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The Legends of Langaffer by Madame Armand Caumont

 

I.

THE TINY FOLK OF LANGAFFER.

Langaffer was but a village in those days, with a brook running through it, a bridge, a market-place, a score of houses, and a church.

It may have become a city since, and may have changed its name. We cannot tell. All we know is, that the curious things we are about to relate took place a long time ago, before there was any mention of railroads or gaslamps, or any of the modern inventions people have nowadays.

There was one cottage quite in the middle of the village, much smaller, cleaner, and neater than its neighbours. The little couple who lived in it were known over the country, far and wide, as “Wattie and Mattie, the tiny folk of Langaffer.”

These two had gone and got married, if you please, when they were quite young, without asking anybody's advice or permission. Whereupon their four parents and their eight grandparents sternly disowned them; and the Fairy of the land, highly displeased, declared the two should remain tiny, as a punishment for their folly.

Yet they loved one another very tenderly, Wattie and Mattie; and, as the years rolled by, and never a harsh word was heard between them, and peace and unity reigned in their diminutive household—which could not always have been said of their parents' and grandparents' firesides—why, then the neighbours began to remark that they were a good little couple; and the Fairy of the land declared that if they could but distinguish themselves in some way, or perform some great action, they might be allowed to grow up after all.

“But how could we ever do a great deed?” said Wattie to Mattie, laughing. “Look at the size of us! I defy any man in the village, with an arm only the length of mine, to do more than I! Of course I can't measure myself with the neighbours. To handle Farmer Fairweather's pitchfork would break my back, and to hook a great perch, like Miller Mealy, in the mill-race, might be the capsizing of me. Still, what does that matter? I can catch little sprats for my little wife's dinner; I can dig in our patch of garden, and mend our tiny roof, so that we live as cosily and as merrily as the best of them.”

“To be sure, Wattie dear!” said Mattie. “And what would become of poor me supposing thou wert any bigger? As it is, I can bake the little loaves thou lovest to eat, and I can spin and knit enough for us both. But, oh, dear! wert thou the size of Farmer Fairweather or Miller Mealy, my heart would break.”

In truth the little couple had made many attempts at pushing their fortune in the village; and had failed, because it was no easy problem to find a trade to suit poor Wattie. A friendly cobbler had taught him how to make boots and shoes, new soling and mending; and he once had the courage to suspend over his door the sign of a shoemaker's shop. Then the good wives of Langaffer did really give him orders for tiny slippers for their little ones to toddle about in. But, alas! ere the work was completed and sent home, the little feet had got time to trot about a good deal, and had far outgrown the brand-new shoes; and poor Wattie acquired the character of a tardy tradesman. “So shoemaking won't do,” he had said to Mattie. “If only the other folk would remain as little as we are!”

In spite of this, Wattie and Mattie not only continued to be liked by their neighbours, but in time grew to be highly respected by all who knew them. Wattie could talk a great deal, and could give a reason for everything; and his dwarf figure might be seen of an evening sitting on the edge of the bridge wall, surrounded by a group of village worthies, whilst his shrill little voice rose high above theirs, discussing the affairs of Langaffer. And little Mattie was the very echo of little Wattie. What he said she repeated on his authority in many a half-hour's gossip with the good wives by the village well.

Now it happened that one day the homely community of Langaffer was startled by sudden and alarming tidings. A traveller, hastening on foot through the village, asked the first person he met, “What news of the war?”

“What war?” returned the simple peasant in some surprise.

“Why, have you really heard nothing of the great armies marching about all over the country, attacking, besieging and fighting in pitched battles—the king and all his knights and soldiers against the enemies of the country—ah, and it is not over yet! But I wonder to find all so tranquil here in the midst of such troublous times!” And then the stranger passed on; and his words fell on the peaceful hamlet like a stone thrown into the bosom of a tranquil lake.

At once there was a general commotion and excitement among the village folk. “Could the news be true? How dreadful if the enemy were indeed to come and burn down their homesteads, and ravage their crops, and kill them every one with their swords!”

That night the gossip lasted a long time on Langaffer Bridge. Wattie's friends, the miller and the grocer, the tailor and the shoemaker, and big Farmer Fairweather spoke highly of the king and his faithful knights, and clenched their fists, and raised their voices to an angry pitch at the mention of the enemy's name. And little Wattie behaved like the rest of them, strutted about, and doubled up his tiny hands, and proclaimed what he should do if Langaffer were attacked—and “if he were only a little bigger!” Whereupon the neighbours laughed and held their sides, and cried aloud, “Well done, Wattie!”

But the following evening brought more serious tidings. Shortly before nightfall a rider, mounted on a sweltering steed, arrived at the village inn, all out of breath, to announce that the army was advancing, and that the General of the Forces called upon every householder in Langaffer to furnish food and lodging for the soldiers.

“What! Soldiers quartered on us!” cried the good people of Langaffer. “Who ever heard the like?”

“They shall not come to my house!” exclaimed Farmer Fairweather resolutely.

“Oh, neighbour Fairweather!” shouted half a dozen voices, “and thou hast such barns and lofts, and such very fine stables, and cowsheds, thou art the very one who canst easily harbour the soldiers.”

“As for me,” cried the miller, “I have barely room for my meal-sacks!”

“Oh, plenty of room!” screamed the others, “and flour to make bread for the troopers, and bran for the horses!”

“But it falls very hard on poor people like us!” cried the weaver, the tinker, the cobbler and tailor; upon which little Wattie raised his voice and began, “Shame on ye, good neighbours! Do ye grudge hospitality to the warriors who go forth to shed their blood in our defence? Every man, who has strength of body and limb, ought to feel it an honour to afford food and shelter to the army of the land!”

Thy advice is cheap, Wattie!” cried several voices sarcastically, “thou and thy tiny wife escape all this trouble finely. For the general would as soon dream of quartering a soldier on dwarfs as on the sparrows that live on the housetops!”

“And what if we are small,” retorted Wattie, waxing scarlet, “we have never shirked from our duty yet, and never intend to do so.”

This boast of the little man's had the effect of silencing some of the most dissatisfied; and then the people of Langaffer dispersed for the night, every head being full of the morrow's preparations.

“Eh, Wattie dear,” said Mattie to her husband, when the two were retiring to sleep in their cosy little house, “we may bless ourselves this night that we are not reckoned amongst the big people, and that our cottage is so small no full-grown stranger would try to enter it.”

“But we must do something, Mattie dear,” said Wattie. “You can watch the women washing and cooking all day to-morrow, whilst I encourage the men in the market-place and on the bridge. These are great times, Mattie!”

“Indeed they are, Wattie dear.” And so saying, the little couple fell fast asleep.

The following morning Langaffer village presented a lively picture of bustle and excitement. Soldiers in gaudy uniforms, and with gay-coloured banners waving in the breeze, marched in to the sound of trumpet and drum. How their spears and helmets glittered in the sunshine, and what a neighing and prancing their steeds made in the little market-square! The men and women turned out to receive them, the children clapped their hands with delight, and the village geese cackled loudly to add to the stir.

Wattie was there looking on, with his hands in his pockets. But nobody heeded him now. They were all too busy, running here, running there, hastening to and fro, carrying long-swords and shields, holding horses' heads, stamping, tramping, scolding and jesting. Little Wattie was more than once told to stand aside, and more than once got pushed about and mixed up with the throng of idle children, whose juvenile curiosity kept them spell-bound, stationed near the village inn.

Wattie began to feel lonely in the midst of the commotion. A humiliating sense of his own weakness and uselessness crept over him; and the poor little dwarf turned away from it all, and wandered out of the village, far away through the meadows, and into a lonely wood.

On and on he went, unconscious of the distance, till night closed in, when, heartsick and weary, he flung his little body down at the foot of a majestic oak, and covered his face with his hands.

He had not lain long when he was startled by a sound close at hand; a sigh, much deeper than his own, and a half-suppressed moan—what could it be?

In an instant Wattie was on his feet, peering to right and left, trying to discover whence those signs of distress proceeded.

The moon had just risen, and by her pale light he fancied he saw something glitter among the dried leaves of the forest. Cautiously little Wattie crept closer; and there, to his astonishment, lay extended the form of a knight in armour. He rested on his elbow, and his head was supported by his arm, and his face, which was uncovered, wore an expression of sadness and anxiety. He gazed with an air of calm dignity rather than surprise on the dwarf, when the latter, after walking once or twice round him, cried out, “Noble knight, noble knight, pray what is your grief, and can I do aught to relieve it? Say, wherefore these groans and sighs?”

“Foes and traitors, sorrow and shame!” returned the warrior. “But tell me, young man, canst thou show me the road to Langaffer?”

“That I can, noble sir,” answered Wattie, impressed by the stranger's tone. “Do I not dwell in Langaffer myself!”

“Then perhaps, young man, thou knowest the Castle of Ravenspur?”

“The ruined tower of Count Colin of Ravenspur!” cried Wattie, “why, that is close to Langaffer. Our village folk call it 'the fortress' still, although wild and dismantled since the time it was forsaken by——”

“Name not Count Colin to me!” cried the knight, impatiently. “The base traitor that left his own land to join hands with the enemy! His sable plume shall ne'er again wave in his own castle-yard!... But come, hasten, young man, and guide me straight to Ravenspur. Our men, you say, are encamped at Langaffer?”

“That they are,” returned Wattie; “well-nigh every house is filled with them. They arrived in high spirits this morning; and doubtless, by this time, are sleeping as heavily as they were carousing an hour ago.”

“All the better,” cried the knight, “for it will be a different sort of sleep some of them may have ere the morrow's setting sun glints through the stems of these forest trees! And now, let us hasten to Ravenspur.”

So saying, he drew himself up to his full height, lifted his sword from the ground and hung it on his side, and strode away with Wattie, looking all the while like a great giant in company of a puny dwarf.

As they emerged from the forest Wattie pointed with his finger across the plain to the village of Langaffer, and then to a hill overhanging it, crowned by a fortress which showed in the distance its chiselled outlines against the evening sky. An hour's marching across the country brought them close to the dismantled castle. The moonbeams depicted every grey stone overgrown with moss and ivy, and the rank weeds choking the apertures which once had been windows.

“An abode for the bat and the owl,” remarked Wattie, “but, brave sir, you cannot pass the night here. Pray—pray come to my tiny house in the village, and rest there till the morning dawns.”

“I accept thy hospitality, young man,” said the warrior, “but first thou canst render me a service. Thou art little and light. Canst clamber up to yonder stone where the raven sits, and tell me what thou beholdest far away to the west?” Whereupon Wattie, who was agile enough, and anxious to help the stranger, began to climb up, stone by stone, the outer wall of the ruined fortress. A larger man might have felt giddy and insecure; but he, with his tiny figure, sprang from ledge to ledge so swiftly, holding firmly by the tufts of grass and the trailing ivy, that ere he had time to think of danger, he had reached the spot where, a moment before, a grim-looking raven had been keeping solemn custody. Here the stone moved, and Wattie fancied he heard something rattle as he set his foot upon it. The raven had now perched herself on a yet higher eminence, on a piece of the old coping-stone of the castle parapet; and she flapped her great ugly wings, and cawed and croaked, as if displeased at this intrusion on her solitude. Wattie followed the ill-omened bird, and drove her away from her vantage-ground, where he himself now found a better footing from which to make his observations.

“To the west,” he cried, “lights like camp-fires, all in a row far against the horizon!”

This was all he had to describe; and it seemed enough to satisfy the armed stranger.

“And now, young man,” he said, when Wattie had, after a perilous descent, gained the castle-yard once more, “I shall be thy guest for the night.”

A thrill of pride and pleasure stole through Wattie's breast as he thought of the honour of receiving the tall warrior. But the next instant his heart was filled with anxiety as he remembered the tiny dimensions of his home, Mattie and himself.

All these hours his little wife had passed in sore perplexity because of his absence. At the accustomed time for supper she had spread the snow-white napkin on the stool that served them for a table. She had piled up a saucerful of beef and lentils for Wattie, and filled him an egg-cupful of home-brewed ale to the brim. And yet he never came!

What could ever have happened? A tiny little person like Wattie might have been trampled to death in the crowd of great soldiers that now filled Langaffer! A horse's kick at the village inn might have killed him! He might have been pushed into the stream and been drowned. Oh, the horrible fancies that vaguely hovered round poor Mattie's fireside! No wonder the little woman sat there with her face pale as ashes, her teeth chattering, and her tiny hands clasped tightly together.

And thus Wattie found her when he returned at last, bringing the stranger knight along with him. But Mattie was so overjoyed to see her Wattie safe home, and held her arms so tightly round his neck, that he could scarcely get his story told.

Little indeed did the good people of Langaffer, that night, asleep in their beds, dream of the great doings under the modest roof of Wattie and Mattie; all the furniture they possessed drawn out and joined together, and covered with the whole household stock of mattresses, quilts and blankets, to form a couch for their guest's repose.

The knight had eaten all Mattie's store of newly-baked bread, and now only begged for a few hours' rest, and a little more water to quench his thirst when he should waken. As he took off his helmet with its great white plume, and handed it to Wattie, the latter staggered under its weight, and Mattie cried out, “Oh, Wattie, how beautiful, how noble it must be to ride o'er hill and dale in such a gallant armour!”

Then thrice to the Fairy Well in the meadow beyond the bridge of Langaffer must Wattie and Mattie run to fetch water, the best in the land, clear as crystal, and cold as ice; for it required fully three times what they could carry to fill the great stone pitcher for the sleeping warrior.

And the third time the two came to the spring, behold, the water bubbled and flashed with the colours of the rainbow, and by the light of the moon they caught a glimpse of something bright reflected on its surface. They glanced round, and there a lovely, radiant being sat by, with a tiny phial in her hand.

“Hold here, little people!” she cried, “let me drop some cordial into the pitcher.”

“Nay, nay!” screamed Mattie.

“Nay!” cried Wattie sternly, “the drink must be as pure as crystal.”

“For your noble warrior,” added the fairy rising; “but the beverage will taste the sweeter with the drops that I put into it.” And so saying, she stretched forth her hand, and shook the contents of her tiny flask into the pitcher; and her gay laugh rang merrily and scornfully through the midnight air.

Wattie and Mattie, half-frightened, hastened homewards; and lo, when crossing the bridge, an old hag overtook them, and, as she hurried past, she uttered a spiteful laugh.

“There is something strange in the air to-night,” said Mattie. “See that weird old woman, and hark, Wattie, how Oscar, the miller's dog, barks at the moon.”

“Mattie,” cried Wattie resolutely, “let us empty our pitcher into the mill-race, and go back once again, and draw afresh! 'Tis safer.”

So the tiny couple, weary and worn out as they were, trudged all the way to the Fairy Well once more to “make sure” that the stranger knight should come to no harm through their fault.

And this time the water flowed clear and cold, but with no varied tints flashing through it. Only Wattie seemed to hear the stream rushing over the pebbles like a soft, lisping voice. “Hush! listen! what does it say?”

“To me,” cried Mattie, “it whispers, 'Silver sword of Ravenspur.' But that has no sense, Wattie dear. Come, let us go!”

“And to me the same!” cried Wattie, “'Silver sword of Ravenspur.' That means something.”

It was now early dawn as the two passed over the bridge and by the miller's house, and they could see the fish floating dead on the surface of the mill-race, and poor Oscar the dog lying stretched on the bank, with his tongue hanging out stiff and cold. And silently wondering at all these strange things the little couple finished their task.

When the hour of noon arrived, the din of battle raged wild and fierce round the village of Langaffer. The enemies of the land had arrived from the west with false Colin at their head, and were met by the soldiers in the plain, below the Castle of Ravenspur. With a loud war-cry on either side foe rushed upon foe, and the fight began. Horsemen reeled over and tumbled from their chargers, blood flowed freely on every side, shrieks rent the air; but the strength of the combatants appeared equal. At last Count Colin and his men pressed closer on the royal army, and forced them back by degrees towards Langaffer.

It seemed now that the enemy's troops were gaining; and groans of despair broke forth from the villagers and countryfolk who watched with throbbing hearts the issue of the day.

At this moment the knight who had been little Wattie's guest dashed forward, mounted on a snow-white charger, his armour of polished steel glistening, and his fair plume waving in the sunshine.

“Back with the faint-hearted, on with the brave, and down with the traitor!” he cried, and rode to the front rank himself.

His word and action wrought like an enchantment on the soldiers. They rallied round the white-plumed stranger, who soon was face to face with false Colin. And then the hostile bands, with their rebel commander, were in turn driven back, and back, and back across the plain, and right under the beetling towers of the fortress of Ravenspur.

Now Wattie was standing near the ruin, and saw the combat, and heard the sounds of the warriors' voices reverberating from the bend of the hill. How his heart bounded at the brave knight's battle-cry: “Back with the faint-hearted, on with the brave, and down with the traitor! “ And then indeed the blood seemed to stand still in his veins when he heard false Colin exclaim, “Oh, had I the silver sword of Ravenspur!”

Ah! Wattie remembered the raven, and the one loose stone in the castle wall.

In another instant his tiny figure was grappling with the trailing ivy on the outer fencework of the fortress.

And now he is seen by false Colin, and now the archers bend their bows, and the arrows fly past him on every side. But Wattie has hurled down a stone into the old courtyard, and, from behind it, has drawn forth a silver-hilted brand.

“He is so small that our arrows all miss him!” cry the archers. “Nay,” cries false Colin, “but he bears the enchanted weapon of Ravenspur! Take it from him, my men, and fetch it to me.”

“Count Colin shall have the point of the sword,” cries Wattie, “but the silver handle is for the white-plumed knight!” and, running round the ledge of the castle wall to the highest turret, he flings the shining weapon down amongst the men of Langaffer.

And now there was a fresh charge made on the enemy, and the “unknown warrior,” armed with the newly-found talisman, stood face to face, hand to hand, with the traitor.

... Count Colin fell, pierced through his armour of mail by the sword that once had been his! The enemy fled, and the victory was won.

Then the stranger knight undid his visor, and took off his armour; and, as his golden locks floated down his shoulders, the soldiers cried out, “'Tis the King! 'tis the King!”

Wattie was called forth by the King of all the Land, and was bidden to take the knightly helmet with its waving plume, and the shield, and the silver sword, and to wear them. The men of Langaffer laughed aloud; but Wattie did as he was commanded, and put on the knightly armour and weapons.

And, behold at that moment he grew up into a great, strong warrior, worthy to wield them! He was knighted then and there, “Sir Walter of Ravenspur,” and presented with the castle on the hill, which the king's own army repaired ere they quitted Langaffer.

And then the King of all the Land sent a fair white robe, the size of the Queen's ladies'; and when little Mattie put this on, she grew up tall and stately to fit it. And, for many and many a year to come, she was known as the “Good Dame Martha, the faithful lady of Sir Walter of Ravenspur.”

II.

THE KINGFISHER.

Martin was a gardener, and lived in a cottage in the midst of a hamlet near Langaffer. All the country for miles round belonged to the old king and queen; and their beautiful palace was hard by the village, in a stately grove of elms and beech trees. Before the windows extended a lovely garden, which was kept in order by Martin. Here he toiled every day from morning-dawn till evening-dusk; and, in his own churlish manner, he had come to love the flowers that cost him so much labour.

Like many another honest gardener, however, Martin found it very hard that he could not have his own way in this world, even as concerned his plants. For instance, the old monarch would come out every morning after breakfast in his dressing-gown and slippers, and would admire the bloom; but the very flowers he appeared to prize most were those that cost Martin least trouble, and which the gardener in his heart despised as cheap and vulgar.

Then the queen and the young ladies were wont to appear on the terrace before dinner, with their little lapdogs, and call out for posies. They must have the finest tea-roses and moss-roses that were only in bud. Martin might grumble about to-morrow's “poor show,” and point to some rare full-blown beauties—but no, they just desired those which were not yet opened.

Moreover, there grew here and there in the garden a plant or shrub, which, Martin considered, would have been better removed; especially one large lauristinus, which, he declared, “destroyed all symmetry,” and “hindered the flowers about it from enjoying the sunshine.”

But the old king obstinately opposed changes of this sort, and strictly forbade his gardener, on any pretext whatever, to remove the lauristinus; as it was well known at the court that for generations a spell was connected with this special shrub, and that therefore the less it was meddled with the better.

All this interference tended to sour poor Martin's temper; but he himself declared it was nothing compared to the aggravating behaviour of Prince Primus, commonly called “Lord Lackaday,” the king's eldest son.

This young nobleman, who was renowned far and wide for his indolent habits, sauntered forth every day with a little boy carrying his fishing-tackle, away through the lovely gardens, without once turning his head to behold the brilliant parterres of “calceolarias, pelargoniums, petunias and begonias,” or to inhale the sweet-scented heliotropes,—away through the park, and on to the river; for my Lord Lackaday's sole pastime was angling.

“Humph! there he goes with his tackle,” Martin would murmur, turning from tying up his carnations to stare after him. “If old Martin, now, were to spend his days lying stretched his full length on the grass, with a rod dangling in the water before him, what would the world come to? And where would you be, my beauties?” he added, continuing his occupation. “Hanging your lovely heads, my darlings!” And so he grumbled and mumbled in an undertone to himself the whole livelong day, until he went home to his supper at night; when his good wife, Ursula, would endeavour to cheer him with her hearty welcome.

One evening Martin went with his clay pipe and his pewter ale-pot in his hand to the village inn, to divert himself listening to the general gossip which was carried on there between the host and the little group of customers—weavers, tinkers, tailors, blacksmiths and labourers. To-night they talked of the rich old king and queen, and Lord Lackaday, and all the gay princesses, knights and ladies, who lived at the court, and rode by in such splendid carriages, in such gorgeous attire.

“They eat out of golden dishes,” said the tailor, “and the very nails in their boots are silver!”

Martin knew as much about the court as any present; but he was in one of his silent humours this evening.

“The princess gave a hundred crowns,” cried the blacksmith, “for a one-eyed lapdog, and My Lord Lackaday—Prince Primus, I mean—two hundred for a certain white fly for his angling-rod——”

“And he never gave me a hundred groats,” blurted out Martin, who could not stand any reference to the prince in question.

Thereupon the conversation took another turn; wages were discussed, the weaver and the ploughman “compared notes”; and, as for Martin, it was the unanimous opinion of the whole company that he, at least, ought to strike—to insist on an increase of pay, or refuse to labour any more as the king's own gardener.

Accordingly, the next morning Martin watched and waited till his royal master came sidling along the smooth gravel walk in his embroidered slippers, with his dressing-gown floating about him, sniffing with good-humoured satisfaction the sweet fragrance of the standard roses, that formed a phalanx on either side.

“I've got to tell your Majesty,” began Martin abruptly, “that, unless your Majesty raises my salary, I can't work any more in your Majesty's garden.”

Whereupon the old king started back all astonished; then laughed so heartily that he brought on a fit of coughing.

“Your Majesty may be highly amused,” grumbled Martin, “but I've said my say, and I mean to stick to it!”

“But suppose your salary ain't raised,” began the king, trying his best to look serious, “what then?”

“Then I'll go!” cried Martin; and, so saying, he flung his spade with such force into the soil, that it stood upright.

“Well, my man, we'll give you a week to come to your senses,” replied the monarch, as, gathering up his skirts, he shuffled away down the garden walk.

When Martin arrived home he found a great fuss going on in his little cottage. All the good wives of the hamlet were gathered about the door-porch; and, when he entered, lo, and behold, Dame Ursula held in her arms the dearest little beauty of a baby-boy!

She wept for joy, as she saw how pleased her goodman was with his new little son; but when he related to her all that had passed between himself and his master, the old king, she clasped her hands together, and began to weep and wail for sorrow, “because,” as she said, “it was a very bad time to be 'out of work,' and an evil omen for the child. However, we'll have a real nice christening, Martin dear, and invite all the good fairies. And next week you will go on with your gardening again, you know, just as if nothing had happened.”

So they had as grand a christening as people in their circumstances could afford. The baby was called Lionel, “which,” remarked some of the neighbours, “was quite too fine a name for a common gardener's son.” Only one bright little, gay little fairy could be found who had time to come to the christening. But she was a good-natured little thing, that somehow always found exactly time to render a great many kindly services. She willingly became Lionel's godmother, and promised to help him through life as far as she could. “However,” added the little lady, with a sigh, “there's many a wicked fairy in the land may try to throw a shadow across his path.”

Now the day after the christening, and after the fairy's departure, the troubles in little Lionel's home appeared to set in. Martin's leather money-bag hung empty, and there was very little bread in the house for his wife to eat; and this Saturday night no wages were coming due. Oh, how he yearned for Monday morning, that he might go at his digging again; and how anxiously he hoped that all might continue as before!

Slowly the week dragged out, the lagging hours weighing like chains on the heart of the honest yeoman, who was not accustomed to idleness.

At last the Monday morning dawned, with rustling of leaves, and twittering of birds; and Martin flung his clothes on, and hastened forth to the royal garden.

Ah, me! the place looked neglected since only last week. The roses and carnations hung their heads for want of a drop of water, and the leaves of the fuchsias had mostly turned white. Weeds were staring out boldly right and left; and the box-borders, that had ever been so trim and neat, just appeared as if all the cats and dogs in the country-side had gathered in on purpose to tear them to pieces.

Martin sped to the toolhouse for his watering-can, rake and hoe; but he was somewhat dismayed indeed to find his implements broken in pieces, and lying scattered about.

What could it mean?

He took a few strides towards the “lime walk,” and gazed up at the castle windows. The lattices were closed, and all was silent. But then, of course, the old king and queen and My Lord Lackaday, and all the princesses would be sleeping in their beds at this early hour of the morning. Martin must wait until some human creature appeared to tell him how the garden tools came to be broken and scattered.

In the meantime he trudged back to his own domain among the flowers, and passed the dreary moments picking off the withered leaves. By-and-by a light footstep was audible, and “Impudent Jack the jockey” arrived whistling, with a heavy-jowled bull-dog at his heels, and stamped right across the garden parterres, switching off the carnation-tops with his cutty-whip.

“Holloa there, man! Mind what you're about!” cried Martin foaming with wrath. “I wish His Majesty the old king saw you.”

“The old king!” cried Jack, standing still, and gazing at Martin with some amazement. “Why, Martin, the old king is dead a week to-morrow, and My Lord Lackaday is master now. And, as for the garden, my man, you may set your mind at rest about that, for his new Royal Majesty has given orders that the whole concern is to be turned into a lake for His Majesty to fish in. Now!” And, so saying, impudent Jack that he was, continued his way, whistling louder, and switching off more carnation tops than before.

Poor Martin was utterly dazed. Could it be true, or was it only a cunning invention of Impudent Jack the jockey's?

Alas, the prolonged stillness that reigned in the park, and the forlorn aspect of the castle windows, made his heart sink like lead within him.

Suddenly a postern door banged, and then a slow, dawdling step was heard in the distance, and Martin perceived, approaching the “lime walk,” My Lord Lackaday, with his fishing-rod and tackle. There were two or three young pages with him bearing baskets and nets; and he overheard one of them say, “By-and-by your Majesty shall not have so far to go, once the new pond here is finished.”

This was more than Martin could endure. He dashed after the royal fisherman, and screamed forth, “Can it be true that the flower gardens are to be made a pond of? And how is your father's gardener then to get his living?”

“Don't bother us,” drawled out the new king; “we don't like flowers, nor do we care whether you get a living or not!”

The blood rushed to Martin's head, and a singing sound filled his ears. “A pond!” he cried. “A common fishpond! And how am I to earn my living now? And what is to become of my wife and little Lionel?”

In his anger and despair, Martin sprang blindly forward, and kicked the standard roses, and wrung the necks of the beautiful purple iris that bloomed in the shade of some laurel bushes. His eye caught the spellbound lauristinus, and, forgetting his late good master's commands, he fell on it furiously with both hands, and tore, and wrenched it from the earth.

Then suddenly, as the roots and fibres of the ill-omened plant with a crackling noise were released from the soil, a wonderful being, which had been buried underneath it—a wicked fairy with an evil eye—uncoiled herself, and rose up straight and tall before him. She gave a malicious smile, and simpered out flattering words to the half-bewildered labourer.

“A thousand thanks, O noble knight, for relieving a spell-bound lady! Pray let me know, is there aught that I can do to indicate my gratitude?”

“Tell me how I can earn my daily bread?” stammered forth poor Martin.

“Daily bread!” cried the fairy, tossing her head contemptuously. “I can tell thee, gallant sir, where to find gold, ay, more real yellow gold than the king and all his court ever dreamed of! I have not been pent up under that lauristinus all these years for nothing! I know a secret or two.”

Martin's eyes grew dilated, and his breath came and went, and he seized the fairy by the wrist. “Answer me,” he gasped out hoarsely, “where's all that gold to be got? No palavering, or I'll bury you up again, and plant that same lauristinus-bush on your head!”

The fairy rolled her evil eye, and gave a forced laugh. “At the back of yonder mountain!” she cried, pointing with her thin, long hand to a hill whose summit overlooked the park. “The way thou must take is through the forest, till thou comest to the charcoal-burners' huts. Then follow a crooked path leading to the left, round to the back of the hill. Thou wilt find an opening in the earth. The gold is there!

Martin scarcely waited for the last words. He loosened his grasp of the fairy's wrist, and hastened full speed home to his wife and child.

“To a hole at the back of the mountain to look for gold!” Poor Dame Ursula was sorely puzzled when her good-man arrived all excited, and bade her make a bundle of what clothes she possessed, bring the baby Lionel, and follow him to push their fortune at the back of the mountain.

Now at the back of the mountain there was a deep mine where many people, men, women and children, were searching after, and finding, gold. Only they were obliged to descend deep, deep into the bowels of the earth, where all was dark, save for the pale flickering of little lanterns, which they were allowed to carry down.

Poor Dame Ursula wept bitterly at the notion of taking her darling little Lionel into such a dismal pit. But there was no help for it; down they must go, and live like the rest at the bottom of the gloomy mine, whilst Martin, with a pickaxe, wrought for gold.

... The days passed, and the weeks passed, and the months, and the years! And little Lionel was growing up amidst the dross. His long hair was filthy, and matted together, and his skin was always stained with the clay. His parents could scarcely know whether he was a lovely boy or not. It was so dark down there, that his mother could not show his blue eyes to the neighbours; yet she ever kept him by her side, for fear of losing him, and also because she dreaded he might learn bad ways from the gold-diggers—to curse and swear like them, and tell lies, and steal other people's treasures.

And poor Martin dug from year-end to year-end, in the weary hope of some day lighting on a great heap of wealth.

The time dragged slowly on, and Lionel's father was getting old and weak, and his pickaxe fell with feeble, quavering strokes into the earth; and Lionel's poor mother was growing blind with constantly peering after her son through the half-obscurity of their underground abode.

Then one morning she missed him altogether, having mistaken for him another youth, whom she followed and then found with bitter anguish to be not her boy. Thus Lionel was alone; and he, too, searched for his mother, and, in so doing, became completely lost in the mine.

On and on he wandered, through endless subterraneous corridors, until at last he spied a feeble glimmer before him. He never remembered to have been here before, or to have seen this light. It was the entrance to the mine.

There was a large basket, with two old men standing in it; and they told Lionel that they were about to be taken up into the daylight.

“Oh, let me go with you!” cried Lionel. “Take me also to the daylight, if only for a little while!”

They hoisted him into the basket; and immediately several unseen hands from above drew all three right up, out of the dark gold mine. The pale, thin ray grew stronger, broader, brighter as they ascended; and, at the mouth of the mine, a perfect flood of golden sunshine overwhelmed Lionel, who now held his hands across his brow, and felt painfully dazzled.

“Young man,” said a voice beside him, in mournful accents, “this upper air is not for thee. Go down again to the shady retreat to which thou art accustomed.”

It was an aged female that spoke; she sat on the ground all clad in a sooty garment.

“Not for me!” cried Lionel, bursting into tears; “and why should it not be for me as well as for others?”

But just at this instant a fairy-like thing in white glided past the youth, and whispered, “Heed her not, she is an evil genius! Hie thee, young man, for shelter to yonder wood; from its leafy shade thou canst behold the lovely earth with its verdant meadows, rich foliage and brilliant flowers, and the soft, fleecy clouds embracing one another in the azure sky overhead. Never fear, it is all for thee; thine eyes were meant to gaze on it.”

Lionel ran, and his young heart bounded within him for joy. He felt like some blind person who sees again for the first time.

All through those dismal years down in the mine his mother had told him how lovely the sunshine was, and the soft green grass; and how pure and sweet the country air; but he had little dreamed it could be so delightful, so beautiful as this!

The forest stood before him with its thousands of singing-birds, and its carpet of many-coloured leaves and wild flowers. He would enter in there.

Suddenly a croaking sound from a branch overhead arrested his attention, and Lionel saw a great magpie staring down at him with dark, piercing eyes.

“Halt!” cried the magpie, “nor enter this wood upon the peril of thy life! Here are lions and tigers, bears and wolves, that will rend thee to pieces.”

He was startled and troubled for a moment; but at once his eye caught sight of a pretty little mocking-bird, that laughed like a human being, and shook its tiny head at him.

She doesn't believe you, anyhow,” said Lionel to the magpie. “Nor will I.” And he walked away right into the forest.

As he went he stopped to examine the feathery-looking ferns, and the wondrous velvety moss that grew on the roots of the trees. By-and-by a rushing noise was heard, which became louder as Lionel proceeded. Could that be the wild beasts of which the magpie had warned him? He stood still with fast-beating heart and listened.

But the thought of the fairy-like voice and the gay little mocking-bird encouraged him, and he pressed forward to see what that rushing noise could mean.

The next instant found young Lionel by the side of a majestic waterfall, standing with parted lips and rounded eyes, gazing before him in a bewilderment of admiration. The cascades leaped laughingly from rock to rock, and were lost in a limpid pool; then flowed away as a gentle, rippling brook.

“How lovely!” gasped Lionel; and he bent forward, and looked into the placid surface of the water in the rocky basin. But what did he behold there? A vision that appalled him, and caused him to start back abashed—himself, all grimy, with his matted hair and besmeared face! For he had still the dress of the gold mine clinging to him; and he wept for shame to feel himself so ugly in a spot where all was beauty.

Lionel stood and gazed on the silver stream with his wondering eyes; he observed the little birdies come down quite fearlessly to quench their thirst, and lave their tiny bodies in the cooling drops. Then he, too, trembling at his own temerity, bathed himself in the crystal pool, and came forth fair and shining, with his sunny locks waving on his shoulders.

And now he continued his path through the forest with a happy heart; for, what if his garments were old and mud-stained, he felt that he himself was fresh and comely!

Young Lionel gathered a nosegay as he went, harebells and violets, oxlips and anemones; thinking all the while of the tales his mother oft had told him about his father's skill in flowers. And heartily he laughed at the frolics of the cunning little squirrels he spied for the first time among the branches over his head.

At last he heard the echo of many voices and the sounds of merry-making, and paused, hesitating and timid. Whence came all this laughter and these cries of mirth? Surely not from the voice of one being, a sallow-looking female attired in gaudy garments, like a gipsy, who now came along his path.

“Turn, noble sir, and come with me,” she cried, “and I will tell thee thy fortune!”

But Lionel liked not her artful eyes, so he only said, “What sounds are those?”

“They are the inhabitants of the country,” answered the female vaguely; “but beware of them, young stranger, they will surely take thy life.”

“But I must see them,” cried Lionel, “their voices please my ears! They seem to be very happy.”

“Such happiness is not for thee, young man!” shrieked the fortune-teller angrily. “Be warned, and return from whence thou camest; else these country clowns, when they behold thy miserable attire, will stone thee to death, as a thief or a highwayman.”

Lionel was shocked; yet the leer of the gipsy's eye made him think of the lying magpie. So he left her, and hastened on, and, behold! there stood before him the village maypole, bedecked with roses and ribbons, and a living garland of youths and fair maidens dancing round it.

They had a lovely little fairy-body in their midst, and were entreating her to be their “May-Queen,” but laughingly she broke away from them all, and declared she had her duties elsewhere—other young folks in another hamlet to render happy. She nodded in a friendly, familiar way to Lionel, who waited, shyly looking on, and motioned to him with her little wand to join the party round the May-pole.

Far from repulsing him with sneers and jests, or “stoning him to death,” the young people were very kind to Lionel; and, taking his hand, welcomed him into their chain of dancers.

And when the frolics were at an end, and each one satiated with happiness and excitement, they brought him to their festal board, and gave him to eat and drink.

Then the good old wives of the hamlet gathered round, and began to question the stranger youth, inquiring his name and whence he came. When they heard that he was called “Lionel,” and his father “Martin,” they held up their hands with astonishment, and nodded their heads to one another, and cried out, “Dame Ursula's son! Dame Ursula's babe, that was christened Lionel, the day Lord Lackaday became king! Well to be sure! And where is Dame Ursula now? And Martin the gardener? And where have they hidden themselves all these long years?” cried the old wives of the hamlet in a breath.

But Lionel wept bitterly, as he thought of his mother and father far down in the bottom of the gold-mine; and at the same time he was ashamed to tell the village people where they were.

“I must go,” he cried, “and bring them here! I must be off to search for them, away ... away ... at the back of the mountain.”

Then the old wives insisted on his waiting and resting the night there; for he had need of sleep, he was so tired after walking and bathing, dancing and weeping. And they gave him a nice, spruce, dimity-curtained bed to sleep in; and presented him with a beautiful suit of new garments for the morrow; “for,” they said, “they had been at his christening, and it was easy to see that the good Dame Ursula, wherever she had been all these years, had brought her boy up well.”

Lionel was fatigued, and shut his eyes at once for the night; but, ere slumber overtook him, he heard distinctly the old wives' gossip by his bedside.

“What a shame it was,” said they, “of My Lord Lackaday to turn away poor Martin as he did, and then transform the magnificent palace garden into a fishpond!”

“But he was punished for it,” whispered another. “They say an 'evil spell' hangs over his only child, the lovely princess—the 'Lady Lilias' as she is called. They say some creature from below the cursed fishpond is to marry her—some dreadful beast no doubt. And the king is in terror, and spends his time fishing there day and night.”

The words awakened a strange curiosity in Lionel's heart; they rang in his ears, and mingled with his dreams the whole night through; and it seemed to him as if he and his parents were, in some way, bound up with the fate of this poor young princess and her unhappy father, the king.

The following morning he donned the brave new garments they had given him, and went forth to look at the park and the palace he had so often heard of, before starting back to the gold-mine.

He discovered the royal entrance without assistance. But what was his surprise to see, crouched on the roadside near it, a being which looked this time just what she was, a wicked fairy with an evil eye! She uncoiled herself, and stood up, straight and tall, before him. She gave a malicious smile, and simpered forth these words: “Beware, young man, of entering in there! That is the royal demesne, and no stranger intrudes unpunished. None so poor and so mean as thou art dares be seen within those precincts.”

“My parents have taught me that to tell lies is mean! And thou hast told me enough!” cried Lionel, indignantly.

At his words the creature vanished from before him; and on the spot where she had stood he saw an ugly bush of deadly nightshade.

Then he boldly entered the royal park, and walked in thoughtful silence till the stone work of the ancient castle walls met his view. At one side was a venerable shady lime walk, and Lionel perceived a maiden slowly gliding down it, attired in white, with golden hair, much longer than his own, and eyes of an azure blue.

“Are you the spellbound Lady Lilias?” asked Lionel. “And where is the lake that was once a lovely garden?”

“Oh, I dare not go there,” sighed the maiden; “not even to cull the sweet white water-lilies I wish so much, because my father fears I may meet some creature from below the water. Didst thou ever hear the like? But I think I might go with thee,” she added wistfully, taking Lionel's hand. “No vile creature can harm me when thou art by my side!”

Her innocent, confiding words captivated Lionel's heart, and he exclaimed, “I will protect you, Lady Lilias, from every danger.”

Then she led him to the great artificial lake at the back of the royal mansion; and there, sure enough, lay the king stretched out his full length upon the bank, with his fishing-rod dangling in the water.

Near the margin of the lake grew lovely white water-lilies, and the Lady Lilias stooped to gather them. But her father was all alarmed on beholding her approach the spot which fate had connected with so much danger for his child.

“My daughter, my Lilias!” he cried out, “when I have fished up the creature from below the lake that waits to marry thee, I will kill it, and then thou may'st wander as thou wilt. But oh, keep far from the water's edge, my child!”

“Ah, here is a Lion will guard thy Lily, father dear,” returned the girl laughing, and she presented young Lionel to the king.

But, at this instant, a violent tugging was perceptible at the end of the monarch's angling-rod; and he rose in great excitement to draw in his line, which this time seemed to have hooked some extraordinary booty.

Lionel ran forward, and assisted the king to land it.

And what was the wondrous fish? A little tiny fairy-body all laughing and shining like a mermaid.

“I have come,” she began gaily, “from the bottom of the lake, but your Majesty need not fear that fair Lady Lilias will fall in love with an old fairy like me. Yet there stands one at her side, my godson, young Lionel, old Martin the gardener's son, who has indeed come also from beneath the lake; and deeper down than I. For you must know that below your Majesty's feet, and below the royal palace and this park and pond, there are workmen grovelling sordidly for gold, and the danger is, that some fine morning both the palace and the hamlet may be undermined, and fall into the pit that they are digging.”

“Oh,” cried the king greatly relieved, “then my Lilias shall marry young Lionel! He is a goodly youth; and my heart shall be at rest about my daughter. And now, good Fairy, that I fear no longer an ugly monster for my child, I shall fish no more to-day, but inquire into these things, that threaten the safety of my kingdom!”

Lady Lilias and “My Lord Lionel,” as he was now called, were married at once; for the good fairy declared, a good thing could never be done too soon.

The marriage was a grand one, as became a royal princess of the great house of Primus Lackaday; and immediately after the ceremony, by Lionel's desire, the young pair drove in a glass-coach, drawn by eight swift chargers, through the forest, Lilias bearing in her hands a large posy of water-lilies—away, past the cascade, and on, to the opening of the gold-mine, at the back of the mountain.

An order was sent down in the basket, by a special messenger, bidding old Martin and Dame Ursula ascend to meet their Lionel and his noble bride.

As it was, the poor old couple had been searching in anguish for their son; and now, weary and heavy-hearted, they had arrived just at the foot of the opening when the news came to them.

Then the sudden reaction, and the sight of the brand-new silk and velvet garments Lionel sent down for them, almost killed them with joy. “'Tis my Lionel's voice I hear!” cried Dame Ursula as they were being drawn up in the basket.

“Ah me, the odour of my flowers after twenty years!” sobbed out Martin, the tears trickling down his furrowed cheeks at the recognition of his favourites.

And so they were all happy again; and Lionel's fortune was made, although his father found no heaps of gold.

As for the king, in three days he was back to his fishing again, lying on the bank of the great pond, as happy as ever he was in the old times when he was only “My Lord Lackaday.” He said the land was too much trouble for him; Lilias and Lionel might rule it as they thought fit. And so these two really carried out all he had promised to do.

The good little fairy-body rarely appeared in the country after Lionel's wedding-day; for the people were all happy now, “and,” as she declared, “had no need of her.”

And then it happened that one day at noontide, when the sun was shining overhead with a dazzling heat, and all the air was warm and drowsy, the king, who had been angling since early morning, without catching the smallest minnow, and had fallen fast asleep, lost his balance, and rolled down the sloping bank into the water, and disappeared. They dredged the lake for his body in vain. No trace of him was to be discovered, although they sent the most expert divers down to search.

But, strange to say, every evening from that time forward, just about sunset, a little bird with plumage gay, called “The Kingfisher,” might be seen to haunt the margin of the lake, ready, with its pointed beak, to hook up the tiny fishes, that glided in shoals at nightfall near the surface of the water.

III.

CASPAR THE COBBLER, OF COBWEB CORNER.

In the centre of a certain old city in the Land of Langaffer stood a king's castle, surrounded by a high turreted wall, with many little gablets and long windows, and balconies adorned with flowers. A courtyard full of soldiers was inside. Like the city, the castle was picturesque, with its quaint architecture, its nooks and turns, its solid masonry and stone-carving. The interior must have been beautiful indeed; for the king, who had a very excellent taste, could scarcely be induced to leave his royal home even for an hour, so much did he love it. He was wont to inhale the fresh air every morning on the southern parapet where the clematis trailed over the antique coping, and, in the long summer twilight he would enjoy gazing at the east, where the sinking sun had spread its golden hue over his dominions, from the tiny top turret pointing to the woods and mountains that lay away beyond the city.

Now, in close proximity to the castle were some of the darkest and narrowest streets of the city. One of these was Cobweb Corner; and here, in a small attic, dwelt a humpbacked, plain-visaged little man, who the whole day long loved to think about the king. He was called “Caspar the Cobbler, of Cobweb Corner.”

The people all knew Caspar, but they did not know that Caspar's secret ambition was to become some day cobbler to the king.

Caspar's father and mother had been poor folk, like himself; and when he came into the world, a sickly, plain-featured babe, his mother sent for the very last of the fairies in the land to be her child's godmother, and to bequeath him some wonderful gift which might make up for his lack of strength and beauty.

“What an ugly child,” said the fairy; “yet somebody will love him, and he may become beautiful—and, when all else forsake him, why, then the most graceful of the birds shall be his friends.”

Poor Caspar's mother considered that she had accomplished a great thing in persuading the fairy to act as godmother; but his father thought he could do better for his son in teaching him his own handicraft to the best of his ability.

And therefore, with an extraordinary amount of care and patience, the old man instructed his little lad how to manage his awl; and, ere he died, had the satisfaction of knowing that his Caspar bade fair to become as clever a cobbler as any in the city.

Several years had passed, and Caspar lived on alone in the little attic near the castle wall. The way up to his room was dark and narrow, up rickety stairs, and along crooked passages; but, once at the top, there was plenty of cheerful light streaming in through the dormer-window, and the twittering of the birds, as they built their nests in the eaves, had something pleasant and gay.

The feathered songsters were Caspar's most constant companions, and he understood every word they said. He confided to them all his secrets, amongst others, what a proud man he should be, the day he made a pair of shoes for the king! Other secrets he imparted also to the birds, which the city folk down in the streets guessed little about.

Many and many a time, as Caspar sat so much alone, he would sigh, and wish that his fairy-godmother would come and see him sometimes. But, alas, that could not be, for the king had given strict orders that the sentinels posted at the city gates should allow “no fairy bodies” in. Even the very last of the kind was, by a new law, banished to far-distant fairyland. “No more magic wands, no more wonders nowadays,” sighed poor Caspar; “nothing can be won but by hard and constant work, work, work!”

Moreover, poor Caspar had to learn that even honest work sometimes fails to ward off hunger and poverty. For many a long month the crooked little cobbler was doomed to toil, and to suffer privation as well. He might make his boots and shoes night and day, and lay them out, pair by pair, in neat rows along a shelf in the corner of his attic, but what availed all this if no customer ever ventured up to look at them, nor even to order mendings?

The fact was, that about this time the folk in that old city began to wear wooden shoes, which, they said, were good enough for them, and lasted longer than any other.

Only fair-haired, blue-eyed Mabel, Dame Dimity's daughter, who had the daintiest little feet in the world, and knew how to dance like any fairy—she wore lovely little shoes manufactured by Caspar.

When Midsummer-day came round Mabel was elected May-queen. Then she came tripping up the rickety staircase, and along the dingy passage to the attic workshop, in Cobweb Corner. “Caspar, Caspar, here, quick! My measure for a darling little pair of shoes to dance in!” and she held out the most elegant little foot which any shoemaker could possibly choose for a pattern.

Three days after that the shoes were finished, a bonnie wee pair of crimson ones, in the softest of kid-leather; and when Mabel came to fetch them, and tried them on, they fitted like a glove. She drew them both on, and danced round the room to show how delighted she was. And dear! how lovely they looked, all three—Mabel and the little red shoes!!

Poor deformed Caspar smiled as he watched her, and felt happy to have rendered her so happy.

“I love to see you, little Mabel,” he said, “and that is why I shall shut up my workshop on Midsummer-day, and go out to the common when you are crowned 'Queen o' the May.' I only wish the sky may be as blue—as blue—as your eyes are, Mabel!” And then the crooked little cobbler stammered and blushed at his own forwardness in paying such a compliment to the prettiest maiden in the land.

But little Mabel said, “I will watch out for you, Caspar. I shall care for nobody on all the green so much as you.”

Caspar could scarcely quite believe little Mabel when she said this; yet he was greatly touched by her kindness, and he promised to go and look at her from afar.

When Midsummer-day dawned over that old city the weather was beautiful—the sky, as blue as Mabel's eyes; and young and old flocked out to bask in the sunshine, and enjoy the games and the merry-making. Even the king sallied forth from his castle, accompanied by his courtiers, to favour with his presence the time-honoured custom of crowning the May-queen.

When he beheld little Mabel he exclaimed, “What a lovely maiden, fit to be a princess!”

Caspar was standing quite near, and heard it with his own ears. He expected after that to see Mabel drop a curtsey to the king. But no, the little maiden looked straight at him—poor Caspar—instead, and with her queen's flowery wand, pointed down to her bonnie crimson shoes.

The cobbler of Cobweb Corner was becoming dazed with happiness. Curious thoughts about his fairy-godmother crept into his head; strange thrills of pleasure and of pain shot through his dwarfish frame, and turned him well-nigh sick with emotion. It seemed to Caspar that he had grown older and younger in that one summer day. He felt giddy, and suddenly longed for his quiet attic in Cobweb Corner.

He stole silently away, and had left the crowd behind him on the Common, when he suddenly became aware of a tiny hand slipped into his own; and, looking down to the ground, observed a dainty pair of red shoes tripping lightly by his side. “What! little Mabel?”

“I just wanted to leave when you would leave, Caspar. For there was nobody on all the green I cared for so much as you.”

Ah, this time he did believe her,—poor Caspar! And so he must tell her all his secret. “I love you, little Mabel, oh so much! And oh, if some day you could marry me, I should keep you in darling little crimson shoes all your life! And who knows—perhaps through your love Mabel—I might grow better-looking. They said my godmother promised it.”

“I love you as you are, plain or handsome, you dear, good Caspar,” cried little Mabel, “and I will marry you just as soon as my mother, Dame Dimity, gives her consent!”

Alas! True love is ever doomed to be crossed, else this little tale of ours had been a good deal shorter; had, perhaps, even ended here!

Dame Dimity would on no account yield her consent to the union of her daughter, the beauty of the town, with the cobbler of Cobweb Corner. Why, if it came to that, there was Christopher Clogs, the wooden shoemaker, who was a good figure and a wealthy man to boot! He lived in the Market Place, and drove a thriving business, whilst Caspar was known to have only one coat to his back. Really the effrontery of Cobweb Corner was astounding!

Poor Mabel's eyes were now often dimmed with tears; yet once every day she passed through the narrow street near the castle wall, and gazed up at Caspar's gable-window, until she saw the little shoemaker smile down at her. After she had vanished, Caspar would feel very lonely; yet he said to himself, “When I want to see her blue eyes, then I must look at the sky. She'll always have blue eyes, and she'll always be my Mabel.”

These days Caspar rarely left his workshop in the old garret. He was very poor, and had nothing to buy with; so he went to no shops, and he avoided the neighbours, as they were beginning to make merry about him, and Mabel, and Dame Dimity. He could not bear to hear them say that Mabel was betrothed to Christie Clogs, the wooden shoemaker. Anything but that!

When he had nobody to talk to, why, he opened his window to converse with the swallows, and asked them every evening what was the news—for Caspar could not afford to take in a newspaper.

“Oh, what do you think!” they cried one night, swirling round his head in circles, as their custom was, “here is something to interest you, Caspar! The king has got sore feet—from wearing tight boots, they say,—and sits in an arm-chair with his feet wrapped up in a flannel. We saw it all just a while ago.”

“I took stock of His Majesty's feet that day,” said Caspar promptly, “the day he was out on the 'Green.' I can't help measuring people's feet with my eye,” he added apologetically to the swallows; “you see, it's my trade, and it is the only thing I am good at.”

But ere he had finished speaking, the friendly swallows had described their last swift circle in the air, and, with a sharp scream of “Goodnight,” had darted into their nests under the old pointed roof.

That evening, ere he lay down in his nest, poor Caspar had cut out of soft, well-tanned leather a pair of shoes, which he knew to be the king's own measure. “Ah,” said Caspar, “the poor king must have his new shoes as soon as possible, for it is awful to suffer toe-ache, and to be obliged to sit all day long with one's feet swathed in flannel.” And Caspar sat with his leather apron on, and wrought as if for life and death at the new shoes. He was too busy even to rise and look at the window for little Mabel passing by.

At last they were completed. Then the humpbacked cobbler, having washed his hands, and brushed his one coat, went off, quivering with excitement, bearing the new shoes in his hands, away downstairs, and through the narrow street under the castle wall, till he came and stood before the castle gate. Here the sentinel on duty demanded what he wanted.

“Pair of shoes for His Majesty,” responded Caspar in a businesslike manner, and was admitted.

When he had crossed the courtyard, and had arrived at the entrance of the inner apartments, he was accosted by a couple of lackeys covered with gold lace, and with powdered hair.

“Heigho! What's all this!” they exclaimed. “Where dost thou hail from, old Hop-o'-my-thumb?”

“I am Caspar the cobbler, of Cobweb Corner,” replied the little man gravely; “as you may perceive by these new shoes which I bring for the king, and which are His Majesty's exact fit.”

“Begone, knave!” cried the lackeys indignantly. “Dost thou imagine the king would wear anything contrived by the likes of thee. Be off, old mountebank, ere thou and thy shoes are flung into the castle dungeon!”

In vain poor Caspar intreated; they would not even listen to him. At last, in utter terror for his life, he hurried away, disappointed, mortified, sick at heart, carrying the despised piece of workmanship, at which he had toiled so carefully and conscientiously all these weeks, back home to his obscure lodging in Cobweb Corner. Here, overcome with vexation, the little man flung himself upon his bed, and cried himself asleep.

When he awoke it was evening. A fresh breeze was gently stirring the casement, the window was open, and the swallows passing and repassing it in circles, producing a screaming, chattering noise all the time.

Caspar's eye fell first on his work-table, on which lay, side by side, his latest, best work, the brand new shoes for the king. Ah! the swallows saw them too, and this was the cause of all the extra twittering and screaming this evening.

“Dear feathered friends,” cried Caspar, springing to the open window, “how can ye help me? They are finished! They fit! But how are they to be conveyed to His Majesty? The menials in the castle would not let me in.”

“Wee—wee—we could carry one!” piped the swallows, slily, dipping their long lanced wings, and swirling swiftly by.

“No, not one, ye silly creatures!” cried Caspar all out of breath; “both or none!”

The swallows made a second long sweep, and as they neared the gablet again, hissed forth, “Singly were surer.” But, as Caspar made a sign of impatience, four of his friends, the swifts, darted straight across the window-sill to the work-table, and, seizing the new shoes by heel and toe, sped off with them across the old wall to the royal castle.

It seemed but an instant and they were back, screaming and hissing and circling towards their nest in the eaves. Caspar put his head out at the open casement, and listened anxiously to their sounds.

“Dropped them at his bed-room window—the little balcony—some one opened—took them in—so, so, sleep well, sleep well,—goodnight!”

The following morning Caspar the cobbler was up and dressed before daybreak, and down in the streets, in and out amongst the crowds, trying to overhear some gossip about the king.

The city folk were surprised to see him once more in their midst; and good-naturedly permitted him to sit at their firesides for old times' sake, although he called for no ale, nor lighted a long pipe like the others. All poor Caspar desired was to ascertain the latest court news; but, to his annoyance, he was doomed to learn first a great many things that did not please him about Dame Dimity and Christie Clogs.

At last, late on in the afternoon, somebody inquired if the company were informed of the good tidings, “that His Majesty the king was recovered of his foot-ache, and could walk about again, thanks to a shoemaker who had succeeded in fitting His Majesty's foot to a 'T.'”

That shoemaker, whoever he be, has founded his own fortune this day!” exclaimed the innkeeper.

Caspar sprang to his feet, and at the same time the pewter tankards and all the pipes, the host and all the customers, danced round before his eyes. With a great gasp of excitement he bounded out to the street, and sped on to the market place, past Dame Dimity's, and past Christie Clogs', and on to the narrow street with the overshadowing wall, and on, and on, until he arrived at the royal entrance. He obtained admittance as before, and pressed forward till he was arrested by the supercilious lackeys in gold-lace livery.

“What! here again, old Hop-o'-my-thumb!” cried they.

“But I am the royal shoemaker, gentlemen!” exclaimed Caspar, proudly, “and that was my own work which I carried in my hand yesterday morning.”

“What knavery is this?” returned the head menial of the castle, “the royal shoemaker, villain, is no clumsy clown from these parts; but he and his wares come from abroad, from Paris. He is, moreover, with the king at present, receiving his reward for the beautiful new pair of shoes in softly-tanned leather, which arrived last night at dusk. He is an elegant gentleman, this Parisian, and knows fine manners as well as his trade, for he ne'er goes nor comes without dealing out largesse to us, the gentlemen attendants, and therein exhibits his good breeding.”

“But the shoes!” stammered out Caspar all aghast. “The shoes! I made them, and His Majesty the king has them on at this very moment. Confound your Parisian!” he screamed, waxing wroth; “it was I who made the shoes—they were found on the western balcony last night—His Majesty must know that they are the work of Caspar the cobbler, of Cobweb Corner!”

At this moment a musical murmur of voices was audible from within, and a creaking of boots; and at once the angry lackeys turned smiling faces towards the departing French merchant, who politely pressed a little coin into each of their outstretched palms.

When at length he took his departure, Caspar followed him some way with a very ugly expression disfiguring his features. “I could kill this dandy interloper, who steals the reward and credit of my hard-earned toil! I could stick my awl through him!”

Poor Caspar, it was well that at this instant he was accosted by his loving little angel, his sweet, blue-eyed Mabel!

“Eh, my Caspar, whatever has come over you, and whither are you going, that you do not even see your own Mabel? And, oh! I am thankful to have met you now, for look, Caspar, with trudging past Cobweb Corner every day my pretty shoes are well-nigh worn through! So I must have a new pair, and you may set about making them at once.”

Then poor Caspar told her about his grievous disappointment at the castle, and the insults and humiliation he had experienced at the hands of the royal underlings. “It is too bad.” he said, “to think that nobody knows that I made them!”

“The swallows know it,” added Mabel pensively, “and you should have followed their advice; for, after all, they are your best friends.”

“What!” returned Caspar sharply, “and sent only one at a time? Is that what you mean, Mabel?”

“I dare say that was what they meant,” she returned.

Caspar groaned.

“But look,” continued the little maiden gaily, her blue eyes dancing with a bright idea, “remember this, O Caspar, the king's shoes must by-and-by become worn through, like mine! And then—and then, he must have new ones too—and then—and then we'll take the swallows' advice, and act with greater caution.”

That evening when Caspar went home to Cobweb Corner, and flung open his gable-window, there were no graceful circles described overhead, and no twittering amongst the eaves. All was silent. The swallows had taken leave of Cobweb Corner, and of the royal castle, and of the quaint old city, with its many spires and turrets. They were off, all together, a joyous merry troup of tourists, swiftly, swiftly winging their way to warmer climes for the winter.

Poor Caspar missed them sadly, and reproached them a little at first for being heartless, selfish creatures. Soon, however, he gained courage again; and began to work at Mabel's shoes ... and then at the king's—to have them ready by spring time, when, as the little maiden said, “the others should be worn out.”

Several times that winter Caspar saw the king walk out in the identical shoes his hands had manufactured; and his heart gave a leap every time he observed them becoming thinner.

At last the soft western breezes, the budding flowers, and the bright-blue, sunny sky of springtime came again; and the swallows returned swiftly, swiftly, swirling and screaming, just as they had done last year. They nested in their old corner under the eaves of Caspar's gable-roof. And by-and-by, when it was gossipped throughout the city that the king's feet were paining him again, because the very last new shoes—which really came from Paris, didn't fit at all, then the swallows at nightfall hissed at Caspar's window, “Soon, soon, see they be ready! Singly is surely!

The dandified tradesman from Paris arrived at the castle with all his samples; but he was received with suspicion, and dismissed in disgrace, and this time distributed no largesse amongst the gold-laced lackeys.

The same night the swallows might have been observed darting off from Cobweb Corner, bearing one neatly-made shoe in soft, well-tanned leather. They dropped it outside the royal window, on the western balcony.

The following morning there was a great proclamation out all over the town. The mayor read it aloud on the market place in front of Christie Clogs' house, offering an immense reward to the person who could produce the missing shoe, “fellow to that one discovered on the king's balcony last night”; and a second reward, “ten times as great to the manufacturer of the said pair of shoes, which fitted His Majesty to a 'T.'”

In front of the crowd thronging the market place stood Caspar, his figure erect, his face transformed into a beautiful face by the delight which had taken possession of his whole soul. The success of an honest workman beamed in his countenance, and rendered the poor cobbler noble.

Mabel ran to his side, and he placed the missing shoe in her hands. “It is safe with my true, blue-eyed darling!” cried Caspar proudly; and the people raised a hearty cheer.

Then they formed a procession, and, with Caspar and Mabel at their head, marched to the royal presence.

This time the king received Caspar himself, and from Mabel's lips learned the whole story of the shoes from the very beginning.

After that, there was great rejoicing in the quaint old city; for both Caspar and Mabel were now the favourites with all the better folk. The king issued a command for their immediate marriage, and appointed Caspar to a post in the castle.

But the only title Caspar was willing to accept was that of “Cobbler to the King”; and, as such, he subsequently removed his belongings from Cobweb Corner to a fine large house which was prepared for him in the market place.

The fairy godmother was allowed to come and grace the wedding with her presence; and she promised so many blessings that Caspar and Mabel ought to have been still happier if that had been possible.

As for Dame Dimity, she married Christie Clogs herself; and report says she led a sore life of it when he came home tipsy at night, and began to fling his wooden shoes about.

IV.

DAME DOROTHY'S DOG.

On the outskirts of Langaffer village, and not far from the great pine forest, stood the cottage of old Dame Dorothy, with its latticed windows and picturesque porch, and its pretty little garden, fenced in with green palings and privet hedge.

Dame Dorothy was a nice, particular old lady, who spent her time in and about her house, trying to make things neat and cosy. In winter she might be seen polishing her mahogany furniture, rubbing bright her brazen candlesticks and copper kettle, or sweeping about the fireplace; whilst in summertime she was mostly busy weeding her garden, raking the little walks, and watering her flowers.

Yet she never smiled, only sighed very often; and toiled every day more diligently than the day before.

Strange to say, Dame Dorothy was not comfortable in spite of all her conscientiously-performed labours; nor happy, although she lived in such a beautiful little cottage. She never imagined for a moment that the cause of this could be the fact—that she kept a black dog.

Black Nero was a magnificent mastiff, with not a white hair on his back. He had run into Dame Dorothy's one Fifth of November from the forest, when quite a little puppy; and she had housed him and fed him ever since; and now she was so much attached to him that she declared she could not part with him for the world.

In return for her care he trampled over her flower-beds, tore down her hollyhocks, and scraped up the roots of her “London Pride” with his fore-paws; made a passage for himself through her privet hedge, and lay stretched on fine days his full length on her rustic sofa in the door-porch.

When the rosy-cheeked village children passed by to school in the morning Nero snarled and snapped at them through the railings, so that not one durst venture to say “Good-morrow, Dame Dorothy.”

Even the next-door neighbours were afraid of him; and some acquaintances of the widow, who themselves kept cats and dogs, and nice little soft kittens as pets, now rarely invited her over to a friendly dance or a wedding or christening; for if they did the black dog was certain to accompany his mistress; and then, in the midst of the party, he would raise such a barking, and create such a confusion, that none of the dames could get speaking.

In winter, when the cold blasts swirled dreamily through the leafless branches of the Langaffer beeches, causing them to creak and moan; when the snow lay thick upon the ground, and the nights closed in apace, and the villagers relished the comforts of the “ingle-nook,” then—alas!—there was no fireside enjoyment for poor Dame Dorothy. She might fasten her shutters, and draw her armchair close to the hearth; she might pile up the logs in the chimney to make a blazing fire—but all in vain! Home cheer there was none; for the black dog was there, with his great body extended between her and the warmth. She might boil the kettle, and gaze at herself in its shining lid; but Nero's face was reflected in the kettle-lid too; and in all the lids, and pots and pans, and pewters and coppers right round the room, with his ugly muzzle half-open for growling and snarling.

Moreover, the dog was so greedy and thankless, he never wagged his tail, but would snap at the victuals his mistress herself was eating; and when she did give him the choicest dainties that came off her gridiron, and the very top of the cream, he would only whine for more.

For all this, Dame Dorothy had no idea of parting with the graceless brute, but continued to pet and pamper him. She was even secretly proud of Nero, because he was the biggest dog in the village, and by far the most terrible. Once she told the neighbours over the palings that he was a great protection to her, especially at night, and she “such a poor lone widow!”

Whereupon these good people honestly replied, “Oh, Mistress Dorothy, never dread a worse enemy than your own black dog!”

Then in her heart she remembered how that very morning Nero had indeed caught her thumb between his teeth when impatiently snatching his food; and how the evening before he had upset the milkpail, and left the black mark of his paw on her new knitted quilt; and how, one day last week, he had sat down on her best Sunday cap. And Dame Dorothy knew in her heart that the village folk spoke truly; but she would not acknowledge it, no—but with a melancholy shake of her head, repeated, “Poor dear Nero! People have something against thee, my dear black doggie!”

Now it happened that one fine morning in May, when the lark was warbling high overhead, and the hawthorn bushes were putting on their first pink blossoms, and all the forest was gay with budding flowers and singing birds, and the village school-children were passing hand-in-hand, carrying their little slates and satchels, that they met a tiny fairy all in white, with a wondrous beaming face, and golden hair floating down over her shoulders. Naturally they stopped to stare at her, for they had never seen such a lovely little lady before; and she smiled pleasantly, for she had never beheld such a collection of wondering round eyes, and so many wide-open mouths gaping at her.

Presently she asked, “Can you tell me, young people, whose is that pretty cottage, so nicely situated at the corner of the wood, with the beautiful porch and palings?”

“Dame Dorothy's!” exclaimed they all in a breath.

“It must be very delightful there,” she continued. “I shall go in, and see Dame Dorothy.”

“Don't! She keeps a dog,” cried one, “and he will eat you up.”

“Such a nasty, big black dog,” added another, “that barks——”

“Like a lion,” interposed a third.

“And bites like a tiger!” added a fourth.

“Oh, don't go, pretty lady!” repeated a fifth and sixth, and many more childish voices together; “and pray don't open the gate, for we are all so afraid he might spring out at us.”

“Thank you, my dears, but I am not afraid,” said the fairy. “And I intend to visit Dame Dorothy all the same.”

Then the children were more astonished still when they saw her glide in between the palings without ever unlatching the gate. She was such a slender little fairy-body! But they held their breaths, and clutched at one another's skirts with fear, as they heard the harsh yelp of Nero, and perceived him bounding forward from his seat in the doorway.

“Ah! eh! oh! he will devour her!” they all gasped out together. But just then the little lady was waving her tiny hand toward their school-house; and they all ran on so fast, so fast, that the door was not quite closed when they arrived.

And now the good little fairy with her white dress, and her golden tresses floating behind her, fixed her blue eyes very steadily on the dog's black eyes, and held up her tiny forefinger.

Thus she walked straight into Dame Dorothy's cottage, and, as she flung open the door, a whole flood of sunshine streamed in along with her.

And the black dog hung his head, and followed her slowly, growling and grinding his teeth as if he would best like to snatch her, and munch her up, and swallow her down all in a minute.

But Dame Dorothy was enchanted with her bright little visitor; for, to tell the truth, the callers-in were very rare that year at the woodside cottage, and the widow's heart often yearned for some one to speak to.

The white fairy inquired how it was that so few flowers were seen in the garden, and so few birds' nests under the eaves of the cottage; and why Dame Dorothy did not take her knitting that fine morning, and enjoy the bright sun in the doorway?

The widow looked melancholy, and heaved a deep sigh; but the black dog, who had overheard every syllable, sneaked away with a low growling noise, and knocked down a chair on purpose to indicate his malice.

“I shall return another day,” said the good little fairy as she rose to take leave, “and bring you such a sweet nosegay fresh from the forest, to decorate the table and cheer your heart, because,” she added, quite in a whisper, lest Nero might hear her—“because I am sorry to see you have none left in your flower-beds.”

From this day forth Dame Dorothy's dog was “poorly.” He skulked about the garden, keeping to the gravel walk, with drooping ears and tail between his legs. And by-and-by he began to leave his food untasted.

The poor widow noticed the change, and became anxious. Then presently she grew more uneasy; and at last, greatly concerned about her favourite's health, she set about cutting him out a warm coat for the autumn out of her own best velvet mantle, for she was sure he had taken the influenza.

By-and-by she observed that Nero grew worse on the days of the bright little fairy's visits; that no sooner did the white robe and the golden hair cross the threshold than he would move away from the fireside, slink whining under the tables and chairs, and pass outside the house altogether.

Yet Dame Dorothy could not help loving the sunny fairy who every time fetched a lovely posy of sweet-scented flowers from the forest; to say nothing of her winning voice, her musical laughter, her gentle, loving eyes.

And the village children trooped often now past the woodside cottage, for they wanted to catch a glimpse of the fairy as she went in and out; and they were quite overjoyed when she spoke to them.

At last one day Dame Dorothy, who had got into the habit of telling the fairy everything, thought she would consult her about her dog.

“Ah me, my poor Nero!” she said; “look at him, he is not thriving at all. And what will become of me, a lone widow woman, if aught befall my black dog? And only think, I cannot persuade him to wear the jacket I sewed for him out of my own best mantle!”

“Poor black dog!” said the little fairy as gravely as she could, and nothing more.

After that she went away; and the same night the dog disappeared.

Dame Dorothy sought for him high and low, called him by name, coaxingly, entreatingly; but all in vain. Then she sat down in her great armchair by her own fireside, and began to weep for her favourite.

Now it was a very comfortable chair, and the beech-logs in the wide grate sent out a nice warm glow, and it was the first time for months that the rightful possessor of the place could enjoy these in undisturbed tranquillity.

Dame Dorothy soon fell fast asleep. And then she had such funny dreams about white dogs, and black fairies, and school children, all clothed in little jackets cut out of her own best mantle, that she laughed aloud several times in her sleep, and indeed did not waken until the morning sun sent his beams in through the diamond panes of her window.

Many days Dame Dorothy searched for her black dog in every corner of the cottage, and under every bush in the garden, and all among her privet hedge, for she was sure he had lain down in some spot to die. But not the least trace of him did she discover.

And then she gathered up all her grief to pour it forth in one loud, intense lamentation the first time the bright little fairy should arrive.

“But oh, do not weep so, good Dame Dorothy,” said the little lady. “When I return again, I shall fetch you another pet to keep you company all day long, and bring joy to your heart, and peace to your fireside!”

She kept faithful to her promise, the good little fairy; for the next time she came from the forest she brought with her a lovely white-breasted turtle-dove for Dame Dorothy.

The village children saw her on the road, and they all flocked in before her, crying, “Good-morrow, Dame Dorothy. Oh, you are going to get such a beautiful, beautiful bird!” Then the old lady smiled at the children, as she never had smiled for years and years.

And, as the days went by, the little garden near the great pine forest grew fair and fragrant. The roses and the sweet woodbine clambered over the pretty porch. The hollyhocks and the London-pride flourished once more, and the little birds built their nests, and twittered fearlessly under the eaves of the rustic cottage.

The new white pet became so tame and so gentle that it would eat from its mistress's hand, and would perch lovingly upon her shoulder.

And when she was invited by her old acquaintances in the village to an afternoon party, she was always requested to bring her pet along with her; for all the villagers, young and old, who had formerly dreaded the great black dog, now loved and welcomed Dame Dorothy's dove.

V.

THE LITTLE LOCKSMITH.

Long ago there lived in Langaffer a light-hearted, light-haired, lazy little lad called Randal. He enjoyed a happy home, health and high spirits, and a gay, merry life with his brothers and sisters.

They went to no school, but in the early Spring days sallied forth to gather primroses and anemones; they knew the spot where the tallest rushes grew, for plaiting into butterflies' cages, the best seggan-leaves for tiny canoes, and could tell where the finest blackbirds' eggs were to be found.

In autumn, when the leaves were turning yellow, and the squirrels were fat and tame, they roamed together through the dingle in search of hazel-nuts; and waded up and down the shallow stream, their chatter mingling with its bubbling noise, whilst they tried to catch the darting minnows.

Every corner of the village had echoed with their laughter, and with the shrill, clear voice of Randal, the bonniest and blithest of the band.

Now, in a shady grove, at some distance from the village, there stood a quaint-looking edifice, with antique windows and sculptured pillars partly overgrown with ivy. The tiny lads and lasses of Langaffer knew it well enough by sight; but little cared they who lived there, or what might be inside. In the long summer twilight they chased one another round the basement walls, and startled the swallows from the eaves with their joyous screams; and that was enough for them.

Yet there came a day when Randal was alone, lying listlessly his full length upon the grass, flapping away the midges with a blade of spear-grass, just in front of the mansion, when he beheld the portal open, and a youth step forth.

The young man had a beaming countenance, and walked with a quick, elastic step.

Then Randal wondered for the first time in his life what that lofty edifice could be, and why the youth came “all so smiling out” from its stately portico. He sprang to his feet, and, running forward, cried out, “Pray, sir, can you tell me what building is this?”

“Oh, a beautiful fairy palace,” cried the stranger, “with such wonderful things in every apartment! The oftener one enters, the more one sees, and all so curious, so lovely!”

“What! Then you will take me with you the next time you go?” cried Randal, eagerly.

“Oh, no, my lad,” said the stranger. “If you wish to enter in you must have a key of your own.”

“But where shall I get one?” said Randal.

“Make it!” was the reply. “If you go to the forge at the four roads' end, and apprentice yourself to the locksmith there, he will show you how to set about it. It's a labour that's well repaid.”

The youth went away, and his words filled Randal with a strange yearning to behold the interior of the mysterious mansion.

But he lost no time; he ran full speed till he came to the forge at the four roads' end, and begged the locksmith to receive him as an apprentice, and teach him how to construct a magic key, that would open the fairy palace.

And there, at the smithy, Randal beheld a number of little locksmiths about his own age, each with a leathern apron on, and arms bared to the elbows, working away at the anvil. They were all making keys, and some had well-nigh finished, whilst others were only beginning.

Then little Randal bared his arms too, and got a leathern apron on, and began to work with all his might, thinking only of the beautiful fairy palace, that stood so silent and majestic in the midst of the shady pine-grove.

What could be within its walls? When should he obtain a peep at all the wondrous things he had heard of? Not till his key was ready!

And alas! it was heavy work at the smithy. Day after day must the little mechanic toil, till the great beads of perspiration gathered upon his brow.

As for the other apprentices, only some wrought steadily on, with unflinching courage. Most of them, who were beginners, like Randal, idled when the master locksmith chanced to leave the forge, and skimped their work, and grumbled, and declared there was nothing in the palace worth the labour.

One boy, whose key was almost shaped, gave up in despair, cried out that all the treasures of Fairyland should not induce him to work another minute; then flung down his tools upon the ground, tore off his apron, and ran out into the green fields.

This discouraged many of the little workmen, who, one by one, dropped their implements, and slipped away, murmuring that the task was too difficult and tedious.

Poor Randal felt sorely tempted to follow their example; and indeed he might have yielded, too, had not one pale-faced, earnest-looking boy, who held a file and piece of polished metal in his hand, exclaimed,—

“Six times have I tried my key in the lock of the palace door, and all in vain. The seventh time I must succeed—and then—the treasures are mine!”

“What that pale-faced boy can do, I can do,” said Randal to himself; and, like a thorough workman, he set himself bravely to his task, determined, come what might, to finish it.

And every morning, when Randal left his home, and started for the forge, he took his way through the pine grove, just to gaze a moment with awe and admiration at the fairy palace, and for the twentieth time to fancy himself deftly turning the key in the lock, and gliding softly in.

But once, as he hastened by at break of day, whom should he meet but Sylvan, the squire's son, setting out with a couple of terriers to hunt for weasels.

“Where are you going so early?” said Sylvan; and Randal told him.

Then the young squire laughed aloud, and cried out, “Oh, I have been a locksmith too at the four roads' end! My father made me go and work like a common slave. But I have had enough of that sort of life, and I don't wish to hear anything more about 'locks and keys, and fairy palaces.' Come with me, and I'll teach you how to set a trap.”

But Randal silently shook his head, and went his way to the forge at the four roads' end. Sylvan's words, however, continued to ring in his ears, and spoiled his heart for his labour. And all that day the smithy seemed in his eyes like an ugly den, and himself and the little locksmiths like so many toil-worn slaves. And now he chafed and fretted; and now he loitered at his work; and now he hastened to make up for squandered time. And then, alas, in his haste, he broke the key he was making.

“Here's a pretty mess!” cried Randal in despair. “Must I start at the beginning again? Or shall I give it up altogether? Ah! why did I hear about the fairy palace at all?”

The temptation was strong to fling down his tools, as many another before him had done, and leave the anvil for ever. Randal's ten fingers were just raised to unfasten the ties of his leather apron, when a joyous cry rang through the forge.

It came from the pale-faced, earnest-looking lad, who held up his shining new key now completed. “My seventh trial,” he shouted, with tears in his eyes, “and I know that it is perfect!” and he bounded forth in the direction of the wonderful mansion in the forest.

At the sight of the pale boy's success Randal blushed deep red, and bit his lip; then, picking up his instruments one by one, he begged the master to give him another bit of iron.

After that, the little locksmith wrought the livelong day with more energy and greater courage than any one at the forge. Before daybreak now he hastened to his work, ever choosing the nearest way, and avoiding the wood, lest he might encounter idle Sylvan, the squire's son. But once, at eventide, whom should he chance to meet but the gentle, pale-faced boy, coming from the fairy house, and looking so radiant and happy, that Randal rushed towards him, and questioned him about the treasures.

“Oh, Randal!” cried his friend, “you will simply be enchanted when you come. For, once within the fairy palace, you must look and listen, and laugh, and admire.”

“Oh, tell me no more,” cried the little locksmith, “my key is almost finished!”

After this many more days passed in silent, steady toil; until at last, one bright morning in early Spring, as the sunbeams were breaking through the mist, Randal quietly laid down his file, and, nervously clasping a brightly-polished key in his vigorous young hand, glided softly from the smithy, and out into the cool air.

The master locksmith stepped to the threshold to look after him; and, as he shaded his hand with his horny palm, and watched the lad's retreating figure, a smile of satisfaction and approval flitted across his wrinkled face.

The new key turned smoothly in the lock, the door was opened, and he entered in.

Randal wandered through the fairy palace. He found himself in beautiful apartments, lofty, grand and airy, containing countless lovely and curious objects. Some of these he could only look at; others he might feel and handle at his pleasure.

There were portraits of kings and great warriors, pictures of battlefields and processions, which filled his mind with wonder; of quaint streets, and homely firesides, and little children attired in funny costumes, that made him laugh, and clap his hands, and hold his sides for merriment.

In another apartment were various kinds of coloured glasses and prisms, through which the little Langaffer lad looked at strange countries he had never dreamed of before. Nay, from a certain oriel window he discovered stars, so many and so beautiful that he trembled with delight.

And, all the time, there were other children from other villages rambling, like Randal, through the chambers of the fairy mansion. They moved gently about from room to room, taking one another's hands, and holding their breaths in astonishment. And only one subdued murmur filled the air of “Oh, how lovely, how fine! Ah, how strange!” For, besides all these things, there were exquisite flowers to be seen, and animals of every shape and size, and pearls and corals, precious stones and sparkling gems, and pretty contrivances for the children to play with.

And the very best of it all was, that Randal possessed the key which he himself had made. He was as much the lord of the “wonderful palace” now as any one!

The villagers were indeed astonished when Randal went home, and related to them what he had seen. And they all respected the little locksmith, who, by his own honest toil, had gotten what they called, “The Key to the Treasures of Fairyland.”

 
 
 

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