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Good Words 1860
The Gold Thread


A STORY FOR THE YOUNG.

CHAPTER I.

Once upon a time, a boy lost his way in a vast forest that filled many a valley, and passed over many a hill, a rolling sea of leaves for miles and miles, farther than the eye could reach. His name was Eric, son of the good King Magnus. He was dressed in a blue velvet dress, with a gold band round his waist, and his fair locks in silken curls waved from his beautiful head. He was a lovely boy, and if you looked into his large blue eyes, and saw his sweet smile, you would say in your heart, ''There is a boy so winning and brave and true, that I would dearly like to have him as a friend and companion." But, alas! his hands and face were scratched, and his clothes torn with the briars, as he ran here and there like one much perplexed. Sometimes he made his way through tangled brushwood, or crossed the little grassy plains in the forest, now losing himself in dark ravines, then climbing up their steep sides, or crossing with difficulty the streams that hurried through them. For a long time he kept his heart up, and always said to himself, "I shall find it, I shall find it;" until, as the day advanced, he was wearied and hungry; and every now and then he cried, "Oh, my father! where is my father ! I'm lost! I'm lost!" And "Where, oh, where is my gold thread!" All day the forest seemed to him to be very sad. He had never seen it so gloomy. There was a strange sadness in the rustle of the leaves, and a sadness in the noise of the streams. He did not hear the birds sing as they used to do. But he heard the ravens croak with their hoarse voice, as their black forms swept along the precipices which here and there rose above the forest, and he never saw so many large hawks wheeling in the sky. They always appeared to be wheeling over his head, pausing, and fluttering as if about to dart down upon him. But on he journeyed, in the hope of finding his way out of the boundless forest, or of meeting some one who would be his guide. At last, the sun appeared to. be near its setting, and he could see the high branches of the trees, shining like gold, as its rays from the west fell upon them. But underneath, the forest was getting darker and darker, and all the birds were preparing to sleep, and everything at last became so still that he could hear his steps echoing through the wood, and if he stopped, he heard his heart beating, or a leaf falling; but nowhere did he see a house, and no human being had he met since morning. Then the wind suddenly began to rise, and he heard it at first creeping along the tree tops like a gentle whisper, and by and by to call louder and louder for the storm to come. Dark clouds gathered over the sky, and rushed along chased by the winds, that were soon to search the forest and fight with the old trees. No wonder if the boy began to fear, in case some evil would happen to him. Not that he was a coward, but a very brave-hearted boy; but he had done wrong, and it was that which made him afraid.

At last, wearied and hardly able to go farther, he sat down at the root of an old oak, burying his face in his hands, not knowing what to do. He then tried to climb the tree, and there to sleep somewhere among its branches, in case wild beasts should attack him. But as he was climbing up, he heard some one singing with a loud voice. He listened attentively, and looking eagerly through the leaves, he saw a boy apparently older than himself, dressed in rough shaggy clothes, as if made from skins of wild animals. His long matted hair, escaped over his cheeks from under a black bearskin cap. With a short thick stick he was driving a herd of swine through the wood. "Hey there, you black porker!" cried the boy, as he threw a stone at some pig which was running away. "Get along, you lazy long snout!" he shouted to another, as he came thump on its back with his short stick. And then he sung this song with a loud voice which made the woods ring :—

"O there's nothing half so fine,
As to be a herd of swine,
And through the forest toddle,
With nothing in my noddle,
But rub a dub, a dub, hey up, halloo!

"How my little porkers gallop
As their ugly hides I wallop;
"How they grunt and how they wheeze,
How they grub among the trees;
Oh, rub a dub, a dub, hey up, halloo!

"How their backs begin to bristle.
When they hear their master whistle;
How they kick at every lick
That I give them with my stick;
Oh, rub a dub, a dub, hey up, halloo!"

"Get along, you rascals," cried the savage-looking herd, "or I'll kill and roast you before your time;" and soon the herd, with his swine, were concealed from Eric's sight by the wood; but he still heard his "rub-a-dub" chorus, to which he beat time with a sort of rude drum, which he had made for himself with a skin and hoop. Eric determined to make his acquaintance, or at all events to follow him to some house; so he descended from the tree, and ran off in the direction from which he heard the song coming. He soon overtook him.

"Hollo!" said the wild-looking lad, with as much astonishment as if Eric had fallen from the clouds: "Who? where from? where to?" "I have lost my way in the wood," said Eric, "and want you to guide me." "To Ralph?" asked the swineherd. "Ralph, pray, who is he?" "Master, chief, captain, all," replied the young savage. "I will go anywhere for shelter, as night is coming on; but I will reward you if you bring me to my father's home." "Who is your father, my fine fellow?" inquired the swineherd, leaning on his stick. "The king," replied Eric. "You lie! Ralph is king." "I speak the truth, swineherd." The swineherd by this time was examining Eric's dress with an impudent look. "Pay me now," said he; "give me this gold band, and I will guide you." "I cannot give you this gold band, for my father gave it to me, and I have lost enough to-day. By the bye, did you see a gold thread waving anywhere among the trees?" "A gold thread! What do you mean? I saw nothing but pigs until I saw you, and I shall treat you like a pig, d'ye hear? and lick you too, for I have no time to put off. So give me your band. Come, be quick!" said he, with his fierce face, and holding up his stick as he came up to Eric. "Keep off, swineherd; don't touch me!" "Don't touch you! why shouldn't I touch you? Do you see this stick? How would you like to have it among your fine curls, as I drive it among the pigs' bristles?" and he began to flourish it over his head, and to press nearer and nearer. "Once, twice, when I say thrice, if you do not unbuckle, I shall save you the trouble, and leave you to the wild beasts, who would like a tender bit of prince's flesh better than pork. Come; once! twice!" Eric was on his guard, and said, "I shall fight you, you young robber, till death, rather than give you this band,—so keep off." "Thrice!" shouted the herd, and down came his thick cudgel, which he intended should fall on Eric's head. But Eric sprang aside, and before he could recover himself, dashed in upon him, tripped him up, and threw him on the grass, getting on his top, and seizing him by the throat in a moment. The herd, in his efforts to get out of Erie's grasp, let go his cudgel, which Eric seized, and held over his head. "Unless you promise, Master swineherd, to leave me alone, I may leave you alone with the wild beasts." "You are stronger than I thought," said the herd. "Let me up, or I shall be choked. Let me up, I say, and I promise to guide you." "I shall trust you," said Eric, "though you would not trust me. Rise!" So the herd rose, and picked up his cap, but Eric would not give him his stick until he guided him to some house. "Come along," said he sulkily. "What is your name?" asked Eric. "They call me "Wolf. I killed a wolf once with my boar spear." "Why, Wolf, did you try to kill me?" "Because I wanted your gold belt." "But it is a great sin to rob and kill." "Other people rob me, and would kill me too if I did not take care of their pigs," said Wolf carelessly. "You should fear God, Wolf." "I fear that name truly, for Ralph always swears by it when he is in a rage. But I do not know what it means." "Oh, Wolf, surely your father and mother told you about God, who made all things, and made you and me; God, who loves us, and wishes us to love him, and to do what is right?" "I have no father or mother," replied Wolf, "nor brothers or sisters, and I never heard of God. No one cares for me but my pigs, and so I sleep with them, and eat with them." "Poor fellow!" said Eric, with a look of kindness, "I am sorry for you. Here is all the money I have. Take it. I wish to show you that I have no ill-will to you;" and Eric gave him a gold coin. Wolf gave a grunt like one of his pigs, and began his song of "Rub-a-dub." "No one ever gave me money before," remarked Wolf almost to himself, as he examined the coin on his rough hand, which looked like tanned leather. "How much is this?" inquired Wolf. Eric explained its value. The herd was astonished, and began to think what he could purchase with it. He seemed very anxious to conceal it, and at last did so in the top of his hairy cap. "See that tall tower," said Wolf, "which looks like a rock above the trees; that is the only house near for twenty miles round. You can reach it soon; and when you do reach it," said Wolf, speaking low as if some one might hear him, " take my advice, and get away as fast as you can from my master Ralph, for—" and Wolf gave a number of winks, as much as to say, I know something. "What do you mean?" asked Eric. "Oh, nothing, nothing; but take Wolf's advice, and say to Ralph you are a beggar. Put the gold band in your pocket, and swear to remain with him, but run off when you can. Cheat him; that's my way." "It is not my way," replied Eric, "and, come what may, never will be, for a voice says to me,

"'Better to die
Than ever to lie.'"

"Ha! ha!" said Wolf; "I wish you lived with Ralph. He would teach you another lesson, my lad." "I would rather that I had you, Wolf, to live in my house. I would be kind to you, and help you to be good, and tell you about God, who lives in the sky." "And is that he who is speaking? Listen!" Thunder began to mutter in the sky. "Yes, it is He," replied Eric; "and if you will listen, you will also hear Him often speak with a small still voice in your heart." "I never heard him," replied Wolf; "but I cannot stay longer with you, for my pigs will wander: there is a black rascal who always leads them astray. Now, King's son, give Wolf the stick, it is all he has." "Here it is to you, and I am sure you will not use it wrongly; you will try and be good, Wolf? for it will make you happy." "Humph!" said Wolf, "I am happy when I get my pigs home, and Ralph does not strike me. But I must away, and see you don't tell any one you gave me money. They would rob me." And away he ran among the trees in search of his pigs, while Eric heard his little drum, and his song of "Rub-a-dub, halloo!" die away in the distance. Another loud peal and flash of lightning made Eric start, and off he started towards a light which now beamed from the tower. But he thought to himself, ''I am much worse than that poor Wolf, for I knew what was right, and did not do it. I heard the voice, but did not attend to it. Oh, my father, why did I not obey you!"

CHAPTER II.

Sometimes he lost sight of the light, and again he caught it, till it became brighter and brighter, and very soon he came to a high rock, on the top of which was perched a tall dark tower. After groping about, he found a narrow path that led up to the tower. From one of the windows of the tower the light was brightly shining. He went up a flight of steep steps till he reached a massive door covered with iron, and knocked as loud as he could, when a large dog began barking furiously inside, and springing up to the door, as if it would tear it down. Then a gruff voice called out of a window over the door, "Who is there? Who disturbs me in this way?" The little boy replied, "Please, Sir, I am Eric, son of King Magnus, and I have lost my way in this wood." "The son of the King, are you?" asked the voice. "That is a grand joke! Let me have a sight of you." Then the window was shut, and he heard footsteps coming tramp, tramp, down the stairs, and the voice said to the dog, "Lie down, hound, and don't be greedy! You would not eat a young prince, would you? Lie down!" The door was then opened by a fierce-looking man, with a long beard. The man bid him enter, and examined him about himself and his journey. Eric answered truly every question. Then the man rang a bell for an old woman who lived in the house, and bid her take the boy with her, and give him his supper. The old woman looked very ugly and very cross, and led Eric up, up, a great number of dark gloomy stairs, until she reached a small room, with a bed and table in it, where she bade Eric wait till she brought him supper. The big hound followed them, and stayed in the room while the woman went away. Eric was at first afraid of the dog, he was so large and wild-looking, but he came and laid his head on his knee, and Eric scratched his ears, and patted him, and was very kind to him. The supper came, and little Eric managed to keep a few bits of meat out of his own supper for the dog, and when the old woman went out of the room he fed the hound, who seemed very hungry, and said to him, "Good dog, I love you very much." The dog wagged his tail, and looked up kindly with his large eyes, for he was thankful for his supper, and ate much more than Eric. "Now," said the old woman, gruffly, when she took away the remains of the supper, "you have ate what would do me for a week. You won't starve, Master Prince. Go to bed." The old woman left him, but suddenly returning, she discovered Eric on his knees. As he rose she scoffed and jeered him, and asked, "Do you always say your prayers?" "Yes, always," replied the boy. "Who taught you?" "My mother, who is dead." The old woman heaved a deep sigh, but the boy did not know why. Perhaps she used to pray when she was a little girl herself, and had given up doing so, and become wicked, or perhaps she thought of some child of her own whom she had never taught to pray. She then went away without speaking a word more, and Eric was left in darkness. He looked out through the narrow window of his room, but could see nothing but black clouds rushing over the sky. Far down he heard a stream roaring, and the wind, which now blew a gale, came booming over the tree-tops, and howling round the tower. Every now and then a flash lighted up the forest, and the thunder crashed in the sky. It was a fearful night! By and by Erie heard footsteps at his door, and immediately the man with the beard entered it, and sat down. "Do you know," he asked, "where your father is?" "No," said Eric; "as I told you, I lost my way in the forest, and have been wandering all day, and cannot find him; but perhaps you will send some one to-morrow with me to show me the way to his castle, and I am sure my kind, good father will give you a rich reward." "You are very, very far from your father's house," said the man, "and I fear you will never see him again; but come with me, and I shall show you some beautiful things that will please you." So the man took Eric by the hand, and, carrying a bright lamp in the other, led him into a room that seemed full of gold and silver, with beautiful dresses, sparkling with diamonds, and every kind of splendour, and he said, "Stay with me, my boy, and I will give you all this, for I am a king too, and will make you my heir." "Oh, no, no," said Eric; "I will never forsake my own father." The man then said, "If you stay with me, you need never go to school all day, but may amuse yourself from morning till night, and have a beautiful pony to ride, and a gun to shoot deer with, and also fishing-rods, and a servant to attend you, and any kind of meat and drink you like best. Do stay with me!" "You are very kind," said Eric, "but I cannot be happy without my father. Oh, my dear father! if I found you I would never leave you more!" "Come thee with me, my fine fellow, and I shall show you something different," said the man, seizing Eric firmly by the arm, and looking very fierce. After walking along a passage, from the end of which confused noises came, a door was opened, and in a large hall, round a great oak table, sat a company of fierce-looking men, drinking from large flagons which stood before them. Their faces were red, and their eyes gleamed like fire. Ralph placed Eric on the table. One of the robbers was singing this song:—

"We're the famous robber band—
Hurrah!
The lords of all the land—
Hurrah!
A fig for law or duty,
If we only get our booty;
With a fa, lal, la, la, la!
"Our law is what we will—
Hurrah!
So we lie, and rob, or kill—
Hurrah!
'Every man to mind himself,'
Is the rule of Captain Ralph?
With a fa, lal, la, la, la!"

No wonder poor Eric trembled as he heard that lawless band thus glorying in their shame, and like demons singing their horrid song in praise of all that was most dreadful and most wicked. He had read stories of robbers, which sometimes made him think that they were fine, brave fellows, but now that he was among them, he saw how depraved, cruel, and frightful they were. Their savage, coarse looks terrified him; but he was held by Ralph on the table. When the song was ended, one of them asked,—"Whom have we got here?" "Who do you think?" replied Ralph. "What would you say, my men, to a young prince,—no less than the son of our great enemy, King Magnus?" "A young prince! The son of Magnus! What a prize!" they exclaimed. "What shall we do with him ?" "First of all, let us have his gold belt," said Ralph, unbuckling Eric's belt. "Ha! what a pretty thing it is!" "My father gave it to me, and I don't wish to part with it. The swineherd Wolf tried to take it from me, but I fought him, and kept it," said Eric. "Wolf is a brave young robber," replied Ralph, "and he shall have it for his trouble. In the meantime, my lad, it is mine. But what, my men, shall we do with the prince?" "Kill him," said one. "Starve him to death," said another. "Put his eyes out, and send him back to his father," said a third. Eric prayed to God, but said nothing. "I propose," said Ralph, "to make him a captain if he will stay with us." "Never!" said Erie; "I would rather die!" "Let him die then," said a fierce robber; " for his father hung my brother for killing one of his nobles." "I tell you what we will do with the lion's whelp," said Ralph; "let us keep him in prison, and send a message to his father, that we have him snug in a den among the mountains, and that, unless he sends us an immense ransom, we shall kill him." "That will do famously," said the robbers; "so off with him!" Then Ralph led the boy down stairs,—down, down, until he thought they never would stop, and at last they came to an iron door, with great bars on it, and a large lock, and he turned to Eric, and said, "I know your father, and I hate him! for he sends his soldiers after me, and tries to save travellers from me, and now I have got his son. I will keep you here till you die, or till he pays!" Then he opened the dungeon door, and thrust Erie in. When it closed it echoed like thunder through the passages. Eric lay down on the dungeon floor, and wept till his heart seemed to break.

All seemed a strange dream. Oh, how he repented having disobeyed his father! and how he seemed to be as bad as the dreadful robbers in having done what he pleased, and followed his own will, instead of doing what was right. After some time he heard some rustling, as if high up on the wall, and a voice whispering "Eric!" "Who is there?" asked Eric, and his little heart trembled. "Silence! quiet! it is Wolf. Here is a small window in your prison, and I have opened it outside; climb up, get out, and run for your life." Eric heard no more, but scrambling in the dark up the rough stones in the wall until he reached the window, as he looked out he saw the stars and the woods. He soon forced his way through, and dropped down on the opposite side. Some one caught him in his arms. It was Wolf. "Here is your gold band, Eric. I got it from Ralph; for He who was speaking in the thunder has been saying things in my heart. You were kind to poor Wolf. Now run for your life! I shall close the window again. Ralph will never know how you got out, and he will not open the prison-door till after breakfast. So you have a long time. Run as long as you can along that road till you reach a hill, then cross it and follow a stream. Run off!" "Bless you, Wolf!" said Eric; "I shall never forget you." Poor Eric! how he ran, and ran, beneath the stars! He felt no fatigue for a time. He thought he heard the robbers after him; every time the wind blew loud, he imagined it was their wild cry. On he ran till he reached the hill, and crossed it, and came to a green spot beneath a rock, when he could run no more, but fell down, and whether he fainted or fell asleep he could not tell.

(To be continued.)


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