The Seven Champions of Christendom, by W H G Kingston.
A most unusual book, especially from this author, erudite though he is.
The seven champions are the Patron Saints of England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France, Italy and Spain. These rove about Europe and beyond, slaying Enchanters, Dragons, and other nuisances, accompanied by their Squires, who, although they put on weight and become obese, help as best they can, and carry their masters' trophies for them.
That they all knew one another and were living at the same time is a novel idea, but it all adds to quite a good story, however whimsical.
It is alleged that the book is no more than an edited transcription of a book written at the end of the fifteen hundreds. It may well be, but it stands quite well on its own for what it is—an amusement for the children: that, and no more.
THE SEVEN CHAMPIONS OF CHRISTENDOM, BY W H G KINGSTON.
The following pages should not go forth into the world without due acknowledgment being made to that worthy old Dominie, Richard Johnson, to whose erudite but somewhat unreadable work the author is so largely indebted. As he flourished at the end of the sixteenth century, and the commencement of the seventeenth, great allowances should be made for his style, which is certainly not suited to the taste of this generation. It is to be hoped that the present version, while much of his vivid imagery is retained, may be free from his more glaring errors. And, thus quoting the Dominie's dedication:—
"To all courteous readers The Author wisheth encrease of vertuous knowledge.
"Gentle readers, in kindness accept my labours, and be not like the chattering cranes, nor Momus' mates, that carp at everything. What the simple say I care not; what the spightful speak I pass not; only the censure of the conceited I stand unto; that is the mark I aym at; whose good likings if I obtain, I have won my race; if not, I faint in the first attempt, and so lose the quiet of my happy goal.
"Yours in kindness and command,—
THE BIRTH OF SAINT GEORGE.
Who has not heard of the Seven Champions of Christendom—of the wonderful adventures they went through—of the dangers they encountered, and the heroic deeds they performed? Should any persons exist ignorant of the history of those noble knights, let them with attentive ears now listen to my veracious chronicle.
Gallant and dauntless as were all those seven heroes, yet not one equalled in valour "Saint George of Merrie England." Many countries have in consequence claimed him as their own especial Champion. Portugal, Germany, Greece, and Russia, for what is known to the contrary, would be glad to have him; but we have proof undoubted that to England he alone belongs, even if we did not see him, on many a golden guinea, engaged in his desperate encounter with the most terribly terrific and greenest of green dragons. Not only are his orders worn by nobles, but by British monarchs themselves, while, in memory of his heroic deeds, they lead forth their armies under his banner. However, many long years have passed away since he astonished the world by his prowess. Of royal birth was his mother, the daughter of one of England's early kings; a Duke and High Steward of the realm was his father. Of the name of the king history is most mysteriously silent, or of the extent of his dominions; but there can be no doubt that the ancient city of Coventry was situated within them, and that, if not the principal, it was one of the principal cities of the realm, and, moreover, that a prison existed there on the silent system. Thus, when people are unfit to be spoken to, it is said, by a figure of speech, that they are sent to Coventry.
In Coventry the Lord High Steward and his royal bride resided. Now, some time before the Princess was about to present her husband with a babe, she dreamed a dream; it was enough to terrify her, for she dreamed that, instead of a smiling infant, she should have to nurse a little green dragon. To nurse a small crocodile or alligator, or even a young hippopotamus, would have been bad enough, but a green dragon, with claws and a long wriggling fork-pointed tail, was out of the question; the very idea was enough to drive her distracted. The Lord High Steward was a man who always took the bull by the horns in a dilemma, and so he resolved forthwith to take steps to solve the mystery. He had heard that in the Black Forest in Germany there lived a powerful enchantress, Kalyb by name, who would, without doubt, be able at once to give him all the information he required. Sir Albert, for that was the High Steward's name, instantly set off across the seas, accompanied only by his faithful Squire, De Fistycuff. They bore offerings of gold and silver and precious stones with which to propitiate her.
For many days they voyaged, tossed by the stormy billows, and for many days they travelled on till they arrived at the dreary precincts of the Black Forest. Boldly plunging into it, they reached a dense part of the wood, composed of withered, hollow, and distorted trees, whence proceeded sounds the most unearthly and terrific. The dismal croaking of the night raven, the hissing of serpents, the hoarse bellowing of wild bulls, the roaring of lions, the laughing of hyenas, and other hideous cries of all sorts of savage beasts. Some men would have stood astounded. Not so Sir Albert and his faithful Squire. On they went till they found themselves in front of a dark and lofty rock, within which was seen a vast and gloomy cavern. The entrance was secured by a massive iron gate studded over with huge knots and bars of steel. Near it hung a brazen trumpet, the use of which the Knight full readily guessed. He blew a blast which rung through the vaulted cave, echoing away till the sounds were lost in the distance, while it made the very earth rock and tremble. Scarcely had the echoes of the magic horn died away than a terrifically loud, discordant, hollow voice, proceeding out of the very depths of the cavern, inquired:—"Mortal, what want you here?" Sir Albert briefly told his errand, and said that he had brought gifts which he desired to offer to the famous Enchantress Kalyb, the lady of the Black Forest.
As he was a courteous knight, and had spoken the Enchantress fair, so he expected a courteous and satisfactory reply. What, then, was his amazement when he heard these words proceeding from the cavern:—
"Whatever must be—must be there's no doubt; You've got an answer, and so turn about!"
In vain he protested that such a reply was far from satisfactory; that he should go back as wise as he came; that it would have been better had he stayed at home; that he should have had all his pains for nothing. No other answer could he get. Though a courteous knight, he was yet somewhat irascible; and this was an occasion to try the temper of a milder man than a knight of those days. He seized the trumpet, and blew till it refused to give forth any further sound. He handed it to De Fistycuff, and told him to blow till he cracked his own cheeks or the trumpet. In vain the Squire puffed and puffed, not a sound could he produce. He holloed and shouted, and so did De Fistycuff; but to their united voices no answer was returned. Then Sir Albert began to shower abuse on the Enchantress; he told her some awkward truths, and called her some names which were far from complimentary; but the only answer he received was in shouts of hollow and mocking laughter which proceeded out of the recesses of the cavern.
At length Sir Albert turned his horse's head, and in high dudgeon rode off, followed by De Fistycuff, who first pocketed the gifts they had brought to propitiate the Enchantress. Dull and dreary was their homeward journey; and, if truth must be told, the Lord High Steward could not help feeling remarkably small at the result of their expedition. After having been tossed about for many days by a storm, and made very sick in the German Ocean, they at length reached Coventry. The master of his household, his family physician, and a numerous assemblage of knights and ladies, rushed out of his castle to tell Sir Albert the news. Neither an hippopotamus nor an alligator had been born to him, but a right merry, rosy, bouncing infant. Alas! however, there was grief in store for the gallant knight, the partner of his joys and cares, his beautiful princess, was dead! Deeply he mourned his loss, and then he inquired if any one could solve the mystery of the dream which had caused him so long a journey. He found that had he waited patiently at home, like a wise man, all would have been known. The smiling infant was brought to him; and then, wonderful to relate, he discovered on its breast the portrait of a green dragon, just as his wife had described it to him; and, moreover, a blood-red cross marked on the boy's right hand, and a golden garter below his knee on the left.
"He'll do something wonderful!" exclaimed the proud father; and he was not mistaken.
The name of George was given to the boy; and forthwith the Lord High Steward, retiring from the cares of state, bestowed on him all his thoughts and attention. He selected three nurses to watch over him, called Prudence, Firmness, and Gentleness. One to prepare his nourishment, another to feed him, and the last to lull him to sleep. All would have gone well, but unhappily the boy's grandfather suggested that another nurse was necessary, and Carelessness was introduced into the household.
It should be known that all this time the wicked Enchantress Kalyb had been well aware who it was who had come to her cavern and blown so furiously on her magic horn. Every word the Knight had uttered, and every opprobrious epithet which he had so lavishly bestowed, had been heard by her. She nourished, in consequence, in her evil heart, a spirit of revenge, which she waited a convenient opportunity to gratify. Oh, anger! oh, loss of temper! how blind art thou! How dost thou make wise men become like the most foolish! Revenge, too, how dost thou, malignant spirit, fall into the trap thou hast thyself laid, as will be soon seen!
Wicked Kalyb waited her time. She knew of the young Prince's birth, she knew how his father doated on him, and she resolved to carry him off; but when she heard of the three nurses appointed to guard over him she despaired of succeeding in her object. The boy grew and flourished. Every day he became more beautiful, every day he gave proofs of a noble and gallant spirit. Truly was he his father's pride; worthy was he of the admiration of all the people of Coventry. When, however, Kalyb found out that Carelessness had become his nurse, instantly she hurried to the sea-shore; when, embarking in an egg-shell,—the shell, be it known, of a huge roc's egg—she set sail for the shores of England. Quickly she spun over the ocean, round and round, faster than any ordinary ship could sail, till she reached the land; and, arriving in the neighbourhood of Coventry, she hid herself in a thick wood, till she could pounce out on the young Prince and carry him off.
However, she had long to wait. Sometimes Prudence walked out with him, sometimes Gentleness, and sometimes Firmness; and all kept so careful a watch over him that she had no opportunity of effecting her purpose. At length, Carelessness one fatal day had charge of him. Kalyb immediately changed herself into a lovely butterfly. Off ran the boy with his velvet cap to catch the fluttering insect. Carelessness sat down on a bank and fell asleep. Soon Kalyb led the boy into the recesses of the forest; then seizing him, in spite of his cries, she placed him in a chariot with ten fiery steeds which she had conjured up, and darting off like a flash of lightning, reached the coast, embarked in her egg-shell, which whirled round and round as before, and then she travelled on till she arrived once more, with her captive, at the magic cavern in the Black Forest. The massive gates flew asunder at a touch of her silver wand, and the Prince found himself among wonders which his imagination had never before conceived, which far surpassed anything he had ever beheld even in the beautiful city of Coventry. He soon, however, grew weary of them, and longed to return to his fond father and careful nurses; but he found himself a prisoner, and no outlet could he discover by which he could make his escape from the cavern—the massive gates prevented all egress to any who had once entered within them.
The wicked Kalyb watched the sorrow of the boy, and knowing that his father was still more sorrowful, rejoiced in her revenge. She had numerous attendants to do her will. Among them was a dwarf, a misshapen, ill-favoured creature. To his care the boy was confided, with directions to beat and teaze him whenever he had nothing else to do. The noble child bore every indignity with equanimity and good humour, and, instead of harbouring revenge, took every opportunity of doing a kindness to the poor dwarf, who was himself the peculiar object of the wicked Kalyb's ill-treatment. Crumpleback was the dwarf's name. Often poor Crumpleback's body was black and blue with the pommelling he received from the furious Kalyb, while his cheeks were thin and haggard from want of food and rest. One day Kalyb was absent when Crumpleback addressed the Prince:—"Know," said he, "kind boy, that I am a fairy in disguise, and though less powerful than the fell Enchantress Kalyb, I may yet circumvent her acts. Your kindness and gentleness, and forgiveness of the injuries I was forced to do you, have won my heart. I have vowed to serve you to the best of my power. Let not Kalyb know what has passed between us, but wait patiently, and see what will happen." The young Prince thanked the fairy, and his hopes of escaping once more revived. He had long to wait. In the mean time, whenever Kalyb was absent, the seeming dwarf gave him instructions in all the arts which would fit him to become an accomplished knight. Book learning, though not much in vogue in those days, was not neglected. Sometimes the fairy put a shining sword into his grasp, and showed him how to wield it with a force no one could withstand; sometimes he was mounted on a fiery steed which few mortals could have bestrode, and with lance in hand he was taught to tilt against phantom knights, which, in the most desperate encounters, he invariably overthrew. Thus, by the time he had attained to man's estate, no knight in Europe was so accomplished, while none surpassed him in virtue or valour.
Meantime the Lord High Steward bitterly mourned the loss of his promising son. In vain he sent messengers throughout the world to find him, and at last, remembering the ancient proverb, "Who wants goes, who does not want sends," he resolved to go in search of the boy himself. Storing himself with gold and precious jewels, he set off, attended only by his faithful De Fistycuff. From place to place he wandered, year after year, till his locks were turned to silvery grey, and his beard became like the down of a thistle. One evening his heart fainting, and his once firm knees trembling, he reached the gate of a monastery in Bohemia. Then he sunk down before even his Squire could ring the bell to summon the monks to his assistance. When the porter opened the door, the Lord High Steward of England had breathed his last, and poor De Fistycuff was bewailing his loved master's death, and his own hard fate, in being thus left alone in a foreign land. The monks buried Sir Albert hard by, and raised a monument, covered with some of his own jewels, over his grave, reserving the remainder to pay the expenses of his funeral. The worthy De Fistycuff they recommended to return to his native land, unless he wished to become a monk; an honour he declined, having his faithful Grumculda waiting for him at home. So, paying a farewell visit to his master's tomb, the jewels on which he found had by enchantment been changed to glass, he set off on his journey. Happily he had, however, some of the presents intended for the wicked Kalyb in his pockets; so, like an honest Briton, he was able to pay his way, and be no discredit to his country. Leaving him to pursue his toilsome peregrination, we return once more to the cavern of Kalyb.
SAINT GEORGE RELEASES THE SIX CHAMPIONS.
Even the Enchantress wondered at the progress in the arts and sciences her captive was making; but, as she knew that he was destined to become a great man, she was aware that she could not hope to stop his progress. All she could do was to keep him shut up till fate set him free. One day the friendly fairy addressed the Prince:—"Know," she said, "the Enchantress sleeps once, and once only, for one week every hundred years. Her magic art depends on her silver wand, which on that occasion she hides away so carefully that it is scarcely possible to discover it. Still, we will search. For that opportunity I have long been waiting. If we can possess ourselves of it, she will be completely in our power, and we can work our will within the magic cavern. Know also that I am an English fairy, Sabrina by name. I love you because you are kind to me, and because you come of an honest English stock. If we can overcome the Enchantress, I will enable you to commence that career of glory for which I know that your heart is even now thirsting." The young Prince's heart beat high with joy and hope on hearing these words.
Anxiously they watched the Enchantress, to try and discover where she would place her silver wand. Day after day they followed her through all the vast interminable recesses of her magic cavern. Every day she grew more drowsy and less inclined to speak; which is not surprising, considering how long she had been awake, and how sleepy she must have become.
In spite of all this vigilance, however, at last she appeared without her silver wand; and soon after they saw her sink down on a couch of rose-leaves she had prepared for herself in a sumptuous apartment, where, had it not been for her hideous countenance, where all the malignant passions were portrayed, she would have looked like a sovereign resting on her bed of state. The Prince was eager instantly to set off to look for the silver wand.
"Stay," whispered the Fairy Sabrina, "she yet deeps with one eye open, like a weasel; wait till she closes both, and snores." Accordingly they waited till both Kalyb's eyes were closed, and loud snores echoed along the vaulted roof. Then off they set.
"Nothing worth having can be gained without toil and trouble," observed the Dwarf, as he parted from the Prince. All the other attendants of the Enchantress had taken the opportunity to go to sleep likewise; so silence profound reigned throughout the cavern, broken only by her snores. The Prince searched and searched in every direction, under heaps of costly jewels and glittering robes, piles of gold and silver, and rich armour; but they had now no charms for him: the silver wand which was to set him free to commence his noble career was all he sought for—that wand, the type of knowledge, which can only be obtained by study and perseverance. Day after day he sought for it; but at the end of each day all he could say was that he believed he could tell where it was not. The Dwarf came back equally unsuccessful; but still numberless heaps had been turned over, intricate passages explored, profound depths dived into, and unthought of recesses in the cavern discovered.
Five days had thus passed away; the Prince knew more about the cavern than he had ever known before; the sixth day came, and that, too, ended. He had added to his knowledge, but the silver wand had not been found. He became anxious, as well he might. On the seventh the Enchantress would awake and resume her power.
More diligently than ever he searched about; the Dwarf seconded his efforts. Before him appeared, as he wandered on, a golden door. After many a hearty shove he forced it open. A steep flight of rugged stone steps led winding upwards he knew not where. Boldly he entered, and climbed on, on, on. Though rough and steep were the steps he did not weary or hesitate. Sometimes the stair was spiral, and he went round and round, and sometimes it led him directly upwards. Scarcely a glimmer of light enabled him to find his way; but the Dwarf was at his heels, encouraging him, and he recollected the silver wand of which he was in search, and persevered. Strong and healthy as he was he began to draw his breath quickly, when the full light of the glorious sun burst on him, and he found himself in a magnificent temple of alabaster, on the summit of a lofty mountain.
From the windows of the temple he could behold the whole surrounding country to a vast distance, far, far beyond the forest which grew round the base of the mountain. There were cities and palaces, and silvery streams, and rich fields, and glowing orchards, and meadows full of cattle, and grassy downs covered with sheep—such a scene as he had not beheld since his boyhood, when Kalyb first got possession of him. He stood contemplating it with delight. How long he might have stood it is impossible to say, when the sound of a distant church-bell was wafted up to his ears. It reminded him that the hour was approaching when the dreadful Kalyb would awake.
He thought to make his escape out of the temple, but that he found was impossible; the walls of the tower in which he stood were a hundred feet high, with pointed iron spikes below, to catch any who might fall on them. Again must he sink into the power of the cruel Kalyb? His brave heart rebelled at the thought; he would dare and do anything to avoid it.
He spoke aloud. "You are right," said the Dwarf; "but look! what is that?" He turned his head, and beheld before him, on a velvet cushion, which covered a marble table, the silver wand of which he had been so long in search. He grasped it eagerly.
"Follow me," said the Dwarf, hastening onward, "no time is to be lost." Down the steps they sped. "No time is to be lost," cried the Dwarf again. Faster, faster went the Prince's feet. On he rattled—on—on— often several steps at a time. Nothing stopped him. The bottom was reached; the massive door was closed; in vain he pushed against it. He touched it with his silver wand; open it flew. Along the vaulted passages of the cavern he sped. Many a hideous monster started up, but a wave of the silver wand put them to flight.
The Prince and his attendant reached the chamber of the Enchantress. Her snoring had ceased. She had begun to rub her eyes and move uneasily, with many a grunt and snort. She was about to awake. Who could have told what mischief one glance of her evil eye would have effected. "Strike! strike!" said the Fairy. The Prince struck the bed. Instantly loud shrieks and groans, and cries most terrific, were heard filling the air, and shouts most horrible of mocking laughter, and bellowings, and roarings, and hissings, and the walls of the chamber began to rock, and the bed began to sink, and flames burst forth, and stenches most overwhelming arose. The horrible noises increased till dense lurid vapours concealed the spot where the Enchantress's chamber had been, though her helpless cries were heard far, far down in the depths of the earth; and the Prince found himself standing in the wild cavern, but, in the place of the Dwarf, there stood a beautiful Fairy by his side. "I prepared you for a change," said the Fairy, with a smile; "but come, we are not the only ones to be set free. Let us not forget our companions in misfortune any more than those in our prosperity."
The Prince made the politest of bows, and said he was completely under the Lady Sabrina's directions. "Then come with me," she said, and led the way till they reached a vast castle of brass, with battlements and towers glittering in the sun. "Within this castle lie imprisoned six valiant knights, worthy champions of Christendom, bemoaning their hard fate, and longing to be free. Had the vile Kalyb retained her power, you would have been shut up there likewise. But know, brave Prince, as by your perseverance, valour, and judgment you have overcome her and her enchantments, it is destined that you shall become the seventh and most renowned of all, and so I hail you as 'Saint George of Merrie England.' Thus you shall be called for ages yet to come, wherever England's might and England's deeds throughout the world are known." The roseate hue of modesty suffused the cheek of the young knight as he heard these words, and he vowed that he would ever strive to prove worthy of the honourable title he had received.
Then thrice he struck the gates of the brazen castle. The portals flew open, and he and the Fairy entering, found the six knights sitting lonely and sad in separate chambers, not knowing what had happened. They started as they heard the voice of Sabrina mentioning their names.
"The first is Saint Denis of France," said she. With many a bow he rapidly sprang forward and saluted Saint George. The second, Saint James of Spain, slowly stalked on, and lifting his casque bowed haughtily. The third, Saint Anthony of Italy, advanced more rapidly, and, with a flourish of his helmet, gave him an embrace. Saint Andrew of Scotland, the fourth, rising from his couch, inquired whence he had come, and whither he was going, and thanked him for the valour he had displayed; while Saint Patrick, the fifth, almost wrung off his hand, as he expressed his delight in meeting so gallant a knight; and the sixth, Saint David of Wales, vowed that no pleasure could surpass what he felt at being thus set free by a knight second only to himself in all knightly accomplishments.
Besides the knights, six faithful squires, who had followed their fortunes for many years, lay imprisoned in a separate dungeon. These also Saint George had the great satisfaction of setting free; when once more they rejoined their beloved masters, and assisted, as was their wont, in preparing them for their journey.
Then Saint George and all the knights, following Sabrina, led the way to the stables of the castle, where stood, ready caparisoned, seven of the most superb steeds mortal eye ever beheld. "Six of them are for those brave knights," she said; "the seventh, Bayard by name, is reserved for you; while six other most excellent horses are for their six faithful squires."
The knights, eager to be gone, mounted their steeds, as did their squires theirs, while Sabrina conducted Saint George back to the castle, where, in a chamber, hung numberless suits of the most magnificent armour. Choosing out the strongest corselet, Sabrina buckled it on his breast; she laced on his helmet, and completely clothed him in glittering steel. Then bringing forth a mighty falchion, she placed it in his hand, and said:—"No monarch was ever clothed in richer armour. Of such strength and invincible power is your steed, that while you are on his back no knight shall be able to conquer you. Your armour is of steel so pure that no battle-axe can bruise, no weapon pierce it. Your sword, which is called Ascalon, was made by the Cyclops. It will hew asunder the hardest flint, or cut the strongest steel, and in its pummel such magic virtue lies, that neither treason nor witchcraft can prevail against you, or any violence be offered as long as you wear it."
The good fairy thus having spoken, Saint George, fully caparisoned, went forth from the castle, and mounting Bayard, prepared with the other champions to leave the Black Forest—Sabrina, in her own chariot, drawn by ten peacocks, leading the way. Just then a stranger appeared in sight, sad and sorrowful, travelling on.
"De Fistycuff!" exclaimed Saint George, in a cheerful voice, "my honest parent's faithful squire." De Fistycuff started, as well he might, and rushed forward. He knew the voice, but whence it had come he could not tell. Saint George tore off his corselet, and exposed to view the green dragon on his bosom. Thus De Fistycuff knew who it was, and, embracing him, burst into tears. Having recovered himself, and once more buckled on his young master's armour, De Fistycuff mounted his steed.
Then the whole party set forward, and travelled on till they reached the coast. Then they took shipping, and, at Saint George's particular request, proceeded to his paternal castle, near the beautiful city of Coventry. There having dwelt for the space of nine months, and erected a sumptuous monument over the grave of the hapless princess, Saint George's mother, they expressed their desire to set forth once more in search of those noble adventures to which they had devoted their lives. Saint George, nothing loath, promised to accompany them, and the faithful De Fistycuff entreated that he might not be left behind; so, all accoutred, and lavishly supplied with everything they required, they set forth with their faithful squires, and travelled on till the time arrived for their separating in different directions. What then befell them, and what wondrous deeds they performed, shall in course of time be told.
THE ADVENTURES OF SAINT GEORGE OF ENGLAND.
The Seven Champions having crossed the British Channel to France, and traversed that lovely country, where they banqueted, to their heart's content, on fricassees and ragouts, washed down by huge draughts of Burgundy and claret, reached at length a broad plain where stood a brazen pillar. Here seven ways met, and here the noble knights, with many a flourish of their spears and not a few in their speeches, though history does not record them, parted with expressions of mutual esteem, to follow out with their faithful squires their separate adventures.
Saint George, accompanied only by the faithful De Fistycuff, at once passed over to the coast of Africa, knowing full well that in that unknown land of wonders he was more likely to meet with adventures worthy of his prowess than in any other part of the world. He journeyed on for many a mile over burning sands, his polished steel armour glittering in the sun, striking terror into all beholders, and almost blinding his poor squire, who, hot and panting, followed him wearily.
Far across the plains of Africa he travelled till he reached the very ancient, though little known kingdom of Timbuctoo. King Bobadildo, the sable monarch of that empire, so wonderfully renowned in its own annals, if not in those of other countries, received him with all the courtesy due to his rank as a British knight, and the renown which the faithful De Fistycuff, who never lost an opportunity of putting in a good word for his master, stated that he intended to acquire.
The Knight was feasted sumptuously, and magnificent shows were got up for his entertainment, while the King, who had taken a great fancy to him, from believing that he would be of great use in leading his warriors to the fight against the enemies of his realm, pressed him to remain, hoping that by his falling in love with his lovely daughter he might be induced to become his son-in-law. The colour of the young princess's complexion, which was of the most sable hue, shining lustrously with palm oil, although much admired in her native country, was to the British knight an insuperable objection to a closer alliance than that of the friendship he enjoyed, though he did not say so; but stated that he was anxious to go where glory awaited him, and that all matrimonial arrangements he must defer till he had won that fame for which his heart panted.
Accordingly, the next morning, followed by De Fistycuff, who had some difficulty in buckling his belt after the good fare he had enjoyed, he set forth from the southern gate of the capital towards the unknown regions which lay beyond. The sweet Princess looked out of a turret window, and waved her coal-black hand, while tears coursed each other down her sable cheeks as she saw the Knight going away and leaving her all forlorn; for in her bright eyes not one of the neighbouring princes, nor any of her father's courtiers, could in any way be compared to the gallant Saint George. Many other sweet princesses, at the various courts he visited in his travels, held the same opinion—a circumstance which caused a considerable amount of perplexity to the gentle-hearted and gallant Knight. As she gazed she sighed, and then she sang words to the following effect:—
"Go away, go away, oh, hard-hearted knight, Go away to glory and fame; If you ever come back You'll not find me slack To change my state and name!"
Much relieved by the impromptu expressions of her feelings, she turned from the window, Saint George having disappeared among the distant sand-heaps, and went to attend her honoured sire at his matutinal meal.
Saint George and his Squire travelled on day after day, mounting higher and higher till they reached a region where the heat was no longer so oppressive as in the plains, and where scenes new and beautiful opened on their enravished sight.
There were beautiful lakes of the clearest water, full of fish of strange shapes and gorgeous hues, which swam up to the surface, and gazed with curious eyes at the strangers. The trees and shrubs were of the most gigantic proportions, the former towering high into the sky, and a single leaf affording ample shade to the Knight and Squire and their horses. So luscious and luxuriant, too, was the grass that a few tufts were sufficient for a meal for the noble steeds, and put such strength and spirit into them, that, in spite of the fatigues they underwent, they were ever ready for any task they might be called on to perform. Even the shrubs were so high that they could ride beneath some of them. Others were covered with leaves of such thickness that a spear could scarcely pierce them, while they were armed with spikes of length so formidable that it was dangerous to approach the branches, and impossible to force a passage through them. Strange, too, were the plants. Some were like a mass of twisting serpents which wriggled about and hissed as the travellers passed, and though Saint George cut off their heads with his sword, they so quickly again grew up that he perceived that the attempt to destroy them was labour lost.
"So is it," he moralised, "with vicious propensities; the nature of the plant must be changed, or the branches will spring forth, and evil fruit will continually be produced." Other plants of the most fantastic shapes and most lovely hues seemed endued with life. One covering a wide circle of ground, and tinted with every colour of the rainbow, they stopped to admire. Suddenly it darted forth feelers of great length high into the air, and drew back hundreds of gay-coloured butterflies, and moths, and beetles, which were flying near.
Numerous birds also of the most gorgeous plumage, which darted down, attracted by the flies, were seized hold of and dragged within the capacious mouth of the plant.
"On, on," cried Saint George, pricking forward his steed. "If we stop to admire all these separate wonders we shall never attain the great objects of our expedition." The Squire if he heard did not heed his master, for he kept gazing at the proceedings of the strange plant, and trying to count the number of insects it gobbled up in a minute. Thoughtlessly he drew closer and closer, till suddenly the monster plant darted forth all its feelers and grasped him round the body. He felt himself dragged helplessly towards the capacious maw where he had already seen so many creatures conveyed. "Oh, master, master! help, help!" he shouted at the top of his voice, though a feeler getting round his neck almost stopped his breath.
Saint George, seeing what had occurred, spurred back in hot haste, and, slashing away with his trusty falchion, severed the feelers after vast exertions and rescued his frightened squire.
"If you had done as I told you this would not have happened," he observed, as he freed him from the thick masses of sinew which surrounded his body. "Oh, De Fistycuff, remember to do right and what you are bid by those who know best what is for your good, and then don't fear the consequences; but never stand gazing at what is bad or dangerous, and fancy that you run no risk of being drawn into the snare laid for you!"
The Squire listened respectfully to his master's lecture, and then followed him at a humble distance, resolving to profit by his advice.
Night with her sable wings was about to overspread the earth, and the tall woods resounded with strangest cries, and shrieks, and hisses of the wonderful wild animals which roamed through them, when the Knight thought it high time to look about for some place of shelter, where, free from their attacks, he and his squire might repose till the return of the rosy dawn would enable them to discern their foes, and face them bravely.
A large rock appeared before them. Within it was a cave with a rude porch in front. In this rough habitation dwelt a hermit, whose voice they heard bewailing the sad fate to which his country was doomed. The Knight entered; a lamp stood on a table in the centre of the cave. The hermit rose from his couch and welcomed Saint George and De Fistycuff. He was a venerable man, with a long beard of silvery whiteness; and as he tottered forward he seemed bowed almost to the ground with the weight of years.
"Gladly will I afford you shelter and such food as my cell can furnish, most gallant Knight," he said; and, suiting the action to the word, he placed a variety of provisions on the table. "I need not inquire to what country you belong, for I see by the arms of England engraven on your burgonet whence you come. I know the knights of that land are brave and gallant, and ready to do battle in aid of the distressed. Here, then, you will find an opportunity for distinguishing yourself by a deed which will make your name renowned throughout the world."
Saint George pricked up his ears at this, and eagerly inquired what it was. "This, you must understand, most noble Knight, is the renowned territory of Bagabornabou, second to none in the world in importance in the opinion of its inhabitants. None was so prosperous, none so flourishing, when a most horrible misfortune befell the land, in the appearance of a terrific green dragon, of huge proportions, who ranges up and down the country, creating devastation and dismay in every direction. No corner of the land is safe from his ravages; no one can hope to escape the consequences of his appearance. Every day his insatiable maw must be fed with the body of a young maiden, while so pestiferous is the breath which exhales from his throat that it causes a plague of a character so violent that whole districts have been depopulated by it. He commences his career of destruction at dawn every morning, and till his victim is ready he continues to ravage the land. When he has swallowed his lamentable repast he remains asleep till next morning, and then he proceeds as before.
"Many attempts have been made to capture him during the night, but they have proved as fruitless as trying to catch a weasel (if you happen to have heard of such an animal, Saint George, in your travels) asleep. Fruitless I will not say to him, for he has invariably destroyed the brave men who have gone out to attack him, and has swallowed them for his supper. For no less than twenty-four long years has this dreadful infliction been suffered by our beloved country, till scarcely a maiden remains alive, nor does a brave man continue in it. The most lovely and perfect of her sex, the King's only daughter, the charming Sabra, is to be made an offering to the fell dragon to-morrow, unless a knight can be found gallant and brave enough to risk his life in mortal combat with the monster, and with skill and strength sufficient to destroy him.
"The King has promised, in his royal word, that, should such a knight appear and come off victorious, he will give him his daughter in marriage and the crown of Bagabornabou at his decease."
"Ah!" exclaimed the English Knight, his whole countenance beaming with satisfaction, "here is a deed to be done truly worthy of my prowess! What think you of that, reverend hermit?" And he bared his breast, exhibiting the portrait of the green dragon which had been marked there at his birth.
"A circumstance ominous of deep import," observed the Hermit, nodding his head; "either the green dragon will kill you, or you will kill the green dragon."
"Now, by my halidom, but I fully purpose to kill the dragon and rescue the Princess," cried the Knight, in a cheerful voice. "Won't we, my brave De Fistycuff?"
"What men dare they can do," answered the Squire, nodding his head, for he was very sleepy.
Accordingly, the hermit having prepared couches of leaves, the Knight and his attendant rested till the cheerful cock, true messenger of day, gave notice that the sun was about to uprise from his sandy bed. Then, springing to his feet after a hurried meal, aided by his squire and the trembling fingers of the hermit, he carefully buckled on his armour, and mounting his richly caparisoned steed, he declared himself ready for the combat. Followed by De Fistycuff, and preceded by the hermit on a mule, who went to show the way, he proceeded to the valley where the dragon was asleep, and where the King's daughter was to be offered up as a sacrifice.
As he came in sight of it his eyes rested on one of the sweetest and most lovely maidens he had ever beheld, arrayed in pure white Arabian silk, and led to the place of death by a numerous band of sage and modest matrons, who mourned with bitter tears her hard fate.
This melancholy spectacle still further stimulated the overflowing courage of the English Knight, so spurring on towards the mourning group, he assured the lovely maiden that he was prepared to battle bravely in her cause, and entreated her to return to her father's court till the result of the coming contest became known.
"He'll do it if it is to be done," observed De Fistycuff, wishing to add his mite of consolation to the ladies' hearts, and pointing to his master, who had ridden slowly on; and having thus delivered himself he spurred after him.
The daring Knight and his faithful squire now entered the valley where the terrific green dragon had his abode. No sooner did the fiery eyes of the hideous monster fall on the steel-clad warrior, instead of the fair maiden he expected to see, than from his leathern throat he sent forth a cry of rage louder and more tremendous than thunder, and arousing himself he prepared for the contest about to occur. As he reared up on his hind legs, with his wings outspread, and his long scaly tail, with a huge red fork, extending far away behind him, his sharp claws wide open, each of the size of a large ship's anchor, his gaping mouth armed with double rows of huge teeth, between which appeared a fiery red tongue, and vast eyes blazing like burning coals, while his nostrils spouted forth fire, and the upper part of his body was covered with glittering green scales brighter than polished silver, and harder than brass, the under part being of a deep golden hue, his appearance might well have made even one of the bravest of men unwilling to attack him.
Saint George trembled not, but thought of the lovely Sabra, and nerved himself for the encounter. De Fistycuff did not like his looks, and had he been alone would have been tempted to beat a retreat, but his love for his master kept him by his side.
"See," said the Hermit, who had come thus far, "there is the dragon! He is a monster huge and horrible; but I believe that, like other monsters, by bravery and skill he can be overcome. See, the valley is full of fruit-trees! Should he wound you, and should you faint, you will find one bearing oranges of qualities so beneficial, that, should you be able to procure one plucked fresh from the tree, it will instantly revive you. Now, farewell! See, the brute is approaching!"
"Remember," cried Saint George, turning to De Fistycuff, "this fight is to be all my own. You stand by and see fair play. Only, if I am down, and the brute dares to hit me, then rush in to my rescue." The faithful squire nodded his assent.
On came the monster dragon, flapping his wings, spouting fire from his nostrils, and roaring loudly with his mouth. Saint George couched his sharp spear, and spurring his steed, dashed onward to the combat. So terrific was the shock that the Knight was almost hurled from his saddle, while his horse, driven back on his haunches, lay, almost crushed, beneath the monster's superincumbent weight; but both man and steed extricating themselves with marvellous agility, Saint George made another thrust of his spear, with all his might, against the scaly breast of the dragon. He might as well have struck against a gate of brass.
In a moment the stout spear was shivered into a thousand fragments, and the dragon uttered a loud roar of derision. At the same time, to show what he could do, he whisked round his venomous pointed tail with so rapid a movement that he brought both man and horse sorely bruised to the ground.
There they lay, almost senseless from the blow, while the dragon retreated backward some hundred paces or more, with the intention of coming back with greater force than before, and completing the victory he had almost won. Happily De Fistycuff divined the monster's purpose, and seeing one of the orange-trees of which the hermit had spoken, he picked an orange and hurried with it to his master.
Scarcely had the Knight tasted it than he felt his strength revive, and leaping to his feet, he gave the remainder of it to his trusty steed, on whose back instantly mounting, he stood prepared, with his famous sword Ascalon in his hand, to receive the furious charge which the dragon was about to make.
Though his spear had failed him at a pinch, his trusty falchion was true as ever; and making his horse spring forward, he struck the monster such a blow on his golden-coloured breast that the point entered between the scales, inflicting a wound which made it roar with pain and rage.
Slight, however, was the advantage which the Knight thereby gained, for there issued forth from the wound so copious a stream of black gore, with an odour so terrible, that it drove him back, almost drowning him and his brave steed, while the noxious fumes, entering their nostrils, brought them both fainting and helpless to the ground.
De Fistycuff, mindful of his master's commands, narrowly eyed the dragon, to see what he was about to do. Staunching his wound with a touch of his fiery tail, he flapped his green wings, roaring hoarsely, and shook his vast body, preparatory to another attack on the Knight.
"Is that it?" cried the Squire; and running to the orange-tree, whence he plucked a couple of the golden fruit, he poured the juice of one down the throat of his master, and of the other down that of Bayard. Both revived in an instant, and Saint George, springing on Bayard's back, felt as fresh and ready for the fight as ever. Both had learned the importance of avoiding the dragon's tail, and when he whisked it on one side Bayard sprang to the other, and so on backwards and forwards, nimbly avoiding the blows aimed by the venomous instrument at him or his rider.
Again and again the dragon reared itself up, attempting to drop down and crush his gallant assailant; but Bayard, with wonderful sagacity comprehending exactly what was to be done, sprung backwards or aside each time the monster descended, and thus avoided the threatened catastrophe. Still the dragon appeared as able as ever to endure the combat. Saint George saw that a strenuous effort must be made, and taking a fresh grasp of Ascalon, he spurred onward to meet the monster, who once more advanced, with outstretched wings, with the full purpose of destroying him. This time Saint George kept his spurs in the horse's flanks. "Death or victory must be the result of this charge," he shouted to De Fistycuff.
With Ascalon's bright point kept well before him, he drove directly at the breast of the monster. The sword struck him under the wing; through the thick flesh it went, and nothing stopped it till it pierced the monster's heart. Uttering a loud groan, which resounded through the neighbouring woods and mountains, and made even the wild beasts tremble with consternation, the furious green dragon fell over on its side, when Saint George, drawing his falchion from the wound, dashed on over the prostrate form of the monster, and, ere it could rise to revenge itself on its destroyer, with many a blow he severed the head from the body. So vast was the stream which flowed forth from the wound that the whole valley speedily became a lake of blood, and the river which ran down from it first gave notice, by its sanguineous hue, to the inhabitants of the neighbouring districts that the noble Champion of England had slain their long tormenting enemy.
The victorious Knight now refreshed himself and his steed with a couple of the oranges which De Fistycuff brought him, and which completely restored them to the vigour with which they began the combat. He then stuck the huge head of the once terrific dragon on a truncheon, which was formed by his faithful Squire out of the handle of the spear, the head of which had been shivered against the scaly sides of the monster at the commencement of the combat.
Having delivered the trophy of his prowess to De Fistycuff, to be borne before him, he rode on towards the capital of the kingdom, where he expected to be welcomed by the lovely Sabra, to be received by the sovereign and his people as a conqueror, to have heard all the bells in the empire ringing, and to have seen every house illuminated, and bonfires blazing in every street. He had to learn the bitter lesson that success frequently only creates enemies and detractors.
Now, there was residing at the court of King Battabolo, the sovereign of Bagabornabou, Almidor, the black King of Morocco, who had long in vain sought the hand of the Princess Sabra. For many reasons she could not abide him; and now, when he heard of the successful combat of Saint George with the dragon, he knew that he should have less chance than ever of winning her love. With baseness unparalleled he resolved to make one desperate effort to gain her. Accordingly, he, by the most extensive promises, engaged the services of twelve warriors of renown to waylay the British Champion, in order to deprive him of his trophy and of his life, intending to present himself before the fair Sabra, and to boast that he had himself destroyed the dragon.
Passing through a narrow defile, Saint George beheld the twelve African knights flourishing their swords, and prepared to intercept his progress.
"Take charge of Bayard," quoth he to De Fistycuff; "I'll meet these recreants sword in hand on foot." Thus speaking, he drew Ascalon from the scabbard, and advanced towards his foes. From the narrowness of the defile only three could engage in the fight at once. Sharply clashed the steel. Loud rang their swords upon his polished armour; but Ascalon soon found an entrance through their coats of mail, and one after the other fell breathless to the ground. Three more then came on; but standing on the bodies of the prostrate steeds, he with one stroke of his falchion severed their heads from their bodies, which rolled over in the ensanguined dust. With three equal downward strokes he cut in two, from the crown to the saddle, the next three which advanced, while the remainder turning to fly, he pierced them with Ascalon ignominiously through the back.
Almidor had all the time stood on the summit of a mountain hard by to witness the defeat of the British Champion; but when he saw that instead he remained victor of the field, he hastened back to the city to announce the death of the dragon by the sword of the strange Knight. Pen might fail to do justice to the magnificent preparations made to do honour to the brave Champion who had conquered the Green Dragon. As he approached the city he was met by a sumptuous chariot of massive gold, drawn by fifty milk-white steeds; the wheels were of the purest ebony, and the covering was of silk embossed with gold. On either side rode a hundred of the noblest peers of Bagabornabou, attired in crimson velvet, and mounted on chargers of the same pure colour as those which drew the chariot. Stepping into the chariot, while De Fistycuff led Bayard with one hand, and carried aloft the dragon's head with the other, he entered the city amid strains of delicious and martial music, and beneath banners and embroidered tapestry and rich arras waving from every window, from which looked down thousands of bright eyes to admire him. But none were so bright as those of the beauteous Sabra, who welcomed him in a rich pavilion prepared for his reception, where he laid at her feet the trophies of his prowess; and as she gazed at the dragon's monstrous jaws she shuddered to think that she might have had to go down them, and felt her gratitude and eke a warmer feeling increase for the gallant stranger who had preserved her from a fate so terrible.
Here all the first physicians in the land stood around with precious salves to dress his wounds, and administer specifics against the effects of the dragon's poisonous breath and venom. The Knight, having requested that they might all be left by his bed-side, and that he might be left alone, aided by De Fistycuff, emptied them all out of the window, and having declared himself next morning infinitely better, thereby gained immense popularity among the disciples of Aesculapius, who each rested under the pleasing belief that his own nostrum had worked the cure.
THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF SAINT GEORGE.
No sooner had the blushing morn displayed her beauties in the east, and gilded with her radiant beams the mountain tops, than Sabra repaired to the Champion's pavilion, and presented him with a diamond ring of inestimable value, which she prayed him to wear on his finger, not only as an ornament, but because it was endued with many excellent and occult virtues.
That day the British Champion was entertained with one of the most magnificent banquets that had ever taken place in Africa. Ample justice was done to it by all present, especially by De Fistycuff, who eat away most heartily, and quaffed down huge beakers of rosy wine—all, as he declared, for the honour of Old England. Ere the feast was ended, Almidor, the black King of Morocco, under pretence of doing honour to the Christian Knight, rose from his seat, and presented him with a bowl of Samian wine. The noble Champion took it, thoughtless of treachery; but as he lifted it to his lips the magic ring touched the rim, when, to the astonishment of all present, it shivered into a thousand fragments. The Princess Sabra shrieked out that some vile treachery was intended; but so firm was the confidence of the King, her father, in the honour of Almidor, that he refused to credit the accusation.
Thus a second time was Saint George saved from the machinations of his enemy. Like a lynx, however, Almidor watched for another opportunity of gratifying his hatred.
In tournaments, dances, and other heroic exercises, the Champion passed his time, until the faithful De Fistycuff reminded him that he was sadly wasting it, if he wished to gain a name to be handed down to posterity. "You are right, my faithful monitor," he answered, "I'll bid farewell to the Princess, and be gone."
The Knight found out Sabra seated in a bower of jessamine. He told her his errand. "Refuse not," she replied, "my dear, loved lord of England, her who, for thy sake, would leave parents, country, and the inheritance of the crown of Bagabornabou, and would follow thee as a pilgrim through the wide world. The sun shall sooner lose his splendour, the pale moon drop from her orb, the sea forget to ebb and flow, and all things change their course, than Sabra prove inconstant to Saint George of England. Let, then, the priest of Hymen knit that gordian knot, the knot of wedlock, which death alone has power to untie."
The Champion, suddenly recollecting that it was leap year, and delighted with the maiden who had so ably put in a word in her own favour, allowed his heart, which had never before beat with any other passion but that of arms, to yield to the tender one of love. Yet, willing to try her longer, he replied—"Sweet Princess, not content that I have risked my life to preserve yours, would you have me sacrifice my honour, give over the chase of dazzling glory, lay all my warlike trophies in a woman's lap, and change my truncheon for a distaff? No, Sabra, George of England was born in a country where true chivalry is nourished, and hath sworn to see the world, as far as the lamp of heaven can lend him light, before he is fettered in the golden chains of wedlock. Why decline the suit of King Almidor, fit consort for one of your high rank?"
"Because," she replied, with a curl of her lip, "the fell King of Morocco is more bloody-minded than a crocodile, but thou gentle as a lamb; his tongue more ominous of ill than that of a screeching night-owl, but thine sweeter than the morning lark; his touch more odious than that of a venomous serpent, but thine more pleasant than that of the curling vine."
"But stay, Princess," put in Saint George; "I am a Christian—you a Pagan."
"I've thought of that," she replied. "I will forsake my country's gods, and, like you, become a Christian." Saying this she broke a golden ring, giving, as a pledge of her love, one-half to the Knight, and keeping the other herself.
Thereon Saint George, resisting no longer, owned his love, and promised, on his knightly word, to come back when he had achieved a few more heroic deeds and wed her.
The treacherous Almidor, hiding behind the jessamine bower, had overheard all the uncomplimentary references to himself, and, burning with a desire of vengeance, hastened to the King, and told him that his daughter intended quitting the faith of her ancestors and flying with the Christian Knight. This so enraged the King that, yielding to the suggestions of the wicked Almidor, he agreed to send him, with treacherous intent, to the court of Egypt, as bearer of a sealed letter, in which document he entreated King Ptolemy to take an early opportunity of destroying one who was a despiser and uprooter of their ancient belief. Summoning Saint George, with expressions of great esteem, while Almidor stood at his right hand, glancing unutterable hatred from his large eyes, the King informed him that to do him honour he would send him as an ambassador to the court of the magnificent Sovereign of Egypt, a country in which he was sure to meet with adventures worthy of his arms.
The true-hearted Knight fell into the trap, and, dazzled with the thought of fresh adventures, agreed to set forth. Summoning De Fistycuff, he buckled on his armour, and set out towards the rising of the sun. Many adventures he met with; many monsters he slew. On approaching the famed river Nile, De Fistycuff, weary with the heat, sat himself down on what he took to be the trunk of a large tree, fastening the bridle of his steed to, as he believed, one of the branches, while his master was scouring over the plain after a troop of tawny lions, which had been committing great depredations in the neighbouring lands. Sleep overtook the Squire. He slept he knew not how long, when he was awoke by the loud snorts and cries of his steed, and by finding himself borne along in a most uneasy manner. What was his horror, on opening his eyes, to discover a huge head, with terrific jaws, projecting from the seeming log before him, snapping at everything as it moved swiftly towards the broad stream of the Nile, while his horse, frantic with terror, was tugging at the bridle behind, in vain attempting to get loose, or stop the progress of the monster, which was one of the largest of the crocodiles of that famed stream, and held in especial reverence by the heathen priests of that district! The Squire dared not jump off, for fear of being trampled on by the hind feet of the brute, nor could he, for reasons into which most stout squires will enter, leap on to his horse's back and cut the bridle, so he sat still, waving and shouting to Saint George to come to his assistance. At last, Saint George, having killed a dozen of the lions, beheld the peril of his faithful follower, and spurred onward to his aid. Charging with a new spear, which had been presented to him by the matrons of Bagabornabou, as a mark of their admiration of his prowess in having slain the dragon, he bore down upon the crocodile. He charged directly at its mouth, and inflicted a deep wound in its throat. The monster snapped its jaws, hoping to bite off the spear-head; but the Knight was too quick for him, and again had his spear ready for another thrust. Again he charged, putting out the brute's right eye; and the third time he charged the left was driven in. All the time the crocodile was wriggling his tail, greatly to the terror of the horse and the discomfort of De Fistycuff, who found himself every moment borne nearer and nearer to the Nile. "One charge more, and you shall be safe," cried the Knight; and, true to his word, his spear entered the monster's heart, and it rolled over, very nearly, however, crushing the faithful Squire by its weight. Scarcely had De Fistycuff been liberated by his kind master's aid, and set on his steed, than there sallied forth from a heathen temple hard by a procession of priests, some walking under silk or velvet canopies of crimson or yellow, or blue and gold; others swinging censers of incense; and others bearing aloft on platforms large images of white bulls and apes, and snakes and crocodiles, while gay banners floated in the air. When they beheld the huge monster just slain they all set up loud lamentations, bitterly cursing whoever had destroyed this their god.
"Now, by my halidom, this is more than I can bear!" cried Saint George. "On, De Fistycuff, on! Down with the infidels!"
With this shout he and his Squire rode in among them, overthrowing their canopies and images, tearing down their banner, and putting the priests and their followers to flight.
King Ptolemy, having heard of this deed, sent forth a hundred of his best warriors, to bring before him in chains the audacious strangers; but Saint George treated them much the same as he did the knights of Bagabornabou, and not one returned alive to tell of their defeat.
Then he rode on to the city of Memphis, to deliver his letter. Weary and faint from his fatigues, instead of meeting with the reception he had a right to expect, he and his Squire found themselves surrounded by the whole populace of the city, set on by the King and his ministers. The gates were shut. Brickbats and tiles came showering down on their heads. In vain they charged right and left.
Aided by a thousand warriors, clad in chain armour, the infuriated populace, threatening vengeance on the despisers of their religion, hemmed them in. De Fistycuff was torn from his horse. Saint George, after performing feats of unheard-of valour, was ignominiously dragged from his, and borne, faint and bleeding, into the presence of the King.
"Is this the way you treat strangers?" exclaimed he, indignantly. "I came to your country as an ambassador. Here are my credentials;" and, drawing the letter from the lining of his helmet, he presented it in due form.
"Ah! ah! what you are your deeds and this letter show," cried King Ptolemy, stamping with rage. "You despise our ancient religion, and would make converts of our people. Bear him and his attendant off to prison."
The King pondered all night how he should destroy the strangers, and he resolved to make them join in combat with a hundred of the fiercest lions ever collected, to make sport for his subjects. The day arrived when the dreadful combat was to take place, and thousands of people assembled in the vast amphitheatre built for the purpose, to which even the huge pyramids seemed as pismires' nests.
Saint George claimed the right of having his sword and steed; and the King, little dreaming of the courage and sagacity of Bayard, and the virtues which existed in Ascalon, and believing that, although a few lions might be killed thereby, greater sport would be afforded to his people, as he had no doubt the rest would easily tear him from his horse, and crush him in his armour, granted his request.
With a flourish of trumpets the Knight and his Squire entered the arena. De Fistycuff kept carefully behind his master. With terrific roars the hundred lions rushed in at once, amidst the loud plaudits of the spectators. On they bounded towards the Knight. Ascalon was in his hand. One after the other their heads fell, severed from their tawny bodies by the trusty steel. The Squire's chief labour was to keep them off Bayard's tail, lest, when he flung his heels out behind, the Champion's aim might be less certain. The plaudits of the spectators were changed to groans of rage when they saw the carcasses of their favourite lions, who had already swallowed so many thousand slaves, strewing the wide arena. They shouted loudly to have an end put to the pleasant pastime.
"Fair play!" cried De Fistycuff, in return brandishing his sword. "In the name of my noble master, I demand fair play!"
And Saint George went on riding round and round, and slashing away with Ascalon, till he had slain every one of the hundred lions.
The treacherous King, fearing what might occur should so brave a champion wander freely through his dominions, had, in the meantime, summoned five thousand chosen warriors, and charged them to bring the Knight, dead or alive, bound before him. Scarcely was the last lion killed than they rushed into the arena, and before he and his squire had time to offer any effectual resistance, they had borne him to the ground. Then, throwing chains of steel around him, they carried him, helpless as an infant, before the King. Thence, without form of trial, he was cast into a dungeon, so massive that no strength could break through it. There, guarded night and day by lynx-eyed warders, he languished for many long years, his only companion being the faithful De Fistycuff; their chief subject of conversation being the deeds that they had done, and the wonders they had seen, and the deeds they would do, and the wonders they hoped to see.
There we must leave them, to tell what became of the Princess Sabra. In vain she waited and pined for the return of her gallant and true knight, Saint George. He came not, because, as has been seen, he could not, while the black King of Morocco, with every art he could devise, prosecuted his hateful suit. Whether or not he might have succeeded is doubtful, when one night, as the Princess slept on her couch she dreamed that Saint George appeared, not, as she had seen him, in shining armour, with his burgonet of glittering steel, and crimson plume of spangled feathers, but in overworn and simple attire, with pale countenance and emaciated form; and thus he spoke:—
"Sabra, I am betray'd for love of thee, And lodged in cave as dark as night, From whence in vain I seek—ah! woe is me! To fly and revel in thy beauteous sight. Remain thou true and constant for my sake, That of my absence none may vantage take.
"Let tyrants know, if ever I obtain The freedom lost by treason's wicked guile, False Afric's scourge I ever will remain, And turn to streaming blood Morocco's soil; That hateful Prince of Barbary shall rue The just reward which is his treason's due."
These words so encouraged the Princess that when she awoke she went to her sire, and entreated him, with scalding tears, to dismiss Almidor from his court, and to allow her to enjoy that single blessedness for which she professed to have for the present so ardent an admiration. The King at length, softened by her grief, consented to her request, and, with many courteous expressions, informed the black Monarch that his daughter had finally resolved to decline his proposals. This announcement created the greatest fury in the breast of Almidor.
Calling around him all the knights and the numerous other attendants who had followed him to the court of Bagabornabou, he told them that, as he had been insulted and deceived, he was determined to be revenged.
With loud cries and burning brands the treacherous Moors that night attacked the palace where they had been long hospitably entertained, and, amid the confusion, Almidor, seizing the Princess, bore her off on his coal-black charger. In vain her father with his warriors pursued. The fierce Almidor galloped with his captive across the burning sands, which none but Moorish steed could traverse at the speed he went. Hatred, not love, animated his bosom, and thus, instead of wedding her as he had purposed, he cast her into a dark dungeon, where, her beauteous charms concealed from the light of day, she for many a long and anxious year bewailed her pitiable and cruel fate. Happily, ere she left her father's home, a kind fairy, knowing full well what was to be her fate, had presented her with a golden chain of most rare workmanship. Seven days had it been steeped in tiger's blood, and seven nights in dragon's milk, by which it had attained such excellent virtue, that, as the fairy told her, if she wore it wrapped seven times round her alabaster neck, it would preserve her from all violence, and enable her to retain that enchanting beauty which had won the noble Champion's heart, and brought so many suitors to her feet. Thus armed, she feared not even the fierce Almidor's cruelty.
THE ADVENTURES OF SAINT DENIS OF FRANCE.
On parting from his comrades, the gallant Champion of France, the famed Saint Denis, attended by his squire, Le Crapeau, wandered away through many lands, slaying many hideous monsters, terrible wild beasts, and frightful giants, combating in many tournaments, and paying his devoirs to many fair princesses, as well as other maidens of high and low degree, in which latter employment he was closely imitated by his admiring Squire, who jocosely spoke of his master as "that gay young Knight who laughs and rides away." At length he reached a magnificent castle in Asia, surrounded by a forest of trees of every conceivable hue, and bearing fruits tempting to the eye and luscious to the taste.
"If the outside is so attractive, what must the inside be!" quoth he to Le Crapeau. "Marbleu! but we'll knock and see."
Thereupon the Squire blew the horn which hung at the iron gate; but instead of its being opened by a burly porter, or by a steel-clad warrior, a troop of fair damsels appeared, who, with sweet smiles, invited the Knight to enter, and told him that they would conduct him to their mistress. Joyfully he followed them, when, in a superb hall, he beheld, seated on an ivory throne, glittering with diamonds of the purest water, a lady of beauty more radiant than possessed by any of the many he counted among his acquaintance. With agile steps, and many a bow and flourish of his helmet, followed nimbly by Le Crapeau, he approached the lady, and knelt at her feet.
"Rise, rise, brave Knight! I have heard of your fame and the gallant deeds you have done, and gladly I welcome you to my humble castle," said the lady, with a smile so sweet that it went right through the tender heart of Saint Denis. He bowed, as did his Squire, and assured the lady that she was in no way deceived by the reports which had reached her ears, but that what they had done was as nothing compared with what they purposed to do, and would do most assuredly.
A magnificent banquet then suddenly appeared, spread out in the hall across which they had lately passed, and strains of softest music broke forth to give notice that the feast was ready. The lady, led by the Knight, approached the table, and he took his seat by her side, while Le Crapeau stood behind his chair, as in duty bound, to serve him.
"We should have guests to meet you," said the lady, "but I live alone, and your arrival was somewhat sudden, though not unexpected. I have sent forth to summon some to appear at a ball by-and-bye, as I fancy it is an entertainment in which your countrymen delight."
"Oui, Madam," cried Le Crapeau, making a pirouette expressive of his delight; "you will see what my master and I can do when the time comes."
Thus, with agreeable and lively conversation, ample justice was done to the feast, which was composed of the lightest and most delicate viands, such as the Knight vowed he had not tasted since he had left his native land.
While the Knight lay back in his chair, to luxuriate on the thought of the pleasure his palate had enjoyed, the banqueting-table disappeared, and when he looked up, troops of gallant knights, in silk attire, and fair dames, clad in the most dazzling garments, were entering the hall. Up sprang the Knight, and, offering his hand to the lady, he led her forth to the centre of the hall, where, to the admiration of all beholders, and very much to his own satisfaction, he performed a minuette never surpassed in all Asia. Le Crapeau, meantime, seeing another damsel of radiant beauty, inferior only to that of the lady of the castle, led her forth, and bounded away, round and round the hall, to strains of the most inspiriting and lively music. His only perplexity was discovering that his fair partner did not speak; indeed, although all the knights and ladies danced in the most lively way, closely imitating the two Frenchmen, not a sound escaped their lips. A variety of dances succeeded, in all of which the Knight and his Squire excelled all competitors; nor did the festivities cease till the rosy dawn appearing in the eastern sky, the guests disappeared as silently as they had entered from the hall, and the lady and the Knight and his Squire remained its sole occupants. Le Crapeau's partner was the last to quit it, and as he rushed after her to utter a tender adieu, instead of the lady, his nose came with such force in contact with a pillar that he was sent sprawling backwards into the hall.
"Never mind," said the lady, as he picked himself up, "you will see her to-morrow, and then remember the lesson you have just received, and don't talk nonsense to her."
A dozen very ugly little black dwarfs, bearing torches in their hands, now made their appearance, and conducted the Knight to a magnificent couch prepared for him, while another stood in an adjoining room, ready for Le Crapeau, after he had performed the duty of disrobing his master. The dwarfs meantime placed themselves at the door, and intimated that they would remain there to watch over the strangers while they slumbered.
After a matutinal meal of delicacies, of which even the Knight had never heard, the lady conducted him through the castle, and exhibited to him statues, and pictures, and gems most rare and beautiful, and then she led him through gardens full of flowers, shrubs, and trees, of forms and hues and scents most strange and lovely and sweet. Thus occupied, the banqueting time arrived, followed by a ball as on the previous evening.
Unhappily, Le Crapeau, forgetting the warning he had received, followed his partner as before, when a hand, coming suddenly out of the wall, gave him so severe a cuff upon the cheek that for many minutes he lay unable to move, when at length, much crest-fallen, he slowly crept back to his post behind his master.
Thus the days passed away. Sometimes the lady led the Knight forth, mounted on cream-coloured steeds; at others, in a chariot drawn by twenty beautiful peacocks; at others, they glided over the surface of a lake in a barge, towed by thirty milk-white swans, and visited scenes of the most enchanting beauty.
At length, however, the Knight began to weary of the monotony of his existence, and to sigh for fresh adventures and more excitement. The Squire, too, wished for change, and was not altogether pleased with the buffet he regularly got every evening at the termination of the ball.
"A parting scene is always painful," exclaimed the Knight.
"It is," answered the Squire. "I understand your wishes. I will have the steeds ready, and at early dawn we will ride forth, and leave a sweet-scented billet to thank the lady for her courtesy, and to inform her of our departure."
Less difficulty occurred in the execution of the design than might have been expected, and, rejoicing in their liberty, the Knight and his Squire rode gaily forth towards the confines of Armenia.
"But we have got well out of that," quoth the Squire to his master. "By my faith, I like more animation, less formality, and greater variety than we enjoyed down there."
"You speak the truth, my Le Crapeau; yet she was a sweet creature, that lady of the castle."
Now, the lady of the castle was no other than a powerful fairy, very kind and very woman-like, who had conceived an affection for the French Champion, when she chanced to see him as he journeyed through her realm. Even good fairies will inflict a punishment.
By means for which they could not account, the Knight and his Squire lost their way. Round and round they wandered among hills and forests, till hunger almost drove them to despair, when they were compelled to sustain nature on the berries and wild fruits which they could pluck from the trees and shrubs, and on the roots which they dug up with the points of their swords. After living many months on this hard fare a mulberry-tree, loaded with luscious fruit, appeared before them.
"Ah!" exclaimed Saint Denis, "on this at least we may banquet with some pleasure;" and filling his casque with the fruit, his example being imitated by Le Crapeau, they sat themselves down, with their head-pieces between their legs, to indulge, to their heart's content, in the unexpected treat.
The Knight, who eat more leisurely than his Squire, had scarcely finished his portion when he heard a loud bray close to him, and looking round, instead of his Squire, to his amazement he beheld a starved-looking donkey standing near him, and poking his nose into Le Crapeau's now empty casque.
While yet wondering and mechanically finishing his mulberries, he felt a very uncomfortable sensation coming over his own head and legs. He rose from the ground and shook himself, but instead of the accustomed rattle of his steel armour no sound was produced. He wished to scratch his nose, but his arms appeared kept down before him. He tried to call Le Crapeau, but instead of his manly voice, which had so often shouted loudly in the battle, a timid cry alone proceeded from his throat. He looked at the donkey, and the donkey looked at him, and shook its head with an expression truly mournful. Something strange must have occurred he feared.
Wherever he went the donkey followed. He wandered away from the mulberry-tree till he reached a lake of crystal water; he approached it, when, on its mirror-like surface, instead of a steel-clad warrior, he beheld a deer with long antlers and shaggy hide, he started back with dismay. When hunger pressed him he found himself cropping the grass or thrusting his nose into the purling brook, with his attendant donkey ever by his side. Pitiable as was Saint George's condition that of Saint Denis was infinitely worse.
Thus for many years he continued unable to recover his natural form. Often he returned to the mulberry-tree, the cause, as he believed, of his misfortune. It did not occur to him that the fairy, whose hospitality he had enjoyed, had anything to do with it. Once, as he came to the tree, so enraged was he that he ran his horns against it and nearly broke them. His attendant donkey did the same, and not having the same protection to his scull, he received a blow so severe that he was sent reeling backwards till he sunk exhausted on the ground. Saint Denis was a second time going to butt, when he heard a hollow voice breathe forth from the trunk the following words:—
"Cease to lament, thou famous man of France, With gentle ears, oh, listen to my moan! Once on a time it was my fatal chance To be the proudest maid that ere was known. By birth I am the daughter of a king, Though now a breathless tree and senseless thing.
"My pride was such that Heaven confounded me— A goddess in my own conceit I was: What nature lent too base I thought to be, But deem'd myself all others to surpass. And therefore nectar and ambrosia sweet, The food of demigods, for me I counted meet.
"My pride despised the finest bread of wheat, And richer food I daily sought to find; Refined gold was boil'd up with my meat, Such self-conceit my senses all did blind. For which the cruel fates transformed me, From human substance to this senseless tree.
"Seven years in shape of stag thou must remain, And then a purple rose, by magic's firm decree, Shall bring thee to thy former shape again, And end at last thy woeful misery: When this is done, be sure you cut in twain This fatal tree, wherein I do remain."
The Knight almost fainted when he heard these strange words, and understood the length of time he was to remain in his transformed condition. His attendant donkey had also heard the words, and treasured them up in his memory. Every day, while his master slept, he ranged the country round, searching for the purple rose, but every evening returned as wise as he set out. Thus the seven years passed mournfully away.
One day, unmindful how the time had sped, as he trotted on, every now and then stopping and uttering a melancholy bray, his nostrils scented the fragrance of some roses; and though his first impulse was to eat them, on examining them more closely, he observed that they were of lustrous beauty and of a purple hue. Plucking a number of them, he trotted back to Saint Denis. He would have brayed with delight, but, had he done so, he would have dropped the roses, so he restrained himself till he had laid them before his master's nose. Instantly the Knight began to devour them, as did the faithful donkey, when, a stupor coming over them, they couched down on the green-sward.
Presently extraordinary sensations came over them both, and the horns and hoofs began to loosen, and the skin to roll up in folds, and a refreshing shower falling, both Knight and Squire, on opening their eyes, discovered, to their infinite satisfaction, that they were no longer brute beasts, but that they had recovered their former comely shapes, and that their hairy hides lay vacant on the ground. Near them were their arms, now sadly in want of polishing, while their trusty steeds, long roaming the rich pastures around, no sooner beheld than recognising them, trotted up to bear them once more to the field of battle or of fame.
Their first care was to burnish up their armour and their weapons. For many a weary hour they rubbed.
"We might have saved ourselves all this trouble, and spent the last seven years more pleasantly and profitably, had we not idled away our time in the magnificent castle of that beautiful lady down there," observed Saint Denis, as he scrubbed away.
"Certes, Master dear, it's a failing I for one have when I get into the society of the fair sex, I feel little inclination to leave them; but we have had a pretty sharp lesson, and I hope to amend for the future."
The task was performed at last. Then the Champion, recollecting what the mulberry-tree had said, drew his sword, and with one blow cut the stout trunk quite asunder.
Instantly there issued forth a bright flame, from the midst of which appeared a lovely damsel, clothed in a robe of yellow silk, made from the cocoons of the innumerable silk-worms, which fed on the tree.
"Oh, most sweet and singular ornament of nature!" exclaimed the Knight, bowing low before her, as did his Squire; "fairer than the feathers of the graceful swan, and far more beautiful than Aurora's morning countenance, to thee, the fairest of all fair ones, most humbly and only to thy beauty do I here submit my affections. Tell me, therefore, to whom my heart must pay its true devotions, thy birth, parentage, and name."
The maiden, to whom it was long since such words had been addressed, was highly delighted with them, and informed the Knight that her name was Eglantine, that she was the daughter of the King of the neighbouring country, Armenia, and assured him that he would be welcomed at her father's court.
It is not recounted how many ferocious giants and furious lions he and Le Crapeau slew on the road while escorting the princess, though they were very numerous. They put to flight also a whole army of Pagans, who came to carry off their precious charge. Le Crapeau himself, however, took care not to omit the details, nor did Saint Denis pass them by in silence. The King of Armenia, who had long mourned his daughter as lost to him for ever, was so grateful to the French Knight that he at once promised her to him in marriage, and entertained him with the most sumptuous banquets and balls, and other pleasant divertisements which his court could produce.
THE ADVENTURES OF SAINT JAMES OF SPAIN.
Saint James, the Champion of Spain, on parting from his comrades at the brazen pillar, took ship, and was wrecked on the coast of Sicily.
Travelling through the island, followed by his Squire, Pedrillo, he reached the foot of Etna, then terrifically spouting forth vast masses of flame and boiling metal, and ashes, and smoke. Unappalled by the sight, he climbed the mountain's height, where, perched on a pinnacle of rock, appeared a mighty bird, with fiery pinions—a winged phoenix. No sooner did the monster see him than, darting down, it attacked him with its red-hot beak, for having dared thus to enter its dominions.
Saint James drew his trusty falchion, and, whirling it round his head, kept the fearful beak from approaching his helmet, for well he knew that one thrust from its deadly point would pierce through steel and skull as easily as a lady's bodkin through her kerchief.
The fearful combat lasted for many hours, till the monster, hopeless of triumph, flew back to its nest within the crater's fiery bosom.
The following day the fight was renewed, while the faithful Pedrillo stood at a distance, counting his rosaries, and called loudly on all the saints to aid his master. At length the Knight and the monster, seeing that no profit or glory was to be acquired, retired, by mutual consent, from the combat.
Saint James then passed into Africa, where, passing through a region infested by monsters, he slew so many that the inhabitants wished to adopt him as their Sovereign.
Crossing the Red Sea, he was once more shipwrecked, when, had not a troop of mermaids carried him and his Squire, with their horses and furniture to the shore, they would all have been drowned.
At length he reached the beautiful city of Ispahan, the capital of Persia. As he stood gazing on her fortified walls, built of pure silver; on her towers of jasper and ebony; on her glittering spires of gold and precious stones; on her houses of marble and alabaster, the streets between which were paved with tin—he heard the cheerful echoes of a thousand brazen trumpets, and saw issuing from the brazen gates a hundred armed knights, bearing blood-red streamers in their hands, and riding on as many coal-black coursers; then came the Shah, guarded by a hundred tawny Moors, with bows, and darts feathered with ravens' wings; and after them rode Celestine, the Shah's fair daughter, mounted on an unicorn, and guarded by a hundred Amazonian dames, clad in green silk. In her hand was a javelin of silver, while her fair bosom was shielded by a breastplate of gold, artificially wrought with the scales of a crocodile. A vast concourse of gentlemen and squires followed, some on horse-back and some on foot.
Thus Nebazaradan, the Shah of Persia, rode forth with his daughter to the chase.
The country had been terribly overrun with wild beasts, and the Knight heard it proclaimed that the Shah would give a corselet of finest steel, inlaid with gold, to whomsoever killed the first wild beast that day.
"Come," cried Saint James, "let us after the savage beasts, and win the corselet!"
Away scoured the Knight and his Squire over the plain till they reached a forest, in the confines of which they beheld a monstrous wild boar, devouring the remains of some passengers he had slain. The eyes of the brute sparkled like a furnace; his tusks were sharper than spikes of steel; and the breath, as it issued from his nostrils, seemed like a whirlwind; his bristles looked like so many spear-heads, and his tail was like a wreath of serpents.
Saint James blew his silver horn, which hung by a green silk scarf to the pommel of his saddle. The blast aroused the boar, who made at him furiously. His spear shivered against its bristly hide into a hundred fragments, when, leaping from his steed, which he directed Pedrillo to hold, he drew his falchion of Toledo steel, and valiantly on foot assailed the monster. From side to side he sprung to avoid its fearful tusks; but in vain did the point of his weapon seek an entrance to its case-hardened flesh. At last, unslinging his battle-axe, he clove the head of the monster down to the mouth, and with a second blow cut it completely off; then placing it on the staff of his spear, he ordered Pedrillo to bear it behind him.