Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB
[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

doctrine of souls tasting heavenly joys from the agonies of others. The dogma of Hell has followed the course of its prototype with precision. It has arrived at just that period when, as in the case of Enoch's inquiring, the investigator finds it has taken the veil. Theologians shake their heads, call it a terrible question, write about free-will and sin, but only a few, of the fatuous sort, confess belief in the old-fashioned Hell where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched.

Let us now take under consideration the outcome of the Aryan Dragon, which has travelled far to meet Behemoth in the west. And it is probable that we could not, with much seeking, find an example so pregnant with instruction for our present inquiry as our little Durham folk-tale of the Lambton Worm.

This Worm is said to have been slain by Sir Lambton, crusader, and ancestor of the Earls of Durham. This young Lambton was a wild fellow; he was fond of fishing in the river Wear, which runs near Durham Castle, and he had an especial taste for fishing there on Sunday mornings. He was profane, and on Sundays, when the people were all going to mass, they were often shocked by hearing the loud oaths which Lambton uttered whenever he had no rise. One Sunday morning something got hold of his hook, pulled strong, and he made sure of a good trout; what was his disappointment when instead thereof he found at the end of his line a tiny black worm. He tore it off with fierce imprecations and threw it in a well near by. However, soon after this the young man joined the crusaders and went off to the Holy Land, where he distinguished himself by slaying many Saracens.

But while he was off there things were going on badly around Durham Castle. Some peasant passing that well into which the youth had cast the tiny black worm looked

[ocr errors][merged small]

into it, and beheld a creature that made him shudder,-a diabolical big snake with nine ferocious eyes. A little time only had elapsed before this creature had grown too large for the well to hold it, and it came out and crawled on, making a path of desolation, breakfasting on a village, until it came to a small hill. Around that hill it coiled with nine coils, each weighty enough to make a separate terrace. One may still see this hill with its nine terraces, and be assured of the circumstances by peasants residing near. Having taken up its headquarters on this hill, the nine-eyed monster was in the habit of sallying forth every day and satisfying his hunger by devouring the plumpest family he could find, until at length the people consulted an oracle—some say a witch, others again a priest-and were told that the monster would be satisfied if it were given each day the milk of nine cows. So nine cows were got together, and a plucky dairymaid was found to milk the cows and carry it to the dragon. If a single gill of the milk was missing the monster took a dire revenge upon the nearest village. This was the unpleasant situation which young Lambton found when he returned home from the crusades. He was now an altered man. He was no longer given to fishing and profanity. He felt keenly that by raising the demon out of the river Wear he had brought woe upon his neighbours, and he resolved to engage the Worm in single combat. But he learned that it had already been fought by several knights, and had slain them, while no wounds received by itself availed anything, since, if it were cut in twain, the pieces grew together again. The knight then consulted the oracle, witch or priest, and was told that he could prevail in the combat on certain conditions. He must provide himself with special armour, all over which must be large razorblades. He must manage to entice the worm into the

[merged small][ocr errors]

middle of the river Wear, in whose waters the combat must take place. And, finally, he must vow to slay as a sacrifice the first living thing he should meet after his victory. These conditions having been fulfilled, the knight entered the stream. The dragon, not having received his milk as usual that morning, crawled from his hill seeking whom he might devour, and seeing the knight in the river, went at him. Quickly he coiled around the armour, but its big razors cut him into many sections; and these sections could not piece themselves together again because the current of the river washed them swiftly away.

Now, observe how this dragon was pieced together mythologically. He is a storm cloud. He begins smaller than a man's hand and swells to huge dimensions; that characteristic of the howling storm was represented in the howling wolf Fenris of Norse Mythology, who was a little pet, a sort of lapdog for the gods at first, but when full grown broke the chains that tied him to mountains, and was only fettered at last by the thread finer than cobweb, which was really the sunbeam conquering winter. Then, when this worm was cut in two, the parts came together again. This feature of recurrence is especially characteristic of Hydras. In the Egyptian ‘Tale of Setnau,' Ptahnefer-ka saw the river-snake twice resume its form after he had killed it with his sword,-he succeeded the third time by placing sand between the two parts; and what returning floods taught the ancient scribe remained to characterise the dragon encountered by Guy of Warwick, which recovered from every wound by dipping its tail in the well it had guarded. The Lernean Hydra had nine heads, the Lambton Worm nine eyes and nine folds, and drank nine cows' milk. His fondness for the milk of cows connects him straightly with the dragon Vritra, whom Indra slew because he stole Indra's cows (that is,

414

THE LAMBTON DOOM.

the good clouds, whose milk is gentle rain, and do no harm), and shut them up in a cavern to enjoy their milk himself. That is the oldest Dragon fable on record, and it is said in the Rig-Veda that beneath Indra's thunderbolt the monster broke up into pieces, and was washed away in a current of water. Finally, in being destroyed at last by razor blades, the dragon is connected with that slain by Ragnar, in whose armour the sun-darts of Apollo had turned to icicles. In the 'Death-Song of Ragnar Lodbrach, preserved by Olaus Wormius, it is said that King Ella of Northumberland having captured that terror of the North (8th cent.), ordered him to be thrown into a pit of serpents. His surname, Lodbrach, or Hair Breeches, had been given because of his method of slaying a Worm which devastated Gothland, whose king had promised his daughter to the man who should slay the same. Ragnar dressed himself in hairy skins, and threw water over the hair, which, freezing, encased him in an armour of ice.

The Worm, unable to bite through this, was impaled by Ragnar. Another version is that Ragnar killed two serpents which the King of Gothland had set to guard his daughter, but which had grown to such size that they terrified the country. It may be observed that the Lambton story christianises the Ragnar legend, showing that to be done in atonement for sin which in the other was done for love. The Cornish legend of St. Petrox has also taken a hint from Ragnar, and announces the rescue of christians from the serpent-pit in which the pagan hero perished. The icicles reappear on the slayer of the dragon of Wantley, represented by long spikes bristling from his armour.

The Knight Lambton, remembering his vow to slay as a sacrifice the first living thing he might meet after the combat, had arranged that a dog should be placed where it would attract his eye. But it turned out that his own father

NEMESIS OF DRAGON-EMPLOYERS.

415

came rushing to him. As he could not kill his father, he consulted the oracle again to know what would be the penalty of non-fulfilment of his vow. It was that no representative of the family should die in his bed for nine generations. The notion is still found in that neighbourhood that no Earl of Durham has since then died in his bed. The nine generations have long passed since any crusading Lambton lived, but several peasants of the district closed their narrative with, 'Strange to say, no Earl of Durham has died in his bed !' At the castle I talked with a servant on the estate while looking at the old statues of the knight, worm, and dairy maid, all kept there, and he told me he had heard that the late Earl, as death drew nigh, asked to sit up-insisted—and died in a chair. If there be any truth in this, it would show that the family itself has some morbid feeling about the legend which has been so long told them with pride. The old well from which the little worm emerged a monster is now much overgrown, but I was told that it was for a long time a wishing-well, and the pins cast in by rustics may still be seen at the bottom of it.

Pins are the last offerings at the Worm's Well; 'wishes' its last prayers; but where go now the coins and the prayers ? To propitiate a power and commute a doom resting upon much the same principles as those represented in the Lambton legend. A community desolated because one man is sinful miniatures a world's doom for Adam's sin. The demand of a human sacrifice is more clear in the Sockburn story, where Conyers offered up his only son to the Holy Ghost in the parish church before engaging the Dragon, that being a condition of success prescribed by the 'Oracle' or ‘Sybil. This claim of the infernal powers represented by the Worm-many-eyed, all-seeing — cannot be set aside; Lambton's filial love

« ZurückWeiter »