Page:The Grateful Dead.djvu/87

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71
The Poison Maiden.

her demon lover, Jack gets the handkerchief for his master. Next day the lady tells the prince to get the lips which she will kiss the last that night. Jack follows her again and cuts off the demon's head, which the prince produces, thus breaking the spell that has bound her to the evil spirits.

This variant, even in what is probably a mutilated state, is strikingly similar to Irish I. in such details as the means used to follow the lady, and the tasks imposed upon the suitor. Indeed, the fact that the adventures take place in Wales might lead one to suppose that the story in this form was Celtic, were not the knowledge of it so persistent in England also. Several features are obscured, at least in the form from which I cite. Though the burial of the dead is given clearly enough, and the fact that the lady is possessed is insisted on, the prince is kind to an old woman as well as to a dead man, and Jack is certainly not understood to be a ghost. All mention of an agreement between the companions, and of the means taken to free the heroine from her possession by dividing her or flogging her, has likewise disappeared. However, the correspondence both in outline and in detail with Irish I. is sufficient to establish the position of the variant.

In the Old Wives' Tale the theme of The Grateful Dead is imbedded in such a mass of folk-lore and folk-tales that it is quite impossible to restore adequately the narrative as Peele found it. He treated the story as a literary artist, of course, modifying and adding details to suit the scheme of his play. The outline of the story, as Peele gives it, is as follows: A king, or a lord, or a duke, has a daughter as white as snow and as red as blood, who is carried off by a conjurer in the form of a dragon. Her two brothers set forth to seek her, and by a cross meet an old man named Erestus, who calls himself the White Bear of England's Wood.