Gateway to the Classics: The Choosing Book by Maud Lindsay
 
The Choosing Book by  Maud Lindsay

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O NCE upon a time Guy of Godolphin rode to the hunt merrily, merrily, merrily; and no wonder. That very day a little son had come to the castle hall where a child had been wished for and longed for, oh, these many years, and his father was riding, merrily, merrily, merrily, to kill a deer for the christening feast.

Guy of Godolphin was a great hunter, so great that a minstrel had made a song about him:

"Tantivy, tantivy, away and away,

Guy of Godolphin goes hunting to-day.

Up now and follow past brake and past brae,

Guy of Godolphin goes hunting to-day.


"Tantivy, tantivy, at peep of the morn

Guy of Godolphin is blowing his horn,

Up now and follow by ash-tree and thorn,

Guy of Godolphin is blowing his horn."

There was a third verse, too, which told of his home-coming and some people liked this best of all:

"Tantivy, tantivy, what news do we hear?

Guy of Godolphin comes home with King Deer,

Up now and follow for feast and for cheer,

Guy of Godolphin comes home with King Deer."

All that the minstrel sang was true. Guy of Godolphin was always the leader on a hunting day, his horn could be heard for miles around, and, when he came galloping home in the evening, nothing would do but that he must call his friends and neighbors in to feast with him on the good deer-meat that he had brought from the deep forest. And the castle-hall was filled with laughter and songs.

But, on the day that his little son was born, the great hunter was late for the hunt. There was no one left to follow him and, though he blew his horn both loud and long, he had no answer to his call. He rode last and he rode alone but, for all that, he went merrily, merrily, merrily.

Soon the christening feast would be held and all the countryside would come to see the little son. Little Guy of Godolphin, they were sure to call him. And soon again, for children grow fast, little Guy would ride with his father, away and away.

"I shall take him before me on my saddle here," said Guy of Godolphin, smiling at the thought.

He was so full of his pleasant plans that he paid no heed to the turn of the road, and so it happened that, instead of riding to the deep forest where the other hunters were, he came, by and by, to the Wood that is called Enchanted, where no one had ever gone hunting before.

All the days of his life Guy of Godolphin had heard of the Enchanted Wood and longed to see it, but now that he was there it seemed to him like any other wood; at least this was his first thought.

But, though there were trees in plenty and thickets and mosses and little streams and shining lakes in the Wood, of living creatures there was neither sight nor sound. Not a bird chirped in the tree-tops, not a fox nor a hare stirred in the bushes, not a deer trampled through the bracken. It was as if they had gotten word of the hunter's coming and hidden themselves away.

But Guy of Godolphin was not disheartened by this. He was as sure that there were deer in the Enchanted Wood as he was of his own skill as a hunter.

"Let them lie ever so quiet, I shall find them," said he.

He rode softly now and slowly, keeping watch on every side. A bent twig might mean that deer had passed and a broken branch show the way that they had gone.

Guy of Godolphin knew all the signs of a wood, and some day he would teach them to his little son.

"I shall make a great hunter of him," he said to himself.

He had ridden by ash-tree, and thorn-tree, he had ridden past brake, and past brae, without seeing so much as a lizard sunning himself, or hearing a sound but the beat of his horse's hoofs, and he was just turning aside to a dell among the trees when rustle, rustle, snap, snap, something stirred in the thicket, something coming his way.

He had scarcely time to stop his horse and raise his gun when the bushes opened and out came a milk-white doe and a fawn as brown as the velvet lining of a chestnut-burr.

"O-ho!" cried Guy of Godolphin, "Here is meat and to spare for a christening feast"; but for all that he lowered his gun.

"There are more deer in the Wood than these," he said, and he rode away as well pleased and happy as though the meat for the feast lay across his saddle-bow.

When the little son was old enough he would bring him to this Wood that was called Enchanted and tell him of the doe and fawn, and how he had spared them.

"It will make a fine tale," said Guy of Godolphin.

Mile upon mile he followed the winding road, or watched and waited in hidden places, keeping as quiet as the Wood itself, but no deer came.

Perhaps, after all, he had been too quick in sparing both doe and fawn, he thought. The fawn was young, scarcely more than a summer old, and might have gone free, but there was many a hunter who would have been glad to take home a doe on a hunting day. Why, the minstrel had a song about something like that:

"Off to the forest I will go,

To shoot my shaft at a dappled doe;

King or queen could never wish

To dine upon a daintier dish."

And there was nothing finer for a lady's feet than doeskin shoes.

"Well, well, next time I shall be wiser," said Guy of Godolphin, and the words had scarcely left his tongue when rustle, rustle, snap, snap, he heard something breaking through a thicket, something coming his way.

He was just raising his gun to his shoulder when the bushes opened and out came, not King Deer that he longed to see, but the white doe and brown fawn as fearless and gay as if there were not a hunter in the world. And, in spite of all that he had thought and said of dainty dishes and doeskin shoes, down came Guy of Godolphin's gun.

"But have a care, little folk," he called as he rode away. "Another meeting might make a different tale."

The Wood was as quiet as the bottom of a well as he rode on and on and on. The shadows that had been gathering in the dells and hollows for an hour past began to stretch across the paths and roads. Night was coming and the meat for the christening feast was still for him to win.

"A feast for a hunter's son without deer-meat would be a sorry feast indeed," said Guy of Godolphin.

Rather than that he would ride back to find the doe and fawn again, and this time he would spare neither the one nor the other. If all the countryside came to the christening there would be need of plenty. And did not the minstrel sing of a little prince who wore

"A golden chain about his throat

And on his back a fawnskin coat?"

"Why not such a coat for my little son?" thought Guy of Godolphin.

He had more than half decided to turn back when, patter, patter, he heard the sound of little feet on the road behind him and, when he looked, what should he see but the white doe and brown fawn as fearless and free as if there were no one in the Wood but themselves.

"Here is good fortune," said the great hunter, and it might have gone hard with the doe and fawn if it had not been for little Guy of Godolphin and his mother.

But if you ask me what they had to do with it, all I can tell you is what Guy of Godolphin himself told the little wild folk when once again he left them unharmed and unfrightened in the Wood that is called Enchanted.

"Look you," he said, "it is because of my little son and his mother that I let you go free." And though he went home with nothing to show for his watching and waiting he rode merrily, merrily, merrily. Oh, never was he so merry before!

There was no deer-meat at the christening feast, but no one missed it. Why, what with dainty dishes and laughter and singing there never was such a feast before or since. The minstrel made a song about it and put into the song all the tale that you have heard and more besides. Some people thought it was the sweetest song he had ever made, and if I knew the words and tune of it I would sing it to you.


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