The Witch’s Cave.

From: Kobboltozo: A Sequel to the Last of the Huggermuggers (1869)
Author: Christopher Pearse Cranch
Published: Lee and Shepard 1869 Boston



  THIS opening, in which they emerged, proved to be a small cave, which had the appearance of having once been inhabited. The walls and ceiling were a good deal smoked. There was an opening which had evidently served as a chimney, and a piece of an old rusty lamp which had been fastened to the wall still remained. But whoever had lived there, it must have been centuries since, they thought, for not only weeds, and grass, and flowers, but moss and lichens were growing abundantly on the rocks and between the stones. In one corner they thought they saw something resembling remains of human bones, half buried beneath the earth. But what interested Kobboltozo was to discover on one side of the cave a rude, half-effaced inscription, in letters not unlike those in the great cavern where they had lost their way. What could this place be? What was the mysterious connection between this cave, and the region of the gnomes, and the dwelling of the giants? Suddenly a thought flashed across Kobboltozo’s brain, and he ran to the opening of the cave, and looked out to discover on what part of the island they were. The cave opened upon a narrow and steep ravine, down which there were rude steps, not easy to ascend or descend, leading from the cave’s mouth to the bottom of the rocks, whence a path conducted to the seashore.

  Kobboltozo having made this discovery, came running back to his companion in a state of great excitement.

  “It is—it is the very place!” he cried. “A lucky star has guided us to this spot! Know then, my friend, that this is the Witch’s Cave—that very witch who came with the ancestor’s of the Huggermuggers to this island, and who foretold to them the growth and prosperity of their race.”

  For you must know that there was a tradition among the dwarfs that such a witch had formerly lived somewhere in this very gorge. But no one had ever ventured up the difficult steps, or had discovered the place of her abode. A sort of superstitious fear, too, had effectually deterred them from entering this wild and gloomy ravine.

  “We have found it—we have found it!” cried Kobboltozo; “there’s no doubt of this being the place. Ever since you told me of your glimpse at the secret of the giant race, I have thought of this ancient witch, and the tradition of this ravine. And to think that our bad luck in getting lost leads us to this spot, and turns out to be good luck after all. Aha! I begin to see! Was it then by this long dark labyrinth through which we have passed, that the witch held communication with those gnomes—those queer goblins of the earth? And was it these gnomes who helped the Huggermuggers to build their house?”—

  “And these letters on the wall—what are they? Come, Hamm, you are a bit of a scholar. Help me to spell out what remains of the inscription.”

  “Willingly,” said the other, “but I fear, Kobb, that we can’t get much satisfactory information from these half effaced characters.”

  “We’ll try, at any rate,” said the shoemaker. So they set their wits together, but found themselves much puzzled to spell out any thing clearly. All they could make of it was something like this translation:—

. . . . . . . CAVE OF THE SEA . . . . .
UND . . ROCKS . . . . . . . . RIGHT HAND . . .
. . . . . . SHELL FI . . . . . MER-KING . . . . . .
. . . . WAVES . . . STILL . . . . . GIANT . . . .

  “Well, but this is something, at any rate,” said Kobboltozo. “It gives some clue to what we are seeking. It seems we must find a Cave of the Sea, lying somewhere under the rocks, to the right hand, after we have descended the ravine; that there we may find the shell-fish. But what is this about the mer-king, and the waves? Must we call up the mer-king, and ask him where the wonderful shell-fish are? Yes, that must be it—and it must be done when t be waves are perfectly still. We’ll do it.”

  “But,” said the carpenter, “we must have an incantation.”

  “What’s that?” said the shoemaker.

  “Why, some sort of spell, or rhyme, and something scattered on the waves, while we repeat a verse or so, or some old words of the Hugger language. I hardly know—but I’ve heard that that’s the way the witches do. Let’s try it. You compliment me on being a bit of a scholar—do you know I’m a bit of a poet too, and often sing my rhymes to myself while I am hammering or planning?”

  “Very well; now set your wits agoing, and make some verses for the occasion—a sort of what do you call it—incantation? “

  So, half in fun, half in earnest, Hammawhaxo hammered out some lines—and repeated them over to himself till he had got them by heart.

  After satisfying themselves that there was nothing else in the witch’s cave that could afford them any help in their search, they began the difficult descent of the steep rocks. It was not an easy matter to get down, and several times they came near breaking their necks. But at last they reached the bottom of the gorge. A path, or rather the dry bed of a stream led them down to the seashore, where, having allayed their hunger somewhat with some berries they found, they stretched themselves out on the grass under the rocks. There, what with their fatigue and excitement, the cool, soft turf on which they lay, and the soothing murmur of the sea lapping on the beach, they both fell into a profound sleep.

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