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    Chapter 21

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    Chapter 22
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    In which a perilous adventure is described

    That night when all were asleep George and Francoeur crept into the lower hall in search of weapons. Lances, swords, dirks, broadswords, hunting-knives and daggers glittered under the time-stained rafters--everything necessary to kill both man and brute. A complete suit of armour stood upright under each beam in an attitude as resolute and proud as if it were still filled with the soul of the brave man it had once decked for mighty adventures. The gauntlet grasped the lance in its ten iron fingers, while the shield rested against the plates of the greaves as if to prove that prudence is necessary to courage, and that the best fighter is armed as well for defence as for attack.

    From among all these suits of armour George chose the one that Honey-Bee's father had worn as far away as the isles of Avalon and Thule. He donned it with the aid of Francoeur, nor did he forget the shield on which was emblazoned the golden sun of Clarides. As for Francoeur, he put on a good old steel coat of mail of his grandfather's and on his head a casque of a bygone time, to which he attached a ragged and moth-eaten tuft or plume. This he chose merely as a matter of fancy and to give himself an air of rejoicing, for, as he justly reasoned, gaiety, which is good under every circumstance, is especially so in the face of great dangers.

    Having thus armed themselves they passed under the light of the moon into the dark open country. Francoeur had fastened the horses on the edge of a little grove near the postern, and there he found them nibbling at the bark of the bushes; they were swift steeds, and it took them less than an hour to reach the mountain of the dwarfs, through a crowd of goblins and phantoms.

    "Here is the cave," said Francoeur.

    Master and man dismounted and, sword in hand, penetrated into the cavern. It required great courage to attempt such an adventure; but George was in love and Francoeur was faithful, and this was a case in which one could say with the most delightful of poets:

    "What may not friendship do with Love for guide!"

    Master and man had trudged through the gloom for nearly an hour when they were astonished to see a brilliant light. It was one of the meteors which we know illumines the kingdom of the dwarfs. By the light of this subterranean luminary they discovered that they were standing at the foot of an ancient castle.

    "This," said George, "is the castle we must capture."

    "To be sure," said Francceur; "but first permit me to drink a few drops of this wine which I brought with me as a precaution, because the better the wine the better the man, and the better the man the better the lance, the better the lance the less dangerous the enemy."

    George, seeing no living soul, struck the hilt of his sword sharply against the door of the castle. He looked up at the sound of a little tremulous voice, and he saw at one of the windows a little old man with a long beard, who asked:

    "Who are you!"

    "George of Blanchelande."

    "And who do you want?"

    "I have come to deliver Honey-Bee of Clarides whom you unjustly hold captive in your mole-hill, hideous little moles that you are!"

    The dwarf disappeared and again George was left alone with Francoeur who said to him:

    "Your lordship, possibly I may exaggerate if I remark that in your answer to the dwarf you have not quite exhausted all the persuasive powers of eloquence."

    Francoeur was afraid of nothing, but he was old; his heart like his head was polished by age, and he disliked to offend people.

    As for George he stormed and clamoured at the top of his voice.

    "Vile dwellers in the earth, moles, badgers, dormice, ferrets, and water-rats, open the door and I'll cut off all your ears."

    But hardly had he uttered these words when the bronze door of the castle slowly opened of itself, for no one could be seen pushing back its enormous wings.

    George was seized with terror and yet he sprang through the mysterious door because his courage was even greater than his terror. Entering the courtyard he saw that all the windows, the galleries, the roofs, the gables, the skylights, and even the chimney-pots, were crowded with dwarfs armed with bows and cross-bows.

    He heard the bronze door close behind him and suddenly a shower of arrows fell thick and fast on his head and shoulders, and for the second time he was filled with a great fear, and for the second time he conquered his fear.

    Sword in hand and his shield on his arm he mounted the steps until suddenly he perceived on the very highest, a majestic dwarf who stood there in serene dignity, gold sceptre in hand and wearing the royal crown and the purple mantle. And in this dwarf he recognised the little man who had delivered him out of his crystal dungeon.

    Thereupon he threw himself at his feet and cried weeping:

    "O my benefactor, who are you? Are you one of those who have robbed me of Honey-Bee, whom I love?"

    "I am King Loc," replied the dwarf. "I have kept Honey-Bee with me to teach her the wisdom of the dwarfs. Child, you have fallen into my kingdom like a hail-storm in a garden of flowers. But the dwarfs, less weak than men, are never angered as are they. My intelligence raises me too high above you for me to resent your actions whatever they are. And of all the attributes that render me superior to you that which I guard most jealously is justice. Honey-Bee shall be brought before me and I will ask her if she wishes to follow you. This I do, not because you desire it, but because I must."

    A great silence ensued and Honey-Bee appeared attired all in white and with flowing golden hair. No sooner did she see George than she ran and threw herself in his arms and clasped his iron breast with all her strength.

    Then King Loc said to her:

    "Honey-Bee, is it true that this is the man you wish to marry?"

    "It is true, very true that this is he, little King Loc," replied Honey-Bee. "See, all you little men, how I laugh and how happy I am."

    And she began to weep. Her tears fell on her lover's face, but they were tears of joy; and with them were mingled tiny bursts of laughter and a thousand endearing words without sense, like the lisp of a little child. She quite forgot that the sight of her joy might sadden the heart of King Loc.

    "My beloved," said George, "I find you again such as I had longed for: the fairest and dearest of beings. You love me! Thank heaven, you love me! But, Honey-Bee, do you not also love King Loc a little, who delivered me out of the glass dungeon in which the nixies held me captive far away from you?"

    Honey-Bee turned to King Loc.

    "Little King Loc, and did you do this?" she cried. "You loved me, and yet you rescued the one I love and who loves me----"

    Words failed her and she fell on her knees, her head in her hands.

    All the little men who witnessed this scene deluged their cross-bows with tears. Only King Loc remained serene. And Honcy-Bee, overcome by his magnanimity and his goodness, felt for him the love of a daughter for a father.

    She took her lover's hand.

    "George," she said, "I love you. God knows how much I love you. But how can I leave little King Loc?"

    "Hallo, there?" King Loc cried in a terrible voice, "now you are my prisoners!"

    But this terrible voice he only used for fun and just as a joke, for he really was not at all angry. Here Francoeur approached and knelt before him.

    "Sire," he cried, "may it please your Majesty to let me share the captivity of the masters I serve?"

    Said Honey-Bee, recognising him:

    "Is it you, my good Francoeur? How glad I am to see you again. What a horrid cap you've got on! Tell me, have you composed any new songs?"

    And King Loc took them all three to dinner.
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