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there; but it is very wonderful that he lived
there so long, under such fearful


You may perform that operation, which
is commonly called a day's march, many
times before you will find a popular tale,
more prettily fanciful in its leading idea,
and more peculiar in its details, than one
which is told by some of the inhabitants of
Revel, with respect to the Tontla Wood:
a forest which, according to tradition, once
stood in a district to the north of the Lake
Peipus or Tschudskoi, but of which no
traces are now to be found.

This Tontla Wood, if we are to trust the
story, was an object of curiosity and terror
to all who lived in its neighbourhood, and,
so greatly did the latter feeling prevail, that
it was a complete obstacle to the gratification
of the former. A few who had
ventured just to step within its precincts
repeated that they had seen through the
trees something like a ruined house,
surrounded by a swarm of human beings,
among whom old women and half-clad
children formed the majority. One bolder
than the rest, who penetrated further than
his more timid predecessors, was rewarded
for his trouble by the discovery of things
still more marvellous; which is, indeed, not
saying much, since old hags and ragged
urchins are everywhere common. This
courageous adventurer saw a large fire,
round which women and children were
gatheredsome squatted on the ground,
others dancing. Particularly conspicuous
was a withered beldam, who, with a broad
iron ladle, scattered burning ashes on the
turf, whereupon the children went screaming
into the air, and fluttered about the
smoke like so many owls, until, apparently
weary of their pastime, they settled down
again. Presently an old man made his
appearance with a sack on his shoulders
larger than himself, and at once became an
object of general persecution, for the women
and children danced round him trying to
steal away his load, while he contrived to
evade them. With a black cat, nearly as
big as a foal, which, with glaring eyes, had
been sitting at the door of a neighbouring
hut, he was less fortunate, for this sprang
upon the sack, and then vanished into the

At this juncture the bold investigator's
eyes became dazzled and his head began to
swim. Consequently the narrative of his
adventure, which he detailed to a circle of
admiring listeners was, much to their
disappointment, cut short. However, his scanty
information served to confirm the ill-repute
in which the forest was held, and during
the time of the Swedish domination in the
province, one of the kings ordered it to be
felled, hoping thus to get rid of a nuisance.
His good intention was, however, not
carried out: for no sooner were a few trees
struck with an axe, than there was a
result similar to that which ensued when
Æneas attempted to clear the wood that
grew from the remains of the murdered
Polydore; that is to say, groans were heard,
and blood issued from the wounded trunks.
After this failure a wood-cutter was not
to be obtained for love or money, and
people were content to see smoke rising
above the trees, and indicating that the
forest was inhabited by somebody, without
increasing their stock of information as
to who that somebody might be.

At some distance from the Tontla Wood
was a large cottage, numbering among its
inhabitants a peasant, who having lost his
first wife took unto himself a second. This
lady, according to the normal habits
recounted in popular tales, proved a very
termagant to her husband's daughter Elsie,
a sharp little girl about seven years old.
The child's father, leaning to the stronger
side, furthered the oppression of her
stepmother, till she found life altogether
intolerable. One day, when the Spartan
discipline had lasted for about two years
Elsie went out with some young
companions to gather berries, and straying
unwittingly to the edge of the Tontla Wood,
found such an abundance of fine
strawberries, that the surface of the ground was
completely red. The sudden discovery of
a big lubberly boy that they had actually
entered the dreaded forest, and the shout
by which he made his discovery known,
caused all the children to take to their
heels with the exception of Elsie, in whose
bosom an intense love of strawberries was
an antidote to fear. Moreover, she plausibly
argued within herself, that bad as the
Tontla folks might be, they could scarcely
be worse than her stepmother was, and that,
therefore, it was expedient to stop where
she was, rather than hurry back, and
possibly fare worse. That she had acted
judiciously was proved by the appearance of a
little dog, who, with a bell suspended from
his neck, came barking in a kindly manner
towards her, and was followed by a little