Rudyard Kipling.

Puck of Pook's Hill online

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■ as Three Cows asking to
be milked, he began:

' What hempen homespuns have we swaggering here,
So near the cradle of our fairy Queen? '

He stopped, hollowed one hand round his
ear, and, with a wicked twinkle in his eye,
went on:

• What a play toward? I'll be auditor,
An actor too, perhaps, if I see cause.*

The children looked and gasped. The
small thing — he was no taller than Dan's
shoulder — stepped quietly into the Ring.

Tm rather out of practice,' said he; 'but
that's the way my part ought to be played.'

Still the children stared at him — from his
dark blue cap, like a big columbine flower, to
his bare, hairy feet. At last he laughed.

' Please don't look like that. It isn't my
fault. What else could you expect?' he said.

' We didn't expect any one,' Dan answered,
slowly. 'This is our field.'

'Is it?' said their visitor, sitting down.
'Then what on Human Earth made you act
Midsummer Night's Dream three times over,
on Midsummer Eve, in the middle of a Ring,
and under — aright under one of mv oldest hills
in Old England? Pook's Hill— Puck's Hill—



8 PUCK OF POOK'S HILL

Puck's Hill— Pook's Hill! It', as plain as
the nose on my face.'

He pointed to the bare, fern-covered slope of
Pook's Hill that runs up from the far side of
the mill-stream to a dark wood. Beyond
that wood the ground rises and rises for five
hundred feet, till at last you climb out on the
bare top of Beacon Hill, to look over the Pe-
vensey Levels and the Channel and half the
naked South Downs.

'By Oak, Ash, and Thorn!' he cried, still
laughing. ' If this had happened a few hun-
dred years ago you'd have had all the People
of the Hills out like bees in June! '

'We didn't know it was wrong,' said Dan.

'Wrong!' The little fellow shook with
laughter. ' Indeed, it isn't wrong. You've
done something that Kings and Knights and
Scholars in old days would have given their
crowns and spurs and books to find out. If
Merlin himself had helped you, you couldn't
have managed better! You've broken the
Hills — you've broken the Hills! It hasn't
happened in a thousand years.'

'We — we didn't mean to,' said Una.

' Of course you didn't ! That's just why you
did it. Unluckily the Hills are empty now,
and all the People of the Hills are gone. I'm
the only one left. I'm Puck, the oldest Old
Thing in England, very much at your service
if — if you care to have anything to do with
me. If you don't, of course you've only to
say so, and I'll go.'

He looked at the children and the children
looked at him for quite half a minute. His



WELAND'S SWORD 9

eyes did not twinkle any more. They were
very kind, and there was the beginning of a
good smile on his lips.

Una put out her hand. 'Don't go,' she
said. ' We like you. *

'Have a Bath Oliver,' said Dan, and he
passed over the squashy envelope with the eggs.

*By Oak, Ash, and Thorn!' cried Puck,
taking off his blue cap, ' I like you too. Sprin-
kle a little salt on the biscuit, Dan, and I'll
eat it with you. That'll show you the sort of
person I am. Some of us ' — ^he went on, with
his mouth full— couldn't abide Salt, or Horse-
shoes over a door, or Mountain-ash berries, or
Running Water, or Cold Iron, or the sound of
Church Bells. But I'm Puck!'

He brushed the crumbs carefully from his
doublet and shook hands.

'We always said, Dan and I,' Una stam-
mered, 'that if it ever happened we'd know
ex-actly what to do; but — but now it seems
all different somehow.'

'She means meeting a fairy,' said Dan. /
never believed in 'em — not after I was six,
anyhow. '

'I did,' said Una. 'At least, I sort of half
believed till we learned "Farewell Rewards."
Do you know " Farewell Rewards and Fairies' ' ?'

' Do you mean this ?' said Puck. He threw
his big head back and began at the second
line : —

' Good housewives now may say,
For now foul sluts in dairies

Do fare as well as they ;
For though they sweep their hearths no less



lo PUCK OF POOK'S HILL

('Join in, Una!')

Than maids were wont to do,
Yet who of late for deanUness
Finds sixpence in her shoe ? '

The echoes flapped all along the flat meadow.

'Of course I know it,' he said.

*And then there's the verse about the
Rings,' said Dan. ' When I was little it always
made me feel unhappy in my inside.'

'"Witness those rings and roundelays,"
do you mean?' boomed Puck, with a voice
like a great church organ.

' Of theirs which yet remain,
Were footed in Queen Mary's days

On many a grassy plain.
But since of late Elizabeth,

And later James came in,
Are never seen on any heath

As when the time hath been.

'It's some time since I heard that sung, but
there's no good beating about the bush: it's
true. The People of the Hills have all left.
I saw them come into Old England and I saw
them go. Giants, trolls, kelpies, brownies,
goblins, imps; wood, tree, mound, and water
spirits; heath-people, hill-watchers, treasure-
guards, good people, little people, pishogues,
leprechauns, night-riders, pixies, nixies, gnomes
and the rest — gone, all gone! I came
into England with Oak, Ash, and Thorn, and
when Oak, Ash, and Thorn are gone I shall
go too.'

' Dan looked round the meadow — at Una's
oak by the lower gate, at the line of ash trees



WELAND'S SWORD ii

that overhang Otter Pool where the mill-
stream spills over when the mill does not need
it, and at the gnarled old white-thorn where
Three Cows scratched their necks.

'It's all right,' he said; and added, 'I'm
planting a lot of acorns this autumn too. '

'Then aren't you most awfully old?' said
Una.

' Not old — ^fairly long-lived, as folk say here-
abouts. Let me see — ^my friends used to set
my dish of cream for me o' nights w^hen Stone-
henge was new. Yes, before the Flint Men
made the Dewpond under Chanctonbury
Ring.'

Una clasped her hands, cried ' Oh ! ' and
nodded her head.

'She's thought a plan,' Dan explained.
' She always does like that when she thinks a
plan. '

' I was thinking ^suppose we saved some of
our porridge and put it in the attic for you.
They'd notice if we left it in the nursery.'

'Schoolroom,' said Dan, quickly, and Una
flushed, because they had made a solemn
treaty that summer not to call the schoolroom
the nursery any more.

'Bless your heart o' gold!' said Puck.
* You'll make a fine considering wench some
market-day. I really don't want you to put
out a bowl for me; but if ever I need a bite,
be sure I'll tell you.'

He stretched himself at length on the dry
grass, and the children stretched out beside
him, their bare legs waving happily in the air.
They felt they could not be afraid of him any



12 PUCK OF POOK'S HILL

more than of their particular friend old Hob-
den, the hedger. He did not bother them
with grown-up questions, or laugh at the
donkey's head, but lay and smiled to himself
in the most sensible way.

' Have you a knife on you? ' he said at last.

Dan handed over his big one-bladed outdoor
knife, and Puck began to carve out a piece of
turf from the centre of the Ring.

'What's that for — Magic?' said Una, as he
pressed up the square of chocolate loam that
cut like so much cheese.

'One of my little Magics,' he answered, and
cut another. 'You see, I can't let you into
the Hills because the People of the Hills have
gone; but if you care to take seizin from me,
I may be able to show you something out of
the common here on Human Earth. You
certainly deserve it.'

' What's taking seizin? ' said Dan, cautiously.

' It's an old custom the people had when they
bought and sold land. They used to cut out
a clod and hand it over to the buyer, and you
weren't lawfully seized of your land — it didn't
really belong to you — ^till the other fellow had
actually given you a piece of it — like this.'
He held out the turves.

' But it's our own meadow,' said Dan, draw-
ing back. 'Are you going to magic it away ? '

Puck laughed. ' I know it's your meadow,
but there's a great deal more in it than you or
your father ever guessed. Try! '

He turned his eyes on Una.

*ril do it,' she said. Dan followed her
example at once.



WELAND'S SWORD 13

' Now are you two lawfully seized and pos-
sessed of all Old England,' began Puck, in a
sing-song voice. 'By Right of Oak, Ash, and
Thorn are you free to come and go and look
and know where I shall show or best you please.
You shall see What you shall see and you shall
hear What you shall hear, though It shall have
happened three thousand year; and you shall
know neither Doubt nor Fear. Fast! Hold
fast all I give you.'

The children shut their eyes, but nothing
happened.

'Well?' said Una, disappointedly opening
them. ' I thought there would be dragons.'

'Though It shall have happened three
thousand year,' said Puck, and counted on his
fingers. 'No; I'm afraid there were no drag-
gons three thousand years ago.'

' But there hasn't happened anything at all,'
said Dan.

' Wait awhile,' said Puck. ' You don't grow
an oak in a year — and Old England's older
than twenty oaks. Let's sit down again and
think. / can do that for a century at a time.'

' Ah, but you are a fairy, ' said Dan.

' Have you ever heard me use that word yet ?'
said Puck, quickly.

' No. You talk about " the People of the
Hills," but you never say "fairies," ' said Una.
*I was wondering at that. Don't you like
it?'

' How would you like to be called " mortal "
or "human being" all the time?' said Puck;
' or " son of Adam " or " daughter of Eve " ? '

' I shouldn't like it at all, ' said Dan. ' That's



14 PUCK OF POOR'S HILL

how the Djinns and Afrits talk in the Arabian
Nights.'

* And that's how / feel about saying — that
word that I don't say. Besides, what you call
them are made-up things the People of
the Hills have never heard of — little buzzflies
with butterfly wings and gauze petticoats,
and shiny stars in their hair, and a wand like
a schoolteacher's cane for punishing bad boys
and rewarding good ones. / know 'em!'

' We don't mean that sort, ' said Dan. * We
hate 'em too.'

'Exactly,' said Puck. 'Can ^you wonder
that the People of the Hills don't care to be
confused with that painty-winged, wand-
waving, sugar- and-shake-your-head set of im-
postors? Butterfly wings, indeed! I've seen
Sir Huon and a troop of his people setting off
from Tintagel Castle for Hy-Brasil in the
teeth of a sou' -westerly gale, with the spray
flying all over the castle, and the Horses of
the Hill wild with fright. Out they'd go in a
lull, screaming like gulls, and back they'd be
driven five good miles inland before they could
come head to wind again. Butterfly-wings!
It was Magic — Magic as black as Merlin could
make it, and the whole sea was green fire and
white foam with singing mermaids in it. And
the Horses of the Hill picked their way from
one wave to another by the lightning flashes!
That was how it was in the old days ! '

'Splendid,' said Dan, but Una shuddered.

' I'm glad they're gone, then; but what made
the People of the Hills go away?' Una asked.

'Different things. I'll tell you one of them



WELAND'S SWORD 15

some day — the thing that made the biggest flit
of any,' said Puck. * But they didn't all flit at
once. They dropped oil, one by one, through
the centuries. Most of them were foreigners
who couldn't stand our climate. They flitted
early. '

' How early ? ' said Dan.

' A couple of thousand years or more. The
fact is they began as Gods. The Phoenicians
brought some over when they came to buy tin ;
and the Gauls, and the Jutes, and the Danes,
and the Frisians, and the Angles brought more
when they landed. They were always landing
in those days, or being driven back to their
ships, and they always brought their Gods
with them. England is a bad country for
Gods. Now, / began as I mean to go on. A
bowl of porridge, a dish of milk, and a little
quiet fun with the countr}^ folk in the lanes
was enough for me then, as it is now. I belong
here, you see, and I have been mixed up with
people all my days. But most of the others
insisted on being Gods, and having temples,
and altars, and priests, and sacrifices of their
own. '

' People burned in wicker baskets? ' said Dan.
* Like Miss Blake tells us about ? '

'All sorts of sacrifices,' said Puck. 'If it
wasn't men, it was horses, or cattle, or pigs, or
metheglin — that's a sticky, sweet sort of beer.
/ never liked it. They were a stiff-necked,
extravagant set of idols, the Old Things. But
what was the result? Men don't like being
sacrificed at the best of times ; they don't even
like sacrificing their fann-horses. After a



i6 PUCK OF POOK'S HILL

while men simply left the Old Things alone,
and the roofs of their temples fell in, and the
Old Things had to scuttle out and pick up a
living as they could. Some of them took to
hanging about trees, and hiding in graves and
groaning o' nights. If they groaned loud
enough and long enough they might frighten
a poor countryman into sacrificing a hen, or
leaving a pound of butter for them. I remem-
ber one Goddess called Belisama. She be-
came a common wet water-spirit somewhere
in Lancashire. And there were hundreds of
other friends of mine. First they were Gods.
Then they were People of the Hills, and then
they flitted to other places because they
couldn't get on with the English for one reason
or another. There was only one Old Thing, I
remember, who honestly worked for his living
after he came down in the world. He was
called Weland, and he was a smith to some
Gods. I've forgotten their names, but he used
to make them swords and spears. I think he
claimed kin with Thor of the Scandinavians.'

'Heroes of AsgardThorV said Una. She
had been reading the book.

' Perhaps, ' answered Puck. ' None the less,
when bad times came, he didn't beg or steal.
He worked ; and I was lucky enough to be able
to do him a good turn. '

' Tell us about it,' said Dan. T think I like
hearing of Old Things.'

They rearranged themselves comfortably,
each chewing a grass stem. Puck propped
himself on one strong arm and went on :

'Let's think! I met Weland first on a No-



WELAND'S SWORD 17

vember afternoon in a sleet storm, on Peven-
sey Level '

'Pevensey? Over the hill, you mean?' Dan
pointed south.

'Yes; but it was all marsh in those days,
right up to Horsebridge and Hydeneye. I was
on Beacon Hill — they called it Brunanburgh
then — ^when I saw the pale flame that burning
thatch makes, and I went down to look.
Some pirates — ^I think they must have been
Peofn's men— were burning a village on the
Levels, and Weland's image — a big, black
wooden thing with amber beads round its neck
— lay in the bows of a black thirty- two-oar
galley that they had just beached. Bitter
cold it was! There were icicles hanging from
her deck, and the oars were glazed over with
ice, and there was ice on Weland's lips. When
he saw me he began a long chant in his own
tongue, telling me how he was going to rule
England, and how I should smell the smoke of
his altars from Lincolnshire to the Isle of
Wight. / didn't care ! I'd seen too many Gods
charging into Old England to be upset about it.
I let him sing himself out while his men were
burning the village, and then I said (I don't
know what put it into my head), "Smith of
the Gods," I said, "the time comes when I
shall meet you plying your trade for hire by
the wayside." '

' What did Weland say ? ' said Una. ' Was he
angry?'

' He called me names and rolled his eyes, and
I went away to wake up the people inland.
But the pirates conquered the country, and for



i8 PUCK OF POOR'S HILL

centuries Weland was a most important God.
He had temples ever^^where — ^from Lincoln-
shire to the Isle of Wight, as he said — and his
sacrifices were simply scandalous. To do him
justice, he preferred horses to men; but men
or horses, I knew that presently he'd have
to come down in the world — ^like the other Old
Things. I gave him lots of time — ^I gave him
about a thousand years — and at the end of 'em
I went into one of his temples near Andover to
see how he prospered. There was his altar,
and there was his image, and there were his
priests, and there were the congregation, and
everybody seemed quite happy, except We-
land and the priests. In the old days the con-
gregation were unhappy until the priests had
chosen their sacrifices ; and so would you have
been. When the service began a priest rushed
out, dragged a man up to the altar, pretended
to hit him on the head with a little gilt axe,
and the man fell down and pretended to die.
Then everybody shouted: *' A sacrifice to We-
land! A sacrifice to Weland!" '

'And the man wasn't really dead? ' said Una.

'Not a bit. All as much pretence as a dolls'
tea-party. Then they brought out a splendid
white horse, and the priest cut some hair from
its mane and tail and burned it on the altar,
shouting, "A sacrifice!" That counted the
same as if a man and a horse had been killed.
I saw poor Weland' s face through the smoke,
and I couldn't help laughing. He looked so


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