1 WILL-O'-THE-WISPS ARE IN THE TOWN ' 863
Here stands the Scandal-Bottle. It looks as if there were only dirty water in it, and it is dirty water, but with an effervescing power of town-gossip, three ounces of lies and two grains of truth, stirred about with a birch-twig, not one that has been steeped in brine and used on a criminal's back, nor yet a piece of a schoolmaster's birch-rod, but one taken direct from the broom with which the gutter has been swept.
Here stands the bottle with pious poetry, written to psalm-tunes. Each drop has a terrifying ring about it, and it is made from the blood and sweat of punishment. Some say it is only dove's gall; but doves are most innocent creatures, and have no gall; so say those who do not know natural history.
Here stood the greatest bottle of all ; it occupied half of the cupboard,—the bottle of Every-day Stories. Its mouth was covered both with bladder and with pigskin, so that it might lose none of its strength. Each nation could get its own soup here ; it came according as one turned about the bottle. Here was old German blood-soup with robber-dumplings in it; also thin peasant-soup with real privy councillors swimming in it. There was English governess-soup and French potage a la Kock, made from cocks' legs and sparrows' eggs ; but the best soup of all was the Copenhagen. So the family said.
Here stood Tragedy in a champagne bottle ; it could pop, and so it ought. Comedy looked like fine sand to throw in people's eyes—that is to say, the finer Comedy ; the coarser was also in a bottle, but consisted only of theatre-bills, on which the name of the piece was the strongest item.
The man fell quite into a reverie over this, but the Moor-woman looked farther ahead, and wished to make an end of the matter.
' Now you have seen quite enough of the old cupboard,' she said, ' and know what is in it; but the more important matter which you ought to know, you do not know yet. The Will-o' -the-Wisps are in the town ! That's of much more consequence than poetry and stories. I ought, indeed, to hold my tongue ; but there must be a necessity—a fate— a something that sticks in my throat, and that wants to come out. Take care, you mortals !'