« PreviousContinue »
“They come from beds of lichen green,
Some on the backs of beetles Aly
Where they swung in their cobweb hammocks high,
Some from the humbird's downy nest-
And pillowed on plumes of his rainbow breast,
Some had lain in the scoop of the rock,
And some had opened the four o'clock,
Above-below-on every side,
Their little minim forms arrayed
The fairies are called on this occasion to attend the court of their sovereign. It had been discovered that an ouphe had broken his vestal vow, by falling in love with an earthly maid. This was a deadly crime, and cried loudly for punishment; and the royal fay had summoned his lords and commons to be present, when the doom was pronounced on the unhappy culprit. The scene of judgment is 'then described. The monarch is seated on his throne, surrounded by peers and privy counsellors. The prisoner stands before him, awaiting the knowledge of his fate. The king commences his speech, previously to passing sentence, in these words
“Fairy ! Fairy ! list and mark,
Thou hast broke thine elfin chain,
And thy wings are dyed with a deadly stain-
In the glance of a mortal maiden's eye,
And thou shouldst pay the forfeit high,
Is pure as the angel forms above,
Such as a spirit well might love"
His majesty goes on to observe, that had the maiden been stained with the slightest spot or blemish, the culprit fay should have received a bitter punishment-such, for instance, as being tied fast to a hornet's wings--run through and through with the stings of nettles--imprisoned at hard labour in a walnut shell, to be fed and clothed as the law directs--thrown into a dungeon of cobwebs, among the carrion remains of murdered bugs and assassinated flies, with a spider for a jailer---besides various other tortures, the awful severity of which may be more easily conceived than described. In consideration, however, of the spotless purity of the maid, and the comparative lightness of the crime, a milder punishment should be inflicted. We have here the doom of the criminal-
“ Thou shalt seek the beach of sand
Where the water bounds the elfin land,
And dash around with roar and rave,
They are the imps that rule the wave.
The king, in continuation, tells the culprit fay, that if he succeeds in gaining the “spray-bead gem,” part of the sin will be washed away—but that still another task must be accomplished before his crime can be entirely atoned for, and his character as a goblin of honour completely re-established. It appears that his fairy lamp has been extinguished, and it is absolutely necessary that it should be rekindled. The sovereign therefore informs him, that after the first task is accomplished, he must mount his steed and ride up into the sky; and the first shooting star that he sees, he must clap spurs to his charger, make after it, and try to run it down--that having lighted the flame of his elfin torch from the fire of the meteor, he shall be considered as having repaired the wrongs done to the national dignity, and thereupon be restored to the royal favour.
The culprit bows low to his liege lord, and starts upon his journey; but the way is long and wearisome, and he finds that he cannot fly, his wings having lost their power. He is, therefore obliged to travel on foot, down the mountain, over bushes and through swamps, until he becomes wofully scratched with briars and begrimed with mud. He is about to sink on the ground, from exhaustion, when he espies a toad before himwhereupon, he pulls up some grass, and having manufactured it into a bridle, puts it between the toad's teeth—he then cuts a switch from a bush, and not having a saddle at hand, bestrides his steed, and rides, bare back, down the hill to the river's edge. The elfin then dismounts, and reconnoitres the premises after securing his wings, so that they will not interfere with his motions in the water, he climbs a rock, breathes a prayer, and plunges headlong into the river.
“Up sprung the spirits of the waves,
The footsteps of the invading fay." The bold fay swins fearlessly through the waves, full of hope, and resolved to win the gem he is seeking. But the spirits of the waters assemble in great numbers, and hem him in on every side. The leech takes hold of his leg. The quarl wraps around him his long arms—the prong pierces his flesh--the star-fish rubs off his hide--the squab lets fly his javelin, and the crab claws and pinches, until the tortured elfin howls with pain and fury. After a desperate fight he takes to flight and makes for land. His enemies pursue in crowds—they cross his path, and throw up the waves before him—they fling seafire in his eyes, and stun his ears with horrible noises—the porpoise roars—the drum-fish croaks,
"Oh! but a weary wight was he
When he reached the foot of the dog-wood tree.” Gashed, and wounded, and sore, he lies down upon the sand, and hears the little devils in the water, giggling and laughing at his piteous condition. But the fay is not disheartened, and gathering some cobwebs, he stanches the flowing blood, and binds up his wounds with leaves of sorrel. Then taking a draught of calamus juice, he feels his strength renewed, and again he is ready for the contest.
The night is fast wasting away, and before the dawn of day his task must be accomplished. But how to do it—he glances around him, and swells with joy, when, glittering on the ground before him, he espies a muscle shell. He runs up to it, and heaving first at the bow, then at the stern, he succeeds, by an almost incredible exertion of strength, in pushing it over the sand to the water's edge. He cuts a notch in the stern, for a scull; and having made a bootle blade into an oar, springs into his seat and launches his bark
the waves, “ The imps of the river yell and rave;
They had no power above the wave,
But they heaved the billow before the prow,
And they dashed the surge against her side,
Till the gunwale bent to the rocking tide.
The quarl upreared his island back,
And he kept her trimmed with a wary tread,
The heavy strokes of his bootle-blade." The fay, notwithstanding these obstacles, pursues his onward course, till he comes to where the column of moonshine lay on the waters—beneath the surface he espies a brown-backed sturgeon, swimming slowly along, surrounded by a crowd of water sprites. He follows after in his little boat, until he sees him point his head upward, as if to make a leap into the air. The fairy drops his paddle, and holds his colen goblet, ready to catch the drop as it falls. The sturgeon, with a sweep of his tail, shoots above the blue waves, and plunges again into their depths, leaving in his passage through the air, a silvery arch of bright water drops. The fairy darts his bark under the moony rainbow,
"A moment and its lustre fell,
But ere it met the billow blue,
A droplet of its sparkling dew-
And haste away to the elfin shore.” He turns, and behold the waves are at peace, and the track over which he passes is smooth as a mirror. The sea nymphs sport around him--smiling and singing, they gently urge his muscle bark to the sandy shore. He leaps upon the land, and the sprites, nodding their heads, and kissing their hands in token of adieu, drop into the crystal waters.
The fay reposes an instant on the shore, but the night is far spent, and half of his task remains to be performed. But two little hours are left. He speeds to the elfin court, and begins his preparations for the second expedition--
“He puts his acorn helmet
His cloak, of a thousand mingled dyes,
Swift he bestrode his fire-fly steed;
And away like a glance of thought he flew,
The fiery trail of the rocket-star.” The culprit fay springs into the vaulted firmament, upon his fire-fly courser, flinging at every leap a glittering spark behind him.'" He flies like a feather in the blast,” till he passes the driving clouds--a heavy mist is thrown around him--he shivers with cold, but urges his fiery steed onward through the tempest. The fierce eyes of the spirits of air gleam savagely upon him—their furious yells scream on his startled ear; his wings hang dripping by his side, and the thistle down plume droops from his crest; the lightning flashes and the thunder roars around him. He draws his keen blade from its scabbard, and dashes among the howling spectres-he conquers, and the land of clouds lies beneath him: upward still he speeds, in the clear moonlight; he reaches the stream of the milky way, and checks the flight of his courser, to watch for the shooting star. “Sudden along the snowy tide," a bright company of the sylphs of heaven surround the adventurous fay-dancing and warbling, they lead him through amber clouds and starry plains, to the palace of their queen. The culprit enters
“ But, oh! how fair the shape that lay
Beneath a rainbow bending bright,
The loveliest of the forms of light.
At twilight in the west afar;
And buttoned with a sparkling star.
That visits the vestal planet's hue;
Set floating in the welkin blue.
The beautiful queen raises her eyes to the enraptured fay-they sparkle with gladness, for never before has the form of an earthly ouphe been seen in her bower. Long and ardently she