“There’s no telling, missie dear. Some say they are bound there for ever and a day, some that they as holds ’em are bound to bring them back for a night once in seven years, and in the old times if they was sprinkled with holy water, and crossed, they would stay, but there’s no such thing as holy water now, save among the Papists, and if one knew the way to cross oneself, it would be as much as one’s life was worth.”
“If Peregrine was to die,” suggested Lucy.
“Bless your heart, dearie, he’ll never die! When the true one’s time comes, you’ll see, if so be you be alive to see it, as Heaven grant, he will go off like the flame of a candle and nothing be left in his place but a bit of a withered sting nettle. But come, my sweetings, ’tis time I got your supper. I’ll put some nice rosy-cheeked apples down to roast, to be soft for Mistress Woodford’s sore mouth.”
Before the apples were roasted, Charles Archfield and his cousin, the colleger Sedley Archfield, a big boy in a black cloth gown, came in with news of having—together with the other boys, including Oliver and Robert Oakshott—hunted Peregrine all round the Close, but he ran like a lapwing, and when they had pinned him up in the corner by Dr. Ken’s house, he slipped through their fingers up the ivy, and grinned at them over the wall like the imp he was. Noll said it was always the way, he was no more to be caught than a bit of thistledown, but Sedley meant to call out all the college boys and hunt and bait him down like a badger on ‘Hills.’
“Whate’er it be that is within his reach, The filching trick he doth his fingers teach.”
There was often a considerable distance between children and their parents in the seventeenth century, but Anne Woodford, as the only child of her widowed mother, was as solace, comfort, and companion; and on her pillow in early morning the child poured forth in grave earnest the entire story of the changeling, asking whether he could not be “taken to good Dr. Ken, or the Dean, or the Bishop to be ex— ex—what is it, mother? Not whipped with nettles. Oh no! nor burnt with red hot pokers, but have holy words said so that the right one may come back.”
“My dear child, did you really believe that old nurse’s tale?”
“O madam, she knew it. The other old woman saw it! I always thought fairies and elves were only in tales, but Lucy’s nurse knows it is true. And he is not a bit like other lads, mamma dear. He is lean and small, and his eyes are of different colours, look two ways at once, and his mouth goes awry when he speaks, and he laughs just like—like a fiend. Lucy and I call him Riquet a la Houppe, because he is just like the picture in Mademoiselle’s book, with a great stubbly bunch of hair sticking out on one side, and though he walks a little lame, he can hop and skip like a grasshopper, faster than any of the boys, and leap up a wall in a moment, and grin—oh most frightfully. Have you ever seen him, mamma?”