One morning, that of the first Sunday after Easter, the Duchess issued
from her castle on her big chestnut horse, having on her left George of
the White Moor, riding a jet-black pony who had a white star in the middle
on his forehead, and, on her right, Bee, who had a pink bridle to govern
a pony with a cream-coloured coat. They were going to hear Mass at the
Hermitage. Soldiers carrying lances escorted them, and there were a press
of people on the way to admire them. And really each of the three was
The Duchess looked stately and sweet under her veil spangled with silver
flowers and her loose cloak: the mild splendour of the pearls which embroidered
her headdress was becoming to the face and the soul of this beautiful
person. Next to her George, with his waving hair and bright eye, looked
quite handsome, and the soft, clear colour of Bee’s face, who was
riding on her other site, was a delicious pleasure to the eye; but nothing
was more wonderful than the flow of her fair hair, bound in a ribbon embroidered
with three golden lilies. It fell down her shoulders like the splendid
mantle of youth and beauty. The good folk looked at her and each said
to the other, “What a pretty young lady!”
The master tailor, old John, lifted his grandson Peter in his arms to
show him Bee, and Peter asked whether she was alive, or whether she was
not really a piece of waxwork. He could not understand that a creature
so white and delicate could belong to the same species as he, little Peter,
did, with his chubby, sunburnt cheeks and drab rustic smock laced at the
While the Duchess received these marks of respect with kindness, the two
children showed the contentment of pride, George in his flush, Bee in
her smile. This is why the Duchess said to them:
“These flood people greet us very cheerfully. George, what do you
think of it? And what do you, Bee?”
“That they do well,” said Bee.
“And that it is their duty” said George.
“And for what reason is it their duty?” the Duchess asked.
Seeing they gave no answer, she continued:
"I am going to tell you. From father to son, for more than three
hundred years, the dukes of the Clarides, lance in rest, protected these
poor people, who owe it to them that they can reap the harvest they have
sown. For more than three hundred years every Duchess of the Clarides
has spun wool for the poor, visited the sick, and held their babies over
the baptismal font. That is why, children, you are greeted."
George thought: “The ploughman will have to be protected,”
and Bee: “I will have to spin wool for the poor.”
So, conversing and reflecting, they made their way through meadows enamelled
A range of blue hills ran its indented line along the horizon. George
stretched out his hand towards the East.
“Is not that a large shield of steel that I see over there?”
“It is rather a silver buckle as large as the moon,” said
“It is neither a shield of steel nor a silver buckle, children,”
the Duchess answered, “but a lake shining in the sun. The face of
the water, that from a distance looks as smooth as a mirror, is broken
into innumerable waves. The banks of this lake that seem to you as clean
as if they were cut out of metal are really covered with reeds, waving
their light plumes, and with irises, whose flower is more like a human
eye among drawn swords. Each morning white mists cover the lake, which
shines like armour under a midday sun. But you must not go near it, for
the Sylphs live there who draw travellers down into their crystal manor.”
And now they heard the tinkle of the hermitage bell.
“Let us get off,” said the Duchess, “and go on foot
to the chapel. It was neither on their elephants nor their camels that
the Wise Men of the East approached the Manger."
They heard the Hermit's Mass. An old woman, hideous and in rags, knelt
next to the Duchess, who offered her holy water as they went out of church,
“Take some, my good woman.”
George was astonished.
“Do you not know,” said the Duchess, “that you must
honour the poor as the favourites of Jesus Christ? A beggar woman just
like this one held you over the baptismal font with the good Duke of the
Black Rocks, and similarly your little sister Bee had a beggar as a godfather.”
The old woman, who had guessed the feelings of the little boy, leaned
towards him, leering, and said:
“I wish you the conquest of as many kingdoms as I have lost, my
prince. I have been Queen of the Island of Pearls and of the Mountains
of Gold; every day I had fourteen different kinds of fish served at my
table, and a little blackamoor to carry my train.”
“And by what misfortune did you lose your islands and your mountains,
my good woman?” asked the Duchess.
“I offended the dwarfs, who have carried me off from my States.”
“Have the dwarfs so much power?” asked George.
“Living under the earth,” the old woman said, “they
know the virtue of stones, fashion metal, and discover springs.”
“And what did you do to vex them, good mother?”
The old woman:
‘On a night of December one of them came to me to ask my permission
to prepare a great New Year’s supper in the kitchens of the castle,
which were larger than a capitular hall, and furnished with stew and preserving
and frying pans, pipkins, caldrons, boilers, ovens, gridirons, porringers,
dripping-pans, meat screens, fish-kettles, pastry-moulds, jugs, goblets
of gold and silver and of grained woods, not to speak of the turnspit
skilfully wrought of iron, and the huge black kettle hanging to the pothook.
He promised that nothing should be lost or damaged. I refused his request,
and he withdrew muttering dark threats. Three nights after, which was
that of Christmas, the same dwarf returned to the room in which I was
sleeping; he was accompanied by a multitude of others, who pulled me from
my bed, and carried me off in my nightshirt to an unknown land.
“This,” they said to me on leaving, “this is the punishment
of rich people who will not grant a portion of their treasures to the
industrious and gentle nation of Dwarfs, who fashion gold and cause the
springs to flow.”
So spoke the toothless old woman, and the Duchess, having comforted her
with her words and money, again took the road to the Castle with her two
Previous Chapter Next