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.