"Thou hadst no fame; that which thou didst like good
Was but thy appetite that swayed thy blood
For that time to the best; for as a blast
That through a house comes, usually doth cast
Things out of order, yet by chance may come
And blow some one thing to his proper room,
So did thy appetite, and not thy zeal,
Sway thee by chance to do some one thing well."
||FLETCHER'S Faithful Shepherdess.
"The noble hart that harbours vertuous thought
And is with childe of glorious great intent,
Can never rest, until it forth have brought
Th' eternall brood of glorie excellent."
||SPENSER, The Faerie Queene.
I had not gone very far before I felt that the turf beneath my
feet was soaked with the rising waters. But I reached the
isthmus in safety. It was rocky, and so much higher than the
level of the peninsula, that I had plenty of time to cross. I
saw on each side of me the water rising rapidly, altogether
without wind, or violent motion, or broken waves, but as if a
slow strong fire were glowing beneath it. Ascending a steep
acclivity, I found myself at last in an open, rocky country.
After travelling for some hours, as nearly in a straight line as
I could, I arrived at a lonely tower, built on the top of a
little hill, which overlooked the whole neighbouring country. As
I approached, I heard the clang of an anvil; and so rapid were
the blows, that I despaired of making myself heard till a pause
in the work should ensue. It was some minutes before a cessation
took place; but when it did, I knocked loudly, and had not long
to wait; for, a moment after, the door was partly opened by a
noble-looking youth, half-undressed, glowing with heat, and
begrimed with the blackness of the forge. In one hand he held a
sword, so lately from the furnace that it yet shone with a dull
fire. As soon as he saw me, he threw the door wide open, and
standing aside, invited me very cordially to enter. I did so;
when he shut and bolted the door most carefully, and then led the
way inwards. He brought me into a rude hall, which seemed to
occupy almost the whole of the ground floor of the little tower,
and which I saw was now being used as a workshop. A huge fire
roared on the hearth, beside which was an anvil. By the anvil
stood, in similar undress, and in a waiting attitude, hammer in
hand, a second youth, tall as the former, but far more slightly
built. Reversing the usual course of perception in such
meetings, I thought them, at first sight, very unlike; and at the
second glance, knew that they were brothers. The former, and
apparently the elder, was muscular and dark, with curling hair,
and large hazel eyes, which sometimes grew wondrously soft. The
second was slender and fair, yet with a countenance like an
eagle, and an eye which, though pale blue, shone with an almost
fierce expression. He stood erect, as if looking from a lofty
mountain crag, over a vast plain outstretched below. As soon as
we entered the hall, the elder turned to me, and I saw that a
glow of satisfaction shone on both their faces. To my surprise
and great pleasure, he addressed me thus:
"Brother, will you sit by the fire and rest, till we finish this
part of our work?"
I signified my assent; and, resolved to await any disclosure they
might be inclined to make, seated myself in silence near the
The elder brother then laid the sword in the fire, covered it
well over, and when it had attained a sufficient degree of heat,
drew it out and laid it on the anvil, moving it carefully about,
while the younger, with a succession of quick smart blows,
appeared either to be welding it, or hammering one part of it to
a consenting shape with the rest. Having finished, they laid it
carefully in the fire; and, when it was very hot indeed, plunged
it into a vessel full of some liquid, whence a blue flame sprang
upwards, as the glowing steel entered.
There they left it; and drawing two stools to the fire, sat down,
one on each side of me.
"We are very glad to see you, brother. We have been expecting
you for some days," said the dark-haired youth.
"I am proud to be called your brother," I rejoined; "and you will
not think I refuse the name, if I desire to know why you honour
me with it?"
"Ah! then he does not know about it," said the younger. "We
thought you had known of the bond betwixt us, and the work we
have to do together. You must tell him, brother, from the
So the elder began:
"Our father is king of this country. Before we were born, three
giant brothers had appeared in the land. No one knew exactly
when, and no one had the least idea whence they came. They took
possession of a ruined castle that had stood unchanged and
unoccupied within the memory of any of the country people. The
vaults of this castle had remained uninjured by time, and these,
I presume, they made use of at first. They were rarely seen, and
never offered the least injury to any one; so that they were
regarded in the neighbourhood as at least perfectly harmless, if
not rather benevolent beings. But it began to be observed, that
the old castle had assumed somehow or other, no one knew when or
how, a somewhat different look from what it used to have. Not
only were several breaches in the lower part of the walls built
up, but actually some of the battlements which yet stood, had
been repaired, apparently to prevent them from falling into worse
decay, while the more important parts were being restored. Of
course, every one supposed the giants must have a hand in the
work, but no one ever saw them engaged in it. The peasants
became yet more uneasy, after one, who had concealed himself, and
watched all night, in the neighbourhood of the castle, reported
that he had seen, in full moonlight, the three huge giants
working with might and main, all night long, restoring to their
former position some massive stones, formerly steps of a grand
turnpike stair, a great portion of which had long since fallen,
along with part of the wall of the round tower in which it had
been built. This wall they were completing, foot by foot, along
with the stair. But the people said they had no just pretext for
interfering: although the real reason for letting the giants
alone was, that everybody was far too much afraid of them to
"At length, with the help of a neighbouring quarry, the whole of
the external wall of the castle was finished. And now the
country folks were in greater fear than before. But for several
years the giants remained very peaceful. The reason of this was
afterwards supposed to be the fact, that they were distantly
related to several good people in the country; for, as long as
these lived, they remained quiet; but as soon as they were all
dead the real nature of the giants broke out. Having completed
the outside of their castle, they proceeded, by spoiling the
country houses around them, to make a quiet luxurious provision
for their comfort within. Affairs reached such a pass, that the
news of their robberies came to my father's ears; but he, alas!
was so crippled in his resources, by a war he was carrying on
with a neighbouring prince, that he could only spare a very few
men, to attempt the capture of their stronghold. Upon these the
giants issued in the night, and slew every man of them. And now,
grown bolder by success and impunity, they no longer confined
their depredations to property, but began to seize the persons of
their distinguished neighbours, knights and ladies, and hold them
in durance, the misery of which was heightened by all manner of
indignity, until they were redeemed by their friends, at an
exorbitant ransom. Many knights have adventured their overthrow,
but to their own instead; for they have all been slain, or
captured, or forced to make a hasty retreat. To crown their
enormities, if any man now attempts their destruction, they,
immediately upon his defeat, put one or more of their captives to
a shameful death, on a turret in sight of all passers-by; so that
they have been much less molested of late; and we, although we
have burned, for years, to attack these demons and destroy them,
dared not, for the sake of their captives, risk the adventure,
before we should have reached at least our earliest manhood.
Now, however, we are preparing for the attempt; and the grounds
of this preparation are these. Having only the resolution, and
not the experience necessary for the undertaking, we went and
consulted a lonely woman of wisdom, who lives not very far from
here, in the direction of the quarter from which you have come.
She received us most kindly, and gave us what seems to us the
best of advice. She first inquired what experience we had had in
arms. We told her we had been well exercised from our boyhood,
and for some years had kept ourselves in constant practice, with
a view to this necessity.
"`But you have not actually fought for life and death?' said she.
"We were forced to confess we had not.
"`So much the better in some respects,' she replied. `Now listen
to me. Go first and work with an armourer, for as long time as
you find needful to obtain a knowledge of his craft; which will
not be long, seeing your hearts will be all in the work. Then go
to some lonely tower, you two alone. Receive no visits from man
or woman. There forge for yourselves every piece of armour that
you wish to wear, or to use, in your coming encounter. And keep
up your exercises.
As, however, two of you can be no match for the three giants, I
will find you, if I can, a third brother, who will take on
himself the third share of the fight, and the preparation.
Indeed, I have already seen one who will, I think, be the very
man for your fellowship, but it will be some time before he comes
to me. He is wandering now without an aim. I will show him to
you in a glass, and, when he comes, you will know him at once.
If he will share your endeavours, you must teach him all you
know, and he will repay you well, in present song, and in future
"She opened the door of a curious old cabinet that stood in the
room. On the inside of this door was an oval convex mirror.
Looking in it for some time, we at length saw reflected the place
where we stood, and the old dame seated in her chair. Our forms
were not reflected. But at the feet of the dame lay a young man,
"`Surely this youth will not serve our ends,' said I, `for he
"The old woman smiled. `Past tears are present strength,' said
"`Oh!' said my brother, `I saw you weep once over an eagle you
"`That was because it was so like you, brother,' I replied; `but
indeed, this youth may have better cause for tears than that--I
"`Wait a while,' said the woman; `if I mistake not, he will make
you weep till your tears are dry for ever. Tears are the only
cure for weeping. And you may have need of the cure, before you
go forth to fight the giants. You must wait for him, in your
tower, till he comes.'
"Now if you will join us, we will soon teach you to make your
armour; and we will fight together, and work together, and love
each other as never three loved before. And you will sing to us,
will you not?"
"That I will, when I can," I answered; "but it is only at times
that the power of song comes upon me. For that I must wait; but
I have a feeling that if I work well, song will not be far off to
enliven the labour."
This was all the compact made: the brothers required nothing
more, and I did not think of giving anything more. I rose, and
threw off my upper garments.
"I know the uses of the sword," I said. "I am ashamed of my
white hands beside yours so nobly soiled and hard; but that shame
will soon be wiped away."
"No, no; we will not work to-day. Rest is as needful as toil.
Bring the wine, brother; it is your turn to serve to-day."
The younger brother soon covered a table with rough viands, but
good wine; and we ate and drank heartily, beside our work.
Before the meal was over, I had learned all their story. Each
had something in his heart which made the conviction, that he
would victoriously perish in the coming conflict, a real sorrow
to him. Otherwise they thought they would have lived enough.
The causes of their trouble were respectively these:
While they wrought with an armourer, in a city famed for
workmanship in steel and silver, the elder had fallen in love
with a lady as far beneath him in real rank, as she was above the
station he had as apprentice to an armourer. Nor did he seek to
further his suit by discovering himself; but there was simply so
much manhood about him, that no one ever thought of rank when in
his company. This is what his brother said about it. The lady
could not help loving him in return. He told her when he left
her, that he had a perilous adventure before him, and that when
it was achieved, she would either see him return to claim her, or
hear that he had died with honour. The younger brother's grief
arose from the fact, that, if they were both slain, his old
father, the king, would be childless. His love for his father
was so exceeding, that to one unable to sympathise with it, it
would have appeared extravagant. Both loved him equally at
heart; but the love of the younger had been more developed,
because his thoughts and anxieties had not been otherwise
occupied. When at home, he had been his constant companion; and,
of late, had ministered to the infirmities of his growing age.
The youth was never weary of listening to the tales of his sire's
youthful adventures; and had not yet in the smallest degree lost
the conviction, that his father was the greatest man in the
world. The grandest triumph possible to his conception was, to
return to his father, laden with the spoils of one of the hated
giants. But they both were in some dread, lest the thought of
the loneliness of these two might occur to them, in the moment
when decision was most necessary, and disturb, in some degree,
the self-possession requisite for the success of their attempt.
For, as I have said, they were yet untried in actual conflict.
"Now," thought I, "I see to what the powers of my gift must
minister." For my own part, I did not dread death, for I had
nothing to care to live for; but I dreaded the encounter because
of the responsibility connected with it. I resolved however to
work hard, and thus grow cool, and quick, and forceful.
The time passed away in work and song, in talk and ramble, in
friendly fight and brotherly aid. I would not forge for myself
armour of heavy mail like theirs, for I was not so powerful as
they, and depended more for any success I might secure, upon
nimbleness of motion, certainty of eye, and ready response of
hand. Therefore I began to make for myself a shirt of steel
plates and rings; which work, while more troublesome, was better
suited to me than the heavier labour. Much assistance did the
brothers give me, even after, by their instructions, I was able
to make some progress alone. Their work was in a moment
abandoned, to render any required aid to mine. As the old woman
had promised, I tried to repay them with song; and many were the
tears they both shed over my ballads and dirges. The songs they
liked best to hear were two which I made for them. They were not
half so good as many others I knew, especially some I had learned
from the wise woman in the cottage; but what comes nearest to our
needs we like the best.
||The king sat on his throne
Glowing in gold and red;
The crown in his right hand shone,
And the gray hairs crowned his head.
- only son walks in,
And in walls of steel he stands:
Make me, O father, strong to win,
With the blessing of holy hands."
He knelt before his sire,
Who blessed him with feeble smile
His eyes shone out with a kingly fire,
But his old lips quivered the while.
"Go to the fight, my son,
Bring back the giant's head;
- the crown with which my brows have done,
Shall glitter on thine instead."
"My father, I seek no crowns,
But unspoken praise from thee;
- thy people's good, and thy renown,
I will die to set them free."
The king sat down and waited there,
And rose not, night nor day;
Till a sound of shouting filled the air,
And cries of a sore dismay.
- like a king he sat once more,
With the crown upon his head;
- up to the throne the people bore
A mighty giant dead.
And up to the throne the people bore
A pale and lifeless boy.
- king rose up like a prophet of yore,
In a lofty, deathlike joy.
He put the crown on the chilly brow:
"Thou should'st have reigned with me
- Death is the king of both, and now
I go to obey with thee.
"Surely some good in me there lay,
To beget the noble one."
- old man smiled like a winter day,
And fell beside his son.
||"O lady, thy lover is dead," they cried;
"He is dead, but hath slain the foe;
He hath left his name to be magnified
In a song of wonder and woe."
"Alas! I am well repaid," said she,
"With a pain that stings like joy:
- I feared, from his tenderness to me,
That he was but a feeble boy.
- I shall hold my head on high,
The queen among my kind;
If ye hear a sound, 'tis only a sigh
For a glory left behind."
The first three times I sang these songs they both wept
passionately. But after the third time, they wept no more.
Their eyes shone, and their faces grew pale, but they never wept
at any of my songs again.