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    Chapter 5

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    Chapter 6
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    Which tells how the Duchess took Honeybee and George to the Hermitage, and of their encounter with a hideous old woman

    That morning, it was the first Sunday after Easter, the Duchess rode out of the castle on her great sorrel horse, while on? her left George of Blanchelande was mounted on a dark horse with a white star on his black forehead, and on her right Honey-Bee guided her milk-white steed with rose-coloured reins. They were on their way to the Hermitage to hear mass. Soldiers armed with lances formed their escort and, as they passed, the people crowded forward to admire them, and, indeed, all three were very fair to see. Under a veil of silver flowers and with flowing mantle the Duchess had an air of lovely majesty; while the pearls with which her coif was embroidered shone with a soft radiance that well-suited the face and soul of this beautiful lady. George by her side with flowing hair and sparkling eyes was very good to see. And on the other side rode Honey-Bee, the tender and pure colour of her face like a caress for the eyes; but most glorious of all her fair tresses, flowing over her shoulders, held by a circlet of gold surmounted by three gold flowers, seemed the shining mantle of her youth and beauty. The good people said, on seeing her:

    "What a lovely young damsel."

    The master tailor, old Jean, took his grandson Peter in his arms to point out |Honey-Bce to him, and Peter asked was she alive or was she an image of wax, for he could not understand how any one could be so white and so lovely, and yet belong to the same race as himself, little Peter with his good big weather-beaten cheeks, and his little home-spun shirt laced behind in country fashion.

    While the Duchess accepted the people's homage with gracious kindness, the two children showed how it gratified their pride, George by his blushes, Honey-Bee by her smiles, and for this reason the Duchess said to them:

    "How kindly these good people greet us. For what reason, George? And what is the reason, Honey-Bee?"

    "So they should," said Honey-Bee.

    "It's their duty," George added.

    "But why should it be their duty?" asked the Duchess.

    And as neither replied, she continued:

    "I will tell you. For more than three hundred years the dukes of Clarides, from father to son, have lance in hand protected these poor people so that they could gather the harvests of the fields they had sown. For more than three hundred years all the duchesses of Clarides have spun the cloth for the poor, have visited the sick, and have held the new-born at the baptismal font. That is the reason they greet you, my children."

    George was lost in deep thought: "We must protect those who toil on the land," and Honcy-Bee said: "One should spin for the poor."

    And thus chatting and meditating they went on their way through meadows starred with flowers. A fringe of blue mountains lay against the distant horizon. George pointed towards the east.

    "Is that a great steel shield I see over there?"

    "Oh no," said Honey-Bee, "it's a round silver clasp, as big as the moon."

    "It is neither a steel shield nor a silver clasp, my children," replied the Duchess, "but a lake glittering in the sunshine. The surface of this lake, which seen from here is as smooth as a mirror, is stirred by innumerable ripples. Its borders which appear as distinct as it cut in metal are really covered by reeds with feathery plumes and irises whose flower is like a human glance between the blades of swords. Every morning a white mist rises over the lake which shines like armour under the midday sun. But none must approach it for in it dwell the nixies who lure passers by into their crystal abodes."

    At this moment the bell of the Hermitage was heard.

    "Let us dismount," said the Duchess, "and walk to the chapel. It was neither on elephants nor camels that the wise men of the East approached the manger."

    They heard the hermit's mass. A hideous old crone covered with rags knelt beside the Duchesss, who on leaving the church offered her holy water.

    "Accept it, good mother," she said.

    George was amazed.

    "Do you not know," said the Duchess, "that in the poor you honour the chosen of our Lord Jesus Christ? A beggar such as this as well as the good Duke of Rochesnoires held you at the font when you were baptized; and your little sister, Honey-Bee, also had one of these poor creatures as godmother."

    The old crone who seemed to have guessed the boy's thoughts leaned towards him.

    "Fair prince," she cried mockingly, "may you conquer as many kingdoms as I have lost. I was the queen of the Island of Pearls and the Mountains of Gold; each day my table was served with fourteen different kinds of fish, and a negro page bore my train."

    "And by what misfortune have you lost your islands and your mountains, good woman?" asked the Duchess.

    "I vexed the dwarfs, and they carried me far away from my dominions."

    "Are the dwarfs so powerful?" George asked.

    "As they live in the earth," the old woman answered, "they know the virtue of precious stones, they work in metals, and they unseal the hidden sources of the springs."

    "And what did you do to vex them?" asked the Duchess.

    "On a December night," said the old woman, "one of them came to ask permission to prepare a great midnight banquet in the kitchen of the castle, which, vaster than a chapter-house, was furnished with casseroles, frying-pans, earthen saucepans, kettles, pans, portable-ovens, gridirons, boilers, dripping-pans, dutch-ovens, fish-kettles, copper-pans, pastry-moulds, copper-jugs, goblets of gold and silver, and mottled wood, not to mention iron roasting-jacks, artistically forged, and the huge black cauldron which hung from the pothook. He promised neither to disturb nor to damage anything. I refused his request, and he disappeared muttering vague threats. The third night, it being Christmas, this same dwarf returned to the chamber where I slept. He was accompanied by innumerable others, who pulled me out of bed and carried me to an unknown land in my nightgown. 'Such,' they said as they left me, 'such is the punishment of the rich who refuse even a part of their treasure to the industrious and kindly dwarf folk who work in gold and cause the springs to flow.'"

    Thus said the toothless old woman, and the Duchess having comforted her with words and money, she and the two children retraced their way to the castle.
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