The Legends of
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
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 householdwhich could not
always have been said of their parents' and grandparents'
firesideswhy, 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
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 battlesthe king and all his knights and soldiers against the
enemies of the countryah, 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 attackedand
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
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
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,
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 moanwhat
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
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
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. Praypray 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 beautiesbut 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
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 customersweavers, 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 LackadayPrince Primus, I meantwo
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 striketo 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
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
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
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
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 ita wicked fairy with an evil
eyeuncoiled herself, and rose up straight and tall before him. She
gave a malicious smile, and simpered out flattering words to the
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
Tell me how I can earn my daily bread? stammered forth poor
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
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-diggersto 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
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
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
Suddenly a croaking sound from a branch overhead arrested his
attention, and Lionel saw a great magpie staring down at him with dark,
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
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
abashedhimself, 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
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
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
They are the inhabitants of the country, answered the female
vaguely; but beware of them, young stranger, they will surely take thy
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
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 elsewhereother 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
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 princessthe 'Lady
Lilias' as she is called. They say some creature from below the cursed
fishpond is to marry hersome 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
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
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-liliesaway, 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
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.
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
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 beautifuland, 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,
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
fairyshe 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 threeMabel and the little red
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 blueas
blueas 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
beautifulthe 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 himpoor Casparinstead, and
with her queen's flowery wand, pointed down to her bonnie crimson
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 knowsperhaps through your love
MabelI might grow better-looking. They said my godmother promised
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
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 newsfor
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 feetfrom 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
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
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.
Weeweewe 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 windowthe little balconysome one
openedtook them inso, 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
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
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
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 shoesthey were found on the western balcony last
nightHis 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.
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 thenand then, he must
have new ones tooand thenand 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'sto 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 shoeswhich 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
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
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
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
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.
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 factthat 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
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,
thenalas!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 firebut
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, nobut with a melancholy shake of her head, repeated,
Poor dear Nero! People have something against thee, my dear black
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
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
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 herbecause 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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
Every corner of the village had echoed with their laughter, and with
the shrill, clear voice of Randal, the bonniest and blithest of the
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,
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
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
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
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,
Six times have I tried my key in the lock of the palace door, and
all in vain. The seventh time I must succeedand thenthe
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.