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ZigZag Journeys in Northern Lands; By Hezekiah Butterworth Characters: 31344

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

The Club Reorganized.-The Rhine and the Lands of the Baltic.-Tommy Toby's Story of the Six Boy Kings.

T the first formal meeting of the Club Charlie Leland was chosen President. He was the intellectual leader among the boys, now that the old Class had gone; he was a lad of good principles, bright, generous, and popular. As may be judged from the somewhat discursive dialogue on the piazza, he had a subject well matured in his mind for the literary exercises of the Club.

"We all like stories," he said, "and the Rhine lands are regions of stories, as are the countries of the Baltic Sea. The tales and traditions of the Rhine would give us a large knowledge of German history, and, in fact, of the great empire of Europe, over which Charlemagne ruled, and which now is divided into the kingdoms of Northern Europe. The stories of haunted castles, spectres, water nymphs, sylvan deities, and fairies, if shapes of fancy, are full of instruction, and I know of no subject so likely to prove intensely interesting as the Rhine and the Baltic; and I would like to propose it to the Club for consideration, although, owing to my position as President, I do not make a formal motion that it be adopted."


Charlie's picturesque allusion to the myths of the Rhine and the Baltic seemed to act like magic on the minds of the Club; and a formal motion that the Rhine and the Baltic be the subject of future literary meetings was at once made, seconded, and unanimously adopted.


Master Lewis had entered the room quietly while the business of the Club was being thus happily and unanimously carried forward. The boys had asked him to be present at the meeting, and to give them his opinions of their plans.

"I think," he said, "that your choice of a subject for your literary evenings is an excellent one, but I notice a tendency to place more stress on the fine old fictions of Germany and the North than upon actual history. These fictions for the most part grew out of the disturbed consciences of bad men in ignorant and barbarous times. They were shapes of the imagination."

He continued:-

"Let me prepare your minds a little for a proper estimate of these alluring and entertaining stories."


The front of Northumberland House, England, used to be ornamented with the bronze statue of a lion, called Percy. A humorist, wishing to produce a sensation, placed himself in front of the building, one day, and, assuming an attitude of astonishment, exclaimed:-

"It wags, it wags!"

His eyes were riveted on the statue, to which the bystanders readily observed that the exclamation referred. Quite a number of persons collected, each one gazing on the bronze figure, expecting to see the phenomenon. Their imagination supplied the desired marvel, and presently a street full of people fancied that they could see the lion Percy wag his tail!

An old distich runs something as follows:-

"Who believe that there are witches, there the witches are;

Who believe there aren't no witches, aren't no witches there."

There is much more good sense than poetry in these lines. The marvels of superstition are witnessed chiefly by those who believe in them.


The sights held as supernatural are usually not more wonderful than those that arise from a disordered imagination. The spectres of demonology are not more fearful than those shapes of fancy produced by opium and dissipation; and the visions of the necromancer are not more wonderful than those that arise from a fever, or even from a troubled sleep.

Yet it is a fact, and a very singular one, that, however at random the fancies of unhealthy intellects may appear on ordinary subjects, those fancies obtain a greater or less credit when they touch upon supernatural things. Instances of monomaniacs (persons insane on a single subject) who have imagined things quite as marvellous as the most superstitious, but whose illusions have been treated with the greatest ridicule, might be cited almost without limit.

I once knew of an elderly lady, who thought that she was a goose. Making a nest in one corner of the room, she put in it a few kitchen utensils, which she supposed to be eggs, and began to incubate. She found the process of incubation, in her case, a very slow one; and her friends, fearing for her health, called in a doctor. He endeavored to reason with her, but she only replied to his philosophy by stretching out her neck, which she seemed to think was a remarkably long one, and hissing. The old lady had a set of gilt-band china cups and saucers, which, in her eyes, had been a sort of household gods. The knowledge of the fact coming to the ears of the physician, he advised her friends to break the precious treasures, one after another, before her eyes. The plan worked admirably. She immediately left her nest, and ran to the rescue of the china, and the excitement brought her back to her sense of the proprieties of womanhood.

Another old lady, who also resided in a neighboring town, fancied she had become a veritable teapot. She used to silence those who attempted to reason with her by the luminous argument, "See, here (crooking one arm at her side) is the handle, and there (thrusting upward her other arm) is the spout!" What could be more convincing than that?

Another lady, whose faculties had begun to decline, thought her toes were made of glass; and a comical figure she cut when she went abroad, picking up and putting down her feet with the greatest caution, lest she should injure her precious toes.

Now these cases provoke a smile; but, had these ancient damsels fancied that they were bewitched, or that they were haunted, or that they held communion with the spirits of the invisible world, instead of exciting laughter and pity, they would have occasioned no small excitement among the simple-minded people of the neighborhood in which each resided.

A young Scottish farmer, having been to a fair, was riding homeward on horseback one evening over a lonely road.

He had been drinking rather freely at the fair, according to the custom, and his head was far from steady, and his conscience far from easy.

It was moonlight, and he began to reflect what a dreadful thing it would be to meet a ghost. His fears caused him to look very carefully about him. As he was approaching the old church in Teviotdale, he saw a figure in white standing on the wall of the churchyard, by the highway.

The sight gave him a start, but he continued his journey, hoping that it was his imagination that had invested some natural object with a ghostly shape. But the nearer he approached, the more ghostlike and mysterious did the figure appear.

He stopped, hesitating what to do, and then concluded to ride slowly. There was no other way to his home than the one he was following. He knew well enough that his mind was somewhat unsettled by drinking, and what he saw might, after all, he thought, be nothing but an illusion. He would approach the object slowly and cautiously, and, when very near it, would put spurs to his horse and dash by.

As he drew near, however, the figure showed unmistakable signs of life, gesticulating mysteriously, and uttering gibberish, that, although odd, sounded surprisingly human.

It was a ghostly night: the dim moonlight filled the silent air, and the landscape was flecked with shadows; it was a ghostly place,-Teviotdale churchyard; and, in perfect keeping with the time and place, stood the figure, doing as a ghost is supposed to do,-talking gibberish to the moon.

The young man's nerves were quite unstrung as he put spurs to his horse for a rush by the object of his fright. As he dashed past, his hair almost bristling with apprehension, the supposed phantom leaped upon the back of the horse and clasped the frightened man about his waist. His apprehensions were startling enough before, but now he was wrought to the highest pitch of terror.

He drove his spurs into his horse, and the animal flew over the earth like a phantom steed. Such riding never before was seen in the winding road of Teviotdale.

In a wonderfully short time the reeking animal stood trembling and panting before his master's gate. The young man called lustily for his servants, who, coming out, were commanded in frantic tones to "Tak aff the ghaist, tak aff the ghaist!" And "tak aff the ghaist" they did, which proved to be a young lady well known in Teviotdale for her unfortunate history.

She had married an estimable young man, to whom she was very strongly attached, and the brightest worldly prospects seemed opening before her. Her husband was taken ill, and suddenly died. She had confided in him so fondly that the world lost its attractions for her on his decease, and she moodily dwelt upon her misfortune until she became deranged.

Her husband was buried in Teviotdale churchyard, and she was in the habit of stealing away from her friends at night, to weep over his grave. These melancholy visits had the effect of giving a new impetus to her malady, making her for a time the victim of any fancy that chanced to enter her mind.

On the night of our story she imagined that the young farmer was her husband, and awaited his approach with great exhilaration of spirits, determined to give him an affectionate greeting.

The fright came near costing the young man his life. He was taken from his saddle to his bed, where he lay for weeks prostrated by a high nervous fever.

An eminent writer, after relating the above authentic story, remarks:-

"If this woman had dropped from the horse unobserved by the rider, it would have been very hard to convince the honest farmer that he had not actually performed a part of his journey with a ghost behind him."

True. Teviotdale churchyard would have obtained the reputation of being haunted, and would have been a terror to weak-minded people for many years to come.

The ignorant and simple are not alone subject to illusions of fancy. The great and learned Pascal, than whom France has produced no more worthy philosopher, believed that an awful chasm yawned by his side, into which he was in danger of being thrown. This dreadful vision, with other fancies as gloomy, cast a shadow over an eventful period of his life, and gave a dark coloring to certain of his writings. Yet Pascal, on most subjects, was uncommonly sound in judgment. How unfavorable might have been the influence, had his disorder assumed a different form, and placed before him the delusion of a ghost!

Before giving credit to stories of supernatural events, even from sources that seem to be trustworthy, I hope my young friends will consider duly how liable to error are an unhealthy mind and an excited imagination. Every man is not a knave or a cheat who claims to have witnessed unnatural phenomena, but the judgment of very excellent persons is liable to be infected by illusions of the imagination.

I do not say that we may not receive impressions from the spiritual world. As the geologist, the botanist, the chemist, sees things in nature that the unschooled and undeveloped do not see, so it may be that a spiritually educated mind may know more of the spiritual world than the gross and selfish mind. I will not enlarge upon this topic or discuss this question; it might not be proper for me so to do.

Master Lewis had aimed to make clear to the boys that it is easy to start a superstitious story, and to suggest that such stories in ignorant times became legends.


"I propose," said Willie Clifton, "that the first seven meetings of the Club be devoted to the Rhine."

"We might call this series of meetings Seven Nights on the Rhine," added Herman Reed.

"The old members of the Club who made the Rhine journey with Mr. Beal might give us an account of that journey," suggested one of the new boys.

The plans suggested by these remarks met with approval, and a committee was appointed to arrange the literary exercises for seven meetings of the Club, to be known as Seven Nights on the Rhine.

The literary exercises for the present evening consisted of the relation of historic ghost stories, chiefly by members of the old Club. Among these were the Province House Stories of Hawthorne, the tradition of Mozart's Requiem, the Cock Lane Ghost, and several incidents from Scott's novels.

The principal story, however, was given by Tommy Toby, an old member of the Club, and a graduate of the Academy.


A splendid court had Athelstane, and foreign princes came there to be educated. Among these princes was Louis, the son of Charles the Simple, of France, who, by his long residence in England, obtained the pretty name of Louis d'Outremer.

Splendid weddings were celebrated there. The king married one of his sisters to the King of France, another to the Emperor of Germany, another to Hugo the Great, Count of Paris, and another to the Duke of Aquitaine.

After the fight with the Cornish men, all of the land was at peace for many years, and the nobility became very scholarly and the people very polite.

Athelstane had a favorite, a friar, who made more mischief in his day and generation than any other man. This man is known in history by the name of St. Dunstan.

When Dunstan was a boy, he was taken very ill of a fever. One night, being delirious, he got up from his bed, and walked to Glastonbury church, which was then repairing, and ascended the scaffolds and went all over the building; and because he did not tumble off and break his neck, people said that he had performed the feat under the influence of inspiration, being directed by an angel.

This was called Dunstan's first miracle.

When he recovered from the fever, and heard of the miracle that he was said to have wrought, he was greatly pleased, and thought to turn the good opinion of people to his own advantage by performing other miracles.

So he made a harp that played in the wind,-now soft, now loud; now sweet, now solemn. He said that the harp played itself. The people heard the sounds, full of seeming expression, as though touched by airy fingers, and, as they could not discredit the evidence of their own ears, they too reported that the harp played itself. And great was the fame of Dunstan's harp.

But Dunstan, according to old history, became a very bad man; so bad that I cannot tell you the worst things that he did. He discovered his true character at last, notwithstanding his sweetly playing harp.

He pretended to be a magician. Now a magician, in those old times, was one who was supposed to know things beyond the reach of common minds, who pretended to calculate the influence of the stars on a person's destiny, and who understood the effects of poisonous vegetables and minerals. The Saxon magicians were chiefly nobles and monks, and all of their great secrets which are worth knowing are now understood as simple matters of science, even by schoolboys.

Athelstane's conscience must have been rather restless, I fancy, concerning young Edwin, his brother, whom he caused to be drowned; and people with unquiet conscience are usually very superstitious. At any rate, he made a bosom friend of Dunstan, after the latter took up the black art, and became greatly interested in magic, much to the sorrow of the people.

At last a party of the king's friends resolved that the bad influence of the wily prelate should come to an end. They wa

ylaid him one dark night, in an unfrequented place, and, binding him hand and foot, threw him into a miry marsh. But the water was shallow, and Dunstan kept his nose above the mire, and, after shouting lustily for help, and floundering about for a long time, he succeeded in getting out, to make a great deal of noise and trouble in the world, and we have some strange stories to tell you about him yet.

Athelstane died in the year 940, and he was succeeded upon the throne by his half-brother, Edmund, who was the first of the six boy kings.

Edmund was eighteen years of age when he took his place on the honorable Saxon throne of Alfred the Great. He was a high-spirited young man, warm-hearted and brave. He conquered Cumberland from the Ancient Britons, and protected his kingdom against the fierce sea-kings of the North. Like his great ancestor, King Alfred, he was fond of learning and art. He improved and adorned public places and buildings. He made a very elegant appearance, and held a showy court, and they called him the Magnificent.

But Edmund was fond of convivial suppers, and used himself to drink deeply of wine. He lived fast, and his friends lived fast, though they appeared to live very happily and merrily.

But young men given to festive suppers and to wine are not apt to make a long history; and the history of Edmund the Magnificent, the first boy king, was a short one.

Edmund was succeeded in the year 946 by Edred, his brother, a well-meaning youth, who was the second of the six boy kings of England.

Dunstan had become abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, the church where he performed the miracle when he was sick of the fever. He was very ambitious to meddle in affairs of state, but his bad name had weakened his influence with Edmund, and it seemed likely to do the same with well-intentioned Edred. He desired to create a public impression again that he was a saint.

He retired to a cell and there spent his time working very hard as a smith, and-so the report went-in devotion.


Then the people said: "How humble and penitent Dunstan is! He has the back-ache all day, and the leg-ache all night, and he suffers all for the cause of purity and truth."

Then Dunstan told the people that the Devil came to tempt him, which, with his aches for the good cause, made his situation very trying.

The Devil, he said, wanted him to lead a life of selfish gratification, but he would not be tempted to do a thing like that; he never thought of himself,-oh, no, good soul, not he.

The people said that Dunstan must have become a very holy man, or the Devil would not appear to him bodily.

One day a great noise was heard issuing from the retreat of this man, and filling all the air for miles, the like of which was never known before. The people were much astonished. Some of them went to Dunstan to inquire the cause. He told them a story of a miracle more marvellous than any that he had previously done.

The Devil came to him, he said, as he was at work at his forge, and tempted him to lead a life of pleasure. He quickly drew his pincers from the fire, and seized his tormentor by the nose, which put him in such pain that he bellowed so lustily as to shake the hills. The people said that it was the bellowing of the Evil One that they had heard.

This wonderful story ended to Dunstan's liking, for the artful do flourish briefly sometimes.

The boy king Edred was in ill-health, and suffered from a lingering illness for years. He felt the need of the counsel of a good man. He said to himself,-

"There is Dunstan, a man who has given up all selfish feelings and aspirations, a man whom even the Devil cannot corrupt. I will bring him to court, and will make him my adviser."

Then pure-hearted Edred brought the foxy prelate to his court, and made him-of all things in the world!-the royal treasurer.

Edred died in the year 955, having for nine years aimed to do justly and to govern well. His decease, like his brother's before him, was sincerely lamented.

He left a well-ordered government, except in the department of the treasury. Some remarkable "irregularities"-as stealing is sometimes called nowadays-had taken place there, some of the public money having become mixed up with Dunstan's.

The next of the six boy kings of England was Edwy the Fair,-fifteen years of age when he ascended the throne.

He was the son of Edmund,-a handsome boy, and as good at heart as he was handsome. Though so young, he had married a beautiful princess, named Elgiva. So we have here a boy king and a girl queen.

As if one bad prelate were not enough, there was, besides Dunstan, another great mischief-maker, Odo, the Dane, Archbishop of Canterbury.

The coronation of Edwy was the occasion of great rejoicing. They had a sumptuous feast in the evening, attended by all the prelates and thanes. Edwy liked the society of the girl queen better than that of these rude people, and in the midst of the festivities he retired to the queen's apartment to see her and the queen mother.

Odo, the archbishop, noticed that the boy king had left his place at the tables. He rightly guessed the reason, and deemed such conduct disrespectful to himself and to the guests. So he went and made complaint to Dunstan, and Dunstan went to look for the missing king. When the latter came to the queen's apartment, and was refused admittance, he broke open the door, upbraided Edwy for his absence from the feast, and, seizing him by the collar, dragged and pushed him roughly back to the banqueting-hall.

Edwy, of course, resented this treatment. Dunstan replied by accusing him of great impropriety, and talked in a very overbearing way, and Edwy, though a considerate boy, and of a mild disposition, at last lost his temper.

"You have a very nice sense of propriety," he said. "You were the treasurer in the last reign, I believe. I intend to call you to account for the way that you fulfilled your trust."

Dunstan was greatly astonished, and, guilty man that he was, he began to feel very unsafe.

The boy king made the attempt which he had threatened, to call Dunstan to account for his late doings in the treasury. But the latter, when he found that Edwy was in earnest, fled to Ghent.

The nobles saw somewhat into his true character when he thus disappeared from court, and a party of men was sent in pursuit of him to put out his eyes. But he was too foxy to be caught, and arrived safely in Belgium at last, to make a great deal of trouble in the world yet.

Incited by Dunstan, Odo raised a rebellion. When he had drawn to himself a sufficient party to insure his personal safety, he proclaimed Edgar, the younger brother of Edwy, king.

Dunstan returned to England, and joined Odo, and this precious pair soon discovered the value of their piety, as you shall presently see.

Edwy the Fair loved the girl queen. She was beautiful as well as amiable, and was as devoted to her husband as she was lovely. Odo and Dunstan wished to break the spirit of Edwy, and thought to accomplish their end by capturing the queen. They caused her to be stolen from one of the royal palaces, and her cheeks to be burned with hot irons, in order to destroy the beauty that had so enchanted the boy king. They then sent her to Ireland, and sold her as a slave.

The Irish people pitied the weeping maiden, and loved her. They healed the scars on her cheeks, that the hot irons had made. When her beauty returned, she grew light-hearted again, and all her dreams were of the king.

Then the Irish people released her from bondage, and gave her money to return to Edwy.

She entered England full of joyful anticipations, and made rapid journeys towards the place where Edwy held his court. But Odo and Dunstan, who had been apprised of her coming, intercepted her, and ordered that she should be tortured and put to death. They caused the cords of her limbs to be severed, so that she was unable to walk or move. The beautiful girl survived the cutting and maiming but a few days.

Weeping continually over her disappointments and sorrows, and shrieking at times from the acuteness of her pain, she died at Gloucester,-perhaps the most unfortunate princess who ever came to the English throne.

When Edwy heard of her death, he ceased to struggle for his right; he cared for nothing more. He grew paler and thinner day by day, his beauty faded, his thoughts turned heavenward, and he aspired to a better crown and kingdom. He died of a broken heart before he reached the age of twenty, having aimed for three years to govern well.

Edwy's short reign was followed by that of his brother Edgar, who succeeded to the Anglo-Saxon throne in the year 959, and was an unprincipled and dissolute king.

He was fifteen years of age when he began to reign. One of his first acts was to reward the intriguing Dunstan for his crimes by bestowing upon him the archbishopric of Canterbury. Think of conferring an archbishopric as the price of a brother's ruin and death! Ah, better to be Edwy the Fair in his early grave, with the birds singing and the violets waving above him, than the cruel boy Edgar upon the throne.

He resigned the government almost wholly to Dunstan, his primate, and spent his time in gayety, pleasure, and ease. He was unstable, profligate, and vicious. He once broke into a convent and carried off a beautiful nun, named Editha. For this violation of the sanctuary, Dunstan commanded him not to wear his crown for seven years, which was no great punishment, as he could ornament his head as well in some other way.

Dunstan certainly possessed great ability as a statesman. He employed the vast armaments of England against the neighboring sovereigns, and compelled the King of Scotland and the Princes of Wales, of the Isle of Man, and of the Orkneys, to do homage to Edgar.

The boy king annually made a voyage around England in great state, accompanied by princes and nobles.

On one of these occasions, when he wished to visit the Abbey of St. John the Baptist, on the River Dee, he appointed eight crowned kings to pull the oars of his barge, while he himself acted as steersman.

The vainglorious young sovereign then went into the grand old abbey and said his prayers, after which he returned in the same pomp, rowed by the eight subject kings.

This event is celebrated in the songs and ballads of the olden time, which tell of the glory of England, when the eight crowns glimmered on the sun-covered waters of the Dee.

Edgar, who was King of England up to the year 975, married twice, and left two sons. The elder of these was named Edward, the son of a good queen, Ethelfreda; the other was named Ethelred, the son of the bad queen, Elfrida.

Edward had the best claim to the throne, but the intriguing Elfrida endeavored to secure the succession to her own son, Ethelred, a boy about seven years old. Dunstan decided against her, and caused Edward to be crowned. The boy king was at this time thirteen years of age.

He was an amiable, susceptible boy, loving every one, and wishing every one well, and believing, with childish simplicity, that all the world was as pure at heart and as unselfish as himself.

But Elfrida hated him, and resolved that his reign should be a short one, if it was within the reach of her arts to make it so.

She retired with little Ethelred to Crofe Castle, a beautiful country seat in Dorsetshire. Green forests waved around it, and blue hills seemed to semicircle the sky. The silver horn of the hunter often echoed through the stream-cleft woodlands, and merrily blew before the castle gate.

Edward and a youthful court party went hunting one day in the dreamy old forests of Dorsetshire. Chancing to ride near Crofe Castle, Edward thought that he would like to see Elfrida and his little brother. So he separated himself from his attendants, rode to the castle, and blew his horn.

Elfrida presently appeared, her face glowing with smiles.

"Thou art welcome, dear king," she said, in a winning way. "Pray dismount and come in, and we will have pleasant talk and good cheer."

"No, madam," said Edward. "My company would notice my absence, and think that some evil had befallen me. Please bring me a cup of wine, and I will drink to your health and to my little brother's, in my saddle, and then I must away with speed."

Elfrida turned away to order the wine. She gave another order at the same time in a whisper to an armed attendant.

The wine was brought. Elfrida filled the cup and handed it to the boy king. As he held it up it sparkled in the light. Elfrida stood in the gateway, holding little Ethelred by the hand.

"Health," said Edward, putting the bright cup to his lips.

There crept up behind him softly an armed man, whose muscles stood out like brass, and whose eyes burned like fire. He sprang upon the boy king and stabbed him in the back. The affrighted horse dashed away, dragging the bleeding body by the stirrup,-on, on, on, over rut and rock, bush and brier.

They tracked him by his blood. They found his broken body at last. They took it up tenderly and with many tears, and laid it beneath the moss and fern.


When little Ethelred saw his brother stabbed and bleeding, and dragged over the rough earth, he began to weep. Elfrida beat him and sent him to his chamber.

What a night was that when the moon silvered the forest! One boy king mangled and dead on the cold ground, and another boy king weeping in the forest castle, and beaten and bruised for being touched at heart at the murder of his bright, innocent brother.

Ethelred came to the English throne at the age of ten. He was the last of the six boy kings.

The people held him in disfavor from the first on account of his bad mother, and when Dunstan put the crown on his head at Kingston, he pronounced a curse instead of a blessing. Neither the blessing nor the curse of a man like Dunstan could be of much account, and we do not believe that the latter did the little boy Ethelred any harm.

Dunstan was now old and as full of craft and wickedness as he was full of years. He continued to practise jugglery, which he called performing miracles, whenever he found his influence declining, or had an important end to accomplish.

In the reign of Ethelred Dunstan died. As he had used politics to help the church, he was made a saint. This was in a rude and ignorant age.

Poor boy kings! Edmund was murdered; Edwy died of a broken heart; Edward was stabbed and dragged to death at his horse's heels; and Ethelred lost his kingdom. Three of them were good and three were bad. Only one of them was happy.

Edmund, eighteen years of age, reigned from 940 to 946; Edred, 946 to 955; Edwy, fifteen years of age, 955 to 958; Edgar, fifteen years of age, 958 to 975; Edward, thirteen years of age, 975 to 979; Ethelred, ten years of age, 979 to 1016.

So the boy kings reigned in all seventy-six years, and governed England in their youth for nearly fifty years.

"I like your story, Master Toby," said Master Lewis; "as a story, I mean. The historic facts are mainly as you have given them, but I think St. Dunstan's intentions may have been good, after all. He lived in an age of superstition, when it was believed that any political act was right that would increase the power of the church. Christianity then was not what it had been in the early church nor what it is to-day. Men must be somewhat regarded in the light of the times in which they lived."

The literary exercises for the evening were thus closed.

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