Prince Ricardo of Pantouflia - being the adventures of Prince Prigio's son
by Andrew Lang
Previous Part     1  2
Home - Random Browse

This odious fowl was the Fairy of the Desert, the Dwarf's trusted ally in every sort of mischief. The vulture flew instantly out of the window; and ah! with what awful anxiety the king again turned his eyes on the crystal ball only a parent's heart can know. Should he see Ricardo bleeding at the feet of the abominable dwarf? The king scarcely dared to look; never before had he known the nature of fear. However, look he did, and saw the dwarf un-catted, and Pepper, the gallant Dandie Dinmont, with his teeth in the throat of the monstrous Spanish cat.

No sooner had he seen the cat leap on his master's saddle-bow than Pepper, true to the instinct of his race, sprang at its neck, just behind the head—the usual place,—and, with an awful and despairing mew, the cat (Peter was its name) gave up its life.

The dwarf was on his feet in a moment, waving the diamond sword, which lighted up the whole scene, and yelling taunts. Pepper was flying at his heels, and, with great agility, was keeping out of the way of the invincible blade.

"Ah!" screamed the Dwarf as Pepper got him by the ankle. "Call off your dog, you coward, and come down off your horse, and fight fair!"

At this moment, bleeding yellow blood, dusty, mad with pain, the dwarf was a sight to strike terror into the boldest.

Dick sprang from his saddle, but so terrific was the appearance of his adversary, and so dazzling was the sheen of the diamond sword, that he put his hand in his pocket, drew out, as he supposed, the sham Cap of Darkness, and placed it on his head.

"Yah! who's your hatter?" screamed the infuriated dwarf. "I see you!" and he disengaged, feinted in carte, and made a lunge in seconde at Dick which no mortal blade could have parried. The prince (thanks to his excellent training) just succeeded in stepping aside, but the dwarf recovered with astonishing quickness.

"Coward, lache, poltroon, runaway!" he hissed through his clenched teeth, and was about to make a thrust in tierce which must infallibly have been fatal, when the Princess Jaqueline, in her shape as a wasp, stung him fiercely on the wrist.

With an oath so awful that we dare not set it down, the dwarf dropped the diamond sword, sucked his injured limb, and began hopping about with pain.

In a moment Prince Ricardo's foot was on the blade of the diamond sword, which he passed thrice through the body of the Yellow Dwarf. Squirming fearfully, the little monster expired, his last look a defiance, his latest word an insult:

"Yah! Gig-lamps!"

Prince Ricardo wiped the diamond blade clean from its yellow stains.

{The fight with the Yellow Dwarf: p141.jpg}

"Princess Frutilla is avenged!" he cried. Then pensively looking at his fallen foe, "Peace to his ashes," he said; "he died in harness!"

Turning at the word, he observed that the two lions were stiff and dead, locked in each other's gory jaws!

At that moment King Prigio, looking in the crystal ball, gave a great sigh of relief.

"All's well that ends well," he said, lighting a fresh cigar, for he had allowed the other to go out in his excitement, "but it was a fight! I am not satisfied," his Majesty went on reflecting, "with this plan of changing the magical articles. The first time was of no great importance, and I could not know that the boy would start on an expedition without giving me warning. But, in to-day's affair he owes his safety entirely to himself and Pepper," for he had not seen the wasp. "The Fairy of the Desert quite baffled me: it was terrible. I shall restore the right fairy things to-night. As to the Fairy of the Desert," he said, forgetting that his Wishing Cap was on, "I wish she were dead!"

A hollow groan and the sound of a heavy body falling interrupted the king. He looked all about the room, but saw nothing. He was alone!

"She must have been in the room, invisible," said the king; and, of course, she has died in that condition. "But I must find her body!"

The king groped about everywhere, like a blind man, and at last discovered the dead body of the wicked fairy lying on the sofa. He could not see it, of course, but he felt it with his hands.

"This is very awkward," he remarked. "I cannot ring for the servants and make them take her away. There is only one plan."

So he wished she were in her family pyramid, in the Egyptian desert, and in a second the sofa was unoccupied.

"A very dangerous and revengeful enemy is now removed from Ricardo's path in life," said his Majesty, and went to dress for dinner.

Meanwhile Ricardo was riding gaily home. The yellow light of Jaunia had vanished, and pure blue sky broke overhead as soon as the dauntless Dwarf had drawn his latest breath. The poor, trembling people of the country came out of their huts and accompanied Dick, cheering, and throwing roses which had been yellow roses, but blushed red as soon as the Dwarf expired. They attended him to the frontiers of Pantouflia, singing his praises, which Ricardo had the new and inestimable pleasure of knowing to be deserved.

"It was sharp work," he said to himself, "but much more exciting and glorious than the usual business."

On his return Dick did not fail to mention the wasp, and again the king felt how great was his debt to Jaqueline. But they did not think it well to trouble the good queen with the dangers Dick had encountered.

CHAPTER VIII. The Giant who does not know when he has had Enough. {146}

{The enormous letter: p146.jpg}

One morning the post brought a truly enormous letter for Dick. It was as broad as a table-cloth, and the address was written in letters as long as a hoop-stick. "I seem to know that hand," said Ricardo; "but I thought the fingers which held the pen had long been cold in death."

He opened, with his sword, the enormous letter, which was couched in the following terms:

"The Giant as does not know when he has had enuf, presents his compliments to Prince Ricardo; and I, having recovered from the effects of our little recent rally, will be happy to meet you in the old place for a return-match. I not being handy with the pen, the Giant hopes you will excuse mistakes and bad writing."

Dick simply gazed with amazement.

"If ever I thought an enemy was killed and done for, it was that Giant," said he. "Why, I made mere mince-collops of him!"

However, he could not refuse a challenge, not to speak of his duty to rid the world of so greedy and odious a tyrant. Dick, therefore, took the usual things (which the king had secretly restored), but first he tried them—putting on the Cap of Darkness before the glass, in which he could not see himself. On second thoughts, he considered it unfair to take the cap. All the other articles were in working order. Jaqueline on this occasion followed him in the disguise of a crow, flying overhead.

On reaching the cavern—a huge tunnel in the rock—where the Giant lived, Ricardo blew a blast on the horn which hung outside, and in obedience to a written notice, knocked also with a mace provided by the Giant for that purpose. Presently he heard heavy footsteps sounding along the cavern, and the Giant came out. He was above the common height for giants, and his whole face and body were seamed over with little red lines, crossing each other like tartan. These were marks of encounters, in which he had been cut to bits and come together again; for this was his peculiarity, which made him so dangerous. If you cut off his head, he went on just as before, only without it; and so about everything else. By dint of magic, he could put his head on again, just as if it had been his hat, if you gave him time enough. On the last occasion of their meeting, Ricardo had left him in a painfully scattered condition, and thought he was done for. But now, except that a bird had flown away with the little finger of his left hand and one of his ears, the Giant was as comfortable as anyone could be in his situation.

"Mornin' sir," he said to Dick, touching his forehead with his hand. "Glad to see you looking so well. No bad feeling, I hope, on either side?"

"None on mine, certainly," said Ricardo, holding out his hand, which the Giant took and shook; "but Duty is Duty, and giants must go. The modern world has no room for them."

"That's hearty," said the Giant; "I like a fellow of your kind. Now, shall we toss for corners?"

"All right!" said Dick, calling "Heads" and winning. He took the corner with the sun on his back and in the Giant's face. To it they went, the Giant aiming a blow with his club that would have felled an elephant.

Dick dodged, and cut off the Giant's feet at the ankles.

"First blood for the prince!" said the Giant, coming up smiling. "Half- minute time!"

He occupied the half-minute in placing the feet neatly beside each other, as if they had been a pair of boots.

Round II.—The Giant sparring for wind, Ricardo cuts him in two at the waist.

The Giant folded his legs up neatly, like a pair of trousers, and laid them down on a rock. He had now some difficulty in getting rapidly over the ground, and stood mainly on the defensive, and on his waist.

Round III.—Dick bisects the Giant. Both sides now attack him on either hand, and the feet kick him severely.

"No kicking!" said Dick.

"Nonsense; all fair in war!" said the Giant.

But do not let us pursue this sanguinary encounter in all its horrible details.

Let us also remember—otherwise the scene would be too painful for an elegant mind to contemplate with entertainment—that the Giant was in excellent training, and thought no more of a few wounds than you do of a crack on the leg from a cricket-ball. He well deserved the title given him by the Fancy, of "The Giant who does not Know when he has had Enough."

* * * * *

The contest was over; Dick was resting on a rock. The lists were strewn with interesting but imperfect fragments of the Giant, when a set of double teeth of enormous size flew up out of the ground and caught Ricardo by the throat! In vain he strove to separate the teeth, when the crow, stooping from the heavens, became the Princess Jaqueline, and changed Dick into a wren—a tiny bird, so small that he easily flew out of the jaws of the Giant and winged his way to a tree, whence he watched the scene.

But the poor Princess Jaqueline!

To perform the feat of changing Dick into a bird she had, of course, according to all the laws of magic, to resume her own natural form!

There she stood, a beautiful, trembling maiden, her hands crossed on her bosom, entirely at the mercy of the Giant!

No sooner had Dick escaped than the monster began to collect himself; and before Jaqueline could muster strength to run away or summon to her aid the lessons of the Fairy Paribanou, the Giant who never Knew when he had Enough was himself again. A boy might have climbed up a tree (for giants are no tree-climbers, any more than the grizzly bear), but Jaqueline could not climb. She merely stood, pale and trembling. She had saved Dick, but at an enormous sacrifice, for the sword and the Seven- league Boots were lying on the trampled grass. He had not brought the Cap of Darkness, and, in the shape of a wren, of course he could not carry away the other articles. Dick was rescued, that was all, and the Princess Jaqueline had sacrificed herself to her love for him.

The Giant picked himself up and pulled himself together, as we said, and then approached Jaqueline in a very civil way, for a person of his breeding, head in hand.

"Let me introduce myself," he said, and mentioned his name and titles. "May I ask what you are doing here, and how you came?"

{"Let me introduce myself," he said: p154.jpg}

Poor Jaqueline threw herself at his feet, and murmured a short and not very intelligible account of herself.

"I don't understand," said the Giant, replacing his head on his shoulders. "What to do with you, I'm sure I don't know. 'Please don't eat me,' did you say? Why, what do you take me for? I'm not in that line at all; low, I call it!"

Jaqueline was somewhat comforted at these words, dropped out of the Giant's lips from a considerable height.

"But they call you 'The Giant who does not Know when he has had Enough,'" said Jaqueline.

"And proud of the title: not enough of fighting. Of punishment I am a glutton, or so my friends are pleased to say. A brace of oxen, a drove of sheep or two, are enough for me," the Giant went on complacently, but forgetting to mention that the sheep and the oxen were the property of other people. "Where am I to put you till your friends come and pay your ransom?" the Giant asked again, and stared at Jaqueline in a perplexed way. "I can't take you home with me, that is out of the question. I have a little woman of my own, and she's not very fond of other ladies; especially, she would like to poison them that have good looks."

Now Jaqueline saw that the Giant, big as he was, courageous too, was afraid of his wife!

"I'll tell you what I'll do; I'll hand you over to a neighbour of mine, who is a bachelor."

"A bachelor giant; would that be quite proper?" said Jaqueline, trying to humour him.

"He's not a giant, bless you; he's a queer fellow, it is not easy to say what he is. He's the Earthquaker, him as shakes the earth now and then, and brings the houses about people's ears."

Jaqueline fairly screamed at hearing this awful news.

"Hush! be quiet, do!" said the Giant. "You'll bring out my little woman, and she is not easy to satisfy with explanations when she finds me conversing with a lady unbeknown to her. The Earthquaker won't do you any harm; it's only for safe keeping I'll put you with him. Why, he don't waken, not once in fifty years. He's quite the dormouse. Turns on his bed now and then, and things upstairs get upset, more or less; but, as a rule, a child could play with him. Come on!"

Then, taking Jaqueline up on one hand, on which she sat as if on a chair, he crossed a few ranges of mountains in as many strides. In front was one tall blue hill, with a flattened peak, and as they drew near the princess felt a curious kind of wind coming round her and round her. You have heard of whirlpools in water; well, this was just like a whirlpool of air. Even the Giant himself could hardly keep his legs against it; then he tossed Jaqueline up, and the airy whirlpool seized her and carried her, as if on a tide of water, always round and round in narrowing circles, till she was sucked down into the hollow hill. Even as she went, she seemed to remember the hill, as if she had dreamed about it, and the shape and colour of the country. But presently she sank softly on to a couch, in a beautifully-lighted rocky hall. All around her the floor was of white and red marble, but on one side it seemed to end in black nothing.

Jaqueline, after a few moments, recovered her senses fully, and changing herself into an eagle, tried to fly up and out. But as soon as she was in the funnel, the whirlpool of air always sucking down and down, was too strong for her wings. She was a prisoner in this great gleaming hall, ending in black nothingness. So she resumed her usual form, and walking to the edge of the darkness, found that it was not empty air, but something black, soft, and strong—something living. It had no form or shape, or none that she could make out; but it pulsed with a heart. Jaqueline placed her foot on this curious thing, when a voice came, like thunder heard through a feather-bed:

"Not near time to get up yet!" and then there was a snore, and the great hall rocked like a ship at sea.

It was the Earthquaker!

The habits of this monstrous animal are very little known, as, of course, he never comes above ground, or at least very seldom, when he makes tracks like a dry river-bed across country. We are certain that there are Earthquakers, otherwise how can we account for earthquakes? But how to tackle an Earthquaker, how to get at him, and what to do with him when you have got at him, are questions which might puzzle even King Prigio.

It was not easy to have the better of an enchantress like Jaqueline and a prince like Ricardo. In no ordinary circumstances could they have been baffled and defeated; but now it must be admitted that they were in a very trying and alarming situation, especially the princess. The worst of it was, that as Jaqueline sat and thought and thought, she began to remember that she was back in her own country. The hills were those she used to see from her father's palace windows when she was a child. And she remembered with horror that once a year her people used to send a beautiful girl to the Earthquaker, by way of keeping him quiet, as you shall hear presently. And now she heard light footsteps and a sound of weeping, and lo! a great troop of pretty girls passed, sweeping in and out of the halls in a kind of procession, and looking unhappy and lost.

Jaqueline ran to them.

"Where am I? who are you?" she cried, in the language of her own country, which came back to her on a sudden.

"We are nurses of the Earthquaker," they said. "Our duty is to sing him asleep, and every year he must have a new song; and every year a new maiden must be sent down from earth, with a new sleepy song she has learned from the priests of Manoa, the City of the Sun. Are you the new singer?"

"No, I'm not," said Jaqueline. "I don't know the priests of Manoa; I don't know any new sleepy song. I only want to find the way out."

"There is no way, or we should have found it," said one of the maidens; "and, if you are the wrong girl, by the day after to-morrow they must send the right one, otherwise the Earthquaker will waken, and shake the world, and destroy Manoa, the City of the Sun." Then they all wept softly in the stillness. "Can we get anything to eat here?" asked poor Jaqueline, at last.

She was beginning to be very hungry, and however alarmed she might be, she felt that dinner would not be unwelcome. The tallest of the maidens clapped her hands, and immediately a long table was spread by unseen sprites with meringues and cold chicken, and several sorts of delicious ices.

We shall desert Jaqueline, who was rather less alarmed when she found that she was not to be starved, at all events, and return to Prince Ricardo, whom we left fluttering about as a little golden-crested wren. He followed the Giant and Jaqueline into the whirlpool of air as far as he dared, and when he saw her vanish down the cone of the hill, he flew straight back to Pantouflia.

CHAPTER IX. Prigio has an Idea.

{Ricardo and Semiramis: p165.jpg}

A weary and way-worn little bird was Prince Ricardo when he fluttered into the royal study window, in the palace of Pantouflia. The king was out at a council meeting; knowing that Ricardo had the right things, all in good order, he was not in the least anxious about him. The king was out, but Semiramis was in—Semiramis, the great grey cat, sitting on a big book on the top of the library steps. Now Semiramis was very fond of birds, and no sooner did Ricardo enter and flutter on to a table than Semiramis gathered herself together and made one fell spring at him. She just caught his tail feather. In all his adventures the prince had never been in greater danger. He escaped, but no more, and went flying round the ceiling, looking for a safe place. Finally he perched on a chandelier that hung from the roof. Here he was safe; and so weary was he, that he put his head under his wing and fell fast asleep. He was awakened by the return of the king, who threw himself on a sofa and exclaimed:

"Oh, that Prime Minister! his dulness is as heavy as lead; much heavier, in fact!"

Then his Majesty lit a cigar and took up a volume; he certainly was a sad bookworm.

Dick now began to fly about the room, brushing the king's face and trying to attract his notice.

"Poor little thing!" said his Majesty.

And Dick alighted, and nestled in his breast.

On seeing this, Semiramis began to growl, as cats do when they are angry, and slowly approached his Majesty.

"Get out, Semiramis!" said the king; and lifting her by the neck, he put her out of the room and shut the door, at which she remained scratching and mewing.

Dick now crept out of the royal waistcoat, flew to the king's ear, twittered, pointed out of the window with one claw, and, lying down on his back, pretended to be dead. Then he got up again, twittered afresh, pointed to the Wishing Cap, and, finally, convinced the king that this was no common fowl.

"An enchanted prince or princess," said Prigio, "such as I have often read of. Who can it be? Not Jaqueline; she could change herself back in a moment. By the way, where is Jaqueline?"

He rang the bell, and asked the servant to look for the princess.

Semiramis tried to come in, but was caught and shut up downstairs.

After doing this, the man replied that her Royal Highness had not been in the palace all day.

The king rushed to the crystal ball, looked all the world over; but no princess! He became very nervous, and at that moment Dick lighted on the crystal ball, and put his claw on the very hill where Jaqueline had disappeared. Then he cocked his little eye at the king.

"Nay, she is somewhere in the unknown centre of South America," said his Majesty; "somewhere behind Mount Roraima, where nobody has ever been. I must look into this."

Then he put on the Wishing Cap, and wished that the bird would assume his natural shape if he was under enchantment, as there seemed too good reason to believe.

Instantly Dick stood before him.

{Instantly Dick stood before him: p170.jpg}

"Ricardo!" cried the king in horror; "and in this disguise! Where have you been? What have you done with Jaqueline? Where are the Seven-league Boots? Where is the Sword of Sharpness? Speak! Get up!" for Dick was kneeling and weeping bitterly at the royal feet.

"All lost!" said Dick. "Poor Jaqueline! she was the best girl, and the prettiest, and the kindest. And the Earthquaker's got her, and the Giant's got the other things," Dick ended, crying bitterly.

"Calm yourself, Ricardo," said his Majesty, very pale, but calm and determined. "Here, take a glass of port, and explain how all this happened."

Dick drank the wine, and then he told his miserable story.

"You may well sob! Why didn't you use the Cap of Darkness? Mere conceit! But there is no use in crying over spilt milk. The thing is, to rescue Jaqueline. And what are we to say to your mother?"

"That's the worst of it all," said Dick. "Mother will break her heart."

"I must see her at once," said the king, "and break it to her."

This was a terrible task; but the queen had such just confidence in her Prigio that she soon dried her tears, remarking that Heaven would not desert Jaqueline, and that the king would find a way out of the trouble.

His Majesty retired to his study, put his head in his hands, and thought and thought.

"The thing is, of course," he said, "to destroy the Earthquaker before he wakens; but how? What can kill such a monster? Prodding him with the sword would only stir him up and make him more vicious. And I know of no other beast we can set against him, as I did with the Fire-beast and the Ice-beast, when I was young. Oh, for an idea!"

Then his mind, somehow, went back to the Council and the ponderous stupidity of the Prime Minister.

"Heavier than lead," said the king. "By George! I have a plan. If I could get to the place where they keep the Stupidity, I could carry away enough of it to flatten out the Earthquaker."

Then he remembered how, in an old Italian poem, he had read about all the strange lumber-room of odd things which is kept in the moon. That is the advantage of reading: Knowledge is Power; and you mostly get knowledge that is really worth having out of good old books which people do not usually read.

"If the Stupidity is kept in stock, up in the moon, and comes from there, falling naturally down on the earth in small quantities, I might obtain enough for my purpose," thought King Prigio. "But—how to get to the moon? There are difficulties about that."

But difficulties only sharpened the ingenuity of this admirable king.

"The other fellow had a Flying Horse," said he.

By "the other fellow" King Prigio meant an Italian knight, Astolfo, who, in old times, visited the moon, and there found and brought back the common sense of his friend, Orlando, as you may read in the poem of Ariosto.

"Now," reasoned King Prigio, "if there is a Flying Horse at all, he is in the stables of the King of Delhi. I must look into this."

Taking the magic spy-glass, the king surveyed the world from China to Peru, and, sure enough, there was the famous Flying Horse in the king's stable at Delhi. Hastily the king thrust his feet into the Shoes of Swiftness—so hastily, indeed, that, as the poet says, he "madly crammed a left-hand foot into a right-hand shoe." But this, many people think, is a sign of good luck; so he put the shoes on the proper feet, and in a few minutes was in the presence of the Great Mogul.

The monarch received him with some surprise, but with stately kindness, and listened to Prigio while he explained what he wanted.

"I am only too happy to assist so adventurous a prince," remarked the Great Mogul. "This is like old times! Every horse in my stable is at your service, but, as you say, only the Flying Horse is of any use to you in this expedition."

He clapped his hands, the Grand Vizier appeared, and the king gave orders to have the Flying Horse saddled at once. He then presented King Prigio with a large diamond, and came down into the courtyard to see him mount.

"He's very fresh," said the groom who held the bridle; "has not been out of the stable for three hundred years!"

Prigio sprang into the saddle among the salaams of the dusky multitude, and all the ladies of the seraglio waved their scented handkerchiefs out of the windows.

The king, as he had been instructed, turned a knob of gold in the saddle of the Flying Horse, then kissed his hand to the ladies, and, giving the steed his head, cried, in excellent Persian:

"To the moon!"

Up flew the horse with an easy action, and the king's head nearly swam with the swiftness of the flight. Soon the earth below him was no bigger than a top, spinning on its own axis (see Geography books for this), and, as night fell, earth was only a great red moon.

{King Prigio on the Flying Horse: p178.jpg}

Through the dark rode King Prigio, into the silver dawn of the moon. All now became clear and silvery; the coasts of the moon came into sight, with white seas breaking on them; and at last the king reached the silver walls, and the gate of opal. Before the gate stood two beautiful ladies. One was fair, with yellow locks, the colour of the harvest moon. She had a crown of a golden snake and white water-lilies, and her dress now shone white, now red, now golden; and in her hand was the golden pitcher that sheds the dew, and a golden wand. The other lady was as dark as night—dark eyes, dark hair; her crown was of poppies. She held the ebony Wand of Sleep. Her dress was of the deepest blue, sown with stars. The king knew that they were the maidens of the bright and the dark side of the moon—of the side you see, and of the side that no one has ever seen, except King Prigio. He stopped the Flying Horse by turning the other knob in the saddle, alighted, and bowed very low to each of the ladies.

"Daring mortal! what make you here?" they asked.

And then the king told them about Jaqueline and the Earthquaker, and how he needed a great weight of Stupidity to flatten him out with.

The ladies heard him in silence, and then they said:

"Follow us," and they flew lightly beside the Flying Horse till they had crossed all the bright side of the moon, above the silver palaces and silver seas, and reached the summit of the Mountains of the Moon which separate the bright from the dark side.

"Here I may go no further," said the bright lady; "and beyond, as you see, all is darkness and heavy sleep."

Then she touched Prigio with her golden wand with twisted serpents, and he became luminous, light raying out from him; and the dark lady, too, shone like silver in the night: and on they flew, over black rocks and black rivers, till they reached a huge mountain, like a mountain of coal, many thousand feet high, for its head was lost in the blackness of darkness. The dark Moon-Lady struck the rock with her ebony wand, and said, "Open!" and the cliffs opened like a door, and they were within the mountain.

"Here," said the dark lady, "is the storehouse of all the Stupidity; hence it descends in showers like Stardust on the earth whenever this mountain, which is a volcano, is in eruption. Only a little of the Stupidity reaches the earth, and that only in invisible dust; yet you know how weighty it is, even in that form."

"Indeed, madam," said the king, "no one knows it better than I do."

"Then make your choice of the best sort of Stupidity for your purpose," said the dark lady.

And in the light which flowed from their bodies King Prigio looked round at the various kinds of Solid Stupidity. There it all lay in masses—the Stupidity of bad Sermons, of ignorant reviewers, of bad poems, of bad speeches, of dreary novels, of foolish statesmen, of ignorant mobs, of fine ladies, of idle, naughty boys and girls; and the king examined them all, and all were very, very heavy. But when he came to the Stupidity of the Learned—of dull, blind writers on Shakspeare, and Homer, and the Bible—then King Prigio saw that he had found the sort he wanted, and that a very little of it would go a long way. He never could have got it on the saddle of the Flying Horse if the dark lady had not touched it with her ebony wand, and made it light to carry till it was wanted for his purpose. When he needed it for use, he was to utter a certain spell, which she taught him, and then the lump would recover its natural weight. So he easily put a great block on his saddle-bow, and he and the dark lady flew back till they reached the crest of the Mountains of the Moon. There she touched him with her ebony wand, and the silver light which the bright lady had shed on him died from his face and his body, and he became like other men.

"You see your way?" said the dark lady, pointing to the bright moon of earth, shining far off in the heavens.

Then he knelt down and thanked her, and she murmured strange words of blessing which he did not understand; but her face was grave and kind, and he thought of Queen Rosalind, his wife.

Then he jumped on the Flying Horse, galloped down and down, till he reached his palace gate; called for Ricardo, set him behind him on the saddle, and away they rode, above land and wide seas, till they saw the crest of the hollow hill, where Jaqueline was with the Earthquaker. Beyond it they marked the glittering spires and towers of Manoa, the City of the Sun; and "Thither," said King Prigio, who had been explaining how matters stood, to Ricardo, "we must ride, for I believe they stand in great need of our assistance."

"Had we not better go to Jaqueline first, sir?" said Ricardo.

"No," said the king; "I think mine is the best plan. Manoa, whose golden spires and pinnacles are shining below us, is the City of the Sun, which Sir Walter Raleigh and the Spaniards could never find, so that men have doubted of its existence. We are needed there, to judge by that angry crowd in the marketplace. How they howl!"


{Man with rock: p186.jpg}

It was on a strange sight that the king and Ricardo looked down from the Flying Horse. Beneath them lay the City of Manoa, filling with its golden battlements and temples a hollow of the mountains. Here were palaces all carved over with faces of men and beasts, and with twisted patterns of serpents.

The city walls were built of huge square stones, and among the groves towered pyramids, on which the people did service to their gods. From every temple top came the roar of beaten drums, great drums of serpentskin.

But, in the centre of the chief square of the town, was gathered a wild crowd of men in shining copper armour and helmets of gold and glittering dresses of feathers. Among them ran about priests with hideous masks, crying them on to besiege and break down the royal palace. From the battlements of the palace the king's guardsmen were firing arrows and throwing spears. The mob shot arrows back, some of them tipped with lighted straw, to burn the palace down.

But, in the very centre of the square, was a clear space of ground, on which fell the shadow of a tall column of red stone, all carved with serpents and faces of gods. Beside it stood a figure horrible to see: a man clothed in serpent skins, whose face was the grinning face of a skull; but the skull was shining black and red in patches, and a long white beard flowed from beneath it. This man, mounted on a kind of altar of red stone, waved his hand and yelled, and seemed to point to the shadow of the column which fell across the square.

The people were so furious and so eager that they did not, at first, notice King Prigio as he slowly descended. But at last the eyes within the skull looked up and saw him, and then the man gave a great cry, rent his glittering dress of serpentskin, and held up his hands.

Then all the multitude looked up, and seeing the Flying Horse, let their weapons fall; and the man of the skull tore it from his face, and knelt before King Prigio, with his head in the dust.

"Thou hast come, oh, Pachacamac, as is foretold in the prophecy of the Cord of the Venerable Knots! Thou hast come, but behold the shadow of the stone! Thou art too late, oh Lord of the Earth and the Sea!"

Then he pointed to the shadow, which, naturally, was growing shorter, as the sun drew near mid-day.

He spoke in the language of the ancient Incas of Peru, which of course Prigio knew very well; and he also knew that Pachacamac was the god of that people.

"I have come," Prigio said, with presence of mind, "as it has been prophesied of old."

"Riding on a beast that flies," said the old priest, "even as the oracle declared. Glory to Pachacamac, even though we die to-day!"

"In what can I help my people?" said Prigio.

"Thou knowest; why should we instruct thee? Thou knowest that on midsummer-day, every year, before the shadow shrinks back to the base of the huaca {190} of Manoa, we must offer a maiden to lull the Earthquaker with a new song. Lo, now the shadow shrinks to the foot of the huaca, and the maid is not offered! For the lot fell on the daughter of thy servant the Inca, and he refuses to give her up. One daughter of his, he says, has been sacrificed to the sacred birds, the Cunturs: the birds were found slain on the hill-top, no man knows how; but the maiden vanished."

"Why, it must have been Jaqueline. I killed the birds," said Ricardo, in Pantouflian.

"Silence, not a word!" said the king, sternly.

"And what makes you bear arms against the Inca?" he asked the old man.

"We would slay him and her," answered the priest; "for, when the shadow shrinks to the foot of the stone, the sun will shine straight down into the hollow hill of the Earthquaker, and he will waken and destroy Manoa and the Temples of the Sun."

"Then wherefore would you slay them, when you must all perish?"

"The people, oh Pachacamac, would have revenge before they die."

"Oh, folly of men!" said the king, solemnly; then he cried: "Lead me to the Inca; this day you shall not perish. Is it not predicted in the Cord of the Venerable Knots that I shall slay this monster?"

"Hasten, oh Pachacamac, for the shadow shortens!" said the priest.

"Lead me to the Inca," answered Prigio.

At this the people arose with a great shout, for they, too, had been kneeling; and, sending a flag of truce before King Prigio, the priest led him into the palace. The ground was strewn with bodies of the slain, and through them Prigio rode slowly into the courtyard, where the Inca was sitting in the dust, weeping and throwing ashes on his long hair and his golden raiment. The king bade the priest remain without the palace gates; then dismounted, and, advancing to the Inca, raised him and embraced him.

"I come, a king to a king," he said. "My cousin, take courage; your sorrows are ended. If I do not slay the Earthquaker, sacrifice me to your gods."

"The Prophecy is fulfilled," said the Inca, and wept for joy. "Yet thou must hasten, for it draws near to noon."

Then Prigio went up to the golden battlements, and saying no word, waved his hand. In a moment the square was empty, for the people rushed to give thanks in the temples.

"Wait my coming, my cousin," said Prigio to the Inca; "I shall bring you back the daughter that was lost, when I have slain your enemy."

The Inca would have knelt at his feet; but the king raised him, and bade him prepare such a feast as had never been seen in Manoa.

"The lost are found to-day," he said; "be you ready to welcome them."

Then, mounting the Flying Horse, with Dick beside him, he rose towards the peak of the hill where the Earthquaker had his home. Already the ground was beginning to tremble; the Earthquaker was stirring in his sleep, for the maiden of the new song had not been sent to him, and the year ended at noon, and then he would rise and ruin Manoa.

The sun was approaching mid-day, and Prigio put spurs to the Flying Horse. Ten minutes more, and the sun would look straight down the crater of the hollow hill, and the Earthquaker would arouse himself when the light and the heat fell on his body.

Already the light of the sun shone slanting half-way down the hollow cone as the whirlpool of air caught the Flying Horse, and drew him swiftly down and down to the shadowy halls. There knelt and wept the nurses of the Earthquaker on the marble floor; but Jaqueline stood a little apart, very pale, but not weeping.

Ricardo had leaped off before the horse touched the ground, and rushed to Jaqueline, and embraced her in his arms; and, oh! how glad she was to see him, so that she quite forgot her danger and laughed for joy.

"Oh! you have come, you have come; I knew you would come!" she cried.

Then King Prigio advanced, the mighty weight in his hand, to the verge of the dreadful gulf of the Earthquaker. The dim walls grew radiant; a long slant arm of yellow light touched the black body of the Earthquaker, and a thrill went through him, and shook the world, so that, far away, the bells rang in Pantouflia. A moment more, and he would waken in his strength; and once awake, he would shatter the city walls and ruin Manoa. Even now a great mass of rock fell from the roof deep down in the secret caves, and broke into flying fragments, and all the echoes roared and rang.

King Prigio stood with the mighty mass poised in his hands.

"Die!" he cried; and he uttered the words of power, the magic spell that the dark Moon Lady had taught him.

Then all its invincible natural weight came into the mass which the king held, and down it shot full on the body of the Earthquaker; and where that had been was nothing but a vast abyss, silent, empty, and blank, and bottomless.

Far, far below, thousands of miles below, in the very centre of the earth, lay the dead Earthquaker, crushed flat as a sheet of paper, and the sun of midsummer-day shone straight down on the dreadful chasm, and could not waken him any more for ever.

The king drew a long breath.

"Stupidity has saved the world," he said; and, with only strength to draw back one step from the abyss, he fell down, hiding his face in his hands.

But Jaqueline's arms were round his neck, and the maidens brought him water from an ice-cold spring; and soon King Prigio was himself again, and ready for anything. But afterwards he used to say that the moment when the Earthquaker stirred was the most dreadful in his life.

Now, in Manoa, where all the firm foundations of the city had trembled once, when the sun just touched the Earthquaker, the people, seeing that the shadow of the sacred column had crept to its foot, and yet Manoa stood firm again, and the Temple of the Sun was not overthrown, raised such a cry that it echoed even through the halls within the hollow hill.

Who shall describe the joy of the maidens, and how often Jaqueline and Ricardo kissed each other?

"You have saved me!" she cried to the king, throwing her arms round him again. "You have saved Manoa!"

"And you have saved the Hope of Pantouflia, not once or twice," said his Majesty, grandly.

And he told Dick how much he had owed to Jaqueline, in the fight with the Yellow Dwarf, and the fight with the Giant, for he did not think it necessary to mention the affair at Rome.

Then Dick kissed Jaqueline again, and all the maidens kissed each other, and they quite cried for gladness.

"But we keep his Majesty the Inca waiting," said Prigio. "Punctuality is the courtesy of kings. You ladies will excuse me, I am sure, if I remove first from the dungeon her whom we call the Princess Jaqueline. The Inca, her father, has a claim on us to this preference."

Then placing Jaqueline on the saddle, and leaving Dick to comfort the other young ladies, who were still rather nervous, the king flew off to Manoa, for the wind, of course, died with the death of the Earthquaker.

I cannot tell you the delight of all Manoa, and of the Inca, when they saw the Flying Horse returning, and recognised their long-lost princess, who rushed into the arms of her father. They beat the serpent drums, for they had no bells, on the tops of the temples. They went quite mad with delight: enemies kissed in the streets; and all the parents, without exception, allowed all the young people who happened to be in love to be married that very day. Then Prigio brought back all the maidens, one after the other, and Dick last; and he fell at the Inca's feet, and requested leave to marry Jaqueline.

But, before that could be done, King Prigio, mounted on the palace balcony, made a long but very lucid speech to the assembled people. He began by explaining that he was not their God, Pachacamac, but king of a powerful country of which they had never heard before, as they lived very much withdrawn in an unknown region of the world. Then he pointed out, in the most considerate manner, that their religion was not all he could wish, otherwise they would never sacrifice young ladies to wild birds and Earthquakers. He next sketched out the merits of his own creed, that of the Lutheran Church; and the Inca straightway observed that he proposed to establish it in Manoa at once.

Some objection was raised by the old priest in the skull mask; but when the Inca promised to make him an archbishop, and to continue all his revenues, the priest admitted that he was perfectly satisfied; and the general public cheered and waved their hats with emotion. It was arranged that the Inca, with his other daughters, should visit Pantouflia immediately, both because he could not bear to leave Jaqueline, and also because there were a few points on which he felt that he still needed information. The Government was left in the hands of the archbishop, who began at once by burning his skull mask (you may see one like it in the British Museum, in the Mexican room), and by letting loose all the birds and beasts which the Manoans used to worship.

So all the young people were married in the Golden Temple of the Sun, and all the Earthquaker's nurses who were under thirty were wedded to the young men who had been fond of them before they were sent into the hollow hill. These young men had never cared for any one else. Everybody wore bridal favours, all the unengaged young ladies acted as bridesmaids, and such a throwing of rice and old shoes has very seldom been witnessed. As for the happy royal pair, with their fathers, and the other princess (who did not happen to be engaged), back they flew to Pantouflia.

And there was Queen Rosalind waiting at the palace gates, and crying and laughing with pleasure when she heard that the wish of her heart was fulfilled, and Jaqueline was to be her daughter.

"And, as for the Earthquaker," said her Majesty, "I never was really anxious in the least, for I knew no beast in the world was a match for you, my dear."

So, just to make everything orderly and correct, Ricardo and Jaqueline were married over again, in the Cathedral of Pantouflia. The marriage presents came in afterwards, of course, and among them, what do you think? Why, the Seven-League Boots and the Sword of Sharpness, with a very polite note of extraordinary size:

"The Giant who does not Know when he has had Enough presents his hearty congratulations to the royal pair, and begs to lay at their feet the Seven-league Boots (they not fitting me) and the Sword which Prince Ricardo left in the Giant's keeping recently. The Giant hopes no bad blood; and I am,

"Yours very faithfully, "THE G., &c.

"P.S.—His little woman sends her congratulations."

So you see the Giant was not such a bad sort of fellow after all, and Prince Ricardo always admitted that he never met a foe more gallant and good-humoured.

With such a clever wife, Ricardo easily passed all his examinations; and his little son, Prince Prigio (named after his august grandfather), never had to cry, "Mamma, mamma, father's plucked again."

So they lived happily in a happy country, occasionally visiting Manoa; and as they possessed the magical Water o Life from the Fountain of Lions, I do not believe that any of them ever died at all, but that Prigio is still King of Pantouflia.

"No need such kings should ever die!"

{The coach: p204.jpg}



{21} You can buy these glasses now from the Psychical Society, at half-a- crown and upwards.

{135} See the works of D'Aulnoy.

{146} This Giant is mentioned, and his picture is drawn, in an old manuscript of about 1875.

{190} Huaca, sacred stone.


Previous Part     1  2
Home - Random Browse