus which found itself more than commonly comfortable, he quietly dozed off and was immediately in the land of dreams.

Then Evelyn's companions crept stealthily up to him and began their games. One climbed up on to the old man's shoulder, whilst the other seated himself upon the footstool upon which his feet rested, well encased in large and easy slippers. The first began to whisper in his ear, while the second tickled his feet with a lightness of touch which no one but a fairy could have done. Presently the sleeper suddenly twitched his foot, whereupon the elf waited until it was still again; and then resumed his tickling. Then the farmer moaned in his sleep, and uneasily turned his head upon one side, at which movement the other elf began to whisper more vigorously than ever. A snort, a start, and the sleeper awoke.

"Eh, Jane? Did you speak?" he asked his niece, who replied in a low voice that she had said nothing, and almost before she had answered, his head fell back again and once more he dozed. Still the tickling and the whispering continued, and the sleep of the old farmer appeared to be most uncomfortable.

Evelyn watched in great amusement, until at last she saw Sprightly, who had taken his place at the footstool, take out what appeared to be a pair of pincers, and, applying them to the great toe of the farmer's right foot, give it a nip with all his force. The old man instantly woke up with a roar.

"Oh, my toe!" he called out in evident pain. "Drat that gout, I've got it again!" and he began to groan sadly.

His niece got up, put her knitting down upon the table and came across the room to him, but after another groan or two, the pain seemed to subside, and he dozed off again. Presently he started once more and turned in his chair.

"Rats in the barn, did you say, Jane?" he muttered rather than said; "can't be--don't bother--keep quiet, there's a good girl," and all was silent again for a few moments, until Sprightly, again producing the pincers and applying them to the same toe, pressed them with both hands as hard as ever he could. The roar which now burst from the farmer's lips really frightened Evelyn, who fancied for the moment that he _must_ discover that some hand, mortal or elfin, had inflicted the injury upon him.

Not a bit of it: the elves were certainly invisible, and the old man attributed everything to the gout, and vowed it was the worst pain he had ever had in the whole course of his life.

Meanwhile the two elves were laughing ready to split their sides, and, somehow or other, Evelyn felt very much inclined to do the same. It was no laughing matter, however, for Farmer Grubbins. He rose from his chair, not in the best of tempers, nor using the choicest language, and declared that he should go to bed and try if a good night would put matters right with him.

As he spoke, the two elves roared again with laughter, and made the most extraordinary grimaces at the old man, which seemed to Evelyn all the more ridiculous from the knowledge that he could not see and was perfectly unconscious of them.

Then he slowly ascended the stairs, upon which Sprightly and his companion beckoned to Evelyn, and they all followed the farmer, treading very lightly, and still laughing as he muttered expressions by no means complimentary to the gout.

When he reached his bedroom he speedily undressed and turned into bed, having first carefully placed upon his head an old red night-cap, in which he presented an appearance so ludicrous as greatly to increase the amusement of his unseen guests. His niece just looked in, and asked if he wanted anything, and being told that she need not trouble herself about him, quickly took the hint, and retired for the night.

Then began the real fun of the little fairies. As soon as the old man had made himself comfortable, and a drowsy comfortable feeling began to steal over him, they were at him again. First one of them tickled his nostrils with a feather until he was obliged to rub his nose violently, which woke him up at the critical moment when he was just about to go off into a quiet sleep. Then the same thing happened to his right ear; then it was his left, and then his nostrils again. Then they left him alone for a few moments until he was really just asleep, when Sprightly said in his ear, quite close, and in a voice that was almost above a whisper,

"That man has lighted the match--close to the stacks in the rick-yard. Fire!"

The old man started up as if he had been shot.

"Fire!" he cried out; "what the dickens was that? Who said fire?"

He sat up in his bed and listened, and then he grumbled to himself about the folly of eating dumplings for supper after beefsteak-pudding, and how it always made one dream such nonsense, and then back he sank upon his pillow, grumbling still until he gradually dropped off again. Then, softly uncovering his feet, the cruel Sprightly, before this sleep had lasted more than a minute, gave him a sharp and severe nip on the same toe as before, and again the unhappy man woke with a yell, or rather bellow, of pain, and said bitter words against that gout to which he firmly believed himself to be the victim. The pain kept him awake some minutes, but at last he dozed off again, and then came more tickling and whispering, so that he could by no possibility get any real or prolonged repose.

At last there was a long and careful whisper on the part of Sprightly's companion, during which the farmer did not indeed awake but turned over again and again, first on one side and then on the other, muttering to himself meanwhile:

"Wheat down again! Ruin--ruin--ruin! Markets awful bad;" and presently again he groaned out in his sleep, "Drat them Yankees and their beef!" all of which remarks, distinctly heard by Evelyn as she stood on a chair by the bedside, told her plainly enough that the little elves were fulfilling the commands of their queen with great and precise exactness. Still the old man dozed and woke, and woke and dozed, and ever and anon turned uneasily in his bed, as if passing a decidedly uncomfortable time of it, until at last, after another tremendous nip from Sprightly's pincers, he quite woke up and groaned audibly.

At that moment, to her great surprise (for there seemed no possibility of his thinking it a dream _then_) Sprightly and his companion seated themselves one on each side of the old man's head, and began to wave their hands gently over his eyes. He appeared to see nothing, and to be quite ignorant of what they were doing, or indeed that there was any one there, and presently he closed his eyes, though he did not breathe heavily, or snore, or give any palpable sign of being asleep.

Both the little elves now began to whisper eagerly in his ears, and Evelyn quite plainly heard the words, "poor boys!" "only a couple of apples," "honest parents," "no such great offence after all," and various other expressions calculated to appease the wrath of the old farmer against the culprits of whom the fairy queen had spoken. The old man soon began to mutter again, and from what he said it was evident to Evelyn that the words of the whisperers were not without their effect. Presently he seemed to be quite awake.

"Curious that I should dream about them lads," he said. "I hope the poor chaps haven't had such a bad night as I seem in for. Maybe they didn't know they was doing so wrong. I've took apples myself, before now, when I hadn't ought to have done so. I don't know as I'll go against them after all! Dash me if I will, either!"

Scarcely were the words out of his mouth when the faces of both the elves lighted up with the brightness of conscious triumph; they knew that their queen's commands had been obeyed, and her desire accomplished, and they lost no time in their next proceeding. Abandoning at once their previous endeavours at whispering, tickling, and tormenting, they made sundry passes over the old man's face, which had the effect of immediately plunging him into a profound sleep. Twice he snored heavily, but this time it was not the snore of restlessness or disgust, but the contented sound of a peaceful and happy sleeper.

At this moment the three-quarters past eleven sounded on the chimes of the neighbouring church clock. The little elves instantly started up, whispered to Evelyn that the queen would be shortly expecting them, and beckoning the little girl to follow them, crept quietly and stealthily from the farmer's bedroom, descended the stairs, and passing through the front door in the same manner by which they had entered it, hastily sped back to the forest.

In the glade they found the queen, standing among a group of elves who were positively convulsed with merriment. They were listening to the account which Flittermouse, Childerkin, and Gadaway were giving of the visit to Dr. Backbrusher, which they had lately paid, and from which they had but just returned, and they seemed to have given the worthy doctor rather a rough time of it, having bothered him with hard crumbs in his bed until he had lost all patience, and bounced out of bed for a light, in searching for which he had tumbled into his bath, and been made thoroughly uncomfortable for the night.

Whether this proceeding on the part of the elves was calculated to make the doctor more tender of his pupils' feelings was a question which Evelyn found herself unable to solve, but she hoped for the best when she heard the fairy queen, after expressing her entire approval of what had been done, publicly declare her intention of persevering, and giving orders that Dr. Backbrusher should be persistently and thoroughly plagued every night until he had been brought to a kinder and more satisfactory frame of mind.

When the fairies had laughed enough at the account of the schoolmaster's disasters, the queen asked the others to relate how they had fulfilled their several missions, and expressed herself very well satisfied with the manner in which her wishes with regard to Farmer Grubbins had been carried out. Nor was she less pleased with the conduct of the elves who had been sent upon errands of a more emphatically benevolent nature.

Tears stood in Evelyn's eyes as she heard little Mirthful relate the gratitude of the poor old woman whom she had been sent to comfort. To be sure, she had not exactly known whom to thank, having seen no one, but for all that she had shown a thankful disposition, and such a cheerful determination to look at the bright side of a life that seemed dark enough, poor thing! and to make the best of everything, come what might, that Evelyn felt quite touched at the narrative. She felt sincere sympathy, too, for and with little Miss Wilson, whom Pitiful and Hoverer had vastly assisted with her French verbs. They told of all her trouble in learning, and how, by their secret help, she had suddenly found herself able to remember, and had been quite astonished at finding that she could learn with such unusual and unexpected ease. She had not the least idea, they said, that she was being helped by fairies, and of course it was the best thing in the world for her to be thus deceived, because having once overcome her difficulties, as she thought, by her own patience and determination, she would always in future employ the same weapons, and that with an additional confidence which would go far to insure success.

From all these accounts Evelyn learned that which she had always hoped and believed to be true, namely, that it is the pleasure of good fairies--such as those who principally inhabit forest glades and mountain wilds--to help and comfort mortals who require it, and especially such mortals as love to help and comfort others, and have tender feeling hearts within their breasts. She could not but feel, moreover, that those mortals whom the elves delighted to plague and torment were generally, if not always, people who richly deserved it, and who were not over-scrupulous about hurting the feelings of their fellow-mortals.

Thus it appeared to Evelyn that the elfin race performed most useful functions, and were deserving to the utmost of the affection and respect which she had ever bestowed upon them.

While these thoughts passed through the child's mind, the messenger elves had all finished their accounts of their doings, and the queen now waved her hand solemnly, upon which they parted right and left, and she remained standing alone. Then she spoke thus:

"Midnight hour has struck again, One more day is with the slain: One more morn will soon be here, Heralded by chanticleer. While as yet 'tis sacred night, Practise we the mystic rite:-- Hand-in-hand join, light and free, All beneath the woodland tree; Softly o'er the leafy bed In fantastic measure tread, Soon to mortal eyes to bring Traces of the fairy ring."

When she had thus spoken, the queen stepped forward, and taking the hand of another elf in each of her own, paused one moment until all the others had followed her example, and then began the dance. They completely encircled one of the large oaks, and for some time danced round and round it with great solemnity, singing sweetly as they did so. Evelyn found herself irresistibly compelled to join both in the dance and song, but it was ever after a matter of regret to her that she could not recollect the words of the latter, which she remembered to have been full of beauty and most melodious.

After a time they separated, and, gaily dancing upon one side, came out into an open space where was luxuriant grass, a perfect carpet of daisies and buttercups being beneath their feet. Here the class formed themselves once more into a circle, and danced round and round as if they were never going to stop. Again they sang, words as pleasant and music as sweet as before, but again Evelyn found herself entirely unable to recollect the air or the words afterwards.

At last, whilst they were still dancing, a faint, very faint streak of light began to glimmer in the sky, and to lessen the darkness of the night. Soon after, even as they danced, the note of a robin broke upon their ears: the earliest songster of the wood, waking up at the first dawn of light, and carolling forth his morning hymn before setting out to search for his breakfast.

Scarcely had the sound been heard when the fairy queen let fall the hand of her companion elf, and waved her own in the air. Every one of her attendants immediately and exactly followed her example, and Evelyn naturally did the same as the rest. Then they turned without another word or sound, and scampered away as fast as they could go into the thickest part of their favourite glade. Evelyn unhesitatingly went with them, having in fact nothing else to do, and she followed the example of her companions by crouching underneath the fern at the foot of one of the trees which grew around the glade, and hiding herself as well as she could from the gaze of any possible passer-by.

All this time, in everything that she did, there seemed to be nothing at all strange, or out of the common way. She felt just as if she had been a fairy all her life, and took everything just as it came with the most perfect unconcern. She thought not of her parents, her home or the pursuits which had daily occupied her whilst she was an ordinary mortal child. All these had passed away from her mind altogether. There was only an intense feeling of present happiness and light-heartedness, and not only no wish to return to her former state, but an entire forgetfulness that she had ever been anything else than that which she now felt herself to be--a subject of the Fairy Queen, and a woodland fairy herself to all intents and purposes.

It has often been disputed, by those learned in the history of elves and Elf-land, whether the little creatures ever sleep, or whether, like spirits, they seek and require no rest, but wander over the world at will without sense of fatigue.

Evelyn's experience may furnish an answer to the curious inquirer upon this point. She slept; and slept soundly, and always explained the matter in a perfectly intelligible manner. It is not, she said, that fairies are ever really tired: there are different degrees and various kinds of fairies, possessing greater or less power in relation to the earth and to mortal affairs, in accordance with their own rank and position in the great fairy family. But there is no fairy, except some of the very inferior description, who cannot perform almost any given feat of strength if required to do so; and no fairy, properly so called, was ever actually tired in the sense that mortal beings feel fatigue.

But that fairies sleep is absolutely certain, and there are two reasons for their doing so. In the first place, their power is much greater by night than by day, and many of them have the greatest objection to the sunlight, though to some few it is little less pleasant than to human beings. This being the case, they find it on all accounts desirable to seek shelter from the rays of the sun during the day, and do not see the use, when doing this, of keeping their eyes open when it is more comfortable to close them. And their other reason is also extremely sensible, namely, that they have an opinion that it is monotonous and tedious to be always running about, sporting, playing, or interfering with the business of mankind, and that by taking some few hours' rest in every twenty-four hours, they come again with greater zest to their ordinary pursuits, and enjoy themselves a great deal more than they would do if they never left off.

This was always Evelyn's theory, and having been, as we know, a fairy herself, I have no reason to doubt that it is the correct one. Be this as it may, it is quite certain that, upon the occasion in question, both Evelyn and her companions slept sweetly and quietly, couched under the grass and plants beneath the fern, and sheltered from the rays and warmth of the sun by the overhanging branches of the great forest trees.

But yet the sleep of fairies is not such but that they awake, readily and easily enough, if it is necessary that they should be stirring. To believe Evelyn, the voice of a man, or even the passing footstep of an animal pushing its way through the brushwood, was always quite enough to arouse the whole elfin world into activity; and, at the first sound of the kind, a score or two of little elfin heads might be seen peering out from their secret hiding-places, eagerly gazing on every side to discover who or what might be the intruder.

No one appeared to disturb this first fairy sleep of our little heroine, and she slumbered calmly on with her new companions. Slowly the sun rose over the forest, tinging the leaves with his golden rays, and warming all creation into life as he lighted up the world with his glorious lamp. Then the sounds in the forest became more and more frequent. From every thicket birds carolled forth their joyous songs; the wood-pigeon softly cooed to her mate in the fir-trees; the jackdaw cackled in the old pollard as he looked out from the hole in which his nest was built; the jay screamed in his harsh, discordant notes, trying to put the blackbirds and thrushes out of tune, and failing signally; the woodpecker began to tap merrily, trying the trees all round till he found one that suited his beak; the squirrels climbed to the top of the highest trees to see what sort of a morning it was, and the still silence of the forest was gradually changed into moving life and bustling sound.

Men went out to their daily toil in field and street, in country and city, busy brains schemed and plotted, and the work of the world went on as it had done the day before, and would do the next day again. And there, beneath the green fern of the forest, the little fairies slept peaceably on, and the mortal child that had donned the fairy form slept on with them, little recking of the busy world, with all its cares and woes, its sin and sorrow, its toilings and strife, which lay beyond and outside the forest, and could not disturb or break that sweet sleep.

But it has probably struck some of my readers that Evelyn's absence must, before this time, have caused some disturbance at her home. So indeed it was. She had gone out very soon after luncheon, and when tea-time came, Mrs. Trimmer, her governess, began to wonder where she was, and why she had not come back. Perhaps you will think that Mrs. Trimmer ought to have begun to wonder rather before, but really I do not think she was much to blame. She had very kindly started off directly after luncheon to carry some sago-pudding to a sick woman in the village; and as Evelyn's mamma had asked her to do this, and knew she had gone, she naturally supposed that Evelyn would be with her mamma, or would at least be somewhere with the latter's knowledge and permission. Moreover, since the young lady was now twelve years old, and both a sensible and trustworthy child, Mrs. Trimmer would in no case have had any fears for her safety, especially in that peaceful and quiet part of the country in which they lived. But when the good lady bustled in just before tea-time, ran up and took off her things, and then hurried down to make the tea, lo and behold there was no Evelyn. So she rang the bell for Betsy, the school-room maid, and asked whether Miss Evelyn was with her mamma; and on the girl coming back to say she was not, Mrs. Trimmer began to get rather uneasy, and presently went to the boudoir and asked for herself. Evelyn's mamma knew nothing more than that the child had gone out to stroll in the shrubberies after luncheon, since which time she had seen nothing of her, and had fancied she was in the school-room.

Beginning to get alarmed, she went to the study in which Evelyn's father was writing his letters for the late post. When he heard what was the matter, he went into the shrubberies and called his daughter's name loudly, but of course with no result. Then he sent a footman down to enquire at the keeper's house by the forest, and another to the stables to order horses to be saddled for himself, the coachman, and the two grooms, and off they set to scour the country in every direction, and make every possible inquiry concerning the lost child.

The poor mother remained at home in terrible anxiety, fearing she knew not what, but dreading the worst, according to the usual custom of mothers under such circumstances.

It was quite ten o'clock before the horsemen returned, but of course they brought no tidings whatever of the missing young lady, who was, about that time, as we know, amusing herself with Sprightly at the house of Farmer Grubbins, and thinking nothing at all of what was going on at home.

The poor father was much distressed, for he was devoted to his little daughter, and the uncertainty about her fate made the affliction still more hard to bear. He could not imagine what had become of her, and therefore knew not what steps to take for her recovery. He would have all the ponds dragged next day, but there were very few in the neighbourhood, and none into which a girl of twelve was likely to have fallen.

At one time there used to be a number of gipsies who frequented that neighbourhood, and the half frantic mother suggested that some of these wild people might have stolen her daughter. Her husband, however, discouraged the idea, since no gipsies had been seen or heard of for some time past; nor would they have been at all likely to steal a girl of Evelyn's age. Had any accident befallen her, or even if the unlikely supposition that she had been stolen, hurt, or killed, had been correct, it seemed almost impossible but that some trace must have been left--some portion of clothing, some signs of a struggle, some suspicious strangers seen about the place. But no: there was absolutely nothing of the kind, and no clue whatever to account for her mysterious departure.

It never once entered her parents' heads that their daughter could have willingly left her home: she was always so bright, happy, and affectionate; so devoted to the place and to the dear ones who made it so pleasant for her. The thought that her absence was voluntary was banished, if it occurred at all to any of the family, before expression was given to it; although its rejection of course made the sorrow still heavier, since if she had been taken away by violence, or lost her life by some accident, the calamity would really be greater than if she had wilfully played the truant.

The only two things left to be done, were attended to next day; namely, the county police were informed of the matter, and advertisements were inserted in the local papers. In both cases the usual results followed. The police arrested two persons who had clearly nothing to do with the matter, and who consequently had to be compensated; and many weeks after the occurrence the same authorities declared that they had known all along that no crime had been committed, and that the child would be restored to her parents in due time. Still less followed from the newspaper advertisements; the papers being but little read in the country districts where Evelyn lived, and having no circulation among the fairies.

So the next day passed over in darkness and sorrow for the suffering parents, who feared that they had lost for ever the child who had been so lately the light and comfort of their home.

There were two beings, however, who felt the loss of Evelyn little less than the father and mother; and these were her brother Philip and his black terrier Pincher.

Philip was only two years older than Evelyn--in fact, not quite so much, and they were great companions whenever he was at home for his holidays. Whenever he had work to do, to settle down to which he felt (as boys sometimes will) disinclined, it was Evelyn who encouraged him to face it boldly, and who helped him in any way she could; and if she was in any trouble about French verbs or German exercises, as will sometimes happen even to the best disposed young ladies, it was to Philip she always flew for sympathy and consolation. And as there was good fellowship between them in their work, so they loved to play together whenever they could, and many a time had Evelyn joined her brother in a game of cricket, or rambled with him in his birds-nesting expeditions through the woods.

Sometimes these rambles had extended far into the forest where the adventures which I have been relating had befallen Evelyn; and during these wanderings she had often talked to her brother upon her favourite subject, and told him strange legends of fairies and goblins, at which he had always laughed heartily.

He had no great belief in such things himself, he used to say. Perhaps his head was too full of Latin or Greek, or perhaps he had not turned his attention sufficiently to fairy-land stories; but anyhow, he listened to his sister without being convinced by what she said, and she had more than once been rather vexed at his want of faith.

Now it so happened that Philip came home for his summer holidays the very day after his sister's disappearance. Great was his consternation, as you may suppose, at finding what had happened, and no less was his sorrow at the loss of his favourite companion.

He arrived in the morning, and was so overcome by the news that he was only able to gulp down two plates full of cold beef, some apple tart and custard, a little bread and cheese, and a couple of glasses of beer, at the family luncheon.

After this he went out on the lawn, and thought deeply over the business; but without being able to arrive at any satisfactory conclusion.

Whilst he stood and thought, Pincher came running up to him, and began to jump upon him with great manifestations of delight. Philip caressed him, and as he did so, remarked to himself half aloud:

"Pincher, old boy, why should not you and I have a ramble in the wood?"

As he spoke, the thought came into his heart that there was someone else besides Pincher with whom he used to ramble, and a sigh broke involuntarily from him as he remembered that he had no other companion now than his faithful dog.

He took a stick in his hand, sauntered over the lawn, through the little gate at the end of the meadow, and into the big wood away among the trees, where he and Evelyn had so often roamed together.

He strolled lazily along, and happened, strangely enough, to take the very same line which his sister had taken the day before.

Presently Pincher started a rabbit, and, according to the invariable practice of terriers, rushed after it as fast as he could; whilst the rabbit, also following the custom of its race, fled before him at the top of its speed, taking the direction straight as a line towards the fairy glade.

Philip gave a shout, and dashed after his dog without hesitation, although he had no expectation either that he would come up with Pincher, or Pincher with the rabbit. But before he had gone many yards, he knew, by unfailing evidence, that the chase had come to an end. Pincher had stopped, probably at the hole into which the rabbit had made its escape, and was no longer yelping as he had continually done during the pursuit, but, as the boy thought most likely, scratching furiously at the hole. Philip pushed his way forward as well as he could, and called to his dog, who presently responded by a bark, the sound of which enabled his master to discover where he was. It was near the roots of a large tree, surrounded by fern and brushwood; and Pincher was running round and round this tree, and then darting off into the fern, and as quickly coming back again, as if something had puzzled him completely and he was anxious to have it set right as soon as possible.

The boy stood still for a moment, looked first one way and then another, but could see nothing. Of course the truth was that the fairies were there, and Pincher knew it, but had no means of letting his master know, for he did not happen to understand English or French, and even in Dog Latin would have made but a poor hand in conversing with human beings. But animals, as is well known, can often see fairies and such creatures when they are invisible to human eye; and I suppose that Pincher very likely had not only discovered the elves, but had been surprised and utterly disconcerted by perceiving that his master's sister, his own little friend and kind mistress, was amongst them.

I do not say for certain that he discovered this; but dogs of the terrier kind, especially when well-bred as Pincher was, are very keen scented, and could probably smell out their master or mistress even if disguised ten times over as a goblin or fairy. So as the dog chanced to have stumbled upon the very spot where the fairies were all sleeping, it is only natural to suppose from his behaviour that he not only saw the little creatures, but recognised Evelyn.

The fairies, for their part, were nearly as much disconcerted as the dog, for they had expected no visitor, and had not intended to wake up and move for two or three hours more at least. They knew that neither dog nor boy could hurt them, of course; but still they were hastily roused from their sleep, and I dare say that their movements, running to and fro to hide themselves wherever they could, considerably added to the confusion of the dog.

Philip of course saw nothing at all, for it is a very unusual circumstance for fairies to allow themselves to be seen by any one who has not implicit faith in their existence and power. So he called Pincher to come away, and would presently have quitted the glade altogether without ever knowing how close he had been to his lost sister. But, for the first and only time in his life, Pincher seemed inclined to disobey his master. He ran round the tree again, whined, sat up on his hind quarters, chattering his teeth and half howling, as if he saw a polecat or stoat or squirrel in the top branches of the old pollard, and waited to be put up the tree so as to have a chance of getting at it.

Philip thought that this must certainly be the case, and, changing his mind about leaving the place, turned round and again approached the tree. As he did so, to his intense astonishment he heard a voice behind him, which certainly, and beyond all doubt, called him by his name. He turned sharply round, and to his great surprise could see no one at all. At the same time a voice again called him from the other side, and with precisely the same result. This went on for several moments. His name seemed to be called at intervals from every side, and wherever he turned, the voice or voices were always behind him. Profoundly puzzled, and rather vexed by this extraordinary incident, the boy was at a loss to know what to do, and at last exclaimed:

"By Jingo, this is a queer thing!"

Hardly had he uttered these words, when a chorus of laughter burst upon his astonished ears; and to his unutterable astonishment he heard a number of voices singing, to a tune he well knew, the following words:

"We don't want to hide; but by Jingo, if we do, We've got the fern--we've got the trees-- We've got the brambles too."

And again loud laughter ran through the forest, whilst Pincher danced round the old pollard more frantically than ever.

Philip stood rooted to the ground with surprise, when a sound, somewhat different from the rest, attracted his attention; and looking round he perceived a large white owl attentively regarding him with her eyes wide open. As soon as she saw that he was aware of her presence, the owl gravely bowed her head three times, and then began to speak in a voice so exactly like that of a human being, that you would not have known the difference, unless you had actually seen her in her feathers, and been assured by the evidence of your own eyesight that she was a veritable bird. And these were the words that fell upon the ears of her astonished listener:--

"In every glade of forest lone, Some mystic word of might is known, Which, once pronounced, to mortals' eyes Gives sight they have not otherwise; Gives mortal ears a hearing new Of things much disbelieved--yet true; And suffers mortal hand to trace The circle of the magic space. Boy! list--thou hast obtained this aid. "By Jingo"--motto of our glade-- Converts all here to friends from foes, And bids all secrets to disclose. Break branch from tree where thou dost stand, 'Twill serve thee for a magic wand; Around thee then a circle trace Within this same enchanted place; Then wish a wish, and speak the word-- 'Tis granted ere thy voice be heard; And thou shall rule like any king Within the sacred Fairy Ring."

Philip listened with great attention to the observations of the owl, which appeared to him to be exceedingly clear and distinct, although the circumstances under which they were made were singular, and the quarter from which they came unexpected. He felt, however, that he was "in for the thing," as he afterwards expressed it, and that he had better comply with the directions of the worthy bird. He therefore stretched out his hand and broke off a branch from the nearest tree, which happened to be hazel. He then sharpened the end of the branch, and drew with it a circle, in the midst of which he remained standing.

Now, of course, the correct and proper thing for the boy to have done would have been to have immediately pronounced the magic words; wished for his sister back at the same moment; for her then to have appeared and thrown herself into his arms, and for the story to have thus ended in a comfortable, good, old-fashioned way, which would have been eminently satisfactory to all parties concerned. Why should not I make this happen? Well, I really would if I could, but you must remember that all these stories are as true as the histories of "Don Quixote," "Baron Munchausen," "Gulliver's Travels," and all those other histories, upon the veracious nature of which no sensible person has ever entertained a doubt. So you will see at once that I cannot, as a fair and true historian, invent anything, even for the purpose of pleasing my beloved readers, but must go on perforce and relate the facts as they really occurred.

Philip was doubtless very fond of his sister, and if it had been put to him by anyone at the moment that the above course was that which he ought to pursue, I am sure that he would have done so without the slightest hesitation. But as nobody _did_ tell him, and the owl (probably because it was not her business to do so) made no such suggestion, I regret to say that, for the instant, Philip followed another line of thought, and when he again pronounced the mystic words, "By Jingo," he wished--not that his sister might instantly appear, but--that he might understand what was the nature of the strange place in which he seemed to be, and the meaning of all that had occurred. You will see at once that this was rather a different thing from wishing for his sister; and the reason of his not doing so probably was that, in the hurry and surprise of the whole affair, he did not connect it with her disappearance. So, as I say, he wished that he might be able to understand the mysteries of the place.

As soon as ever he had formed this wish, the fairies of course became visible to the boy. They came out on all sides, just as they had come when they had disclosed themselves to Evelyn. They peered from strange corners and holes, they darted quickly from spot to spot, and abandoned altogether the rest and sleep from which the coming of the boy had disturbed them.

Soon, however, their proceedings acquired greater regularity. I suppose it was in consequence of his standing in the magic ring, or perhaps it might have been by the mere virtue of the mystic words which he had pronounced; but for some reason or other the fairies had no power over him as they had had over his sister. More than this, they seemed to have been constrained by some one of those mysterious rules which obtain in Fairy-land to pay him some kind of respect and homage.

They linked hand in hand, and whilst Philip looked on in the greatest astonishment, they formed in a circle round the space in which he stood, and danced merrily round him for at least a couple of minutes. Then they stopped, and whilst all the rest fell back into the fern and brushwood behind, the queen remained, and after a short pause, addressed the boy as follows:--

"Possessor of the magic words Which here control both fays and birds: What would'st thou in this glade to-day, That we can give thee--if we may?"

Now Philip was not much of a hand at rhyming: to tell the truth, he disliked all poetry particularly, from Dr. Watts' hymns up to the Latin verses he had to do at school. For an instant he doubted whether, in spite of this, he was not bound to make some reply in rhyme, as well as he could manage it, having been addressed in this manner by the lady before him. However, on second thoughts, it appeared to him that probably this was needless, as he had accidentally acquired a position which was evidently one of authority. Therefore he replied in the way ordinarily employed among mortals, that is, in prose; and, having now remembered the main object of his expedition into the wood, he thus replied:--

"Madam, I want my sister Evelyn. I cannot tell whether or no you can help me in the matter, but my sister has disappeared and I am looking for her everywhere."

The fairy bowed with grave courtesy when Philip had spoken thus, and then answered him at once,--

"Those who invade our magic bower, And hold--and speak--the words of power, Have their first wish--and thou hast prayed To know the nature of the glade. If thou had'st wished thy sister free, It had not been denied to thee; And she no longer might have been The subject of the Fairy Queen. But we small children of the moon Are bound to grant no second boon; And if thou would'st regain the lost, Thou now wilt have to count the cost! Reseek thine home--for one whole day No single word to mortal say: And by no sign or look or sigh Permit them to discover _why_! For that same time be only fed With crystal water and with bread, Then, at the rising of the moon, Come here and ask the second boon!"

She spoke; and, even as she ended, her little form appeared to grow fainter and less perceptible to Philip's eyes, and at last faded away altogether. He stood at first amazed, and then wrapped in deep thought. It was evident, from what the fairy had said, that she not only knew what had become of Evelyn, but had the power to restore her.

It seemed a very wonderful thing, but he could not disbelieve the evidence of his own senses, which had assured him of the presence of fairies; and if they could be present, as he had seen and heard them, they might certainly possess power of which he had previously had no idea. There was no doubt in his mind that, if he could only carry out the directions which the Fairy Queen had given, he would stand a very good chance of recovering his sister. It was true that there might be some difficulty in not speaking to anybody for a whole day, especially as no one would understand or guess the reason, and there would also be required a certain amount of self-denial--especially in the case of a schoolboy just come home for the holidays--in restricting himself to the homely diet of bread and water. However, then and there he made up his mind to try his best, and all the more so as he could not but feel that he had been somewhat thoughtless and negligent of Evelyn's interests in not having made her the subject of his first wish.

Pincher now showed as much eagerness to leave the spot as he had previously evinced to keep to the tree. I forgot to mention that he had crept to his master's side within the magic circle just as the fairies appeared. Probably, being a sagacious dog, he knew that if he remained outside it, he might be changed into a rat or a hedgehog, or something unpleasant, and so made sure of his safety from such a fate. Now, however, he seemed actuated by one sole desire, namely, that of leaving the place; and, as his young master was entirely of the same opinion, they made no longer stay.

Philip walked back through the wood the same way that he had come, regained the shrubberies, walked up the lawn and re-entered the house. There he was at once encountered by his mother, who accosted him with affectionate words, and eagerly asked him if he had heard any news of his sister. When the boy for reply merely placed one finger upon his mouth and said nothing, the good lady seemed, and doubtless was, rather astonished.

"My darling boy," she said, "what is the matter? Why don't you speak? Are you hurt? Have you any pain anywhere?" And withal she poured upon him such a torrent of questions that Philip did not know what to do. Still, however, he persevered in his silence, although it was very hard to do so when his mother kissed him and spoke so kindly to him all the while. He could hardly bear it, so broke hastily from her, and ran up to his own room, pushing almost rudely past Mrs. Trimmer, who met him on the stairs and was quite ready for a chat.

When he got to his room he threw himself into a chair, and pondered over all the strange events of that afternoon, which seemed to him beyond belief, only that, as they had actually taken place under his own eyes, he could not help believing them. Whilst thus engaged, the dressing-bell rang, and the servant brought up some warm water and put out his evening clothes.

"What time shall I call you to-morrow morning, master Philip?" asked the man, and was exceedingly surprised to find that the young gentleman made no reply whatever. He repeated the question with the same result, and then, supposing that Philip must have some unknown reason for his conduct, left the room without further remark.

The boy proceeded to dress and, at the proper time, descended to the drawing-room, where his father and mother already were. They were both in a melancholy frame of mind, as may well be supposed, for no tidings had been heard of their daughter, and they could not but fear that she was lost to them for ever. Philip walked stealthily into the room, in the direst perplexity how he should be able to avoid speaking.

"Well, my dear boy," began his mother directly, "have you found your tongue yet?"

The boy made no reply, upon which his father joined in.

"Philip, my boy, why do not you answer your mother?"

Still no word came from Philip, and his father, who was accustomed to be treated with respect and obedience, grew angry at his continued silence.

"Why don't you speak, boy?" he asked again. "Your mother and I are in trouble enough to-day without your adding to it by any childish folly of this kind. I should have thought you would have felt the same as we do."

Still the poor boy spoke not a word, which made his father still more angry.

"Have you got no tongue in your head, sir?" he cried, and laid his hand upon Philip's shoulder somewhat roughly.

But the mother here interposed.

"Don't scold him, James," she said. "Don't be cross with the boy--remember he is the only child we have left now," and she burst into tears.

In soothing her the husband forgot the boy, or perhaps found it more convenient to say nothing further at the moment. They went into dinner, and were astonished to see Philip shake his head when the servants offered him soup, fish, and roast veal (of which he was particularly fond) and content himself with eating his bread and drinking a glass of water. They began to think that their son must be ill; but it was in vain that they questioned him. He only put his finger over his mouth and resolutely declined to speak. Then his father expressed his fear that something or other must have frightened or hurt him in such a manner as to have affected his brain, and, at length, he determined to send for the doctor, who lived about three miles off, in the nearest town. Still Philip remained silent, and the strangeness of the occurrence was so far useful to his parents as that it, in some measure, turned the current of their thoughts from the great sorrow in which they had previously been absorbed.

As soon as the doctor came he performed the usual mysteries of his profession. He looked at Philip's tongue and said it was not unhealthy. He felt his pulse and declared there was no fever, and he finally pronounced that his indisposition--for such he termed it--though Philip was never better in his life, proceeded from some temporary disarrangement of the nervous system, which he had no doubt of being able to treat with success. He prescribed two pills to be taken at night, and a draught (the colour of which was the only pleasant thing about it) in the morning, and left the patient with a promise to return next day. During the whole of his visit, however, not one syllable did he get out of Philip, which, as he prided himself upon his conversational powers, and the successful manner in which he always got on, especially with young people, rather annoyed him.

When Doctor Pillgiver had gone, the parents, somewhat relieved by his report, strove again to persuade their son to resume his natural habits of conversation, for Philip was a boy neither sullen nor shy, but one that generally talked freely, and had plenty to say for himself. As, however, he entirely declined to say anything, his father at last got angry, and, telling him that he feared he was giving way to an obstinacy which, unless conquered, would prove his ruin, sent him upstairs to bed.

Poor Philip was really rejoiced at this, for he was not likely to have any mortal to speak to before morning. But his tender mother, unhappy at the thought that her boy might be ill, and thinking that he might repent of his silence after he had left her and his father, came to his bedside to see him the last thing before she herself retired. This was hard to bear, for to refuse the last kiss and "good-night" to one's mother is difficult indeed. Philip felt this, but he also felt that everything probably depended upon his obeying the conditions of the fairy queen, so the rogue pretended to be asleep, and said nothing, even when the dear mother softly kissed his forehead and invoked a blessing upon her beloved son.

All that night the boy could scarcely sleep for thinking over the extraordinary things that had happened. He tossed uneasily to and fro, then got up and drank some water, then laid down in one particular position, and determined to remain just so until he _did_ get to sleep--then changed his mind and turned quite round to try another position, and altogether managed to have such a restless and uncomfortable night as seldom falls to the share of a boy of his age and good health.

At last morning came, and Thomas, the footman, called him as usual, wondering again that his young master never wished him "good morning," or asked him if it was a fine day, as he almost always did. Philip dressed and came down to prayers and breakfast, according to his father's rule, or otherwise he would have slipped out of the house and kept away all day, until the time of his silence should be past. It was a great trial to him that morning, for his parents were both evidently vexed with him, and could not understand the meaning of his silence.

His father spoke so sharply to him that the tears came into his eyes, but his mother again interceded for him, and as soon as breakfast was over he stole away to take refuge in the garden.

Here again he had difficulties to encounter, for the gardener came to ask him some question about the rolling of the cricket-ground, about which Philip was always very anxious, and it was exceedingly tiresome not to be able to answer him, especially as this was the head gardener, and anyone who has ever had anything to do with such people, knows that they are personages of dignity and position, with whom it is never safe to trifle. So the boy knew that he ran no small chance of having his cricket-ground altogether neglected if he offended Mr. Collyflower, and would not have run the risk on any account, had not the recovery of his sister been of paramount importance.

Next he sauntered into the park, where the gamekeeper presently appeared to take his wishes as to a hawk's nest which he had found, and the eggs of which he thought he could get, if so be that Master Philip would fancy to have them.

It seemed both uncivil and ungrateful to give no answer, but he felt the whole weight of his responsibility and said never a word. But his worst trial was yet to come.

Flora Malcolm, a young lady who lived near, and of whom Philip was particularly fond, rode over to luncheon that day, and wanted him to ride part of the way back with her. She was astonished at his silence and at his diet at luncheon, and rallied him considerably upon both. Yet the boy held his tongue.

Most fortunately for him, his father had again gone off to renew his search after the lost girl, for had he been at luncheon, I think it more than probable that he would have resorted to some of those paternal remedies for filial disobedience which would have rendered poor Philip extremely uncomfortable, even if it had not ended in his disobeying the injunction of the fairy queen, and so losing Evelyn for ever.

Flora's raillery was hard to bear, but after a while she ceased, and being a clever girl, took it into her head that there might be a reason for his silence which she could not understand. For be it observed that there is no more certain sign of cleverness than when a person is able to feel and realise that there may be some things above and beyond his or her comprehension. For the generality of people think they can understand anything and everything, and that what they cannot comprehend is sure to be absurd, unreasonable, and foolish, whereas in all probability these are the epithets which should in reality be applied to themselves.

Flora took a different view, and being goodnatured moreover, left off teasing Philip when she perceived that it was no joke with him, but that there was something serious as well as singular in his proceeding. She had to ride back alone, poor girl, for Philip shook his head when she suggested that he should join her, and of course she could say no more. She did not stay long after luncheon, finding the distress in which the family were plunged, and as soon as she was gone, the boy again betook himself to the garden, and got through the afternoon without a word.

He looked forward with the greatest horror to dinner time--a feeling which had hitherto been as strange to him as to any other schoolboy. So it was now, however, for he knew he should have a terrible ordeal to go through. His father, having returned from another unsuccessful ride, would not only feel angry, but hurt, if his son made no inquiries as to whether any news had been heard of his sister. If again, he saw him for the second night remaining silent and refusing everything to eat and drink save bread and water, his patience would most likely be exhausted, and he might act in a manner the consequences of which might be unpleasant.

Suppose his anger should take the form of sending Philip to his own room immediately after dinner, and thus preventing his being in the forest at the time appointed by the fairy queen!

This was a thought which gave the boy so much uneasiness, that he at last made up his mind that, as the risk was too serious to run, he had better shirk dinner altogether. So when the dressing-bell rang at half-past seven (for his parents always dined at eight), instead of going in to dress, Philip slipped quietly out of the shrubberies, with Pincher by his side, and made the best of his way to the forest. The moon would not rise that night till past nine, and of course he would be missed before that; but he thought they would very likely not send for him, or if they did, no one would be likely to find him.

He marched into the forest full of hope, feeling sure that he had obeyed the fairy's directions in every particular, and that unless she had grossly deceived him, he should soon see his dear sister once more.

On he went, as he thought, exactly in the same direction in which he had gone the day before. The air was mild and pleasant--a gentle breeze rustled in the leaves overhead--the birds had hushed their singing, and Nature seemed to be about taking her rest preparatory to a new day of life and action.

The turf was soft and springy under the boy's feet, the trees cast around him their strange and fantastic shadows, the distant bells fell faintly on his ears, and more faintly still as he went further into the forest, and all seemed so peaceful and rest-bringing that he thought it was no wonder that hermits and such like worthy people should generally choose some woodland recess in which to dwell when they have had enough of the outside world, and want to find rest and peace and happiness in the oblivion of worldly strife which such a solitude would engender.

But when Philip, thinking these thoughts and a great many others, no doubt, besides, had walked some distance, it struck him that he must somehow or other have missed his way, for he seemed to be in quite a different part of the forest from that in which he had met with his yesterday's adventure. It was getting darker and darker, as far as he could see, and he began to be afraid that he might after all miss the place and never find his sister again.

Under these circumstances he did not think it of much use to go wandering on and on, uncertain whether he was going right or wrong, and therefore sat down upon the gigantic roots of a large oak, and there took time to consider what he had better do next. It must now have been getting on for nine o'clock, and presently a soft, tender light began to steal down through the overhanging branches, and illuminate the forest with a silvery tinge. The moon was evidently beginning to assert her dominion over the night, and to tell the darkness that it could not possibly be allowed to have it all its own way.

This, then, was the hour of which the Fairy Queen had spoken, when she told him to come at the rising of the moon and make his second request.

Yes! beyond all doubt this was the hour; but where the Fairy glade was, was quite a different question.

Everything seemed to be quiet and still in the forest, which was going on in its natural way, as if it had never had a fairy in its shades, and did not want one either.

Philip rose to his feet and listened attentively. Nothing was to be heard but the distant hoot of an owl.

The moon grew brighter and brighter, and very beautiful did the trunks of the old trees appear in her silvery light, seeming to assume quaint and curious shapes, as the boy gazed earnestly around him, in the hope of seeing or hearing something which might direct his next proceeding.

For some time he gazed in vain, and then, remembering that he was not forbidden to speak save to a mortal, that Pincher was probably not considered a mortal in the sense in which the word had been used, and that if he was, the command to silence had ceased with the rising of the moon, he addressed his dog in the following words:--

"Pincher, old boy, I wish you would find the glade for me. After making me hold my tongue so long, and eat nothing but bread and water, it would be a thundering shame if the fairy sold me after all!"

Pincher, on being thus accosted, looked up in his master's face, whined gently, wagged his tail, and seemed inclined to run off, as if for a hunt on his own account.

But at that moment the rustling of wings was heard, accompanied by a rumbling sound inside the oak under which Philip had been sitting, and an instant afterwards he was startled by the sudden appearance of a white owl, very similar to that which he had seen and heard in the fairy glade. She bustled out of the hollow of the tree in just such a hurry as you might fancy her to have been in if she had overslept herself and found she should very likely be late for the train, and, as soon as she got well out, she perched upon a branch for a moment, shook her head once or twice as if to be quite satisfied that she was awake, and then pronouncing in a low tone the word "Follow," flew slowly off.

Philip did not hesitate for a moment to obey the bird's directions, as he had found it answer so well to do so before. He followed as fast as he could, though of course, being but a boy, he could not keep up with a bird, and would soon have lost sight of her if the distance had been long. Instead of this, however, it was fortunately short, and before the boy had gone above a hundred yards at the most, he found himself once more at the entrance of the fairy glade.

He knew pretty well what to do this time. He advanced to what appeared to be an eligible spot, pronounced the magic words with great emphasis, and then, breaking off a branch from a neighbouring tree as before, drew the mystic circle round himself and the dog, and then stood quietly waiting to see and hear what would happen next.

He had hardly completed the circle when the same thing happened as on the previous day: the same chorus of voices all broke out in the same tune, only with words slightly different--they sang

"We don't want to drink--but by Jingo if we do, We've got the wine--we've got the rain-- We've got the ev'ning dew,"

and then came peals of laughter from every side.

As these words rang in his ears, the boy wished as hard as he possibly could that his sister might be suffered to come back with him safe and sound, and no sooner had he formed the wish than there she stood under the old pollard, looking very much as usual, and rubbing her eyes as if she had just been suddenly awakened from a very comfortable sleep, and didn't half like it.

Philip's first impulse was to rush up to her at once, but he fortunately remembered that he was not in an ordinary place or discharging ordinary duties. On the contrary, he had a tremendous responsibility upon his shoulders, and if he should make any mistake it was impossible to foresee the consequences either to his sister or himself. He therefore stood perfectly still and said in clear and distinct tones,--

"Evelyn, I want you."

The child scarcely appeared to see him when bespoke--then she seemed to make an effort to move forward, but stopped as if something prevented her, and the next moment the whole troop of little beings came darting out from every corner of the glade and stood between her and her brother. Then, as they had done on the previous occasion, they joined hands and danced round and round the circle in which Philip stood, although their dance was slower and less merry than before.

This went on for several minutes, and then they stopped, and fell back on all sides into the fern and brushwood, whilst the little queen remained. She stood perfectly still for a full minute, casting a look upon Evelyn in which pleasure and sorrow were curiously blended, and seemingly unwilling to break the silence which prevailed. Then she turned her head round and looked upon Philip, who stood there, full of anxiety as to what would be the upshot of the whole affair, and doubtful whether he ought himself to speak or not. Then she said,--

"Once again, alas! we've heard Magic sound of mighty word; Which, tho' we would fain delay, Elfins dare not disobey. Since the maid has joined our ranks, Shared our dance, and played our pranks (Wonder not at what I tell), We have learnt to love her well. Greater grief has none e'er proved Than to love--and lose the loved; And if she would still remain, Gladly we'd the maid detain. Still--when magic word is said, Magic word of mystic dread, 'Tis not as the Fairies please, Save the Maiden's will agrees. Say, dear child, sweet artless maid, Dost thou love the woodland shade? Would'st thou in the forest dwell, Ever haunt the Fairy dell, Ever leave thy former self, And remain a woodland elf? Wish--and thou hast power to be Thing as wild, from earth as free, As the Elf who speaks to thee! Wish it _not_!--then count the cost-- To the Fairies thou art lost, Never more in forest wild Shalt thou act the elfin child; Never, free from mortal care, Flit on elf-wings through the air: Scorning bolt, or bar, or lock, Till the crowing of the cock Summon back thy mates and thee To moss-couches 'neath the tree. Form thy wish, then, maiden dear, None shall dare to interfere!"

As the fairy queen spoke, Philip listened with great attention, with some concern, and no little indignation. Her voice was very sweet and pleasant; the picture she drew of the forest life of an elf was by no means disagreeable, and as he gathered from her words that Evelyn had already tasted of its delights, he was apprehensive of the effect which this temptation still to share it might possibly have. He felt, moreover, that as he had honestly fulfilled his part of the bargain, it would be palpably unfair if he got nothing by it, except the knowledge that his sister was a fairy, which would be but a very small consolation to the people at home. So he thought he had better strike in and tell his opinion at once, which he did in the following way:--

"I say!" he cried, "this is not fair. I was to come here to-night and have my second boon--and I have said what it is. It will be no end of a shame if you don't give me back my sister. In fact, you promised it yesterday; and no fellow can stand being made to hold his tongue and eat nothing but bread and water for the best part of a day and a half, and then be sold after all. Come! I say! this won't do at all, you know!"

The fairy listened to him with great politeness, and at once replied to his remarks,--

"I bade thee come by light of moon If thou would'st crave a second boon. I bade thee come: and thou art here, A faithful brother, void of fear; And thou hast kept conditions two, Such as had been observed by few. Yet--ere you blame my words, good youth, Be moderate, and hear the truth. When maids or youths o'er fairy lore Attentively are wont to pore, Their hearts 'twould mightily surprise To see how oft our elfin eyes See, and rejoice to see, them read Of many a magic Fairy deed. And when such youth or maiden list To say that Fairies do exist, We love them passing well, forsooth, Because that they believe the truth. So, when beneath our woodland shade There wanders tender youth or maid, On certain spot--at certain hours-- Our might avails to make them ours. And when, resisting not herself, A Maiden once becomes an elf, Dares from her mortal form t' escape, And roam the world in Elfin shape, Unless it be by her free will, She must remain an Elfin still. 'Tis true: the words of power have might To force us into mortal sight, And, tho' in elfin garment drest, A mortal maid must stand confest To eyes of him who once has known And said these words--to him alone. Thy sister, then, thine eyes have seen, But I, thy sister's Fairy queen, Have right to counsel and persuade Her--who is half a woodland maid-- And should she wish it, she must stay Beneath my loving Fairy sway. If so--kind youth, oh! ne'er repine, Or envy this success of mine; _Her_ fate for ever light and free From mortal grief, will happy be, For mortal sin and human woe, Thenceforward she shall never know!"

As the fairy queen spoke these words, many thoughts passed rapidly through the mind of the boy. He saw at once that the victory was not yet so entirely won as he had supposed, and that people could not change to and fro between mortal and fairy form as quickly as they pleased. Of course he had not known his sister's fate until the fairy queen uttered these rhymes, and even now he was left somewhat in the dark. Besides, as you will recollect, the excellent elfin had not told him the exact truth after all, because she led him distinctly to infer that Evelyn had become one of the elves by her own consent and free will, whereas we know perfectly well that she had no intention of becoming anything of the kind, and that as to "resisting not herself," she had no idea that resistance would do any good, and if she had thought so, would not have known in what way to resist, when the fern leaf was waved over her head, and she began to be sensible of the magic charm which came over her.

It is quite true that she had taken kindly to the life of an elf, but it was certainly hardly fair to let her brother suppose she had become one by choice. This, however, was not a point upon which he was at all troubled. For one instant he doubted whether, if she were really so happy, it would be doing her a real kindness to take her away from the fairies. But it was only for an instant. He felt sure that she must be under some charm which prevented her declaring her own sentiments, and therefore he did not at once put the question to her.

But he remembered to have read in various books concerning elves and fairies, that though they are a very interesting part of creation, they are in some respects inferior to mankind, and that they are a kind of being existing entirely and for ever in their present condition, with no soul and with no such future as that for which Christian men and women hope. Therefore, according to this view, his sister's condition would be materially changed for the worse if she remained an elf, and it was his duty, if possible, to prevent it. Moreover, his father and mother had some claim to be considered; and he could not help thinking that if Evelyn was a free agent and could say what she thought, felt, and wished, she would not only promptly recognise that claim, but would long to rejoin the parents of whom she was so devotedly fond. He thought, perhaps, also of the mutual affection which had so long existed between his sister and himself; but I will do him the justice to say that I do not think he would have wished her back if he had been satisfied that it would be best for her own happiness that she should stay where she was.

All these thoughts flashed through Philip's mind during the fairy's speech, and by the time it was ended he had quite made up his mind what to do. He looked firmly--though not unkindly--at the little lady, and then, turning to his sister, he said in a loud, clear, steady voice,--

"Evelyn, I wish you to come to me and we will go home together."

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, a long, low wailing sound arose on all sides of him, as if the little beings of the glade were bemoaning an affliction which they saw preparing for them and had no power to prevent. It hung in the air for a few seconds, and then died away in mournful cadence among the trees.

Meanwhile the effect of Philip's words upon his sister were immediate and wonderful. She threw back her head, rubbed her eyes again, looked first to the right and then to the left, and then stepped straight forward for a couple of yards, and stopped, just as if somebody was trying to hold her back. I suppose that she was too big to be held back by the little elves, since she had resumed her old mortal form at the first summons of her brother; but I also suppose from this circumstance that they tried to keep her, and she always said afterwards, that soft musical voices were in her ears, telling her of the joys of fairy-land and the happiness of the little elves, and begging her not to leave their merry party who had loved her so well.

Philip, observing her apparent hesitation, deemed it quite necessary to take forthwith another and a more decided step. Elevating his voice a little, and speaking in a very firm tone, he said:

"Come along, Evelyn dear, pray do not dawdle any longer. I wish you would come directly. By jingo, we shall hardly be in time for tea!"

The words were scarcely spoken, when the same mournful sound arose, even more piteous than before, and rang through the evening stillness with a melancholy cadence which might have melted the hardest heart, so much did it convey of real sorrow. But at the same moment all attempts to retain Evelyn ceased--her natural look, colour, and manner seemed suddenly to have returned, and she bounded into the magic circle, and ran into her brother's arms.

"Oh, Philip dear!" she cried. "Where _have_ you been? I haven't seen you for _such_ a time! How nice it is to have you at home again!"

The brother returned her affectionate caresses, and reminding her of the lateness of the hour, said that they must return home at once. He purposely forebore to say anything of what had recently occurred, not knowing what the consequences might be, either to his sister or himself, and putting his arm tenderly round her waist, began to leave the glade, calling Pincher to follow him. They had not moved many yards forward, however, before low strains of sweet music were heard behind them, and turning round, they saw the form of the fairy queen, who was gazing after them with a look of mingled tenderness and regret. She gracefully waved her hand to them as they retreated, and in her own sweet voice thus addressed them:

"Farewell! ye mortal children twain, Perchance we ne'er may meet again; Yet, should we ever chance to meet, My elves the twain will kindly greet. And ye, in prose or minstrel lays, When ye shall read of woodland fays, Have friendly feeling for the elves Who love you as they love themselves. No more amid our glade to roam-- The brother leads his sister home. From Fairy-land the twain depart, To gladden soon a mother's heart, And make a saddened home, to-night, Once more enraptured with delight. True brother! thou hast brought thine aid To rob us of our captured maid; Yet wast thou right, and for the same 'Tis not for fairy lips to blame. And thou, sweet Eve, who thus has left Thy elf companions all bereft, Since thou with us no more wilt dwell, We wish thee, lovingly, farewell."

Then the fairy stepped lightly and gracefully back, still waving her hand; the music grew fainter and fainter, and ere long both the sound and the fairy form melted away from the sight and hearing of the brother and sister, though the last lingering word, Farewell, once and again repeated, still seemed to fall softly on their ears as they left the glade.

They hastened home as fast as they could, and you may imagine the excitement with which their arrival was greeted. Evelyn and her mother devoured each other with kisses, and the father had such share of them as was left for him. Philip was at once restored to favour, and not only was his former silence forgiven, but every amends was made to him, in the way of diet, for his fasting upon the previous day.

Mrs. Trimmer was so rejoiced at the happy conclusion of the adventure, that she did not scold Evelyn for a month, in consequence of which her progress in French and German was visibly slower than for some time past.

Everybody in the house was glad to get the child back, and the only provoking part of it was that, even after her extraordinary adventures, disbelief in fairies still existed even in that well-informed household. One gave one explanation of Evelyn's absence, and one another; one laid it to the gipsies, another said she had run away and hid in a hollow tree, but nobody seemed to be entirely satisfied with the plain, unvarnished truth as I have told it to you.

But so it is in this wicked world. Invent a perfectly untrue story, but make it seem a little probable, and everybody will believe you, and not throw the slightest doubt upon your veracity. On the other hand, let an extraordinary thing really happen, and if it falls to your lot to tell it, you are generally considered a "story-teller" in the worst sense of the word.

This makes me so cross sometimes, that I think I will give up writing about fairies altogether, and only write about grave and serious subjects. But if I do that, I am afraid that nobody except members of parliament and diplomatists, politicians and teetotalers, and all those silly sort of people, will read what I write, and so I think I will go on for a little while longer in my old style.

_I_ know that elves and fairies exist, and if all the rest of the world believes differently, it does not cause me the slightest inconvenience; _they_ can go their way, and I can go mine; and if they don't see any fairies, it is probably their own fault, as it is, I am sure, their own loss.

I have no more to tell you of Philip and Evelyn now, except that they both grew up and prospered, and that Evelyn often tells _her_ little girls the story of her adventure with the fairies; and if anyone who reads this story would like to know more particulars, she is so good-natured that I am quite sure she will tell them all about it if they will only take the trouble to ask her when she does not happen to be particularly engaged.

CAT AND DOG.

To "live like cat and dog" has long been proverbial as a description of a state of life in which quarrels and bickerings are of frequent occurrence. No one, however, as far as I am aware, has ever followed to its sources the proverb which is so familiar to us all; nor has anyone attempted to explain the reason of the antagonistic spirit which undoubtedly prevails between these domestic animals. Its prevalence is certain, its consequences not seldom unfortunate, and many a once happy household has been rendered miserable by its existence.

Animated by a sincere desire to acquire information, which might be at once interesting to myself, and instructive as well as beneficial to my fellow creatures, I have spared no pains to discover the truth upon this all-important subject; and if I can succeed in placing that truth clearly and dispassionately before the world, I shall feel--and I think I may cherish the feeling without exposing myself to the charge of presumption,--that I have not lived in vain.

Whatever rumours may, in a less enlightened age, have prevailed upon the subject, I believe that there is no doubt as to the origin of the unfortunate difference which first caused hostility to become deeply rooted in the breasts of the canine and feline races. Some have supposed it to have sprung from certain acts of favouritism displayed by the human race towards one or other of the two species of animals; others have come to the conclusion that in-bred and natural wickedness gave rise to the evil, whilst others again have started different, but equally unsound theories.

The true reason--the real beginning--the cause and foundation of the whole thing, is to be found in the words of the old song, so familiar to nursery people:

"Hey diddle, diddle; the cat and the fiddle; The cow jumped over the moon: The little dog laughed to see such sport, And the dish ran away with the spoon."

The author of this ballad is unknown, but it has always been vastly popular with the race of cats, who see in it at once a tribute to the musical genius of their people, as being identified with the violin (vulgarly herein called fiddle) and a recognition of their supremacy and superiority over other animals, inasmuch as "the cat" is mentioned first, before either cow or dog, fiddle or moon, and is evidently pointed out as the chief personage celebrated by the rhyme.

On the other hand, dogs have never liked the verse. They directly and positively object to the precedence given to the cat; they dispute altogether the statement about the cow and the moon, as being improbable, if not palpably false; and they further say that, if the laughter of the little dog is intended to refer to this occurrence, it is a reflection upon the gravity and decorum of the dog race, whilst, if it is to be referred to the last line of the verse, it displays their representative as treating with unworthy levity that which, as far as the dish is concerned, was either an unlawful elopement or a pitiful theft.

At one time, when there was still a hope that the enmity of the two races might be appeased, and a better state of things brought about, a joint committee of dogs and cats sat upon the question, in order to submit a report to the great council of animals, which might form the basis of an amicable settlement. A lengthy and acrimonious discussion ensued. The cats claimed precedence, and advanced many arguments to prove their superiority over their opponents. They boldly purred out their declaration to the effect that nature, custom, and all the evidence at command was clearly in their favour. They cited the opinions of mankind, as given in many books, speeches, wise proverbs, and witty sayings. They called to mind how that, in the case of heavy rain, men always remarked that "it rained cats and dogs;" placing, as they averred, the superior animal of the two first, when it was necessary to mention both, and the inferior one last. Moreover, many other things in the history of mankind denoted the prevalence and undoubted predominance of the same opinion. One of their favourite names for their daughters was Kate--spelt commonly with a C when given in full, Catherine--and evidently a name adopted from that of cat, and affording another implied recognition of the general superiority of the feline race.

Then, said they, look at the way in which dogs are habitually spoken of with contempt, and their name used as a reproach. If one man call another a "dog," it is held to be an insult. Tell anyone that such and such a person has a "hang-dog" look about him, and it is known you intend to convey the idea of his being a rascal only fit to be strung up at once. If a man is tiresome in argument, his companions term him "dogmatic;" if he is of an obstinate temper and sullen disposition, he is frequently called dog-ged; whilst on crossing the channel a person who suffers from the malady of the sea is said to be "as sick as a dog;" and when mankind desire to express the failure in life, the ruin, the abject and miserable condition of one of their own race, there is no more common or proverbial expression than that he has "gone to the dogs."

All these, and many other instances, they quoted, as bearing upon the great question of the superiority of cats to dogs, and in fact, establishing the same beyond any reasonable doubt.

The dogs, having listened to these observations and arguments with an attention which was only equalled by their indignation, advanced their counter-arguments with great force, and evinced much learning and erudition. They took a preliminary objection to the evidence founded upon the manners and habits of human beings; avowing that even if they admitted every instance which had been adduced, they might appeal to the general practice of man, and the greater trust and reliance which he habitually placed in the dog, as utterly negativing the supposition that he had ever intended to imply the superiority of the feline tribe by any casual proverb or familiar saying. When was a cat employed to tend sheep? What keeper would trust a cat to do the office of a retriever, and to watch the young birds? To what cat was ever committed the custody of a house, or when was a kennel provided for a cat, to serve the purpose for which only a mastiff, or some similar specimen of the noble breed of dogs, was fit? All this forbad the supposition that men preferred cats before dogs, or esteemed them at all equally, either as useful or ornamental animals. But if they considered the arguments brought forward by the cats, one by one, with logical acuteness, they would not find a single argument which was not susceptible of an entirely different construction from that put upon it by the cat orators.

For instance, the expression that "it rained cats and dogs" clearly signified (if taken for more than a colloquial expression to convey the meaning that it rained hard) that the heavens from which the rain came desired to get rid of the inferior animals first, and that it was only when the cats had been got rid of that a possible superfluity of dogs was taken into consideration. The name Kate (which, by the way, was the abbreviation of Katharine, and had really nothing to do with the name Catherine) was not derived from anything to do with cats or kittens either; and it was much the same as if the dogs on their part were to claim affinity with the ancient Doges of Venice, or to pretend to unwonted holiness because most of the good books of the early church were written or translated by the monks into Dog Latin.

Again, as to one man insulting another by calling him a dog, that was not exactly the case. Dogs did not speak with human tongues, and therefore, when a man was called a "dumb dog," it was only implied that he was as dumb as a dog as far as the human tongue was concerned; dogs, moreover, did not pretend to universal goodness--there were good dogs and bad dogs, mad dogs and sad dogs. When men wished to bestow praise upon one of themselves, they constantly called him a "jolly dog;" and if they sometimes called one of their own kind a "cur," they alluded to an inferior species of dog, and in fact acknowledged the superiority of the canine race by the very fact that they selected it as the race with which alone they could fairly compare one of themselves.

The "hang-dog" argument also told directly against, instead of for, the cats. What did it mean? Why, that any man who was a villain and a rascal looked as if he would actually be ready to hang a dog; and such a crime would, in fact, constitute him both rascal and villain at once. What better proof could be afforded of the high estimation in which dogs were held by men?

The dogs further said that the cats had attributed a bad meaning to the word "dog-matic," but that it was also susceptible of a good interpretation, being derived from a Greek word, dogma, a settled opinion, and signifying one who, knowing the truth, and having confidence in the opinion at which he had duly arrived, had the courage of his convictions and stuck to them gallantly, which was certainly no reproach either to dog or man. The word "dogged" also might of course be taken to mean "sullen" or "sulky," but its primary signification was rather "pertinacious;" and it really meant that steadiness with which an honest dog pursued his course through life, yielding neither to bribes nor temptations, from whatever quarter they might chance to come.

With regard to the expression, "sick as a dog," they stated that it was scarcely more commonly used among men than the equivalent expression, "sick as a cat;" and they forbore, out of delicacy, to advance arguments upon so disagreeable a point. It bore but little upon the question, and they might as well say that men hated cats, because they were subjected to catalepsy; or that they evinced their dislike to the feline portion of creation by calling a misfortune a "cat-astrophe," a bad cough a "cat-arrh," and a disease in the eye, a "cataract." The last allusion of the cats, namely, that to a man spoken of as having "gone to the dogs," was the subject of a long and able argument on the part of the latter; who principally contended that the real meaning of the phrase, duly considered and wisely interpreted, was quite different from that which their adversaries supposed; inasmuch as no man, being ruined and miserable, would go to persons or beings who were held in contempt or were in disgrace. What was really meant was, that, when a man had really failed in everything, and, being penniless and wretched, found neither support, sympathy, nor consolation from those of his own species, he went where kindness, good faith, honesty, and charity were ever to be found, and sought among the true-hearted and friendly race of dogs that kindly welcome and reception which had been denied to him by his own people. It was a tribute, indeed, paid to dog-nature by mankind; and nothing of the sort had ever been said with regard to cats, who were well-known to be much more likely to scratch, than to comfort, the unfortunate.

The arguments so forcibly advanced by the dogs made very little impression on the cats who were upon the joint committee. There was a good deal of purring, setting up of backs, miawing, and I fear a little spitting; but they listened with tolerable attention, and then replied in the same style as before.

They mentioned a bad, useless fish--which was called the dog-fish, on account, they said, of its bad qualities; the dog-days--so called because hotter and more unbearable than any other days in the summer: they drew attention to the fact that loose, bad rhyme was said to be "doggerel," and that an inferior kind of flower was termed "dog-rose."

The dogs rejoined, with spirit, that men called a depository for dead bodies a "cat-acomb," a disagreeable insect a "cat-apillar," and that anyone who was made use of by another to obtain his own ends was contemptuously designated a "cat's-paw."

A debate carried on in this spirit could clearly lead to no satisfactory result, and the end of the matter was that the committee separated without having been able to agree to any report. The consequence naturally was, that each race continued to regard the other with suspicion and aversion; and that the relations between the two became, and seemed likely to remain, exceedingly unpleasant.

This version of the matter was given me by an animal whose veracity is above suspicion, being none other than old Jenny, the donkey. She was a most learned antiquarian, and had lived to a very advanced age before she had finally settled her opinion upon the merits of the question. But, being an ass of well-balanced mind, and entirely impartial between the two races, I believe that she fairly stated the arguments on both sides, and that her accuracy may be thoroughly relied on.

She went on to relate to me chronicles of the past, which I found most interesting; and it is with a view to the better understanding, by those who care to read them, of those chronicles, that I have ventured to give the above preliminary facts upon the authority of this venerable quadruped.

There was a time, she said, when dogs and cats were certainly upon better terms than at the present day. It was a happier time for both, she had no doubt; but still, being but a donkey, and very humble, she did not wish to put forward her opinion as by any means conclusive upon that or any other point. She could not recollect the time when the two races were positively upon friendly terms, but she believed such a time to have existed, and that within the memory of ravens, if not of asses.

There was a curious legend which had been told her by a tinker's donkey, who had been a great traveller, and knew more than most of his kind, though there was, as a rule, much more knowledge among donkeys than men supposed. This particular donkey, however, had seen and learned in his travels a great deal more than many men; who, when they travel abroad, only seem to try how far they can go, and when they arrive at a city, live with their own fellow-countrymen as much as they can, import their own method of life into foreign countries, instead of living as the people of the country do; and come home again with a very small addition to the knowledge with which they started.

The tinker's donkey, being of a very different cast of character, and much given to careful and attentive observation of all he saw in the various places he visited, always brought home a vast deal of useful information, with which he never refused to enliven his brother asses as they enjoyed a friendly bray over their thistles. And it was during one of these long journeys of his that he picked up the legend which he told old Jenny, and which she generously imparted to me.

At a remote period of history--no matter exactly when and no matter exactly where--perfect love and harmony existed between the two great races of dog and cat. There was neither jealousy nor rivalry between them; and, indeed, why should there have been such at any period of time?

Dogs have ever preferred bones, or portions of the carcasses of slaughtered animals, to any other food; whilst, to cats, the flesh of the mouse, disdained as a rule by the canine species, and the tender breast of the newly-fledged bird, form more attractive feasts.

True it is, that both races are fond of milk, but there is nothing in that single similarity of taste to excite ill-feeling and bitterness; and no dog ever clashed with the love of the cat for fish, nor have cats the same partiality for biscuits which some of the other race have frequently displayed.

Then, again, their pursuits in life are of a somewhat different character, those of the dog being more varied than those of the feline species. The sheep-dog guards with vigilance the flock entrusted to his care; the foxhound follows his prey with keen scent and unfailing ardour; the greyhound stretches his lanky form in eager pursuit of the unfortunate hare; the mastiff, seated in front of his kennel in the backyard, warns the inmates of the house of the approach of beggars or persons of doubtful character: the pug-dog, the terrier, the pomeranian, all have their separate employments and varied uses, in none of which does a cat seek to share, and with none of which does she ever wish to interfere.

The cat, on the other hand, has amusements and occupations to a great extent peculiar to herself. She loves to bask in the sun, upon the window-sill if such be available, on fine days, and in wet or cold weather to nestle snugly upon the hearthrug. When she goes out, it is not to run here and there and everywhere, after the fearless and sometimes intrusive manner of the dog. She prefers to steal quietly and leisurely along, placing her velvety feet softly upon the ground, and peering round on each side of her, to see that the country is secure. Crawling along the top of a wall, or creeping up the stem of a tree, she strives to capture the unwary bird, who may afford her sport and amusement first, and a meal afterwards. Or, seated demurely in some corner of a room or near some tree, where mice frequent, she does not object to watch patiently, whilst minutes and hours pass away, in the hope of at last finding an opportunity to pounce upon her favourite victim. With all this no dog has any reason to interfere, and none has ever attempted to rival the cat in the pursuit of bird or mouse.

Again: dogs are more apt to attach themselves to the persons of men or women, cats more readily become attached to the places in which they have lived; so that, once for all, if we consider the nature, the character, and the habits of these two great races, we shall, I am confident, come to the conclusion that there can be no real cause for their natural enmity, but that, in the great scheme of creation, they were intended to be upon as friendly and harmonious terms as was certainly the case at the time of which we now speak.

Such were the reflections of Jenny, and I am inclined to endorse them all, and to think that I see the confirmation of their truth in the legend which I am about to tell as she told to me.

It chanced that at this time a worthy couple possessed an animal of each sort, of which they were extremely fond. The dog was a handsome, black, curly fellow; of what particular breed I don't know, but this description of him sounds as if he was a Romney-Marsh retriever, or something of the sort. The cat was a tortoise-shell, and one of the most perfect specimens of her kind; with glossy fur, elegantly-shaped body, and tail like a fox's brush, which swept the ground as she walked.

Jenny did not know the names of the worthy couple who owned these animals; and in fact I have noticed that, in most of the stories which animals have told me from time to time, men and women are made to play a very subordinate part, and are indeed for the most part considered as altogether inferior beings by the excellent animals of and by whom the stories are told. Thus, in the present instance, although the good ass knew perfectly well that the dog's name was Rover, and the cat's Effie, she knew no more than an ignorant calf might have done of the names of the people with whom they lived. Nay, if I remember rightly, her expression was that, "Some people lived in and kept the house in which Rover and Effie dwelt;" so that very likely the donkey, and perhaps the animals themselves, considered that the premises belonged to themselves, and that the man and woman were merely lodgers on sufferance.

And very likely, as a matter of fact, this is the actual view entertained by many of our animals--horses, dogs, cats, possibly even pigs and chickens--at the present day, if we did but know it. Perhaps it is as well we do not, as we might consider our supremacy challenged and our rights invaded, and this might make us less kind to the poor animals, which would be very sad.

I should not wonder, however, if it was the truth; for I am sure our servants--or some of them--have firmly-rooted convictions that our houses and everything in them, are at least as much, if not more, theirs than ours, and some of us give in to them very much as if we thought so too. So I do not see why the four-legged creatures, as well as the two-legged, should not think the same thing,--and perhaps they do.

Rover and Effie, as I have said, lived in this house, which, to put the matter in a way not likely to be offensive to anybody, was also inhabited by an old couple--I mean a man and his wife; because, of course, "a couple" might, standing alone, mean a couple of ducks, or a couple of fowls, or rabbits, or anything else of the kind. But it was a man and his wife, and they had no children, and they were very fond of the dog and cat, and petted them both exceedingly. They passed very happy lives, having very little to trouble themselves about, and being possessed of a comfortable home, and plenty of agreeable neighbours.

Rover and Effie used to walk out together, and were for some time, as most of their respective races were, the very best of friends. Neither of them would have suffered a strange dog or cat to breathe a syllable against the other; and in their tastes, thoughts, and actions, they were as much allied as was possible under the circumstances.

Things continued in this happy condition until an old weasel, who lived in the immediate neighbourhood, cast his envious and malicious eye upon the two friends and determined it possible to interrupt their amicable relations. He had his own reasons for so doing.

The family of weasels, though of ancient lineage and old blood, had never been considered as particularly respectable. In fact they had always been a set of arrant scamps. The rats and rabbits complained bitterly of their intrusive habits, and extremely disliked their abominable practice of entering the holes used by other animals, and carrying blood and murder into homes that were otherwise peaceful and contented. The hens also raised their homely cackle in the same strain, and counting egg-sucking as among the worst of crimes, brought heavy charges against the weasels on that account. In fact, no one had a good word for the little animals, except indeed their cousins the stoats, and some of the unclean sorts of birds, to wit, the jay, the magpie and the carrion crow, who themselves lived chiefly by thieving.

The weasel had a great jealousy of the cat, because she interfered with him in the matter of rats, mice, and small birds, to all of which he was partial; and he also saw in the dog a rival as regarded rabbits.

Whilst the two remained in such close alliance, he thought that they were able to wield a power which, although not actively exerted against himself, was little likely to be ever used in his favour; and he therefore resolved to lessen that power if he possibly could, by sowing the seeds of discord between the hitherto friendly animals. But clever as he was, the weasel racked his brains in vain for a long time. He could think of nothing which would effect his object, and could satisfy himself with no plan by which he might approach the two animals with that intent.

It would not, indeed, have been hard for him to have entered the house by the means open to him, namely, a drain or a rat's hole, of which there were several. But, should he do so, he ran the greatest risk of having his intentions mistaken, and of suddenly falling a victim to one of the very two animals with whom (though not from any kindly feeling) he wished to communicate. The same fear prevented his accosting them during their walks, for he could not tell but that they might turn upon him and seize him before he could escape. Direct communication, then, appeared to be out of the question; and he accordingly resolved to seek a confederate, through whom he might perchance accomplish his wicked ends.

So he went to a neighbouring magpie, knowing the love of meddling which characterises that class of birds, and sought her aid in his scheme. The magpie was a very wary and cunning bird, and would not trust herself within paws' length of the weasel, for although she knew that, happily for herself, she was not a morsel which even a weasel could eat with relish, yet she was also well aware of the bloodthirsty nature of the animal, and thought it better not to expose him to the temptation of getting her neck into his mouth. So she sat up in the old hawthorn tree, and chattered away to herself, whilst the little animal came underneath and tried to attract her attention.

When at last she condescended to see him, she would not enter upon business for some time, but, like many persons who, not being blameless themselves, are very ready to blame other people, chattered away to him for a good five minutes upon the subject of his general bad behaviour, and read him a lesson upon morality, coupled with a homily upon the sin of thieving, which would have come admirably from the beak of a respectable rook, but was very ill-placed in that of a notorious bad liver and evil-doer like the magpie.

The weasel, however, keeping his object steadily in view, heard her remarks with great apparent politeness, although as a matter of fact her advice (like that which many better people give, both in and out of season) went in at one of his ears and out at the other, and produced not the smallest effect upon his future conduct. When her chatter came at last to an end, he unfolded the nature of his business and asked her counsel and assistance in the matter.

Now the magpie was by no means friendly to the dog and cat, having an idea that they were better off in their worldly affairs than she was, which is always a sufficient cause for evil-minded people to dislike others. So she had no objection at all to enter upon a scheme which might annoy and injure them, and indeed her natural love of mischief would have prompted her to do so, had she had no other feeling in the matter. Having always, however, an eye to the main chance, she asked the weasel what she should gain by the transaction, and having been faithfully promised the eye-picking out of the first twelve young rabbits he should catch, she at once consented to go into the business.

The idea of the two confederates was to create in the first place a coldness between the dog and cat, by means of inducing the couple already mentioned, to show greater favour to one than the other.

Here, however, arose another difficulty. How could either weasel or magpie obtain access to a man and woman, or in any shape exercise an influence over their conduct and actions? The idea was so preposterous that they had to give it up.

Then came the question whether they could not persuade either the cat or dog to do something which would offend and annoy the other, either by being opposed to his or her feelings and prejudices, or being actually unpleasant and disagreeable. If they could only settle on something of this kind, it did not appear so impossible to carry out the plan. The weasel need not be seen in the matter, and would incur no such personal danger as that to which he might have been exposed by any scheme which entailed his actual communication with the enemy. The thing must be done by the magpie, who, seated upon the roof of the house, or in an adjacent tree, could converse with either cat or dog without the smallest risk, and was sly and crafty enough to poison the minds of both.

So it was agreed that this should be the course taken, and what was to be the precise form of the magpie's address will be speedily gathered from the story.

The two innocent animals who were the object of this nefarious plot upon the part of creatures so vastly inferior to themselves, were all the while quite unconscious of the conspiracy which was being hatched against them. They went on just the same, and were as friendly as ever. Nor was their harmony disturbed by the introduction into the household of a small poodle, whom somebody gave to the mistress of the house, and who rather amused them than otherwise by his curious antics and grotesque behaviour. He was a curious dog, and had some funny tricks, but old Jenny said that she never heard that there was much against him, or that he had any concern in the wicked plot of the weasel and the magpie.

Having fully determined upon the plan to be pursued, the crafty pair of rascals waited until they could hit upon a time when the cat and dog were not together. The opportunity soon occurred. One fine morning the human occupier of the house (who laboured under the strange but, among human beings, not uncommon delusion that the place and all that it contained belonged to him) went out for a walk in the country, accompanied, as was frequently the case, by honest Rover.

The sun was shining so brightly that Mrs. Effie thought that she had better make the most of it, and get some fresh air at the same time, with no more exertion than was necessary. So she climbed quietly up on the window-sill, stretched herself at full length thereupon, and basked luxuriously in the warm rays of the sun.

Seeing her thus enjoying herself, the magpie flew leisurely into an apple tree which grew near the house, and began to chatter in a way which was certain to attract the cat's attention before long. After a little while Effie began to wink and blink her eyes, move her ears against the woodwork on which she lay, and appear as if disturbed by the noise. Presently she lifted up her head, shook it, and sneezed violently.

"Bless you, Pussy," immediately said the magpie from the apple tree.

Effie looked at her in some surprise.

"Many thanks," she said; "the more so, indeed, since I do not happen to have the pleasure of your acquaintance."

"More's the pity," replied the bird; "but that is no reason why I should refrain from giving a civil blessing to a person who happens to sneeze, for you know well enough that if you sneeze three times without someone blessing you, evil is sure to follow within the week."

"Indeed," answered the cat, somewhat coldly, for she hardly approved of being addressed by a mere bird, and that, too, a perfect stranger, in such a familiar manner. "Indeed, I am sure you are very kind."

And she laid her head calmly down again upon the windowsill. But the magpie was not to be daunted, and determined not to lose the opportunity which she had so carefully sought.

"Although you don't know me," continued she, "which is not surprising, considering that you move in high circles, whilst I am only, as one may say, a humble drudge among the inferior parts of creation, it does not follow, madam, that I am not well acquainted with _you_, and have long wished to obtain your friendship. The beauty of your fur, the elegant shape of your body, the graceful action with which you move, and, above all, the sweetness of your voice (which I have sometimes been fortunate enough to hear at nights), have all made an impression upon me which will not easily be removed. I only wish I might know you better."

As the bird spoke, she hopped from twig to twig of the apple-tree, until she came within easy speaking distance of Effie, and lowered her voice so as to make it less harsh, and more impressive in conversation. Now cats, as is well known to the attentive student of natural history, are by no means averse to flattery. It has sometimes been said that the same is true of women, but this is by no means fair as a general description of the latter, many of them cordially disliking it, and taking it as anything but a compliment when men bespangle them with empty flattery, instead of carrying on sensible conversation, and treating them like reasonable beings. But it is undoubtedly true of cats. Three things they can never resist: cream, scratching their heads, and flattery; and as the magpie had no cream, and forbore to attempt scratching the cat's head for reasons of her own, she fell back, as we have seen, upon flattery.

Effie listened, it must be confessed, with pleasure, and drank in the words of the magpie as greedily as if they had been inspired by the undoubted spirit of truth. As a matter of fact, her elegance of body, beauty of fur, and gracefulness of action might all have been fairly conceded to be matters of opinion, in which many would have agreed with the magpie. But as to the beauty of her voice, anybody who has ever lain awake at night and listened to a concert of cats upon the adjacent roofs will be inclined to stop his ears at the bare recollection of it, and to confess that the magpie must have well known that she was telling a--well, a tarradiddle.

Strange to say, however, the allusion to her voice touched and pleased Effie more than anything else in the magpie's speech, and this the cunning bird had fully expected. She knew cat nature well, which differs but little from human nature in this respect, that people very often fancy themselves to possess some talent or virtue, in which they are, as a matter of fact, deficient, and not unfrequently, whilst priding themselves upon the fancied possession, neglect to cultivate and develop some other quality which they really have, and which might be made much more useful to themselves and others.

So Effie was proud of her voice--where there was nothing to be proud of--and extremely pleased to hear it praised by the magpie, whom she instantly set down in her mind as an evidently respectable and well-informed bird, and one whose acquaintance it might be well to make. Without lifting her head, however, or disturbing the position of her body, which was so placed as to get as much sun as possible, she replied in a languid tone of voice:

"You are really very kind, Madam Magpie, and I am far from wishing to decline the acquaintance you offer."

The magpie broke in at once in a quick chatter, her words tumbling one over another as if they could not get fast enough out of her beak.

"Oh, how good, and kind, and nice, and polite, and generous, and affable, and altogether charming you are! I have often watched you sunning on the window-sill or strolling about the gardens, or looking out for mice, or amusing yourself in one way or another, and I have always looked, and longed, and hoped, and wished, and wondered if I might make so bold as to speak to such a grand, lady-like, beautiful, queenly creature; and when I've heard your voice, I've often said to myself, 'Here's music, and melody, and taste, and feeling, and harmony, and everything that is delightful in sound, and if the lady would only learn singing (though little learning it is she wants), and take it up as a profession, how happy the world and everybody in it would be made: and what so pleasant as to make people happy with the good gifts we have, and who has more than she?'"

As the magpie rattled on, Effie felt more and more pleased, and became still more strongly convinced than before that the bird was a superior creature, who had well used her opportunities, and possessed opinions which were entitled to great weight.

Meantime the weasel, who was listening to the conversation from an old rat's hole in which he had hidden hard by, was fit to kill himself with laughter when he heard the flattery of his ally, and how the cat took it all in.

The latter now raised not only her head but her body, and sat up upon the window-ledge, looking with friendly glance at the old bird in the tree.

"Really," she said, in rather an affected tone, "really, you think too well of me--you do indeed--but now you speak of it, I _have_ (so my friends say at least) something of a voice, and have often thought of cultivating it more than I have hitherto done. But all are not of the same opinion, and I know that my friend Rover the dog thinks differently."

Here the magpie quickly interposed.

"Oh the jealousy of this wicked world and of them dogs in particular! To hear that black, ugly, shaggy animal howl at the moon, or what not, of a night. I declare if it isn't enough to drive one crazy; and for such an animal as _that_ to think anything but good of your lovely, sweet, tuneful, angelic notes! 'Tis really shocking to think he should do so--but envy and meanness, my dear creature, and malice and jealousy was ever in the hearts of dogs--forgive me that I should say so, knowing as how you live in the same house and bear with him as you do."

These words rather gave Effie a new idea of her situation, but as they were evidently intended to be complimentary to herself, though at her friend's expense, she listened to them with complacency.

"You must not blame my friend," she demurely answered, "because he has not such a voice as mine. Few have such, as I think I may say without being suspected of vanity, and I have no reason to think that he is either mean or envious. True, he does not evince the same pleasure in my notes as that which you so kindly express, but this is merely a matter of taste."

"Ah, you dear, kind, good, charitable creature," rejoined the magpie, "it is so like you to take the best and most pleasant view of whatever anybody else says or does. But never mind, if the dog don't like it, others do, and for _my_ part, I should like to hear you play and sing all day and all night long."

"As for playing," returned the cat, "I do not pretend to do _that_; in fact I have never learned, and have always been accustomed to trust to my natural voice without any accompaniment."

"Never learned to play?" cried the magpie in a voice of astonishment. "Dear me, dear me, what a pity! I have so often heard good singers like you speak of the pleasure of being able to accompany oneself, and I am sure you _could_ play if you liked. Now I have a neighbour who plays the violin in the most delightful manner, and what is more, he gives lessons upon that charming instrument. A very few lessons from him, and I am sure you would play so well that the whole neighbourhood would flock to hear you!"

"Really," said Effie, "this sounds very tempting. I have always felt that one ought to cultivate one's talents, and make the most of the gifts which Nature has given us. Your words are well worth consideration," and she mused for a few moments, purring all the while in a contented and self-satisfied tone.

The magpie, who had now brought the conversation to the very point she desired, according to the plan agreed upon with the weasel, began to press the matter home to the cat, telling her that she was wronging herself as well as all the other animals in not making her talents of more avail to them, and taking advantage of the opportunity which now offered.

The musical neighbour of whom she had spoken, turned out to be "Honest John," the hare, and although his services were in great requisition, the magpie said, she was sure that she should be able to secure them for so distinguished a person as the cat, provided that she would consent to take lessons.

After a little more talk, Mrs. Effie decided to allow the magpie to sound the hare upon the subject, and appointed another meeting upon the following day in order to discuss the matter further. Then the magpie, having done a good morning's work, and successfully laid the train by which she hoped to carry out her plot with the weasel, flew chuckling off, whilst the weasel stole silently away, and occupied himself on his own affairs.

Meanwhile the cat was much gratified by all that had passed. She felt that she was appreciated; and that those who lived around evidently recognized her as a person to be considered and made much of. She resolved that she would tell the dog nothing whatever of her interview with the magpie, partly because she thought he would laugh at the readiness with which she had listened to the bird's flattery, and partly because she was quite sure that he would entirely disapprove of her proposed lessons upon the violin. Thus, then, were the first seeds sown of that unhappy quarrel which was destined to divide the two once united races.

Rover returned from his walk in a cheerful and pleasant mood, and behaved in the most friendly spirit towards his old friend. He could not help observing, however, that she hardly treated him after the same fashion. She seemed to hold her head higher than usual, and stood more upon her dignity than had formerly been the case. Being a good-natured dog, he took no notice of this, and, in fact, attributed her conduct to some accidental derangement of the nerves or the digestion. But when the same thing continued during the whole of the next day, he began to feel rather annoyed. Still he said nothing, and went for his walk as usual. As soon as his back was fairly turned, the magpie again made her appearance, and commenced another conversation with the cat. She had not been able to see Honest John, she said, but had made an appointment for the following day, and would call again on the morning after. Then she went on in her former strain, praising the cat's beauty and sweetness of voice to the skies, and throwing in all the nasty insinuations she could think of against poor Rover. Jenny always used to get angry when she came to this part of the story, vowing that no faithful person, and, in fact, no real lady, would have allowed anyone to say such things of an absent friend, but would have stopped the mischievous gossip at once.

Effie, however, did no such thing; and after all, we must own that she only acted in the same manner as a great many men and women, for everybody likes to hear himself praised, and when a person wants to abuse or run down another, if he manages to do so in the same conversation in which he flatters his listener, he has an excellent chance of escaping without rebuke from the latter. Besides, whatever Jenny's opinion may have been, we know very well that, after all, she was but an ass.

So the second visit passed off as successfully as the magpie could have wished, and then there was a third, and at each interview she scattered her poisoned seed so cleverly, that day by day the difference between the two old friends grew imperceptibly wider. I think it was not until the magpie had paid her fourth visit that the arrangement about the violin lessons was finally made.

"Honest John" had reasons for declining to visit the house in which Mrs. Effie lived, but, on being bribed by promises of lettuce and parsley from the garden, freely given by the cat, and conveyed to him by the magpie, the hare consented to give evening lessons three times a week to Effie, provided that she would consent to come down and receive them by the stream which crossed the meadow close to the wood in which Honest John generally resided. In that meadow lived a most respectable cow, reputed to be a great lover of music, and John suggested that after a short time it might be possible for the two to take lessons together, and that a duet between them would be most melodious.

Still this arrangement was kept completely secret from the dog, and the results that followed almost entirely arose from this silence on Effie's part, which was really as foolish as it was unnecessary. Had she opened her heart to her old friend, all might yet have been well, but she had promised the magpie to conceal the matter, and so she did.

She was obliged to practise deceit in order to go forth to her lessons without the knowledge of the dog. She therefore pretended to him that she had a great fancy for cockchafers, which always came buzzing about in the early summer evenings, which was the best time to catch them. So she made this the excuse for stealing out of the house somewhat late, and Rover, finding that she evidently did not want his company, and being too proud to force himself upon anybody, stayed quietly at home.

So the lessons began, and it must have been a curious sight to see the hare and the cat sitting side by side between the wood and the stream, the former instructing the latter how to hold the violin and to wring from it those sounds with which, according to the magpie, she would soon delight the world.

The worthy Rover, albeit quite unsuspicious of what was going on, saw no improvement in the manners and behaviour of his old friend. She was not only cold to him, but not unfrequently behaved with positive discourtesy, making faces when he wished to engage in a friendly game of play with her, frequently setting up her back at him, and occasionally going to the length of spitting. In fact, whatever harmony she might be learning from the hare, the harmony of the household was certainly not increased, and a most uncomfortable state of things prevailed. The good dog became positively unhappy when he found that such an estrangement had grown up between his old friend and himself, and often wondered whether he had given her any just cause of offence, and whether any action on his part would be able to set matters right again.

So matters went on for some time, and the magpie and weasel chuckled vastly over the success of their wicked plot. The cat, meanwhile, made some progress with her lessons, and received the compliments of honest John upon her performance, which in reality was execrable. She had not the slightest idea of time or tune, and could hardly produce a sound from the violin, whilst her voice was so disagreeable that the cow, far from consenting to join her in a duet, invariably left that part of the meadow as soon as she began, and went away to moo by herself as far off as possible. Still the cat persevered, the foolish hare expressed himself satisfied, and the magpie lost no opportunity of encouraging Effie in her praiseworthy exertions.

She irritated Rover exceedingly about this time by caterwauling frequently at night, which made the honest fellow quite fidgety, and no doubt contributed in some degree to the final catastrophe which was now drawing near.

The magpie, who, as it may be seen, cared neither for dog, cat, hare, nor for anything nor anybody except her own interest and amusement, saw plainly enough that the cat could not be deceived for ever by her flattery, and that some day or other she would discover the truth, namely that she was making no progress at all with her music, and was in fact no further advanced than when she first began. Having no regard whatever for the hare, upon whose large eyes she sometimes cast a covetous glance as if longing to peck them out, the wicked old bird thought that her best plan to turn the cat's possible anger from herself, would be to persuade her that her progress towards musical perfection was only delayed by the negligence or stupidity of "Honest John."

She began by suggesting to Effie that although her voice was as fine as ever, and her notes as clear and true, she did not seem to be able to accompany herself as yet upon the violin. Considering her great natural talent this was certainly rather strange. Was she _quite_ satisfied with her master? Hares were jealous animals. Was this one free from the disease? Would it not be well to ask him why she could not yet accompany herself as she wished to do?

By means of such words as these, the cunning magpie succeeded in gradually instilling into the mind of Effie discontent and suspicion of the hare, towards whom she had up to that time entertained nothing but feelings of gratitude and friendship. At her very next lesson she complained of not getting on fast enough, and questioned Honest John sharply upon the subject. The hare made the best excuses that he could, took most of the blame upon himself, denied that there was any such want of progress as was supposed, and promised that the very next evening he would persuade the cow to be present, and join in their musical performance. That night Effie nearly drove Rover mad with her attempts at a private rehearsal.

The dog passed a sleepless night, baying angrily but uselessly at the moon, and wondering how on earth any living creature, cat, dog, or man, could find pleasure in squalling all night instead of going comfortably to bed, and seeking their natural rest. When next morning came, he had nearly had enough of it, and felt cross all day towards the cat, who had really become such a disagreeable inmate of the house as to have almost altogether destroyed its comfort as a home. The day wore on, and as evening approached, the cat made her usual preparations to leave the house for the purpose of taking her lesson.

In order fully to understand how it was that the events came to pass which I am about to relate, I must here remark that the little poodle, whose name was Frisky, had observed the constant absence of Effie at this particular time, and had once or twice spoken about it to Rover.

On this evening, when the same thing happened again, he remarked to the old dog that it was curious that the cat should so often go out of an evening, and suggested that they should stroll out together and see if they could find out where she had gone to, and how she managed to catch the cockchafers.

To this Rover consented, partly out of good nature towards the little poodle, and partly because, being rather out of sorts, and irritated by all he had lately had to go through, he thought a moonlight stroll might cool his heated blood and do him good. So, about an hour after the departure of the cat, when the moon was up and shining brightly, the two dogs sauntered forth for their walk.

Meanwhile Effie had gone down to her accustomed trysting place with the hare, and there she found Honest John, and saw that, true to his word, he had induced the cow to cross the stream and consent to join in their performance.

[Illustration: THE CAT'S LAST MUSIC LESSON.--P. 212]

They began well enough: the hare playing a solo upon the violin, on which he was really skilful; and the cow afterwards mooing melodiously; then the cat, after a gentle "miauw," which hurt nobody's ears, took the violin, and made a prodigious effort after success, raising her voice at the same time in tones so discordant that the hare involuntarily clapped his paws to his ears to keep out the horrible sounds. This action suddenly and at once disclosed to the cat the real poverty of her performance; and the manner in which she had been deceived by those who had flattered her upon an excellence of voice which she had never possessed. Forgetful of the real culprit, who had led her to the pass at which she had now arrived, she turned the full current of her rage against the master who had failed to supply her with that voice and taste for music which nature had denied. Dropping the violin in a paroxysm of rage, she clasped the unhappy hare suddenly round the neck, as if in a loving embrace, perhaps meaning at first only to give him a good shaking for his misbehaviour. As she did so, she exclaimed--

"Honest John, Honest John, do you laugh at your pupils, then, and stop your ears against the sounds you yourself have taught them to make?"

The hare could only reply by a faint squeak, for the cat held him tight, and pressed his body close to her own. As she did so, I suppose nature asserted itself in her breast, and she could not resist the temptation of fastening her teeth in the throat which was so invitingly near her mouth. A fatal nip it was that she gave the poor hare. The warm blood followed immediately. The tiger's thirst was awakened in the cat at once, and, all the more excited by the struggles of the hare to escape, she threw her paws more closely around him, and bit so fiercely that the poor wretch soon knew that he was lost indeed. Forgetful of music, of the cow, of the violin, of everything but the mad passion of the moment, Effie clung tightly to the dying hare, purring to herself with a savage and horrible satisfaction as she did him slowly to death, and his large liquid eyes, turned to her at first with a piteous look as if to ask for mercy, grew fixed and glassy and dull as he yielded up his innocent life and lay dead beneath his cruel pupil.

All this passed in a minute, and so indeed did that which followed. The cow, too utterly astonished at what had happened to think of interfering, even if her peaceful disposition would not in any case have prevented her doing so, stood aghast during the short struggle, rooted to the ground with horror and amazement. Then, when the horrid deed was done, she gave vent to a mighty, unearthly bellow, turned round, rushed to the stream, in which the reflection of the glorious moon above was clearly shining at the moment, leaped straight over it, and ran wildly away to the other end of the meadow.

Other actors appeared upon the scene at the same moment. Rover and Frisky had by chance come that way in their stroll, and had seen the musical performers just at the very moment when the cat gave vent to those discordant notes which had so offended the ears of the unfortunate hare.

They had precisely the same effect upon worthy Rover, who no sooner heard them than he threw himself upon the ground, buried his head in his paws, and tried to shut them out altogether. As he shut his eyes at the time, he did not immediately see what followed. In fact he lay still, groaning audibly for a minute or two, until aroused by shouts of laughter from his little companion.

"Look, Mr. Rover," exclaimed little Frisky, still holding his sides with merriment. "See what fun they are having! Effie and a hare are rolling about together so funnily. And see--oh, _do_ look. Here comes the cow! Oh, what a jump!"

And he went off into another fit of laughter as the cow came thundering by them in her mad career.

But when Rover raised his head and looked forward, he comprehended the scene at once, and knew that it was no laughing matter, at least for one of the actors. For an instant--but only for an instant--he paused, but in the next moment his resolution was taken. With a loud, indignant bark, he sprang forward, and rushed towards the spot where the treacherous Effie still held her lifeless victim in her fatal embrace.

"Murderess!" he shouted, as he sprang across the stream. "Vile murderess, these then are your cockchafers, and this the meaning of your moonlight rambles! But you shall be punished for this abominable crime, and that without delay!"

Perhaps if good Rover had made a shorter speech, or rushed upon the cat without making one at all until he had caught her, he would have succeeded in his object, and avenged the poor hare.

But Effie was no fool, and as soon as she heard the honest bark of her old companion, she knew by instinct that the game was up, and that the sooner she was off the better. Therefore, without a moment's delay, she tore herself from the still panting body of the luckless hare, and darted into the wood scarce half-a-dozen yards in front of the pursuing Rover. In fact I think he would actually have caught her, and possibly changed the whole current of the future relations which were thenceforward to exist between their respective races, but for her skill in climbing, of which she took advantage by rushing up a large leafy oak which stood near the outside of the wood, and from the lofty branches of which she presently sat licking her lips and looking down in safety upon her late friend, but now justly incensed enemy.

With bitter words did the good dog upbraid her with her cold unkindness and deceit towards himself, and with her still worse treachery and cruelty towards her more recent acquaintance, the hare. He warned her against approaching any more the house which had hitherto been their joint home, and declared that for his part he could no longer have any friendship for one so utterly base and wicked.

The cat, having no real defence to make against honest Rover's attack, contented herself with setting up her back, and spitting violently until she had somewhat cooled down. Then, with consummate craft, she began to excuse herself, declaring that the dog was himself in fault, that his arrogance and overbearing manners had become perfectly insufferable, and that if she had done anything unworthy of her noble race, it was not to a dog that she looked to be reproved for the same.

The bitter language which passed between these two animals is believed by Jenny to have been the source and origin of the subsequent estrangement of the two races, and there seems no reason to doubt the accuracy of her information. Certain it is that Effie never returned home; whether remorse for her disgraceful conduct had any share in producing this result, or whether it was simply from the fear of Rover's threats, it is at this distance of time impossible to say.

But from that day to this not only did this particular cat never associate with dogs upon friendly terms, but for any cat to do so, after she had left kittenhood and reached years of discretion, was and is quite exceptional conduct.

Some of Effie's race frequent the woods and mountain fastnesses, avoiding altogether the abodes of men; others, indeed, consent to be considered as "domestic" animals, but they, for the most part, regard a dog as an intruder if he enters the house-door, and keep him at arm's length as much as possible.

Rover returned home on that eventful night tired in body and sad at heart. To his honest and confiding nature it had been a cruel blow to find that one whom he had of old trusted and loved had turned out to be both treacherous and cruel. Singularly enough, in his return home, whom should he encounter but the weasel, who, forgetful of his usual caution, and desirous of annoying his enemy, let him know that he was aware of the cat having deceived him, and too plainly showed his exultation at the quarrel which had taken place, and his hope that it would be permanent. Rover rushed upon the little beast before he could escape, and made an end of him with a single shake.

The result as regarded the magpie was more curious still. Being an inveterate thief, she no sooner saw that both the dogs, as well as the cat, were out of the house, than she flew in through the window, and seized a silver spoon which was lying upon an ordinary meat dish for the usual purpose to which such articles are devoted, namely, the helping of the gravy. Delighted with her booty, she flew to the window-sill, and having hid the spoon in the ivy which clustered round it, had just hopped into the room again, when the door suddenly opened, and the window blew to with a bang in consequence of the sudden draught.

As it was a self-fastening window, the bird was unable to get out, and sat there trembling whilst the man-servant belonging to the house entered the room. Looking round, he presently perceived some gravy spilt on the clean table-cloth, and another glance satisfied him that the silver gravy spoon was missing.

As he knew he should be held responsible for the loss, the plate being all in his charge, the man was naturally much annoyed, and looked right and left to see where on earth the spoon could have flown to. Soon he espied the magpie crouching in the corner of the window-seat, and trying to hide herself.

"There's the thief, I'll be bound!" he cried, and stepped towards her.

The bird, quite beside herself with fear, fluttered on this side and that, vainly endeavouring to escape through the window.

"No you don't!" said the man. "You've been stealing, have you, Mistress Mag. Where's the silver gravy spoon?"

"Oh!" shrieked the magpie; "I never stole it!--I never stole it!"

"What has become of it?" said the man.

"Oh, I don't know--indeed I don't know! The dish ran away with it!" shrieked the magpie, in great distress of mind, as the man reached out his hand to seize her.

"Tell that to the marines!" replied the man, which was an idle and useless saying, for there were no marines there; and if there had been, it was highly improbable that the magpie would have told _them_.

He seized the bird by the wing, and in the agitation and confusion of the moment, she resented the affront by giving him a sharp peck on the hand, a compliment which he returned by immediately wringing her neck.

Thus (said Jenny invariably, when she reached this point in her story) you see that treachery and cunning, although they may be successful for a time, in the long run always bring those who practise them into trouble. So the magpie and weasel, who, by their malicious tricks brought disunion among friends, and introduced strife into a once united family, both lost their own lives within a very short time after the success of their wily arts had been accomplished.

It was upon this old legend that the song was founded to which I alluded at the beginning of the story. I confess that I am not quite clear about the first words, "Hey diddle diddle!" Wise men and learned writers have given several interpretations of this interjaculation, or invocation, or exclamation, or whatever you please to call it.

Some think that the word "diddle" (not to be found in any English dictionary of repute) must be a proper name, and that either it belonged to the man who, owning the house in which the dog and cat lived, knew all the circumstances of the story, and being likely to be interested in it, was naturally invoked by the author at the beginning of his song; or that it was, in fact, the name of the author himself, and that the words mean that "I, Diddle, wish to call your attention to the following extraordinary facts." Others, however, equally learned, hold that the word to "diddle" signifies, in slang or common language, to "do"--to "get the better of"--"to cheat," and that so the words intend to convey the moral of the whole story; namely, that those who try to cheat others generally suffer for it in some way or other. Another interpretation is that it is only another form of the word "Idyll," and that this song about the cat and dog is meant as a species of "Idyll" or "Diddle," on one of the most important topics which has ever agitated the animal world. But, whatever be their origin, there the words are, and they are the only words in the song which have caused me the slightest doubt. They are the more curious if the story be true that the song was composed by a very respectable jay, who was fully acquainted with the facts as they occurred.

_She_ could have known nothing about "Diddle," if he was a man; and very likely only put the words in to suit the jingle of the rhyme. There can be no doubt that "the cat and the fiddle," are words in which is intended a satirical allusion to Effie's lessons on the violin with the unfortunate hare; and "the cow jumped over the moon," is an unmistakeable allusion to the cow's leap over the stream in which the image of the moon was reflected at the moment.

When I think of the palpable reference in the next words to the conduct of the little poodle who had accompanied Rover, and remember the unhappy magpie's attempt to avoid her well-deserved fate by attempting to impute her crime to the dish, I can have no difficulty whatever in coming to the conclusion that it is upon Jenny's legend that this remarkable song has been founded.

Judging, moreover, from the acknowledged antiquity of the legend, and the extraordinary way in which the facts it relates seem to fit and dove-tail in with the circumstances we all know of as bearing upon the general relations between cat and dog, I am inclined to strongly favour the opinion that the story is the correct version of the first beginning of the great and terrible schism which exists between the races. It should be a warning to us human beings to be careful how we place confidence either in dog or cat with regard to the other.

If a breakage occurs in my house, and the servant in whose department it has happened brings forward the not altogether unfamiliar statement that "the cat did it," I always suspect that some dog has probably whispered it in his or her ear; and any imputation upon the conduct of my dogs I invariably attribute to the suggestion of some old cat. Still, the world is wide enough for both races; and, looking at it from a selfish point of view, their feud does not so much matter, so long as they are both obedient and useful to mankind.

Wherefore, after I had heard Jenny's narrative, and duly rewarded her with a carrot, I always used to go home and think how much we may all learn from the habits of the different animals with which our world is peopled, and how their errors are in reality no greater than our own. For I am sure I have before now heard people both sing and play the fiddle, without any more pretension than Effie to be able to do either; I have heard people boast of having done things quite as impossible as that the cow should really have jumped over the moon; I have known people over and over again laugh in the wrong place like the little dog, and call things sport which are nothing of the kind, and I have listened to those who could accuse their neighbours of crimes just as unlikely as that which the magpie attributed to the dish.

I will say no more, save that I hope it never happens _now_ among men and women, that husband and wife ever live in such a manner as to justify the description of their existence as being "like Cat and Dog!"

OPHELIA.

Next to an insane Giant there is nothing more terrible than a mad Pigmy. It was therefore a dreadful event for all people concerned when the King of the Pigmies went out of his senses. The disease came on gradually, and was not immediately discovered.

His majesty had never been of a very lively disposition, and the court was therefore not much amazed when he withdrew from the public gaze, little by little, until he was very rarely visible beyond the precincts of the palace, and was understood to be deep in his studies. Those, however, who had the privilege of being immediately about his royal person, were well aware that his majesty was seriously indisposed. At first the symptoms were only those of profound melancholy. He declined his food repeatedly, refused to open his letters, buried his face constantly in his hands, and went to bed when the dinner bell rang.

This was unpleasant, as the royal household were forbidden by the laws of that kingdom to have any dinner except at the same time with the king, and as pigmies are invariably blessed with good appetites, much inconvenience would have been caused but for the recognised fact that nobody ever obeyed the laws unless it happened to suit him to do so. In this manner the difficulty was got over, and the illness of the king might have been concealed from his people if no other symptoms had appeared. But from silent melancholy the unhappy monarch shortly passed to the stage of frantic violence.

He threw anything he could lay hands on at the head of any individual who came near him, used the most fearful language, and gave the most extraordinary orders. These at first were evaded or received in silence in the hope they might be forgotten as soon as spoken. But when the king insisted upon it that the Prime Minister should be cut in pieces, the Lord Chamberlain fed upon rabbit skins and oil, and the Chief Justice baked without further delay, these functionaries severally and together came to the conclusion that the thing could go no further.

The laws of Pigmyland were clear and well known; upon the death or incapacity through illness of the reigning sovereign, his eldest son always ascended the throne as a matter of course, and, failing sons, his nearest relative succeeded to the sceptre.

Unfortunately, however, the King of the Pigmies had neither son nor relative of any kind, which arose principally from the fact of his having destroyed his father's and mother's families, owing to those jealous fears which often disturb and distract the minds of tyrants, and from the additional circumstance that he had never seen fit to marry. Thus King Pugpoz was the last of his race, and although he was undoubtedly no longer fit to govern the nation, the question as to his successor was, as will readily be imagined, one of very great doubt and difficulty.

The three great officers of state, that is to say, the Prime Minister, the Lord Chamberlain and the Chief Justice, who rejoiced in the ancient and highsounding names of Binks, Chinks and Pigspud, laid their heads together several times before they could by any means agree as to what should be done. Each of them would have been willing to undertake the government himself, and each thought that he was the best person to whom it could possibly be entrusted. But the other two held quite a different opinion. Chinks and Pigspud well knew that Binks, eaten up with gout and rheumatism, was not a person whom the Pigmy nation would ever accept for their king: Pigspud and Binks were perfectly well aware that Chinks had a wife and family, whose combined arrogance and extravagance would certainly ruin the kingdom if he were placed upon the throne, and Binks and Chinks were thoroughly acquainted with the evil life which caused the public to regard Pigspud as one of the worst of men though the best of judges.

So, since it was evident that none of the three could be safely elevated to the throne, it became necessary to look about for somebody else.

The names of all the great people about the court were duly considered, but although there were several who would have been very willing to undertake the business, there were objections to all. One was too old, another too idle, a third of too tyrannous a disposition, and a fourth too stupid for the place. So for a time it really seemed as if it would be impossible to find a king, and that they must either put up with their mad sovereign or go without one altogether.

Neither of these results, however, would have been satisfactory, either to the court or to the nation, and it was therefore with joy rather than anger that the three great officers of state received the news that a relation of the royal family had been discovered to exist, in whom a successor to the unhappy madman might be found. This was the only son of the king's uncle, who, having been cruelly treated by his father in early youth, had left Pigmyland in disgust and had been currently reported to have died shortly afterwards. This, however, had not been the case.

Prince Famcram had done nothing of the kind, and had never intended to leave the world unless compelled to do so, by circumstances beyond his control. He had embarked on board a vessel which was bound on a long voyage, and had possibly cherished the hope that his absence from home would soften his father's heart, and procure for him kinder treatment upon his return. It is impossible to say whether this might or might not have been the result, inasmuch as the opportunity of proving the same never occurred.

It was not long after the prince's flight, that his cousin the king took it into his royal head to destroy all his blood relations, among whom his uncle, the prince's father, naturally perished. When, therefore, the young man next received news of his family, he learned that there were none of them left alive except the royal destroyer of the rest. This news, strange as it may appear, afforded him no inducement to return to the land of his nativity, for, dear as one's country should be to every well regulated mind, life is not unfrequently dearer still, and Prince Famcram was unable to discover any sufficient reason why he should imperil the one by visiting the other.

He stayed away, therefore, and lived as best he could in foreign lands, until the insanity of his cousin King Pugpoz had been officially proclaimed and publicly made known. Then, having no longer any fear for his life, he returned to Pigmyland without delay, and at once advanced his claim to the sovereignty.

There were, as is usual in such cases, some persons who pretended to doubt his identity and declared that he was only an impostor. The evidence in his favour was, however, too strong for these disloyal and worthless persons.

The prince had all the characteristics of his noble family. His hair was of a bright, staring red; he squinted frightfully with both eyes, had one leg considerably shorter than the other, and was gifted with a protuberance between his shoulders which was not far removed from a hump. He had, moreover, the family dislike to cold water, a strong propensity to drink spirits, and a temper which of itself was enough to stamp him as one of the royal line which he claimed to represent. Add to this, that his language was by no means well chosen or polite, that his disposition was cowardly and cruel, and that he cared for nobody in the world but himself, and you have a fair and accurate picture of the prince upon whose head the crown of the unhappy Pugpoz was about to descend.

It may readily be inferred that the prospects of Pigmyland did not seem to have been much brightened by the change. Indeed, between a mad king and a bad king the difference appeared so small to some people that they were unable to see what the country had gained by the substitution of the one for the other. Nevertheless, the unswerving devotion to royalty which has always distinguished Pigmies did not fail that mighty nation upon the present occasion.

Famcram was welcomed by the voice of the people, and those who doubted his identity were got rid of as soon as possible. His first act, indeed, put beyond doubt the righteous nature of his claim. He directed Pugpoz to be immediately strangled, partly to avenge the death of his relatives, and partly because he thought it a safer and more satisfactory arrangement that any chance of his returning to a sane condition of mind should at once be destroyed.

Being now undeniably the only legitimate claimant to the throne of his ancestors, he determined to enjoy himself as much as he possibly could.

There were considerable treasures in the royal coffers, which had been amassed by Pugpoz and his predecessors, and with which King Famcram might have purchased as much enjoyment as would have served him for a prolonged life-time. Being, however, of opinion that to be merry at other people's expense is by far the best plan if you can possibly manage it, he gave out that he expected the principal grandees of the country to entertain him at banquets, balls, croquet and lawn-tennis parties, and in order to encourage them in their endeavours to out-do each other in pleasing their beloved monarch, he declared his intention of marrying the daughter of the nobleman who, at the end of the next six months, should have best succeeded in that laudable attempt. The influence of such a promise was of course prodigious.

To be the father-in-law of the king was an object well worth the attainment, and every great man throughout the length and breadth of the country felt his heart beat high at the royal announcement. Some indeed there were, who, having no daughters, were not particularly impressed by the circumstance, and spoke of the whole affair as a whim of the monarch to which slight importance was to be attached. Others, who, having seen the manner in which the late king had disposed of his relations, doubted the advantage of becoming too closely connected with the royal family, proposed to themselves to take no particular pains to surpass their neighbours in the attempt to please King Famcram. But, to tell the truth, the great majority of those who heard the royal determination, and who happened to have marriageable daughters, received the news with great delight, and determined to spare no exertion which might secure such a son-in-law for themselves.

Conspicuous among these would-be competitors for the prize were the three great officials, Binks, Chinks, and Pigspud. Each was married, and none was daughterless. To all three, therefore, the field was open, and hope beat high in their official breasts.

Since they first heard of the arrival and claims of Famcram, the three statesmen had unitedly and steadily welcomed and supported him. They had therefore some claims upon the royal gratitude, and hitherto their interests had been so far identical that they had been able to work together. Now, however, the interests of each were opposed to those of the other two.

According to the laws of Pigmyland, the king could only marry one wife, and therefore his selection of the daughter of either of the three ministers would at once throw the others in the shade, and place the father of the bride in a position far superior to that of the other two. This circumstance, as might have been expected, caused some slight interruption of the harmony which had hitherto prevailed between these three illustrious personages. At first, however, the only intention of each of them was honestly to outdo the other two in the splendour of the reception which he should afford his sovereign. To Binks, as Prime Minister, fell the first opportunity, and King Famcram gave him due notice that he should shortly honour him with a visit to his villa, which was situate near the Pigmy metropolis.

Now it so chanced that Binks was a widower, principally in consequence of his wife having died, and of his having thought it unnecessary to seek another. He had, however, two fair daughters, gems of their sex, and bright ornaments of the court of Pigmydom.

Euphemia was above the height ordinarily allotted to her race, and could not have been less than three feet and a half high. Her nose was aquiline, her cheeks flushed with the red blossom of youth, her eyes dark and piercing, her figure all that could be desired, and her voice clear as a lover's lute in a still evening.

Araminta, less tall than her sister, had a delicacy of complexion unrivalled in Pigmyland; her blue eyes were modestly cast down if you accosted her. She spoke in tones soft and low like the south wind whispering in the mulberry-trees, and whilst her sister took your heart by storm, she stole into it unawares, and made you captive before you knew you were in danger.

Such is the description of the two daughters of the noble house of Binks, as given by a Pigmy writer of eminence at that time, and such were the charms against which King Famcram had to contend at the beginning of the campaign. The Prime Minister had intended that his entertainment should take the shape of a banquet; but the ladies insisted upon a ball, and a ball it was consequently to be. Immense preparations were made for days, nay, for weeks beforehand. The villa was gorgeously decorated, the ball-room tastefully arranged, the choicest music was provided, and no pains spared to ensure the desired success. At last the day arrived, and the hearts of Binks and his daughters beat high with expectation.

The villa was beautifully placed upon the slope of a mountain, at the foot of which a broad river wound through flowery meads and fertile fields, enriching and beautifying both in its onward course. The grounds of the villa stretching along the banks of the river, were beautiful to a degree seldom seen out of Pigmyland, and never had they appeared to greater advantage than on the present occasion. Gay flags streamed from staffs placed in the most conspicuous positions as well as from many of the tallest of the trees which abounded in those magnificent gardens; sounds of lively music were wafted upon the soft summer breeze to the entranced ear of the listener; and every heart was filled with rejoicing and merriment.

King Famcram was received at the entrance by a crowd of well-dressed courtiers and obsequious attendants, who awaited his coming with all that exuberant loyalty which is pre-eminently characteristic of the true Pigmy. He appeared somewhat late, as was in those days always deemed becoming in royal personages, and his coming was announced by the enthusiastic cheers of the dense crowd which thronged the approaches to the garden gates.

Seated in the hereditary coach of the Pigmy monarchs, drawn by eight cream-coloured guinea-pigs, and clad in rich garments of various hue, Famcram drew near to the habitation of the honoured Binks. In his hand he held the ancient sceptre of his race, which was nothing less than the petrified skull of an early occupant of the Pigmy throne, who had by his will left his head to be devoted to this purpose, and directed that it should be rivetted in gold settings upon his favourite walking-stick, and further ornamented by such gifts as his faithful subjects might choose to bestow out of respect for the memory of their deceased lord. As his successors, each upon his accession to the throne, invited new gifts to the sceptre as a test of continuous loyalty and devotion to the throne, the head of the dead king had practically brought greater wealth to his family than it had ever done during his life-time, and although an additional precious stone or two was set in the skull after each recurrence of gifts, the greater portion of these were, it was more than supposed, converted into cash by the various monarchs who received them, and appropriated to their own royal purposes. This valuable weapon King Famcram waved in his hand as he neared his prime minister's dwelling, and looked round upon his people with a proud and kingly gaze as he passed along.

Binks, as was but natural, met his royal master at the gate, and prepared to escort him up the avenue to the door of the villa, across a profusion of flowers with which the way thereto was covered.

Famcram alighted from his carriage, and suffered his host to conduct him through the great gates, and to go bowing and scraping before him up the avenue. He followed, squinting around him in a friendly manner, and graciously expressing his approval of the beauty of the place. But as soon as he had reached the stone steps which led up to the villa door, the latter was thrown open, and, one on each side of the doorway, stood the two daughters of the ancient house of Binks, clad in gorgeous attire, and each holding in her hand a magnificent bouquet of the choicest flowers, which it was their intention to humbly offer to their august sovereign, and which they lost not a moment in presenting. Scarcely, however, had Famcram set eyes upon the sisters and perceived their intention, than he positively snorted with disgust, and starting hastily backwards, (during which process he planted his heel firmly upon the gouty toe of his Prime Minister,) he turned round fiercely upon the latter and accused him of having intended to poison him:

"Wretch!" he cried, "there is poison in those flowers which your daughters--if such they be--offer to me, and doubtless it has not been placed there without the knowledge and consent of their vile parent. I know it but too well. Make no excuses, for they will all be useless. The nose of a Pigmy of the royal race is never mistaken. My great-great-grandfather was poisoned by a subtle venom concealed in a carnation, and in the similar flowers which are conspicuous in each of the bouquets I see before me, I detect the fate you had in store for your sovereign. But you shall bitterly rue it! Seize him, guard!"

The unhappy Binks, overcome with astonishment and terror, in vain raised his voice to protest that nothing was further from his thoughts than to perpetrate such a terrible crime as that which the king suspected--and that, too, against a prince whose cause he had espoused from the first, and in whose favour his whole hopes were placed. He vowed that his daughters were certainly as innocent as he was, and implored that the bouquets might be carefully examined, in order to prove that no poisonous substance had been placed therein. It was all to no purpose. Famcram only flew into a still more violent passion.

"No poison in the flowers!" he cried. "The villain doubts his king's nose and his king's words! Off with him, guards, at once; and let his daughters be taken too!"

At these words Euphemia and Araminta, who had listened with awe-struck countenances and beating hearts to the extraordinary remarks of the king, gave utterance to wild shrieks, and fell fainting upon the doorway, from which they were speedily dragged by the king's orders, and hurried away, with their unhappy father, to the dungeons of the palace.

Having thus got rid of his host and hostess, Famcram allowed himself to calm down gradually, and, entering the ball-room, permitted those to dance who wished to do so, whilst he himself proceeded without delay to the supper-room, and made himself as comfortable as possible. He then directed all the plate and valuables of the luckless Binks to be packed up and taken to the palace; and, having placed a guard over the villa, which he declared should in future be a royal residence, he departed, with the satisfactory feeling of having made a good night's work of it.

When news of what had been done reached Chinks, the soul of the Lord Chamberlain was greatly exercised thereat. He did not for a moment imagine that Binks or his daughters had been guilty of the crime imputed to them by their royal master; but in the acts of the latter he discerned a steady determination to possess himself of the wealth of his richest subjects, and to reign more absolutely and despotically than his predecessors.

How to escape the fate of Binks was a problem by no means easy of solution. He was blessed with three daughters, Asphalia, Bettina, and Paraphernalia, so much alike that they could not be known apart, and so beautiful that nobody could see them without immediately becoming devoted to them. In these damsels Chinks placed his hopes, and could not but believe that the king, however hardly he had dealt with his Prime Minister, would not be insensible to the charms of his Lord Chamberlain's daughters. Still, he received with some fear and trembling the notice which Famcram shortly sent him, that he would visit him at his country house in the following week.

As the selection of a ball had not turned out well in the case of Binks, the Chinks family resolved upon another sort of entertainment, and at vast expense hired a celebrated conjuror to perform before the sovereign and his court.

The preparations were great--the company numerous--the weather all that could be desired, and the monarch, with his attendant courtiers, arrived in due time at the house, and was ushered into the spacious hall, where everything had been arranged for his reception. The three daughters of the house, dressed exactly alike, were there to receive him; but not a flower was to be seen about any of them, so that the fatal error of the Prime Minister's children might be avoided. They were dressed simply, and reverently knelt before the king as they raised their voices to sing (in tones as true as they were sweet) an ode which their father had himself composed in honour of his sovereign's visit.

Scarcely, however, had they finished the first verse, when the little tyrant roared out at the top of his voice--

"They sing out of tune! they sing out of tune! A royal ear is never deceived! He has made them do it because he knows I cannot bear a false note. Seize him, guards! away with him and his shabbily-dressed girls!"

Chinks stepped forward to explain matters in his most courtly fashion, when the king brought down his sceptre upon his head with such a "thwack," that you might have heard it at the other end of the hall, and, though his wig, which was particularly large, partially saved him, he dropped senseless upon the floor, whilst his daughters broke into shrieks of despair which were really out of tune, and were painful indeed to hear.

Famcram stopped his ears, and howled loudly for his guard, and before many minutes had passed, the Lord Chamberlain and his daughters were on their way to the same dungeons whither Binks and his girls had preceded them, and the king was occupied in selecting everything in the house which appeared to be most costly and beautiful, and directing that it should be forthwith sent to his palace.

Thus within a few days were two out of the three great functionaries of the kingdom dismissed, disgraced, and left in great peril of their lives, whilst the king had added considerably to his wealth, and had got rid of two people whom he had either suspected or pretended to suspect of being likely to be troublesome.

These events made a profound impression upon the mind of Pigspud, and all the more so when notice came from the king that he should pay him a visit in the following week. The Lord Chief Justice was a wily and astute man. Although his life had not been reputable, the peccadilloes of great lawyers in that country were so usual as to be regarded by the public with a lenient eye, and, late in life, his appearance had become so eminently respectable, that a stranger would certainly have taken him for a dean rather than for a judge, for a deep divine rather than for a learned lawyer.

He had but one daughter. Tall, majestic of stature (for she was nearly four feet high), and with dark hair and eyes so bright that they seemed to look right through you, Ophelia Pigspud was a most remarkable woman. She was well read; so well read that people said she could have passed an examination with credit in almost any subject she had been pleased to try. Reading, in fact, was no effort to her, and her powers of memory were extraordinarily great. It was even said that she knew more of law than many lawyers of the day, whilst no one could deny her skill in modern languages, and her astonishing proficiency in general literature.

As the venerable Chief Justice gazed upon his child, who was indeed the pride of his heart, he could not but feel uneasy at the prospect of her being sent to join the families of Binks and Chinks in the dungeons of the royal palace.

"Never," he exclaimed, "shall such a fate befall my peerless Ophelia!"

And having given utterance to this exalted sentiment, he thought for three days and three nights how to carry it out, and utterly failed to discover anything at all likely to succeed. Then he bethought himself of consulting the young lady herself, of whose opinion he thought so highly that it is curious he had not done so before.

She smiled calmly when he laid the case before her, reminding her at the same time that there wanted but three more days to the time fixed by the king for his visit.

"Be not alarmed, my beloved father," said she, "but be assured that the blood of a true Pigspud will not be untrue to itself in the coming trial. Besides, the education which your kind care has provided for me, has taught me means of escape from even worse dangers than those which can proceed from our tyrannical sovereign. Doubt not that it will turn out well."

With such reassuring words did the daughter of the Chief Justice restore courage to the heart of her parent, and he began to look forward with less fear to the banquet at which it had been arranged that he should entertain his royal master. It was to be served in the large banqueting hall of his town house, and great preparations were set on foot for several days before that appointed for the festive gathering. But instead of busying herself about the matter, Ophelia treated it as if it was one wholly indifferent to her, and refused to be troubled about it in any way whatever. It was in vain that the domestics, who were accustomed to take all orders from her, besought her to give various directions upon different questions which arose. She declined altogether; deputing everything to Mrs. Brushemup, the housekeeper; and telling old Winelees, the butler, not to come near her on pain of instant dismissal.

Her own rooms were in a wing of the house which stretched down to the banks of the river already mentioned, and from a private door she could get down upon the banks without coming in sight of the windows of the principal apartments.

But before I relate that which happened to the fair Ophelia at this eventful time, it is but right to inquire what had become of the unhappy families who had already felt the weight of the tyrant Famcram's displeasure. Binks, with his two, and Chinks, with his three daughters, had been cast into the dungeons of the Royal Palace, and the wife of Chinks having been added to the party, greatly increased the misery of all by her continual upbraidings of her husband and his friend as the cause of the misfortune which had befallen their two families, which were all the more hard to bear, because they were totally unreasonable and without foundation.

The dungeons were small, hot, and unsavoury, and the prisoners suffered greatly, especially as the food supplied to them was scanty in quantity and wretched in quality. The young ladies endeavoured to pass away the time in composing epitaphs upon their parents and themselves, which after all did but little towards raising their spirits, being, as such things not uncommonly are, of a somewhat melancholy character. Euphemia and Araminta, however, were so proud of one of their compositions, that it would be a pity that it should be lost to the world:--

"Here lies the minister, great Binks, No more he for his country thinks; No more he eats--no more he drinks-- But, conquered by misfortune, sinks."

The daughters of the Lord Chamberlain were scarcely equal to such a poetic effort as the above; but, determined not to be behindhand, presented their parent with the following stanza:--

"Look through these bars with eye of lynx, And see the chamberlain, Lord Chinks! He scarce can breathe, and feebly winks, Quite done to death by prison stinks."

In this manner did the innocent maidens endeavour to lighten the hours of captivity which passed over their heads, and when, upon the second week of their imprisonment, they were moved into larger and more airy apartments, hope at once revived within their drooping bosoms. It must, however, be confessed, that in the midst of their distress both Binks and Chinks contemplated with silent but real satisfaction the probably speedy advent of Pigspud to join them in their prison, and share their sorrows. This event they both regarded as quite certain to occur, and without having any particular ill-feeling towards the Chief Justice, the three had been too long in the position of rivals to make either two sorry for any misfortune that befell the third, especially if it had previously fallen upon themselves.

Leaving these worthies to their expectations, we will now endeavour to discover what was passing at the abode of Pigspud. It was the evening but one before the projected banquet. The shades of evening were fast closing in around the city, and the mists of the river were beginning to rise like vapoury spirits from the water, when the private door of Ophelia's wing was stealthily and quietly opened, and a figure emerged, clothed from head to foot in a cloak of dark gray. Slowly but surely, as one who knew the road well, the figure passed along the low terrace-walk that led down to the bank of the river, and stood at the brink, silently for a few moments, and then began to murmur words in a low tone. A listener, however attentive, could scarcely have made out the meaning of that which Ophelia (for it was none other than the daughter of the house of Pigspud) was reciting, for the language in which she spoke was strange, and her tone somewhat indistinct;--

"Marley-quarley-pachel-farley, Mansto macken furlesparley, Mondo pondo sicho pinto, Framsigalen hannotinto."

Such were the mystic words which issued from the lips of the maiden. Nor was it long before a response was given. A low murmuring sound proceeded from the river, and out of the rushes which fringed the bank there presently arose a form of strange and weird appearance. It was that of an old, a very old woman, with a red cloak wrapped around her, an umbrella in her hand, and a poke bonnet upon the top of her head. She was small, though not much below the ordinary height of a Pigmy; but the most remarkable thing about her was the extreme keenness of her eye, which seemed to pierce you through and through when she fixed it upon you. Slowly she rose from among the rushes, and scrambled, somehow or other, up the bank, until she stood opposite to the maiden who had summoned her. As soon as she had accomplished this feat, she struck her umbrella upon the ground, and remarked in a somewhat masculine tone of voice:

"What is it, Ophelia, and what do you fear, That you've called your affectionate godmother here? Has your 'Pa' been unkind? (since no 'Ma' you have got), Or a lover appeared when you'd rather he'd _not_? Are you ill, or unhappy, or is't for a freak That your godmother's presence you suddenly seek?"

Ophelia listened with respectful attention whilst the old woman uttered these words, and then replied in a low, sweet voice:--

"Did I not deem the crisis grave I had not called thee from thy wave: And if in doing so I err, Forgive me, gracious godmother! My father knows thee not, great dame; My mother told me, all the same, Thou _wast_ my godmother, and so I love thee in my weal and woe. O'ercome by cruel destiny, Poor Binks and Chinks in dungeons lie, And our bad king--a grievous sin-- Hath likewise put their daughters in. Dear godmother! 'twere sad, you know, My father should to prison go; But sadder still (you'll hardly fail To see) that _I_ should go to gaol. Yet is the time but two days hence When Famcram comes; on some pretence He'll surely send us both to pris'n, And make _our_ valuables hisn. Dear Godmother! Pray leave thy wave Thy loving god-daughter to save, Or tell me how, by thy kind aid, The tyrant's power I may evade!"

Whilst Ophelia was speaking, the old woman kept tapping her umbrella upon the ground in visible wrath, and a frown appearing upon her face, which was otherwise not particularly beautiful, did not greatly improve her personal appearance. As soon as the maiden ceased, she lost not a moment in making her reply:--

"I'm ready, my darling, to do your behest, For tyrants like Famcram I greatly detest, And if your good father was not such a dolt, From the land of the despot he'd speedily bolt. For Binks and for Chinks I have nothing to say, And they're probably just as well out of the way; But as to their daughters--I'm really inclined To think that the king has gone out of his mind, And in _your_ case, I'll teach him, as well as I can, A woman has rights just as much as a man, And he's vastly mistaken, poor wretch, if he thinks A god-child of mine is the same as Miss Binks. Now listen to me: when King Famcram comes here, Betray not the slightest suspicion of fear, But enter, quite calmly, the banqueting room Arrayed in your commonest morning costume. He'll show irritation; and rage, beyond doubt (You know he could scarcely be royal without); But never mind _that_, tho' he rages meanwhile, Bestow on the fool a contemptuous smile; In spite of his anger, continue the same, And ask 'If he isn't content, why he came?' Whate'er he replies, pray be careful of this, And do not one word or one syllable miss; As soon as he threatens, stand just as you are, But hold up before him this earthenware jar, Remarking, 'King Famcram, determined I am To ask you to taste of my raspberry jam.' He'll do it--he must--since, the truth for to tell, This jar carries with it a wonderful spell; And when I've said o'er it the words I'll now say, Whoever you choose will acknowledge your sway. While kept in your hand (not a difficult task) Each person you speak to will do what you ask; And once the jam tasted, you'll have for your slave King Famcram, and teach him the way to behave. But keep the jar safe, for, broken or chipped, Of your spell and your sway you'll be speedily stripped."

With these words the old lady, who, whilst speaking, had pulled out of some pocket or other, or else from the folds of her umbrella, a small jar, now held it aloft in her hand and displayed it before the eyes of Ophelia. As soon as she had done so for as long a time as she thought fit, she stuck her umbrella firmly into the ground, and holding the jar immediately over it, pronounced certain mystic and fearful words, which no mortal of ordinary nature could utter, much less write, and which there is the less reason to mention, because if they were written or uttered, no child of man could possibly understand them. But when she had finished this fearful muttering to herself, she spoke out more loudly, addressing herself thus to the jar and its contents:

"Jar! possessed of mighty spell, Do thy work, and do it well. Serve Ophelia night and day-- Famcram bring beneath her sway. Jam! do duty day and night; Tempt the royal appetite-- Be to Famcram wine and meat, Bring him to Ophelia's feet; Cause him eagerly to crave Life but as Ophelia's slave; Bow him humbly, bring him down, At her footstool place his crown, And, thy mission to fulfil, Let him live but by her will."

Having finished her incantation, and repeated these lines in a voice sufficiently distinct, though not unlike the croak of a raven, the old woman now turned once more to Ophelia, as if to ascertain whether she had anything more to say. The maiden smiled sweetly upon her, and at once expressed her thanks in the following words:--

"Dear godmother! how good thou art! The burden now has left my heart, Which like a weight has bowed me down With fear of tyrant Famcram's frown. Well do I know 'twere hard to find A councillor more wise and kind; And, with thy might and magic aid No longer shall I feel afraid. I'll use the jar and jam as told, And very tight the former hold, And when King Famcram is subdued I, with this magic power imbued, Will make him slave--and let him know it-- And ne'er forget to whom I owe it!"

So speaking, Ophelia held out her hand for the promised jar, when the old woman, making a stride forward, placed it in her hands, and then, throwing both her arms round the maiden, clasped her tightly in a long and loving embrace with which she could very well have dispensed. Gratitude, however, for the immense favour which she was about to receive at the hands of her excellent godmother, prevented her from disclosing the repugnance which she probably felt at the vehemence of the old lady's affection, and having endured it with silent fortitude, she took the jar into her hands, and, bidding her companion a respectful farewell, forthwith re-entered the private door through which she had come, and shortly disappeared within the house.

The old woman then took up her umbrella, and slowly descending the bank of the river to the rushes from which she had emerged, speedily became invisible. The shades of night closed in, and darkness soon set its seal upon the Pigmy capital and nation.

The Chief Justice did not see his daughter that evening, and although he had great confidence in her sagacity, talents, and resources, it must be confessed that he rose next morning with a heavy heart. In all probability, he thought, it was his last day of office, and not only of office, but of freedom. With the fate of the Prime Minister and the Lord Chamberlain before his eyes, how could he possibly hope to escape? For a moment the thought of flight crossed his mind, but was as instantly banished. His hopes, his wealth, his relations, his home--everything that could make life pleasant was fixed and centred in his native country, and at his age no change was to be thought of or could be endured. And then, where could he fly to, and how escape from the tyrant's spies?

No: the thought was madness--the event, be it what it might, must be encountered: the morrow must come in its due course, and, after all, he, a lawyer, a statesman and a philosopher, ought to be able to put up with his fate at least as well as other people.

While the worthy Pigspud thus mused upon the melancholy prospect before him, he was interrupted by the approach of his daughter, the calmness of whose countenance and demeanour was certainly calculated to reassure her anxious parent. However, although she spoke hopefully and bade the old man take courage and be sure that things would turn out better than he expected, she told him not one word about her secret interview of the previous evening, or of the powerful assistance she had procured.

So the old gentleman passed but a sad day, and could only console himself by resolving to be loyal to the last to his sovereign, and to provide him an entertainment of which he should not be ashamed.

Vast, indeed, were the preparations made for that banquet. So many delicacies had probably not been collected together for one repast within the memory of man. Nothing was omitted. From the oysters with which each guest was to be furnished at the beginning, down to the liqueurs at the end of the feast, everything was there, and everything was in perfection.

Pigspud had even hired a special poet to compose and recite an ode in praise of the King, but there were doubts expressed as to the complete success of the composition, confined as it was to the doings of the table, and celebrating dishes which were made to tickle the palate by their taste rather than the ear by their well-sung praises. The ode began,--

"Come servants all, the table put on Well-roasted beef and tender mutton. Guests, down your throats white veal and lamb cram, And drink the health of good King Famcram! Consume the oaten cakes and wheat-bread, The calves-foot jelly and the sweet-bread, And own the table splendid, that is So well supplied with oyster-patties."

There was much more of this, in a similar strain, but in the confusion that afterwards followed, and in the interesting events which I shall presently have to chronicle, the ode itself was lost, and as no copies could be afterwards obtained, I am unable to supply the rest of it to the anxious reader. With regard to the entertainment, generally, there was certainly no fault to be found.

Old Winelees and Mrs. Brushemup had surpassed themselves, and the confectioners, cooks and pastrycooks to whom had been assigned the duties connected with the preparation of the affair, had exerted themselves beyond all praise.

The decorations were gorgeous, and everything appeared to have been arranged with such care and good taste, and with such an utter disregard of expense, that there were not wanting many, even among those who were acquainted (as who was not) with the upshot of the efforts made by the Prime Minister and the Lord Chamberlain to do honour to their sovereign, who prophesied a greater success and even a triumphant result to the Chief Justice. The hour drew near at which Famcram was expected, and ere long the distant trumpets heralded his approach. The mob cheered him lustily along the streets, not because he was popular, but because he was handsomely dressed, had his crown upon his head and the famous sceptre in his hand, which facts were quite sufficient to justify a mob in cheering anybody.

Nearer and nearer his carriage drew, and at last stopped before the door of Pigspud's mansion. Then, after one last loud flourish, the trumpets ceased to sound. The king alighted to his feet. The Chief Justice received him kneeling on one knee.

Famcram bowed coldly, glanced right and left, and then slowly entered the banqueting room, while his host tremblingly followed behind, his heart balanced between hope and fear, but much, it must be owned, inclining to the latter. The king paused at the entrance of the room. Everything was so beautifully arranged that it was difficult to find fault, even for one who was determined to do so. The flowers, the fruit, the flags, the garlands, the decorations which met his eye were all so splendid, that those who saw them, and knew at the same time that the tyrant was certain to find some occasion to carry out his purpose, marvelled within themselves, what cause for fault-finding he could possibly discover, or what excuse he would be able to invent for his action.

They had not long to marvel, however, for the next moment the eyes of all were turned upon Ophelia, who came sauntering down the room, between the tables, very leisurely, even carelessly, and advanced towards the king.

She was dressed in her morning dress of an unpretending brown colour, fitting closely to the figure, and unadorned by ornament of any kind save a steel chatelaine, from which hung sundry useful articles, scissors, thimble, needlecase and the like; but which added to the suspicion which her general appearance created, that she had merely walked from her sitting-room to the banquetting-hall without any change of toilet in honour of the king.

This was quite enough for Famcram, and furnished him with an excuse for anger against his Chief Justice, far more legitimate than those which had been made the pretext for the punishment of his two brother officials. The king lost no time in flying into a violent passion.

"What ho!" he cried, in as loud a voice as his anger would permit him to raise. "What bold hussey is this who comes to meet her sovereign in common everyday garments? What malapert conduct have we here?" and he strutted forward puffing and fuming like a turkey-cock.

Ophelia, who had learned her lesson well, and knew how much depended upon it, paid not the smallest attention to the anger of the king, but advanced towards him with the same careless step, and a contemptuous smile upon her countenance. Of course this made matters worse, and the unhappy Pigspud trembled in his shoes in dire anticipation of what would follow, whilst the courtiers and attendants opened their eyes wider than they had ever done at the strange conduct of the infatuated maiden.

The sight of the smile upon the maiden's face incensed Famcram to a still greater degree. He stamped violently upon the floor, and turning to the Chief Justice demanded in imperious tones what was the meaning of this insult.

"Who is it?" he cried, "who is this brazen-faced daughter of a demon who dares to come thus into our presence?"

The unhappy Pigspud in trembling tones admitted that it was his own daughter.

"Your daughter?" exclaimed the king, with a smile or rather grin in which fury, triumph and revenge contended for the mastery. "It is then in your house and by your daughter that I am thus treated? I will deal with you presently, Chief Justice. What do you mean, hussey, by this shameful impudence?"

To the surprise of the king himself and of every person present, Ophelia actually yawned whilst the monarch was speaking, and when he had concluded, kept smiling upon him with palpable contempt, and glancing round at the decorations and beautiful objects right and left of her, remarked in a languid, drawling tone--"If you are not content, King Famcram, why did you come?"

This filled up the measure of her iniquity, and drove the king nearly mad. Half beside himself with rage, he seemed to those about him to foam at the mouth as he spluttered forth his furious answer.

"Vile wench! you and your father shall suffer for this! You shall, by all that a Pigmy holds dear I swear it. The fate of Binks and Chinks shall be paradise to _your_ lot, you wretched scum of the earth. Ho! guard, seize these traitors at once, and have the lowest and darkest dungeon made ready for them without delay!"

A groan burst from the lips of the unfortunate Pigspud as the royal lips pronounced these words, for in them he naturally saw the realisation of his worst fears. But before one of the guards could move hand or foot, the fair Ophelia, with the same smile continuously upon her lips, took a step or two forward, and, holding out in her hand the little jar of which we know--but of the existence of which everyone present was profoundly ignorant, said in a remarkably calm and clear voice--

"Pray listen: King Famcram, determined I am To ask you to taste of my raspberry jam!"

Scarcely were the words out of her mouth when a perceptible change came over the face, voice, and manner of Famcram. The first turned ghastly white; the second sank to a low whisper; and the third lost all its violence, and became as quiet as the manner of a sheep when in the hands of its executioner.

One shiver passed over the king's frame, as if there was a strong internal struggle; but it was over in a moment. Murmuring something so indistinctly that no one was quite sure what he said, but apparently something about "not liking to refuse a lady," he shuffled forward to meet Ophelia, whilst the crowd around was plunged in the deepest amazement at his strange and altered conduct.

The maiden, as he approached, took a small silver salt-spoon from the table near her, scooped out of her jar a good spoonful of the jam, and held it to Famcram's mouth. He meekly received the spoon therein, and devoured the jam without a word, good, bad, or indifferent. The next moment he grovelled--literally grovelled--at Ophelia's feet, covering them with kisses, and vowing that he was her slave for life.

The people could hardly believe their eyes, and looked at each other as if they felt that they must all be in a dream, or suffering from some optical delusion, and that it could not be a reality which was passing before them. But Ophelia took it all quite as a matter of course.

She ordered Famcram, in haughty tones, to kneel on all fours, and as soon as he had done so, she sat down upon him with the greatest calmness.

Wonder upon wonders! The tyrant, who had shown every disposition to treat his people like miserable slaves, seemed now to be reduced to more abject slavery than the meanest of his vassals.

A moment before, he was uttering threats of vengeance against his host; now, he was prostrate and humble, the meek servitor of that host's daughter.

No one could imagine whence or how this mighty change had come, but the voice of Ophelia soon turned their thoughts to other things. Still seated upon her living stool, she bade the guests be seated, and told them that her father would do the honours.

Having seen her power displayed in so miraculous a manner, no one felt the least inclined to disobey her, the more particularly as her commands were by no means of an unwelcome nature, and the feast was one of a very inviting description.

No one offered to interfere between the lady and the sovereign, being probably of opinion that to do so would expose themselves to danger without benefit to their lord and master, for whom, moreover, none of them had any very particular affection. Accordingly they obeyed Ophelia's commands without either reluctance or hesitation, seated themselves at the tables and began to attack the good things thereupon without any unnecessary delay.

Meantime Ophelia kept her seat, and Famcram, not being particularly strong, soon groaned beneath her weight, especially as she did not try to lighten his burden, but sat as heavy as she could, occasionally lifting her feet from the ground to give greater weight to her body. The king spoke not a word, however, being apparently restrained by some power. He merely panted and breathed deeply, once or twice trembling so as to shake the maiden. Whenever he did so, she struck him a sharp blow on the side of the head with the back of her hand, addressing him at the same time with epithets the reverse of complimentary.

"Beast, keep quiet." "Be still, you stupid brute," and such like ejaculations were all the king got from his fair mistress, and this continued until the banquet was well nigh over, and most of the good things consumed. Then Ophelia arose, and taking the king by the ear (which she pinched and twisted so that an involuntary yell broke from the unhappy sufferer), led him to the head of the table at which her father was presiding. The latter trembled even then, partly for fear of the extraordinary power possessed by his daughter, and perhaps in a greater degree lest it should suddenly fail her after all, and the vengeance of the enslaved monarch be worse to endure than would have been his first anger.

No such fear, however, troubled Ophelia, who had her own purpose in what she was now about to do. She desired to show to the people her great and full power over their sovereign, and this she had already done; but it was by no means part of her plan that they should cease to pay him deference, or at least obedience, for it was through him that she could alone possess that power over them which she fully intended to gain. She therefore caused him to be seated at her father's right hand, and to be supplied with food and drink of which she directed him to partake. Famcram obeyed at once, meekly and without complaint, and ate what was given to him with a grateful glance at Ophelia, such as a dog might have given to a master who had thrown him a bone.

She, meanwhile, seating herself on the other side of her father, listlessly asked for some boiled chicken, and, whilst she trifled with her knife and fork, began to converse upon indifferent subjects, making no allusion whatever to the incidents of the day. This behaviour caused the Chief Justice the greatest astonishment, and at another time he would have demanded explanations of his daughter without delay.

But his joy at the unexpected turn which things had taken, and at his own safety, at least for the time, from the peril with which he had been so recently threatened, caused him to take less notice of the matter than he would otherwise have done.

To speak the truth, moreover, his joy had been somewhat increased and his spirits in no small degree elated by an unusual quantity of dry champagne which he had imbibed in the excitement of the moment, so that things appeared natural and reasonable to him which would generally have seemed most extraordinary.

Ophelia meantime was playing her game well. She judged--and judged rightly--that the conduct of the king in throwing himself at her feet, in allowing her to sit upon him as if he were a chair or stool, and in afterwards meekly following her to the head of the table, would be attributed to nothing else than devoted love by a great many of those who were present, and especially by such as had not been near enough to witness his first outburst of anger, or to hear his first words, which had certainly not been those of affection.

This idea would be speedily followed by another, when the guests saw her seated on one side of the Chief Justice and King Famcram on the other.

What _could_ it mean save that she was about to be raised to the highest dignity in the kingdom, and to share the throne and power of Famcram as his queen?

This was in fact the resolution which she had formed, and determined to omit no precaution which might ensure its success. So she sat and ate at the banquet, already looking and feeling like a queen, and her device fully succeeded in making the people believe that things were as she desired.

But all this would be insufficient without some public avowal on the part of the king, and she resolved that this should be given.

Presently, therefore, she leant forward across her father, and, steadily looking Famcram in the face, thus addressed him:--

"King, your wish--the anxious wish of your heart--shall be gratified. I consent to become your queen, and you may at once announce the happy tidings to this august assembly."

As she said these words, the luckless Famcram turned quite red in the face, and there was visibly another struggle within his breast between contending passions. This struggle lasted longer than the first, and not only did he make no sign of acquiescence to the lady's proposal, but there were those who afterwards declared that they heard--deep and low like the sound of fire struggling to burst loose from walls within which it is enclosed--a sepulchral voice within the king which muttered the words--"I don't want any queen."

But, whether such words were spoken or not, Ophelia was equal to the occasion.

"Jam, dear, did you say?" she asked in her most winning tones, and in another second the salt-spoon was out, and a portion of the contents of the little jar transferred without delay to the king's mouth, whilst in a low, determined voice, the maiden continued, speaking in tones which could scarcely be heard by anyone save the king himself and the Chief Justice.

"Speak out, slave, at once, and acknowledge me as your only queen."

Mechanically, as if moved by springs, uprose King Famcram. There was a dead silence for a moment; then there burst forth a loud cheer, for the guests naturally supposed that the king was about to speak, and knew that it was proper to cheer before he said anything, in order to show that they were ready to do so afterwards.

Then again there was a silence, and Famcram spoke these words:

"Ophelia Pigspud is my queen, and only she."

And down he sat again so suddenly that everybody thought it was by accident, and there must be something more coming.

As, however, there was _not_, it was evidently the duty of all present to cheer again, and this they did most lustily, again and again, though a great many of them had not heard what the king had said, a great many more thought there was something in the proceeding which they could not understand, and still a great many more did not care sixpence, one way or other, about the announcement.

Nevertheless, Ophelia had gained her end: the king had publicly declared that she, and she only, was his queen, and the rest appeared to depend upon herself.

By this time the Chief Justice was in a condition which rendered it desirable that no further business of importance should be transacted, for the excitement of the afternoon had proved altogether too much for him. He was therefore assisted to his room, and retired amid loud cheers from such of the guests as had not made sufficient noise before. Then Ophelia directed the butler and his attendants to conduct Famcram to the state chamber, and to direct the guards to be placed in the usual manner.

The courtiers and guests were forthwith dismissed, and the eventful day drew to its close.

Many and deep were the thoughts which occupied Ophelia's mind that night; she had a difficult game to play, and though her spirit was high and her courage undaunted, it was impossible that she should not feel some anxiety as to the result. So far, indeed, all had gone well.

Famcram, who had evidently entered the banqueting-room with no better intentions towards her father and herself than those which he had entertained and carried out in the case of the unhappy families of Binks and Chinks, had been entirely overcome by the magic assistance of her godmother.

The jam had proved most efficacious indeed, and the evening had been one continued triumph.

But doubts and fears still remained as to the future. At the very moment of the king's recognition of her as his queen, he had but too plainly evinced a disinclination to the step which appeared to indicate that the power of the jam was but temporary, unless, indeed, it was the last struggle of his obstinate nature against that power. He had certainly yielded, and nothing could have been more complete than Ophelia's victory. But then came the question, if the jam had not sufficient force to keep the king enchained as her slave for a longer time than the duration of the banquet, might not its power die away altogether before morning? In that case, what would be her position if the monarch, too wary to see her, and so run the risk of being again subjected to the same treatment, should issue orders directed against her and hers, and fully revenge himself for the events of the previous evening?

True--if she retained the jar, she might operate upon his messengers in such a manner as to prevent their inflicting personal injury upon herself, but she would probably be unable to protect her father or his property, as the power she possessed seemed to be personal, closely connected with the jam, and such as could only be exercised when she had the jar in her hand.

Suppose, again, that Famcram should awake during the night, discover that he was not in his own palace, summon his attendants, and surprise her father and slay or capture him whilst asleep. Or suppose he should leave the house by stealth, and that next morning it should be surrounded by royal guards before she was awake, and her jar possibly taken from her.

All these thoughts passed constantly through the mind of the daughter of Pigspud, and she got but little rest throughout the whole of that long and dreary night.

Early in the morning she arose, performed her toilet with the greatest care, and forthwith descended to the grand drawing-room of the mansion, where several of the courtiers had already assembled. The king had not yet made his appearance, and it must be owned that Ophelia awaited his coming with some anxiety. Presently, however, the doors were thrown open, and the sun shining through the great windows on the staircase, fell full upon the bright red hair of the little monarch, making it brighter than ever.

As he slowly descended, Ophelia grasped tightly in her hand the little jar, which she kept concealed in the folds of her dress, quite prepared to have recourse to it again immediately, if occasion should require. She soon saw, however, that she need be under no immediate apprehension. There was a submissive look about Famcram's general appearance, and a humility even in his squint (which seemed that morning to be more frightful than ever), which greatly re-assured the maiden.

He came limping into the room, and bowed before her as he entered. Now was the moment when Ophelia's course of action must be clear and certain. She had already resolved upon it, and proceeded according to her determination.

To keep Famcram in awe of herself--to preserve their last evening's relations of mistress and slave--was positively necessary, but it was equally desirable not to lower her future husband in the eyes of his courtiers and attendants. She therefore saluted him with a graceful bend of the head, and invited him to the breakfast-room, where they took their seats side by side.

The Chief Justice was rather late that morning, at which nobody manifested any surprise, having seen that his fatigue was great on the previous evening. Ophelia therefore had everything to do, and she did it admirably. The guests were well treated, the breakfast was excellently arranged, and everybody appeared satisfied and in good spirits.

At the conclusion of the repast, Ophelia notified to the king that he should appoint a time that morning at which he would receive his subjects, and publicly fix the day upon which their marriage should be celebrated.

The little man made no objection, and trembled visibly when the maiden fixed her eyes upon him. So it was arranged that at a public audience to be held at twelve o'clock, the king should make solemn proclamation of his intended marriage, and that, as delays in such matters were undesirable, the ceremony should be performed the very next day.

Thus far had Ophelia Pigspud certainly overcome the evils with which fate had threatened her, and she began to feel confident that all would go well, and that her triumph would be final and complete. Twelve o'clock came, and the appointed reception was duly held, the proclamation that it would be so having attracted many of the better class of Pigmies. The shortness of the notice was no hindrance to this result.

In some countries, I have been told, when subjects are admitted to the presence of their sovereign, they are compelled, whether men or women, to adopt a costume which they never think of wearing at any other time, which is exceedingly inconvenient and sometimes ridiculous. Although these ceremonies take place, like the royal receptions in Pigmyland, in the broad daylight, the ladies who attend are obliged to do so in dresses more fit for evening parties, with their heads fantastically arranged and crowned with feathers, more ludicrous than imposing, while, irrespective of weather, their throats and chests are exposed in a manner exceedingly likely to produce colds and coughs and such like undesirable ailments.

The gentlemen, all armed with swords, as if the sovereign was likely to order a sudden attack upon them, or to require their services in order to repel one upon himself, are dressed in various degrees of absurdity, according to the particular rank or grade to which each belongs, but no one wears an ordinary dress, and the whole thing is somewhat like a fancy ball or a masquerade without the masks. These, however, are of course only half civilized people, and not an intelligent and progressive race such as the Pigmies. The latter appear before their monarch in their ordinary clothes, the only regulation being that they shall be decent and respectable, as in fact they always are. Thus the sovereign sees his people as they really are, whilst they on their part come into the royal presence without restraint, or the uncomfortable feeling of presenting an appearance similar to that of a jackdaw in peacock's feathers. This ensures a large attendance on reception days, which are also the more frequently held, and at short notice, since they do not entail upon the people, as in the countries to which I have alluded, the necessity of long notice to dress-makers and tailors, and the not inconsiderable expense contingent upon dealings with such people. So although the proclamation was only made upon the same morning, the greater part of the aristocracy of Famcram's capital, together with many of the middle classes, who were not excluded from that court, attended his reception.

Ophelia stood by his side, carefully retaining the jar of jam all the time, and the little monarch was as submissive as upon the previous day. The people saw and recognised her position.

Whether they murmured at all, or entertained any objection to the sudden elevation of the daughter of Pigspud, I cannot say, but at all events no such feeling was evinced, the reception passed off as well as Ophelia could possibly have wished, and Famcram was as much her slave as ever.

For greater security, she gave him a small piece of bread and jam immediately after luncheon, and he really seemed to require no more in order to keep him perfectly submissive and obedient to the will of his mistress. Of course it was necessary to make great preparations for the next day.

Chief Justice Pigspud, finding his daughter's position, to all appearance, firmly established, took heart again, recovered much of his former confidence, and began to hold up his head and to prepare to take a full share in the future government of the kingdom. He naturally took the lead in arranging the proceedings of the following day, the more especially as Famcram seemed to have suddenly changed his character. Instead of being captious, jealous, ill-tempered, arbitrary, and tyrannical, he appeared to have subsided into a meek, quiet, timid being, who hardly dared call his soul his own. He spoke, looked, and moved as if in a kind of stupor, and obeyed every command of Ophelia without a protest or even a murmur of objection.

The Chief Justice, seeing that this result had been obtained in some mysterious way, was too well satisfied with it to trouble his daughter by inquiries into the means she had used or the agencies she had employed. It is due to the old man to say that he suspected nothing unlawful, but even had he entertained such suspicions, I do not know that he would have deemed it necessary to take any action upon them, since, whatever the means taken, the end secured had been one so desirable.

With all his faults Pigspud was not without generosity, and now that he saw good prospects of prosperity before him and his house, he bethought himself of his old associates, Binks and Chinks, and determined, if possible, to effect their release from unmerited imprisonment.

With this object he went to his daughter in the afternoon of the day before the wedding, representing to her that it would be a graceful act on her part, and one likely to be popular with the people, if she were to persuade the king to release his old ministers and their families, and invite them to be present at his approaching nuptials.

Ophelia was somewhat vexed at the request. She hardly felt as yet sufficiently secure in her position to run any risks, and, although she would have been glad enough to have aided in the release of the Prime Minister and the Lord Chamberlain, an indefinable something seemed to tell her that in the daughters of the two ministers she would find enemies who had better not be placed in any position in which they could possibly do harm.

She knew the power which jealousy has over the female mind--that is to say, in Pigmyland, though, of course, in ordinary countries, such a feeling is unknown to the softer sex--and she feared she knew not what. However, she felt that it would be ungracious, as well as ungrateful, to refuse her father his first request, and she, therefore, told Famcram that the prisoners must be released in order to be present at the wedding next day. The king raised no objection, but did as he was told, and orders were immediately sent to the dungeons for the liberation of the ex-ministers and their families, at which they were, of course, delighted; but some difficulty was experienced after their release from prison, as to where they should go to, inasmuch as King Famcram had appropriated all their property. As, however, their respective houses remained unoccupied, they were permitted to return thither, and make themselves as comfortable as they could. The ladies of the party were the worst off, and great were their complaints of total inability to appear in proper dresses at the festivities on the ensuing day.

Ophelia felt for their difficulty, and did all she could to remove it, supplying them with many articles of dress from her own wardrobe, and assuring them of her sincere sympathy for their sufferings in the past, and her readiness to promote their happiness in the future. So when the morning fixed for the royal marriage dawned, all seemed likely to go well, and content reigned upon the face of every Pigmy.

Owing to a conflagration which, at a subsequent period, destroyed all the records in the public offices of that country, I am unable to supply my readers with a full and accurate account of all the details of the interesting ceremony which united Ophelia to her royal husband.

Various accounts were written and published at the time, but none of them by authority, and I am unwilling to trust to unauthorized narratives when dealing with a subject of such immense importance. That which it most concerns us to know, however, is that the wedding actually took place, which fact having been once ascertained, even the appearance of the bride and the dresses of the bridesmaids become matters of comparatively little moment Of this great fact there is happily no doubt.

King Famcram was legally married to Ophelia Pigspud after the custom of Pigmy marriages, and the maiden was undoubtedly Queen of the Pigmies. Her first act was at once gracious and becoming. She caused Binks and Chinks to be reinstated in their former offices, and arranged that pecuniary compensation should be given them for the losses they had sustained. Furthermore, she appointed Euphemia and Araminta Binks, together with the three daughters of the lord chamberlain, Asphalia, Bettina, and Paraphernalia, as her ladies in waiting, and promised to them and to herself that the court should ever be made the scene of gaieties and entertainments to which it had long been a stranger.

But however good were the motives of Ophelia, however kind her feeling towards these five young ladies, however pleasant her plans might have appeared to them under other circumstances, I am sorry to say that they neither believed in nor appreciated them.

Feelings of jealousy had sprung up within their tender breasts, from the first moment that they had found Ophelia preferred to the throne before themselves. Possessed, as has been related, of beauty, wit, and fascination in different degrees, but in the case of each of them, a superior degree to the generality of maidens, they felt that they had, each and all, as good a right to have shared the throne of Famcram as the more fortunate damsel who had obtained that position.

Instead, therefore, of being loyal to Ophelia, and grateful for her kindness towards them, they regarded her with envy and spite, and their beautiful faces but ill reflected the ugly feelings which occupied their hearts. Ignorant of this, Ophelia had forgotten her first fears and doubts upon the question of their release, and, unsuspicious of evil, kept one or other of the maidens constantly near her.

For a day or two all went well. The king kept in the same state of torpor, and his passive obedience to his wife made him, in the general opinion of Pigmy ladies, a model for all husbands. Ophelia, however, knowing the source from which her power was derived, kept her jar always at hand, so that she might be able to have immediate recourse to it if the occasion should arise. It was not extraordinary that, under these circumstances, her ladies in waiting should become acquainted with, and take notice of, the fact. It became, very shortly after their appointment, a matter of conversation amongst them, and of wonder that the Queen should always carry about with her a common looking little jar, of which they knew neither the use nor the contents.

Paraphernalia, the youngest and prettiest of the Chinks family, wished to ask a question about it outright, but the worldly wisdom of her elder sisters checked her, for they feared that their position at court might be imperilled by any forwardness or impertinence of the kind.

Whether Ophelia, if asked, would have given such information, or at least have dropped such hints, as might have prevented the occurrence of the facts I am about to relate, cannot now be known. The opportunity was not afforded her, and the five ladies in waiting remained in ignorance upon the subject.

On the third day after her marriage, Ophelia was to receive the ladies of the court and such of the fairer portion of Pigmyland as desired to be presented to her. She was richly arrayed in garments well suited to the occasion, and looked right royal as she stood to receive her guests. The king, with meek and submissive gait, stood by her side, and never had she looked more lovely or felt more triumphant. Resolved, however, to take care of safety as well as of appearance, she kept in her left hand the little jar, having a scarf lightly thrown over her arm and concealing it from view. It had not, however, escaped the sharp eyes of Paraphernalia Chinks, who determined in her own mind that the day should not pass by without her knowing something more about the evident mystery to which that jar related. The ladies in waiting were, naturally enough, near the queen, and stood looking on whilst those who were presented to her majesty trooped by, making their reverent obeisances as they did so.

After a while, Ophelia began to feel rather tired of bowing and smiling, but still continued graciously to do so, until an elderly dame in passing, tripped over her train and seemed in danger of falling. The queen made an involuntary movement forward as if to save her, and in so doing happened to loosen her hold upon the jar in her left hand. At the very same instant, Paraphernalia, who had been watching her opportunity all the time, started forward as if to assist her majesty, and, as if by accident, gave a violent push to her left arm, when, sad to relate, the jar fell from her hand upon the marble pavement at her feet, and was instantly broken in pieces.

At the sight of the contents, which appeared to be ordinary jam, the ladies-in-waiting could hardly restrain themselves from exclamations of surprise, and all the more so when they perceived the pallor which immediately overspread the countenance of the queen. But their attention was at once directed to something else.

Scarcely had the accident happened, and the jar slipped from Ophelia's grasp and met with the fate I have described, when a great and marvellous change came over the appearance and demeanour of the king. No longer meek and subdued, his countenance flushed with rage, his squinting appeared more furiously malicious than ever, and he stood before the Court, not the obedient slave and husband, but once more the tyrant Famcram, restored to his former self.

He passed his hand across his brow, as if to sweep away from him some unpleasant memories, and then glared fiercely around him for a minute without uttering a syllable. There was a dead silence. Everybody feared some dreadful outburst, and nobody knew what to expect.

Then Famcram broke forth in fury--

"What sorcery is here?" he cried. "What witchcraft has been going on? What drab is this whom I see beside me assuming a place as if she were queen? Who are these over-dressed peacocks on every side? Toads, vipers, serpents! Ho, guards! away with them!" and again he looked with frightful grimaces upon those who stood about him.

Binks, Chinks, and Pigspud fell instantly on their knees, all in a row. The ladies-in-waiting, between trembling and fainting, did nothing for the moment, whilst Ophelia, recognising at once that her power of compulsion was gone, resolved to make an instant appeal to the better feelings of the king.

"Sire," she said, turning round and confronting him with dignity, "I am your lawful queen. Three days ago you wedded me, and I share your throne. Pray let us govern with justice and mercy, and you shall never have cause to repent of having elevated me to this position."

"Position! You! Throne! Queen! _Us_ govern!" shrieked Famcram at the top of his voice, now perfectly beside himself with fury. "You fool! You idiot! You jackanapes! You witch! You vile creature! _You_ a queen, forsooth! Out upon your folly, that led you to try and deceive Famcram. Seize her, guards!" he continued; "seize the whole lot of them! Strip off their fine robes, and away with them to the palace dungeons! We will soon see who is to be king and master here!"

As he spoke, the obedient guards came forward; and, in spite of all that Ophelia could do or say, stripped her of her ornaments, and cloak of rich fur, took from her head the crown with which the queens of that country were always decorated on state occasions, and began to drag her away.

Famcram grinned with malicious spite as he saw her in the hands of his rough attendants.

"Ah!" said he, "this is _real_ jam, now!" and from these casual words of the king sprang an expression which has now become proverbial in that country, indicating some special pleasure or remarkably gratifying incident.

Ophelia was not alone in her misfortune. Her five ladies-in-waiting were all seized at the same time, their fine clothing taken from them, and themselves conveyed back again to the same dungeons which they had previously occupied, and which the wretched Ophelia now shared with them.

Their behaviour to the fallen queen was, I am sorry to say, neither ladylike nor generous. Forgetful of the fact that it was to her they had owed their liberty, and that she had shown them all possible kindness during her brief period of prosperity, they only remembered that it was through her discomfiture that they were themselves suffering at the moment They overwhelmed her with reproaches, in which Paraphernalia, herself the real cause of their joint misfortune, was especially forward, and not content with this, the three daughters of Chinks set upon her, cuffed her, scratched her, slapped her, pulled her hair, and vowed that they would do much worse before they had done with her.

Paraphernalia went so far as to suggest cutting off all her hair, and spoiling her beauty by burning or otherwise marking her face; but the others had hardly come to such a state of wickedness and malice as this, although they joined in making the poor girl more miserable than she would otherwise have been, and showed a want of consideration and good feeling which was much to be blamed.

The discomfort and misery of all the ladies were, as may be supposed, considerable; nor was their condition at all improved by the news that Famcram had resolved that the parents of the three families, Binks, Chinks, and Pigspud, should be executed in the public market place within three days. This news, conveyed to them by some of those officious persons who always like to bring unpleasant tidings, if only that they may watch their effects upon the people they are likely to make unhappy, plunged all six ladies into the deepest sorrow.

Nor was the next piece of news at all calculated to lighten the burden of affliction which weighed them down. Famcram sent a special messenger to inform the captives that they should all suffer the extreme penalty of the law also. At first he had declared that they should be publicly whipped in the square opposite the palace, and afterwards be beheaded, but upon an earnest representation being made to him by a deputation from the anti-flogging society, who were numerous in the city, he consented to forego that part of the punishment, and to have them sewn up in sacks and thrown into the river, which was a form of punishment much in vogue in that part of the world.

Resolved, however, to make them suffer as much as possible, he directed that their execution should take place upon the day preceding that of their fathers, and that the latter should be obliged to tie the mouths of the sacks, and roll their own children into the water.

The girls heard this doom with horror, but there was no way of averting it. On the morning of the day on which the sentence was to be carried into effect, the daughters of Chinks became more furious than ever against Ophelia, and declared that she ought to be scratched to death in the dungeon, and not share the fate of honourable damsels like themselves. But a better spirit had come over Euphemia and Araminta, the daughters of the late Prime Minister.

They had felt some compunction at the treatment of Ophelia by their friends and prison companions, and had not joined in the personal attack which had been led by Paraphernalia. And when they remembered how Ophelia had behaved as queen, and saw how meekly she bore the cruel insults now heaped upon her by the others, they spoke out boldly, and interfered to prevent further violence.

So the hours passed by until the afternoon arrived, and all six ladies, having a thick coarse white sheet cast round each of them, as if about to stand and do penance, were led forth from the palace dungeons and taken to the appointed place of execution.

Everything had been arranged under the direct orders of the tyrant himself. Marshalled two and two between their guards, the poor girls found that they had to pass through a crowd of gaping and staring people, and to walk over the mud and stones upon their bare feet.

Their beauty attracted general notice, but Ophelia's form and bearing made by far the greatest impression upon the bystanders.

Side by side she walked by Euphemia Binks, but the latter's beauty was entirely eclipsed by that of the late queen. The daughter of Pigspud walked with a royal air--upright, majestic in figure, with a look of resignation and yet contempt of fate--she excited an universal feeling of pity and admiration.

Low murmurs were heard among the crowd, and whispers which, had they come to Famcram's ears, would certainly have caused the whisperers trouble. The tyrant, however, was so much feared, and the loyalty of Pigmies is ever so devoted, even when their sovereign is one whom no one can love or respect, that no sign of an outbreak was shown.

Slowly the mournful procession marched upon its way, until it reached the road leading directly to the river.

At this moment the great cathedral bell began to toll, filling the hearts of those who heard it with a certain awful feeling impossible to be described in words, which was increased in intensity when men in black garments, with masks over their faces, appeared, carrying the sacks which were to be employed in the execution of the unhappy maidens.

With a refinement of cruelty, the brutal tyrant had directed that the procession should turn aside and pass through the hall of the Chief Justice's house, so that Ophelia in her disgrace and misery, should be made to look upon the place in which her recent but shortlived triumph had occurred. So they marched into the house and through the great banqueting-room, and out into the gardens, and as they slowly descended to the river, again the solemn deep death-warning clang of the cathedral bell sounded in their ears, and the girls knew that now indeed their end was very near.

Close to the spot which he had fixed for the execution, in a magnificent arm-chair upon a kind of temporary dais erected for the occasion, sat Famcram himself, uglier than ever, with his crown upon his head, and the famous sceptre in his hand. As the procession drew near he arose from his chair, around which stood his principal courtiers, whilst at a little distance might be observed the wretched Binks, Chinks, and Pigspud, each guarded by two armed attendants.

When the ladies had approached quite close to the king, he grinned upon them with more than his usual malice, and began to sneer at and abuse them.

"Is this our queen?" he asked in a jeering tone. "The queen that was to share our throne, and it was to be 'us' who would govern, was it not? Poor wretch! the bed of the river will soon be your royal couch, and you shall share it with the eels--if" (and here he grinned horribly) "they can make their way through the sack which will hold your lovely form. _You_ to be queen, you nasty, staring, goggle-eyed vixen! And here come our Prime Minister's and Lord Chamberlain's children! Pretty ducklings, you shall be sown up nice and tight, and your own fathers shall give you to the pike and the rats. Nice tender morsels for these ye will be!"

To these taunts the poor girls made no reply, and the tyrant continued to insult them, having ordered the procession to stand still for the purpose. And still the great bell tolled on.

They had stopped very near to the river, and now, at a signal from the king, the men clothed in black came forward with the sacks, the white sheets were taken from the fair shoulders of the victims, and each was thrust into her sack in the dishevelled garments she wore, and left there for a few moments until the unhappy fathers should perform the duties assigned to them.

Up to this time Ophelia had kept silence. She despised the wretched Famcram too much to condescend to answer his taunts. If death was to be met, she would meet it like a true daughter of Pigspud, and her ancient lineage should never be disgraced by her behaviour.

But, at this extreme moment, a ray of hope darted suddenly into her heart. Where was she? Upon the very spot where she had received the mystic jar which had worked for her such wonders. The place was the same--the hour, though not so late, was possibly not unpropitious, for the sun was beginning to sink behind the higher buildings of the city. Was it impossible that the same power which had helped her before might again befriend her? The effort was at least worth making, and failure could make matters no worse.

So, even in the sack, before it was closed over her head, with enemies seemingly all around, and death staring her in the face, Ophelia lifted up her head and looking towards the river, slowly pronounced these words.

"Marley-quarley-pachel-farley-- Mansto macken furlesparley,-- Mondo pondo sicho pinto, Framsigalen hannotinto!"

Everybody was surprised at the words and behaviour of the unfortunate lady.

But what followed surprised them infinitely more. A curious whining, murmuring, incomprehensible sound came along the banks of the river, filling the hearts of those who heard it with a strange sense of fear, and a feeling that something wonderful was about to happen.

The river, too, instead of flowing on in its usual quiet and majestic manner, seemed perturbed in an extraordinary manner, and became as rough as the open ocean in a storm.

By common consent everyone who was present stood as if struck by one feeling of awe, which palsied and unfitted them for action. The men who were supporting the sacks in which the unhappy maidens stood, shivering with fear, remained rooted to their places, and mingled fear and wonder sat upon the faces of the people.

Then slowly arose from the rushes by the waterside the same grotesque figure which had once before held converse with Ophelia. The red cloak, the umbrella, the poke bonnet, the keen eye, were all there, and the old woman stood upon the bank within a very short distance of the sacks.

She looked round upon the people as if rather surprised at seeing them there, but appeared after a short time to have eyes only for Ophelia, upon whom she fixed her gaze attentively, and striking her umbrella upon the ground accosted her in the following words:

"What is it, Ophelia! and what do you fear That you've called your affectionate godmother here? Have matters gone wrong since you wanted me last? I fear that they have, as my eyes round I cast-- You haven't got on the same dress that you wore When you came down to see the old lady before-- And unless my old eyesight its certainty lacks You seem hampered and bound in the coarsest of sacks, And some other girls, too! in what sad plight you are; My darling; has aught gone amiss with the jar?"

In a mournful voice Ophelia replied at once:--

"Dear godmother! my woes are great, And miserable is my fate: The jar is broken! and I am Both 'out of luck' and 'out of' jam! This cruel tyrant, whom I wed (I would I'd been at Bath instead!) His senses managed to recover, And, now no more obedient lover, Used language really quite past bearing (He always _was_ too prone to swearing), Swore I no more his wealth should sponge on, And clapt me in a dirty dungeon. And then, his wrath no way abating, My ladies--five of them--in waiting He also sent there--scarce politely-- And tho' they've not behaved quite rightly, They scarcely have in crime abounded So much--as to be sacked--and drownded! Tho' if my throne I once were back in _I_ should have given _three_ a "sacking"-- But, godmother, see what I'm brought to! That naughty king!--he didn't ought to!"

Ophelia sobbed aloud when she had concluded these words, which were uttered somewhat incoherently, as if the poor girl was quite overcome by her misfortune. But scarcely had she finished, when the old woman strode up to the sack without another word, and drawing a large pair of scissors from her belt, immediately cut it open in such a manner that the maiden was set free.

Up to this time King Famcram had remained quiet, as if sharing in the general fear and astonishment. No sooner, however, did he see that the old woman's purpose was to set free at least one of his prisoners, and that the chief offender, than fear gave way to wrath, and he leaped up from his armchair in a tremendous passion.

"Who is this?" he cried loudly, "who is this that interferes with the King's sentence? Seize her, guards! Vile hag, you shall soon receive your deserts."

But not a guard moved. Some power greater than that of Famcram seemed to restrain them, and the old woman quietly accomplished her task without taking the slightest notice of anybody but Ophelia.

When the latter was free, and standing by her side, she once more spoke in the same masculine voice as at first, and smiling upon the maiden, thus addressed her:--

"Tho' jars may be broken and jam may be spoiled, The plans of your godmother never are foiled, And power and good-will I must certainly lack Ere my favourite god-child be drowned in a sack. Yet if you desire it, my god-daughter sweet, These ladies of thine shall their recompense meet-- And since they've behaved, dear, so badly to thee, We'll give them a ducking--just say--shall it be!"

Ophelia, who now began to feel sure that she was safe, was too much rejoiced thereat to wish harm to anyone else, and in a few well chosen words she begged her godmother not to be severe on the poor creatures, who, she was certain, would never do it again.

She also told her of the better behaviour of the two daughters of Binks, upon which the old lady cut their sacks open immediately, but could hardly be restrained from punishing the others, especially Paraphernalia, who cried like a great baby from sheer fright and begged Ophelia to forgive her. The godmother then took from her finger a ring which she held before Ophelia and addressed her in these words.

"I give thee, my daughter, this emerald ring (Its colour, you see, is a wonderful green), And tho' you may lose your detestable king You still shall be owned as the Pigmy-land queen. Reign long and be happy--through many bright days, May all your past troubles your happiness prove, And would you be safe--hear what godmother says, Be kind to your people, and govern by love!"

As she said these words the old woman placed the ring upon Ophelia's finger, and smiled upon her in an affectionate manner.

At this moment Famcram's rage grew beyond all bounds. He literally foamed at the mouth with fury--both at the scene which was being enacted before his eyes, and the unwillingness or impotence of his guards to help him. He yelled out to them again at the top of his voice, whilst his red hair seemed to blaze with fury as he whirled his sceptre round his head.

"Seize the vile witch, I say!" he shouted. "Who dares to talk of any one reigning here while Famcram lives? Seize her and burn her! Varlets! Will none of ye stand by your king?"

With these words the king jumped from the dais on which he had been sitting, and rushed forward himself, calling loudly to his guards to come on.

But his cries were to no purpose--every man stood rooted to the ground, and not a hand was lifted to help the tyrant. Then the smile left the face of the old woman, and she turned from Ophelia to face the king. He paused, as she raised her hand and pointed at him with her umbrella, while she spoke again in the same voice as before. And these were her words:--

"Thou slayer of women, disgrace to thy line, The vengeance is near--be thy punishment mine-- You wished my dear god-child in river to drown. No, no, tyrant Famcram, _this_ time you're 'done brown!'"

She had no time for more, for, overcoming his fear or whatever had hitherto restrained him, the little tyrant rushed upon her.

The old woman now adopted a most curious course. Dropping her umbrella upon the ground, she made no more ado, but seized Famcram the moment he was within reach, wrenched his sceptre from him, and shook him severely.

He struggled, bit, kicked and yelled, but it was all in vain. That fearful grasp was upon him, against which twenty times his strength had been of no avail.

The fight, if such indeed it could be called, was soon over. The wretched creature writhed in the hands of his enemy, who shook him to her heart's content, and then, raising him with apparent ease by the scruff of the neck, calmly placed him in the sack from which she had just liberated her goddaughter.

In spite of his continued struggles, she swiftly tied the mouth of the sack in a knot, which she managed to make; and then, without a word more, good, bad, or indifferent, descended the bank, threw in the sack, and sat down upon it.

[Illustration: OPHELIA.--P. 280]

To the surprise of the people, instead of sinking, the sack floated away into the midst of the river, which boiled and surged around it, so that every now and then it went down, and then came up again in sight of the crowd--the old woman keeping her seat upon it all the time, and smiling grimly as she bobbed up and down in a manner which would have made many respectable old ladies of my acquaintance feel remarkably unwell. No such effect, however, was produced upon the old woman, and she apparently enjoyed the whole thing very much.

When they first left the bank, stifled screams were heard issuing from the sack, but these soon died away, and it was plain enough that the wretched Famcram must have been very speedily drowned.

In a little while the old woman and the sack had floated out of sight, and the people began to recover somewhat from their amazement. Then occurred another marvellous thing.

The river suddenly rose in several places, in the form of a waterspout, and came dashing over the crowd. But the extraordinary part of it was that whilst it drenched and half drowned the black executioners and all Famcram's particular friends, Ophelia and those who were on her side were not touched by it. The courtiers and guards of Famcram turned and fled. Then, after a short pause, the three late ministers, Binks, Chinks, and Pigspud came forward together and knelt at Ophelia's feet. Binks was the spokesman of the party.

"Madam," he said, "after what has just happened, we cannot doubt that a higher power than ours has designated you as our queen. I am sure that I speak in the name of all that is great, good and powerful in Pigmyland, when I ask you to reign over us in the place of him who has proved himself so unworthy to do so."

Ophelia replied at once:--"Rise, sir," she said, "and you too, dear father, for it is not meet that you should kneel before your child. There might, doubtless, have been found worthier sovereigns for our country, but since Fate has thus decreed it, I accept the position which is offered."

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, loud shouts of joy broke forth from the surrounding people. At a sign from Ophelia, the other damsels were all set free, and they now came and stood humbly before her, expressing in meek and lowly tones their deep contrition for the offences they had committed against her.

Paraphernalia was especially vehement in her expressions of regret, vowing that she had always entertained the greatest affection for Ophelia, and that if some demon had not possessed her, she should never have acted as she had done. Her sisters made various protestations of the same sort, whilst Euphemia and Araminta stood with blushing cheeks and downcast eyes awaiting the queen's decision.

Ophelia did not keep them long in suspense. She told the two daughters of the Prime Minister that she freely forgave them all that had occurred, being satisfied that it was not from them or their hostility that it arose. Moreover, they had been the playmates of her childhood, and she should wish still to retain them about her person. She told the daughters of the Lord Chamberlain, however, that she must take a different course with them.

At these words Asphalia, Bettina, and Paraphernalia burst into a dreadful howl, and the latter threw herself at the feet of Ophelia and endeavoured to kiss them. But the queen bade her arise, and told her that she and her sisters need not fear that the commencement of her reign would be sullied by the infliction of any severe punishment upon those who had been her companions in misfortune.

Upon this Paraphernalia turned joyous again, and began vociferously to express her thanks, but was again stopped by the royal lady.

"I cannot have about my court," she said, "persons who have behaved as you have done, nor indeed can I retain you in my service. I wish that I could have done so for your father's sake, but he must himself acknowledge that it is impossible. Out of respect to him I will only condemn Asphalia and Bettina to be confined to the limits of the city walls for a year, and during that time they will be forbidden to attend my court. As for Paraphernalia, she must be banished from Pigmyland altogether, until I shall have proofs--which I much doubt my ever receiving--of her entire reformation of character."

At this decision the unhappy Paraphernalia raised a shrill scream and fell fainting upon the ground, but was speedily carried off by the attendants. Her sisters, who felt that they had deserved, and fully expected, to share her fate, returned thanks to Ophelia for her great clemency, and vowed to lead such lives as should convince her of their undying loyalty and sincere devotion to her throne and person.

These professions the queen received with a gracious inclination of the head, and expressed her hope that they might prove to be founded on a true desire on the part of the damsels to repent of the past and do better for the future. She then turned to her father and requested that he, Binks, and Chinks would again resume their former offices, and render her their best assistance in carrying on the government of the country.

To this the three statesmen readily assented, having, in fact, desired nothing better. Ophelia in the first place directed them to prepare a proclamation, announcing her accession to the throne, and her determination to govern upon constitutional principles, which, being a high sounding phrase, and one which nobody exactly understood, naturally gave great satisfaction.

One or two discontented people did indeed whisper that as the constitution of Pigmyland had always been a pure despotism, Ophelia only meant to say that she should rule as other Pigmy kings and queens had ruled before her. These murmurs, however, were soon silenced, and this the more effectually when the queen issued the next day a second proclamation, in which she gave free pardon to all those who had supported Famcram in his late acts of tyranny, provided they would at once acknowledge her as their sovereign and obey her authority.

Some people indeed objected to this proclamation, on the ground that those who had obeyed Famcram, whether he had been right or wrong, were only acting in accordance with the country's laws in carrying out the orders of their lawful sovereign (which he undoubtedly was), and required no pardon at all.

But these people, again, were held to be mere cavillers and idle talkers, and so general was Ophelia's popularity that whatever she might have chosen to make the subject of a proclamation would have been hailed with delight by her loving and loyal subjects.

She ascended the throne under the happiest auspices: the good-will of her people filled her heart with happiness and strengthened the stability of her throne, whilst her great talents secured for her kingdom the blessings of good government, her many virtues afforded a bright example to all her subjects, and her reign was throughout, that which it promised at the first to become, an era of unmixed happiness and prosperity to Pigmyland.

THE CRONES OF MERSHAM.

Things are very dull now-a-days in the country districts of England.

The country gentlemen have got into the habit of going to London a great deal more than they used to do before railroads were made as extensively as has been the case of late years. The farmers, too, move about more than they did in the olden days, and act very differently in many respects from their forefathers.

Nor are the labourers quite the same; they ask more wages, touch their hats to master, squire, and parson less than they did, and discuss matters of politics and the government of the country, which formerly never entered their heads.

I dare say it is all right: it is a wise and good frame of mind to cherish, which teaches one that whatever _is_, is right, although it is sometimes very difficult to think so.

For instance, when my tooth takes to aching without any obvious cause, and certainly very much against my will, the fact of its doing so is well established, but the existing state of things in my face is not recognised by me--not for one single moment--as right because it _is_ the existing state. And when I have overdrawn my account at my banker's, and the state of things is that he will not let me do so any more, the circumstance that it is so does not reconcile me to the fact in the very slightest degree.

Still, as regards the progress which this country has made, and the condition at which we have now arrived, I am ready to bow my head meekly, and allow that as a general maxim, the general results may be admitted by me to be "all right."

There _are_ the railroads, and (though the carriages are not always comfortable, and the trains generally late) they afford such facilities for the gentryfolk to go to town, that we cannot wonder at their doing so. If it is not right that they should, surely railroads would never have been permitted, cutting up the beautiful country as they do, and sending their screaming engines along through the green fields and thriving plough-lands, where all before was peaceful and quiet.

Then if the farmers are changed, it is also all for the best without doubt. Changed they are, beyond all question. They are a different class of men from the old species of farmer who existed fifty years ago, and who seldom went further than his market town.

Our farmers, now-a-days, have all visited London again and again, and instead of the homely talk over a market dinner which used to take place in old days, they have got "Chambers of Agriculture," in which they evince a remarkable ability in discussing anything which Parliament proposes to do about agricultural matters, and talk nearly as wisely, I am told, as the members of the House of Commons itself!

Still, however, I stick to my text, and say that, being as it is, it must be all right.

Of course it is, and so also with regard to the labourers. When I was a boy they did not know half as much as they do now, but they worked well for all that.

I have lodged in two rooms in this farmhouse in which I write for twenty-seven years come next Michaelmas, and I have often heard farmer Barrett say that his best labourers were generally those who could neither read nor write.

Most of them can do both now, and people used to say that it was a sin and a shame that every labourer should not be able to read his Bible and write his name in it.

"All right," again say I, only unfortunately (as I sometimes venture to think) it is not their Bibles they read, so much as the penny papers, and these sometimes teach them different lessons from the Bible, I fancy. Then there is a lot of cheap--well, trash I was going to say, and I think I must, too--a lot of cheap trash which is sent about all over the country, or which they pick up here and there, and which teaches them lessons altogether mischievous.

Moreover, they have societies, which are curious sort of concerns, I am told, and through which they are taught actually to demand an increase of wages, and various other things which were never thought of in old times.

All these things have made the country districts of England very different places from what they used to be when I first knew them. That is now a long time ago, but I know a great deal that happened before I knew anything from my own eyesight and observation--I mean before I was born.

I am an old man now, and having enough money to live upon and be comfortable, I have all my lifetime indulged my inclination for living in the country.

I used to make it my principal endeavour to avoid railways. I hired lodgings in rustic villages, and lived quietly therein, studying the ways and habits of the people, and picking up old legends, which was always my chief delight. But wherever I went, a railroad was sure to be immediately afterwards projected through that particular district.

The steam fiend seemed to have marked me out as an involuntary pioneer to herald his advance; and, move where I would, he and his myrmidons very shortly appeared in my wake.

This continued for five and twenty years--for I began my system of country-lodging when I was a tolerably young man--barely turned thirty. When I tell you, as I did just now, that I have been in my present abode for twenty-seven years, a little calculation will show you that I shall never again see my eighty-second birthday. You will therefore, I hope, excuse the garrulity of old age, and forgive me if I have somewhat wandered from the tale which in fact I have not yet begun, but which I have been leading up to all this time.

For you must know that the changes of which I have been speaking have had great effect upon other people besides gentry, farmers, and labourers. There are nothing like so many witches, wizards and curious creatures of that kind as there were, in country places, in the good old times.

I do not for one moment say that this is to be regretted. On the contrary, I say again, that being so, I have no doubt it is "all right."

But, right or wrong, it is undoubtedly true that the witches, warlocks and wise women have greatly diminished, if indeed they have not altogether vanished. I hope it will be understood that by "wise women" I do not allude to the ladies who give scientific lectures and talk about a variety of subjects upon which they evidently know much more than an old gentleman like I am could ever know, and, I must say, more than I should like to know about some things.

This is a different kind of wisdom altogether, and there are plenty of persons who possess it, or think they do, which serves their purpose quite as well. I mean "wise," in the sense of possessing an unusual and supernatural insight into things which are commonly hidden from mortal knowledge.

Of these people there are few, if any, left in the present day; or if there are such, they do not come to the front as they once did. There are, indeed, many persons in the world now, who actually disbelieve in witches and all creatures of that sort, and who not only disbelieve in their existence now, but who stoutly maintain that they never _did_ exist.

I don't know how they get over the Witch of Endor, or the various other allusions to witches in the Bible, but I suppose they _do_ somehow or other.

People are much too clever for me, nowadays, and get over any difficulty that comes in their way--or fancy that they do so, and trouble themselves no more about it. I have even heard people disbelieve in fairies, but that of course is sheer nonsense; and no one who wanders--as I have often done, at all seasons and at all hours--through the glorious English woodlands, can doubt the existence of the dear little elves.

Doubt their existence! I should as soon think of doubting my own! How do the fairy-rings come, I should like to know? Whence comes the name of "the Fairy Well"--not uncommon by any means? Oh, no! I do not believe that anybody disbelieves that fairies exist, though I know that there is a dreadful amount of unbelief in the world regarding warlocks and witches.

I am glad to say that good Farmer Barrett was never one of the unbelievers. He was near upon seventy when I first came to lodge under his roof, so that if he had lived till now he would have been ninety-seven. As he didn't, however, it is no use making the remark. He died some twelve years ago, when about eighty-five; cut off, as one may say, in the prime of life.

Ah, me! how our friends, young and old, fall around us, like grass. My godson, Jack Barrett, here remarks, with less of reverence than I could have wished, in speaking of his grandfather, that a man taken away at eighty-five would be better compared to hay than grass. Well, well, Jack is young; barely forty, and boys _must_ have their jokes, as we all know.

I was going to say that good Farmer Barrett's death affected me very much. He was a very great comfort to me, was Farmer Barrett. It was not only that we agreed upon most points, and thought alike in a manner most satisfactory to both of us. _That_ was a great comfort, living as we did under the same roof, and sitting together, either in his kitchen or my parlour, almost every evening, to enjoy a quiet gossip. But there were other comforts too, and the chief one--that which I may fairly consider the principal advantage which I reaped from the society of Farmer Barrett--was derived from his extraordinary knowledge of the legends and traditions of his native county concerning witches and wizards.

Many and many an evening have we sat talking upon such matters, till I have really felt quite nervous about going to bed. Not that I am a nervous man: not by any means; but I own that more than once, after discussing witches and their cats to a late hour, I have felt a curious sensation when the house cat came rubbing herself against my shins, and have looked with a species of creepy feeling over my left shoulder as I went upstairs to bed, almost thinking I should see something "uncanny" close behind me.

I never knew any man with such a collection of stories and legends as old Barrett. He had tales without end of the "Warlock of Coombe," the "Wizard of Bockhanger," and the "Witch of Brook Hollow." He could tell of the dark doings of the "Hag of Hothfield," and the fearful creature who so long inhabited the regions of Charing, and darkened the woods of Longbeach with her awesome shadow.

I do not believe that any witch or wizard ever existed in Kent whose story was not well known to Barrett. Of his own knowledge he could tell something. Once there happened a curious thing in his stables.

His two teams of horses, fed alike, housed equally well, and treated with precisely the same care, strangely varied in their appearance and condition. One team were always sleek and slim, "fat and well-liking," like Pharaoh's fat kine, and the admiration of all beholders. The other team were just the reverse. Nothing they took seemed to agree with them, they fell away, their bones started through their skins, and their appearance was a disgrace to the farm. This state of things greatly puzzled and annoyed the farmer and his men.

Barrett himself laid the blame upon the waggoner and his mate, and threatened to discharge both of them if things went on so, as he felt sure they petted one team of horses at the expense of the other. The men earnestly denied the charge, and were evidently much vexed at its having been made.

Things went on the same until at last the waggoner, who was a clever and withal a courageous man, determined to sit up all night and watch. He did so, being carefully hidden in the corner of the stable. The horses fed well, and lay down as usual. All was quiet until twelve o'clock struck. At that moment several little men, about a foot high, leaped down from the loft above the stables, and going to the favoured team, began to brush and comb them with great care and energy, rubbing them well all over and uttering no words to anybody as they did so, save to each other as they worked, as if to encourage themselves to greater exertions.

"I work--you work, I work--you work," they kept saying, and the coats of the horses rapidly became more smooth and glossy, until, when the little men had finished, they were perfect models of what horses should be.

They merely looked at the other team with funny faces, and then hastened up again to their loft. All this the waggoner duly told his master next morning, and, of course, with the natural incredulity of man, he at first refused to believe it.

But when, upon the man again and again assuring him of its truth, he determined to put the matter to the proof by hiding himself that same night, he saw precisely the same thing, and was of course convinced.

I forget how the story ended, but I know that, somehow or other, he managed to get some "wise" person in the neighbourhood to speak up for the poor, thin team, and prevent the little elves, or whatever they were, from "spiting" them any more.

Then the farmer had a tale which had been told him by a groom he had once in his service, who came from the hill above Charing. Up over the hill there was a reputed witch, Mrs. Dorland.

I questioned the groom about this woman myself, so I may as well give the story in his own words.

"She were a noted witch, she were," he said.

"How do you know?" I asked, not because I myself doubted for a moment, but because I wanted to glean all the particulars I possibly could.

"Bless ye, sir," replied the youth, "I knows all about it because o' my grandfather. She wouldn't never let him alone. I expect he'd affronted her, one time or other. I recollect when I was a-staying along with him once, and the door locked and all--he looked over the stairs and there, sure enough, was old Dame Dorland on the mat at the bottom, and her eyes! oh they _glounded_ in her head, they did!"

"But how did she get in?" I asked.

"That's just what I want to know," answered the boy. "The door was shut and fast locked; but there she was, anyhow. Another time my grandfather had to drive some bullocks down to Ashford market, and he overtook Dame Dorland. She had a basket on her arm, and she asked my grandfather to carry it for her. He wouldn't. I expect he didn't know what bad game might be up. Well, do you think he could keep his bullocks in the road, after that? Not he: they was over the hedge, first one side and then another, and then they was for running back. He couldn't do nothing with them, so he turns back and offers to carry the old girl's basket. Then the bullocks was all right directly, and he hadn't no trouble in getting them along all the way to Ashford."

Since Farmer Barrett had lived all his life in a county where such people as Dame Dorland were to be found, there can hardly be much surprise felt at his entire and implicit belief in witchcraft.

But the most wonderful tale that he ever told me was that which not only concerned the county, but the very district in which he dwelt. It is a story to which I listened with intense interest when first I heard it, and my interest was never lessened by its repetition.

Again and again I asked the old farmer to go over it once more, and I cross-examined him upon all the particulars of his tale in a manner which would really have offended some people of my acquaintance. He, however, was not only not offended, but pleased at the perseverance with which I questioned him.

He told me the story, in fact, so often, that I got to know it nearly by heart; and I think it is one which I ought to relate for the benefit of a world, in which, as far as I can see, belief of any kind, and certainly belief in witches and the like, will shortly be extinct.

The parish of Mersham has long been known as a favourite resort of queer people of the kind of whom I am speaking. It is a very long, narrow parish: much narrower, of course, at some parts than others.

Its north end runs into and beyond the park of Mersham Hatch--that is, the west side of the park, the east side being in the parishes of Brabourne and Smeeth. The south part of the parish joins Bilsington and Aldington, and on the south west you are very close upon the Ruckinge and Orlestone big woods--so close that I am not sure whether a portion of that vast tract of woodland does not actually lie within the boundaries of the parish of Mersham. Be that as it may, it is a wild part of the world, and just the very sort of place in which you would fancy witches and their confederates to abound. Whether you fancy it or not, however, beyond all doubt such was the case, in the good old times of which I speak.

No one ever dreamed of being out at night in those parts if he could possibly help it. The roads were wretchedly bad, full of deep ruts and big stones, with ditches inconveniently exposed on either side, and bushes jutting out from the adjoining woods in the most awkward manner for the traveller.

But it was not the badness of the roads which deterred people from moving about at night, or towards evening, but something much worse, namely the strange and terrible beings who frequented the locality.

All kinds of rumours were current with respect to witch meetings, and gatherings held by wicked creatures, upon which, if a mortal man of ordinary mould happened to come, he ran a terrible risk of some dreadful misfortune happening to him and his, shortly afterwards.

Cottages were few and far between: there was scarce a public house to be found in the neighbourhood, save one or two which had an evil reputation as the haunt of smugglers and outlawed men.

No gentleman's house was near, and Bilsington Priory had passed away with all its holy train of priests, and nothing was to be seen of their former glory, and no vestige of themselves either, unless it was true that a monk walked occasionally round the walls with ghostly tread, and moaned, deeply and sadly, as he compared the past with the present. In short, it was a wild, weird country, and wild, weird people dwelt there.

From Aldington Knoll, right away down to the other side of Ham-street, the thick woods contained a class of beings who, if they lived there nowadays, would be a horror to all Christian men, and an intolerable nuisance to the Kent County Constabulary. There were, however, honest men there, as everywhere else; and, although for the most part such people preferred to dwell nearer Mersham-street or immediately below the church, yet the scattered cottages further south were not altogether without inmates, who, having nowhere else to live, lived there.

John Gower was one of these, a respectable middle-aged man, who won his bread by the sweat of his brow, and was proud of the name of a Kentish labourer.

John had married early in life, lost his wife after the birth of their fourth child, and remained a widower ever since. Although he could neither read nor write, he was blessed with good common sense, and was able to give his children plain and sensible advice, which might serve them, he said, in as good stead as book-learning, if they would only lay it to heart and act upon it.

His eldest girl, Mary, was as good a girl as you would meet in a day's journey. She had her good looks (as most Mersham girls have), but she had that which is even better than good looks, an even temper and a good disposition. She was about seventeen when our story begins; her brother Jack, between fifteen and sixteen, was away at work "down in the sheers" (shires), as the neighbours called all other counties but their own; and two little ones, Jane, under fourteen, and Billy, just twelve, were at home, the former helping her sister as well as she could, and the latter doing such odd jobs as could be found for him, and doing no more mischief than a boy of his age could help.

The cottage in which they lived was very near the big woods--too near to be pleasant for anyone who feared witches or wizards--and it must be confessed that John Gower was not without his fears.

He had various horse-shoes nailed up about his premises to keep the evil creatures off, and he carefully barred his doors and windows every night, not knowing what might happen if any of them were left open. He could tell of strange cries heard in the woods at night, and if you suggested that they might proceed from owls, he shook his head sadly and gravely, as one who knew better, and grieved over your doubting spirit.

But in spite of his fears and precautions, and the strange locality in which he lived, Gower could not be called otherwise than a cheerful man. He worked all day, got home as soon as he could, was pleasant and happy with his children (of whom he was very fond), and was certainly of a contented disposition, and one who made the best of the world and took things as he found them.

Such was he and such was his family at the time that the occurrences took place which I am about to relate.

Some years before the date at which our story commences, there had lived at the extreme south of the parish of Mersham a woman of the name of Betty Bartlet. She was not only a reputed witch, but the fact of her being so was testified to by a great number of credible witnesses who had either suffered in their own persons from her evil power, or had seen and heard things which could not have been had she been an ordinary and Christian woman.

She lived to a very great age--nobody knew exactly how old she was when she died; and, although the rumours respecting her career caused the clergyman of the Parish to entertain serious doubts as to the course he should pursue, she was eventually carried to Mersham churchyard to be therein interred.

But if I am correctly informed--and I obtained my information from highly respectable people--there were strange and terrible doings at her funeral.

She was carried on a waggon, from the cottage in which she had breathed her last, as far as the bridge over the river Stour, which flows, as all the world knows, a few hundred yards south of the church. There, from some unknown cause, the horses would not cross the bridge; and it was told me that they seemed quite exhausted with the short journey--little over three miles--which they had performed.

So the people unharnessed them from the waggon, placed all that remained of old Betty on the shoulders of eight stout bearers, and marched forward towards the churchyard. But not only was their burden wondrously heavy, but it seemed to grow heavier as they went on, and they had the greatest difficulty in making their way up the short hill, and so round to the right towards the churchyard. And just before they got to the gate, why or wherefore nobody could tell, one of the bearers stumbled, and in doing so tripped up another, and down came the whole concern with a great crash upon the ground. Everything connected with their burden suddenly disappeared: a vast cloud of black dust arose and blew all over the place, and out of the dust flew a great black bird, with a strange and awful croak, with which it terribly frightened the bystanders and bearers, as it flew off directly in the contrary direction to the churchyard.

What happened immediately afterwards Farmer Barrett never heard, or, at least, he never told me, but nobody ever doubted that the old witch had flown off in the shape of the black, fearsome bird, being unable to enter the holy ground of the churchyard. Be this as it may, the ancient woman left behind her three daughters, who had all inherited their mother's wickedness, and were witches every one of them. Their actual names were Betty, Jane, and Sarah, but they were popularly known as Skinny, Bony, and Humpy, the two elder sisters being thin and gaunt, whilst the youngest was shorter, and had a species of hump between her shoulders.

Every one in Mersham, and, for the matter of that, in the adjoining parishes also, knew these three sisters by sight, and avoided them as much as possible. No conceivable misfortune ever happened in that neighbourhood that was not attributed to their influence, and all that went wrong was immediately laid at their door.

The sisters were well aware of the awe with which the neighbours regarded them, and took good care that it should not diminish, never losing an opportunity of frightening those simple people with whom they came in contact. They lived in a long, low cottage--scarcely worthy of the name of cottage--so miserable was it both as regards the outside building and the inside accommodation. The roof was of thatch, and the dwelling itself was at one end built of Kentish rag-stone, but badly constructed, and all the rest of it was composed entirely of wood, and apparently afforded but poor shelter against wind and rain.

The women lived mostly at the stone-built end of their house, for there was their kitchen, such as it was; but very little was known of the interior of this place, inasmuch as nobody came near it who could possibly go another way. It was situate, however, barely half a mile from John Gower's cottage, a fact which caused him and his no little annoyance, inasmuch as the three Crones of Mersham, as they were usually called, were not the best of neighbours, and never very particular as far as other people's property was concerned.

Now John Gower had a great number of relations; in fact there was and is an old proverb in his native parish, to the effect that "if you know the Gowers, you know all Mersham;" and certainly the knowledge would to this day make you acquainted with a large quantity of people.

They were none of them rich relations, certainly, unless you might have applied that adjective to the wife of a certain Farmer Long who lived a few miles off, and whose husband might certainly be said to be thriving.

Sally Long was a stout, comfortable-looking dame, who could not fairly have found fault if you had called her fat, but who, unlike most fat people, was not gifted with the best of tempers. If all reports were true, she led her husband rather a life of it, and scolded pretty equally all her household. She had no children, and her husband's son by a former wife being a trifle weak in the head, and for that reason generally known by the name of "Simple Steenie," there was no one to dispute her authority in house, yard or farm.

These worthy people lived in the parish of Aldington, and although John Gower was no looker after dead men's shoes, and a man who would have scorned to bow down before any one for the sake of their wealth, he thought it was but right and fair towards his children to encourage them to maintain friendly relations with his distant cousin, Dame Long.

She had noticed the children more than once, when they were quite little things; and when a woman of a certain age, with no children of her own, notices the children of other people, who happen to be her own relations, there is no telling what may come of it. So the boys had orders to take their caps off and the girls to drop a respectful curtsey whenever they passed Mrs. Long, and any little act of civility which they could possibly perform was never forgotten.

Now it happened that someone, many years ago, had given to the Gower family a very particular cat. When I use the word "particular," I do not mean to imply a very strict or fastidious cat, but one that was particular in the sense of being different from the general run of cats, which was certainly true of this individual cat.

She was jet black, which you will say is not at all uncommon; but Farmer Barrett always maintained that no cats that he ever heard of were _so_ jet and so glossy as the Gower cats. She was a magnificent animal: her whiskers unusually long, her tail splendidly bushy, her body beautifully and symmetrically made, and her head, in size, shape, and the intelligence which was displayed upon her face, little short of perfection.

This cat lived until a great age, and nobody exactly knew when or where it died. To tell the truth there was always a legend in the Gower family that it never _did_ die, at least not in their cottage, but that it disappeared on the very day of old Betty Bartlet's death.

I do not know--for Farmer Barrett could not tell me, though I asked him more than once--how they connected the two events, but nevertheless they had this legend, if so I may call it.

But whatever happened to this cat, of one thing there is certainly no doubt, namely, that during her lifetime she several times went through the ceremony of kittening, and that her race seemed by no means likely to be extinct. Her kittens were always black, always very glossy and always remarkably clever and intelligent, and people were always glad to get a kitten of the Gower breed.

So when, upon a fine summer's morning, one of the descendants of the famous animal of which I have spoken was found by John Gower with a little family of four kittens around her, he and his children were not displeased at the addition to their household. And when, after a few days, one of these kittens appeared to be developing into an animal more comely and more sprightly than the rest, the worthy man thought it would be a proper and becoming compliment upon his part if he made a present of it to good Mrs. Long.

So he told Mary that she should take it up in a little basket the very next day, give his "duty" to "old aunt Sally" (for so they called her in the cottage when they spoke of her among themselves, though it was always "Mrs. Long" when they spoke _to_ her) and ask her acceptance of the gift. Mary made her preparations accordingly. She could not go up to the farm in the morning, for she had the rooms to "do," the house to sweep, father's dinner to get ready and carry to him, and a number of little jobs to get done which it was necessary to finish before she could feel herself at liberty to go out.

At last, however, every duty seemed to have been discharged, as is always the case, at some time or other, if people will only set themselves at work to do resolutely that which they have before them to do, instead of sitting down with folded hands and sighing over the prospect of it.

It must have been between three and four o'clock in the afternoon when Mary found that she could get away with a clear conscience. Then she put on her little straw hat, donned her grey cloak, put the kitten in a little basket with a little hay for it to lie on, and called her brother Billy to come with her, wisely thinking this the most likely way to keep him out of mischief.

It was a truly glorious afternoon, such as an English summer's afternoon often is.

"Talk to me about foreign countries," as Farmer Barrett often used to say, snapping his fingers audibly, "_that_ for your furrineerers; there an't no land like old England, to my mind;" and, being myself old and prejudiced, I confess that I am very much of the good old farmer's opinion.

It is very charming, no doubt, to roam through foreign lands, and there is doubtless much to admire. When I shut my eyes and muse over beautiful views that I have seen, many such come back to me with pleasing memories.

I see the sparkling Rhine with castle-crowned heights, and scenery world-worshipped for its varied beauty; I gaze with a delight tempered with awe upon the mighty snow-clad mountains of life-breathing Switzerland; I sit upon the shores of the sea of seas, the Mediterranean, and I cast my eyes upon its waters of eternal blue; and, most wonderful sight of all, I stand upon the plateau opposite the Cascatelle at Tivoli, and, with the waterfall and town on one side, Adrian's Villa nestling below on the left, and the hills behind, look out over the vast Campagna with its ever-changing lights, see Rome--grand, glorious Rome--in the far distance, and feel carried out of myself and away from all ideas of mere earth and earthly things as I lose all individuality of being in the absorbing contemplation of a beauty so divinely sublime.

And then--as the magic power of thought enables me to move faster than railroads, steamers, or electric telegraphs--I suddenly transport myself to a quiet, homely, English scene upon a summer's afternoon; and I think to myself that neither the Rhine, Switzerland, nor Italy can produce anything more pleasing to the eye, more soothing to the senses, or more entirely enjoyable to any person capable of enjoyment, and not given to despise the beauties of scenery merely because they can be seen at home without hurrying off to foreign lands.

[Illustration: MARY AND BILLY MEET THE CRONES.--P. 305]

Such a summer's afternoon fell on this particular day of which we are now speaking. There was hardly a breath of air, but the woods having got their shady green dress on, kept off the heat of the sun from the traveller on the road which intersected them. It was very warm, though, and very still; and you might hear the voices of the woodland birds, singing in notes which seemed somewhat subdued, as if the heat forbade the songsters to exert themselves to their full strength.

But, warm as it was, there was a very pleasant feeling in the air. Nature seemed to be basking in the sun and thoroughly enjoying herself--the rabbits hopped across the road as quietly as if there were no such things as weasels in the world, and keepers had never existed: the old jay flitted heavily from tree to tree, her hard note softened down to a low guttural sound--all insect life was on the move, and every living being seemed to delight in the genial weather.

Of course, under these circumstances, Mary and Billy Gower did not walk very fast. On the contrary, they rather dawdled, for Billy saw now and then a butterfly, now and then a birds' nest, and was constantly tempted to leave the road and dive into the woods on either side, whilst his sister did not like to hurry on and leave him, and saw no reason for particular haste.

They passed along for some way without adventure, until Aldington Knoll came in sight, although they were still in the shady lanes of their own parish. Then, on turning a corner, they came suddenly upon two figures approaching them from the opposite direction, that is to say, as if they had come from Aldington Knoll. The children needed no second glance to tell them that they were in the presence of two of the Mersham crone. "Lanky" and "Skinny" were the lovely pair whom they had the good fortune thus to meet, and the children felt by no means comfortable when they saw them. Mary, indeed, being now seventeen, and hardly to be deemed a child any longer, felt no babyish fear at the sight of the old women. She was, as I have said, a good sort of girl, and one who tried to do her duty; and she had a feeling within her (as such people generally have) that as long as she did so, no great harm would be allowed to happen to her.

But, as for little Billy, who had occasionally been threatened, when naughty, that he should be given to the crones, he could by no means be restrained from great manifestations of fear. He trembled greatly as soon as he saw the two, clutched hold of his sister's gown, and begged her to turn back and run away, as they were still forty or fifty yards from the old women. This, however, would have been contrary to Mary's sense of right.

She had been sent by her father to perform a certain duty, and that duty, come what would, she meant to discharge, unless prevented by superior force. So she trudged on steadily along the road, and her brother accompanied her, probably because he thought it the least of two evils, and was too much terrified to run away. As they neared the two crones, they could not but feel that there was nothing either prepossessing or agreeable in the appearance of the latter.

Their clothes were untidy and ill-fitting: each had a kind of hood half drawn over her head; but not sufficiently so as to conceal her decidedly ugly features, whilst a certain wild, haggard look, which sat upon their faces, was anything but calculated to put the traveller at his ease. They walked, or rather crawled, along one side of the road, and close behind them followed a gaunt cat, which, if formerly black, was now gray with age, and which wore upon its face the same haggard look which was so plainly discernible upon those of the hags themselves.

Mary and Billy walked quietly on, and were just passing these strange beings, and really beginning to hope they might be allowed to do so without interruption, when they were suddenly pulled up by the harsh voice of the crone nearest to them, who called out "Stop!" in a voice harsher than the croak of a raven, but with such a tone of authority that no thought of disobeying her entered the head of either of those she addressed even for a single moment.

"Stop, young people!" she said a second time; "whither away so fast this afternoon?"

Mary civilly replied, "We are going up to Farmer Long's, ma'am; father sent us."

"Ah!" replied the crone; "going up to Farmer Long's for father, are ye, my chickens? Fine times, forsooth, when John Gower's children go visiting instead of minding their business at home. But pray, what have you got in that basket, my pretty Minnikin?"

"Only a kitten, ma'am, that father is going to give to Aunt Sal--I mean to Mrs. Long," replied the girl.

"_Only_ a kitten!" cried the other crone, who had not yet spoken; "_only_ a kitten, indeed! and how does John Gower the labourer have kittens to give away, I should like to know? Our poor old Grimalkin here has lost a kitten lately--I wonder whether this can be the same, strayed over to John Gower's house. If he _had_ a kitten to give away, he might have thought of his poor neighbours, methinks, instead of the rich farmer's wife!"

When Mary heard these words she begin to tremble for the safety of her kitten, for as I have already remarked, the Crones of Mersham were not famous for distinguishing clearly between other people's property and their own.

So she made reply very quickly in these words: "Please, ma'am, this kitten can't be your cat's, because we've known it ever since it was born, and its mother too, and it has never been out of our charge yet."

"No matter, no matter," said the crone in a testy voice; "let me see it, and I shall soon know all about it."

Mary did not dare refuse, nor would it have been of much use if she had done so.

The crone stretched out her long, skinny hand, and lifting the basket-lid, saw the little black kitten; which, immediately that it saw her, crouched down in the corner of the basket and uttered a low moaning sound.

"Poor little thing!" said the old hag. "Poor little thing! I can hardly see it so. Look, sister Jane!" and the other crone came and peered also into the basket, whilst the kitten continued to crouch and moan.

"The very image of our grimalkin, I do declare!" cried the second crone after a moment. "It _must_ be hers--there can be no doubt at all about it."

So saying, she put her hand down and stroked the back of the kitten, as if about to take it out of the basket.

As soon as she touched it, however, the little animal, young as it was, appeared to go into a paroxysm of fear and fury; it growled and spit, made as if it would spring out of the basket, and suddenly inflicted a severe scratch on the hand which was about to seize it.

The old woman's face immediately became distorted with rage, and as she hastily withdrew her hand, she fixed her eyes steadily upon the kitten, muttering at the same time some words which the children could not understand, but which sounded in their ears like anything but a prayer. Neither of the crones, however, tried further to interfere with the kitten, but begged of the children to give them money, saying that they were nearly starving.

Billy of course had nothing, and Mary only a penny, but she thought it best to give that for fear of being bewitched if she refused; so, sorrowfully enough, the poor child drew out her only coin and placed it in the hand of one of the hags, who grinned frightfully by way of thanks, and allowed the children to proceed on their way--although before they did so they could not help noticing the strange conduct of grimalkin, who threw herself on the side of the road, turned over and over, grinned like a Cheshire cat, and appeared to be convulsed with laughter at all that had occurred.

Mary and Billy, however, glad to have got away from the old women, hurried forward towards Farmer Long's dwelling.

But now the conduct of the kitten became inexplicable. Up to the time of their meeting the crones, it had behaved like a decent little animal of tender years, nestling quietly in its basket, and giving no trouble to anybody.

It now took quite a different course. It moaned and whined as if it wanted to get out--it pushed against the basket, first on one side and then on the other, as if trying to force its way through, and behaved in all respects as if it was a mad kitten,--although, as I never saw a mad kitten, I am not sure how they _do_ behave exactly--but this was Farmer Barrett's expression, and a man of his years and experience was not likely to be wrong.

But more than this, although the kitten was young and small, and had therefore been very light and easy to carry, scarcely had the children passed the crones than its weight seemed to increase vastly, and it became four times as heavy as before, until poor Mary's arm quite ached with carrying it.

Billy, seeing her trouble, advised her to turn it out into the woods; but Mary would not do this, being determined to obey her father's orders, so she trudged steadily on until they came to the farm to which they had been sent.

There they asked if Mrs. Long was at home, and were presently ushered into the presence of that good lady, to whom they told the object of their visit. She received them very graciously, and expressed herself much pleased with John Gower's attention in sending her the kitten, saying that she had always desired to have one of that breed.

They opened the basket, and she was going to take the creature out, when it looked her straight in the face, and she drew back her hand at once.

"Lawkes! child!" she said to Mary; "how the thing's eyes do shine! Like live coals of fire, I do declare. I never seen such eyes in all my born days, that I never did!"

As she spoke, the kitten saved her the trouble of removing it from the basket by jumping out of its own accord on to the table, where it sat glowering at the party, and making a low noise between a purr and a growl, until Mrs. Long brought it some milk, with which it proceeded to regale itself, and the children, having had a slice of cake each, and been duly charged with the good lady's thanks to their father, took their departure, and reached the cottage without further adventure.

Now I verily believe that the doings of that kitten at Farmer Long's farm were of such a wonderful and unheard of character that a whole book, and a very amusing book, too, might be written about them. But people did not write many books in those days, and Farmer Barrett could not recollect many particulars about this part of his story. At all events, there can be no doubt (to use his own expression) that the animal's "tantrums" were extraordinary; the cream was constantly devoured, and the best cream-jug broken on one occasion, in order to get at it; the milk was for ever being upset; the marks of dirty paws were daily to be seen on clean table cloths, or on the counterpanes of beds just made, and, in short, just wherever they ought not to be.

Mrs. Long's best cap, having mysteriously disappeared one afternoon, was seen in the kitten's clutches upon the hearthrug, a perfect wreck of a cap, and useless for ever afterwards. Then the perverse little animal appeared to entertain a strong and marked partiality for young ducks and chickens, which she ruthlessly murdered whenever she could lay her paws upon them, neglecting to touch any of the rats upon which her energies might have been much more beneficially employed.

Day by day depredations were committed, all of which were attributed to the kitten, and most of which were probably perpetrated by her. From the moment of her arrival at the farm, nothing seemed to prosper with the Longs.

Everything turned out just the reverse way to that which they had hoped, and it really seemed as if some evil spell had been cast upon them. Looking calmly back upon the whole history, I have no doubt at all but that the crones had bewitched the kitten when they met the children on that memorable afternoon, and that to this must be attributed all that afterwards occurred.

However this may be, it was certainly an unlucky day for the Longs when that kitten came upon their premises, and that they very soon found out.

Still, people do not always put the saddle upon the right horse immediately, and they did not at first believe that the animal had anything to do with their ill-luck. Mrs. Long, however, who had an eye to business, could not stand the constant inroad upon her ducks and chickens, to say nothing of the cream-jug, and the loss of her cap very nearly brought matters to a climax.

She might perhaps, however, have borne it a little longer, had not an event occurred which was really beyond anybody's bearing. One morning, when the worthy couple were at breakfast, the kitten calmly jumped on to the table, seized a piece of bacon which the farmer was about to place upon his own plate, and deliberately carried it off.

After this it was quite evident that she must be got rid of. No man can stand being robbed of his breakfast in such a barefaced manner, and the good farmer spoke up pretty strongly on the subject. As the breed was supposed to be a particularly good one, he did not order the animal to be killed, nor indeed would he have ventured to do so unless his wife had especially wished it, but he expressed himself in forcible terms as to the desirability of its quitting his premises with as little delay as possible.

Mrs. Long had by this time become so entirely of the same opinion, that she resolved to take immediate steps to carry out the joint views of her husband and herself. She accordingly directed that the cart should be got ready the same afternoon, and that Tom the Bailiff should drive her down to Mersham, where she determined to restore the kitten to the Gowers with her own hands.

Accordingly, at the appointed time the cart was brought round, old Dapple, the steady pony, was in it, and Tom prepared to drive. Mrs. Long got in, and the kitten, who had shown an unwonted and marvellous docility in submitting to be placed once more in a basket, was safely deposited in her lap.

Off they went, out of the farmyard into the lane, and taking a turn which brought them near to Aldington Knoll, descended towards the woods through which runs the road from Mersham and Aldington to the canal, and so away across Romney Marsh to Dymchurch.

You must understand that Tom and his mistress were heading away from the canal, only they had come into that road in order to reach the lower part of Mersham, in which was situate John Gower's cottage. So when they came past Aldington Knoll, and descended the hill, the marsh road led back to the left, nearly parallel with that from which they came, whilst they pushed straight forward along the road through the woods.

As soon as they got well into the wood, or rather, into the road on each side of which the wood was wide and thick, old Dapple began to show visible signs of uneasiness. He swerved first on one side of the road, and then on the other, abandoning all the good, quiet habits of a respectable middle-aged pony, and behaving much more like a giddy young colt who had never been broken to harness.

Tom the Bailiff who was a simple country lout, did not know what to make of it, and was both confused and frightened when his mistress began to tell him that it was only his bad driving. But this was evidently not the case. Dapple wanted very little driving at all, and the best "whip" in the world could not have kept him straight when he was in the mood which seemed now to have possessed him. Another cause also disquieted good Mrs. Long.

The kitten began to fidget in her basket in a most unaccountable way, and to give vent to various discordant sounds, whilst the weight upon the good lady's knees, as the basket had been on Mary's arm, was really unpleasantly heavy.

They managed to get through the wood somehow or other, until they were well out of the parish of Aldington and had entered that of Mersham. Here all their troubles increased--the kitten's struggles were more violent than before, and Dapple became perfectly unmanageable, until all at once they perceived a large black cat upon one side of the road, which suddenly darted in front of the cart, and so startled the pony that he shied quite across the road, brought the wheel of the cart over the side of the ditch, and in another moment it was overset and its occupants were tumbled into the brambles and bushes with which the ditch was choked.

Had it been winter, or had there been much rain lately, poor Mrs. Long would probably have been drowned, or at best would only have escaped with a severe ducking. As it was, the principal risk of life or limb she ran was from the kicking of the pony and as Dapple was too fat to indulge in any great manifestations of this kind, she was tolerably safe from personal injury.

But a stout woman overturned into a ditch full of brambles, is, after all, a pitiable object, and is not likely to be improved either in temper or in appearance by the event. So as soon as the good lady could scramble up into a sitting position she began to abuse everybody and everything to the best of her ability, which was not inconsiderable when applied to such an attempt. She told Tom he should certainly "get the sack" as soon as they got home; she declared Dapple was old and worn out, and only fit to draw the dung-cart in future, and she abused the kitten in no measured terms.

But where was the kitten? In the tumble and scrimmage, the lid of the basket had come off, and the animal had disappeared. Disappeared, however, only for a moment, for Tom the bailiff suddenly exclaimed in a terrified voice,--

"Look'ee, missis, do look'ee now--there be our kitten sure-ly!" and casting up her eyes, Mrs. Long beheld--or at least so she always declared to her dying day--the kitten, seated upon the back of the large black cat which had been the cause of their disaster, and which was now careering full tilt down the road with this rider upon it.

The old lady, being brave as she was stout (which is saying a great deal) felt nothing but rage when she saw what had happened, not only at the impudence of the cat, but because this occurrence threw a light upon the past, and at once opened her eyes to the truth, and disclosed the reason of the kitten's abominable behaviour at the farm.

After a moment's pause she broke out in great wrath:

"It's them crones!" she cried in loud and excited tones. "It's them crones, or some like 'em! That kitten's been bewitched--that's what come to it, Tom, you may depend upon't. Drat them witches!" Scarcely were the words out of her mouth when she shrieked loudly--"Ah-a-ah!"

"What's the matter, missis?" said Tom.

"Why," replied she, "something scratched me;" and pointing to her arm, the sleeve around which had been pushed up high in her struggles to sit upright, there indeed was a long, red scratch as if inflicted by the nail of a hand or the claw of an angry cat.

To be sure, a lady who is seated in the middle of a bed of brambles cannot be expected to escape unscratched, and no supernatural agency need be invoked in order to produce such a misfortune. Still Mrs. Long always declared that this was no bramble scratch, and coming as it did at the very moment when she was speaking strongly against the witches, there could be very little doubt as to the source from which the injury really came. However, witches or no witches, it was impossible to sit all the livelong afternoon in a ditch full of brambles, so with much difficulty and many struggles, Mrs. Long contrived to get up, and Tom the Bailiff having looked to Dapple, found there was no very serious damage done either to him or to the cart. So they righted the latter, and having got into it, proceeded on their journey.

True it was that there was now no kitten to take back to the Gowers, but the farmer's wife was determined to let them know the extraordinary manner in which the animal had conducted itself, and had a great dislike to turning back without reaching the place for which she had started. So she directed Tom to drive on along the cross road which leads from the Aldington woods to Bilsington, and comes out into the main road from Mersham to Romney Marsh. At that point, if you turn to the left you can go to the Marsh, or to Ruckinge and Orlestone by a road which lies a little further south, and if you turn to the right, you pass through the end of the great range of woods which occupy so much of that district, and presently come from Bilsington into Mersham.

Of course it was to the right that Mrs. Long turned, having made a kind of half-circle round Bilsington Priory, which was thus at her right hand all the time.

It is necessary to be thus particular, in order that no innocent parish may be wrongfully suspected of having harboured the strange and wicked creatures whose power was almost entirely confined to parts of Mersham, Bilsington and Aldington, and some parishes further west on the borders of the Marsh. A good name is a great possession, and the adjacent parishes of Sevington, Hinxhill, Smeeth and Sellinge have always been so free from the worst class of witches that, in writing of this neighbourhood, one wishes to be precise.

After they had turned to the right, as I say, a short mile brought our travellers to John Gower's cottage; but before they reached it, they had to pass within a hundred yards or so of the abode of the crones, to which a very little-frequented by-road led, branching off from the road on which they were driving. It showed courage in Mrs. Long to take this route, especially after what had happened, but she was naturally a bold woman, and perhaps she thought that the witches had probably done all that they cared to do in having overturned her cart once, and stolen her kitten.

Be this as it may, she reckoned without her host, for Dapple, who had been quiet enough since the accident, began to grow restive again as they neared the part of the road which I have mentioned, and, when within fifty yards of it, suddenly stopped and refused to move an inch.

Tom the Bailiff laid the whip over the pony's back with a will, but the only effect was to make him rear and back, so that they were in imminent danger of a disaster similar to the first. Then, to make matters worse, there arose a cloud of fog before them, which was so thick they could see nothing, and had a disagreeable smell of smoke about it. Whence or wherefore it came they could not tell, for the sun was still high in the heavens and the sky above their heads clear and blue.

It was evident that something evil was at hand and at work, and neither Mrs. Long nor her servant knew what to make of it.

Presently the good lady called out angrily, "How dare you pinch my arm, Tom?" and gave a short, sharp scream as she said so.

"Oh, don't, please don't, missis!" cried the man at the same moment, as a hand hit him a cruel box on the ear.

It need scarcely be said that neither of the occupants of the cart had touched the other; but the matter did not end there. Pinches, pushes, scratches, thumps, hair-pulling, and kicking began to a most extraordinary extent.

No one could be seen, but invisible hands assailed both Mrs. Long and Tom so fiercely and so vigorously, that they both shouted aloud with pain and terror, whilst, as if in answer to their cries, hoarse chuckles and deep bursts of laughter rang in their astonished ears, although no human being of any description was to be seen.

Never was there a more unpleasant experience than that which the worthy pair underwent, and how it would have ended I really cannot say, but for an unlooked-for and fortunate event.

All of a sudden the pinching and beating ceased, the laughter came to an end, and the fog or cloud disappeared, as it had come, by magic, as a cheery voice shouted out, close at hand,--

"Halloo! who is this making such a noise in the road. My good people, it is too bad that you should let drink get the better of you in this way!"

Glancing indignantly round, they beheld no less a person than the worthy rector of Mersham himself, riding upon a stout gray cob, and evidently coming home from some expedition to the further extremity of his parish.

Mrs. Long knew not what reply to make, but as soon as she recovered herself sufficiently, she answered the appeal.

"I am sure, sir, there is no call to say a word about drink, to which some folk lays everything that happens, be it what it will. But if you'd keep your parish clear of these here witches, you'd find things go a good deal better!"

The clergyman gravely shook his head.

"You must know, my good woman," he replied, "that there are no such beings as witches, and you ought not to wrong elderly and respectable females by using such terms. There is nobody here, and nothing to hinder your journey. I am quite ashamed to see you stopping your cart in the middle of the road and quarrelling as has evidently been the case. Take my advice, and get home as fast as you can." So saying, the good man passed the cart and began to trot gently on.

Dapple, as if his difficulties were suddenly over, and his objections to advance removed, immediately started after the rector's cob, and thus they passed the dreaded by-road without further trouble. But to her dying day, Mrs. Long always declared that she was sure they never would have got past if the rector hadn't come along just when he did. This shows the great and proper respect for the clergy which then existed, and is, moreover, a proof that Mrs. Long was a decent and respectable woman, whose word may be taken as establishing beyond doubt the truth of the events which I have undertaken to relate. But it lay heavy on her soul, for many a long day, that the reverend man should have thought she had been drinking, and made her more than ever angry with the crones whose wicked dealings had caused such an imputation to rest upon her.

The rector had trotted briskly on, and was before long out of sight, but the cart was soon close to John Gower's cottage, between which and the road was a bit of waste land; it might be as much as two or three perches in size, for in those days every strip of land was not enclosed as it is now-a-days, but there were plenty of green patches by the side of the roads, and in many places you could ride on grass for miles together.

It is very different now, and although it may be said on the one hand that we travel faster, witches are not heard of, and England is richer than in those days; yet I often say to Jack Barrett that I think there were a good many pleasant things in the old times, especially in country life, which we do not get now, and for my part I should not mind having them back again, even with a few witches here and there with them, provided we could get rid of some of the strange new-fangled ideas and curious goings on which we have got instead, and which are much worse for all of us, than a witch or two or even a stray wizard. Well, Mrs. Long told Tom the Bailiff to drive upon this bit of waste as near to the garden gate of John Gower's cottage as he could manage to get, and then down she scrambled and went into the house. John had not yet come home from his work, though he was expected every moment; but Mary received her guest with much civility, for she was a good-mannered girl, and knew how to behave to her betters.

So she did the honours of the house, whilst her sister and Billy sat still and listened. Mrs. Long was, as you may suppose, not exactly in the best of humours, nor was her dress in precisely that condition in which ladies like their dresses to be when they go out visiting. You cannot be overturned into a ditch, scratched, pinched, hustled, and pushed, without some little disarrangement of your attire, and Mrs. Long's dress consequently required a good deal of "putting tidy," in which Mary Gower assisted her to the best of her ability. Whilst doing so, she listened to the account of all that had occurred since the day upon which she and Billy had left the kitten at the farm, and, upon being questioned by Mrs. Long as to the possible cause of its behaviour, she told her of their having met the two crones as I have described.

The farmer's wife then said that, had she known the circumstances, she would have had nothing to do with the kitten; but that she did not blame Mary for not having told her, as of course she had not suspected that there was anything wrong with the animal. As she spoke, in came John Gower from his work, and to him the whole story was soon told.

John expressed his great regret at what had happened, and went so far as to offer the farmer's wife another kitten, but, under the circumstances, she deemed it better to decline the offer; and, presently afterwards departed, taking good care to avoid the road by which she had come, and turning up instead by the road, at the corner of which the "Good Intent" public-house now stands; by which means she kept to the north of the big woods, and got safely home. Her adventure, however, made no little talk in the neighbourhood, and people shook their heads, gravely and wisely, whenever the matter was mentioned. Mrs. Long herself was so angry at the disrespectful manner in which she had been treated, and the unjust suspicion that had been raised in the clergyman's breast, that she could by no means be satisfied to rest quiet.

Before taking any steps, however, to get matters set right, she determined to make an expedition to Brabourne, where lived a wise woman named Goody Flaskett, from whom she obtained sundry charms against witchcraft, with which she decorated herself, in order that she might be able to speak and act against witches with impunity. Thus armed, she never lost an opportunity of doing both the one and the other; and I suppose the charms must have had a certain power, because Farmer Barrett declared that the good woman, when she had them on, never felt any of those strange scratches from invisible hands which she had experienced when speaking against witches on the occasion already mentioned.

Still, say and do what she would, the power of the Mersham crones did not seem to be diminished. They seldom appeared all three together, but might be said, generally, to "hunt in couples," although sometimes they were met singly, but hardly ever without a great black cat.

The kitten was never again seen by its former owners, but in all probability had been taken by the crones to form one of the guardian cats by which they were thus attended.

Petty thefts abounded in the neighbourhood, and no one suffered from them more than Farmer Long, although his farm was at a considerable distance from the cottage of the crones.

At last things got so bad that the farmer really thought he could stand it no longer. So one day, after the disappearance of a fine lamb from one of his fields, when the crone Humpy had shortly before been seen in the immediate proximity of the flock, and one man went so far as to say he had seen her driving a lamb before her in the road, the farmer boldly applied to the nearest justice of the peace for a warrant to search the cottage.

There was some little difficulty in the matter, owing to the circumstance that old Finn, the Mersham constable, positively declined for some time to go near the place, but upon being encouraged by the parish constable of Smeeth, bold Joe Worrell, who offered to go with him, they proceeded to perform their duty, accompanied by the farmer.

Mrs. Long had gone to Dymchurch that day for a breath of sea air, so that he knew she would not be uneasy about him, and deemed it but right to back up the officers of justice, whom he met by appointment at the foot of Collier's Hill in Mersham, and they advanced together. But the road appeared to be endless, for although it could not be much more than two miles, if so much, to the cottage, it seemed as if they would never get there.

Then, although the weather had been fine, there came on a hailstorm which nearly blinded them, and, notwithstanding that Finn had been born in the parish and the others knew it well, they actually lost their way, and found themselves close to Kingsnorth Church, which everybody knows to be in quite an opposite direction. They hastily retraced their steps, but then it suddenly became dark. Finn and the farmer both had their hats plucked off their heads by invisible hands, and although Worrell was untouched (it being well-known that no witch dare lay hands on a Smeeth man) yet he felt far from comfortable. Determined, however, to do their duty, the men made another attempt, and going round towards Aldington, were about to try and approach that side, when, all darkness having cleared away, they saw at a distance a light in the sky which betokened a fire, and from the direction, it appeared to be burning somewhere very near to Farmer Long's house. This put out of his head altogether the business upon which he was out, and he immediately retraced his steps as fast as possible, accompanied by the constables. When he got near home the flames seemed to have died away, but a heavy smoke hung over the place, and as he approached still nearer a sad sight indeed met his eyes. His stables were utterly burned to the ground, and three valuable horses destroyed, despite every effort to save them. Farmer Long rushed hastily to the spot, but all he found was his poor half-witted son sitting calmly on the grass contemplating the smouldering embers with a vacant expression of countenance.

"What has happened, Stephen lad? Where's Tom? How did all this begin? Who has done it?" were the eager questions of the excited man; but to all of them the youth replied with the stolid indifference of idiocy, "Steenie not know."

Subsequent inquiries proved that two (as usual) of the crones had been seen in the vicinity of the farm that day. As a public road ran very near, this may perhaps be deemed by some to have been slight and inconclusive evidence of their guilt; but it was universally accepted at the time as beyond all doubt connecting them with the affair.

Some few there were who insinuated that the idiot boy had set the stables on fire for amusement, unconscious of the mischief he was doing; but these of course were some of those foolish and obstinate people who always like to differ from the rest of the world, and put forward their own views against those of everybody else. Of course it was the Mersham crones who had done the thing, else why should it have occurred at the very time when Farmer Long was engaged on an expedition, the object of which was to search their cottage? At all events, so entirely convinced upon the subject was the whole neighbourhood, that it was resolved that the matter could not rest there, but must be taken up seriously.

The question was, how to do it? Inquiry before the magistrates appeared useless, for if two constables, and one of them a Smeeth man, too, could not even approach the crones' dwelling, of what avail was it to invoke the authority of the law? The church might be tried, but the rector of Mersham was known to have steadily set his face against any belief in witches, and it was more than probable that no other clergyman would like to interfere in his parish without his knowledge and consent.

Long consultations were held, and wise heads laid together about the business, and at last it was determined to rouse the honest people of the neighbourhood round, most of whom had suffered more or less from the pilfering habits of the crones, and, covered with as many charms and magic tokens as they could obtain from old Goody Flaskett and one or two other wise women who lived near the place, to advance in great numbers against the enemy, in order to try what ducking in a horsepond would do for them. So on one fine afternoon, a great concourse of people, meeting in several parties, bore down from different quarters upon the cottage of the crones.

It was a mellow day in autumn, and hopping was just over at the time when this proceeding took place. John Gower had come home that day to dinner, and a memorable day it was in his family. Mary, Jane, and Billy were all at home and they had just sat down to their homely meal when a low, hurried knocking was heard at the door. At this very moment it so happened that the horse-shoe which was usually nailed over that door had fallen down, owing to one of the nails which supported it having given way, and consequently it lay on the grass near the door instead of hanging in its usual place. Farmer Barrett was always particular in mentioning this circumstance, else, he said, people might think that a horseshoe is not a real protection against witches, whereas it is the best and surest safeguard, only it must be nailed up against a wall or over a door. John bade his son open the door, and as soon as he had done so, they perceived a good-looking young woman leading two others, apparently older than herself, but perfectly blind, whilst on her arm each carried a basket. They were quite strangers to John and his family, and appeared to have walked some way.

"Might we ask to rest awhile in your cottage, good friend?" asked the young woman. "I and my two blind sisters have walked all the way from Ashford to-day, and are bound to Romney."

"Sartainly, ma'am," said John in reply. "But surely this be a long walk for such as ye?"

"Ah!" replied the other, "we should have thought so once, but a cruel landlord has turned us out of our house, these poor afflicted creatures and me, and having relations at Romney we are going there in the only way the poor can travel--on our feet, and we have nothing with us but our tame rabbits, poor creatures, which we always carry in our baskets. We should be very thankful if we might come in for a couple of hours or so."

"By all means," said worthy John, whose simple heart was at once touched by this tale. "Come in, come in by all means," and stepping forward, he helped one of the blind girls over the threshold and they all entered the cottage.

The moment they were inside, Mary's favourite cat, who had been seated by the fireside, intently watching the proceeding, jumped up and sprang through the open window without saying a word to anybody, which indeed, as a respectable but ordinary cat, she was not likely to have done under any circumstances. Mary observed this, and wondered at the animal being so shy of strangers; but nobody made any remark upon the incident, and seats being found for the new comers, they not only sat down, but condescended to share the family dinner, and that with such appetites, that the children of the house themselves came off but second best. John Gower asked several questions which were satisfactorily answered, but he always said afterwards that he never felt quite at home with his visitors, which he put down to their being better educated and of a position apparently somewhat above his own. As they sat and ate and talked, a distant shout was heard, and then another.

"Father, what's that?" asked Billy.

"Oh!" replied Gower, "I expect it's the people out after the crones. I forgot all about it, not being a busy man in such matters, or I ought to have helped my neighbours, perhaps, for those old women are no better than they should be--ah! oh! oh, dear!" and whilst the words were still in his mouth, John Gower jumped up and began to hop about the room upon one leg, having been suddenly seized, he said, with a violent fit of cramp therein.

"What are they going to do with the crones, father?" asked Billy.

"Duck 'em, I expect, boy," replied he; upon which the lad rejoined,--

"Oh, what fun! how I should like to see it!" and almost immediately afterwards burst out crying, saying that he had such a bad pain come in his inside.

Meanwhile more shouting was heard, and not very far off, and presently the door was thrown open, and in came a neighbour, James Firminger by name, and a noted enemy to witches, besides being so worthy and well-thought-of a man that he had more than once been spoken of as fit to be parish churchwarden.

"Neighbour Gower!" he shouted, as he came in, "why ar't not out with the rest of us after the crones? 'Twill be a grand day for Mersham if we get quit of them. But you've got company, I see--bless us, what a smell of sulphur!"

As he spoke, he turned his eyes on the young woman and her two blind companions, and started as he did so. Firminger never went about without some potent witch-charm upon him, which at once protected him from the malice of such creatures, and enabled him to detect them when disguised, and upon this occasion he had nothing less than a relic of the great Kentish saint, Thomas à Becket, being a small piece of the hair-shirt of that holy man, cut off shortly after his death by one of the monks of Canterbury, who happened to be a Firminger, and religiously preserved in the Firminger family ever afterwards.

Naturally, as Farmer Barrett observed, no witch could stand against _that_, and Firminger was a lucky man to possess it. It was doubtless in consequence, and by virtue of this relic, that as soon as the good man was well inside the cottage, he not only smelt the sulphur which had not been smelt by the family, but saw what was the real character of John Gower's visitors. He took no second look, but shouted aloud, "The crones! the crones!" and seizing the little case in which was his relic in his hands, displayed it openly before them.

The effect was instantaneous. All beauty disappeared from the face of the young woman, her form changed, her countenance shrivelled, and she stood confessed before the party as Humpy, the youngest of the three Crones of Mersham.

No less sudden and complete was the alteration in her two companions, who recovered their sight at once, but together therewith resumed the unpleasant forms and features of Skinny and Bony, the two other sisters of this disreputable family. There was a visible agitation at the same moment in the baskets which the sisters had carried upon their arms, and which they had deposited on the floor upon taking their seats.

The lids shook, the baskets quivered, and in another instant overturned, when out sprang three enormous black cats upon the floor of the room.

With a yell, which seemed to burst simultaneously from the throats of all the crones and all the cats, they rushed out at the door; flying from the charm which James Firminger kept earnestly shaking before their eyes. Out of the door, over the green space in front of the cottage, into the road, and as far and fast as they could get away from the object of their terror.

John Gower and his children sat stupified with mingled surprise and awe for some seconds; and then, jumping from their seats, they all rushed through the door after Firminger; who, having done so, stood still outside, eagerly gazing after the retreating crones. He knew well enough that, if nought had prevented them, the honest people who were out after the witches, would by this time have attacked and harried their home. Whither, then, would they fly?

If they had quitted their cottage ignorant of the coming of their enemies, and only bent on paying John Gower a visit--doubtless intending to do him some mischief or other; it might be that they would hurry home, and encounter the angry mob of people, in which case there would be wild work one way or the other. If, however, as was more probable (and as was generally believed to be the case when the matter was considered afterwards), the three crones had been well aware of the projected attack upon them, and had purposely left home--hoping that they might lie safely hid in the abode of so honest and quiet a man as Gower until the danger was over, then it became a serious question as to what other refuge they would seek, now that they had been so manfully driven from their intended place of safety. The doubts of the lookers-on, however, were soon solved.

A strange thing happened, which would never have been believed in those days, but that Firminger and Gower both solemnly declared it, and which perhaps actually will _not_ be believed in these days of doubt and want of faith, but which I must nevertheless relate as Farmer Barrett told it to me. As soon as they were well on the other side of the road, each crone jumped upon her cat, and the animals, lightly springing over the hedge into the next field, set off full gallop in an easterly direction--or, in other words, heading as straight as a line to Aldington Knoll, well-known in those good old days as the great fortress of witches. That was their point, no doubt, and it looked very much as if they were going to give up Mersham as a bad job, and betake themselves to other and safer quarters.

As soon as Firminger saw the line which the crones took, he turned to Gower and said in a hasty tone, "Come on, mate, this must be seen to at once. Let us join the chaps who are gone to the old cottage as fast as we can, and tell them what we have seen, and all that has happened."

John Gower was too wise a man to hesitate. Had he done so, he knew well enough that he would be suspected of having knowingly harboured the crones, and of being in league with them, a suspicion which would have ruined him for ever in his native parish, and probably driven him from the county.

So he bade Mary mind the house, and keep Jane and Billy at home, and then he set off at best pace with Firminger down the road in the direction of the cottage of the crones. They very soon reached it, and found it surrounded by a number of people, who were engaged in demolishing the premises altogether. They had not found much, probably because there was not much to find; and the owners of the place, as we know, had taken themselves off before the arrival of their unwelcome visitors. But they broke everything they could find, tore down the thatched roof to search for magic charms, none of which they found, but only a number of mice, and a great deal of dust. They pulled to pieces the wooden part of the cottage, and knocked down a great part of the stone corner, counting everything as fair game, as witches' property, and striving their utmost to destroy as much as they possibly could.

There were more than a couple of hundred people, all told, Farmer Barrett believed, and he gave me a great many names, but I forget most of them. There was Bully Robus, of the "Farriers' Arms," I know, and little Dick Broadfoot, the tailor, of Mersham Street, and Bill Parsons, all the way from Warehorne Green. There were Gowers, and Farrances, Sillibournes and Swaflers, Swinerds and Finns--in short, not a family in that or any of the other parishes which was not represented, and they all seemed to vie with each other, which should do the most mischief, and be foremost in pulling down and destroying that evil place.

It was several minutes before James Firminger and John Gower could command the attention of people so eagerly occupied about their business as these witch-seekers, and it would have been still longer, but for the position and character of Firminger, and his known hatred of all that pertained to witchcraft. He presently succeeded in making them listen to the wonders he had to relate, and when they knew for certain what had happened and the direction which the crones had taken, the whole current of their thoughts was turned into one eager desire to follow, and, if possible, to make an end of the inmates of that awful cottage as well as of the abode itself.

They lost no time, therefore, in finishing the work on which they were then engaged, and immediately afterwards the whole party swarmed up the road in the direction of Aldington Knoll, keeping up each other's courage by many brave words, and shouting uncomplimentary epithets with regard to the three crones. So they pushed on until they came to the spot where four roads met; one, that which our party had traversed in walking from the cottage, another bearing back to Bilsington and Ruckinge, a third to Newchurch and the Marsh, and the fourth to Aldington Knoll.

Down this last road the people turned, and then, immediately before them they had the mass of wood upon the side of the hill, which then, as now, encompassed the knoll itself upon the north, west, and south, the ground to the east being somewhat less woody. The knoll--apparently a grass hill, only that the grass being a good deal worn away, showed the bare rock at several places--peered over the woods, and the road to it lay right through the latter for some distance, until by turning into a gate upon your right hand, you entered the field out of which the knoll rose, and from the higher points of which were magnificent views over the Marsh and all the country east, west, and south, the hills behind shutting out the view to the north.

The people were now some three-quarters of a mile from this gate, and, if the truth could be known, I have no doubt whatever that some of them would very gladly have been a great deal further off.

The power of the crones themselves was so well known, and the reputation of Aldington Knoll was so bad, that no one felt sure that some terrible misfortune might not result from braving the one and attacking the other.

They had all heard strange tales of people bewitched, changed into animals, losing their senses, and all kinds of other disagreeable things, and of course such tales _would_ recur to them at such a moment. But there were brave hearts--then as now--among the men of Kent, and although fears and doubts may have been there, they did not operate so as to turn any man back from the work he had undertaken. The people moved down the road towards Aldington, and reached the point at which the woods began. At that moment a loud clap of thunder pealed through the air, and vivid lightning flashed across the sky.

A shudder passed through many a stout frame, but the men pushed boldly on. Then came a severe hailstorm--so severe that the people took shelter beneath the trees, and waited until its violence seemed to be passed.

But none turned back. Then came a bitter, chilling wind, though it had been a lovely, soft, mellow day: the wind cut through the trees with a moaning sound, and pierced the people like a mid-winter blast.

Still they pressed on, knowing that witchcraft was at work, and that retreat would be ruin. They were half-way between the point at which the road entered the woods and the gate before mentioned, when a loud and terrible roaring was heard upon the right, from the woods which stretched up close to the knoll itself. So strange and so dreadful was this sound, that it made the blood of those who heard it run cold, and for a moment the foremost men of the throng paused.

But three men there were in that crowd who neither quailed nor paused for a moment, so resolutely determined were they to carry out the work they had commenced that day. These men were James Firminger, Farmer Long, and old David Finn, the parish clerk of Mersham. The last named knew but little of crones or witches, but tradition said that there always must be a Finn for parish clerk, and that Mersham would not be Mersham without one. This being the case, the old man felt it to be his duty to take such prominent part in an affair like the present as became one of an ancient family, filling an hereditary office.

Therefore, although he knew that the rector would most likely have disapproved of the step he was taking, he had started early that day, and in company with Bully Robus and sundry other notables of the parish, had taken an active part in the proceedings from the beginning.

These three men, then, were not deterred by the roaring, though it much resembled that of wild and savage beasts desiring their prey, and seeing it before their eyes. And when no beasts appeared, and it seemed to be nothing but sound, the rest of the people regained their courage, and all continued to push on towards the gate into the knoll-field. About a hundred yards before they reached it, however, they found that they had to encounter an unexpected obstacle in the shape of several enormous elms which lay stretched across the road in such a manner as to most effectually bar any further progress.

But to the astonishment of all, no sooner had Firminger, Long, and Finn (who were now recognised as the leaders of the expedition) approached close to the barrier, than it vanished as suddenly as it had appeared, and left the roadway free.

Encouraged by this result, as unexpected as it was satisfactory, the party advanced a few yards farther, to find a great ditch yawning in front of them, and evidently intended to stop their farther advance. On seeing this, Finn rushed to the front, and standing close to the edge of the abyss, pronounced in a loud voice the word "Amen," which he had long held to be the most sacred and powerful form of invocation known to the world, and one which never failed to repel any evil creature to whom it was addressed.

Whether from the effects of his utterance, or from any other reason, I cannot say, but certain it is that as the worthy clerk put one leg forward as if to step into the ditch, it closed up as if it had never been dug, which perhaps was the case. At all events, whether it was a real ditch or only a delusion of the eye, the chasm disappeared altogether, and once more the party proceeded, until they reached the gate of the field, and faced it, about to enter and approach the knoll, which now lay upon their right, the field in which it was situate stretching back into the woods.

On entering the gate, they were at once struck by the novel and curious appearance of the knoll. Smoke appeared to envelope it on all sides, and a deep rumbling proceeded from within it, as if a volcano were at work, and a volcano that meant mischief too. The party paused for a moment, looked at each other and then at the knoll, and began to wonder what they had better do next. Everybody thought that everybody else was stopping quite unnecessarily, but nobody seemed inclined to move on first.

Even the three bold men, Firminger, Long, and Finn, seemed less eager than hitherto, and whispered to each other in low, mysterious tones, that they fancied they saw dark and fearful figures moving about among the smoke in which the knoll was enveloped. It was well known to these men, and indeed to most or all of their companions, that Aldington knoll was reputed to be the abode and principal gathering-place of all the evil creatures in that part of the country.

By common consent men had for a long time past shunned it as a haunted and wicked spot, and it was no common evidence of courage that so many men had been found to approach it upon this occasion. After a few moments, the three men recollected the responsibility of their position, and the absolute certainty that if their party returned home defeated, the neighbourhood would thenceforward be worse off than ever. The crones would never forget the plunder and destruction of their cottage, and would doubtless exact a severe compensation from the perpetrators of that ruthless deed.

Moreover, for a couple of hundred people to have it said that they had been circumvented and beaten by three old women, was a thing not to be thought of; so, shame overcoming their reluctance, they boldly marched forward again, and encouraged their followers to charge up to the very foot of the knoll. They had got quite close to it when, either by accident, or because he pulled it too hard in his nervous fidgeting with it, the string by which James Firminger's relic was tied round his neck suddenly broke, and the charm itself fell to the ground.

Hardly had this occurred, when a yell, most discordant in its tone, but appearing to express a mingled feeling of joy, triumph, fury and revengeful longing all in one, broke from the interior of the mount. The next instant the knoll itself opened wide, just like the mouth of a man preparing for a tremendous yawn, and a whole volley of cinders and ashes came bursting over the approaching party in a most disconcerting and unpleasant manner. At the same time strange and uncouth figures suddenly appeared issuing from the knoll, some with goat's heads and horns, others with the bodies of men but a pig's head, snout and bristles, others like monkeys (but oh! such frightful monkeys as never were seen) and all with eyes that rolled fearfully in their heads and glittered like fire. Conspicuous among this awful band appeared the figures of the three crones, Bony, Skinny, and Humpy, each carrying a broomstick in her hand, and followed by her cat, which bounded forward as if to attack the invaders of the haunted hill. This was more than the latter could stand--they wavered--looked round--tottered a step or two backward, and then, as the cinders, hot cinders too, came upon them and the evil creatures almost touched them, they turned round with one accord, and fled down from the knoll as fast as their legs would carry them. Farmer Long was the first of the three leaders who gave way, for he afterwards declared that he recognized the lost kitten in a cat which seemed to select him as her particular object of attack, and as he ran, he vowed that he felt a scratch which penetrated, sharp and deep, in such a manner that he could not sit down comfortably for a fortnight, and felt perfectly sure that only the claws of that kitten could or would have dealt him such a wound. As for Finn, he so lost his head, that he ran off, bawling out "Amen" continuously at the top of his voice, but in a tone which conveyed so little of the real importance and dignity attaching to the word, that it is little wonder that it had no effect.

James Firminger--as became a man of his character and position--stood his ground longest, but his charm being gone, he felt less confidence, and when he, too, turned and ran, he felt himself belaboured by an invisible stick all the way down to the gate of the field.

Shouts, shrieks and yells of laughter, followed the retreating party, and there was scarcely a man in whose breast, amid all his fears, the thought did not arise that the result of this day's work had turned out to be one so utterly unfortunate for the people, and so triumphant for the crones, that the neighbourhood would have to submit to be witch-ridden for ever after.

But, sometimes, in human affairs, whether those of an individual or a community, at the very moment when things seem to be at their worst, they begin to mend, and that amendment is not unfrequently brought about by some agent which, to the wise and knowing of mankind, would have appeared the most insignificant and the most unlikely to have effected the change. So it was in the present instance. The affrighted people came rushing through the gate, and, avoiding the road through the wood, which was their natural way home, turned in an easterly direction, and ran up the road leading away from the woods, and into the main road leading from Aldington Corner to Hythe. They had run but a very short distance when they came upon the "innocent," simple Steenie Long, sitting on the bank of the road side, apparently looking for flowers. He looked up with a vacant expression upon his face (which I am told was not unusual with idiots in those days) and seemed astonished to see so many people all running in such a hurry.

Several of the party hurried past the boy, too much occupied about providing for their own safety to think either of him or of anybody else. Presently, however, Farmer Long came running by, already somewhat out of breath, and burning with rage and shame at having been unable to resist the impulse which had made him fly before the power of the evil creatures of the knoll. When he came to the place where his son was sitting, he stopped short in his flight, and seizing the boy by the arm, hastily exclaimed, "Come along, lad, come along; this is no place for the likes of you!" endeavouring at the same time to hurry the youth away with him.

But "Simple Steenie" was by no means of the same opinion. He drew himself away from his father's hold, opened his large blue eyes to their fullest extent, and observed in a calm but very decided tone. "Steenie not."

"Not _what_, boy?" said the farmer eagerly. "You'd better not stop here, anyhow; leastways if you do, the witches will have you." But the boy, who had by this time risen to his feet, only smiled pleasantly upon his father, with the simple smile of the weak of intellect, and answered in a gentle tone. "Steenie not 'fraid. People run. Steenie not run."

At this moment up came James Firminger, already bitterly repenting the flight which seemed certain to lead to such disastrous consequences. Overhearing the words of the boy, the thought instantly struck him that they might be turned to good account.

Well did stout Firminger know that whatever be the power of witches and warlocks, it has no effect upon those whom Heaven has deprived of their full share of reason and intellect, and it occurred to him (and perhaps it was true) that this unexpected meeting with "Simple Steenie" was not accidental, but that it was possibly so ordered, that the victory of the evil ones might be prevented.

He stopped instantly, and shouted aloud to the rest of the party. "Mates!" he cried. "Are we not shamed by the words of this innocent? _He_ will not run, he--why then should _we_ do so? The power which protects _him_ can protect _us_. Let us turn once more, and never give way like this to the evil ones."

The words of Firminger produced a great effect upon those who heard him. Some indeed there were who had already made their way so far that they neither saw nor heard anything that followed, but fully two-thirds of the party checked their flight, and waited to see what would follow.

They were much reassured by that which immediately occurred. James Firminger went up to the boy and spoke to him kindly to the following effect. "Steenie boy, that's right! _You_ won't run, will you, lad? _You_ ban't afraid of no witches nor crones neither, be you?"

Thus addressed, Steenie drew himself up to his full height, smiled upon his questioner as he had upon his father, and said very gravely. "No. Steenie not 'fraid. Good people help Steenie."

As this was immediately interpreted by all who heard him to mean that the half-witted lad was assured of supernatural assistance in any encounter which might ensue, it had a wonderfully comforting effect upon the whole party.

The courage which, in the case of most of them, had been "oozing out at their fingers' ends," suddenly and miraculously returned to its natural home in their hearts, and they began to encourage each other by speech and gesture, and to ask what there was to be afraid of.

Seeing his opportunity, Firminger used all his arts of persuasion, and the result was that those of the party who had not got beyond hearing when the above mentioned incident took place, wheeled boldly and bodily round, and retraced their steps towards the knoll-field, Firminger and Long leading the way, preceded by "Simple Steenie," who declined to walk with any of them, but trotted on ahead. As for Finn, he had disappeared and was no more seen that day, having been so completely overcome by the total failure of the great invocation to which he had pinned his faith, that he was incapable of further action for the time, and was indeed never quite the same man afterwards.

When the party got near the gate, there was no sign of anything unusual, but as soon as they set foot within the field, the same roaring arose which they had heard before, and the same smoke began to puff out from the knoll and to enwrap it once more in dark wreaths. At this moment Firminger, Long, and their followers suddenly started with surprise.

"Simple Steenie" was indeed walking before them, having left the trotting pace at which he had started, but he was no longer alone! A short, thick-set man, clad entirely in gray from head to foot, was leading the boy by the hand as they advanced together. In his hand he held a long staff, but otherwise appeared to be entirely unarmed. Whence he had sprung from no one could tell; they had not seen any of their own party rush forward, and certainly no one had descended from the knoll. However, there was the Gray Man, sure enough, and on he marched by "Simple Steenie's" side, as if they were the best friends in the world, and had long ago arranged the enterprise on which they were jointly bound. The others followed at a respectful distance, more and more astonished as matters went on.

The roaring continued and presently the same process was repeated as that which the people had previously witnessed and undergone. Figures moved rapidly amid the thick smoke, and ever and anon a lurid flame flashed from one side of the knoll to the other, affording a momentary glimpse of awful forms with threatening gestures directed towards those who appeared desirous to invade their territory.

Still "Simple Steenie" and his companion walked calmly on until they were within a very short distance of the knoll, when, as before, it opened, and a volume of cinders and ashes was again poured forth. But, at the same instant, the Gray Man raised his staff high above his head and shook it in the air. Suddenly, without a cloud in the sky or any appearance whatever of rain, a perfect torrent of water descended from the heavens upon the knoll, the effect of which was to produce just such a "fiz" as when you throw a tumbler of water upon the fire, only this sound was as if several hundred thousand tumblers had been thrown upon the same number of fires all at once, producing the loudest and most wonderful "fiz" that you can imagine. At the same moment a prolonged and terrible howl arose from inside the hill, as if the effects of the water had caused great discomfort therein.

Next happened a remarkable incident. The mouth of the knoll opened with the same kind of yawning action as has been already described, as if the same onslaught as before was about to be repeated. But instead of waiting for this, "Steenie" and the "Gray Man" both raised a loud shout, the latter brandished his staff once more over his head, and both of them rushed boldly forward into the mound, which immediately closed behind them. The bystanders were struck with horror and amazement.

Was the Gray Man in league with the enemy, and had he thus lured poor Steenie to his destruction? If so--why and whence the torrent of water, which had evidently not been relished by the inhabitants of the knoll? What on earth did it all mean?

For a few moments the whole party stood fearful and irresolute. Soon it became evident that warm work was going on inside the knoll. Shouts, yells, rumblings, howls, and the most discordant noises were heard within, whilst there were those among the people, and notably James Firminger and Bully Robus, who always declared that they heard, in and above the outcry, the word, "Dunstan! Dunstan!" repeated ever and anon, and the same thought crossed the minds of both of them at the same time, namely, that the appearance of the Gray Man greatly resembled the description of the great Saint Dunstan, so famous for the manner in which he tackled the arch-enemy upon one occasion with a pair of tongs, and whose name was said to be especially dreaded by all evil creatures.

Be this as it may, the noise had not continued above a minute or two, before the spirit of James Firminger became too much excited to allow of his remaining quiet any longer.

Calling to his companions to come on and help poor Steenie, he rushed boldly forward, and was followed by most of the others. But they were still several yards away from the scene of action, when they were stopped by an occurrence so extraordinary that no one who witnessed it ran the smallest chance of ever forgetting it.

The knoll burst open in at least twenty different places, and from it there issued the same sort of creatures as those who had previously attacked and routed the Mersham forces. But their aspect was now as completely changed as their behaviour. Cowering, shrieking, huddling together as if to escape some terrible pursuer, they rushed frantically away on all sides, with heart-rending cries of despair and anguish.

Then, in the very middle of the knoll, rushing after the retreating foe, appeared no less a personage than the Gray Man, flourishing his staff, and closely followed by "Simple Steenie," whose features were glowing with excitement, and whom they distinctly saw in the act of administering a violent kick to a repulsive-looking creature with a serpent's head and man's body, who was beyond all question an evil one of the worst description, but whose departure was much quickened by the action of the "innocent."

As everybody among the lookers-on was greatly confused and alarmed at the extraordinary spectacle suddenly presented to their view, one hardly knows how far it would be safe to rely upon the many different accounts which were afterwards given of the details of the transaction of which I am writing, and good Farmer Barrett always used to warn me against believing as gospel every particular of this part of the story.

However, there were many worthy people out upon this day who declared solemnly that among the strange and horrible creatures who were turned out of Aldington Knoll that day, they recognised the faces and features of several of their neighbours, dead and gone, who had been reputed witches in their life-times. And little Dick Broadfoot, the tailor of Mersham Street, an acute man as well as an honest, and one that would not willingly either lie or exaggerate, always took his bible oath that he saw, as plainly as he ever saw anything in his life, three awful creatures, with cats' heads and bodies, but with horns and wings, and with claws longer than any possessed by mortal cat, fly out of the mount and down the woods, each having fast hold of and carrying with it a form which writhed and struggled as if in fearful agony, but writhed and struggled in vain. And furthermore, Dick avowed that he saw--though how he had time to see it I don't know--he saw, I say, and knew it for a certain fact, that these three unhappy wretches were the three crones of Mersham, doubtless being carried off to their own place by the three evil ones who had hitherto served them under the form of cats.

Whether to believe the little tailor or not I hardly know, but Bully Robus backed him up in the story, and as the three crones never again appeared in that part of the world, it may have been quite true.

Certain it is that all those creatures who issued from the knoll in the way I have described were evidently driven out against their will, utterly defeated and brought to tribulation by a superior power. In a very short time they had utterly disappeared, a strong smell of sulphur being the only remaining token that they had ever been there, whilst upon the knoll, which had closed up behind them, "Simple Steenie" and his companion remained, standing alone in triumph.

The people saw the Gray Man lay his hand upon the lad's head for an instant, as if calling down a blessing upon him; then there came a mist or cloud over the knoll, and when they looked again, Steenie was standing alone. They hurried towards him, instinctively knowing that there was no more danger to be apprehended from the place, and he turned smilingly to meet them with an air of triumph.

"Steenie not 'fraid," he said. "Naughty people run 'way! All gone!"

[Illustration: SIMPLE STEENIE AND THE GRAY MAN ON THE KNOLL--P. 344]

But to all their questions about his late companion he could only answer by a vacant smile and incoherent words, which left them as ignorant as before. They had, however, the great consolation of knowing that, whether it had come about by the aid of "Simple Steenie's" innocent efforts, or whether the Gray Man had of his own accord planned the whole affair, and arranged for the discomfiture of the wicked ones, that discomfiture was certain and complete.

From that day forth Aldington Knoll has been a peaceful quiet spot, from whence the views to which I have already alluded may be contemplated without any fear of interference by any unpleasant inmates of the mound, for there are none worse than rabbits now. More might be told about some of the characters of our story, but short and casual allusions are not desirable, and to do more would be to lengthen the story too much. So I will leave my readers to fancy for themselves all that happened afterwards to John Gower and his family, as well as to Farmer Long, Simple Steenie, and all the rest of them. It is a good many years ago now since these things occurred, and the actors in the stirring scenes which I have related have long since passed away.

If I had not chronicled them now, from my recollection of good old Farmer Barrett's gossips, I dare say Jack Barrett--who is a careless fellow at best, and not equal to his father--(young men seldom are in these days, according to my opinion) would have told the story differently, and only in fragments, to his children, and they would have varied it again in telling it to _their_ children, so that in a couple of generations it would have been quite uncertain, and the real truth never would have been known.

This is why I have thought it right to tell it. I drove down in my pony-carriage the other day, with a young lady by my side, to see the very spot where the crones' cottage used to stand, and to go through all the places where these scenes occurred. I could make them all out pretty clearly, though there is no vestige of the cottage left. We drove on to Bilsington and back towards Aldington by the same road that Mrs. Long and Tom the Bailiff drove, when they were taking the kitten back to the Gowers.

We did not see any witches for certain, and perhaps there are none left, though, as it is a good way from a railroad, I am not very sure on this point. In a secluded spot by one of the woods, there was the figure of a man seated by the side of the road breaking stones, and I thought there was something in his look more than common. It was on a hill, up which I was walking, and if I had been alone I might have stopped and tried to find out more. But as I did not want to run the least chance of the young lady with me being frightened, I only took care to walk on the side of the road between the pony-carriage and the figure, and as we passed it I laid my right hand on my heart, and pronounced that famous mystic word of power---- Oh! I forgot, I must not write it, because that is forbidden, but if any little girl wants to know (boys are never curious, of course, so they won't mind not being told) she must just write me a pretty little letter and ask, and as I am very easily coaxed, I shall very likely either come and tell her, or make some arrangement by which she shall be able to find out for herself. It answered very well that day (as, indeed, it always does) and we got home quite safe. Home is the best place at which to leave one's friends, and therefore, having brought myself there in my writing, I think I will stop, and only hope that others beside myself will be interested in hearing the famous legend of the "Crones of Mersham."

BRADBURY, AGNEW, & CO., PRINTERS, WHITEFRIARS.

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Transcriber's note:

Minor typographical errors have been corrected without note.

Irregularities and inconsistencies in the text have been retained as printed.