kindness, the two children showed how it gratified their pride, George by his blushes, Honey-Bee by her smiles, and for this reason the Duchess said to them:
"How kindly these good people greet us. For what reason, George? And what is the reason, Honey-Bee?"
"So they should," said Honey-Bee.
"It's their duty," George added.
"But why should it be their duty?" asked the Duchess.
And as neither replied, she continued:
"I will tell you. For more than three hundred years the dukes of Clarides, from father to son, have lance in hand protected these poor people so that they could gather the harvests of the fields they had sown. For more than three hundred years all the duchesses of Clarides have spun the cloth for the poor, have visited the sick, and have held the new-born at the baptismal font. That is the reason they greet you, my children."
George was lost in deep thought: "We must protect those who toil on the land," and Honcy-Bee said: "One should spin for the poor."
And thus chatting and meditating they went on their way through meadows starred with flowers. A fringe of blue mountains lay against the distant horizon. George pointed towards the east.
"Is that a great steel shield I see over there?"
"Oh no," said Honey-Bee, "it's a round silver clasp, as big as the moon."
"It is neither a steel shield nor a silver clasp, my children," replied the Duchess, "but a lake glittering in the sunshine. The surface of this lake, which seen from here is as smooth as a mirror, is stirred by innumerable ripples. Its borders which appear as distinct as it cut in metal are really covered by reeds with feathery plumes and irises whose flower is like a human glance between the blades of swords. Every morning a white mist rises over the lake which shines like armour under the midday sun. But none must approach it for in it dwell the nixies who lure passers by into their crystal abodes."
At this moment the bell of the Hermitage was heard.
"Let us dismount," said the Duchess, "and walk to the chapel. It was neither on elephants nor camels that the wise men of the East approached the manger."
They heard the hermit's mass. A hideous old crone covered with rags knelt beside the Duchesss, who on leaving the church offered her holy water.
"Accept it, good mother," she said.
George was amazed.
"Do you not know," said the Duchess, "that in the poor you honour the chosen of our Lord Jesus Christ? A beggar such as this as well as the good Duke of Rochesnoires held you at the font when you were baptized; and your little sister, Honey-Bee, also had one of these poor creatures as godmother."
The old crone who seemed to have guessed the boy's thoughts leaned towards him.
"Fair prince," she cried mockingly, "may you conquer as many kingdoms as I have lost. I was the queen of the Island of Pearls and the Mountains of Gold; each day my table was served with fourteen different kinds of fish, and a negro page bore my train."
"And by what misfortune have you lost your islands and your mountains, good woman?" asked the Duchess.
"I vexed the dwarfs, and they carried me far away from my dominions."
"Are the dwarfs so powerful?" George asked.
"As they live in the earth," the old woman answered, "they know the virtue of precious stones, they work in metals, and they unseal the hidden sources of the springs."
"And what did you do to vex them?" asked the Duchess.
"On a December night," said the old woman, "one of them came to ask permission to prepare a great midnight banquet in the kitchen of the castle, which, vaster than a chapter-house, was furnished with casseroles, frying-pans, earthen saucepans, kettles, pans, portable-ovens, gridirons, boilers, dripping-pans, dutch-ovens, fish-kettles,