The House of Eld
by Robert Louis
So soon as the child began to speak, the gyve was riveted; and the
boys and girls limped about their play like convicts. Doubtless it
was more pitiable to see and more painful to bear in youth; but
even the grown folk, besides being very unhandy on their feet, were
often sick with ulcers.
About the time when Jack was ten years old, many strangers began to
journey through that country. These he beheld going lightly by on
the long roads, and the thing amazed him. "I wonder how it comes,"
he asked, "that all these strangers are so quick afoot, and we must
drag about our fetter?"
"My dear boy," said his uncle, the catechist, "do not complain
about your fetter, for it is the only thing that makes life worth
living. None are happy, none are good, none are respectable, that
are not gyved like us. And I must tell you, besides, it is very
dangerous talk. If you grumble of your iron, you will have no
luck; if ever you take it off, you will be instantly smitten by a
"Are there no thunderbolts for these strangers?" asked Jack.
"Jupiter is longsuffering to the benighted," returned the
"Upon my word, I could wish I had been less fortunate," said Jack.
"For if I had been born benighted, I might now be going free; and
it cannot be denied the iron is inconvenient, and the ulcer hurts."
"Ah!" cried his uncle, "do not envy the heathen! Theirs is a sad
lot! Ah, poor souls, if they but knew the joys of being fettered!
Poor souls, my heart yearns for them. But the truth is they are
vile, odious, insolent, ill-conditioned, stinking brutes, not truly
human - for what is a man without a fetter? - and you cannot be too
particular not to touch or speak with them."
After this talk, the child would never pass one of the unfettered
on the road but what he spat at him and called him names, which was
the practice of the children in that part.
It chanced one day, when he was fifteen, he went into the woods,
and the ulcer pained him. It was a fair day, with a blue sky; all
the birds were singing; but Jack nursed his foot. Presently,
another song began; it sounded like the singing of a person, only
far more gay; at the same time there was a beating on the earth.
Jack put aside the leaves; and there was a lad of his own village,
leaping, and dancing and singing to himself in a green dell; and on
the grass beside him lay the dancer's iron.
"Oh!" cried Jack, "you have your fetter off!"
"For God's sake, don't tell your uncle!" cried the lad.
"If you fear my uncle," returned Jack "why do you not fear the
"That is only an old wives' tale," said the other. "It is only
told to children. Scores of us come here among the woods and dance
for nights together, and are none the worse."
This put Jack in a thousand new thoughts. He was a grave lad; he
had no mind to dance himself; he wore his fetter manfully, and
tended his ulcer without complaint. But he loved the less to be
deceived or to see others cheated. He began to lie in wait for
heathen travellers, at covert parts of the road, and in the dusk of
the day, so that he might speak with them unseen; and these were
greatly taken with their wayside questioner, and told him things of
weight. The wearing of gyves (they said) was no command of
Jupiter's. It was the contrivance of a white-faced thing, a
sorcerer, that dwelt in that country in the Wood of Eld. He was
one like Glaucus that could change his shape, yet he could be
always told; for when he was crossed, he gobbled like a turkey. He
had three lives; but the third smiting would make an end of him
indeed; and with that his house of sorcery would vanish, the gyves
fall, and the villagers take hands and dance like children.
"And in your country?" Jack would ask.
But at this the travellers, with one accord, would put him off;
until Jack began to suppose there was no land entirely happy. Or,
if there were, it must be one that kept its folk at home; which was
But the case of the gyves weighed upon him. The sight of the
children limping stuck in his eyes; the groans of such as dressed
their ulcers haunted him. And it came at last in his mind that he
was born to free them.
There was in that village a sword of heavenly forgery, beaten upon
Vulcan's anvil. It was never used but in the temple, and then the
flat of it only; and it hung on a nail by the catechist's chimney.
Early one night, Jack rose, and took the sword, and was gone out of
the house and the village in the darkness.
All night he walked at a venture; and when day came, he met
strangers going to the fields. Then he asked after the Wood of Eld
and the house of sorcery; and one said north, and one south; until
Jack saw that they deceived him. So then, when he asked his way of
any man, he showed the bright sword naked; and at that the gyve on
the man's ankle rang, and answered in his stead; and the word was
still STRAIGHT ON. But the man, when his gyve spoke, spat and
struck at Jack, and threw stones at him as he went away; so that
his head was broken.
So he came to that wood, and entered in, and he was aware of a
house in a low place, where funguses grew, and the trees met, and
the steaming of the marsh arose about it like a smoke. It was a
fine house, and a very rambling; some parts of it were ancient like
the hills, and some but of yesterday, and none finished; and all
the ends of it were open, so that you could go in from every side.
Yet it was in good repair, and all the chimneys smoked.
Jack went in through the gable; and there was one room after
another, all bare, but all furnished in part, so that a man could
dwell there; and in each there was a fire burning, where a man
could warm himself, and a table spread where he might eat. But
Jack saw nowhere any living creature; only the bodies of some
"This is a hospitable house," said Jack; "but the ground must be
quaggy underneath, for at every step the building quakes."
He had gone some time in the house, when he began to be hungry.
Then he looked at the food, and at first he was afraid; but he
bared the sword, and by the shining of the sword, it seemed the
food was honest. So he took the courage to sit down and eat, and
he was refreshed in mind and body.
"This is strange," thought he, "that in the house of sorcery there
should be food so wholesome."
As he was yet eating, there came into that room the appearance of
his uncle, and Jack was afraid because he had taken the sword. But
his uncle was never more kind, and sat down to meat with him, and
praised him because he had taken the sword. Never had these two
been more pleasantly together, and Jack was full of love to the
"It was very well done," said his uncle, "to take the sword and
come yourself into the House of Eld; a good thought and a brave
deed. But now you are satisfied; and we may go home to dinner arm
"Oh, dear, no!" said Jack. "I am not satisfied yet."
"How!" cried his uncle. "Are you not warmed by the fire? Does not
this food sustain you?"
"I see the food to be wholesome," said Jack; "and still it is no
proof that a man should wear a gyve on his right leg."
Now at this the appearance of his uncle gobbled like a turkey.
"Jupiter!" cried Jack, "is this the sorcerer?"
His hand held back and his heart failed him for the love he bore
his uncle; but he heaved up the sword and smote the appearance on
the head; and it cried out aloud with the voice of his uncle; and
fell to the ground; and a little bloodless white thing fled from
The cry rang in Jack's ears, and his knees smote together, and
conscience cried upon him; and yet he was strengthened, and there
woke in his bones the lust of that enchanter's blood. "If the
gyves are to fall," said he, "I must go through with this, and when
I get home I shall find my uncle dancing."
So he went on after the bloodless thing. In the way, he met the
appearance of his father; and his father was incensed, and railed
upon him, and called to him upon his duty, and bade him be home,
while there was yet time. "For you can still," said he, "be home
by sunset; and then all will be forgiven."
"God knows," said Jack, "I fear your anger; but yet your anger does
not prove that a man should wear a gyve on his right leg."
And at that the appearance of his father gobbled like a turkey.
"Ah, heaven," cried Jack, "the sorcerer again!"
The blood ran backward in his body and his joints rebelled against
him for the love he bore his father; but he heaved up the sword,
and plunged it in the heart of the appearance; and the appearance
cried out aloud with the voice of his father; and fell to the
ground; and a little bloodless white thing fled from the room.
The cry rang in Jack's ears, and his soul was darkened; but now
rage came to him. "I have done what I dare not think upon," said
he. "I will go to an end with it, or perish. And when I get home,
I pray God this may be a dream, and I may find my father dancing."
So he went on after the bloodless thing that had escaped; and in
the way he met the appearance of his mother, and she wept. "What
have you done?" she cried. "What is this that you have done? Oh,
come home (where you may be by bedtime) ere you do more ill to me
and mine; for it is enough to smite my brother and your father."
"Dear mother, it is not these that I have smitten," said Jack; "it
was but the enchanter in their shape. And even if I had, it would
not prove that a man should wear a gyve on his right leg."
And at this the appearance gobbled like a turkey.
He never knew how he did that; but he swung the sword on the one
side, and clove the appearance through the midst; and it cried out
aloud with the voice of his mother; and fell to the ground; and
with the fall of it, the house was gone from over Jack's head, and
he stood alone in the woods, and the gyve was loosened from his
"Well," said he, "the enchanter is now dead, and the fetter gone."
But the cries rang in his soul, and the day was like night to him.
"This has been a sore business," said he. "Let me get forth out of
the wood, and see the good that I have done to others."
He thought to leave the fetter where it lay, but when he turned to
go, his mind was otherwise. So he stooped and put the gyve in his
bosom; and the rough iron galled him as he went, and his bosom
Now when he was forth of the wood upon the highway, he met folk
returning from the field; and those he met had no fetter on the
right leg, but, behold! they had one upon the left. Jack asked
them what it signified; and they said, "that was the new wear, for
the old was found to be a superstition". Then he looked at them
nearly; and there was a new ulcer on the left ankle, and the old
one on the right was not yet healed.
"Now, may God forgive me!" cried Jack. "I would I were well home."
And when he was home, there lay his uncle smitten on the head, and
his father pierced through the heart, and his mother cloven through
the midst. And he sat in the lone house and wept beside the
Old is the tree and the fruit good,
Very old and thick the wood.
Woodman, is your courage stout?
Beware! the root is wrapped about
Your mother's heart, your father's bones;
And like the mandrake comes with groans.