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The Laidley Worm Of Spindleston-Heugh
by [?]

In a land where fairy tales die hard, it is sometimes no easy task to discriminate between what is solid historical fact, what is fact, moss-grown and flower-covered, like an old, old tomb, and what is mere fantasy, the innocent fancy of a nation in its childhood, turned at last into stone–a lasting stalactite–from the countless droppings of belief bestowed upon it by countless generations.

Scientists nowadays crushingly hold prehistoric beasts, or still existent marsh gas, accountable for dragons and serpents and other fauna of legendary history; but in certain country districts there are some animals that no amount of Board School information, nor countless Science Siftings from penny papers can ever destroy, and to this invulnerable class belongs the Laidley Worm of Spindleston-Heugh.

High above the yellow sand that borders the fierce North Sea on the extreme north of the Northumbrian coast still stands the castle of Bamborough. Many a fierce invasion has it withstood during the thousand odd years since first King Ida placed his stronghold there. Many a cruel storm has it weathered, while lordly ships and little fishing cobles have been driven to destruction by the lashing waves on the rocks down below. And there it was that, once on a day, there lived a King who, when his fair wife died and left to him the care of her handsome, fearless boy, and her beautiful, gentle daughter, did, as is the fashion of every King of fairy tale, wed again, and wed a wicked wife. To the south land he went, while his son sailed the seas in search of high adventure, and his daughter acted as chatelaine in the castle by the sea, and there he met the woman who came to Bamborough all those many years ago, and who, they say, remains there still.

As the dawn rose over the grey sea, making even the dark rocks of the Farnes like a garden where only pink roses grew, the Princess Margaret would be on the battlements looking out, always looking out, for her father and brother to return. At sunset, when the sea was golden and the plain stretched purple away to the south, landward and seaward her eyes would still gaze. And at night, when the silver moon made a path on the sea, the Princess would listen longingly to the lap of the waves, and strain her beautiful eyes through the darkness for the sails of the ship that should bring the two that she loved safe home again. But when the day came when the King, her father, returned, and led through the gate the lady who was his bride, there were many who knew that it would have been well for the Princess had she still been left in her loneliness. Gracious indeed was her welcome to her mother’s supplanter, for she loved her father, and this was the wife of his choice.

“Oh! welcome, father,” she said, and handed to him the keys of the castle of which she had kept such faithful ward, and, holding up a face as fresh and fragrant as a wild rose at the dawn of a June day, she kissed her step-mother.

“Welcome, my step-mother,” she said, “for all that’s here is yours.”

Many a gallant Northumbrian lord was there that day, and many a lord from the southern land was in the King’s noble retinue. One of them it was who spoke what the others thought, and to the handsome Queen who had listened already overmuch to the praises her husband sang of his daughter, the Princess Margaret, the words were as acid in a wound. “Meseemeth,” said he, “that in all the north country there is no lady so fair, nor none so good as this most beautiful Princess.”

Proudly the Queen drew herself up, and from under drooped eyelids, with the look of a hawk as it swoops for its prey, she made answer to the lord from the south.