The children were at the Theatre, acting to Three Cows as much as they could remember of Midsummer Night’s Dream. Their father had made them a small play out of the big Shakespeare one, and they had rehearsed it with him and with their mother till they could say it by heart. They began where Nick Bottom the weaver comes out of the bushes with a donkey’s head on his shoulder, and finds Titania, Queen of the Fairies, asleep. Then they skipped to the part where Bottom asks three little fairies to scratch his head and bring him honey, and they ended where he falls asleep in Titania’s arms. Dan was Puck and Nick Bottom, as well as all three Fairies. He wore a pointy-eared cloth cap for Puck, and a paper donkey’s head out of a Christmas cracker — but it tore if you were not careful — for Bottom. Una was Titania, with a wreath of columbines and a foxglove wand.
The Theatre lay in a meadow called the Long Slip. A little mill-stream, carrying water to a mill two or three fields away, bent round one corner of it, and in the middle of the bend lay a large old fairy Ring of darkened grass, which was their stage. The mill-stream banks, overgrown with willow, hazel, and guelder rose made convenient places to wait in till your turn came; and a grown-up who had seen it said that Shakespeare himself could not have imagined a more suitable setting for his play. They were not, of course, allowed to act on Midsummer Night itself, but they went down after tea on Midsummer Eve, when the shadows were growing, and they took their supper — hard-boiled eggs, Bath Oliver biscuits, and salt in an envelope — with them. Three Cows had been milked and were grazing steadily with a tearing noise that one could hear all down the meadow; and the noise of the mill at work sounded like bare feet running on hard ground. A cuckoo sat on a gatepost singing his broken June tune, ‘cuckoo-cuk,’ while a busy kingfisher crossed from the mill-stream to the brook which ran on the other side of the meadow. Everything else was a sort of thick, sleepy stillness smelling of meadow-sweet and dry grass.
Their play went beautifully. Dan remembered all his parts — Puck, Bottom, and the three Fairies — and Una never forgot a word of Titania — not even the difficult piece where she tells the Fairies how to feed Bottom with ‘apricocks, ripe figs, and dewberries,’ and all the lines end in ‘ies.’ They were both so pleased that they acted it three times over from beginning to end before they sat down in the unthistly centre of the Ring to eat eggs and Bath Olivers. This was when they heard a whistle among the alders on the bank, and they jumped.
In the very spot where Dan had stood as Puck they now saw a small, brown, broad-shouldered, pointy-eared person with a snub nose, slanting blue eyes, and a grin that ran right across his freckled face.]
The bushes parted. In the very spot where Dan had stood as Puck they saw a small, brown, broad-shouldered, pointy-eared person with a snub nose, slanting blue eyes, and a grin that ran right across his freckled face. He shaded his forehead as though he were watching Quince, Snout, Bottom, and the others rehearsing Pyramus and Thisbe, and, in a voice as deep as Three Cows asking to be milked, he began:
‘What hempen homespuns have we swaggering here,
So near the cradle of our fairy Queen?’
He stopped, hollowed one hand round his ear, and, with a wicked twinkle in his eye, went on:
‘What a play toward? I’ll be auditor,
An actor too, perhaps, if I see cause.’
The children looked and gasped. The small thing — he was no taller than Dan’s shoulder — stepped quietly into the Ring.
‘I’m rather out of practice,’ said he; ‘but that’s the way my part ought to be played.’
Still the children stared at him — from his dark blue cap, like a big columbine flower, to his bare, hairy feet. At last he laughed.
‘Please don’t look like that. It isn’t my fault. What else could you expect?’ he said.
‘We didn’t expect any one,’ Dan answered, slowly. ‘This is our field.’
‘Is it?’ said their visitor, sitting down. ‘Then what on Human Earth made you act Midsummer Night’s Dream three times over, on Midsummer Eve, in the middle of a Ring, and under — right under one of my oldest hills in Old England? Pook’s Hill — Puck’s Hill — Puck’s Hill — Pook’s Hill! It’s as plain as the nose on my face.’
He pointed to the bare, fern-covered slope of Pook’s Hill that runs up from the far side of the mill-stream to a dark wood. Beyond that wood the ground rises and rises for five hundred feet, till at last you climb out on the bare top of Beacon Hill, to look over the Pevensey Levels and the Channel and half the naked South Downs.
‘By Oak, Ash, and Thorn!’ he cried, still laughing. ‘If this had happened a few hundred years ago you’d have had all the People of the Hills out like bees in June!’
‘We didn’t know it was wrong,’ said Dan.
‘Wrong!’ The little fellow shook with laughter. ‘Indeed, it isn’t wrong. You’ve done something that Kings and Knights and Scholars in old days would have given their crowns and spurs and books to find out. If Merlin himself had helped you, you couldn’t have managed better! You’ve broken the Hills — you’ve broken the Hills! It hasn’t happened in a thousand years.’
‘We — we didn’t mean to,’ said Una.
‘Of course you didn’t! That’s just why you did it. Unluckily the Hills are empty now, and all the People of the Hills are gone. I’m the only one left. I’m Puck, the oldest Old Thing in England, very much at your service if — if you care to have anything to do with me. If you don’t, of course you’ve only to say so, and I’ll go.’
He looked at the children and the children looked at him for quite half a minute. His eyes did not twinkle any more. They were very kind, and there was the beginning of a good smile on his lips.
Una put out her hand. ‘Don’t go,’ she said. ‘We like you.’
‘Have a Bath Oliver,’ said Dan, and he passed over the squashy envelope with the eggs.
‘By Oak, Ash, and Thorn!’ cried Puck, taking off his blue cap, ‘I like you too. Sprinkle a little salt on the biscuit, Dan, and I’ll eat it with you. That’ll show you the sort of person I am. Some of us’— he went on, with his mouth full —‘couldn’t abide Salt, or Horseshoes over a door, or Mountain-ash berries, or Running Water, or Cold Iron, or the sound of Church Bells. But I’m Puck!’
He brushed the crumbs carefully from his doublet and shook hands.
‘We always said, Dan and I,’ Una stammered, ‘that if it ever happened we’d know ex-actly what to do; but — but now it seems all different somehow.’
‘She means meeting a fairy,’ said Dan. ‘I never believed in ’em — not after I was six, anyhow.’
‘I did,’ said Una. ‘At least, I sort of half believed till we learned “Farewell Rewards.” Do you know “Farewell Rewards and Fairies”?’
‘Do you mean this?’ said Puck. He threw his big head back and began at the second line:—
‘Good housewives now may say,
For now foul sluts in dairies
Do fare as well as they;
For though they sweep their hearths no less
(‘Join in, Una!’)
Than maids were wont to do,
Yet who of late for cleanliness
Finds sixpence in her shoe?’
The echoes flapped all along the flat meadow.
‘Of course I know it,’ he said.
‘And then there’s the verse about the Rings,’ said Dan. ‘When I was little it always made me feel unhappy in my inside.’
‘“Witness those rings and roundelays,” do you mean?’ boomed Puck, with a voice like a great church organ.
‘Of theirs which yet remain,
Were footed in Queen Mary’s days
On many a grassy plain.
But since of late Elizabeth,
And later James came in,
Are never seen on any heath
As when the time hath been.
‘It’s some time since I heard that sung, but there’s no good beating about the bush: it’s true. The People of the Hills have all left. I saw them come into Old England and I saw them go. Giants, trolls, kelpies, brownies, goblins, imps; wood, tree, mound, and water spirits; heath-people, hill-watchers, treasure-guards, good people, little people, pishogues, leprechauns, night-riders, pixies, nixies, gnomes and the rest — gone, all gone! I came into England with Oak, Ash, and Thorn, and when Oak, Ash, and Thorn are gone I shall go too.’
Dan looked round the meadow — at Una’s oak by the lower gate, at the line of ash trees that overhang Otter Pool where the mill-stream spills over when the mill does not need it, and at the gnarled old white-thorn where Three Cows scratched their necks.
‘It’s all right,’ he said; and added, ‘I’m planting a lot of acorns this autumn too.’
‘Then aren’t you most awfully old?’ said Una.
‘Not old — fairly long-lived, as folk say hereabouts. Let me see — my friends used to set my dish of cream for me o’ nights when Stonehenge was new. Yes, before the Flint Men made the Dewpond under Chanctonbury Ring.’
Una clasped her hands, cried ‘Oh!’ and nodded her head.
‘She’s thought a plan,’ Dan explained. ‘She always does like that when she thinks a plan.’
‘I was thinking — suppose we saved some of our porridge and put it in the attic for you. They’d notice if we left it in the nursery.’
‘Schoolroom,’ said Dan, quickly, and Una flushed, because they had made a solemn treaty that summer not to call the schoolroom the nursery any more.
‘Bless your heart o’ gold!’ said Puck. ‘You’ll make a fine considering wench some market-day. I really don’t want you to put out a bowl for me; but if ever I need a bite, be sure I’ll tell you.’
He stretched himself at length on the dry grass, and the children stretched out beside him, their bare legs waving happily in the air. They felt they could not be afraid of him any more than of their particular friend old Hobden, the hedger. He did not bother them with grown-up questions, or laugh at the donkey’s head, but lay and smiled to himself in the most sensible way.
‘Have you a knife on you?’ he said at last.
Dan handed over his big one-bladed outdoor knife, and Puck began to carve out a piece of turf from the centre of the Ring.
‘What’s that for — Magic?’ said Una, as he pressed up the square of chocolate loam that cut like so much cheese.
‘One of my little Magics,’ he answered, and cut another. ‘You see, I can’t let you into the Hills because the People of the Hills have gone; but if you care to take seizin from me, I may be able to show you something out of the common here on Human Earth. You certainly deserve it.’
‘What’s taking seizin?’ said Dan, cautiously.
‘It’s an old custom the people had when they bought and sold land. They used to cut out a clod and hand it over to the buyer, and you weren’t lawfully seized of your land — it didn’t really belong to you — till the other fellow had actually given you a piece of it — like this.’ He held out the turves.
‘But it’s our own meadow,’ said Dan, drawing back. ‘Are you going to magic it away?’
Puck laughed. ‘I know it’s your meadow, but there’s a great deal more in it than you or your father ever guessed. Try!’
He turned his eyes on Una.
‘I’ll do it,’ she said. Dan followed her example at once.
‘Now are you two lawfully seized and possessed of all Old England,’ began Puck, in a sing-song voice. ‘By Right of Oak, Ash, and Thorn are you free to come and go and look and know where I shall show or best you please. You shall see What you shall see and you shall hear What you shall hear, though It shall have happened three thousand year; and you shall know neither Doubt nor Fear. Fast! Hold fast all I give you.’
The children shut their eyes, but nothing happened.
‘Well?’ said Una, disappointedly opening them. ‘I thought there would be dragons.’
‘Though It shall have happened three thousand year,’ said Puck, and counted on his fingers. ‘No; I’m afraid there were no dragons three thousand years ago.’
‘But there hasn’t happened anything at all,’ said Dan.
‘Wait awhile,’ said Puck. ‘You don’t grow an oak in a year — and Old England’s older than twenty oaks. Let’s sit down again and think. I can do that for a century at a time.’
‘Ah, but you are a fairy,’ said Dan.
‘Have you ever heard me use that word yet?’ said Puck, quickly.
‘No. You talk about “the People of the Hills,” but you never say “fairies,”’ said Una. ‘I was wondering at that. Don’t you like it?’
‘How would you like to be called “mortal” or “human being” all the time?’ said Puck; ‘or “son of Adam” or “daughter of Eve”?’
‘I shouldn’t like it at all,’ said Dan. ‘That’s how the Djinns and Afrits talk in the Arabian Nights.’
‘And that’s how I feel about saying — that word that I don’t say. Besides, what you call them are made-up things the People of the Hills have never heard of — little buzzflies with butterfly wings and gauze petticoats, and shiny stars in their hair, and a wand like a schoolteacher’s cane for punishing bad boys and rewarding good ones. I know ’em!’
‘We don’t mean that sort,’ said Dan. ‘We hate ’em too.’
‘Exactly,’ said Puck. ‘Can you wonder that the People of the Hills don’t care to be confused with that painty-winged, wand-waving, sugar-and-shake-your-head set of impostors? Butterfly wings, indeed! I’ve seen Sir Huon and a troop of his people setting off from Tintagel Castle for Hy–Brasil in the teeth of a sou’-westerly gale, with the spray flying all over the castle, and the Horses of the Hill wild with fright. Out they’d go in a lull, screaming like gulls, and back they’d be driven five good miles inland before they could come head to wind again. Butterfly-wings! It was Magic — Magic as black as Merlin could make it, and the whole sea was green fire and white foam with singing mermaids in it. And the Horses of the Hill picked their way from one wave to another by the lightning flashes! That was how it was in the old days!’
‘Splendid,’ said Dan, but Una shuddered.
‘I’m glad they’re gone, then; but what made the People of the Hills go away?’ Una asked.
‘Different things. I’ll tell you one of them some day — the thing that made the biggest flit of any,’ said Puck. ‘But they didn’t all flit at once. They dropped off, one by one, through the centuries. Most of them were foreigners who couldn’t stand our climate. They flitted early.’
‘How early?’ said Dan.
‘A couple of thousand years or more. The fact is they began as Gods. The Phoenicians brought some over when they came to buy tin; and the Gauls, and the Jutes, and the Danes, and the Frisians, and the Angles brought more when they landed. They were always landing in those days, or being driven back to their ships, and they always brought their Gods with them. England is a bad country for Gods. Now, I began as I mean to go on. A bowl of porridge, a dish of milk, and a little quiet fun with the country folk in the lanes was enough for me then, as it is now. I belong here, you see, and I have been mixed up with people all my days. But most of the others insisted on being Gods, and having temples, and altars, and priests, and sacrifices of their own.’
‘People burned in wicker baskets?’ said Dan. ‘Like Miss Blake tells us about?’
‘All sorts of sacrifices,’ said Puck. ‘If it wasn’t men, it was horses, or cattle, or pigs, or metheglin — that’s a sticky, sweet sort of beer. I never liked it. They were a stiff-necked, extravagant set of idols, the Old Things. But what was the result? Men don’t like being sacrificed at the best of times; they don’t even like sacrificing their farm-horses. After a while men simply left the Old Things alone, and the roofs of their temples fell in, and the Old Things had to scuttle out and pick up a living as they could. Some of them took to hanging about trees, and hiding in graves and groaning o’ nights. If they groaned loud enough and long enough they might frighten a poor countryman into sacrificing a hen, or leaving a pound of butter for them. I remember one Goddess called Belisama. She became a common wet water-spirit somewhere in Lancashire. And there were hundreds of other friends of mine. First they were Gods. Then they were People of the Hills, and then they flitted to other places because they couldn’t get on with the English for one reason or another. There was only one Old Thing, I remember, who honestly worked for his living after he came down in the world. He was called Weland, and he was a smith to some Gods. I’ve forgotten their names, but he used to make them swords and spears. I think he claimed kin with Thor of the Scandinavians.’
‘Heroes of Asgard Thor?’ said Una. She had been reading the book.
‘Perhaps,’ answered Puck. ‘None the less, when bad times came, he didn’t beg or steal. He worked; and I was lucky enough to be able to do him a good turn.’
‘Tell us about it,’ said Dan. ‘I think I like hearing of Old Things.’
They rearranged themselves comfortably, each chewing a grass stem. Puck propped himself on one strong arm and went on:
‘Let’s think! I met Weland first on a November afternoon in a sleet storm, on Pevensey Level ——’
‘Pevensey? Over the hill, you mean?’ Dan pointed south.
‘Yes; but it was all marsh in those days, right up to Horsebridge and Hydeneye. I was on Beacon Hill — they called it Brunanburgh then — when I saw the pale flame that burning thatch makes, and I went down to look. Some pirates — I think they must have been Peofn’s men — were burning a village on the Levels, and Weland’s image — a big, black wooden thing with amber beads round its neck — lay in the bows of a black thirty-two-oar galley that they had just beached. Bitter cold it was! There were icicles hanging from her deck, and the oars were glazed over with ice, and there was ice on Weland’s lips. When he saw me he began a long chant in his own tongue, telling me how he was going to rule England, and how I should smell the smoke of his altars from Lincolnshire to the Isle of Wight. I didn’t care! I’d seen too many Gods charging into Old England to be upset about it. I let him sing himself out while his men were burning the village, and then I said (I don’t know what put it into my head), “Smith of the Gods,” I said, “the time comes when I shall meet you plying your trade for hire by the wayside.”’
‘What did Weland say?’ said Una. ‘Was he angry?’
‘He called me names and rolled his eyes, and I went away to wake up the people inland. But the pirates conquered the country, and for centuries Weland was a most important God. He had temples everywhere — from Lincolnshire to the Isle of Wight, as he said — and his sacrifices were simply scandalous. To do him justice, he preferred horses to men; but men or horses, I knew that presently he’d have to come down in the world — like the other Old Things. I gave him lots of time — I gave him about a thousand years — and at the end of ’em I went into one of his temples near Andover to see how he prospered. There was his altar, and there was his image, and there were his priests, and there were the congregation, and everybody seemed quite happy, except Weland and the priests. In the old days the congregation were unhappy until the priests had chosen their sacrifices; and so would you have been. When the service began a priest rushed out, dragged a man up to the altar, pretended to hit him on the head with a little gilt axe, and the man fell down and pretended to die. Then everybody shouted: “A sacrifice to Weland! A sacrifice to Weland!”’
‘And the man wasn’t really dead?’ said Una.
‘Not a bit. All as much pretence as a dolls’ tea-party. Then they brought out a splendid white horse, and the priest cut some hair from its mane and tail and burned it on the altar, shouting, “A sacrifice!” That counted the same as if a man and a horse had been killed. I saw poor Weland’s face through the smoke, and I couldn’t help laughing. He looked so disgusted and so hungry, and all he had to satisfy himself was a horrid smell of burning hair. Just a dolls’ tea-party!
‘I judged it better not to say anything then (‘twouldn’t have been fair), and the next time I came to Andover, a few hundred years later, Weland and his temple were gone, and there was a Christian bishop in a Church there. None of the People of the Hills could tell me anything about him, and I supposed that he had left England.’ Puck turned; lay on the other elbow, and thought for a long time.
‘Let’s see,’ he said at last. ‘It must have been some few years later — a year or two before the Conquest, I think — that I came back to Pook’s Hill here, and one evening I heard old Hobden talking about Weland’s Ford.’
‘If you mean old Hobden the hedger, he’s only seventy-two. He told me so himself,’ said Dan. ‘He’s a intimate friend of ours.’
‘You’re quite right,’ Puck replied. ‘I meant old Hobden’s ninth great-grandfather. He was a free man and burned charcoal hereabouts. I’ve known the family, father and son, so long that I get confused sometimes. Hob of the Dene was my Hobden’s name, and he lived at the Forge cottage. Of course, I pricked up my ears when I heard Weland mentioned, and I scuttled through the woods to the Ford just beyond Bog Wood yonder.’ He jerked his head westward, where the valley narrows between wooded hills and steep hop-fields.
‘Why, that’s Willingford Bridge,’ said Una. ‘We go there for walks often. There’s a kingfisher there.’
‘It was Weland’s Ford then, dear. A road led down to it from the Beacon on the top of the hill — a shocking bad road it was — and all the hillside was thick, thick oak-forest, with deer in it. There was no trace of Weland, but presently I saw a fat old farmer riding down from the Beacon under the greenwood tree. His horse had cast a shoe in the clay, and when he came to the Ford he dismounted, took a penny out of his purse, laid it on a stone, tied the old horse to an oak, and called out: “Smith, Smith, here is work for you!” Then he sat down and went to sleep. You can imagine how I felt when I saw a white-bearded, bent old blacksmith in a leather apron creep out from behind the oak and begin to shoe the horse. It was Weland himself. I was so astonished that I jumped out and said: “What on Human Earth are you doing here, Weland?”’
‘Poor Weland!’ sighed Una.
‘He pushed the long hair back from his forehead (he didn’t recognise me at first). Then he said: “You ought to know. You foretold it, Old Thing. I’m shoeing horses for hire. I’m not even Weland now,” he said. “They call me Wayland–Smith.”’
‘Poor chap!’ said Dan. ‘What did you say?’
‘What could I say? He looked up, with the horse’s foot on his lap, and he said, smiling, “I remember the time when I wouldn’t have accepted this old bag of bones as a sacrifice, and now I’m glad enough to shoe him for a penny.”
‘“Isn’t there any way for you to get back to Valhalla, or wherever you come from?” I said.
‘“I’m afraid not,” he said, rasping away at the hoof. He had a wonderful touch with horses. The old beast was whinnying on his shoulder. “You may remember that I was not a gentle God in my Day and my Time and my Power. I shall never be released till some human being truly wishes me well.”
‘“Surely,” said I, “the farmer can’t do less than that. You’re shoeing the horse all round for him.”
‘“Yes,” said he, “and my nails will hold a shoe from one full moon to the next. But farmers and Weald Clay,” said he, “are both uncommon cold and sour.”
‘Would you believe it, that when that farmer woke and found his horse shod he rode away without one word of thanks? I was so angry that I wheeled his horse right round and walked him back three miles to the Beacon just to teach the old sinner politeness.’
‘Were you invisible?’ said Una. Puck nodded, gravely.
‘The Beacon was always laid in those days ready to light, in case the French landed at Pevensey; and I walked the horse about and about it that lee-long summer night. The farmer thought he was bewitched — well, he was, of course — and began to pray and shout. I didn’t care! I was as good a Christian as he any fair-day in the County, and about four o’clock in the morning a young novice came along from the monastery that used to stand on the top of Beacon hill.’
‘What’s a novice?’ said Dan.
‘It really means a man who is beginning to be a monk, but in those days people sent their sons to a monastery just the same as a school. This young fellow had been to a monastery in France for a few months every year, and he was finishing his studies in the monastery close to his home here. Hugh was his name, and he had got up to go fishing hereabouts. His people owned all this valley. Hugh heard the farmer shouting, and asked him what in the world he meant. The old man spun him a wonderful tale about fairies and goblins and witches; and I know he hadn’t seen a thing except rabbits and red deer all that night. (The People of the Hills are like otters — they don’t show except when they choose.) But the novice wasn’t a fool. He looked down at the horse’s feet, and saw the new shoes fastened as only Weland knew how to fasten ’em. (Weland had a way of turning down the nails that folks called the Smith’s Clinch.)
‘“H’m!” said the novice. “Where did you get your horse shod?”
‘The farmer wouldn’t tell him at first, because the priests never liked their people to have any dealings with the Old Things. At last he confessed that the Smith had done it. “What did you pay him?” said the novice. “Penny,” said the farmer, very sulkily. “That’s less than a Christian would have charged,” said the novice. “I hope you threw a ‘Thank you’ into the bargain.” “No,” said the farmer; “Wayland–Smith’s a heathen.” “Heathen or no heathen,” said the novice, “you took his help, and where you get help there you must give thanks.” “What?” said the farmer — he was in a furious temper because I was walking the old horse in circles all this time —“What, you young jackanapes?” said he. “Then by your reasoning I ought to say ‘Thank you’ to Satan if he helped me?” “Don’t roll about up there splitting reasons with me,” said the novice. “Come back to the Ford and thank the Smith, or you’ll be sorry.”
‘Back the farmer had to go! I led the horse, though no one saw me, and the novice walked beside us, his gown swishing through the shiny dew and his fishing-rod across his shoulders spearwise. When we reached the Ford again — it was five o’clock and misty still under the oaks — the farmer simply wouldn’t say “Thank you.” He said he’d tell the Abbot that the novice wanted him to worship heathen gods. Then Hugh the novice lost his temper. He just cried, “Out!” put his arm under the farmer’s fat leg, and heaved him from his saddle on to the turf, and before he could rise he caught him by the back of the neck and shook him like a rat till the farmer growled, “Thank you, Wayland–Smith.”’
‘Did Weland see all this?’ said Dan.
‘Oh, yes, and he shouted his old war-cry when the farmer thudded on to the ground. He was delighted. Then the novice turned to the oak and said, “Ho! Smith of the Gods, I am ashamed of this rude farmer; but for all you have done in kindness and charity to him and to others of our people, I thank you and wish you well.” Then he picked up his fishing-rod — it looked more like a tall spear than ever — and tramped off down your valley.’
‘And what did poor Weland do?’ said Una.
‘He laughed and cried with joy, because he had been released at last, and could go away. But he was an honest Old Thing. He had worked for his living and he paid his debts before he left. “I shall give that novice a gift,” said Weland. “A gift that shall do him good the wide world over, and Old England after him. Blow up my fire, Old Thing, while I get the iron for my last task.” Then he made a sword — a dark grey, wavy-lined sword — and I blew the fire while he hammered. By Oak, Ash, and Thorn, I tell you, Weland was a Smith of the Gods! He cooled that sword in running water twice, and the third time he cooled it in the evening dew, and he laid it out in the moonlight and said Runes (that’s charms) over it, and he carved Runes of Prophecy on the blade. “Old Thing,” he said to me, wiping his forehead, “this is the best blade that Weland ever made. Even the user will never know how good it is. Come to the monastery.”
‘We went to the dormitory where the monks slept. We saw the novice fast asleep in his cot, and Weland put the sword into his hand, and I remember the young fellow gripped it in his sleep. Then Weland strode as far as he dared into the Chapel and threw down all his shoeing-tools — his hammer, and pincers, and rasps — to show that he had done with them for ever. It sounded like suits of armour falling, and the sleepy monks ran in, for they thought the monastery had been attacked by the French. The novice came first of all, waving his new sword and shouting Saxon battle-cries. When they saw the shoeing-tools they were very bewildered, till the novice asked leave to speak, and told what he had done to the farmer, and what he had said to Wayland–Smith, and how, though the dormitory light was burning, he had found the wonderful rune-carved sword in his cot.
‘The Abbot shook his head at first, and then he laughed and said to the novice: “Son Hugh, it needed no sign from a heathen God to show me that you will never be a monk. Take your sword, and keep your sword, and go with your sword, and be as gentle as you are strong and courteous. We will hang up the Smith’s tools before the Altar,” he said, “because, whatever the Smith of the Gods may have been in the old days, we know that he worked honestly for his living and made gifts to Mother Church.” Then they went to bed again, all except the novice, and he sat up in the garth playing with his sword. Then Weland said to me by the stables: “Farewell, Old Thing; you had the right of it. You saw me come to England, and you see me go. Farewell!”
‘With that he strode down the hill to the corner of the Great Woods — Woods Corner, you call it now — to the very place where he had first landed — and I heard him moving through the thickets towards Horsebridge for a little, and then he was gone. That was how it happened. I saw it.’
Both children drew a long breath.
‘But what happened to Hugh the novice?’ said Una.
‘And the sword?’ said Dan.
Puck looked down the meadow that lay all quiet and cool in the shadow of Pook’s Hill. A corncrake jarred in a hay-field near by, and the small trouts of the brook began to jump. A big white moth flew unsteadily from the alders and flapped round the children’s heads, and the least little haze of water-mist rose from the brook.
‘Do you really want to know?’ Puck said.
‘We do,’ cried the children. ‘Awfully!’
‘Very good. I promised you that you shall see What you shall see, and you shall hear What you shall hear, though It shall have happened three thousand year; but just now it seems to me that, unless you go back to the house, people will be looking for you. I’ll walk with you as far as the gate.’
‘Will you be here when we come again?’ they asked.
‘Surely, sure-ly,’ said Puck. ‘I’ve been here some time already. One minute first, please.’
He gave them each three leaves — one of Oak, one of Ash, and one of Thorn.
‘Bite these,’ said he. ‘Otherwise you might be talking at home of what you’ve seen and heard, and — if I know human beings — they’d send for the doctor. Bite!’
They bit hard, and found themselves walking side by side to the lower gate. Their father was leaning over it.
‘And how did your play go?’ he asked.
‘Oh, splendidly,’ said Dan. ‘Only afterwards, I think, we went to sleep. It was very hot and quiet. Don’t you remember, Una?’
Una shook her head and said nothing.
‘I see,’ said her father.
‘Late — late in the evening Kilmeny came home,
For Kilmeny had been she could not tell where,
And Kilmeny had seen what she could not declare.
But why are you chewing leaves at your time of life, daughter? For fun?’
‘No. It was for something, but I can’t azactly remember,’ said Una.
And neither of them could till —
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56