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Old-Fashioned Fairy Book, The

THE ADVENTURES OF HA'PENNY
OR,
THE DWARF, THE WITCH, AND THE MAGIC SLIPPERS.

ONCE upon a time lived a poor, little, crooked dwarf named "Ha'penny." When he was born he was so small that his nurse exclaimed, "Why, he is no bigger than a ha'penny!" and thus the nickname settled upon him, as ugly nicknames often do upon very worthy people. His father was not very kind to the unfortunate child, who, finding himself pitied and avoided by children of his own age, soon learned to go off to the woods alone, and to spend the days with birds and animals, over whom he had extraordinary power. The most beautiful birds of many-colored plumage would flutter away from their boughs in the forest to perch upon Ha'penny's finger,[48] and take sugar from his lips; shy little brown squirrels would scamper down the trunks of the great trees to nestle against his cheek; bees buzzed around his head without offering to sting him; pretty striped snakes glided from under their stones and stumps at his call; while all horses, and cows, and dogs, and cats loved to rub against him, and let themselves be stroked and petted at his will. This friendship with the world of animals and insects was Ha'penny's greatest joy, and during the summer time, when he could live abroad, the little creature was happy enough, after his fashion. In winter he had to content himself with feeding the birds, and visiting the stables to hide in the hay of the horses' manger, where the grooms would find him, mouthing and chattering in an unknown tongue. They would often scold him, and put him out of the stable, for Ha'penny was no favorite with his father's people. His mother had died when Ha'penny was a little fellow of five, and when he reached the age of fifteen (although looking much younger) his father married a second wife, who proved a cruel step-mother.

"If that ugly, little, twisted fright were out of the way, I could really enjoy life," the unkind woman[49] would say to herself; and she lost no opportunity to make Ha'penny's life a burden to him, by all sorts of petty tricks and persecutions.

He bore all in silence, creeping away to his attic bedroom, and lying for hours on the floor sobbing bitterly. His only comfort was in his pets, and a queer lot they were. Among them were a dog, who had had both fore-paws cut off by the mowing-machine, a chicken with a cork leg, a blind cat, a land-terrapin, a dozen white mice, a number of birds which he had rescued from freezing and starvation, some trained fleas, a squirrel that had lost its tail—everything that was maimed, or homeless, or unfortunate. These he treasured in a little empty chamber opening out of his, and no one but himself ever approached it. All the poor dumb creatures loved him, and would swarm around him when he opened the door; and, in return, he spent upon them all the passion of love he had never bestowed on any one of his own kind.

One day when Ha'penny had gone off to the woods to search for some ripe partridge-berries for his birds, the step-mother found her way to his hidden menagerie. One instant she looked about her, with disgust and fury in her face, and then calling her maids she[50] gave them cruel orders. Ha'penny came in from his walk, opened the door of his treasure-house—and alas! what a sight met his eyes! In two corners of the room hung his pet dog and cat, his terrapin was crushed under a heavy piece of iron, his birds were dead, his chicken's head was cut off, his mice were drowned in a pail; not one living thing remained to greet him but the trained fleas, who had taken refuge in the rafters overhead after biting the wicked mistress and her maids until they capered about in their misery!

Ha'penny gave one glance at his beloved pets thus wantonly sacrificed, and fell upon the floor sobbing with helpless rage and despair. He lay there all day without being inquired for, and when night came he stole out to the orchard and buried his poor dead favorites under the light of the stars. He would not go back to the house, and, forgetful of cold, hunger, everything but his burning sense of wrong, he wandered away, away, into the forest. A few berries and a crust he had carried for the birds were his only food until the evening of the next day, when he came in sight of a queer little hut, half hidden from observation by the trees that grew over it. Starving and desperate, Ha'penny was gaining courage to knock at[51] the door. All at once a little lattice window opened, and an old woman poked her head out saying:

"Come and eat, the table's spread
With sweetest milk and whitest bread.
Good cheer, enough for all I've got,
And more is cooking in the pot."

At this Ha'penny pricked up his ears and licked his chaps like a hungry cur; and just then a number of handsome cats and dogs came running out of the woods and toward the cottage door, which the dame had by this time opened. As no animal ever avoided Ha'penny, these creatures all fawned upon him, refusing to go in; and the dame, perceiving the new-comer, asked him, with an angry air, what was his business.

"A little food and shelter, madam," said poor Ha'penny, the tears running down his cheeks.

"Begone, you rascal!" cried the angry woman; "I don't believe a word you say. I believe you are a spy sent here to tempt away my pets. See how they hang around you. You must be a magician, for in general they will have nothing to do with strangers. Get you gone, sorcerer!"

Ha'penny turned meekly away, but the dogs and[52] cats followed him with every show of affection. Faint with hunger as he was, his legs tottered under him, and he soon fell to the ground. Then the cats and dogs surrounded him, licking his face and hands in spite of all their mistress's endeavors to coax them away.

The old woman's anger ceased when she found the grotesque-looking little stranger had really fainted from exhaustion. She lifted him in her arms and carried him in to the fire, and rubbed his cold limbs, putting spoonfuls of hot broth between his lips. By and by, when Ha'penny came to himself, he told her all his sad story, and when he reached the part about the killing of his pets, his heavy eyes flashed fire.

"She is a horrible wicked woman!" he exclaimed.

The dame answered by striking her staff on the floor. "See here, boy, if you are honest, you may stay here and mind my animals."

She took him into the next room, and there—what a funny spectacle! Twelve cats and twelve dogs lay upon cushions before the fire. The cushions were made of satin, and the covers were of velvet worked in gold. Twenty-four silver bowls stood in a row, and every cat or dog had its separate comb and brush,[53] and bath-tub and towels, and sponge and soap, and perfume bottle, on a shelf. In the middle of the room played a fountain of rose-water, and at the windows hung pink silk curtains, which were drawn when the creatures went to sleep. All in this room was rich and costly, while the dame's own quarters were as plain as those of any other cottager. She was content to sleep in a big feather bed, to be covered by a clean patchwork quilt, to eat on a deal table off blue crockery, with a well-scoured pewter spoon. Ha'penny's eyes sparkled at the idea of waiting on the cats and dogs. He made friends with them at once. The dame gave him a clean bedroom under the roof, and every day after feeding and combing his charges he took them for a walk in the woods.

"So long as you wait on my darlings faithfully, and mind your own business," the dame said, "no trouble will come to you. But on no account ever go near the little closet in the peak of the roof. Should you do so, evil will happen, and your life may pay the forfeit."

Ha'penny suspected from this that his mistress was a witch; but it troubled him very little, as he was an honest lad and intended never to disobey her.[54]

One day the dame brought home a new cat, a large, white Angora, a beauty to look at, with pink eyes and flowing hair, fine and silken as spun glass. From the moment of that cat's arrival the happy family was completely upset. Félisette, for so she was named, proved to be vain, selfish, and greedy; she fought for the best of everything, ate up her neighbor's bowl of milk as well as her own, and actually bit and spit at Ha'penny. Félisette soon became jealous of Ha'penny's affection for the others, and determined to do him an evil turn. One day the dame was going to the Witches' Sabbath, and said to Ha'penny, "Now mind and take especial care of my lovely darling, Félisette. If she gets into any trouble I shall hold you to answer for it, as I see the dear creature is not your favorite."

The dame went off riding on a broom-stick, and Félisette invented a thousand spiteful tricks to make the time pass unpleasantly to the others. At last she disappeared, and presently Ha'penny heard her crying pitifully upstairs. He rushed to see what was the matter, and discovered her with her tail caught in the door of the forbidden closet, up in the peak of the roof. She seemed about to die of the pain she was suffering, and, eager to set her free, the kind lad, without a[55] moment's hesitation, lifted the latch while stroking Félisette's fur, when lo! as the door flew open, out came a skeleton hand, seizing poor Ha'penny in its grip! Up jumped Félisette, laughing heartily at the success of her trick, and ran away.

Ha'penny opens the magic closet.

Ha'penny found himself held close in the embrace of two skeleton arms. In vain he struggled; the dreadful clasp only grew closer. He knew that this was a trap the witch had set to catch any one visiting the forbidden closet, so he made up his mind to die when his mistress should return. While he was in this sad way, the oldest of the dogs came up and licked his hands. Tears were running from[56] its eyes, and to Ha'penny's great surprise the dog spoke.

"My poor friend!" said the oldest of the dogs, "I am afraid your fate is sealed. Know, then, that there is but one chance left for you to escape the witch's power. In this closet she keeps the magic slippers and the magic staff. Wearing the slippers, you may run faster than the wind; holding the staff, you may discover all the hidden treasures of the earth."

"But how can I get free of this horrible trap?" said Ha'penny.

The oldest of the dogs looked around to see that no one was listening, and then whispered:

"You must know that we twelve dogs were once twelve princes, and the twelve cats were princesses—all of us having turn by turn fallen into the power of the witch. She is bound to treat us according to our rank, but there is no hope of ever regaining human shape, I fear. Still, we may be able to help you, who have been so good to us."

He gave a little short bark, and up the stairs came running all the dogs and cats, who wept when they saw the sad plight of their friend. Up on a high shelf[57] over the skeleton's head were the magic staff and slippers, and the thing was to get them down without touching the skeleton, which held fast every living thing that touched it. One of the cats ran nimbly up the wall and let herself hang; the next cat hung to her tail, and so on till a bridge was made, over which the oldest of the dogs scrambled, and got the coveted treasures. He put the staff in Ha'penny's hand, and fitted the slippers on his feet. Ha'penny gave a kick, and struck the ground with his staff. Instantly the arms of the skeleton relaxed their grip, and he was free. He bade a fond farewell to his dear friends, promising to come back to help them whenever he could. He set out to run from the house, and speedily the slippers carried him off at such a tremendous rate of speed that he was faint for want of breath. Vainly he tried to stop, but no; on, on he went with a fearful rush. He heard the cries of the old witch, who pursued him on her broom-stick. On, on, went poor Ha'penny, more dead than alive, and now the witch seemed gaining on him. He could hear the gnashing of her teeth. He struck out with his staff, as he passed by a rock, and instantly the rock became a mountain as high as the moon. The witch took some time to[58] clamber over this, and meantime Ha'penny got far ahead of her. Reaching a city, he dashed into the midst of a funeral procession that was going through the street, and hid himself under the pall of the coffin, kicking off the slippers as he did so. Immediately he could walk as other men do, and when the old witch arrived she saw nothing but the funeral creeping slowly along—no sign of Ha'penny, who, hidden under the pall, clasped his magic slippers to his breast, and held tight to his magic staff. The disappointed witch flew homeward and whipped the cats and dogs soundly—excepting Félisette, who, of course, had been the tell-tale on poor Ha'penny.

The funeral train reached the cemetery, and Ha'penny thought it his duty to cry as bitterly as the rest of the mourners; but after the coffin had been put in the grave, and as they were turning away, he asked a bystander whose funeral it was.

"The king's messenger, to be sure, you simpleton," said the man.

"Could I get the place?" asked Ha'penny.

"You, the king's messenger!" said the man, scornfully. "Why, he must be the swiftest runner in the country. Look at your cork-screw legs! Look at[59] your hump-back and your big head! As well expect a snail to carry our king's messages."

Nothing daunted, Ha'penny went to the king's chamberlain, and proffered his request. The chamberlain laughed until his head nearly dropped off, and then called the first Goldstick-in-waiting, who called the second, and soon the whole court was roaring over the absurd request of this poor mannikin to be the king's messenger.

"All I ask is that you try me," said Ha'penny, stoutly holding his ground.

"Stop! An idea occurs to me," said the jolly chamberlain, holding his aching sides. "To-morrow we shall have a running-match between this champion and the swiftest runner of the kingdom. In truth, my lords, this will be sport worth having," and he looked around at the courtiers, who all set to laughing anew.

Next day the match was held in a lovely grassy field. On a green mound in the centre was pitched a white satin tent, under which sat the king and queen and their children. An immense crowd assembled. Two bands of music kept playing all the time; there were free Punch and Judy shows on the outskirts of the crowd, and booths where lemonade was given away, with peppermint[60] sticks and molasses taffy, to all who asked for it. Banners waved, trumpets blew, and then the race began. Side by side with Ha'penny, little and insignificant and forlorn as he was, started the king's swiftest runner, a man of beautiful light form and splendid muscle. Once around the field they ran, the dwarf lagging; but on the second round Ha'penny settled his feet well in his magic slippers, when, see! like an arrow he sped past the athlete, and was in at the goal so easily that the spectators hardly had time to wink their astonished eyes! Hurrah! hurrah! A mighty cheer went up for the successful Ha'penny, and the king called him to receive the purse of gold, which was the prize. Ha'penny knelt at the king's feet, and again asked to be made his messenger.

"That shall you be, my mannikin!" said the pleased monarch. So Ha'penny had a gold chain round his neck, a fine velvet coat to wear every day, and a page to serve his meals. The king grew so fond of his new servant that the rest of the courtiers became jealous. Soon Ha'penny again had no friends but the animals around the palace. They, as usual, followed him everywhere, and caressed him fondly.

Once when the little dwarf was walking in the king's[61] paddock, accompanied by a train of young deer who loved to be near him, he felt the staff in his hand give a loud thump on the ground. At the same time all the deer formed in a circle round the spot, seeming by their eyes to implore Ha'penny to remain there. At first he could not understand this, but at length occurred to him what the oldest of the dogs had said about hidden treasure. Ha'penny had no spade to dig with, but at once the deer went to work with their hoofs, and soon they had made a deep hole, at the bottom of which lay a large iron ring fastened to an iron door.

Ha'penny was not strong enough to pull this up; but the magic staff, when passed through the ring, lifted it easily. Below was a flight of steps, leading to a gallery. Ha'penny went down the steps, followed the windings of the gallery, and reached a second door. Touching this with the magic staff it yielded, and flying open disclosed to view a lovely garden, where roamed all sorts of strange shapes—men's and women's bodies bearing the heads of bears, lions, wolves, foxes, dogs, cows, horses, and cats. Instantly these creatures came flocking around Ha'penny, calling him their deliverer, and telling him that they too[62] were victims of the witch, although by an accident she had only had time to change their heads before her spell expired. To this garden the witch was in the habit of coming once a week, to see how her victims were getting on, and to-day was the day of her visit. Ha'penny took the magic slippers from his pocket and put them on; and keeping firm hold of his trusty staff he hid behind a lilac-bush.

Soon, in came the witch, riding her broom-stick. Ha'penny had never before seen her in her true witch dress. It was a black, tight-fitting gown, made of scaly snake-skin, and she had a necklace of live coals. Around her high-peaked cap were twined two living serpents, and a toad formed her brooch. Under one arm she carried her familiar spirit, in the likeness of a black cat, with a single emerald eye. She wore a mantle, made of cobwebs and studded with large venomous red spiders. Oh! she was a terror to look upon, and no mistake! Ha'penny's teeth chattered with fear, and so would yours at sight of her! She rode sweeping her broom down the garden path, and instantly all the animals with human bodies came running to do her homage. She made them kneel before her, and, with the three-thonged whip of live snakes[63] she carried, whipped them all cruelly, till they groaned and cried for mercy. Then, feeling tired, she lay down on a bank to sleep, guarded by her familiar, who kept watch with its single eye of flame; and on closely observing the horrid creature Ha'penny made no doubt that it was none other than his enemy, Félisette, in her rightful shape.

When the witch was fairly snoring, Ha'penny crept up behind, and summoning all his strength prepared to smite her with his staff. Suddenly the black cat spit and hunched her back. The serpents around the witch's hat began to writhe and uncoil. They knew an enemy was near.

Ha'penny saw that he must lose no time, so aiming a fierce blow at the witch's back, he broke her spinal column, just as you would break a stick of sugar-candy. Then the dying witch uttered a shrill command to her watchers, and instantly Félisette and the two serpents set upon the audacious Ha'penny. "This time you shall not escape me!" cried Félisette, spitting fire. The cat's breath was deadly poison, and the serpents' fangs no man might feel and live. Ha'penny struck, swift and sure, right into the middle of the cat's single eye, and pierced her brain. As Félisette fell dead beside[64] the groaning witch, the serpents reared their full length from the ground, and prepared to strangle the dwarf. The good staff proved true, and cut them both in two with a single well-aimed blow. What was his horror to find the mangled remains of the snakes change into four living ones, stronger than the first. There was nothing for it but flight, and Ha'penny took to his heels. The magic slippers carried him on and away, so swiftly that nothing could catch him. He passed through the gallery and went out at the iron door, finding himself safe, but a little out of breath, in the paddock with the king's deer.

Ha'penny told nobody of this exciting adventure, but could not sleep for thinking of all the poor bewitched people down there in the underground garden in the power of those dreadful snakes. He now suspected that these two fighting serpents were of the multiplication variety. (This means that if they were cut in two they would become four, from four become eight, from eight sixteen, from sixteen thirty-two, and so on indefinitely; and this, we are told, is the very worst species of snake known to travellers!)

Ha'penny Watching the Witch in the Underground Garden.

Ha'penny got up early, went out again to the paddock, and found the deer in a great state of excitement[65] and agitation. They seemed to be waiting for him to come, and led the way to the secret passage in the earth. Ha'penny went down, staff in hand, and easily passed through the first iron door. As he neared the second door, he heard a confused noise beyond it of cries and lamentations. He opened the door softly, and crept into the garden unobserved. There he saw the dying witch, who, as witches always require twenty-four hours to die in, was lying on the ground writhing horribly, groaning, and shrieking to her snakes to multiply, which they did until almost the whole garden was one seething, wriggling mass of the horrible creatures. The poor people in the garden had climbed up the trees, and were every moment expecting to fall to the ground poisoned by the breath of the serpents, which rose in a thick vapor.

In this terrible moment Ha'penny's heart almost failed him; but, mustering all his courage, he sprang upon the witch, and tore from her the mantle of cobwebs, to which he noticed she was clinging. Instantly the witch set up a shrill shriek.

"Give me back my mantle," she cried pitifully; "if I die with that around me, I can be sure of rest in the[66] grave. If you take it away, I shall have to fly about like a bat forever."

"If you order the snakes to shrivel up and die, and restore all your victims to their natural shapes, I will give you the mantle," said Ha'penny firmly.

"Children, come home!" cried the witch, in a failing voice. Immediately the snakes began rolling and gliding into each other, and in a short while nothing was left but the two fiery serpents, who wreathed themselves quietly around the witch's hat again, as if nothing had occurred.

"Children, be dust!" she said again—this time in a weaker voice—and the snakes curled up and fell away, leaving behind them only two little shining skins.

"Be once more men and women, you accursed things!" she said spitefully, making a sign at the transformed beings who were now flocking around Ha'penny with delight and gratitude. As the witch spoke, the ugly deformities melted away, and in their place were seen the heads of handsome men and beautiful women, who wept for joy when they found themselves restored.

Ha'penny now threw the cobweb mantle over the witch, who, clutching it in her arms, gave one long[67] shudder and expired. They made a grave for her then and there; and Ha'penny led his companions out of the magic garden, which they were glad to leave, into the long passage-way. There they showed him caverns filled with gold and silver, which it had been their business to dig out of the earth and to pack away for the witch. Ha'penny and his friends divided the spoil, although they told him it was all his by right. When they got up into the light of day once more, the bewitched people scattered in all directions to go to their various homes, and Ha'penny was again alone in the world, although now very rich. He persuaded the king to discharge him from the royal service, and his first thought was to journey to the cabin in the woods. This, by aid of the magic slippers, he did in very quick style, and there he found the twelve dogs and the twelve cats living as before. This distressed Ha'penny, as he had hoped that the breaking of the witch's spell would set them also free. "What did I tell you?" said the oldest of the dogs sadly. "We are doomed never to regain our shapes; but, now that Félisette has gone, we are comfortable here and don't repine. Only, there should be somebody to cook for us, and our hair has not been decently brushed for a week."[68]

Ha'penny felt a sudden thrill of joy. Here, at last, was something to depend on him, something that he might live and care for. He warmed the water forthwith, and gave all the dogs and cats a bath apiece, and then he combed and brushed them nicely. He made the fire and heated their broth, and fetched fresh cream and white bread for their breakfast. Nothing was heard but little barks and purrs of enjoyment. Ha'penny waited till all were asleep on their cushions, and then he mounted the stairs and nailed up the skeleton cupboard, so that it might never again be opened. He could not take it quite away, you see, as every one must have a skeleton of some kind in his closet, and this was the only one he had. Ha'penny had never felt so happy and light-hearted as now. He had found friends, and might remain alone with them in peace.

So there he continued to live, and I am almost sure that if you would visit that forest, you might, even now, succeed in finding the cottage, the cats, and Ha'penny himself!


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