|English Fairy Tales
THE MASTER AND HIS PUPIL
was once a very learned man in the north-country who knew all the
languages under the sun, and who was acquainted with all the mysteries
of creation. He had one big book bound in black calf and clasped with
iron, and with iron corners, and chained to a table which was made fast
to the floor; and when he read out of this book, he unlocked it with an
iron key, and none but he read from it, for it contained all the
secrets of the spiritual world. It told how many angels there were in
heaven, and how they marched in their ranks, and sang in their quires,
and what were their several functions, and what was the name of each
great angel of might. And it told of the demons, how many of them there
were, and what were their several powers, and their labours, and their
names, and how they might be summoned, and how tasks might be imposed
on them, and how they might be chained to be as slaves to man.
the master had a pupil who was but a foolish lad, and he acted as
servant to the great master, but never was he suffered to look into the
black book, hardly to enter the private room.
day the master was out, and then the lad, as curious as could be,
hurried to the chamber where his master kept his wondrous apparatus for
changing copper into gold, and lead into silver, and where was his
mirror in which he could see all that was passing in the world, and
where was the shell which when held to the ear whispered all the words
that were being spoken by anyone the master desired to know about. The
lad tried in vain with the crucibles to turn copper and lead into gold
and silver—he looked long and vainly into the mirror; smoke and clouds
passed over it, but he saw nothing plain, and the shell to his ear
produced only indistinct murmurings, like the breaking of distant seas
on an unknown shore. "I can do nothing," he said; "as I don't know the
right words to utter, and they are locked up in yon book."
looked round, and, see! the book was unfastened; the master had
forgotten to lock it before he went out. The boy rushed to it, and
unclosed the volume. It was written with red and black ink, and much of
it he could not understand; but he put his finger on a line and spelled
once the room was darkened, and the house trembled; a clap of thunder
rolled through the passage and the old room, and there stood before him
a horrible, horrible form, breathing fire, and with eyes like burning
lamps. It was the demon Beelzebub, whom he had called up to serve him.
"Set me a task!" said he, with a voice like the roaring of an iron furnace.
The boy only trembled, and his hair stood up.
"Set me a task, or I shall strangle thee!"
the lad could not speak. Then the evil spirit stepped towards him, and
putting forth his hands touched his throat. The fingers burned his
flesh. "Set me a task!"
yon flower," cried the boy in despair, pointing to a geranium which
stood in a pot on the floor. Instantly the spirit left the room, but in
another instant he returned with a barrel on his back, and poured its
contents over the flower; and again and again he went and came, and
poured more and more water, till the floor of the room was ankle-deep.
enough!" gasped the lad; but the demon heeded him not; the lad didn't
know the words by which to send him away, and still he fetched water.
rose to the boy's knees and still more water was poured. It mounted to
his waist, and Beelzebub still kept on bringing barrels full. It rose
to his armpits, and he scrambled to the table-top. And now the water in
the room stood up to the window and washed against the glass, and
swirled around his feet on the table. It still rose; it reached his
breast. In vain he cried; the evil spirit would not be dismissed, and
to this day he would have been pouring water, and would have drowned
all Yorkshire. But the master remembered on his journey that he had not
locked his book, and therefore returned, and at the moment when the
water was bubbling about the pupil's chin, rushed into the room and
spoke the words which cast Beelzebub back into his fiery home.