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- The Greylock - 4/8 -
the shore of the lake, and finding that it was unusually rough, he, together with the son of the head-gondolier, sprang into a small boat, and drove it with powerful strokes out among the waves. The wind lifted the brown curls of the boy, and whenever a large wave bore the skiff aloft on its crest, he shouted with joy. Hitherto he had only been allowed to go on the lake in a well manned, safe boat, and then the sailors were under orders to keep to the southern half of the lake. Consequently an excursion on the water had seemed but a mild amusement; but to be his own master, and to fight thus untrammelled against the winds and waves was pleasure such as he had never before experienced.
He had never yet visited the northern part of the lake, there where it was so dark, and mysterious, and where--as old Nonna used to relate--evil spirits dwelt, and a giant covered with pumice-stone was compelled by a curse to live. Perhaps, if he could only get to the other shore, he might see a ghost! That was a tempting prospect! So he turned the bow of the boat towards the north, and bidding his companion to row hard, did the same himself.
As they got further north, the waves increased in size, a storm arose and blew fiercely in their faces; but the rougher the lake became, the gayer and more boisterous grew George's mood.
His companion began to be afraid, and begged that they might return, but George, though it was not his custom, made his princely authority felt, and sternly commanded the boy to do as he was bid.
All at once it became dark around them, and it seemed as if a powerful sea-horse must have got under the skiff and lifted it with his back, for George was hurled into the air. Then he felt himself caught by a rushing whirlpool which sucked him in its circles to the bottom. He lost breath and consciousness. When he came to himself again, he found himself in a closed cave, amidst strange forms of grey-brown, dripping stalactites. Above the arches of the roof he heard a loud, grunting laugh, and a voice, that sounded like the hoarse howl of a dog, cried several times: "Here we have the Wendelin brood! At last I have the Greylock!"
Then George remembered all that he had overheard Pepe and Nonna relate, and all that he had coaxed out of them by his questions. He had fallen into the hands of the evil spirit, Misdral, and now the real misfortune, which had threatened him ever since his birth, was to begin. He was freezing cold, and very hungry, and as he thought of the beautiful gardens at home, of the well-spread table in his father's castle, at which he used to sit so comfortably in his high-backed chair, and of the well-fed lackeys, he felt quite faint.
He also realized what terrible anxiety his absence would cause his mother. He could see her running about, weeping, with her hair in disorder, seeking him every where.
When he was smaller she had often taken him into her bed and played "Little Red Riding Hood" with him, and he said to himself that for that and many succeeding nights she would find no rest on her silken cushions, but would wet them with her tears. These recollections brought him to the verge of weeping, but the next instant he stamped his foot angrily, in rage against his weakness.
He was only thirteen years old, but he was a true Greylock, and fear and cowardice were as unknown to him as to his ancestor, Wendelin I. So when he heard the voice of the wicked Misdral again, and listened to the curses which it heaped upon his family, George's anger grew so hot that he picked up a stone, as the first Wendelin had done five hundred years before, to hurl it in the monster's wrinkled face. But Misdral did not show himself, and George had to give up the expectation of seeing him, for he gathered from the conversation between the two spirits that, owing to an oath which he had given to the fairy, Misdral dared not lay hands on a Wendelin, and that, therefore, he had planned to starve him (George) to death. This prospect seemed all the more dreadful to the boy because of his hunger at that moment.
The cave was lighted by a hole in the roof of rocks, and as George could cry no more, and had raged enough against himself and the wicked Misdral, there was nothing further for him to do but to look about his prison, and examine the stalactites which surrounded him on all sides. One of them looked like a pulpit, a second like a camel, a third made him laugh, for it had a face with a bottle-nose, like that of the chief wine cooper at the castle. On one of the columns he thought he discerned the figure of a weeping woman, and this made his eyes fill with tears again. But he did not mean to cry any more, so he turned his attention to the ceiling. Some of the stalactites that hung from it looked like great icicles, and some of them looked like damp, grey clothes hung out to dry. This recalled the appearance of the wash hanging in the garden behind the palace--a long stocking, or an unusually large shirt descending below the rest of the clothes--and he remembered how, in the fall, after the harvest, the clothes-lines used to be tied to the plum-trees, and the ends decorated with branches still bearing the blue, juicy fruit, and then his hunger became so ravenous that he buckled his belt tighter round his waist and groaned aloud.
Night fell. The cave grew dark, and he tried to sleep, but could not, although the drops of water splashed soothingly, and monotonously from the roof into the pools below.
The later it grew, the more he was tormented by his hunger, and the flapping of the bats, which he could not see in the dark. He longed for it to be morning, and more than once, in his great need, he lifted his hands and prayed for deliverance, and yet more passionately for a piece of bread, and the coming of day. Then he sat lost in thought, and bit his nails, for the sake of having something to chew. He was aroused by a splash in one of the puddles on the Hoor. It must be a fish! He sat up to listen, and it seemed as if some one called to him gently. He pricked up his ears sharply, and then!--no, he had not deceived himself, for the friendly words came distinctly from below: "George, my poor boy, are you awake?"
How they comforted him, and how quickly he sprang up in answer to the question! At last he was saved. That was as certain to him as that twice two makes four, although it might have been otherwise.
Over the pool, from which the small voice had sounded, appeared now a dim light, a beautiful goldfish lifted its head out of the water, opened its round mouth, and said, in a scarcely audible tone,--for a real fish finds it difficult to speak, because it has no lungs,--that George's godmother, the fairy Clementine, had sent it. Its mistress was by no means pleased with George's disobedience; but, as he was otherwise a good boy, and she was pledged to aid the Greylocks, she would help him out of his difficulty this time.
The boy cried: "Take me home take me home, take me to my mother!"
"That would indeed be the simplest thing to do," replied the fish, "and it lies in our power to fulfil your wish; but, if my mistress frees you from the power of the wicked Misdral, she must promise him in exchange that another ill shall befall your house. Your army is in the field, and if you return to your family, then will the giant help your enemies; they will defeat you, will capture your capital, and possibly something evil might befall your mother."
George sprang up and waved his hand in negation. Then his curly head fell, and he said sadly, but decisively: "I will stay here and starve."
The fish in his delight slapped the water with his tail until it splashed high, and continued, although his first speech had already made him hoarse:
"No, no; it need not be so bad as that. If you are willing to go into the world as a poor boy, and never to tell any one that you are a prince, nor what your name is, nor whence you come, then no enemy will be able to do your army or the lady duchess any harm."
"And shall I never see my mother and Wendelin again?" George asked, and the tears poured down over his cheeks like the water over the stalactites.
"Oh yes!" the fish replied, "if you are courageous, and do something good and great, then you may return to your home."
"Something good and great," George repeated, "that will be very difficult; and, if I should succeed in doing something that I thought good and great, how could I know whether the fairy considered it so?" "Whenever the grey lock grows on your head, you may declare yourself to be the son of a duke and go home;" the fish whispered. "Follow me. I will light the way for you. It is lucky that you have run about so much and are so thin, otherwise you might stick fast on the way. Now pay attention. This pool drains itself, through a passage under the mountain, into the lake. I shall swim in front of you until we come to the big basin into which the springs of these mountains empty their waters. After that I must keep to the right, in order to get back into the lake, but you must take the left passage, and let the current carry you along for an hour, when it will join the head of the great Vitale river, and flow out into the open air. Continue with the stream until it turns towards the east, then you must climb over the mountains, and keep ever northwards. Hold your hand under my mouth that I may give you money for your journey."
George did as he was bid, and the fish poured forty shining groschen into his hand. Each one of them would pay for a day's nourishment and a night's lodging.
The fish then dived under, George plunged after it into the pool, and followed the shimmering light that emanated from his scaly guide. Sometimes the rocky passages, through which he crawled on his stomach in shallow water, became so small that he bumped his head, and had to press his shoulders together in order to pass, and often he thought that he would stick fast among the rocks, like a hatchet in a block of wood. He always managed to free himself, however, and finally reached the big basin, where a crowd of maidens with green hair and scaly tails were sporting, and they invited him to come and play tag with them. But the fish advised him not to stop with the idle hussies, and then parted from him.
George was alone once more, and he let himself be borne along on the rushing subterranean stream. At length it poured out into the open air, as the Vitale river, and the boy fell with it over a wall of rock into a large pool surrounded by thick greenery. There was a great splash, the trout were frightened to death, a dog began to bark, and a shepherd, who was sitting on the bank, sprang up, for the coloured bundle that had just shot over the falls, now arose from the water and bore the form of a pretty boy of thirteen years.
This apparition soon stood before him, puffing, and dripping, and regarding, with greedy eyes, the bread and cheese which the old man was eating. The shepherd was very, very old, and deaf, but he understood the language of the boy's eyes, and as he had just milked the goats, he held out a cup of the milk to him with a friendly gesture, and broke off a piece of bread for him. Then he invited George to sit down beside him in the sun, which had been up for an hour.
The prince had never before eaten such a meal, but as he sat there in the sun, munching the bread, and drinking goats' milk, he would have thought
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