Saint George, accompanied only by the faithful De Fistycuff, at once passed over to the coast of Africa, knowing full well that in that unknown land of wonders he was more likely to meet with adventures worthy of his prowess than in any other part of the world. He journeyed on for many a mile over burning sands, his polished steel armour glittering in the sun, striking terror into all beholders, and almost blinding his poor squire, who, hot and panting, followed him wearily.
Far across the plains of Africa he travelled till he reached the very ancient, though little known kingdom of Timbuctoo. King Bobadildo, the sable monarch of that empire, so wonderfully renowned in its own annals, if not in those of other countries, received him with all the courtesy due to his rank as a British knight, and the renown which the faithful De Fistycuff, who never lost an opportunity of putting in a good word for his master, stated that he intended to acquire.
The Knight was feasted sumptuously, and magnificent shows were got up for his entertainment, while the King, who had taken a great fancy to him, from believing that he would be of great use in leading his warriors to the fight against the enemies of his realm, pressed him to remain, hoping that by his falling in love with his lovely daughter he might be induced to become his son-in-law. The colour of the young princess's complexion, which was of the most sable hue, shining lustrously with palm oil, although much admired in her native country, was to the British knight an insuperable objection to a closer alliance than that of the friendship he enjoyed, though he did not say so; but stated that he was anxious to go where glory awaited him, and that all matrimonial arrangements he must defer till he had won that fame for which his heart panted.
Accordingly, the next morning, followed by De Fistycuff, who had some difficulty in buckling his belt after the good fare he had enjoyed, he set forth from the southern gate of the capital towards the unknown regions which lay beyond. The sweet Princess looked out of a turret window, and waved her coal-black hand, while tears coursed each other down her sable cheeks as she saw the Knight going away and leaving her all forlorn; for in her bright eyes not one of the neighbouring princes, nor any of her father's courtiers, could in any way be compared to the gallant Saint George. Many other sweet princesses, at the various courts he visited in his travels, held the same opinion -- a circumstance which caused a considerable amount of perplexity to the gentle-hearted and gallant Knight. As she gazed she sighed, and then she sang words to the following effect: --
"Go away, go away, oh, hard-hearted knight, Go away to glory and fame; If you ever come back You'll not find me slack To change my state and name!"
Much relieved by the impromptu expressions of her feelings, she turned from the window, Saint George having disappeared among the distant sand-heaps, and went to attend her honoured sire at his matutinal meal.
Saint George and his Squire travelled on day after day, mounting higher and higher till they reached a region where the heat was no longer so oppressive as in the plains, and where scenes new and beautiful opened on their enravished sight.
There were beautiful lakes of the clearest water, full of fish of strange shapes and gorgeous hues, which swam up to the surface, and gazed with curious eyes at the strangers. The trees and shrubs were of the most gigantic proportions, the former towering high into the sky, and a single leaf affording ample shade to the Knight and Squire and their horses. So luscious and luxuriant, too, was the grass that a few tufts were sufficient for a meal for the noble steeds, and put such strength and spirit into them, that, in spite of the fatigues they underwent, they were ever ready for any task they might be called on to perform. Even the shrubs were so high that they could ride beneath some of them. Others were covered with leaves of such thickness that a spear could scarcely pierce them, while they were armed with spikes of length so formidable that it was dangerous to approach the branches, and impossible to force a passage through them. Strange, too, were the plants. Some were like a mass of twisting serpents which wriggled about and hissed as the travellers passed, and though Saint George cut off their heads with his sword, they so quickly again grew up that he perceived that the attempt to destroy them was labour lost.
"So is it," he moralised, "with vicious propensities; the nature of the plant must be changed, or the branches will spring forth, and evil fruit will continually be produced." Other plants of the most fantastic shapes and most lovely hues seemed endued with life. One covering a wide circle of ground, and tinted with every colour of the rainbow, they stopped to admire. Suddenly it darted forth feelers of great length high into the air, and drew back hundreds of gay-coloured butterflies, and moths, and beetles, which were flying near.
Numerous birds also of the most gorgeous plumage, which darted down, attracted by the flies, were seized hold of and dragged within the capacious mouth of the plant.
"On, on," cried Saint George, pricking forward his steed. "If we stop to admire all these separate wonders we shall never attain the great objects of our expedition." The Squire if he heard did not heed his master, for he kept gazing at the proceedings of the strange plant, and trying to count the number of insects it gobbled up in a minute. Thoughtlessly he drew closer and closer, till suddenly the monster plant darted forth all its feelers and grasped him round the body. He felt himself dragged helplessly towards the capacious maw where he had already seen so many creatures conveyed. "Oh, master, master! help, help!" he shouted at the top of his voice, though a feeler getting round his neck almost stopped his breath.
Saint George, seeing what had occurred, spurred back in hot haste, and, slashing away with his trusty falchion, severed the feelers after vast exertions and rescued his frightened squire.
"If you had done as I told you this would not have happened," he observed, as he freed him from the thick masses of sinew which surrounded his body. "Oh, De Fistycuff, remember to do right and what you are bid by those who know best what is for your good, and then don't fear the consequences; but never stand gazing at what is bad or dangerous, and fancy that you run no risk of being drawn into the snare laid for you!"
The Squire listened respectfully to his master's lecture, and then followed him at a humble distance, resolving to profit by his advice.
Night with her sable wings was about to overspread the earth, and the tall woods resounded with strangest cries, and shrieks, and hisses of the wonderful wild animals which roamed through them, when the Knight thought it high time to look about for some place of shelter, where, free from their attacks, he and his squire might repose till the return of the rosy dawn would enable them to discern their foes, and face them bravely.
A large rock appeared before them. Within it was a cave with a rude porch in front. In this rough habitation dwelt a hermit, whose voice they heard bewailing the sad fate to which his country was doomed. The Knight entered; a lamp stood on a table in the centre of the cave. The hermit rose from his couch and welcomed Saint George and De Fistycuff. He was a venerable man, with a long beard of silvery whiteness; and as he tottered forward he seemed bowed almost to the ground with the weight of years.
"Gladly will I afford you shelter and such food as my cell can furnish, most gallant Knight," he said; and, suiting the action to the word, he placed a variety of provisions on the table. "I need not inquire to what country you belong, for I see by the arms of England engraven on your burgonet whence you come. I know the knights of that land are brave and gallant, and ready to do battle in aid of the distressed. Here, then, you will find an opportunity for distinguishing yourself by a deed which will make your name renowned throughout the world."
Saint George pricked up his ears at this, and eagerly inquired what it was. "This, you must understand, most noble Knight, is the renowned territory of Bagabornabou, second to none in the world in importance in the opinion of its inhabitants. None was so prosperous, none so flourishing, when a most horrible misfortune befell the land, in the appearance of a terrific green dragon, of huge proportions, who ranges up and down the country, creating devastation and dismay in every direction. No corner of the land is safe from his ravages; no one can hope to escape the consequences of his appearance. Every day his insatiable maw must be fed with the body of a young maiden, while so pestiferous is the breath which exhales from his throat that it causes a plague of a character so violent that whole districts have been depopulated by it. He commences his career of destruction at dawn every morning, and till his victim is ready he continues to ravage the land. When he has swallowed his lamentable repast he remains asleep till next morning, and then he proceeds as before.
"Many attempts have been made to capture him during the night, but they have proved as fruitless as trying to catch a weasel (if you happen to have heard of such an animal, Saint George, in your travels) asleep. Fruitless I will not say to him, for he has invariably destroyed the brave men who have gone out to attack him, and has swallowed them for his supper. For no less than twenty-four long years has this dreadful infliction been suffered by our beloved country, till scarcely a maiden remains alive, nor does a brave man continue in it. The most lovely and perfect of her sex, the King's only daughter, the charming Sabra, is to be made an offering to the fell dragon to-morrow, unless a knight can be found gallant and brave enough to risk his life in mortal combat with the monster, and with skill and strength sufficient to destroy him.
"The King has promised, in his royal word, that, should such a knight appear and come off victorious, he will give him his daughter in marriage and the crown of Bagabornabou at his decease."
"Ah!" exclaimed the English Knight, his whole countenance beaming with satisfaction, "here is a deed to be done truly worthy of my prowess! What think you of that, reverend hermit?" And he bared his breast, exhibiting the portrait of the green dragon which had been marked there at his birth.
"A circumstance ominous of deep import," observed the Hermit, nodding his head; "either the green dragon will kill you, or you will kill the green dragon."
"Now, by my halidom, but I fully purpose to kill the dragon and rescue the Princess," cried the Knight, in a cheerful voice. "Won't we, my brave De Fistycuff?"
"What men dare they can do," answered the Squire, nodding his head, for he was very sleepy.
Accordingly, the hermit having prepared couches of leaves, the Knight and his attendant rested till the cheerful cock, true messenger of day, gave notice that the sun was about to uprise from his sandy bed. Then, springing to his feet after a hurried meal, aided by his squire and the trembling fingers of the hermit, he carefully buckled on his armour, and mounting his richly caparisoned steed, he declared himself ready for the combat. Followed by De Fistycuff, and preceded by the hermit on a mule, who went to show the way, he proceeded to the valley where the dragon was asleep, and where the King's daughter was to be offered up as a sacrifice.
As he came in sight of it his eyes rested on one of the sweetest and most lovely maidens he had ever beheld, arrayed in pure white Arabian silk, and led to the place of death by a numerous band of sage and modest matrons, who mourned with bitter tears her hard fate.
This melancholy spectacle still further stimulated the overflowing courage of the English Knight, so spurring on towards the mourning group, he assured the lovely maiden that he was prepared to battle bravely in her cause, and entreated her to return to her father's court till the result of the coming contest became known.
"He'll do it if it is to be done," observed De Fistycuff, wishing to add his mite of consolation to the ladies' hearts, and pointing to his master, who had ridden slowly on; and having thus delivered himself he spurred after him.
The daring Knight and his faithful squire now entered the valley where the terrific green dragon had his abode. No sooner did the fiery eyes of the hideous monster fall on the steel-clad warrior, instead of the fair maiden he expected to see, than from his leathern throat he sent forth a cry of rage louder and more tremendous than thunder, and arousing himself he prepared for the contest about to occur. As he reared up on his hind legs, with his wings outspread, and his long scaly tail, with a huge red fork, extending far away behind him, his sharp claws wide open, each of the size of a large ship's anchor, his gaping mouth armed with double rows of huge teeth, between which appeared a fiery red tongue, and vast eyes blazing like burning coals, while his nostrils spouted forth fire, and the upper part of his body was covered with glittering green scales brighter than polished silver, and harder than brass, the under part being of a deep golden hue, his appearance might well have made even one of the bravest of men unwilling to attack him.
Saint George trembled not, but thought of the lovely Sabra, and nerved himself for the encounter. De Fistycuff did not like his looks, and had he been alone would have been tempted to beat a retreat, but his love for his master kept him by his side.
"See," said the Hermit, who had come thus far, "there is the dragon! He is a monster huge and horrible; but I believe that, like other monsters, by bravery and skill he can be overcome. See, the valley is full of fruit-trees! Should he wound you, and should you faint, you will find one bearing oranges of qualities so beneficial, that, should you be able to procure one plucked fresh from the tree, it will instantly revive you. Now, farewell! See, the brute is approaching!"
"Remember," cried Saint George, turning to De Fistycuff, "this fight is to be all my own. You stand by and see fair play. Only, if I am down, and the brute dares to hit me, then rush in to my rescue." The faithful squire nodded his assent.
On came the monster dragon, flapping his wings, spouting fire from his nostrils, and roaring loudly with his mouth. Saint George couched his sharp spear, and spurring his steed, dashed onward to the combat. So terrific was the shock that the Knight was almost hurled from his saddle, while his horse, driven back on his haunches, lay, almost crushed, beneath the monster's superincumbent weight; but both man and steed extricating themselves with marvellous agility, Saint George made another thrust of his spear, with all his might, against the scaly breast of the dragon. He might as well have struck against a gate of brass.
In a moment the stout spear was shivered into a thousand fragments, and the dragon uttered a loud roar of derision. At the same time, to show what he could do, he whisked round his venomous pointed tail with so rapid a movement that he brought both man and horse sorely bruised to the ground.
There they lay, almost senseless from the blow, while the dragon retreated backward some hundred paces or more, with the intention of coming back with greater force than before, and completing the victory he had almost won. Happily De Fistycuff divined the monster's purpose, and seeing one of the orange-trees of which the hermit had spoken, he picked an orange and hurried with it to his master.
Scarcely had the Knight tasted it than he felt his strength revive, and leaping to his feet, he gave the remainder of it to his trusty steed, on whose back instantly mounting, he stood prepared, with his famous sword Ascalon in his hand, to receive the furious charge which the dragon was about to make.
Though his spear had failed him at a pinch, his trusty falchion was true as ever; and making his horse spring forward, he struck the monster such a blow on his golden-coloured breast that the point entered between the scales, inflicting a wound which made it roar with pain and rage.
Slight, however, was the advantage which the Knight thereby gained, for there issued forth from the wound so copious a stream of black gore, with an odour so terrible, that it drove him back, almost drowning him and his brave steed, while the noxious fumes, entering their nostrils, brought them both fainting and helpless to the ground.
De Fistycuff, mindful of his master's commands, narrowly eyed the dragon, to see what he was about to do. Staunching his wound with a touch of his fiery tail, he flapped his green wings, roaring hoarsely, and shook his vast body, preparatory to another attack on the Knight.
"Is that it?" cried the Squire; and running to the orange-tree, whence he plucked a couple of the golden fruit, he poured the juice of one down the throat of his master, and of the other down that of Bayard. Both revived in an instant, and Saint George, springing on Bayard's back, felt as fresh and ready for the fight as ever. Both had learned the importance of avoiding the dragon's tail, and when he whisked it on one side Bayard sprang to the other, and so on backwards and forwards, nimbly avoiding the blows aimed by the venomous instrument at him or his rider.
Again and again the dragon reared itself up, attempting to drop down and crush his gallant assailant; but Bayard, with wonderful sagacity comprehending exactly what was to be done, sprung backwards or aside each time the monster descended, and thus avoided the threatened catastrophe. Still the dragon appeared as able as ever to endure the combat. Saint George saw that a strenuous effort must be made, and taking a fresh grasp of Ascalon, he spurred onward to meet the monster, who once more advanced, with outstretched wings, with the full purpose of destroying him. This time Saint George kept his spurs in the horse's flanks. "Death or victory must be the result of this charge," he shouted to De Fistycuff.
With Ascalon's bright point kept well before him, he drove directly at the breast of the monster. The sword struck him under the wing; through the thick flesh it went, and nothing stopped it till it pierced the monster's heart. Uttering a loud groan, which resounded through the neighbouring woods and mountains, and made even the wild beasts tremble with consternation, the furious green dragon fell over on its side, when Saint George, drawing his falchion from the wound, dashed on over the prostrate form of the monster, and, ere it could rise to revenge itself on its destroyer, with many a blow he severed the head from the body. So vast was the stream which flowed forth from the wound that the whole valley speedily became a lake of blood, and the river which ran down from it first gave notice, by its sanguineous hue, to the inhabitants of the neighbouring districts that the noble Champion of England had slain their long tormenting enemy.
The victorious Knight now refreshed himself and his steed with a couple of the oranges which De Fistycuff brought him, and which completely restored them to the vigour with which they began the combat. He then stuck the huge head of the once terrific dragon on a truncheon, which was formed by his faithful Squire out of the handle of the spear, the head of which had been shivered against the scaly sides of the monster at the commencement of the combat.
Having delivered the trophy of his prowess to De Fistycuff, to be borne before him, he rode on towards the capital of the kingdom, where he expected to be welcomed by the lovely Sabra, to be received by the sovereign and his people as a conqueror, to have heard all the bells in the empire ringing, and to have seen every house illuminated, and bonfires blazing in every street. He had to learn the bitter lesson that success frequently only creates enemies and detractors.
Now, there was residing at the court of King Battabolo, the sovereign of Bagabornabou, Almidor, the black King of Morocco, who had long in vain sought the hand of the Princess Sabra. For many reasons she could not abide him; and now, when he heard of the successful combat of Saint George with the dragon, he knew that he should have less chance than ever of winning her love. With baseness unparalleled he resolved to make one desperate effort to gain her. Accordingly, he, by the most extensive promises, engaged the services of twelve warriors of renown to waylay the British Champion, in order to deprive him of his trophy and of his life, intending to present himself before the fair Sabra, and to boast that he had himself destroyed the dragon.
Passing through a narrow defile, Saint George beheld the twelve African knights flourishing their swords, and prepared to intercept his progress.
"Take charge of Bayard," quoth he to De Fistycuff; "I'll meet these recreants sword in hand on foot." Thus speaking, he drew Ascalon from the scabbard, and advanced towards his foes. From the narrowness of the defile only three could engage in the fight at once. Sharply clashed the steel. Loud rang their swords upon his polished armour; but Ascalon soon found an entrance through their coats of mail, and one after the other fell breathless to the ground. Three more then came on; but standing on the bodies of the prostrate steeds, he with one stroke of his falchion severed their heads from their bodies, which rolled over in the ensanguined dust. With three equal downward strokes he cut in two, from the crown to the saddle, the next three which advanced, while the remainder turning to fly, he pierced them with Ascalon ignominiously through the back.
Almidor had all the time stood on the summit of a mountain hard by to witness the defeat of the British Champion; but when he saw that instead he remained victor of the field, he hastened back to the city to announce the death of the dragon by the sword of the strange Knight. Pen might fail to do justice to the magnificent preparations made to do honour to the brave Champion who had conquered the Green Dragon. As he approached the city he was met by a sumptuous chariot of massive gold, drawn by fifty milk-white steeds; the wheels were of the purest ebony, and the covering was of silk embossed with gold. On either side rode a hundred of the noblest peers of Bagabornabou, attired in crimson velvet, and mounted on chargers of the same pure colour as those which drew the chariot. Stepping into the chariot, while De Fistycuff led Bayard with one hand, and carried aloft the dragon's head with the other, he entered the city amid strains of delicious and martial music, and beneath banners and embroidered tapestry and rich arras waving from every window, from which looked down thousands of bright eyes to admire him. But none were so bright as those of the beauteous Sabra, who welcomed him in a rich pavilion prepared for his reception, where he laid at her feet the trophies of his prowess; and as she gazed at the dragon's monstrous jaws she shuddered to think that she might have had to go down them, and felt her gratitude and eke a warmer feeling increase for the gallant stranger who had preserved her from a fate so terrible.
Here all the first physicians in the land stood around with precious salves to dress his wounds, and administer specifics against the effects of the dragon's poisonous breath and venom. The Knight, having requested that they might all be left by his bed-side, and that he might be left alone, aided by De Fistycuff, emptied them all out of the window, and having declared himself next morning infinitely better, thereby gained immense popularity among the disciples of Aesculapius, who each rested under the pleasing belief that his own nostrum had worked the cure.