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Chapter 22

CHAPTER XXII.
HUON OF BORDEAUX, CONTINUED.

HUON, having traversed the Apennines and Italy, arrived at the
environs of Rome, where, laying aside his armor, he assumed the
dress of a pilgrim. In this attire he presented himself before the
Pope, and not till after he had made a full confession of his sins did
he announce himself as his nephew. "Ah! my dear nephew," exclaimed the
Holy Father, "what harder penance could I impose than the Emperor
has already done? Go in peace, my son," he added, absolving him, "I go
to intercede for you with the Most High." Then he led his nephew
into his palace, and introduced him to all the Cardinals and Princes
of Rome as the Duke of Guienne, son of the Duchess Alice, his sister.
Huon, at setting out, had made a vow not to stop more than three
days in a place. The Holy Father took advantage of this time to
inspire him with zeal for the glory of Christianity, and with
confidence in the protection of the Most High. He advised him to
embark for Palestine, to visit the Holy Sepulchre, and to depart
thence for the interior of Asia.
Loaded with the blessings of the Holy Father, Huon, obeying his
counsels, embarked for Palestine, arrived, and visited with the
greatest reverence the holy places. He then departed, and took his way
toward the east. But, ignorant of the country and of the language,
he lost himself in a forest, and remained three days without seeing
a human creature, living on honey and wild fruits which he found on
the trees. The third day, seeking a passage through a rocky defile, he
beheld a man in tattered clothing, whose beard and hair covered his
breast and shoulders. This man stopped on seeing him, observed him,
and recognized the arms and bearing of a French knight. He immediately
approached, and exclaimed, in the language of the South of France,
"God be praised! Do I indeed behold a chevalier of my own country,
after fifteen years passed in this desert without seeing the face of a
fellow-countryman?"
Huon, to gratify him still more, unlaced his helmet, and came
towards him with a smiling countenance. The other regarded him with
more surprise than at first. "Good Heaven!" he exclaimed, "was there
ever such a resemblance! Ah, noble sir," he added, "tell me, I beseech
you, of what country and race you come?" "I require," replied Huon,
"before telling you mine, that you first reveal your own; let it
suffice you at present to know that I am a Christian, and that in
Guienne I was born." "Ah! Heaven grant that my eyes and my heart do
not deceive me," exclaimed the unknown; "my name is Sherasmin; I am
brother to Guire, the Mayor of Bordeaux. I was taken prisoner in the
battle where my dear and illustrious master, Sevinus, lost his life.
For three years I endured the miseries of slavery; at length I broke
my chains and escaped to this desert, where I have sustained myself in
solitude ever since. Your features recall to me my beloved
sovereign, in whose service I was from my infancy till his death."
Huon made no reply but by embracing the old man, with tears in his
eyes. Then Sherasmin learned that his arms enfolded the son of the
Duke Sevinus. He led him to his cabin, and spread before him the dry
fruits and honey which formed his only aliment.
Huon recounted his adventures to Sherasmin, who was moved to tears
at the recital. He then consulted him on the means of conducting his
enterprise. Sherasmin hesitated not to confess that success seemed
impossible; nevertheless, he swore a solemn oath never to abandon him.
The Saracen language, which he was master of, would be serviceable
to them when they should leave the desert, and mingle with men.
They took the route of the Red Sea, and entered Arabia. Their way
lay through a region which Sherasmin described as full of terrors.
It was inhabited by Oberon, King of the Fairies, who made captive such
knights as were rash enough to penetrate into it, and transformed them
into Hobgoblins. It was possible to avoid this district at the expense
of somewhat lengthening their route; but no dangers could deter Huon
of Bordeaux; and the brave Sherasmin, who had now resumed the armor of
a knight, reluctantly consented to share with him the dangers of the
shorter route.
They entered a wood, and arrived at a spot whence alleys branched
off in various directions. One of them seemed to be terminated by a
superb palace, whose gilded roofs were adorned with brilliant
weathercocks covered with diamonds. A superb chariot issued from the
gate of the palace, and drove toward Huon and his companion, as if
to meet them half-way. The prince saw no one in the chariot but a
child apparently about five years old, very beautiful, and clad in a
robe which glittered with precious stones. At the sight of him,
Sherasmin's terror was extreme. He seized the reins of Huon's horse,
and turned him about, hurrying the prince away, and assuring him
that they were lost if they stopped to parley with the mischievous
dwarf, who, though he appeared a child, was full of years and of
treachery. Huon was sorry to lose sight of the beautiful dwarf,
whose aspect had nothing in it to alarm; yet he followed his friend,
who urged on his horse with all possible speed. Presently a storm
began to roar through the forest, the daylight grew dim, and they
found their way with difficulty. From time to time they seemed to hear
an infantine voice, which said, "Stop, Duke Huon; listen to me: it
is in vain you fly me!"
Sherasmin only fled the faster, and stopped not until he had reached
the gate of a monastery of monks and nuns, the two communities of
which were assembled at that time in a religious procession.
Sherasmin, feeling safe from the malice of the dwarf in the presence
of so many holy persons and the sacred banners, stopped to ask an
asylum, and made Huon dismount also. But at that moment they were
joined by the dwarf, who blew a blast upon an ivory horn which hung
from his neck. Immediately the good Sherasmin, in spite of himself,
began to dance like a young collegian, and seizing the hand of an aged
nun, who felt as if it would be her death, they footed it briskly over
the grass, and were imitated by all the other monks and nuns,
mingled together, forming the strangest dancing-party ever beheld.
Huon alone felt no disposition to dance; but he came near dying of
laughter at seeing the ridiculous postures and leaps of the others.
The dwarf, approaching Huon, said, in a sweet voice, and in Huon's
own language, "Duke of Guienne, why do you shun me? I conjure you,
in Heaven's name, speak to me." Huon, hearing himself addressed in
this serious manner, and knowing that no evil spirit would dare to use
the holy name in aid of his schemes, replied, "Sir, whoever you are, I
am ready to hear and answer you." "Huon, my friend," continued the
dwarf, "I always loved your race, and you have been dear to me ever
since your birth. The gracious state of conscience in which you were
when you entered my wood has protected you from all enchantments, even
if I had intended to practise any upon you. If these monks, these
nuns, and even your friend Sherasmin, had had a conscience as pure
as yours, my horn would not have set them dancing, but where is the
monk or the nun who can always be deaf to the voice of the tempter,
and Sherasmin in the desert has often doubted the power of
Providence."
At these words Huon saw the dancers overcome with exertion. He
begged mercy for them, the dwarf granted it, and the effect of the
horn ceased at once; the nuns got rid of their partners, smoothed
their dresses, and hastened to resume their places in the
procession. Sherasmin, overcome with heat, panting, and unable to
stand on his legs, threw himself upon the grass, and began, "Did not I
tell you-" He was going on in an angry tone, but the dwarf,
approaching, said. "Sherasmin, why have you murmured against
Providence? why have you thought evil of me? You deserved this light
punishment; but I know you to be good and loyal; I mean to show myself
your friend, as you shall soon see." At these words, he presented
him a rich goblet. "Make the sign of the cross on this cup," said
he, "and then believe that I hold my power from the God you adore,
whose faithful servant I am, as well as you." Sherasmin obeyed, and on
the instant the cup was filled with delicious wine, a draught of which
restored vigor to his limbs, and made him feel young again. Overcome
with gratitude, he threw himself on his knees, but the dwarf raised
him, and bade him sit beside him, and thus commenced his history:-
"Julius Caesar, going by sea to join his army, was driven by a storm
to take shelter in the island of Celea, where dwelt the fairy
Glorianda. From this renowned pair I draw my birth. I am the inheritor
of that which was most admirable in each of my parents: my father's
heroic qualities, and my mother's beauty and magic art. But a
malicious sister of my mother's, in revenge for some slight offence,
touched me with her wand when I was only five years old, and forbade
me to grow any bigger; and my mother, with all her power, was unable
to annul the sentence. I have thus continued infantile in
appearance, though full of years and experience. The power which I
derive from my mother I use sometimes for my own diversion, but always
to promote justice and to reward virtue. I am able and willing to
assist you, Duke of Guienne, for I know the errand on which you come
hither. I presage for you, if you follow my counsels, complete
success; and the beautiful Clarimunda for a wife."
When he had thus spoken, he presented to Huon the precious and
useful cup, which had the faculty of filling itself when a good man
took it in his hand. He gave him also his beautiful horn of ivory,
saying to him, "Huon, when you sound this gently, you will make the
hearers dance, as you have seen; but if you sound it forcibly, fear
not that I shall hear it, though at a hundred leagues' distance, and
will fly to your relief; but be careful not to sound it in that way,
unless upon the most urgent occasion."
Oberon directed Huon what course he should take to reach the country
of the Sultan Gaudisso. "You will encounter great perils," said he,
"before arriving there, and I fear me," he added, with tears in his
eyes, "that you will not in everything obey my directions, and in that
case you will suffer much calamity." Then he embraced Huon and
Sherasmin, and left them.
Huon and his follower travelled many days through the desert
before they reached any inhabited place, and all this while the
wonderful cup sustained them, furnishing them not only wine, but
food also. At last they came to a great city. As day was declining,
they entered its suburbs, and Sherasmin, who spoke the Saracen
language perfectly, inquired for an inn where they could pass the
night. A person who appeared to be one of the principal inhabitants,
seeing two strangers of respectable appearance making this inquiry,
stepped forward and begged them to accept the shelter of his
mansion. They entered, and their host did the honors of his abode with
a politeness which they were astonished to see in a Saracen. He had
them served with coffee and sherbet, and all was conducted with
great decorum, till one of the servants awkwardly overturned a cup
of hot coffee on the host's legs, when he started up, exclaiming in
very good Gascon, "Blood and thunder! you blockhead, you deserve to be
thrown over the mosque!"
Huon could not help laughing to see the vivacity and the language of
his country thus break out unawares. The host, who had no idea that
his guests understood his words, was astonished when Huon addressed
him in the dialect of his country. Immediately confidence was
established between them; especially when the domestics had retired.
The host, seeing that he was discovered, and that the two pretended
Saracens were from the borders of the Garonne, embraced them, and
disclosed that he was a Christian. Huon, who had learned prudence from
the advice of Oberon, to test his host's sincerity, drew from his robe
the cup which the Fairy-king had given him, and presented it empty
to the host. "A fair cup," said he, "but I should like it better if it
was full." Immediately it was so. The host, astonished, dared not
put it to his lips. "Drink boldly, my dear fellow-countryman," said
Huon; "your truth is proved by this cup, which only fills itself in
the hands of an honest man." The host did not hesitate longer; the cup
passed freely from hand to hand; their mutual cordiality increased
as it passed, and each recounted his adventures. Those of Huon
redoubled his host's respect; for he recognized in him his
legitimate sovereign: while the host's narrative was in these words:-
"My name is Floriac; this great and strong city, you will hear
with surprise and grief, is governed by a brother of Duke Sevinus, and
your uncle. You have no doubt heard that a young brother of the Duke
of Guienne was stolen away from the sea-shore, with his companions, by
some corsairs. I was then his page, and we were carried by those
corsairs to Barbary, where we were sold for slaves. The Barbary prince
sent us as part of the tribute which he yearly paid to his
sovereign, the Sultan Gaudisso. Your uncle, who had been somewhat
puffed up by the flattery of his attendants, thought to increase his
importance with his new master by telling him his rank. The Sultan,
who, like a true Mussulman, detested all Christian princes, exerted
himself from that moment to bring him over to the Saracen faith. He
succeeded but too well. Your uncle, seduced by the arts of the
Santons, and by the pleasures and indulgences which the Sultan allowed
him, committed the horrid crime of apostasy; he renounced his baptism,
and embraced Mahometanism. Gaudisso then loaded him with honors,
made him espouse one of his nieces, and sent him to reign over this
city and adjoining country. Your uncle preserved for me the same
friendship which he had had when a boy; but all his caresses and
efforts could not make me renounce my faith. Perhaps he respected me
in his heart for my resistance to his persuasions, perhaps he had
hopes of inducing me in time to imitate him. He made me accompany
him to this city, of which he was master, he gave me his confidence,
and permits me to keep in my service some Christians, whom I protect
for the sake of their faith."
"Ah!" exclaimed Huon, "take me to this guilty uncle. A prince of the
house of Guienne, must he not blush at the cowardly abandonment of the
faith of his fathers?"
"Alas!" replied Floriac, "I fear he will neither be sensible of
shame at your reproaches, nor of pleasure at the sight of a nephew
so worthy of his lineage. Brutified by sensuality, jealous of his
power, which he often exercises with cruelty, he will more probably
restrain you by force or put you to death."
"Be it so," said the brave and fervent Huon; "I could not die in a
better cause; and I demand of you to conduct me to him tomorrow, after
having told him of my arrival, and my birth." Floriac still
objected, but Huon would take no denial, and he promised obedience.
Next morning Floriac waited upon the Governor, and told him of the
arrival of his nephew, Huon of Bordeaux; and of the intention of the
prince to present himself at his court that very day. The Governor,
surprised, did not immediately answer; though he at once made up his
mind what to do. He knew that Floriac loved Christians and the princes
of his native land too well to aid in any treason to one of them; he
therefore feigned great pleasure at hearing of the arrival of the
eldest born of his family at his court. He immediately sent Floriac to
find him; he caused his palace to be put in festal array, his divan to
be assembled, and, after giving some secret orders, went himself to
meet his nephew, whom he introduced under his proper name and title to
all the great officers of his court.
Huon burned with indignation at seeing his uncle with forehead
encircled with a rich turban, surmounted with a crescent of precious
stones. His natural candor made him receive with pain the embraces
which the treacherous Governor lavished upon him. Meanwhile the hope
of finding a suitable moment to reproach him for his apostasy made him
submit to those honors which his uncle caused to be rendered to him.
The Governor evaded with address the chance of being alone with
Huon, and spent all the morning in taking him through his gardens
and palace. At last, when the hour of dinner approached, and the
Governor took him by the hand to lead him into the dining-hall, Huon
seized the opportunity, and said to him in a low voice, "O my uncle! O
Prince, brother of the Duke Sevinus! in what condition have I the
grief and shame of seeing you!" The Governor pretended to be moved,
pressed his hand, and whispered in his ear, "Silence! my dear
nephew; to-morrow morning I will hear you fully."
Huon, comforted a little by these words, took his seat at the
table by the side of the Governor. The Mufti, some Cadis, Agas, and
Santons, filled the other places. Sherasmin sat down with them; but
Floriac, who could not lose sight of his guests, remained standing,
and passed in and out to observe what was going on within the
palace. He soon perceived a number of armed men gliding through the
passages and antechambers connected with the dining-hall. He was about
to enter to give his guests notice of what he had seen, when he
heard a violent noise and commotion in the hall. The cause was this.
Huon and Sherasmin were well enough suited with the first course,
and ate with good appetite; but the people of their country not
being accustomed to drink only water at their meals, Huon and
Sherasmin looked at one another, not very well pleased at such a
regimen. Huon laughed outright at the impatience of Sherasmin, but
soon, experiencing the same want himself, he drew forth Oberon's
cup, and made the sign of the cross. The cup filled, and he drank it
off, and handed it to Sherasmin, who followed his example. The
Governor and his officers, seeing this abhorred sign, contracted their
brows, and sat in silent consternation. Huon pretended not to
observe it, and having filled the cup again, handed it to his uncle,
saying, "Pray join us, dear uncle; it is excellent Bordeaux wine,
the drink that will be to you like mother's milk." The Governor, who
often drank in secret with his favorite Sultanas the wines of Greece
and Shiraz, never in public drank anything but water. He had not for a
long time tasted the excellent wines of his native land; he was sorely
tempted to drink what was now handed to him, it looked so bright in
the cup, outshining the gold itself. He stretched forth his hand, took
the brimming goblet and raised it to his lips, when immediately it
dried up and disappeared. Huon and Sherasmin, like Gascons as they
were, laughed at his astonishment. "Christian dogs!" he exclaimed, "do
you dare to insult me at my own table? But I will soon be revenged."
At these words he threw the cup at the head of his nephew, who
caught it with his left hand, while with the other he snatched the
turban, with its crescent, from the Governor's head, and threw it on
the floor. All the Saracens started up from table, with loud outcries,
and prepared to avenge the insult. Huon and Sherasmin put themselves
on their defence, and met with their swords the scimitars directed
against them. At this moment the doors of the hall opened, and a crowd
of soldiers and armed eunuchs rushed in, who joined in the attack upon
Huon and Sherasmin. The Prince and his followers took refuge on a
broad shelf or sideboard, where they kept at bay the crowd of
assailants, making the most forward of them smart for their
audacity. But more troops came pressing in, and the brave Huon,
inspired by the wine of Bordeaux, and not angry enough to lose his
relish for a joke, blew a gentle note on his horn, and no sooner was
it heard than it quelled the rage of the combatants and set them to
dancing. Huon and Sherasmin, no longer attacked, looked down from
their elevated position on a scene the most singular and amusing. Very
soon the Sultanas, hearing the sound of the dance, and finding their
guards withdrawn, came into the hall and mixed with the dancers. The
favorite Sultana seized upon a young Santon, who performed jumps two
feet high; but soon the long dresses of this couple got intermingled
and threw them down. The Santon's beard was caught in the Sultana's
necklace, and they could not disentangle them. The Governor by no
means approved this familiarity, and took two steps forward to get
at the Santon, but he stumbled over a prostrate Dervise and measured
his length on the floor. The dancing continued till the strength of
the performers was exhausted, and they fell, one after the other,
and lay helpless. The Governor at length made signs to Huon that he
would yield everything, if he would but allow him to rest. The bargain
was ratified; the Governor allowed Huon and Sherasmin to depart on
their way, and even gave them a ring which would procure them safe
passage through his country and access to the Sultan Gaudisso. The two
friends hastened to avail themselves of this favorable turn, and,
taking leave of Floriac, pursued their journey.

Thomas Bulfinch

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