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- Half-Hours with Great Story-Tellers - 1/23 -







GREY DOLPHIN _Richard Harris Barham_

MOSES, THE SASSY _Artemus Ward_





"THE LIGHT PRINCESS" _George Macdonald_



"He won't--won't he? Then bring me my boots," said the Baron.

Consternation was at its height in the castle of Shurland--a catiff had dared to disobey the Baron; and--the Baron had called for his boots!

A thunderbolt in the great hall had been a _bagatelle_ to it.

A few days before, a notable miracle had been wrought in the neighborhood; and in those times miracles were not so common as they are now; no royal balloons, no steam, no railroads,--while the few saints who took the trouble to walk with their heads under their arms, or to pull the Devil by the nose, scarcely appeared above once in a century:--so the affair made the greatest sensation.

The clock had done striking twelve, and the Clerk of Chatham was untrussing his points preparatory to seeking his truckle-bed; a half- emptied tankard of mild ale stood at his elbow, the roasted crab yet floating on its surface. Midnight had surprised the worthy functionary while occupied in discussing it, and with his task yet unaccomplished. He meditated a mighty draft: one hand was fumbling with his tags, while the other was extended in the act of grasping the jorum, when a knock on the portal, solemn and sonorous, arrested his fingers. It was repeated thrice ere Emmanuel Saddleton had presence of mind sufficient to inquire who sought admittance at that untimeous hour.

"Open! open! good Clerk of St. Bridget's," said a female voice, small yet distinct and sweet,--an excellent thing in woman.

The Clerk arose, crossed to the doorway, and undid the latchet.

On the threshold stood a lady of surpassing beauty: her robes were rich, and large, and full; and a diadem, sparkling with gems that shed a halo around, crowned her brow: she beckoned the Clerk as he stood in astonishment before her.

"Emmanuel!" said the lady; and her tones sounded like those of a silver flute. "Emmanuel Saddleton, truss up your points, and follow me!"

The worthy Clerk stated aghast at the vision; the purple robe, the cymar, the coronet,--above all, the smile; no, there was no mistaking her; it was the blessed St. Bridget herself!

And what could have brought the sainted lady out of her warm shrine at such a time of night? and on such a night? for it was dark as pitch, and metaphorically speaking, 'rained cats and dogs.'

Emmanuel could not speak, so he looked the question.

"No matter for that," said the saint, answering to his thought. "No matter for that, Emmanuel Saddleton; only follow me, and you'll see!"

The Clerk turned a wistful eye at the corner cupboard.

"Oh! never mind the lantern, Emmanuel; you'll not want it; but you may bring a mattock and a shovel." As she spoke, the beautiful apparition held up her delicate hand. From the tip of each of her long taper fingers issued a lambent flame of such surpassing brilliancy as would have plunged a whole gas company into despair--it was a 'Hand of Glory,' [Footnote: One of the uses to which this mystic chandelier was put, was the protection of secreted treasure. Blow out all the fingers at one puff, and you had the money.] such a one as tradition tells us yet burns in Rochester Castle every St. Mark's Eve. Many are the daring individuals who have watched in Gundulph's Tower, hoping to find it, and the treasure it guards; but none of them ever did.

"This way, Emmanuel!" and a flame of peculiar radiance streamed from her little finger as it pointed to the pathway leading to the churchyard.

Saddleton shouldered his tools and followed in silence.

The cemetery of St. Bridget's was some half-mile distant from the Clerk's domicile, and adjoined a chapel dedicated to that illustrious lady, who, after leading but a so-so life, had died in the odor of sanctity. Emmanuel Saddleton was fat and scant of breath, the mattock was heavy, and the Saint walked too fast for him: he paused to take second wind at the end of the first furlong.

"Emmanuel," said the holy lady, good-humoredly, for she heard him puffing: "rest awhile Emmanuel, and I'll tell you what I want with you."

Her auditor wiped his brow with the back of his hand, and looked all attention and obedience.

"Emmanuel," continued she "what did you and Father Fothergill, and the rest of you, mean yesterday by burying that drowned man so close to me? He died in mortal sin, Emmanuel; no shrift, no unction, no absolution: why he might as well have been excommunicated. He plagues me with his grinning, and I can't have any peace in my shrine. You must howk him up again, Emmanuel."

"To be sure, madame,--my lady,--that is, your holiness," stammered Saddleton, trembling at the thought of the task assigned him. "To be sure, your ladyship; only--that is--"

"Emmanuel," said the saint, "you'll do my bidding; or it would be better you had!" and her eye changed from a dove's eye to that of a hawk, and a flash came from it as bright as the one from her little finger. The Clerk shook in his shoes; and, again dashing the cold perspiration from his brow, followed the footsteps of his mysterious guide.

The next morning all Chatham was in an uproar. The Clerk of St. Bridget's had found himself at home at daybreak, seated in his own armchair, the fire out,--and--the tankard of ale out too! Who had drunk it?--where had he been?--how had he got home?--all was mystery!--he remembered "a mass of things, but nothing distinctly;" all was fog and fantasy. What he could clearly recollect was, that he had dug up the Grinning Sailor, and that the Saint had helped to throw him into the river again. All was thenceforth wonderment and devotion. Masses were sung, tapers were kindled, bells were tolled; the monks of St. Romuald had a solemn procession, the abbot at their head, the sacristan at their tail, and the holy breeches of St. Thomas a Becket in the centre; --Father Fothergill brewed a XXX puncheon of holy water. The Rood of Gillingham was deserted; the chapel of Rainham forsaken; every one who had a soul to be saved, flocked with his offering to St. Bridget's shrine, and Emmanual Saddleton gathered more fees from the promiscuous piety of that one week, than he had pocketed during the twelve preceding months.

Meanwhile, the corpse of the ejected reprobate oscillated like a pendulum between Sheerness and Gillingham Reach. Now borne by the Medway into the Western Swale,--now carried by the refluent tide back to the vicinity of its old quarters,--it seemed as though the River god and Neptune were amusing themselves with a game of subaqueous battledore, and had chosen this unfortunate carcass as a marine shuttlecock. For some time the alternation was kept up with great spirit, till Boreas, interfering in the shape of a stiffish "Nor'- wester," drifted the bone (and flesh) of contention ashore on the Shurland domain, where it lay in all the majesty of mud. It was soon discovered by the retainers, and dragged from its oozy bed, grinning worse than ever. Tidings of the godsend were of course carried instantly to the castle; for the Baron was a very great man; and if a dun cow had flown across his property unannounced by the warder, the Baron would have pecked him, the said warder, from the topmost battlement into the bottommost ditch,--a descent of peril, and one which "Ludwig the Leaper," or the illustrious Trenck himself, might well have shrunk from encountering.

"An't please your lordship--" said Peter Periwinkle.

"No, villain! it does not please!" roared the Baron.

His lordship was deeply engaged with a peck of Faversham oysters,--he doted on shellfish, hated interruption at meals, and had not yet despatched more than twenty dozen of the "natives."

"There's a body, my lord, washed ashore in the lower creek," said the seneschal.

The Baron was going to throw the shells at his head; but paused in the act, and said with much dignity,

"Turn out the fellow's pockets!"

Half-Hours with Great Story-Tellers - 1/23

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