‘No, no, Dora,’ said Rupert, ’it is your mamma and Lizzie who have the Fidophobia.’
‘What can you mean?’ said Helen; ’how can you frighten the child so, Rupert?’
‘Do not you know, Helen,’ said Elizabeth, ’’tis his vocation. He is a true Knight Rupert.’
‘Expound, most learned cousin,’ said Rupert; ‘you are too deep.’
‘You must know,’ said Elizabeth, ’that Knecht Ruprecht is the German terrifier of naughty children, the same as the chimney-sweeper in England, or Coeur de Lion in Palestine, or the Duke of Wellington in France.
’Baby, baby, he’s
Tall and black as Rouen steeple;
And he dines and sups, ’tis said,
Every day, on naughty people.’
‘I should have thought,’ said Rupert, ’that considering my namesake’s babe-bolting propensities, and his great black dog, that he would have been more likely to be held up in terrorem in England.’
‘I suppose there was some old grim Sir Rupert in Germany,’ said Elizabeth; ‘but my dictionary is my only authority.’
‘You are taking knecht to mean a knight,’ said Anne, ’contrary to your argument last night. Knecht Ruprecht’s origin is not nearly so sublime as you would make it out. Keightley’s Fairy Mythology says he is only our old friend Robin Good-fellow, Milton’s lubber fiend, the Hob Goblin. You know, Rupert, and Robert, and Hob, are all the same name, Rudbryht, bright in speech.’
’And a hobbish fellow means a gentleman as clumsy as the lubber fiend,’ said Elizabeth.
‘No doubt he wore hob-nails in his shoes,’ said Rupert.
’And chimney hobs were so called, because his cream bowl was duly set upon them,’ said Anne.
‘And he was as familiar as the Robin Redbreast,’ said Elizabeth.
‘And wore a red waistcoat like him, and like Herb Robert,’ said Anne.
‘As shabby as this flower,’ said Elizabeth, gathering a ragged Robin from the hedge.
‘Well done, etymology,’ said Rupert; ‘now for syntax and prosody.’
‘I hope we have been talking syntax all this time,’ said Elizabeth; ’we will keep prosody for the evening, and then play at Conglomeration.’
They now came to some bright green water-meadows, which bordered the little stream as soon as it left the town. There was a broad dry path by the river side, and as they walked along it, there was no lack of laughter or merriment in anyone but Helen, and she could find no amusement in anything she saw or heard. At last, however, she was highly delighted at the sight of some plants of purple loose-strife, growing on the bank. ‘Oh!’ cried she, ’that is the flower that is so beautiful at Dykelands.’
‘What! the loose strife?’ said Elizabeth, ’it is common enough in all damp places.’
Poor Helen! as if this slight to the flower she admired were not a sufficient shock to her feelings, Rupert, perfectly unconscious on what tender ground he was treading, said, ’If it is a lover of damp, I am sure it can nowhere be better suited than at Dykelands. Did you grow web-footed there, Helen?’