When People told themselves their past with stories,
explained their present with stories,
foretold the future with stories,
the best place by the fire was kept for ...
THE STORYTELLER!!!

~The Witch In The Well

[*The ancient town of Padstow provides the 'Witch in the Well'; lovely Harlyn Bay, in the parish of St. Merryn, is the scene of 'Borrowed Eyes and Ears'; and the 'Little White Hare' is from the Vale of Lanherne, at St. Mawgan in Pydar.]

Once upon a time seven little maids of Padstow Town met together in Beck Lane to play a game called 'The Witch in the Well.' As they stood waiting for the child who was to act the witch, an old woman dressed in a steeple-hat and chintz petticoat came down the lane towards them.

'What are you doing here, my pretty maids?' she asked.

'Waiting for our witch,' answered the children, wondering who this strange-looking, oddly-dressed old woman could be.
'We are going to play "Witch in the Well."'

'Are you?' said the queer old body. 'I used to play that nice game when I was young like you, and should love to play it once again before I die. The little maid who was to have been your witch tumbled down on the cobble-stones in the market-place and hurt herself as she was coming hither,' she added, as they stared at her in amazement, 'and won't be able to play with you to-day.
Will you let me be your witch instead of your little friend?'

'If you like, ma'am,' answered one of the children, after a hasty glance at her companions for consent.

'Thank you,' cried the old woman. 'It will be the most exciting game you ever played in all your life;' and, lifting her petticoats as if to display her high-heeled shoes and red stockings, she hobbled across the road to a well under a Gothic arch.

When the old crone had taken her seat inside the ancient well--and which was called the Witch's Well--Betty, the child who was to play the Mother in the game, took the other six little maids to a tumble-down cottage opposite the well, and the game began.

The Little Mother told her children--who were called after the six working days of the week--that she was going down to Padstow Town to sell her eggs, and that they must not leave the cottage, as the Witch o' the Well was about.

'Mind the old witch doesn't come and carry you away,' the wee maids said one to another when the Little Mother had gone.

As they were saying this, the old woman in the chintz petticoat and steeple-hat came to the door, and looked over the hatch.

'May I come in and light my pipe?' she asked.

'Iss, ma'am,' said Tuesday, unfastening the hatch; and when the old crone had come in and lighted her pipe, she crooked her lean old arm round Monday and took her away.

'Where is Monday?' asked the Little Mother when she had come back to her cottage, quick to see that one of her children was gone.

'An old woman came to light her pipe and took her away,'
said Tuesday.

'It was the old Witch o' the Well,' cried the Little Mother.
'I'll go and see what she has done with her.'

And across the road to the well she went, and, stooping down
and looking in, she saw an old woman sitting in the back of the well smoking a pipe.

'Where is my little maid Monday?' she demanded sternly.

'I gave her a piece of thunder-and-lightning [37] and sent her
to Chapel Stile to see if the waves were breaking on the Doombar,' answered the witch, knocking the ashes out of her pipe.

[Footnote 37: Bread and cream sprinkled with treacle.

'I am off to Chapel Stile to look for Monday,' said the Little Mother, returning to the cottage. 'Be sure you don't let the old witch come in whilst I am away.'

Betty's back was no sooner turned than the same old woman came to the door.

'May I come in and light my pipe?' she asked.

'Iss, if you please, ma'am,' said Tuesday, forgetting her mother's injunction.

The old crone came in, lighted her pipe, and took away Tuesday!

'Mind the old Witch o' the Well don't come and take you away like she did Monday and Tuesday,' the children were saying to each other when Betty came back from her fruitless search for Monday.

'What! has the bad old witch come and taken away Tuesday?'
cried the Little Mother. 'Dear! what ever shall I do now?
I can't find Monday, and now my poor little Tuesday is gone!'

She rushed across the road to the well where the old witch was sitting, as before, calmly smoking her pipe.

'What have you done with Tuesday?' she demanded.

'I gave her a piece of saffron cake and sent her out to Lelizzick to ask Farmer Chapman to sell me a bag of sheep's wool for spinning,' the witch made answer.

'I am going out to Lelizzick to look for Tuesday,' said the Little Mother, rushing back to her children. 'Be sure you don't let the old witch come in. If you do, she will take you all away, and then what shall I do without my dear little maids?'

Betty was scarcely out of sight when a steeple-hat was seen at the window, and a pair of eerie eyes looked in.

Before the children could shut the door and its hatch, the old witch had come into the cottage.

'A puff of wind blew out my pipe,' she said. 'May I light it with a twig from your fire?'

'Iss,' answered Wednesday somewhat doubtfully. 'But Mother told us we were not to let you come in, because, if we did, you would take us away as you did Monday and Tuesday.'

'Did she?' cackled the witch, taking a bit of stick from the fire and thrusting it into her pipe. 'Well, I only want one of you now,'
and looking round the room, her glance fell on Wednesday,
and crooking her arm round her, she carried her off to the well.

'I have been out to Lelizzick and can't find Tuesday,' cried the Little Mother, coming into the cottage as the witch, with Wednesday under her arm, disappeared into the well.
'Oh! where is Wednesday?' looking round the room and seeing another of her children missing.

'The old witch came in before we could shut the door, and took our little sister away,' said the children.

'This is wisht news, sure 'nough,' wailed the Little Mother, and off she rushed to the well, where the witch was sitting smoking.

'What have you been and done with Wednesday?' she asked angrily.

'I gave her a bit of figgy-pudding, and sent her to Place House to ask if Squire Prideaux's housekeeper would kindly give an old body a bottle of their good physic to cure her rheumatics.'

'I'm going up to Place House to see if Wednesday is there,' said the Little Mother, looking in at the window of the cottage. 'If the witch should come to the door whilst I am away, don't let her come in, whatever you do!'

When she had gone to Place House, an old mansion standing above Padstow Town, the old witch left the well, and before the children saw her, she had pushed open the door, and stood in the doorway, looking in.

'May I come in and light my pipe?' she asked.

'No,' answered Thursday.

But she came in, nevertheless, and having lighted her pipe, she caught up Thursday and took her across to the well.

'What! has the witch been here again, and taken away Thursday?' exclaimed the Little Mother when she came back from Place House without finding Wednesday, discovering that another of her children was gone.

'Iss,' sighed Friday. 'She came over the doorsill before we saw her.'

'This is too dreadful!' cried the poor Little Mother. 'I shall soon have no little maids left to call my own!' and wringing her hands, she went across the lane to the well.

'What have you been and done with Thursday, you bad old witch?' she demanded.

'I gave her a piece of limpet-pie, and sent her to London Churchtown to buy me a steeple-hat and a broom,' the witch made answer, rudely puffing her pipe in Betty's face. 'If you go there in Marrowbone Stage, [38] you will perhaps find her.'

[Footnote 38: Legs.]

'I am off to London Churchtown in Marrowbone Stage to look for Thursday,' cried the Little Mother, returning to her cottage in great haste and excitement. 'Keep the door and hatch locked and barred till I come back, and then, if you are good children and do as I bid, I will bring you home each a gold ring.'

When the Little Mother had driven away in Marrowbone Stage to London Churchtown in search of Thursday, Friday saw the witch leave the well and cross the road to their cottage.

'Shut the door quickly and bar it,' she cried to Little Saturday.

And Saturday had but slipped the bolt into its socket when the old hag was at the door, knocking loudly to be let in.

'My pipe has gone out again,' she shrilled through the keyhole. 'May I come in and light it?'

'No!' answered Friday. 'Mother said you would take us away as you did poor Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, if we let you in.'

'I must come in and light my pipe,' insisted the witch. 'And if you don't open the door, I'll come through the keyhole;' and as the children would not open the door, through the keyhole she came!

Having lighted her pipe and unbolted the door, she caught up both children and carried them away, and when the tired Little Mother returned from London Churchtown in a fruitless search for Thursday, she found to her dismay not only Friday gone, but dear Little Saturday!

She hurried to the well in an agony of despair.

'Where is Friday and Little Saturday?' she cried.

'I gave them each a herby pasty, [39] and sent them to Windmill with grist to grind for to-morrow's baking,' answered the witch, spreading her petticoats over the dark water of the well.

[Footnote 39: A pasty made of herbs.]

'Tired as I am, I must go to Windmill to look for my dear children,' said the poor Little Mother, with a sigh. 'P'r'aps I shall meet them coming back; and up the lane she went on her way out to Windmill.

When she came back to the well the old witch had smoked her pipe, and was sound asleep and snoring.

'I have been all the way out to Windmill, and I could not see Friday and Little Saturday anywhere,' cried the Little Mother, shaking the old hag roughly by the shoulder. 'Where are they, you wicked old witch?'

'Friday and Little Saturday came back soon after you had gone to look for them,' said the witch, opening her eyes and yawning.

'Where are they?' demanded the Little Mother.

'With Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday,' answered the witch, knocking the ashes out of her pipe.

'And where is Monday and the others?'
'Upstairs,' answered the witch.
'Whose stairs?' asked Betty.
'My stairs,' returned the witch.

'Shall I go up your stairs and bring them?' asked the Little Mother eagerly.
'Your shoes are too dirty,' cried the witch.
'I will take off my shoes,' said Betty.

'Your stockings are too dirty,' protested the witch.
'I will take off my stockings.'
'Your feet are too dirty,' protested the old hag.
'I will wash my feet,' said the Little Mother.
'No water would wash them clean enough to climb up my stairs,' cried the witch.

'I'll cut off my feet,' persisted Betty, determined that no excuse should stop her from getting to her children.

'The blood would drop and stain my stairs,' said the witch.
I'll tie up my stumps,' cried the Little Mother.
'The blood would come through,' howled the witch.

'Then, what shall I do to get up your stairs?' said the Little Mother, with a cry of despair.

'Fly up!' cackled the old hag.
'But I can't fly without wings,' wailed Betty.
'Get wings,' cried the witch, with a sneer.
'How can I?' asked the poor Little Mother helplessly.

'I leave that to your clever wits to find out!' snapped the witch. 'And let me tell you that until you can fly you will never see Monday and your five other children again, nor get them out of my clutches!' And with a 'Ha! ha!' and a 'He! he!' the witch pulled her petticoats round her and disappeared under the dark waters of the well.

'My dear life!' ejaculated Betty, now really frightened. 'I believe that old woman who played the game with us was a real witch, and wasn't pretending at all, and has really and truly taken Monday, Tuesday, and all the others away.' And she sped away down to the quay where she lived with her terrible news.

There was a great to-do when the children's friends learned what had happened, and there was bitter woe and lamentation when, after days and days of searching, the poor little souls could not be found.

A year went by, and all this time Betty, the child who had acted the 'Mother' in the game, never forgot her six little friends. They were seldom out of her thoughts, and she longed for a pair of wings to fly up the witch's stairs; and the more she wanted wings, the more impossible they seemed to get.

One evening in the beginning of June--the very same day, as it happened, that she and her little companions had met together at the Witch's Well to play the game--she was passing the well, when a little white dog ran out of a garden close by, and came and licked her shoes.

She was fond of dogs, and, as she patted it, to her amazement it began to talk to her just like a human being, which almost scared her out of her wits.

'Please don't be afraid of me,' he said, wagging his stump of a tail as Betty backed into the hedge. 'I am only a dog in shape. I was a little boy before the dreadful old Witch o' the Well turned me into a dog, or what looks like a dog.'

'Were you really a boy once? And do you know the Witch o' the Well?' asked Betty, trying to get over her fears in her interest in what he told her.

'Alas, I do!' answered the dog. 'She is my mistress, and I have to follow her about all day long, and am never free of her except at night, when she is riding about on her broom. Then I have to haunt certain lanes to make silly superstitious people believe I am a ghost. The old Witch sent me to this lane a few days ago, and very glad I was, because I hoped to see you.'

'Whatever for?' asked Betty, still very much afraid of this strange dog, with his human-like voice.

'Because I know your little friends Monday and the others.'
'Do you really?' cried the child. 'I am glad!--Where are they?'

'In the witch's house, away on a dark moor, in her upstairs chamber,' answered the little white dog, with a wag of his tail, 'and where they will have to stay--so the witch says--until the little maid who played "Mother" in the game is able to fly upstairs after them.'

'Then, I'm afraid they will have to stay there always,' said Betty, her eyes filling with tears. 'Can't you get up the witch's stairs and bring them down?'

'The stairs are almost as steep as a tower,' answered the dog; 'and even if I could climb them, the door of the chamber where they are shut up is locked, and a spell worked upon the lock that nothing can open save a pair of wings and music.'

'What kind of music?' asked Betty.

'I haven't the smallest idea,' answered the dog. 'I only know that it has to do with you.'

'Are my dear little friends happy?' asked Betty, hardly noticing the dog's last remark.

'They are most unhappy,' said the dog. 'They have nothing to cheer them, poor little souls, save the forlorn hope that perhaps one day their dear Little Mother Betty will be able to fly and get them out of the witch's power.'

'If I only knew how to fly, how quickly I would get up those stairs!' said Betty. 'There is nothing I can do, is there, to get a pair of wings?' she asked wistfully. 'Nobody who can help me to get wings?' she added, as the little white dog seemed to bend his head in thought.

'Nobody but the Wise Woman of Bogee Down,' he answered, after considering a few minutes.

'I have heard of that strange old body,' said Betty. 'My mother often told me about her. She is very clever and wise, she said, and used to make simples for sick folks. She is terribly old now--a hundred and twenty, I think she told me.'

'That or more,' said the dog. 'But aged as she is, she is not too aged to work a kindness for anybody that asks her, particularly if it be against the Witch o' the Well.'

'Will she help me to get wings, do you think?' asked Betty eagerly.

'If it is within her power, I am certain she will,' returned the little white dog. 'Why don't you go and see her, and tell her the old Witch o' the Well has shut up six dear little maids, who were unfortunate enough to play the game with her a year ago, and that they cannot be set free until you, who acted the "Mother" in the game, can fly up to their rescue?'

''Tis a long way to Bogee Down,' answered Betty, 'but I'll go there to-morrow, all the same, if I can.'

'That is well,' cried the little white dog. 'You will not seek her help in vain, I am sure, especially if you tell her the witch's little white dog Pincher sent you. Now I must be off, for the old witch is up on her broom, and if she should happen to see us talking together, her horrid old cat would sclow [40] our eyes out. Good-bye, dear little Betty, and give thee favour in the sight of the Wise Woman'; and with another wag of his tail he vanished.

[Footnote 40: Scratch.]

Betty hardly slept a wink that night, thinking of her six little friends shut up in the witch's tower, and so ardently did she desire wings to fly up to their help that she got up and dressed before the sun was risen. He was just rising over the golden towans on the east side of the river as she left her mother's house for Bogee Down, a wild, picturesque, but lonely tableland about four miles from the ancient town.

It was so early that nobody was up except herself, and the doors of the Crown and Anchor were still closed as she walked over the quay, down the slip, and across the beach to the south quay.

The child went out of the town the nearest way to the downs, up through a side road called the Drang, and up Sander's Hill.

When she got up to Three Turnings, which commanded a view of the river and Padstow low in the hollow of the hills, she climbed a stile and looked down to see if she could see the quay.

The river was now very beautiful with reflections of the dawn, and its pale-blue water was flushed with tenderest rose and gold. There was a flush on the rounded hills, and a gleam of light on the distant tors--Rough Tor and Brown Willy. There was a ship in full sail coming up the harbour, followed by a company of white-breasted gulls, which also caught the light.

The sun was high in the sky when Betty reached Bogee Down. Now she had got there she did not know in what part of it the Wise Woman lived. As she sent her glance over the wild down, gorgeous with yellow broom and other down flowers, she thought she saw blue smoke rising from a hedge a short distance up from Music Water, a delightful spot where Sweet-Gales, Butterfly Orchises, Bog-Asphodels grew, and where a clear brown musical stream ran down between the fragrant flowers, which made the place that June morning very beautiful.

The child went up over the down where she had seen the smoke rising, and found a hut huddled under a high blackberry hedge.

She knocked at the door, which was half open, and a thin cracked voice called out:

'Come in and tell me what has brought thee to this lonely down.'

Betty obeyed, but not without fear; and as she pushed the door open, she saw sitting in front of a peat fire on the hearthstone the bent form of an old woman with her back to the door. She was quaintly dressed, after the manner of ancient dames of the sixteenth century, and on her head she wore a cap as white as sloe blossom.

The old dame did not look round as Betty entered, but when the child had said all that Pincher the little white dog had told her to say, and had asked if she would kindly help her to get wings to fly up the witch's stairs, she suddenly glanced at her over her shoulder, with the brightest, keenest eyes the girl had ever seen, and which seemed to look into her pure young soul.

Evidently Betty's earnest little face pleased her, for she smiled and said kindly:

'Pincher was a wise dog to send you to me. But, let me tell you, you have asked me to do an almost impossible thing. Yet, fortunately for those poor shut-up little maids, it is not quite impossible; but it will depend on yourself, whether your love and pity for your little friends is strong enough to do all that is required of you.'

'I'll do anything if I can only get wings to fly with, and see Monday, Tuesday, and the others again,' broke in Betty, with all a child's eagerness.

'Alas! the will that is strong and eager to do is often weakened by the flesh that is frail,' said the Wise Woman, with a shake of her head; 'but the question now is, Are you willing to live with me, an old woman, in this out-of-the-way place, for a year and a day, if 'tis required, and do all I bid you willingly, without asking a single question?'

'A year and a day is a long time to be away from home,' said Betty honestly. 'Still, I am willing to stay with you all that time and do your bidding if my mother will let me.'

'That is well!' cried the Wise Woman. 'Now go back to Padstow Town and get your mother's consent, and return to me to-morrow about this time.'

Betty's mother was very glad to let her little girl go and live with the Wise Woman, for she was very poor, and had twelve children.

The next day, when Betty was returning to Bogee Down, which she did by the same road as before, with her clothes done up in a bundle under her arm, who should she see, leaning over a gate, at a place called Uncle Kit's Corner, but the old Witch o' the Well, smoking her pipe!

'Whither away, my little dear?' cried the witch, as the child drew near the gate.

'To get a pair of wings to fly up your stairs to see Monday and the others,' answered Betty promptly.

'Ha! ha! That's too funny!' cried the witch. 'As well try to cut a piece from the blue of yon sky to make yourself a gown as to get wings to fly up my stairs.' And she laughed and laughed until she nearly choked herself.

'The witch may crow like an evil bird now,' cried the Wise Woman when Betty told her what the witch had said; 'but I shall hope to live to hear her screech like a whitnick [41] before that time has passed.'

[Footnote 41: Weasel.]

When the little maid had undone her bundle, and put away her small belongings, the old woman told her to go to the settle, which stood by the fireplace, and take out from its seat a little bag of feathers, and separate one from the other and lay them on the table.

'That will be an easy thing to do,' said Betty to herself; and lifting the seat, she found a dinky bag stuffed full of feathers, rainbow-coloured, but so matted together that they were nothing but a soft ball.

'P'r'aps this is to make me a pair of wings,' said Betty; and seating herself on the settle, she set to work with a will.

But the feathers were not easily disentangled, as she soon found, and when evening came she had only succeeded in disentangling one tiny feather from the matted mass.

The Wise Woman neither looked nor spoke to her until the sun sank down behind the downs, when she told her to return the bag to its place in the settle, and then get her supper and her own and go to bed.

'I have only got one little feather to put on the table,' said poor little Betty, when she had put the bag back into its place.

'You have done better than I feared,' said the Wise Woman quietly. 'It is something to have untangled even one feather from its companions. It is a sign that it is quite possible that you may be able to fly.'

When they had had their supper, which consisted of black bread and goat's milk, Betty lay down in a bed made of dried grass and bracken, in the corner of the room, and slept the sleep of well-doing.

'It will take me a whole year to untangle all these feathers,' said the little maid to herself the next day, when she again sat down to her task, which she did when she had got her own and the Wise Woman's breakfast, and had swept and sanded the hut. ''Tis dreary work, sure 'nough!'

'Pity, love, and patience will do wonders,' said the Wise Woman, who seemed to have the gift of thought-reading, and what she said comforted the child not a little.

Every day for six long months Betty sat in the settle most of the day separating feather from feather, and it was not until the end of that time that the last feather was laid upon the table, and so bright and beautiful did they look that she said they looked as if they had been dipped in a rainbow.

The Wise Woman did not tell her what they were for, but she was sure they were to make her a pair of wings. 'And how beautiful they will be when they are made--brighter than a sunset!' she whispered to herself as she lay down to sleep that night.

When Betty awoke the following morning, she looked at the table to see if the feathers were safe, and saw, to her dismay, the Wise Woman sweep them into the skirt of her gown and take them to the door and shake them out on the down.

'Aw, my beautiful feathers!' ejaculated the child, springing up in her bed, when as she did so the ancient dame broke into a chant, and all she could make out of it was that now the spell was broken they must go with all speed to the Queen of the Little People and get her permission to help in the undoing of another spell.

When the chant had ceased, Betty, still more amazed, saw a great cloud, that looked more like winged flowers than feathers, float away over the downs towards the sea.

'I don't believe they were feathers at all!' cried Betty to herself. 'And, aw dear! how am I to get my wings now?'

She longed to ask the Wise Woman to tell her why she had flung the feathers away, but remembering what the old body had said, that she was to ask no questions, whatever she saw or heard, she kept back the words on her lips.

She was very cast down when her work of many days was gone--she knew not whither.

When she had had her breakfast and had done all her little chores, the Wise Woman bade her search in the seat of the settle for a black stone, which, she told her, she must rub till it was the colour of life.

After much searching, she found the stone of curious shape wrapped in soft leather, which her old friend said she could use to rub the stone with.

Betty again set to work with a will, but rub as hard as she could, no rubbing seemed to affect the blackness of the stone, and at the end of a week it seemed blacker than ever. She was much troubled at this, and the Wise Woman, who read her thoughts, told her not to despair, as its blacker blackness was a sign that all would be well, and that she was in a fair way of getting wings to fly up the witch's stairs.

'How?' was on Betty's lips, but a warning look from the Wise Woman's wonderful bright eyes made the question die unspoken.

For many a week longer the girl rubbed the sable stone--patiently and quietly most of the time, but there were days when she felt like throwing the stone out of the window and running away home to her mother. But pity for her poor little friends shut up in the witch's chamber made her persevere with her task.

One day, when she was almost worn out with rubbing, she saw a faint glow come into the stone, which, as she rubbed harder and quicker than ever, grew brighter and brighter, until it lay in her hand as red as a poppy.

'The stone is all afire!' she cried, taking it to the Wise Woman.

'It is the colour of life at last,' said the ancient dame, gazing at it with her wonderful bright eyes; 'and another spell loosened to the witch's undoing,' she muttered, half to herself. And noticing that Betty was listening with all her ears, she told the child to look in the settle for a box, and when she had found it to put it on the table and lay the stone within it.

There was only one box in the settle, which, though small, was most exquisitely carved all over with wings--wing interlacing wing--and as Betty set it on the table and put the stone into it, she thought she had never seen such a lovely box.

The next morning, when she awoke, she saw the Wise Woman at the door of the hut with the stone in her hand, and she heard her chanting: 'Go the way thy sisters went--the way of the west wind, and ask the King of the Wee Folk to give thee permission to help in the undoing of an evil wrought by the Witch o' the Well;' and Betty, staring with all her eyes, saw the ancient dame fling the stone out on to the down, along which it rolled at a rapid rate, burning as it went with a rosy splendour. It went the way the feathers had gone.

Betty dressed quickly, and busied herself about the hut, to keep herself from asking if the stone was really a stone, for she did not believe it was, and she ached to know.

When they had had breakfast, and the hut was cleaned with fresh scouring-sand, the Wise Woman asked her, if she had the chance of being made into a bird, what little bird would she like to be.

'A thrush,' said Betty. 'I should love to be a little thrush, because it sings so sweetly in the dawn.'

'It is a good choice,' cried the Wise Woman--'the best you could have made. Now go down to Trevillador Wood, and every thrush you see in it, ask him to give you a feather for Love's sake.'

'I do not know where Trevillador Wood is,' said the child, 'nor the way thither.'

'It is in a valley in Little Petherick,' returned the Wise Woman. 'It is not a great way from here, and easy to find if you follow a little brown stream from Crackrattle, that runs down through the valley to the wood. Crackrattle is away there, on Trevibban Down,' pointing to the opposite down, which was only separated from Bogee by a narrow road. 'By going up across Trevibban you will soon get to Crackrattle. Now go, my dear, and go quickly.' And Betty went.

The child was ever so thankful to be out of doors again, after having been cooped up in the hut for so many months, particularly as it was the birds' singing-time. Birds were singing everywhere on the downs, and their music gushed from furze-brake, from thorn-bush and alder; and when she came to Music Water she heard linnets fluting, and sweet wild notes came from budding willows by the side of the rippling stream. Larks were also singing--lark answering lark with such wonderful melody in the blue upper air that she told herself she had never heard such lovely sounds before.

The downs, in spite of all the bird-music, were not so beautiful nor so full of colour as when she came to stay with the Wise Woman. They were now as brown as Piskey-purses, she said, and only lightened here and there by granite boulders, where they caught the rays of the sun, by yellow gorse, and splashes of silver lichen.

It did not take the girl very long to cross Music Water's full stream to reach the road that parted the two downs; but it took her some time to get to Crackrattle, as the way up to it was thick with brambles and furze.

When she drew near that part of the down which commanded a grand view of the country and sea as far up as Tintagel, she turned her gaze towards Padstow Town, and saw the river twisting in and out of the hills on its way out to the open sea. She also saw the two great headlands, Stepper Point and Pentire, that guarded the entrance to Padstow harbour in that far-away sixteenth century, as they do to-day, and her glimpse of them and the blue river seemed to bring her home quite close to her; and when she reached Crackrattle stream, she followed it down the long, deep valley with a happy heart.

When she came to a wood, which she was sure in her mind was Trevillador Wood, she heard the thrushes singing and filling the place with music. Every cock thrush was doing his very best to out-sing his brother thrush. It was mating-time, and each little songster in speckled grey was trying to win a little mate by his song.

The first thrush that Betty saw--and he was a master singer and made the wood ring--was on the uppermost branch of a horse-chestnut just beginning to bud, and when he had finished his entrancing song, she lifted up her voice and said:

'Dear little grey thrush, please give me one of your feathers, for Love's sake.'

She wondered as she begged if the bird would understand her language; but he did quite well, and, what she thought was still more wonderful, she understood his!

'I will give you a feather gladly,' he piped in his own delicious thrush way. 'It is the beautiful spring-time, and the thrushes' courting-time; and because you beg a feather for Love's sake, I will pluck one that lies over my heart.' And the dear little bird did so, and flung it down into Betty's outstretched hands; and when she had caught it, he burst out into exquisite melody, and he was still singing, as she went down the wood lovely with budding trees.

From every thrush she saw she asked a feather for Love's sake, and she was not refused once, and by the time she had gone the length of the wood her apron was full of thrushes' feathers, plucked from breast and wing, tail and back!

'Were the song-thrushes willing to give their feathers?' asked the Wise Woman when Betty got back to the hut.

'Ever so willing!' cried the little maid, opening her apron to show what a lot she had got.

'It is more than enough,' she said. 'Put them into the box where the stone lay.'

The following morning when the child awoke there was a mournful sound coming up from the sea, which they could command from the door of the hut, and the Wise Woman said it was a sign that a great storm was being brewed by the Master of the Winds, and that before the day was over he would send the great North-Easter across the land.

'I am sorry,' she said, 'as it will hinder our work, and perhaps I shall die of the cold before we can help you to fly.'

Betty wanted terribly to ask the Wise Woman who beside herself would help her to get wings, but she dared not ask a single question, and felt it was very hard she could not.

Before the day had closed in, the bitter north wind, which was accompanied by snow, had come. It broke over the downs in great fury, and made the poor old woman shiver over her fire with the misery of it. The next day and the next it blew, and the more it blew, and the faster it snowed, the more the ancient dame shivered and shook; and all day long she kept Betty busy piling up dry furze on the hearth, till there was none left to put.

When she realized that all her winter store of peat and firewood was burnt, she moaned, and said she was sure she should die of the cold.

'And if I die,' she added sadly, 'the witch, like the north wind, will have it all her own way, and you will never be able to fly up her terrible stairs.'

This distressed the poor little maid very much; for she had become quite fond of the Wise Woman, and wanted her to live for her own sake as well as for Monday's, Tuesday's, and the others'.

When the fuel was all burnt, and the Wise Woman too cold even to shiver, Betty said that when it stopped snowing she would go out on the downs and look for something to burn; and when it stopped she went.

The downs were many feet deep under the snow, and there was not a furze-brake nor a hillock to be seen anywhere; and the down opposite was as smooth as a sheet spread out on grass to dry.

As Betty was searching for wood, and could not find even a stick, a hare came speeding over the snow from Crackrattle. She watched it till it crossed over to Bogee, and saw, to her surprise, that it was making straight for her. When it drew near it stopped, with eyes that made her think of the witch's eyes, and as it gazed, the hare disappeared, and in its place stood the old witch herself, steeple-hat and all!

Betty was dreadfully frightened, and before she could rush back to the hut, the witch had come quite close to her, and asked her what she was doing out there in the cold.

'Looking for firewood for the poor old Wise Woman's fire,' answered Betty. 'And I can't see any,' she added sadly.

'Of course you can't,' laughed the witch. 'Sticks under three feet of snow are as difficult to find as a furze-needle in a wainload of hay. It will comfort you to know that you won't find even a stick, and that before the north wind has turned his back on the downs, the Wise Woman will have died of the cold, and you will cry your eyes out for wings to fly up my stairs!' And cackling and jeering, she disappeared, and Betty saw a gray hare running away over the snow down to Music Water, now as silent as the downs themselves.

The little maid was returning to the hut with an icicle of despair at her heart, when a white dog ran across her path, and looking down, she saw it was Pincher, the witch's dog.

'Don't let what my bad old mistress said distress you,' he cried, licking Betty's cold little hand. 'She does not want you to look for sticks, and came here on purpose to prevent you. She is quite as anxious that the Wise Woman should die as you and I are for her to live. She is as clever as she is vile, and she knows that a woman over a hundred could not possibly live long in awful weather like this unless she has a good fire to keep her warm.'

'But why does she want the Wise Woman to die?' asked the little maid.

'Because she fears the wisdom of her long years can help you to fly up her stairs. And this fear brought her to Bogee Down to-day. She made me come with her, which is fortunate; for poking about whilst she was talking to you, I discovered a great faggot of wood dry as a bone, and under it a pile of peat.'

'Where?' Betty asked eagerly.

'Close to the hut under a hedge,' answered the dog. 'And if you will allow me I'll come and help you to get it out. The witch is so happy in her belief that she has discouraged you from looking for sticks that she won't miss me yet.'

And he led the way to the side of the hut, where, under a tangle of brambles, Betty saw a huge bundle of sticks, dry and brown.

They set to work with a will--she with her eager young hands, he with his strong white teeth--and soon got it out from under the hedge and into the hut, where, to their distress, they found the Wise Woman lying face down on the hearthstone, apparently lifeless.

Betty, girl-like, began to sob, believing the poor old woman was dead, which made Pincher quite angry, and he told her with a growl to put off her weeping till a more convenient time, and see if she could not kindle a fire with the sticks they had brought, whilst he tried to lick life back into her poor old body.

It was just the stimulus the child wanted. She mopped away her tears, and piled wood on the fire and set it alight; and Pincher, the dog, licked the poor old woman's face and hands with his warm, moist tongue.

Their efforts were not in vain, and they soon had the joy of seeing her open her eyes and stretch out her hands to the blaze.

'Thank you for all your kindness, dear Pincher,' said Betty, when the dog said he must go. 'If I can ever do you a kindness in return, just ask me and I'll do it if I can.'

'Remember me when you can fly up the witch's stairs,' said the dog, with an appealing look in his eyes that Betty never forgot.

'Then you really believe I shall be able to fly up those stairs some day?' she asked.

'I am almost certain you will, and so is the witch. You cannot live with people for generations without being able to read their faces. The witch's face is an open book to me now, and it tells me that she is not only afraid you will fly, but that it will happen soon. So fearful is she of this that a few days ago she actually wove another spell on the door leading up to the tower where the little maids who played the game are kept.'

'Do you ever get mouth-speech with the poor little dears?' asked Betty wistfully.

'Never. But I sometimes see them at the barred window of their chamber. It isn't often they have time even for that, for the old witch keeps them spinning all day long. Farewell, dear! I must go. If the faggot of sticks is all burnt and the turf before the cold goes, don't go out again in search of more firewood. There is danger abroad. If the Wise Woman is in danger of sinking under the cold, just lay your warm heart against her heart, and all will be well.'

The dreadful weather still continued, and when the faggot was all burnt, the dame again began to shiver and shake with cold, and said she should die this time, as there was no warmth left to keep life in her.

Betty was once more greatly distressed on her old friend's account, and declared she would go out on the downs to look for firewood in spite of what might happen to herself; but as she was going, the Wise Woman again tumbled, face down, on the fireless hearth.

As the girl picked her up (she was not the weight of a witch) and laid her on the settle, she remembered what the dog had advised her to do if the cold overcame the old woman again, and, lying down beside her, she pressed her warm young body against her aged body, and soon she had the joy of knowing that life was creeping back to the feeble old frame.

When the Wise Woman opened her eyes and saw the child's face close to hers, and felt her kind young arms about her, she said, with a tremble in her voice:

'Thou art a dear little maid. Thou hast rekindled the feeble flame of my life, proving to me that Good is greater than Evil, and Love stronger than Hate. I shall not die now before thou hast gotten thy wings. Get up, open the door, and call across the snow three times, "Little Prince Fire, come away from the Small People's Country and keep the Wise Woman warm till the cold goes!"'

Betty made haste to obey, and when she had opened the hut-door wide she called three times, as she was told, and then waited to see what would happen.

In a minute or less there appeared on the edge of the down a bright-red glow like a poppy in the eye of the sun. After burning there a minute or so it came like a flash over the snow towards the hut. As it came close, she saw it was the very same stone that she had rubbed for so many, many weeks.

It flashed like a ruby into the hut, and as it did so she thought she saw, through the soft rosy haze that seemed to envelope it, a tiny laughing face.

When she turned to see where the stone had gone, behold it was on the hearthstone, burning away like a tiny faggot, and the Wise Woman was sitting beside it with her withered old hands held out to the blaze!

It was so remarkable and queer that Betty could not at first believe the evidence of her own eyes, and rubbed them to make sure she was not dreaming. But it was no dream, for the miserable little hut, which a few minutes before was cold as Greenland, was now as warm as a zam [42] oven, and there was a soft glow all over it.

[Footnote 42: A hot oven that has been left to cool a little.]

She sat down on the settle to enjoy the comfort of this wonderful fire, and she felt so warm and lovely after the terrible cold that it made her drowsy, and in a little while she was in a sound sleep. She never knew how long she slept, she only knew that when she awoke the wind and the snow had all gone, and the down birds were chanting a morning song outside the window. The stone was also gone, and the Wise Woman nowhere to be seen.

As she was wondering what had become of the latter, the old woman came into the hut with her apron full of green furze, and seeing the child wide awake, she cried:

'Get up, sleepy-head! The cold has left the downs this longful time, and the thrushes in Trevillador Wood have built their nests and are beginning to lay. Haste to the wood and get a bottleful of bird-music.'

'Where is the bottle?' asked Betty, getting up and looking about her.

'You will find one in the settle made of the Small People's crystal, into which you must ask every thrush you hear singing to his mate to drop a note to make a song with. Ask him to give it you for Gratitude's sake. When the bottle is full to its neck make your way back to the hut, and the first living thing you see after you have left the wood ask it to return with you to the Wise Woman. Ask it also to come for Gratitude's sake.'

After the child had eaten some food and had found the bottle, which was ever so tiny, and clear and bright as diamonds, she started for Trevillador Wood.

The cold had indeed all gone, as the Wise Woman had said, and the downs were all the better for the great storm that had swept over them. The snow had kept the earth warm, and had been a soft warm blanket to all the downflowers, and now the furze blossom was all manner of lovely shades of gold, and the soft spring air full of its fragrance. Music Water was all alight with marsh-marigolds, and the catkins of the grey-green willows were dusted with gold.

The snow had also been kind to the trees in Trevillador Wood (the Thrushes' Wood, Betty called it), and had wrapped all the baby buds and tender leaves in dainty white furs, and when the little maid entered the wood she saw, to her surprise, that most of the trees were dreams of beauty, with glistering leaves, and some of them were almost as brightly coloured as that strange stone, Little Prince Fire, as the Wise Woman had called it.

So delighted was she with all she saw that she forgot what she had been sent there for, until a thrush near startled the wood with a burst of melody. He was singing to his mate, for, drawing nearer, she saw, low down in a bush, a little hen thrush on her nest.

'Please, little grey-bird, [43] will you drop a note of your song into this bottle for Gratitude's sake?' she asked, holding up the bottle to the singing thrush.

[Footnote 43: The song-thrush is called the grey-bird in Cornwall.]

'Gladly,' piped he, 'especially as you ask it for Gratitude's sake. We have just received our first great blessing, which I may tell you is a tiny blue egg.'

'Give the child two notes,' piped a happy little voice from the nest. 'My heart is brimming over with joy for the warm wee thing under me.'

'Thank you for your kindness,' said Betty. 'But, if you please, little thrushes, the Wise Woman who lives on Bogee Down above Music Water, who sent me to this wood, said I must only ask for one note from each thrush I heard singing.'

'That is right,' chirped the little cock thrush. 'Always obey those older and wiser than yourself.'

'Ask the child what she wants thrushes' notes for,' chirped the voice from the nest. 'She didn't say, did she?'

'I forgot to tell you that,' struck in Betty. 'It is to make a song with.'

'I thought so,' piped the little cock thrush, and flying down, he put one of his most delicious notes into the tiny bottle, and in another second he was up on his bush again, singing deeper and more entrancingly than before, gratitude being the keynote and the chief utterance of his song.

Betty went down the wood with that music in her soul, and begged every thrush she heard singing to give her a note of his song.

Whether every bird's heart was also full of gladness for the freckled blue eggs in its dear little nest we cannot say, but they all gave willingly of their best, and before the child had gone through Trevillador Wood, the bottle of Small People's crystal was full to the neck with thrush-music.

Coming back, she saw two red squirrels sitting on their haunches at the foot of an oak-tree, eating nuts.

Said one squirrel to the other squirrel:

'There is a dear little maid from Padstow Town here in the wood collecting music from the thrushes. It is the same child who, unknown to herself, undid a cruel spell which the Witch o' the Well cast over Prince Fire, a near relative of the King of the Little People. She turned him into a black stone, and a stone he had to be till somebody could rub it the colour of flame.'

'You don't mean to say so?' cried the other squirrel. 'This is news.'

'I thought it would be,' said the squirrel that spoke, arching his handsome tail with importance. 'Perhaps it will also be news to you to hear that this same little maid has actually untangled the dear Little Lady Soft Winds from that great Skein of Entanglement into which the wicked old witch tangled them, and from which nobody, not even the Wee Folk themselves, was able to free them.'

'However did she manage to do it?' asked the second squirrel.

'Only the Wise Woman of Bogee Down could answer that question. But the thrushes believe, and so do I, that love and pity for six little maids whom the witch has shut up somewhere gave patience to her fingers to do what the Wise Woman bade her do; and because her heart was full of love for these poor little maids, whom she hoped by her obedience to get out of the witch's power, she unwittingly set free the other poor little prisoners--the Lady Soft Winds and Prince Fire, the King's cousin.'

'And has she got her own little friends out of the power of the witch after all her love and patience?' asked the squirrel.

'Alas! not yet; but we all hope she will soon. The Small People are her friends now, especially those she set free. And it is told that they are going to turn her into a flying creature of some sort. Some say a bird, but nobody knows for certain. We are all on the alert to see what will happen. They say the Lady Soft Winds whispered to the daffodowndillies last evening that Prince Fire had already begun to make a pair of wings for her to fly up the witch's stairs. But it may be only talk. And yet--there! the dear little maid is coming. Not another word, remember. She understands our language, and bird language too. The Wise Woman, it is said, put something on her tongue when she was asleep one day, when Little Prince Fire came from the Wee Folk's country to keep the Wise Woman's hut warm;' and then, catching sight of Betty's eyes bent upon him, he rushed up the trunk of the oak, followed by his companion.

'Well, those little funny things have told news, sure 'nough,' laughed the child to herself when the pretty little squirrels had vanished, 'and have told me all I ached to know without asking a single question. To think that the little feathers were the dear Little People; and that queer black stone was one too, and that they are going to help me fly up to Monday and the rest!'

And she danced with delight as she thought of it, and the wonder was she did not dance the thrushes' notes out of the bottle.

When she was out of the wood, and walking up to Crackrattle, she remembered what the Wise Woman had told her, that the first thing she saw with wings she must ask it to return with her to the hut; but the only winged creature that she noticed as she went up the valley was a large butterfly--or what she thought was a butterfly--on a great stone.

'The Wise Woman cannot want a butterfly to go back with me to her house,' said Betty to herself. 'But perhaps I had better ask it to come;' and speaking gently, so as not to frighten away the lovely thing on the stone, she said: 'Little butterfly, please will you, for Gratitude's sake, come with me to the Wise Woman's hut?' and to her amazement the tiny creature answered back:

'Gladly will I go with you. But, excuse me, I am not a butterfly. I am one of the Lady Soft Winds whom you freed from the tangle into which the old witch threw us.'

It began to rise on its azure wings as it spoke, and as it rose Betty saw it was indeed a fairy. It had the dearest little face she had ever seen, and as for its eyes, they were bluer than its own wings, and its soft, round cheeks were a more delicate pink than the cross-leaved heath that flowered on the downs early in the summer.

It flew on beside her, and Betty was so taken up with watching it that she did not notice when she got up to Crackrattle that a dozen other fairy-like creatures were flying over the downs towards her, until they were quite close.

'We are the Lady Soft Wind's sisters,' they said, 'and out of deep gratitude to you we have come to go with you to the Wise Woman's hut.'

'Have you really, you little dears?' was all Betty could find words to say. 'Come along, then.'

And they came, and were a rhythm of colour as they flew beside her, or, as the child expressed it, 'a little flying garland of flowers.'

Thus accompanied, Betty came to the hut, where, in the doorway, stood the Wise Woman, leaning on her stick, evidently awaiting her and her companions' arrival.

'We have come,' said one of the little creatures.

'I felt certain you would,' said the Wise Woman, making a curtsey, 'and a thousand welcomes. If the child has brought the thrushes' notes everything is ready.'

'She has brought them,' put in another tiny voice, 'and they are impatient to sing.'

'Then please follow me,' said the Wise Woman, going into the hut; and in flew all the lovely little creatures, with gentle fanning of wings, which made a soft breeze as they came.

'Prince Fire is already at work,' said the Wise Woman, pointing to the box, and Betty, who had followed the Little Lady Soft Wings, saw, sitting in the box amongst the thrushes' feathers, a small person dressed in red, busy making wings! He was Little Prince Fire, and a very great person in the Small People's World.

'My dear life! aw, my dear life! What shall I see next?' cried the little Padstow maid to herself; and what more she would have said is not known, for at that moment the Wise Woman took the tiny crystal bottle out of her hand and put it into the box beside the dinky person within.

'The Lady Soft Winds have arrived, your Royal Highness,' she said, 'and Betty, the little Padstow maid, is also here.'

'Good!' piped the tiny man. 'Bid them sing the Making Song.'

'We require no bidding, Prince Fire,' said a little Lady Soft Wind, with gentle dignity, as she and the others alighted on the table. 'Out of gratitude and love we have come from afar to sing this song, knowing well, unless we sang it, you would never complete the wings. We, as well as you, can never repay the little maid of Padstow Town for releasing us from the witch's spell.'

The voice had hardly died away when all the radiant fairies began to wave their wings, at first slowly, and then rapidly, in a kind of rhythm, and sang very softly as they waved them.

Betty watched them with all her eyes, and whether it was the movement of their wings or the curious song they sang, with its hush-a-by kind of tune, she felt ever so drowsy, just as she had felt when Little Prince Fire blazed away like a faggot on the hearthstone, and sitting down on the settle, she fell asleep with the two first verses of the song in her ears:

'We Wee Folk together
With music and feather
The gift of the birds--
The little grey-birds--
Do make her a thrush
All sweetness and gush.
Lallaby! Gallady!

'And the Little Prince Fire
Her sweet song will inspire,
That she may fly high
Where little maids sigh,
And undo the spell
Of the Witch o' the Well.
Lallaby! Gallady!'

The next thing she heard was the Wise Woman telling her to rise up and move her wings, and Betty, nothing loth, lifted herself from the settle and found she was all air and lightness, like the Little Lady Soft Winds themselves, and could fly about the hut with the greatest ease; the feeling of flying was altogether delightful!

The Lady Soft Winds watched her flight with the deepest interest, and Prince Fire, who was sitting on the edge of the carved box, watched too; that he approved of her flying powers it was plain to see, for his bright eyes never left her wings.

'What am I now?' asked Betty at last, perching on a beam, and looking down sideways bird fashion on the Wise Woman.

'You are a little grey thrush,' said the Wise Woman, her withered face a big smile.

'And now, little grey thrush, away to the east, where the witch's house looms out dark and strong against the gold of the morning sky,' said the Lady Soft Winds, 'and fly up her terrible stairs and set your six little children free, as you did us.'

'Yes; away to Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday,' cried Little Prince Fire.

'And Thursday, Friday, and Little Saturday,' struck in the Wise Woman.

'Away, away, little grey thrush!' cried they all, singing as they cried. 'The sun is rising behind the Tors, and the time is come for our little thrush to fly and sing. Then, away, away!'

Their little thrush wanted no further urging, and with one full, clear, melodious note, which filled all the small fairies with delight, it flew out of the hut, followed by the gentle winnowing of the Lady Soft Winds' wings.

So glad was Betty, the little grey thrush, at being on her way to see those dear little maids that she flew faster than ever thrush flew before, and the sun was not yet over the Tors when she reached a grim old house standing all alone on a brown and desolate moor, with its back to the golden sunrise.

Instinct told the little grey thrush that it was the witch's house, and alighting on a blasted tree, close to its spell-bound door, she began to sing with all her might; and so joyous and so triumphant was her song that it seemed to bring gladness and hope even to that desolate spot.

As Betty, in her bird form, sang on, the old witch came round the corner of her house, dragging her unwilling feet as she came. When she lifted her bad old eyes and saw a grey thrush high on the tree, singing with all its cheerful heart, she turned green, and hearing the door of the tower leading up the stairs--where Monday and all the other little maids were shut up--groaning as if in pain, she sank in a heap on the ground, and began to groan and moan too.

The bird sang on, and its whole body was one shake with its music, and the more thrilling was its song, the more the witch moaned and groaned. Then, when its last triumphant note rang out, the great door opened, as if pushed back by some magic power, and revealed a flight of very steep stairs. The witch gave a piercing howl when she saw the door open wide, for she knew that the small grey thrush's music had broken her spells, and that she was completely in the power of that little singing bird.

When the door of the tower was as wide open as it could go, the thrush gave three flaps of its wings, and then it flew out of the tree, and in through the doorway of the tower, up and up the witch's stairs. And at the top of the stairs was a small room, where six little maids sat spinning.

They were so busy, and the hum of the wheels was so loud, that none of them noticed the entrance of the grey-bird until it broke into a song from the window-sill.

'Why, it is a dear little thrush!' cried Friday, who was the first to notice it. 'How ever did it get up here? It must be the bird we heard singing so beautifully outside just now;' and all the children stopped their spinning-wheels to look at it.

'Did it really fly up the witch's stairs?' asked Thursday, resting her sad, soft eyes on the thrush, whose heart was beating so against its speckled breast at the sight of those dear little maids that it couldn't tell them at first who it was.

'It did,' answered Monday, 'and its flying up here makes me think of our Little Mother Betty, who played the game with us. Will she ever be able to fly up the witch's stairs, I wonder?'

'I am afraid not,' said one of the other children, with a sigh. 'I have given up all hope of her ever doing that now.'

'You are wrong, my dears,' cried the thrush, finding its voice at last. 'I am Mother Betty, turned into a dinky bird for your sakes, and have flown up the witch's stairs!'

And it flapped its wings, jerked its tail, and behaved altogether in a most extraordinary manner, for the children's faces of amazement and hope nearly sent it mad with joy. And then, as if it must relieve its feelings still more, it burst into a most enchanting song, which was answered outside the tower by a series of joyful barks from Pincher, the witch's dog.

'It must be Little Mother Betty,' said Monday, leaving her spinning-wheel. 'I can hear her own voice in the song.'

Then all the other little maids left their wheels to gaze at the bird.

'Are you really Betty who played the "Witch in the Well" with us that terrible day?' they asked.

'Indeed I am,' sang the thrush. 'I have come to take you away from here. Now follow me down the stairs and out of the house.'

'The stairs are so steep,' began Saturday, with frightened eyes.

'Don't be afraid, dear little Saturday,' sang the bird. 'It will be as easy as thinking. Come along, all of you.'

The six little maids followed the bird out of the room and down those wall-like stairs, and in a minute or less were outside the witch's house, where they found the old hag in the act of mounting her broom.

They were met at the door by Pincher the dog, who welcomed them with joyful barks and wagging of tail; and then, finding his mistress had fled, he looked up at the little grey thrush, who was wheeling round and round the children's heads out of sheer gladness, and begged her to give chase to the witch. 'For,' said he, 'if she goes out of your sight before you have commanded her to do something, you are in danger of having to retain your thrush-shape.'

'I am glad you told me,' said the thrush, and it was about to fly after the witch, when it recalled to mind what the dog had said the day he helped to drag the faggot of wood into the hut: 'Remember me when you have flown up the witch's stairs.' 'I have been up the witch's stairs and down again,' it said, alighting on the ground beside him. 'Is there anything I can do for you, Pincher? I am here to do it if I can.'

'I long to be set free from the power of the witch,' said the little dog, fixing his gentle eyes on the bird, 'and to be restored to my own shape. If you bid the witch do this, though it will be vinegar and gall to her, she is bound to obey you by the merit of your wings and your song. I long exceedingly to be myself again.'

'You shall,' sang the little grey thrush.

And then, telling the children to mount Footman's Horse [44] and follow hard after her and the witch, it flapped its wings again, and flew after the old hag on her broom, and Pincher the dog and the six little maids sped after them.

[Footnote 44: Their legs.]

Over the moor and across the downs they all went like the wind, the witch keeping well in advance. Uphill and downhill and through the lanes they flew, and never once did they stop till they came to Place Hill, where the great stone gateway of Place House stood greyly out from a background of beech-trees and oaks. Here the six little maids stopped to get breath, but the old hag, though ready to drop from her broom with fatigue, paused not a second, and went on down the hill with little Thrush Betty, and Pincher the dog close behind her.

'The witch is out of sight!' cried Monday, as the old hag and the little grey-bird disappeared round a corner.

'So she is!' said Friday.

And they all whipped up their tired little steeds, and away they sped down the steep hill in pursuit of the witch; but they did not overtake her until she got to the well, when they stood watching to see what would happen.

The old hag slid off her broom, and, looking cunningly about her, as if in search of the thrush, which was on top of the wall above the well, she made a quick step to the well, and put her foot on its ledge.

'Sing, sing, dear Thrush Betty!' cried the small white dog in great distress, or the witch will disappear into the well before you can command her to do what you said.'

And Betty, the little grey-bird, flew into a tree, and began to sing with all its might once more. And as it sang, the old hag crept back from the well, and stood in the middle of the road, with a terrible look on her face.

Now, being a witch, and one of the worst of her kind, she could not endure anything so pure and sweet as the small bird's song; every note it sang was an agony to listen to, and, knowing in her wicked soul that its music had crushed all her evil power, she begged permission in a humble voice to be allowed to go into the well.

'You may go,' sang little Thrush Betty; 'with one condition, which is that you turn Pincher back into a boy!'

'Please ask me something less hard!' pleaded the witch, cringing before the little bird. 'Pincher will be mine no longer if I do that, and I cannot do without my faithful little dog. Where I go, he must also go.'

'That he shall not!' sang the thrush. 'I command you, by the merit of my wings and the power of my song, to remove your spell from this poor little boy!'

'To lose my little white dog is worse than having the Lady Soft Winds and Prince Fire set free from my spells!' muttered the witch. 'Worse even than losing the six little maids who played the game with me and did all my spinning.'

'Give him back his own self this very minute,' sang the little grey thrush, 'or else----'

If a threat was implied in the sentence, the witch understood it, for, with a howl of rage, she made a pass with her broom over the dog. As she did so, the dog vanished, and in its place stood a young boy, dark and very handsome, dressed in clothes of a bygone age!

The six little maids stared at him in open-mouthed astonishment, and as they stared as only little maids can, the witch made for the well.

'Please sing once more, little Thrush Betty,' cried the boy in a voice it knew so well. 'This last song will quite end the power of the bad old witch, and keep her down in the bottom of the Witch's Well until she repents of all she has done.'

'That will be never!' snarled the witch; and with a horrible cry, which even the victorious song of the little grey thrush could not drown, she splashed into the well. And when Monday, Tuesday, and the other little maids could get that cry out of their ears, the well and its quaint old arch were no longer to be seen, and near where it had stood was dear little Betty, their friend, who had played the 'Mother' in the game, looking very little altered, only a few inches taller, and standing beside her, holding her hand, was the boy, who, in his dog-shape, had done so much for them all.

'Now let us go home to our mothers,' cried Friday.

'I have no mother to go to,' said the boy sadly, as he hesitated to go with the happy children. 'Mine died long ago, and I have no home.'

'Our mothers shall be your mother,' cried the little maids, 'and you will never lack anything if you come with us.'

So they all came down through Padstow Town, the boy in their midst.

Nobody noticed them till they reached Middle Street, a straight cobbled street with quaint houses on either side, when a 'Granfer man' [45] spied them, and shouted the news that the long-lost children had come back, and the whole street rushed out to welcome them.

[Footnote 45: A very old man.]

Thursday lived at the bottom of this street, and Betty thought she ought to see her safely home; but the child's mother had already heard of their arrival, and came out to meet them and to clasp her own little maid to her heart.

Monday's home was in a narrow street called Lanedwell, and when she was safe within her parents' house and arms, the other five little maids and the handsome boy, accompanied by a great crowd, went on their way to the market, where Saturday lived.

As they came out of Lanedwell Street, a house across the market stood full in view. It was one of the quaintest of buildings, of Tudor date, with an outside flight of stone stairs leading up to its side entrance under the eaves. Little Saturday's eyes glistened when she caught sight of this house, for it was her own dear home. Her father happened to be at the top of the stairs looking over the wooden rail as the children drew near, and he nearly fell over into the street below when he saw his own long-lost little maid.

Through a narrow passage, called the Blind Entry, the children and crowd of people poured, and they only got through when Saturday's father was down the steps and over to the Entry to greet them.

'There is the "George and the Dragon"!' cried Thursday, pointing to an inn at the bottom of a street as they crossed the market.

'Iss,' said Betty, with a smile; 'and St. George is still slaying the Dragon!' gazing up at the sign hanging above the door.

'Perhaps the Dragon is even more difficult to conquer than the Witch o' the Well,' put in the boy, eyeing with great interest the inn's sign, on which was painted in glowing colours England's patron saint, with uplifted sword to slay the Dragon.

'Ever so much more, I reckon,' responded Betty.

Another small street brought them to the quay, where the other four little maids' homes were, as well as Betty's, and to their exceeding joy they saw their fathers and mothers and all their relations and friends coming to meet them. And what a meeting it was, and what a welcome they had!

Never since the day when the two ships, which the people of this ancient town sent fully equipped to help in the siege of Calais in Edward III.'s reign, came safely back was there such rejoicing, so the old 'granfer men' said.

Every vessel in the harbour hoisted its flag in honour of the children's return and the overcoming of that wicked old witch.

The boy, when Betty told how she had got her wings that enabled her to fly up the witch's stairs, was made much of by the people of Padstow Town, and the friends of those seven little maids almost fought who should have him for their own.

How it was settled there is no need to tell, save only that he lived on Padstow quay, and that he and Betty were always friends and loved each other dearly; and when they grew up they married, and were as happy as the summer is long.

[The end]
Enys Tregarthen's short story: Witch In The Well

Geen opmerkingen:

Een reactie plaatsen