"Fight on, my men, Sir Andrew sayes,
A little Ime hurt, but yett not slaine;
He but lye downe and bleede awhile,
And then Ile rise and fight againe."
||Ballad of Sir Andrew Barton.
But I could not remain where I was any longer, though the
daylight was hateful to me, and the thought of the great,
innocent, bold sunrise unendurable. Here there was no well to
cool my face, smarting with the bitterness of my own tears. Nor
would I have washed in the well of that grotto, had it flowed
clear as the rivers of Paradise. I rose, and feebly left the
sepulchral cave. I took my way I knew not whither, but still
towards the sunrise. The birds were singing; but not for me.
All the creatures spoke a language of their own, with which I had
nothing to do, and to which I cared not to find the key any more.
I walked listlessly along. What distressed me most--more even
than my own folly--was the perplexing question, How can beauty
and ugliness dwell so near? Even with her altered complexion and
her face of dislike; disenchanted of the belief that clung around
her; known for a living, walking sepulchre, faithless, deluding,
traitorous; I felt notwithstanding all this, that she was
beautiful. Upon this I pondered with undiminished perplexity,
though not without some gain. Then I began to make surmises as
to the mode of my deliverance; and concluded that some hero,
wandering in search of adventure, had heard how the forest was
infested; and, knowing it was useless to attack the evil thing in
person, had assailed with his battle-axe the body in which he
dwelt, and on which he was dependent for his power of mischief in
the wood. "Very likely," I thought, "the repentant-knight, who
warned me of the evil which has befallen me, was busy retrieving
his lost honour, while I was sinking into the same sorrow with
himself; and, hearing of the dangerous and mysterious being,
arrived at his tree in time to save me from being dragged to its
roots, and buried like carrion, to nourish him for yet deeper
insatiableness." I found afterwards that my conjecture was
correct. I wondered how he had fared when his blows recalled the
Ash himself, and that too I learned afterwards.
I walked on the whole day, with intervals of rest, but without
food; for I could not have eaten, had any been offered me; till,
in the afternoon, I seemed to approach the outskirts of the
forest, and at length arrived at a farm-house. An unspeakable
joy arose in my heart at beholding an abode of human beings once
more, and I hastened up to the door, and knocked. A
kind-looking, matronly woman, still handsome, made her
appearance; who, as soon as she saw me, said kindly, "Ah, my poor
boy, you have come from the wood! Were you in it last night?"
I should have ill endured, the day before, to be called BOY; but
now the motherly kindness of the word went to my heart; and, like
a boy indeed, I burst into tears. She soothed me right gently;
and, leading me into a room, made me lie down on a settle, while
she went to find me some refreshment. She soon returned with
food, but I could not eat. She almost compelled me to swallow
some wine, when I revived sufficiently to be able to answer some
of her questions. I told her the whole story.
"It is just as I feared," she said; "but you are now for the
night beyond the reach of any of these dreadful creatures. It is
no wonder they could delude a child like you. But I must beg
you, when my husband comes in, not to say a word about these
things; for he thinks me even half crazy for believing anything
of the sort. But I must believe my senses, as he cannot believe
beyond his, which give him no intimations of this kind. I think
he could spend the whole of Midsummer-eve in the wood and come
back with the report that he saw nothing worse than himself.
Indeed, good man, he would hardly find anything better than
himself, if he had seven more senses given him."
"But tell me how it is that she could be so beautiful without any
heart at all--without any place even for a heart to live in."
"I cannot quite tell," she said; "but I am sure she would not
look so beautiful if she did not take means to make herself look
more beautiful than she is. And then, you know, you began by
being in love with her before you saw her beauty, mistaking her
for the lady of the marble--another kind altogether, I should
think. But the chief thing that makes her beautiful is this:
that, although she loves no man, she loves the love of any man;
and when she finds one in her power, her desire to bewitch him
and gain his love (not for the sake of his love either, but that
she may be conscious anew of her own beauty, through the
admiration he manifests), makes her very lovely--with a self-
destructive beauty, though; for it is that which is constantly
wearing her away within, till, at last, the decay will reach her
face, and her whole front, when all the lovely mask of nothing
will fall to pieces, and she be vanished for ever. So a wise
man, whom she met in the wood some years ago, and who, I think,
for all his wisdom, fared no better than you, told me, when, like
you, he spent the next night here, and recounted to me his
I thanked her very warmly for her solution, though it was but
partial; wondering much that in her, as in woman I met on my
first entering the forest, there should be such superiority to
her apparent condition. Here she left me to take some rest;
though, indeed, I was too much agitated to rest in any other way
than by simply ceasing to move.
In half an hour, I heard a heavy step approach and enter the
house. A jolly voice, whose slight huskiness appeared to proceed
from overmuch laughter, called out "Betsy, the pigs' trough is
quite empty, and that is a pity. Let them swill, lass! They're
of no use but to get fat. Ha! ha! ha! Gluttony is not forbidden
in their commandments. Ha! ha! ha!" The very voice, kind and
jovial, seemed to disrobe the room of the strange look which all
new places wear--to disenchant it out of the realm of the ideal
into that of the actual. It began to look as if I had known
every corner of it for twenty years; and when, soon after, the
dame came and fetched me to partake of their early supper, the
grasp of his great hand, and the harvest-moon of his benevolent
face, which was needed to light up the rotundity of the globe
beneath it, produced such a reaction in me, that, for a moment, I
could hardly believe that there was a Fairy Land; and that all I
had passed through since I left home, had not been the wandering
dream of a diseased imagination, operating on a too mobile frame,
not merely causing me indeed to travel, but peopling for me with
vague phantoms the regions through which my actual steps had led
me. But the next moment my eye fell upon a little girl who was
sitting in the chimney-corner, with a little book open on her
knee, from which she had apparently just looked up to fix great
inquiring eyes upon me. I believed in Fairy Land again. She
went on with her reading, as soon as she saw that I observed her
looking at me. I went near, and peeping over her shoulder, saw
that she was reading "The History of Graciosa and Percinet."
"Very improving book, sir," remarked the old farmer, with a good-
humoured laugh. "We are in the very hottest corner of Fairy Land
here. Ha! ha! Stormy night, last night, sir."
"Was it, indeed?" I rejoined. "It was not so with me. A
lovelier night I never saw."
"Indeed! Where were you last night?"
"I spent it in the forest. I had lost my way."
"Ah! then, perhaps, you will be able to convince my good woman,
that there is nothing very remarkable about the forest; for, to
tell the truth, it bears but a bad name in these parts. I dare
say you saw nothing worse than yourself there?"
"I hope I did," was my inward reply; but, for an audible one, I
contented myself with saying, "Why, I certainly did see some
appearances I could hardly account for; but that is nothing to be
wondered at in an unknown wild forest, and with the uncertain
light of the moon alone to go by."
"Very true! you speak like a sensible man, sir. We have but few
sensible folks round about us. Now, you would hardly credit it,
but my wife believes every fairy-tale that ever was written. I
cannot account for it. She is a most sensible woman in
"But should not that make you treat her belief with something of
respect, though you cannot share in it yourself?"
"Yes, that is all very well in theory; but when you come to live
every day in the midst of absurdity, it is far less easy to
behave respectfully to it. Why, my wife actually believes the
story of the `White Cat.' You know it, I dare say."
"I read all these tales when a child, and know that one
"But, father," interposed the little girl in the chimney-corner,
"you know quite well that mother is descended from that very
princess who was changed by the wicked fairy into a white cat.
Mother has told me so a many times, and you ought to believe
everything she says."
"I can easily believe that," rejoined the farmer, with another
fit of laughter; "for, the other night, a mouse came gnawing and
scratching beneath the floor, and would not let us go to sleep.
Your mother sprang out of bed, and going as near it as she could,
mewed so infernally like a great cat, that the noise ceased
instantly. I believe the poor mouse died of the fright, for we
have never heard it again. Ha! ha! ha!"
The son, an ill-looking youth, who had entered during the
conversation, joined in his father's laugh; but his laugh was
very different from the old man's: it was polluted with a sneer.
I watched him, and saw that, as soon as it was over, he looked
scared, as if he dreaded some evil consequences to follow his
presumption. The woman stood near, waiting till we should seat
ourselves at the table, and listening to it all with an amused
air, which had something in it of the look with which one listens
to the sententious remarks of a pompous child. We sat down to
supper, and I ate heartily. My bygone distresses began already
to look far off.
"In what direction are you going?" asked the old man.
"Eastward," I replied; nor could I have given a more definite
answer. "Does the forest extend much further in that direction?"
"Oh! for miles and miles; I do not know how far. For although I
have lived on the borders of it all my life, I have been too busy
to make journeys of discovery into it. Nor do I see what I could
discover. It is only trees and trees, till one is sick of them.
By the way, if you follow the eastward track from here, you will
pass close to what the children say is the very house of the ogre
that Hop-o'-my-Thumb visited, and ate his little daughters with
the crowns of gold."
"Oh, father! ate his little daughters! No; he only changed their
gold crowns for nightcaps; and the great long-toothed ogre killed
them in mistake; but I do not think even he ate them, for you
know they were his own little ogresses."
"Well, well, child; you know all about it a great deal better
than I do. However, the house has, of course, in such a foolish
neighbourhood as this, a bad enough name; and I must confess
there is a woman living in it, with teeth long enough, and white
enough too, for the lineal descendant of the greatest ogre that
ever was made. I think you had better not go near her."
In such talk as this the night wore on. When supper was
finished, which lasted some time, my hostess conducted me to my
"If you had not had enough of it already," she said, "I would
have put you in another room, which looks towards the forest; and
where you would most likely have seen something more of its
inhabitants. For they frequently pass the window, and even enter
the room sometimes. Strange creatures spend whole nights in it,
at certain seasons of the year. I am used to it, and do not mind
it. No more does my little girl, who sleeps in it always. But
this room looks southward towards the open country, and they
never show themselves here; at least I never saw any."
I was somewhat sorry not to gather any experience that I might
have, of the inhabitants of Fairy Land; but the effect of the
farmer's company, and of my own later adventures, was such, that
I chose rather an undisturbed night in my more human quarters;
which, with their clean white curtains and white linen, were very
inviting to my weariness.
In the morning I awoke refreshed, after a profound and dreamless
sleep. The sun was high, when I looked out of the window,
shining over a wide, undulating, cultivated country. Various
garden-vegetables were growing beneath my window. Everything was
radiant with clear sunlight. The dew-drops were sparkling their
busiest; the cows in a near-by field were eating as if they had
not been at it all day yesterday; the maids were singing at their
work as they passed to and fro between the out-houses: I did not
believe in Fairy Land. I went down, and found the family already
at breakfast. But before I entered the room where they sat, the
little girl came to me, and looked up in my face, as though she
wanted to say something to me. I stooped towards her; she put
her arms round my neck, and her mouth to my ear, and whispered--
"A white lady has been flitting about the house all night."
"No whispering behind doors!" cried the farmer; and we entered
together. "Well, how have you slept? No bogies, eh?"
"Not one, thank you; I slept uncommonly well."
"I am glad to hear it. Come and breakfast."
After breakfast, the farmer and his son went out; and I was left
alone with the mother and daughter.
"When I looked out of the window this morning," I said, "I felt
almost certain that Fairy Land was all a delusion of my brain;
but whenever I come near you or your little daughter, I feel
differently. Yet I could persuade myself, after my last
adventures, to go back, and have nothing more to do with such
"How will you go back?" said the woman.
"Nay, that I do not know."
"Because I have heard, that, for those who enter Fairy Land,
there is no way of going back. They must go on, and go through
it. How, I do not in the least know."
"That is quite the impression on my own mind. Something compels
me to go on, as if my only path was onward, but I feel less
inclined this morning to continue my adventures."
"Will you come and see my little child's room? She sleeps in the
one I told you of, looking towards the forest."
"Willingly," I said.
So we went together, the little girl running before to open the
door for us. It was a large room, full of old-fashioned
furniture, that seemed to have once belonged to some great house.
The window was built with a low arch, and filled with
lozenge-shaped panes. The wall was very thick, and built of
solid stone. I could see that part of the house had been erected
against the remains of some old castle or abbey, or other great
building; the fallen stones of which had probably served to
complete it. But as soon as I looked out of the window, a gush
of wonderment and longing flowed over my soul like the tide of a
great sea. Fairy Land lay before me, and drew me towards it with
an irresistible attraction. The trees bathed their great heads
in the waves of the morning, while their roots were planted deep
in gloom; save where on the borders the sunshine broke against
their stems, or swept in long streams through their avenues,
washing with brighter hue all the leaves over which it flowed;
revealing the rich brown of the decayed leaves and fallen
pine-cones, and the delicate greens of the long grasses and tiny
forests of moss that covered the channel over which it passed in
motionless rivers of light. I turned hurriedly to bid my hostess
farewell without further delay. She smiled at my haste, but with
an anxious look.
"You had better not go near the house of the ogre, I think. My
son will show you into another path, which will join the first
Not wishing to be headstrong or too confident any more, I agreed;
and having taken leave of my kind entertainers, went into the
wood, accompanied by the youth. He scarcely spoke as we went
along; but he led me through the trees till we struck upon a
path. He told me to follow it, and, with a muttered "good
morning" left me.