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A Book of Old English Fairy Tales
By Ernest Rhys, Herbert Cole
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2008 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
THE IMP TREE
ONCE there was a King of Winchester called Orfeo, and dearly he loved his queen, Heurodis. She happened one hot afternoon in summertime to be walking in the orchard, when she became very drowsy; and she lay down under an imp tree, and there she fell fast asleep. While she slept, she had a strange dream. She dreamt that two fair knights came to her side, and bade her come quickly with them to speak to their lord and king. But she answered them right boldly, that she neither dared nor cared to go with them. So the two knights went away; but very quickly they returned, bringing their king with them, and a thousand knights in his train, and many beauteous ladies drest in pure white, riding on snow-white steeds. The king had a crown on his head, not of silver or red-gold, but all of precious stones that shone like the sun. By his side was led a lady's white palfrey that seemed to be prepared for some rider, for its saddle was empty. He commanded that Heurodis should be placed upon this white steed, and thereupon the King of Faerie and his train of knights and white dames, and Heurodis beside him, rode off through a fair country with many flowery meads, fields, forests and pleasant waters, where stood castles and towers amid the green trees. Fairest of all, on a green terrace overlooking many orchards and rose-gardens, stood the Faerie King's palace. When he had shown these things to Heurodis, he brought her back safe to the Imp Tree; but he bade her, on pain of death, meet him under the same tree on the morrow.
When Heurodis awoke from this dream, it was to find Orfeo standing at her side. She told him of all that had happened; of the Faerie King and of the green faerie country she had visited. He resolved that on the morrow he and a thousand knights should stand armed round the Imp Tree to protect her from the Faerie King. And when the time came, there they stood like a ring of living steel or a hedge of spears, to guard Heurodis. But in spite of all, she was snatched away under their very eyes; and in vain were all their efforts to see which way she and her faërie captors were gone.
Orfeo made search for his lost queen everywhere during many days, but no footstep of her was to be found in upper earth. And then in sorrow for her, and in utter despair, he left his palace at Winchester, gave up his throne and went into the wilderness, carrying only a harp for companion. With its tunes, as he sang to it, sorrowing for Heurodis, the wild beasts were enchanted and often came round about him—yea, wolf and fox, bear and little squirrel—to hear him play. And there in the forest, Orfeo (as the old story-book says):
"Often in hot undertides
Would see the Faerie King besides,
The King of Faerie with his rout
Hunt and ride all roundabout,
With calls and elfin-horns that blew,
And hounds that did reply thereto,
But never pulled down hart or doe,
And never arrow left the bow."
And sometimes he saw the Faerie Host pass, as if to war, the knights with their swords drawn, stout and fierce of face, and their banners flying. Other times he saw these faerie knights and ladies dance, dressed like guisers, with tabors beating and joyous trumpets blowing. And one day Orfeo saw sixty lovely ladies ride out to the riverside for falconry, each with her falcon on her bare hand, and in the very midst of them (oh wonder!) rode his lost queen, Heurodis. He determined at once to follow them; and after flying their falcons they return through the forest at evening to a wild rocky place, where they ride into the rock through a rude cleft, overhung with brambles. They ride in, a league and more, till they come to the fairest country ever seen, where it is high midsummer and broad sunlight. In its midst stands a palace of an hundred towers, with walls of crystal, and windows coped and arched with gold. All that land was light, because when the night should come, the precious stones in the palace walls gave out a light as bright as noonday. Into this palace hall Orfeo entered, in the train of the ladies, and saw there the King of Faerie on his throne. The king was enraged at first when he saw the strange man enter with his harp. But Orfeo offers to play upon it, and Heurodis, when she hears, is filled with longing, while the Faerie King is so enchanted that he promises to Orfeo any gift he likes to ask out of all the riches of the faerie regions. But Orfeo, to this, has only one word to reply:—
And the King of Faerie thereupon gives her back to Orfeo, and they return in great joy, hand in hand together, through the wilderness to Winchester, where they live and reign together for ever afterwards in peace and happiness. But let none who would not be carried away like Heurodis to the Faerie King's country dare to sleep in the undertide beneath the Imp Tree.CHAPTER 2
THE PIXY FLOWER
ONCE upon a time there lived in Devonshire two serving damsels, called Molly and Sabina, who were very fond of ribands and finery. When their mistress scolded them for spending more money than they ought upon such things, they said the pixies were very kind to them, and would often drop silver for their pleasure into a bucket of fair water which they placed for the accommodation of those little beings in the chimney corner every night before they went to bed. Once, however, it was forgotten, and the pixies, finding themselves disappointed by an empty bucket, whisked upstairs to the maids' bedroom, popped through the keyhole, and began to exclaim aloud against the laziness and neglect of the damsels. Now Sabina, who lay awake and heard all this, jogged her fellow-servant, and proposed getting up immediately to put things straight. But Molly, lazy girl, who liked not being disturbed out of a comfortable nap, pettishly declared "that, for her part, she would not stir out of bed to please all the pixies in Devonshire." The good-humoured Sabina, however, got up, filled the bucket, and was rewarded by a handful of silver pennies found in it the next morning. But long ere that time had arrived, what was her alarm, as she crept towards the bed, to hear all the elves buzzing like so many angry bees, and consulting as to what should be done to the lazy, lazy lass who would not stir out of bed for their pleasure.
Some proposed "pinches, nips, and bobs," others wanted to spoil her new cherry-coloured bonnet and ribands. One talked of sending her the toothache, another of giving her a red nose; but this last was voted much too bad a punishment for a pretty young lass. So, tempering mercy with justice, the pixies were kind enough to let her off with a lame leg, which was to plague her for seven years, and was only to be cured by a certain herb, growing on Dartmoor. Its long, and learned, and very queer and difficult name the elfin judge pronounced in a high and shrill voice. It was a name of seven syllables, seven being also the number of years decreed for Molly's lameness.
Sabina, good-natured maid, wishing to save her fellow-damsel so long a suffering, tried with might and main to bear in mind the name of this strange herb. She said it over and over again, tied a knot in her garter at every syllable as a help to memory, and thought she had the word just as safe and sure as her own name, and very possibly felt much more anxious about retaining the one than the other.
At length she dropped asleep, and did not wake till the morning. Now whether Sabina's head was like a sieve, that lets out as fast as it takes in, or if the over-exertion to remember only caused her to forget, cannot be determined; but certain it is that when she opened her eyes she knew nothing at all about the matter, excepting that Molly was to go lame on her right leg for seven long years, unless a herb with a strange name could be got to cure her. And lame Molly went for nearly the whole of those seven years.
At length, about the end of that time, Sabina and Molly went out into the fields early one morning to pick mushrooms, when a merry, squint-eyed, queer-looking boy started up all of a sudden just as Molly went to pluck a fine big one and came tumbling, head over heels, towards her. He held in his hand a green herb with a tiny yellow flower, which some say was called Inula-Helenium and he insisted upon striking Molly with it on the lame leg. From that very moment she got well, and lame Molly became the best dancer in the whole town when she and Sabina danced at the feast of Mayday on the green.CHAPTER 3
THE BLACK BULL OF NORROWAY
To wilder measures next they turn:
The black, black bull of Norroway!
Sudden the tapers cease to burn,
The minstrels cease to play!
ONCE upon a time there lived a king who had three daughters; the two eldest were proud and ugly, but the youngest was the gentlest and most beautiful creature ever seen, and the pride not only of her father and mother, but of all in the land. As it fell out, the three princesses were talking one night of whom they would marry. "I will have no one lower than a king," said the eldest princess. The second would take a prince or a great duke even. "Pho, pho," said the youngest, laughing, "you are both so proud; now, I would be content with the Black Bull o' Norroway." Well, they thought no more of the matter till the next morning, when, as they sat at breakfast, they heard the most dreadful bellowing at the door, and what should it be but the Black Bull come for his bride. You may be sure they were all terribly frightened at this, for the Black Bull was one of the most horrible creatures ever seen in the world. And the king and queen did not know how to save their daughter. At last they determined to send him off with the old henwife. So they put her on his back, and away he went with her till he came to a great black forest, when, throwing her down, he returned, roaring louder and more frightfully than ever. They then sent, one by one, all the servants, then the two eldest princesses; but not one of them met with any better treatment than the old henwife, and at last they were forced to send their youngest and favourite child.
Far she travelled upon the Black Bull, through many dreadful forests and lonely wastes, till they came at last to a noble castle, where a large company was assembled. The lord of the castle pressed them to stay, though much he wondered at the lovely princess and her strange companion. But as they went in among the guests, the princess espied a pin sticking in the Black Bull's hide, which she pulled out, and, to the surprise of all, there appeared not a frightful wild beast, but one of the most beautiful princes ever beheld.
You may believe how delighted the princess was to see him fall at her feet, and thank her for breaking his cruel enchantment. There were great rejoicings in the castle at this, but alas! in the midst of them he suddenly disappeared, and though every place was sought, he was nowhere to be found.
The princess, from being filled with happiness, was all but broken-hearted. She determined, however, to seek through all the world for him, and many weary ways she went, but for a long, long while nothing could she hear of her lover. Travelling once through a dark wood, she lost her way, and as night was coming on, she thought she must now certainly die of cold and hunger; but seeing a light through the trees, she went on till she came to a little hut, where an old woman lived, who took her in, and gave her both food and shelter. In the morning the old wifie gave her three nuts, that she was not to break till her heart was "like to break and owre again like to break"; so, showing her the way, she bade God speed her, and the princess once more set out on her wearisome journey.
She had not gone far till a company of lords and ladies rode past her, all talking merrily of the fine doings they expected at the Duke o' Norroway's wedding. Then she came up to a number of people carrying all sorts of fine things, and they, too, were going to the duke's wedding. At last she came to a castle, where nothing was to be seen but cooks and bakers, some running one way, and some another, and all so busy that they did not know what to do first. Whilst she was looking at all this, she heard a noise of hunters behind her, and some one cried out,—
"Make way for the Duke o' Norroway!"
And who should ride past but the prince and a beautiful lady.
You may be sure her heart was now "like to break and owre again like to break" at this sad sight, so she broke one of the nuts, and out came a wee wifie carding wool. The princess then went into the castle, and asked to see the lady, who no sooner saw the wee wifie so hard at work, than she offered the princess anything in her castle for it.
"I will give it to you," said she, "only on condition that you put off for one day your marriage with the Duke o' Norroway, and that I may go into his room alone to-night."
So anxious was the lady for the nut, that she consented. And when dark night was come, and the duke fast asleep, the princess was put alone into his chamber. Sitting down by his bedside, she began singing:—
"Far hae I sought ve, near am I brought to ye, Dear Duke o' Norroway, will ye no turn and speak to me?"
Though she sang this over and over again, the duke never wakened, and in the morning the princess had to leave him, without his knowing she had ever been there. She then broke the second nut, and out came a wee wifie spinning, which so delighted the lady, that she readily agreed to put off her marriage another day for it; but the princess came no better speed the second night than the first, and, almost in depair, she broke the last nut, which contained a wee wifie reeling, and on the same condition as before, the lady got possession of it.
When the duke was dressing in the morning, his man asked him what the strange singing and moaning that had been heard in his room for two nights meant.
"I heard nothing," said the duke; "it could only have been your fancy."
"Take no sleeping-draught to-night, and be sure to lay aside your pillow of heaviness," said the man, "and you also will hear what for two nights has kept me awake."
The duke did so, and the princess coming in, sat down sighing at his bedside, thinking this the last time she might ever see him. The duke started up when he heard the voice of his dearly-loved princess; and with many endearing expressions of surprise and joy, explained to her that he had long been in the power of a witch-wife, whose spells over him were now happily ended by their once again meeting.
The princess, happy to be the means of breaking his second evil spell, consented to marry him, and the wicked witch-wife, who fled that country, afraid of the duke's anger, has never since been heard of. All was hurry and preparation in the castle, and the marriage which took place happily ended the adventures of the Black Bull o' Norroway, and the wanderings of the king's daughter.CHAPTER 4
THE LAMBTON WORM
LONG, long ago,—I cannot say how long,—the young heir of Lambton Castle led a careless, profane life, regardless of God and man. All his Saturday nights he spent in drinking, and all his Sunday mornings in fishing. One Sunday, he had cast his line into the Water of Wear many times without a bite; and at last in a rage he let loose his tongue in curses loud and deep, to the great scandal of the servants and country-folk as they passed by to the old chapel at Brugeford, which was not in ruins then.
Soon afterwards he felt something tugging at his line, and trusting he had at last hooked a fine fish, he used all his skill to play it and bring it safe to land. But what were his horror and dismay on finding that, instead of a fish he had only caught a loathly worm of most evil appearance! He hastily tore the foul thing from his hook, and flung it into a well close by, which is still known by the name of the Worm Well.
The young heir had scarcely thrown his line again into the stream when a stranger of venerable appearance, passing by, asked him what sport he had met with?
He replied: "Why, truly, I think I have caught the evil one himself. Look in and judge."
The stranger looked, and remarked that he had never seen the like of it before; that it resembled an eft, only it had nine holes on each side of its mouth; and, finally, that he thought it boded no good.
The worm remained there unheeded in the well till it outgrew so confined a dwelling-place. It then emerged, and betook itself by day to the river, where it lay coiled round a rock in the middle of the stream, and by night to a neighbouring hill, round whose base it would twine itself, while it continued to grow so fast that it soon could encircle the hill three times. This eminence is still called the Worm Hill. It is oval in shape, on the north side of the Wear, and about a mile and a half from old Lambton Hall.
The Lambton Worm now became the terror of the whole country side. It sucked the cows' milk, worried the cattle, devoured the lambs, and committed every sort of depredation on the helpless peasantry. Having laid waste the district on the north side of the river, it crossed the stream and approached Lambton Hall, where the old lord was living alone and desolate. His son had repented of his evil life, and had gone to the wars in a distant country. Some people say he had gone as a crusader to the Holy Land.
Excerpted from Fairy Gold by Ernest Rhys, Herbert Cole. Copyright © 2008 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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