“Hold!” cried the King. “It is gone too far! He has surely not carried out the jest by dying on our hands.”
“No, no, sir,” said Wren, after a moment’s alarm, “he has only swooned. Has any one here a flask of wine to revive him?”
Several gentlemen had come up, and as Peregrine stirred, some wine was held to his lips, and he presently asked in a faint voice, “Is this fairyland?”
“Not yet, my lad,” said Charles, “whatever it may be when Wren’s work is done.”
The boy opened his eyes, and as he beheld the same face, and the too familiar sky and trees, he sighed heavily, and said, “Then it is all the same! O sir, would you but have cut off my head in good earnest, I might be at home again!”
“Home! what means the elf?”
“An elf! That is what they say I am—changed in the cradle,” said Peregrine, incited to confidence by the good-natured eyes, “and I thought if I were close on death mine own people might take me home, and bring back the right one.”
“He really believes it!” exclaimed Charles much diverted. “Tell me, good Master Elf, who is thy father, I mean not my brother Oberon, but him of the right one, as thou sayst.”
“Mr. Robert Oakshott of Oakwood, sir,” said Peregrine.
“A sturdy squire of the country party,” said the King. “I am much minded to secure the lad for an elfin page,” he added aside to Killigrew. “There’s a fund of excellent humour and drollery in those queer eyes of his! So, Sir Hobgoblin, if you are proof against cold steel, I know not what is to be done with you. Get you back, and devise some other mode of finding your way home to fairyland.”
Peregrine said not a word of his adventure, so that the surprise of his family was the greater when overtures were made through Sir Christopher Wren for his appointment as a royal page.
“I would as soon send my son at once to be a page to Beelzebub,” returned Major Oakshott.
And though Sir Christopher did not return the answer exactly in those terms, he would not say that the Puritan Major did not judge rightly.
CHAPTER III: THE FAIRY KING
“She’s turned her right and round about,
And thrice she blew on a grass-green horn,
And she sware by the moon and the stars above
That she’d gar me rue the day I was born.”
Old Ballad of Alison Cross.
Dr. Woodford’s parish was Portchester, where stood the fine old royal castle at present ungarrisoned, and partly dismantled in the recent troubles, on a chalk peninsula, a spur from Portsdown, projecting above the alluvial flats, and even into the harbour, whose waves at high tide laved the walls. The church and churchyard were within the ample circuit of the fortifications, about two furlongs distant from the main building, where rose the mighty Norman keep, above the inner court, with a gate tower at this date, only inhabited by an old soldier as porter with his family. A massive square tower at each angle of the huge wall likewise defied decay.