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THE TALE OF TWO KNIGHTS WHO FOUGHT THE
N OW the giant Sham was an evil genius of great power, who, by his
unholy spells, brought worshippers and parasites to his castle from all quarters of the land. Most of these were weak-minded people, who preferred being servants to Sham to making their living in any more honorable way. They swaggered tremendously in the false jewels and tinsel trinkets so lavishly bestowed upon them by Sham, who did a large business in hiring out feathers for them to stick in their caps. And a sorrowful show these poor creatures made with their draggled and borrowed plumes ! It was to attack this giant, in his castle, that the two knights had ridden forth on this fine summer morning, attended by their faithful squires. Brave warriors! thus to beard in his very den a monster who had thousands of dangerous fools at his back!
On, on, they wound their way through the crooked lanes that led to the rock, turning often their observant eyes, as they went, upon the strange groups that thronged and hustled each other on their way thither. “ Look !” cried Sir William, “here come the Four Georges, Ianya declare! Make way for the royal dolls !” And, as he spoke, four shadowy kings went by, all in a row, with jewelled sceptres and crowns, their footsteps sounding hollowly upon the crust as they walked. Stately ghosts they seemed to be while yet distant; but as they came nearer and nearer, much about them M looked like mere tinsel and paste. At a sign from Sir William, Stylus whipped off the heads of these royal shadows, one by one, as they passed, and, lo! they were nothing but pasteboard, light and hollow, and easily put off and on. And yet these kings had reigned from generation to generation, bepraised by flatterers, and performing the functions proper to the kings of earth, and hardly one of their subjects but thought they were of real stuff. Indeed, one of these Georges - the Fourth he was called — passed himself off as a phenix of kings and a model for all gentlemen to follow. “Royal old mummy,” said Sir William, addressing this fat personage, “I don't like to see you dressed up in the livery of the giant Sham. It does n't become you at all. The first gentleman in all the land, as you please to call yourself, need n't make himself up to look like a stuffed peacock. It is n't necessary, and it is very aggravating
VOL. II. — NO. II.
to the well-regulated mind. Come, then, strip off your borrowed livery, and stand forth to the world for what you are." But when Stylus began to strip the clothes off the royal old mummy, the padding and pasteboard of which that personage was made all gave way, and came tumbling to the ground, and behold! in the place where the heart should have been there was nothing but a great iron of the kind called a tailor's goose, which Stylus hung as a trophy to the housings of Sir William's horse. And now that was all that was left of the four kings, who faded away out of sight. But the two knights went toiling, toiling up the steep ravines, for still the word with them was “ Onward, march !”
And while they are wending their way, let us take a peep at the giant Sham, as he receives his followers in his castle on the top of the hollow rock There on his hollow throne he sits, a shapeless, unwieldy mass, and of aspect so stupid, indeed, that it is absolutely wonderful how he could ever have been
set up for an idol in the high places of the land. To his feet there come, in throngs, the people who have been crowding up the crooked byways and thorny lanes that lead to the castle, and they kneel to him, and worship him, and are glad when they can touch the hem of his garment, and go off into fits of delight if they only get a chance to kiss the latchets of his shoes. There is a sound of outlandish music in the great galleries, and the people clap their hands at it, and cry,“ Bravo !” a hundred times, though they do not in the least like it or under
stand what it means; and there is great bowing and scraping among the promenaders in the halls of Sham, men and women shaking hands with one another with all their might, and hating one another with all their hearts. The guards that sentinel the corridors of Sham are warriors most formidable to look upon, -grim, gigantic, and armed to the teeth ; but look at them as you draw closer, and you will see that they are stuffed scarecrows only, with the straws bursting out at the seams of their garments. Likewise of the great dogs that lie across the thresholds of the doors, — nothing but skin and straw; and the noble steeds that stand out in the court-yard there, — all straw and skin, with false manes and tails, made of hair that never belonged to them, but might once have been the property of good, honest quadrupeds, that did their work as such.
Yet the foolish people go to and fro through the hollow-sounding galleries, and up the winding stairs, all smiling and bowing and despising each other as they go. Here they crowd round a great picture that hangs upon the wall. It is black with age, dirty, and seamed with cracks, and they clap their hands before it, and make telescopes with their hands to look at it through, because they are sure it must be a fine picture, — “it is so old.” And many of the young men — ay, and some who are not so very young either
- gather round a glass case, under which there sits imprisoned a splendidly dressed young girl. The carpet at her feet is strewed with bags of gold. And yet how unhappy she looks, as she sits there like a caged bird! She is a great heiress, poor child! and is kept on exhibition at the castle of Sham. It is a way they have in the society that crowds to the shrine of the lord of that castle. They put up their heiress on show, Z previous to her sale by auction, and it is to the highest bidder that she goes at last. He may be a fool, ugly, decrepit, and old, to whom the poor little heiress is awarded ; but he must have the gold to measure against her gold, coin for coin.
And now, ere we quit the castle of Sham, gaze with me awhile from one of its cobwebbed windows, and you shall see a sight most wonderful to behold. It is a procession of the chief retainers and dependents of the giant Sham. At the head of it there is a crowned king, after whom come lords and ladies, struggling with each other to kiss the hem of his robe. After the lords and ladies come others who are not quite so grand, and who, far out of reach of the royal hem, content themselves with kissing that of the noble kissers
who are before them. Lower still in the line are personages of lesser importance, all kissing the hems of those in front, and so on in an endless succession of humiliation and flattery to the end,- the lesser making of the greater an idol for imitation and worship. Look well upon this curious show, and think how ridiculous you would appear were you foolish enough to make one at such a silly game.
But we must return to the two knights, whom we have left steadily pursuing their way to the castle of Sham, — for their cry is ever, “Onward, march !” They had come so close to the castle walls now, that the sounds of the revelry going on within fell harshly upon their ears. Stragglers in masks came reeling down the road, bloated and Aushed from the recent debauch, addressing one of whom, Sir William asked of news from the castle.
“Great merry-makings within there, Sir Knight,” replied the reveller. “The myrmidons of the mighty Sham have captured a beautiful princess, called by men the Lady Truth. She lies imprisoned within yon black walls, with golden fetters upon her ankles and wrists, and loud is the joy in the halls of Sham because of the heavy ransom they expect to get for her."
A glance of meaning passed between the two knights. “What !” exclaimed Sir William, “a ransom for our own dear princess, the Lady Truth? Here is the only ransom the old rascal of the rock shall get from me!” – and, drawing his sword, he flourished it three times in the air, the reflection from its blade flashing like lightning upon the dark walls of the castle.
“Now for the spell given to me by Satira the Sorceress!” said Sir John, “ the magic talisman, the master-key before which the locks of deceit give way and crumble to dust”;-and, drawing from his bosom a small casket, he took from it a gem that threw out sparks on every side as the sunlight flashed upon it. “With this we can throw open the castle gates," added he, “and then for our trusty swords, and three cheers for the right !" “Blow again upon your bugle-horns,” said Sir William to the two squires;
and not soft and low this time, but loud and strong, went the bellowing of the horns, as the dwarfs blew from them a warning to the warders of the castle that strangers were at the gate.
The notes had not ceased to reverberate among the rocks and buttresses when a wicket in the gate flew open, and a strange-looking figure emerged from it. This personage was clad in a livery of sky-blue plush, studded with buttons that looked like pewter plates. White cotton stockings covered the protruding calves of his legs, and the buckles upon his shoes were of great size and splendor. His cheeks were bloated and pimply, and his hair shone with pomatum, of which the perfume was very strong. High living had made him insolent, — for, though he was only chief foot
man to the giant Sham, he threw into his deportment an air of languor and haughtiness observed by him among the great lords, the affectation of which made the vulgar creature look very ridiculous indeed.
Turning up his nose at the two knights, he said, mincingly: “Business persons, I see. Folks coming on business to my lord must send up their references"; - and he held out a gilt salver as he spoke.
“Pampered varlet!” shouted Sir William, " there is my reference !” – and, kicking the pinchbeck tray out of the fellow's hand, he sent it spinning away in the air like a leaf in a gale of wind. Then, seizing him neck and crop, he strove to hurl him from the rock into the abyss beneath ; but lo! the thing was all a puppet and a deceit, and the clothes of which it was made up went fluttering down the rocks, catching upon the thorns as they went, here a coat and there a wig, but the rest was all emptiness and air.
The wicket had closed after the puppet footman of the castle with a secret spring, but Sir John again opened his casket, and, at a touch from the magic jewel contained in it, the great portals flew open, and the two knights dismounted from their horses and entered the court-yard, sword in hand, where an extraordinary scene presented itself to their view. Huddled upon the ground, in every variety of attitude, lay the revellers of the halls of Sham, overcome by the drowsy slumber that succeeds debauch. Masks of the most grotesque hideousness were strewn everywhere around, mingled with the fragments of crystal drinking-vessels, while here and there lay the golden goblet and the emptied wine-glass, silent witnesses to the carousal that was over. In the midst of all towered the hideous form of the giant Sham, seated upon a painted throne, with his head bowed down upon his breast in a drunken sleep. But the figure that chiefly arrested the gaze of the two knights was that of a beautiful woman, bound hand and foot with golden fetters, and linked with heavy chains to the foot of the monster's throne. This was the Lady Truth. She raised her hands with a gesture of surprise, and a flush of joy suffused her pale features as she recognized the two knights; for she knew them well, and was sure now that her deliverance from the bondage of the odious giant was at hand.
“ Fear not, lady,” said. Sir John, approaching her with a courtly bow, “I have here a talisman before which the bolts and fetters of the tyrants are but gossamer threads”; — and, so saying, he touched her fetters with the radiant gem, and straightway they fell from her limbs, and, kneeling before her deliverer, she clasped her hands with emotion, thanking him in words of the simplest eloquence, — for were they not the words of Truth?
At this moment the giant, disturbed by the voices around him, awoke with a start that shook the castle walls and set all the bells a-ringing. When he saw himself confronted by two armed knights, and that his fair captive had been rescued from her bondage, his already hideous countenance assumed an expression of fury that was awful to look upon. He shook himself like a lion, and tried to roar like one, but the effort ended only in a squeak like that of a mouse. The only effect that this had on the two knights was to make them burst out laughing at him. Sir William, indeed, applied some epithets