Read CHAPTER II of The Gold Thread A Story for the Young , free online book, by Norman Macleod, on


Sometimes he lost sight of the light, and again he caught it, till it became brighter and brighter, and very soon he came to a high rock, on the top of which was perched a tall, dark tower. After groping about, he found a narrow path that led up to the tower, from one of the windows of which the light was brightly shining. He ascended a flight of steep steps till he reached a massive door covered with iron. He knocked as loud as he could, when a large dog began barking furiously inside, and springing up to the door, as if it would tear it down. Then a gruff voice called out of a window over the door, “Who is there? Who disturbs me in this way?” The little boy replied, “Please, sir, I am Eric, son of King Magnus, and I have lost my way in this wood.” “The son of the king, are you?” asked the voice. “That is a grand joke! Let me have a sight of you.” Then the window was shut, and he heard footsteps coming tramp, tramp, down the stairs, and the voice said to the dog, “Lie down, hound, and don’t be greedy! You would not eat a young prince, would you? Lie down, Tuscar!” The door was then opened by a fierce-looking man, with a long beard. The man bid him enter, and examined him about himself and his journey. Eric answered truly every question. Then the man rang a bell for an old woman who lived in the house, and bid her take the boy with her, and give him his supper. The old woman looked very ugly and very cross, and led him up, up, a great number of dark, gloomy stairs, until she reached a small room, with a bed and table in it, where she bade Eric wait till she brought him supper. The big hound followed them, and stayed in the room while the woman went away. Eric was at first afraid of the dog, he was so large and wild-looking, but he came and laid his head on his knee, and he scratched his ears, and patted him, and was very kind to him. The supper came, and the boy managed to keep a few bits of meat out of his own supper for the dog, and when the old woman went out of the room, he fed the hound, who seemed very hungry, and said to him, “Tuscar, old fellow, I like you very much. Take another bit, good dog, and be happy!” The dog wagged his tail, and looked up kindly with his large eyes, for he was thankful for his supper, and ate much more than Eric. “Now,” said the old woman gruffly, when she took away the remains of the supper, “you have ate what would do me for a week. You won’t starve, Master Prince. Go to bed.” The old woman left him, but suddenly returning, she discovered Eric on his knees. As he rose, she scoffed and jeered him, and asked, “Do you always say your prayers?” “Yes, always,” replied the boy. “Who taught you?” “My mother, who is dead.” The old woman heaved a deep sigh, but the boy did not know why. Perhaps she used to pray when she was a little girl herself, and had given up speaking to God, or even thinking of Him, and so had become wicked; or perhaps she thought of some child of her own whom she had never taught to pray. She soon went away without speaking a word more, and Eric was left in darkness. He looked out through the narrow window of his room, but could see nothing but black clouds rushing over the sky. Far down he heard a stream roaring, and the wind, which now blew a gale, came booming over the tree-tops, and howling round the tower. Every now and then a flash lighted up the forest, and the thunder crashed in the sky. It was a fearful night!

Some time after, he heard footsteps at his door, and immediately the man with the beard entered, and sat down. Do you know, he asked, where your father is? No, said Eric; as I told you, I lost my way in the forest, and have been wandering all day, and cannot find him; but perhaps you will send some one to-morrow with me to shew me the way to his castle, and I am sure my kind, good father will give you a rich reward. You are very, very far from your fathers house, said the man, and I fear you will never see him again; but come with me, and I shall shew you some beautiful things that will please you. So the man took Eric by the hand, and, carrying a lamp, he led him into a room that seemed full of gold and silver, with beautiful dresses, sparkling with diamonds, and every kind of splendour, and he said, Stay with me, my boy, and I will give you all this, for I am a king too, and will make you my heir. Oh, no, no, said Eric; I will never forsake my own father. The man then said, If you stay with me, you need never go to school all day, but may amuse yourself from morning till night, and have a beautiful pony to ride, and a gun to shoot deer with, and also fishing-rods, and a servant to attend you, and any kind of meat and drink you like best. Do stay with me! You are very kind, said Eric, but I cannot be happy without my father. Come then with me, my fine fellow, and I shall shew you something different, said the man, seizing Eric firmly by the arm, and looking very angry. After walking along a passage, from the end of which confused noises came, a door was opened, and in a large hall, round a great oak table, sat a company of fierce-looking men, drinking from large flagons which stood before them. Their faces were red, and their eyes gleamed like fire. Ralph placed Eric on the table. One of the robbers was singing this song:

Were the famous robber band
The lords of all the land
A fig for law or duty,
If we only get our booty;
With a fa, lal, la, la, la!

“‘Every man to mind himself,’
Is the rule of Captain Ralph!
Then let the greatest thief
And robber be our chief
With a fa, lal, la, la, la!”

No wonder poor Eric trembled as he heard that lawless band thus glorying in their shame, and like demons singing their horrid song in praise of all that was most dreadful and most wicked. He had read stories of robbers, which sometimes made him think that they were fine, brave fellows; but now that he was among them, he saw how depraved, cruel, and frightful they were. Their savage, coarse looks terrified him; but he was held by Ralph on the table. When the song was ended, one of them asked, “Whom have we got here?” “Who do you think?” replied Ralph. “What would you say, my men, to a young prince,no less than the son of our great enemy, King Magnus?” “A young prince! The son of Magnus! What a prize!” they exclaimed. “What shall we do with him?” “First of all, let us have his gold belt,” said Ralph, unbuckling Eric’s belt. “Ha! what a pretty thing it is!” “My father gave it to me, and I don’t wish to part with it. The swineherd Wolf tried to take it from me, but I fought him, and kept it,” said Eric. “Wolf is a brave young robber,” replied Ralph, “and he shall have it for his trouble. In the meantime, my lad, it is mine. But what, my men, shall we do with the prince?” “Kill him,” said one. “Starve him to death,” said another. “Put his eyes out, and send him back to his father,” said a third. Eric prayed to God, but said nothing. “I propose,” said Ralph, “to make him a captain if he will stay with us.” “Never!” said Eric; “I would rather die!” “Let him die, then,” said a fierce robber; “for his father hung my brother for killing one of his nobles.” “I tell you what we will do with the lion’s whelp,” said Ralph; “let us keep him in prison, and send a message to his father, that we have him snug in a den among the mountains, and that, unless he sends us an immense ransom, we shall kill him.” “That will do famously,” said the robbers; “so off with him!” Then Ralph led the boy down stairs,down, down, until he thought they never would stop, and at last they came to an iron door, with great bars on it, and a large lock, and he turned to Eric, and said, “I know your father, and I hate him! for he sends his soldiers after me, and tries to save travellers from me, and now I have got his son. I will keep you here till you die, or till he pays!” Then he opened the dungeon door, and thrust Eric in. When it closed, it echoed like thunder through the passages. Eric cast himself down on the dungeon floor.

All appeared to be a strange dream. Oh, how he repented having disobeyed his father! and how he seemed to be as bad as the dreadful robbers in having done what he pleased, and followed his own will, instead of doing what was right! About an hour after, he heard some rustling, as if high up on the wall, and a voice whispered “Eric!” “Who is there?” asked Eric, and his little heart trembled. “Silence! quiet! it is Wolf. Here is a small window in your prison, and I have opened it outside; climb up, get out, and run for your life.” Eric heard no more, but scrambled in the dark up the rough stones in the wall until he reached the window, where he looked out, and saw the stars and the woods. He soon forced his way through, and dropped down on the opposite side. Some one caught him in his arms. It was Wolf. “Here is your gold band, Eric. I got it from Ralph; for He who was speaking in the thunder has been saying things in my heart. You were kind to poor Wolf. Now escape! Fly! I shall close the window again. Ralph will never know how you got out, and he will not open the prison-door till after breakfast. So you have a long time. Run as long as you can along that road till you reach a hill, then cross it, until you reach a stream, which you must follow downwards. The worst of the storm is over, and the night will soon be calm. Off!” “Bless you, Wolf!” said Eric; “I shall never forget you.” Poor Eric! how he ran, and ran, beneath the stars! He felt no fatigue for a time. He thought he heard the robbers after him; every time the wind blew loud, he imagined it was their wild cry. On he ran till he reached the hill, and crossed it, and came to a green spot beneath a rock, on the banks of the stream, when he could run no more, but fell down, and whether he fainted or fell asleep he could not tell.