A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT
(Samuel L. Clemens)
The ungentle laws and customs touched upon in this tale are
historical, and the episodes which are used to illustrate them
are also historical. It is not pretended that these laws and
customs existed in England in the sixth century; no, it is only
pretended that inasmuch as they existed in the English and other
civilizations of far later times, it is safe to consider that it is
no libel upon the sixth century to suppose them to have been in
practice in that day also. One is quite justified in inferring
that whatever one of these laws or customs was lacking in that
remote time, its place was competently filled by a worse one.
The question as to whether there is such a thing as divine right
of kings is not settled in this book. It was found too difficult.
That the executive head of a nation should be a person of lofty
character and extraordinary ability, was manifest and indisputable;
that none but the Deity could select that head unerringly, was
also manifest and indisputable; that the Deity ought to make that
selection, then, was likewise manifest and indisputable; consequently,
that He does make it, as claimed, was an unavoidable deduction.
I mean, until the author of this book encountered the Pompadour,
and Lady Castlemaine, and some other executive heads of that kind;
these were found so difficult to work into the scheme, that it
was judged better to take the other tack in this book (which
must be issued this fall), and then go into training and settle
the question in another book. It is, of course, a thing which
ought to be settled, and I am not going to have anything particular
to do next winter anyway.
HARTFORD, July 21, 1889
A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT
A WORD OF EXPLANATION
It was in Warwick Castle that I came across the curious stranger
whom I am going to talk about. He attracted me by three things:
his candid simplicity, his marvelous familiarity with ancient armor,
and the restfulness of his company--for he did all the talking.
We fell together, as modest people will, in the tail of the herd
that was being shown through, and he at once began to say things
which interested me. As he talked along, softly, pleasantly,
flowingly, he seemed to drift away imperceptibly out of this world
and time, and into some remote era and old forgotten country;
and so he gradually wove such a spell about me that I seemed
to move among the specters and shadows and dust and mold of a gray
antiquity, holding speech with a relic of it! Exactly as I would
speak of my nearest personal friends or enemies, or my most familiar
neighbors, he spoke of Sir Bedivere, Sir Bors de Ganis, Sir Launcelot
of the Lake, Sir Galahad, and all the other great names of the
Table Round--and how old, old, unspeakably old and faded and dry
and musty and ancient he came to look as he went on! Presently
he turned to me and said, just as one might speak of the weather,
or any other common matter--
"You know about transmigration of souls; do you know about
transposition of epochs--and bodies?"
I said I had not heard of it. He was so little interested--just
as when people speak of the weather--that he did not notice
whether I made him any answer or not. There was half a moment
of silence, immediately interrupted by the droning voice of the
"Ancient hauberk, date of the sixth century, time of King Arthur
and the Round Table; said to have belonged to the knight Sir Sagramor
le Desirous; observe the round hole through the chain-mail in
the left breast; can't be accounted for; supposed to have been
done with a bullet since invention of firearms--perhaps maliciously
by Cromwell's soldiers."
My acquaintance smiled--not a modern smile, but one that must
have gone out of general use many, many centuries ago--and muttered
apparently to himself:
"Wit ye well, _I saw it done_." Then, after a pause, added:
"I did it myself."
By the time I had recovered from the electric surprise of this
remark, he was gone.
All that evening I sat by my fire at the Warwick Arms, steeped
in a dream of the olden time, while the rain beat upon the windows,
and the wind roared about the eaves and corners. From time to
time I dipped into old Sir Thomas Malory's enchanting book, and
fed at its rich feast of prodigies and adventures, breathed in
the fragrance of its obsolete names, and dreamed again. Midnight
being come at length, I read another tale, for a nightcap--this
which here follows, to wit:
HOW SIR LAUNCELOT SLEW TWO GIANTS, AND MADE A CASTLE FREE
Anon withal came there upon him two great giants,
well armed, all save the heads, with two horrible
clubs in their hands. Sir Launcelot put his shield
afore him, and put the stroke away of the one
giant, and with his sword he clave his head asunder.
When his fellow saw that, he ran away as he were
wood [*demented], for fear of the horrible strokes,
and Sir Launcelot after him with all his might,
and smote him on the shoulder, and clave him to
the middle. Then Sir Launcelot went into the hall,
and there came afore him three score ladies and
damsels, and all kneeled unto him, and thanked
God and him of their deliverance. For, sir, said
they, the most part of us have been here this
seven year their prisoners, and we have worked all
manner of silk works for our meat, and we are all
great gentle-women born, and blessed be the time,
knight, that ever thou wert born; for thou hast
done the most worship that ever did knight in the
world, that will we bear record, and we all pray
you to tell us your name, that we may tell our
friends who delivered us out of prison. Fair
damsels, he said, my name is Sir Launcelot du
Lake. And so he departed from them and betaught
them unto God. And then he mounted upon his
horse, and rode into many strange and wild
countries, and through many waters and valleys,
and evil was he lodged. And at the last by
fortune him happened against a night to come to
a fair courtilage, and therein he found an old
gentle-woman that lodged him with a good-will,
and there he had good cheer for him and his horse.
And when time was, his host brought him into a
fair garret over the gate to his bed. There
Sir Launcelot unarmed him, and set his harness
by him, and went to bed, and anon he fell on
sleep. So, soon after there came one on
horseback, and knocked at the gate in great
haste. And when Sir Launcelot heard this he rose
up, and looked out at the window, and saw by the
moonlight three knights come riding after that
one man, and all three lashed on him at once
with swords, and that one knight turned on them
knightly again and defended him. Truly, said
Sir Launcelot, yonder one knight shall I help,
for it were shame for me to see three knights
on one, and if he be slain I am partner of his
death. And therewith he took his harness and
went out at a window by a sheet down to the four
knights, and then Sir Launcelot said on high,
Turn you knights unto me, and leave your
fighting with that knight. And then they all
three left Sir Kay, and turned unto Sir Launcelot,
and there began great battle, for they alight
all three, and strake many strokes at Sir
Launcelot, and assailed him on every side. Then
Sir Kay dressed him for to have holpen Sir
Launcelot. Nay, sir, said he, I will none of
your help, therefore as ye will have my help
let me alone with them. Sir Kay for the pleasure
of the knight suffered him for to do his will,
and so stood aside. And then anon within six
strokes Sir Launcelot had stricken them to the earth.
And then they all three cried, Sir Knight, we
yield us unto you as man of might matchless. As
to that, said Sir Launcelot, I will not take
your yielding unto me, but so that ye yield
you unto Sir Kay the seneschal, on that covenant
I will save your lives and else not. Fair knight,
said they, that were we loath to do; for as for
Sir Kay we chased him hither, and had overcome
him had ye not been; therefore, to yield us unto
him it were no reason. Well, as to that, said
Sir Launcelot, advise you well, for ye may
choose whether ye will die or live, for an ye be
yielden, it shall be unto Sir Kay. Fair knight,
then they said, in saving our lives we will do
as thou commandest us. Then shall ye, said Sir
Launcelot, on Whitsunday next coming go unto the
court of King Arthur, and there shall ye yield
you unto Queen Guenever, and put you all three
in her grace and mercy, and say that Sir Kay
sent you thither to be her prisoners. On the morn
Sir Launcelot arose early, and left Sir Kay
sleeping; and Sir Launcelot took Sir Kay's armor
and his shield and armed him, and so he went to
the stable and took his horse, and took his leave
of his host, and so he departed. Then soon after
arose Sir Kay and missed Sir Launcelot; and
then he espied that he had his armor and his
horse. Now by my faith I know well that he will
grieve some of the court of King Arthur; for on
him knights will be bold, and deem that it is I,
and that will beguile them; and because of his
armor and shield I am sure I shall ride in peace.
And then soon after departed Sir Kay, and
thanked his host.
As I laid the book down there was a knock at the door, and my
stranger came in. I gave him a pipe and a chair, and made him
welcome. I also comforted him with a hot Scotch whisky; gave him
another one; then still another--hoping always for his story.
After a fourth persuader, he drifted into it himself, in a quite
simple and natural way:
THE STRANGER'S HISTORY
I am an American. I was born and reared in Hartford, in the State
of Connecticut--anyway, just over the river, in the country. So
I am a Yankee of the Yankees--and practical; yes, and nearly
barren of sentiment, I suppose--or poetry, in other words. My
father was a blacksmith, my uncle was a horse doctor, and I was
both, along at first. Then I went over to the great arms factory
and learned my real trade; learned all there was to it; learned
to make everything: guns, revolvers, cannon, boilers, engines, all
sorts of labor-saving machinery. Why, I could make anything
a body wanted--anything in the world, it didn't make any difference
what; and if there wasn't any quick new-fangled way to make a thing,
I could invent one--and do it as easy as rolling off a log. I became
head superintendent; had a couple of thousand men under me.
Well, a man like that is a man that is full of fight--that goes
without saying. With a couple of thousand rough men under one,
one has plenty of that sort of amusement. I had, anyway. At last
I met my match, and I got my dose. It was during a misunderstanding
conducted with crowbars with a fellow we used to call Hercules.
He laid me out with a crusher alongside the head that made everything
crack, and seemed to spring every joint in my skull and made it
overlap its neighbor. Then the world went out in darkness, and
I didn't feel anything more, and didn't know anything at all
--at least for a while.
When I came to again, I was sitting under an oak tree, on the
grass, with a whole beautiful and broad country landscape all
to myself--nearly. Not entirely; for there was a fellow on a horse,
looking down at me--a fellow fresh out of a picture-book. He was
in old-time iron armor from head to heel, with a helmet on his
head the shape of a nail-keg with slits in it; and he had a shield,
and a sword, and a prodigious spear; and his horse had armor on,
too, and a steel horn projecting from his forehead, and gorgeous
red and green silk trappings that hung down all around him like
a bedquilt, nearly to the ground.
"Fair sir, will ye just?" said this fellow.
"Will I which?"
"Will ye try a passage of arms for land or lady or for--"
"What are you giving me?" I said. "Get along back to your circus,
or I'll report you."
Now what does this man do but fall back a couple of hundred yards
and then come rushing at me as hard as he could tear, with his
nail-keg bent down nearly to his horse's neck and his long spear
pointed straight ahead. I saw he meant business, so I was up
the tree when he arrived.
He allowed that I was his property, the captive of his spear.
There was argument on his side--and the bulk of the advantage
--so I judged it best to humor him. We fixed up an agreement
whereby I was to go with him and he was not to hurt me. I came
down, and we started away, I walking by the side of his horse.
We marched comfortably along, through glades and over brooks which
I could not remember to have seen before--which puzzled me and
made me wonder--and yet we did not come to any circus or sign of
a circus. So I gave up the idea of a circus, and concluded he was
from an asylum. But we never came to an asylum--so I was up
a stump, as you may say. I asked him how far we were from Hartford.
He said he had never heard of the place; which I took to be a lie,
but allowed it to go at that. At the end of an hour we saw a
far-away town sleeping in a valley by a winding river; and beyond
it on a hill, a vast gray fortress, with towers and turrets,
the first I had ever seen out of a picture.
"Bridgeport?" said I, pointing.
"Camelot," said he.
My stranger had been showing signs of sleepiness. He caught
himself nodding, now, and smiled one of those pathetic, obsolete
smiles of his, and said:
"I find I can't go on; but come with me, I've got it all written
out, and you can read it if you like."
In his chamber, he said: "First, I kept a journal; then by and by,
after years, I took the journal and turned it into a book. How
long ago that was!"
He handed me his manuscript, and pointed out the place where
I should begin:
"Begin here--I've already told you what goes before." He was
steeped in drowsiness by this time. As I went out at his door
I heard him murmur sleepily: "Give you good den, fair sir."
I sat down by my fire and examined my treasure. The first part
of it--the great bulk of it--was parchment, and yellow with age.
I scanned a leaf particularly and saw that it was a palimpsest.
Under the old dim writing of the Yankee historian appeared traces
of a penmanship which was older and dimmer still--Latin words
and sentences: fragments from old monkish legends, evidently.
I turned to the place indicated by my stranger and began to read
THE TALE OF THE LOST LAND
"Camelot--Camelot," said I to myself. "I don't seem to remember
hearing of it before. Name of the asylum, likely."
It was a soft, reposeful summer landscape, as lovely as a dream,
and as lonesome as Sunday. The air was full of the smell of
flowers, and the buzzing of insects, and the twittering of birds,
and there were no people, no wagons, there was no stir of life,
nothing going on. The road was mainly a winding path with hoof-prints
in it, and now and then a faint trace of wheels on either side in
the grass--wheels that apparently had a tire as broad as one's hand.
Presently a fair slip of a girl, about ten years old, with a cataract
of golden hair streaming down over her shoulders, came along.
Around her head she wore a hoop of flame-red poppies. It was as
sweet an outfit as ever I saw, what there was of it. She walked
indolently along, with a mind at rest, its peace reflected in her
innocent face. The circus man paid no attention to her; didn't
even seem to see her. And she--she was no more startled at his
fantastic make-up than if she was used to his like every day of
her life. She was going by as indifferently as she might have gone
by a couple of cows; but when she happened to notice me, _then_
there was a change! Up went her hands, and she was turned to stone;
her mouth dropped open, her eyes stared wide and timorously, she
was the picture of astonished curiosity touched with fear. And
there she stood gazing, in a sort of stupefied fascination, till
we turned a corner of the wood and were lost to her view. That
she should be startled at me instead of at the other man, was too
many for me; I couldn't make head or tail of it. And that she
should seem to consider me a spectacle, and totally overlook her
own merits in that respect, was another puzzling thing, and a
display of magnanimity, too, that was surprising in one so young.
There was food for thought here. I moved along as one in a dream.
As we approached the town, signs of life began to appear. At
intervals we passed a wretched cabin, with a thatched roof, and
about it small fields and garden patches in an indifferent state of
cultivation. There were people, too; brawny men, with long, coarse,
uncombed hair that hung down over their faces and made them look
like animals. They and the women, as a rule, wore a coarse
tow-linen robe that came well below the knee, and a rude sort of
sandal, and many wore an iron collar. The small boys and girls
were always naked; but nobody seemed to know it. All of these
people stared at me, talked about me, ran into the huts and fetched
out their families to gape at me; but nobody ever noticed that
other fellow, except to make him humble salutation and get no
response for their pains.
In the town were some substantial windowless houses of stone
scattered among a wilderness of thatched cabins; the streets were
mere crooked alleys, and unpaved; troops of dogs and nude children
played in the sun and made life and noise; hogs roamed and rooted
contentedly about, and one of them lay in a reeking wallow in
the middle of the main thoroughfare and suckled her family.
Presently there was a distant blare of military music; it came
nearer, still nearer, and soon a noble cavalcade wound into view,
glorious with plumed helmets and flashing mail and flaunting banners
and rich doublets and horse-cloths and gilded spearheads; and
through the muck and swine, and naked brats, and joyous dogs, and
shabby huts, it took its gallant way, and in its wake we followed.
Followed through one winding alley and then another,--and climbing,
always climbing--till at last we gained the breezy height where
the huge castle stood. There was an exchange of bugle blasts;
then a parley from the walls, where men-at-arms, in hauberk and
morion, marched back and forth with halberd at shoulder under
flapping banners with the rude figure of a dragon displayed upon
them; and then the great gates were flung open, the drawbridge
was lowered, and the head of the cavalcade swept forward under
the frowning arches; and we, following, soon found ourselves in
a great paved court, with towers and turrets stretching up into
the blue air on all the four sides; and all about us the dismount
was going on, and much greeting and ceremony, and running to and
fro, and a gay display of moving and intermingling colors, and
an altogether pleasant stir and noise and confusion.
KING ARTHUR'S COURT
The moment I got a chance I slipped aside privately and touched
an ancient common looking man on the shoulder and said, in an
insinuating, confidential way:
"Friend, do me a kindness. Do you belong to the asylum, or are
you just on a visit or something like that?"
He looked me over stupidly, and said:
"Marry, fair sir, me seemeth--"
"That will do," I said; "I reckon you are a patient."
I moved away, cogitating, and at the same time keeping an eye
out for any chance passenger in his right mind that might come
along and give me some light. I judged I had found one, presently;
so I drew him aside and said in his ear:
"If I could see the head keeper a minute--only just a minute--"
"Prithee do not let me."
"Let you _what_?"
"_Hinder_ me, then, if the word please thee better. Then he went
on to say he was an under-cook and could not stop to gossip,
though he would like it another time; for it would comfort his
very liver to know where I got my clothes. As he started away he
pointed and said yonder was one who was idle enough for my purpose,
and was seeking me besides, no doubt. This was an airy slim boy
in shrimp-colored tights that made him look like a forked carrot,
the rest of his gear was blue silk and dainty laces and ruffles;
and he had long yellow curls, and wore a plumed pink satin cap
tilted complacently over his ear. By his look, he was good-natured;
by his gait, he was satisfied with himself. He was pretty enough
to frame. He arrived, looked me over with a smiling and impudent
curiosity; said he had come for me, and informed me that he was a page.
"Go 'long," I said; "you ain't more than a paragraph."
It was pretty severe, but I was nettled. However, it never phazed
him; he didn't appear to know he was hurt. He began to talk and
laugh, in happy, thoughtless, boyish fashion, as we walked along,
and made himself old friends with me at once; asked me all sorts
of questions about myself and about my clothes, but never waited
for an answer--always chattered straight ahead, as if he didn't
know he had asked a question and wasn't expecting any reply, until
at last he happened to mention that he was born in the beginning
of the year 513.
It made the cold chills creep over me! I stopped and said,
a little faintly:
"Maybe I didn't hear you just right. Say it again--and say it
slow. What year was it?"
"513! You don't look it! Come, my boy, I am a stranger and
friendless; be honest and honorable with me. Are you in your
He said he was.
"Are these other people in their right minds?"
He said they were.
"And this isn't an asylum? I mean, it isn't a place where they
cure crazy people?"
He said it wasn't.
"Well, then," I said, "either I am a lunatic, or something just
as awful has happened. Now tell me, honest and true, where am I?"
"IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT."
I waited a minute, to let that idea shudder its way home,
and then said:
"And according to your notions, what year is it now?"
"528--nineteenth of June."
I felt a mournful sinking at the heart, and muttered: "I shall
never see my friends again--never, never again. They will not
be born for more than thirteen hundred years yet."
I seemed to believe the boy, I didn't know why. _Something_ in me
seemed to believe him--my consciousness, as you may say; but my
reason didn't. My reason straightway began to clamor; that was
natural. I didn't know how to go about satisfying it, because
I knew that the testimony of men wouldn't serve--my reason would
say they were lunatics, and throw out their evidence. But all
of a sudden I stumbled on the very thing, just by luck. I knew
that the only total eclipse of the sun in the first half of the
sixth century occurred on the 21st of June, A.D. 528, O.S., and
began at 3 minutes after 12 noon. I also knew that no total eclipse
of the sun was due in what to _me_ was the present year--i.e., 1879.
So, if I could keep my anxiety and curiosity from eating the heart
out of me for forty-eight hours, I should then find out for certain
whether this boy was telling me the truth or not.
Wherefore, being a practical Connecticut man, I now shoved this
whole problem clear out of my mind till its appointed day and hour
should come, in order that I might turn all my attention to the
circumstances of the present moment, and be alert and ready to
make the most out of them that could be made. One thing at a time,
is my motto--and just play that thing for all it is worth, even
if it's only two pair and a jack. I made up my mind to two things:
if it was still the nineteenth century and I was among lunatics
and couldn't get away, I would presently boss that asylum or know
the reason why; and if, on the other hand, it was really the sixth
century, all right, I didn't want any softer thing: I would boss
the whole country inside of three months; for I judged I would
have the start of the best-educated man in the kingdom by a matter
of thirteen hundred years and upward. I'm not a man to waste
time after my mind's made up and there's work on hand; so I said
to the page:
"Now, Clarence, my boy--if that might happen to be your name
--I'll get you to post me up a little if you don't mind. What is
the name of that apparition that brought me here?"
"My master and thine? That is the good knight and great lord
Sir Kay the Seneschal, foster brother to our liege the king."
"Very good; go on, tell me everything."
He made a long story of it; but the part that had immediate interest
for me was this: He said I was Sir Kay's prisoner, and that
in the due course of custom I would be flung into a dungeon and
left there on scant commons until my friends ransomed me--unless
I chanced to rot, first. I saw that the last chance had the best
show, but I didn't waste any bother about that; time was too
precious. The page said, further, that dinner was about ended
in the great hall by this time, and that as soon as the sociability
and the heavy drinking should begin, Sir Kay would have me in and
exhibit me before King Arthur and his illustrious knights seated at
the Table Round, and would brag about his exploit in capturing
me, and would probably exaggerate the facts a little, but it
wouldn't be good form for me to correct him, and not over safe,
either; and when I was done being exhibited, then ho for the
dungeon; but he, Clarence, would find a way to come and see me every
now and then, and cheer me up, and help me get word to my friends.
Get word to my friends! I thanked him; I couldn't do less; and
about this time a lackey came to say I was wanted; so Clarence
led me in and took me off to one side and sat down by me.
Well, it was a curious kind of spectacle, and interesting. It was
an immense place, and rather naked--yes, and full of loud contrasts.
It was very, very lofty; so lofty that the banners depending from
the arched beams and girders away up there floated in a sort of
twilight; there was a stone-railed gallery at each end, high up,
with musicians in the one, and women, clothed in stunning colors,
in the other. The floor was of big stone flags laid in black and
white squares, rather battered by age and use, and needing repair.
As to ornament, there wasn't any, strictly speaking; though on
the walls hung some huge tapestries which were probably taxed
as works of art; battle-pieces, they were, with horses shaped like
those which children cut out of paper or create in gingerbread;
with men on them in scale armor whose scales are represented by
round holes--so that the man's coat looks as if it had been done
with a biscuit-punch. There was a fireplace big enough to camp in;
and its projecting sides and hood, of carved and pillared stonework,
had the look of a cathedral door. Along the walls stood men-at-arms,
in breastplate and morion, with halberds for their only weapon
--rigid as statues; and that is what they looked like.
In the middle of this groined and vaulted public square was an oaken
table which they called the Table Round. It was as large as
a circus ring; and around it sat a great company of men dressed
in such various and splendid colors that it hurt one's eyes to look
at them. They wore their plumed hats, right along, except that
whenever one addressed himself directly to the king, he lifted
his hat a trifle just as he was beginning his remark.
Mainly they were drinking--from entire ox horns; but a few were
still munching bread or gnawing beef bones. There was about
an average of two dogs to one man; and these sat in expectant
attitudes till a spent bone was flung to them, and then they went
for it by brigades and divisions, with a rush, and there ensued
a fight which filled the prospect with a tumultuous chaos of
plunging heads and bodies and flashing tails, and the storm of
howlings and barkings deafened all speech for the time; but that
was no matter, for the dog-fight was always a bigger interest
anyway; the men rose, sometimes, to observe it the better and bet
on it, and the ladies and the musicians stretched themselves out
over their balusters with the same object; and all broke into
delighted ejaculations from time to time. In the end, the winning
dog stretched himself out comfortably with his bone between his
paws, and proceeded to growl over it, and gnaw it, and grease
the floor with it, just as fifty others were already doing; and the
rest of the court resumed their previous industries and entertainments.
As a rule, the speech and behavior of these people were gracious
and courtly; and I noticed that they were good and serious listeners
when anybody was telling anything--I mean in a dog-fightless
interval. And plainly, too, they were a childlike and innocent lot;
telling lies of the stateliest pattern with a most gentle and
winning naivety, and ready and willing to listen to anybody else's
lie, and believe it, too. It was hard to associate them with
anything cruel or dreadful; and yet they dealt in tales of blood
and suffering with a guileless relish that made me almost forget
I was not the only prisoner present. There were twenty or more.
Poor devils, many of them were maimed, hacked, carved, in a frightful
way; and their hair, their faces, their clothing, were caked with
black and stiffened drenchings of blood. They were suffering
sharp physical pain, of course; and weariness, and hunger and
thirst, no doubt; and at least none had given them the comfort
of a wash, or even the poor charity of a lotion for their wounds;
yet you never heard them utter a moan or a groan, or saw them show
any sign of restlessness, or any disposition to complain. The
thought was forced upon me: "The rascals--_they_ have served other
people so in their day; it being their own turn, now, they were
not expecting any better treatment than this; so their philosophical
bearing is not an outcome of mental training, intellectual fortitude,
reasoning; it is mere animal training; they are white Indians."
KNIGHTS OF THE TABLE ROUND
Mainly the Round Table talk was monologues--narrative accounts
of the adventures in which these prisoners were captured and their
friends and backers killed and stripped of their steeds and armor.
As a general thing--as far as I could make out--these murderous
adventures were not forays undertaken to avenge injuries, nor to
settle old disputes or sudden fallings out; no, as a rule they were
simply duels between strangers--duels between people who had never
even been introduced to each other, and between whom existed no
cause of offense whatever. Many a time I had seen a couple of boys,
strangers, meet by chance, and say simultaneously, "I can lick you,"
and go at it on the spot; but I had always imagined until now that
that sort of thing belonged to children only, and was a sign and
mark of childhood; but here were these big boobies sticking to it
and taking pride in it clear up into full age and beyond. Yet there
was something very engaging about these great simple-hearted
creatures, something attractive and lovable. There did not seem
to be brains enough in the entire nursery, so to speak, to bait
a fish-hook with; but you didn't seem to mind that, after a little,
because you soon saw that brains were not needed in a society
like that, and indeed would have marred it, hindered it, spoiled
its symmetry--perhaps rendered its existence impossible.
There was a fine manliness observable in almost every face; and
in some a certain loftiness and sweetness that rebuked your
belittling criticisms and stilled them. A most noble benignity
and purity reposed in the countenance of him they called Sir Galahad,
and likewise in the king's also; and there was majesty and greatness
in the giant frame and high bearing of Sir Launcelot of the Lake.
There was presently an incident which centered the general interest
upon this Sir Launcelot. At a sign from a sort of master of
ceremonies, six or eight of the prisoners rose and came forward
in a body and knelt on the floor and lifted up their hands toward
the ladies' gallery and begged the grace of a word with the queen.
The most conspicuously situated lady in that massed flower-bed
of feminine show and finery inclined her head by way of assent,
and then the spokesman of the prisoners delivered himself and his
fellows into her hands for free pardon, ransom, captivity, or death,
as she in her good pleasure might elect; and this, as he said, he
was doing by command of Sir Kay the Seneschal, whose prisoners
they were, he having vanquished them by his single might and
prowess in sturdy conflict in the field.
Surprise and astonishment flashed from face to face all over
the house; the queen's gratified smile faded out at the name of
Sir Kay, and she looked disappointed; and the page whispered in
my ear with an accent and manner expressive of extravagant derision--
"Sir _Kay_, forsooth! Oh, call me pet names, dearest, call me
a marine! In twice a thousand years shall the unholy invention
of man labor at odds to beget the fellow to this majestic lie!"
Every eye was fastened with severe inquiry upon Sir Kay. But he
was equal to the occasion. He got up and played his hand like
a major--and took every trick. He said he would state the case
exactly according to the facts; he would tell the simple
straightforward tale, without comment of his own; "and then,"
said he, "if ye find glory and honor due, ye will give it unto him
who is the mightiest man of his hands that ever bare shield or
strake with sword in the ranks of Christian battle--even him that
sitteth there!" and he pointed to Sir Launcelot. Ah, he fetched
them; it was a rattling good stroke. Then he went on and told
how Sir Launcelot, seeking adventures, some brief time gone by,
killed seven giants at one sweep of his sword, and set a hundred
and forty-two captive maidens free; and then went further, still
seeking adventures, and found him (Sir Kay) fighting a desperate
fight against nine foreign knights, and straightway took the battle
solely into his own hands, and conquered the nine; and that night
Sir Launcelot rose quietly, and dressed him in Sir Kay's armor and
took Sir Kay's horse and gat him away into distant lands, and
vanquished sixteen knights in one pitched battle and thirty-four
in another; and all these and the former nine he made to swear
that about Whitsuntide they would ride to Arthur's court and yield
them to Queen Guenever's hands as captives of Sir Kay the Seneschal,
spoil of his knightly prowess; and now here were these half dozen,
and the rest would be along as soon as they might be healed of
their desperate wounds.
Well, it was touching to see the queen blush and smile, and look
embarrassed and happy, and fling furtive glances at Sir Launcelot
that would have got him shot in Arkansas, to a dead certainty.
Everybody praised the valor and magnanimity of Sir Launcelot; and
as for me, I was perfectly amazed, that one man, all by himself,
should have been able to beat down and capture such battalions
of practiced fighters. I said as much to Clarence; but this mocking
featherhead only said:
"An Sir Kay had had time to get another skin of sour wine into him,
ye had seen the accompt doubled."
I looked at the boy in sorrow; and as I looked I saw the cloud of
a deep despondency settle upon his countenance. I followed the
direction of his eye, and saw that a very old and white-bearded
man, clothed in a flowing black gown, had risen and was standing
at the table upon unsteady legs, and feebly swaying his ancient
head and surveying the company with his watery and wandering eye.
The same suffering look that was in the page's face was observable
in all the faces around--the look of dumb creatures who know that
they must endure and make no moan.
"Marry, we shall have it again," sighed the boy; "that same old
weary tale that he hath told a thousand times in the same words,
and that he _will_ tell till he dieth, every time he hath gotten his
barrel full and feeleth his exaggeration-mill a-working. Would
God I had died or I saw this day!"
"Who is it?"
"Merlin, the mighty liar and magician, perdition singe him for
the weariness he worketh with his one tale! But that men fear
him for that he hath the storms and the lightnings and all the
devils that be in hell at his beck and call, they would have dug
his entrails out these many years ago to get at that tale and
squelch it. He telleth it always in the third person, making
believe he is too modest to glorify himself--maledictions light
upon him, misfortune be his dole! Good friend, prithee call me
The boy nestled himself upon my shoulder and pretended to go
to sleep. The old man began his tale; and presently the lad was
asleep in reality; so also were the dogs, and the court, the lackeys,
and the files of men-at-arms. The droning voice droned on; a soft
snoring arose on all sides and supported it like a deep and subdued
accompaniment of wind instruments. Some heads were bowed upon
folded arms, some lay back with open mouths that issued unconscious
music; the flies buzzed and bit, unmolested, the rats swarmed
softly out from a hundred holes, and pattered about, and made
themselves at home everywhere; and one of them sat up like a
squirrel on the king's head and held a bit of cheese in its hands
and nibbled it, and dribbled the crumbs in the king's face with
naive and impudent irreverence. It was a tranquil scene, and
restful to the weary eye and the jaded spirit.
This was the old man's tale. He said:
"Right so the king and Merlin departed, and went until an hermit
that was a good man and a great leech. So the hermit searched
all his wounds and gave him good salves; so the king was there
three days, and then were his wounds well amended that he might
ride and go, and so departed. And as they rode, Arthur said,
I have no sword. No force,* [*Footnote from M.T.: No matter.]
said Merlin, hereby is a sword that shall be yours and I may.
So they rode till they came to a lake, the which was a fair water
and broad, and in the midst of the lake Arthur was ware of an arm
clothed in white samite, that held a fair sword in that hand.
Lo, said Merlin, yonder is that sword that I spake of. With that
they saw a damsel going upon the lake. What damsel is that?
said Arthur. That is the Lady of the lake, said Merlin; and within
that lake is a rock, and therein is as fair a place as any on earth,
and richly beseen, and this damsel will come to you anon, and then
speak ye fair to her that she will give you that sword. Anon
withal came the damsel unto Arthur and saluted him, and he her
again. Damsel, said Arthur, what sword is that, that yonder
the arm holdeth above the water? I would it were mine, for I have
no sword. Sir Arthur King, said the damsel, that sword is mine,
and if ye will give me a gift when I ask it you, ye shall have it.
By my faith, said Arthur, I will give you what gift ye will ask.
Well, said the damsel, go ye into yonder barge and row yourself
to the sword, and take it and the scabbard with you, and I will ask
my gift when I see my time. So Sir Arthur and Merlin alight, and
tied their horses to two trees, and so they went into the ship,
and when they came to the sword that the hand held, Sir Arthur
took it up by the handles, and took it with him. And the arm
and the hand went under the water; and so they came unto the land
and rode forth. And then Sir Arthur saw a rich pavilion. What
signifieth yonder pavilion? It is the knight's pavilion, said
Merlin, that ye fought with last, Sir Pellinore, but he is out,
he is not there; he hath ado with a knight of yours, that hight
Egglame, and they have fought together, but at the last Egglame
fled, and else he had been dead, and he hath chased him even
to Carlion, and we shall meet with him anon in the highway. That
is well said, said Arthur, now have I a sword, now will I wage
battle with him, and be avenged on him. Sir, ye shall not so,
said Merlin, for the knight is weary of fighting and chasing, so
that ye shall have no worship to have ado with him; also, he will
not lightly be matched of one knight living; and therefore it is my
counsel, let him pass, for he shall do you good service in short
time, and his sons, after his days. Also ye shall see that day
in short space ye shall be right glad to give him your sister
to wed. When I see him, I will do as ye advise me, said Arthur.
Then Sir Arthur looked on the sword, and liked it passing well.
Whether liketh you better, said Merlin, the sword or the scabbard?
Me liketh better the sword, said Arthur. Ye are more unwise,
said Merlin, for the scabbard is worth ten of the sword, for while
ye have the scabbard upon you ye shall never lose no blood, be ye
never so sore wounded; therefore, keep well the scabbard always
with you. So they rode into Carlion, and by the way they met with
Sir Pellinore; but Merlin had done such a craft that Pellinore saw
not Arthur, and he passed by without any words. I marvel, said
Arthur, that the knight would not speak. Sir, said Merlin, he saw
you not; for and he had seen you ye had not lightly departed. So
they came unto Carlion, whereof his knights were passing glad.
And when they heard of his adventures they marveled that he would
jeopard his person so alone. But all men of worship said it was
merry to be under such a chieftain that would put his person in
adventure as other poor knights did."
SIR DINADAN THE HUMORIST
It seemed to me that this quaint lie was most simply and beautifully
told; but then I had heard it only once, and that makes a difference;
it was pleasant to the others when it was fresh, no doubt.
Sir Dinadan the Humorist was the first to awake, and he soon roused
the rest with a practical joke of a sufficiently poor quality.
He tied some metal mugs to a dog's tail and turned him loose,
and he tore around and around the place in a frenzy of fright,
with all the other dogs bellowing after him and battering and
crashing against everything that came in their way and making
altogether a chaos of confusion and a most deafening din and
turmoil; at which every man and woman of the multitude laughed
till the tears flowed, and some fell out of their chairs and
wallowed on the floor in ecstasy. It was just like so many children.
Sir Dinadan was so proud of his exploit that he could not keep
from telling over and over again, to weariness, how the immortal
idea happened to occur to him; and as is the way with humorists
of his breed, he was still laughing at it after everybody else had
got through. He was so set up that he concluded to make a speech
--of course a humorous speech. I think I never heard so many old
played-out jokes strung together in my life. He was worse than
the minstrels, worse than the clown in the circus. It seemed
peculiarly sad to sit here, thirteen hundred years before I was
born, and listen again to poor, flat, worm-eaten jokes that had
given me the dry gripes when I was a boy thirteen hundred years
afterwards. It about convinced me that there isn't any such thing
as a new joke possible. Everybody laughed at these antiquities
--but then they always do; I had noticed that, centuries later.
However, of course the scoffer didn't laugh--I mean the boy. No,
he scoffed; there wasn't anything he wouldn't scoff at. He said
the most of Sir Dinadan's jokes were rotten and the rest were
petrified. I said "petrified" was good; as I believed, myself,
that the only right way to classify the majestic ages of some of
those jokes was by geologic periods. But that neat idea hit
the boy in a blank place, for geology hadn't been invented yet.
However, I made a note of the remark, and calculated to educate
the commonwealth up to it if I pulled through. It is no use
to throw a good thing away merely because the market isn't ripe yet.
Now Sir Kay arose and began to fire up on his history-mill with me
for fuel. It was time for me to feel serious, and I did. Sir Kay
told how he had encountered me in a far land of barbarians, who
all wore the same ridiculous garb that I did--a garb that was a work
of enchantment, and intended to make the wearer secure from hurt
by human hands. However he had nullified the force of the
enchantment by prayer, and had killed my thirteen knights in
a three hours' battle, and taken me prisoner, sparing my life
in order that so strange a curiosity as I was might be exhibited
to the wonder and admiration of the king and the court. He spoke
of me all the time, in the blandest way, as "this prodigious giant,"
and "this horrible sky-towering monster," and "this tusked and
taloned man-devouring ogre", and everybody took in all this bosh
in the naivest way, and never smiled or seemed to notice that
there was any discrepancy between these watered statistics and me.
He said that in trying to escape from him I sprang into the top of
a tree two hundred cubits high at a single bound, but he dislodged
me with a stone the size of a cow, which "all-to brast" the most
of my bones, and then swore me to appear at Arthur's court for
sentence. He ended by condemning me to die at noon on the 21st;
and was so little concerned about it that he stopped to yawn before
he named the date.
I was in a dismal state by this time; indeed, I was hardly enough
in my right mind to keep the run of a dispute that sprung up as
to how I had better be killed, the possibility of the killing being
doubted by some, because of the enchantment in my clothes. And yet
it was nothing but an ordinary suit of fifteen-dollar slop-shops.
Still, I was sane enough to notice this detail, to wit: many of
the terms used in the most matter-of-fact way by this great
assemblage of the first ladies and gentlemen in the land would
have made a Comanche blush. Indelicacy is too mild a term to convey
the idea. However, I had read "Tom Jones," and "Roderick Random,"
and other books of that kind, and knew that the highest and first
ladies and gentlemen in England had remained little or no cleaner
in their talk, and in the morals and conduct which such talk
implies, clear up to a hundred years ago; in fact clear into our
own nineteenth century--in which century, broadly speaking,
the earliest samples of the real lady and real gentleman discoverable
in English history--or in European history, for that matter--may be
said to have made their appearance. Suppose Sir Walter, instead
of putting the conversations into the mouths of his characters,
had allowed the characters to speak for themselves? We should
have had talk from Rebecca and Ivanhoe and the soft lady Rowena
which would embarrass a tramp in our day. However, to the
unconsciously indelicate all things are delicate. King Arthur's
people were not aware that they were indecent and I had presence
of mind enough not to mention it.
They were so troubled about my enchanted clothes that they were
mightily relieved, at last, when old Merlin swept the difficulty
away for them with a common-sense hint. He asked them why they
were so dull--why didn't it occur to them to strip me. In half a
minute I was as naked as a pair of tongs! And dear, dear, to think
of it: I was the only embarrassed person there. Everybody discussed
me; and did it as unconcernedly as if I had been a cabbage.
Queen Guenever was as naively interested as the rest, and said
she had never seen anybody with legs just like mine before. It was
the only compliment I got--if it was a compliment.
Finally I was carried off in one direction, and my perilous clothes
in another. I was shoved into a dark and narrow cell in a dungeon,
with some scant remnants for dinner, some moldy straw for a bed,
and no end of rats for company.
I was so tired that even my fears were not able to keep me awake long.
When I next came to myself, I seemed to have been asleep a very
long time. My first thought was, "Well, what an astonishing dream
I've had! I reckon I've waked only just in time to keep from
being hanged or drowned or burned or something.... I'll nap again
till the whistle blows, and then I'll go down to the arms factory
and have it out with Hercules."
But just then I heard the harsh music of rusty chains and bolts,
a light flashed in my eyes, and that butterfly, Clarence, stood
before me! I gasped with surprise; my breath almost got away from me.
"What!" I said, "you here yet? Go along with the rest of
the dream! scatter!"
But he only laughed, in his light-hearted way, and fell to making
fun of my sorry plight.
"All right," I said resignedly, "let the dream go on; I'm in no hurry."
"Prithee what dream?"
"What dream? Why, the dream that I am in Arthur's court--a person
who never existed; and that I am talking to you, who are nothing
but a work of the imagination."
"Oh, la, indeed! and is it a dream that you're to be burned
to-morrow? Ho-ho--answer me that!"
The shock that went through me was distressing. I now began
to reason that my situation was in the last degree serious, dream
or no dream; for I knew by past experience of the lifelike intensity
of dreams, that to be burned to death, even in a dream, would be
very far from being a jest, and was a thing to be avoided, by any
means, fair or foul, that I could contrive. So I said beseechingly:
"Ah, Clarence, good boy, only friend I've got,--for you _are_ my
friend, aren't you?--don't fail me; help me to devise some way
of escaping from this place!"
"Now do but hear thyself! Escape? Why, man, the corridors are
in guard and keep of men-at-arms."
"No doubt, no doubt. But how many, Clarence? Not many, I hope?"
"Full a score. One may not hope to escape." After a pause
--hesitatingly: "and there be other reasons--and weightier."
"Other ones? What are they?"
"Well, they say--oh, but I daren't, indeed daren't!"
"Why, poor lad, what is the matter? Why do you blench? Why do
you tremble so?"
"Oh, in sooth, there is need! I do want to tell you, but--"
"Come, come, be brave, be a man--speak out, there's a good lad!"
He hesitated, pulled one way by desire, the other way by fear;
then he stole to the door and peeped out, listening; and finally
crept close to me and put his mouth to my ear and told me his
fearful news in a whisper, and with all the cowering apprehension
of one who was venturing upon awful ground and speaking of things
whose very mention might be freighted with death.
"Merlin, in his malice, has woven a spell about this dungeon, and
there bides not the man in these kingdoms that would be desperate
enough to essay to cross its lines with you! Now God pity me,
I have told it! Ah, be kind to me, be merciful to a poor boy who
means thee well; for an thou betray me I am lost!"
I laughed the only really refreshing laugh I had had for some time;
"Merlin has wrought a spell! _Merlin_, forsooth! That cheap old
humbug, that maundering old ass? Bosh, pure bosh, the silliest bosh
in the world! Why, it does seem to me that of all the childish,
idiotic, chuckle-headed, chicken-livered superstitions that ev
--oh, damn Merlin!"
But Clarence had slumped to his knees before I had half finished,
and he was like to go out of his mind with fright.
"Oh, beware! These are awful words! Any moment these walls
may crumble upon us if you say such things. Oh call them back
before it is too late!"
Now this strange exhibition gave me a good idea and set me to
thinking. If everybody about here was so honestly and sincerely
afraid of Merlin's pretended magic as Clarence was, certainly
a superior man like me ought to be shrewd enough to contrive
some way to take advantage of such a state of things. I went
on thinking, and worked out a plan. Then I said:
"Get up. Pull yourself together; look me in the eye. Do you
know why I laughed?"
"No--but for our blessed Lady's sake, do it no more."
"Well, I'll tell you why I laughed. Because I'm a magician myself."
"Thou!" The boy recoiled a step, and caught his breath, for
the thing hit him rather sudden; but the aspect which he took
on was very, very respectful. I took quick note of that; it
indicated that a humbug didn't need to have a reputation in this
asylum; people stood ready to take him at his word, without that.
"I've known Merlin seven hundred years, and he--"
"Don't interrupt me. He has died and come alive again thirteen
times, and traveled under a new name every time: Smith, Jones,
Robinson, Jackson, Peters, Haskins, Merlin--a new alias every
time he turns up. I knew him in Egypt three hundred years ago;
I knew him in India five hundred years ago--he is always blethering
around in my way, everywhere I go; he makes me tired. He don't
amount to shucks, as a magician; knows some of the old common
tricks, but has never got beyond the rudiments, and never will.
He is well enough for the provinces--one-night stands and that
sort of thing, you know--but dear me, _he_ oughtn't to set up for
an expert--anyway not where there's a real artist. Now look here,
Clarence, I am going to stand your friend, right along, and in
return you must be mine. I want you to do me a favor. I want
you to get word to the king that I am a magician myself--and the
Supreme Grand High-yu-Muck-amuck and head of the tribe, at that;
and I want him to be made to understand that I am just quietly
arranging a little calamity here that will make the fur fly in these
realms if Sir Kay's project is carried out and any harm comes
to me. Will you get that to the king for me?"
The poor boy was in such a state that he could hardly answer me.
It was pitiful to see a creature so terrified, so unnerved, so
demoralized. But he promised everything; and on my side he made
me promise over and over again that I would remain his friend, and
never turn against him or cast any enchantments upon him. Then
he worked his way out, staying himself with his hand along the
wall, like a sick person.
Presently this thought occurred to me: how heedless I have been!
When the boy gets calm, he will wonder why a great magician like me
should have begged a boy like him to help me get out of this place;
he will put this and that together, and will see that I am a humbug.
I worried over that heedless blunder for an hour, and called myself
a great many hard names, meantime. But finally it occurred to me
all of a sudden that these animals didn't reason; that _they_ never
put this and that together; that all their talk showed that they
didn't know a discrepancy when they saw it. I was at rest, then.
But as soon as one is at rest, in this world, off he goes on
something else to worry about. It occurred to me that I had made
another blunder: I had sent the boy off to alarm his betters with
a threat--I intending to invent a calamity at my leisure; now
the people who are the readiest and eagerest and willingest to
swallow miracles are the very ones who are hungriest to see you
perform them; suppose I should be called on for a sample? Suppose
I should be asked to name my calamity? Yes, I had made a blunder;
I ought to have invented my calamity first. "What shall I do?
what can I say, to gain a little time?" I was in trouble again;
in the deepest kind of trouble...
"There's a footstep!--they're coming. If I had only just a moment
to think.... Good, I've got it. I'm all right."
You see, it was the eclipse. It came into my mind in the nick
of time, how Columbus, or Cortez, or one of those people, played
an eclipse as a saving trump once, on some savages, and I saw my
chance. I could play it myself, now, and it wouldn't be any
plagiarism, either, because I should get it in nearly a thousand
years ahead of those parties.
Clarence came in, subdued, distressed, and said:
"I hasted the message to our liege the king, and straightway he
had me to his presence. He was frighted even to the marrow,
and was minded to give order for your instant enlargement, and
that you be clothed in fine raiment and lodged as befitted one so
great; but then came Merlin and spoiled all; for he persuaded
the king that you are mad, and know not whereof you speak; and
said your threat is but foolishness and idle vaporing. They
disputed long, but in the end, Merlin, scoffing, said, 'Wherefore
hath he not _named_ his brave calamity? Verily it is because he
cannot.' This thrust did in a most sudden sort close the king's
mouth, and he could offer naught to turn the argument; and so,
reluctant, and full loth to do you the discourtesy, he yet prayeth
you to consider his perplexed case, as noting how the matter stands,
and name the calamity--if so be you have determined the nature
of it and the time of its coming. Oh, prithee delay not; to delay
at such a time were to double and treble the perils that already
compass thee about. Oh, be thou wise--name the calamity!"
I allowed silence to accumulate while I got my impressiveness
together, and then said:
"How long have I been shut up in this hole?"
"Ye were shut up when yesterday was well spent. It is 9 of
the morning now."
"No! Then I have slept well, sure enough. Nine in the morning
now! And yet it is the very complexion of midnight, to a shade.
This is the 20th, then?"
"And I am to be burned alive to-morrow." The boy shuddered.
"At what hour?"
"At high noon."
"Now then, I will tell you what to say." I paused, and stood over
that cowering lad a whole minute in awful silence; then, in a voice
deep, measured, charged with doom, I began, and rose by dramatically
graded stages to my colossal climax, which I delivered in as sublime
and noble a way as ever I did such a thing in my life: "Go back
and tell the king that at that hour I will smother the whole world
in the dead blackness of midnight; I will blot out the sun, and he
shall never shine again; the fruits of the earth shall rot for lack
of light and warmth, and the peoples of the earth shall famish
and die, to the last man!"
I had to carry the boy out myself, he sunk into such a collapse.
I handed him over to the soldiers, and went back.
In the stillness and the darkness, realization soon began to
supplement knowledge. The mere knowledge of a fact is pale; but
when you come to _realize_ your fact, it takes on color. It is
all the difference between hearing of a man being stabbed to
the heart, and seeing it done. In the stillness and the darkness,
the knowledge that I was in deadly danger took to itself deeper
and deeper meaning all the time; a something which was realization
crept inch by inch through my veins and turned me cold.
But it is a blessed provision of nature that at times like these,
as soon as a man's mercury has got down to a certain point there
comes a revulsion, and he rallies. Hope springs up, and cheerfulness
along with it, and then he is in good shape to do something for
himself, if anything can be done. When my rally came, it came with
a bound. I said to myself that my eclipse would be sure to save me,
and make me the greatest man in the kingdom besides; and straightway
my mercury went up to the top of the tube, and my solicitudes
all vanished. I was as happy a man as there was in the world.
I was even impatient for to-morrow to come, I so wanted to gather
in that great triumph and be the center of all the nation's wonder
and reverence. Besides, in a business way it would be the making
of me; I knew that.
Meantime there was one thing which had got pushed into the background
of my mind. That was the half-conviction that when the nature
of my proposed calamity should be reported to those superstitious
people, it would have such an effect that they would want to
compromise. So, by and by when I heard footsteps coming, that
thought was recalled to me, and I said to myself, "As sure as
anything, it's the compromise. Well, if it is good, all right,
I will accept; but if it isn't, I mean to stand my ground and play
my hand for all it is worth."
The door opened, and some men-at-arms appeared. The leader said:
"The stake is ready. Come!"
The stake! The strength went out of me, and I almost fell down.
It is hard to get one's breath at such a time, such lumps come into
one's throat, and such gaspings; but as soon as I could speak, I said:
"But this is a mistake--the execution is to-morrow."
"Order changed; been set forward a day. Haste thee!"
I was lost. There was no help for me. I was dazed, stupefied;
I had no command over myself, I only wandered purposely about,
like one out of his mind; so the soldiers took hold of me, and
pulled me along with them, out of the cell and along the maze of
underground corridors, and finally into the fierce glare of daylight
and the upper world. As we stepped into the vast enclosed court
of the castle I got a shock; for the first thing I saw was the stake,
standing in the center, and near it the piled fagots and a monk.
On all four sides of the court the seated multitudes rose rank
above rank, forming sloping terraces that were rich with color.
The king and the queen sat in their thrones, the most conspicuous
figures there, of course.
To note all this, occupied but a second. The next second Clarence
had slipped from some place of concealment and was pouring news
into my ear, his eyes beaming with triumph and gladness. He said:
"Tis through _me_ the change was wrought! And main hard have I worked
to do it, too. But when I revealed to them the calamity in store,
and saw how mighty was the terror it did engender, then saw I also
that this was the time to strike! Wherefore I diligently pretended,
unto this and that and the other one, that your power against the sun
could not reach its full until the morrow; and so if any would save
the sun and the world, you must be slain to-day, while your
enchantments are but in the weaving and lack potency. Odsbodikins,
it was but a dull lie, a most indifferent invention, but you should
have seen them seize it and swallow it, in the frenzy of their
fright, as it were salvation sent from heaven; and all the while
was I laughing in my sleeve the one moment, to see them so cheaply
deceived, and glorifying God the next, that He was content to let
the meanest of His creatures be His instrument to the saving of
thy life. Ah how happy has the matter sped! You will not need
to do the sun a _real_ hurt--ah, forget not that, on your soul forget
it not! Only make a little darkness--only the littlest little
darkness, mind, and cease with that. It will be sufficient. They
will see that I spoke falsely,--being ignorant, as they will fancy
--and with the falling of the first shadow of that darkness you
shall see them go mad with fear; and they will set you free and
make you great! Go to thy triumph, now! But remember--ah, good
friend, I implore thee remember my supplication, and do the blessed
sun no hurt. For _my_ sake, thy true friend."
I choked out some words through my grief and misery; as much as
to say I would spare the sun; for which the lad's eyes paid me back
with such deep and loving gratitude that I had not the heart
to tell him his good-hearted foolishness had ruined me and sent me
to my death.
As the soldiers assisted me across the court the stillness was
so profound that if I had been blindfold I should have supposed
I was in a solitude instead of walled in by four thousand people.
There was not a movement perceptible in those masses of humanity;
they were as rigid as stone images, and as pale; and dread sat
upon every countenance. This hush continued while I was being
chained to the stake; it still continued while the fagots were
carefully and tediously piled about my ankles, my knees, my thighs,
my body. Then there was a pause, and a deeper hush, if possible,
and a man knelt down at my feet with a blazing torch; the multitude
strained forward, gazing, and parting slightly from their seats
without knowing it; the monk raised his hands above my head, and
his eyes toward the blue sky, and began some words in Latin; in
this attitude he droned on and on, a little while, and then stopped.
I waited two or three moments; then looked up; he was standing
there petrified. With a common impulse the multitude rose slowly
up and stared into the sky. I followed their eyes, as sure as guns,
there was my eclipse beginning! The life went boiling through
my veins; I was a new man! The rim of black spread slowly into
the sun's disk, my heart beat higher and higher, and still the
assemblage and the priest stared into the sky, motionless. I knew
that this gaze would be turned upon me, next. When it was, I was
ready. I was in one of the most grand attitudes I ever struck,
with my arm stretched up pointing to the sun. It was a noble
effect. You could _see_ the shudder sweep the mass like a wave.
Two shouts rang out, one close upon the heels of the other:
"Apply the torch!"
"I forbid it!"
The one was from Merlin, the other from the king. Merlin started
from his place--to apply the torch himself, I judged. I said:
"Stay where you are. If any man moves--even the king--before
I give him leave, I will blast him with thunder, I will consume
him with lightnings!"
The multitude sank meekly into their seats, and I was just expecting
they would. Merlin hesitated a moment or two, and I was on pins
and needles during that little while. Then he sat down, and I took
a good breath; for I knew I was master of the situation now.
The king said:
"Be merciful, fair sir, and essay no further in this perilous matter,
lest disaster follow. It was reported to us that your powers could
not attain unto their full strength until the morrow; but--"
"Your Majesty thinks the report may have been a lie? It _was_ a lie."
That made an immense effect; up went appealing hands everywhere,
and the king was assailed with a storm of supplications that
I might be bought off at any price, and the calamity stayed.
The king was eager to comply. He said:
"Name any terms, reverend sir, even to the halving of my kingdom;
but banish this calamity, spare the sun!"
My fortune was made. I would have taken him up in a minute, but
I couldn't stop an eclipse; the thing was out of the question. So
I asked time to consider. The king said:
"How long--ah, how long, good sir? Be merciful; look, it groweth
darker, moment by moment. Prithee how long?"
"Not long. Half an hour--maybe an hour."
There were a thousand pathetic protests, but I couldn't shorten up
any, for I couldn't remember how long a total eclipse lasts. I was
in a puzzled condition, anyway, and wanted to think. Something
was wrong about that eclipse, and the fact was very unsettling.
If this wasn't the one I was after, how was I to tell whether this
was the sixth century, or nothing but a dream? Dear me, if I could
only prove it was the latter! Here was a glad new hope. If the boy
was right about the date, and this was surely the 20th, it _wasn't_
the sixth century. I reached for the monk's sleeve, in considerable
excitement, and asked him what day of the month it was.
Hang him, he said it was the _twenty-first_! It made me turn cold
to hear him. I begged him not to make any mistake about it; but
he was sure; he knew it was the 21st. So, that feather-headed
boy had botched things again! The time of the day was right
for the eclipse; I had seen that for myself, in the beginning,
by the dial that was near by. Yes, I was in King Arthur's court,
and I might as well make the most out of it I could.
The darkness was steadily growing, the people becoming more and
more distressed. I now said:
"I have reflected, Sir King. For a lesson, I will let this darkness
proceed, and spread night in the world; but whether I blot out
the sun for good, or restore it, shall rest with you. These are
the terms, to wit: You shall remain king over all your dominions,
and receive all the glories and honors that belong to the kingship;
but you shall appoint me your perpetual minister and executive,
and give me for my services one per cent of such actual increase
of revenue over and above its present amount as I may succeed
in creating for the state. If I can't live on that, I sha'n't ask
anybody to give me a lift. Is it satisfactory?"
There was a prodigious roar of applause, and out of the midst
of it the king's voice rose, saying:
"Away with his bonds, and set him free! and do him homage, high
and low, rich and poor, for he is become the king's right hand,
is clothed with power and authority, and his seat is upon the highest
step of the throne! Now sweep away this creeping night, and bring
the light and cheer again, that all the world may bless thee."
But I said:
"That a common man should be shamed before the world, is nothing;
but it were dishonor to the _king_ if any that saw his minister naked
should not also see him delivered from his shame. If I might ask
that my clothes be brought again--"
"They are not meet," the king broke in. "Fetch raiment of another
sort; clothe him like a prince!"
My idea worked. I wanted to keep things as they were till the
eclipse was total, otherwise they would be trying again to get
me to dismiss the darkness, and of course I couldn't do it. Sending
for the clothes gained some delay, but not enough. So I had to make
another excuse. I said it would be but natural if the king should
change his mind and repent to some extent of what he had done
under excitement; therefore I would let the darkness grow a while,
and if at the end of a reasonable time the king had kept his mind
the same, the darkness should be dismissed. Neither the king nor
anybody else was satisfied with that arrangement, but I had
to stick to my point.
It grew darker and darker and blacker and blacker, while I struggled
with those awkward sixth-century clothes. It got to be pitch dark,
at last, and the multitude groaned with horror to feel the cold
uncanny night breezes fan through the place and see the stars
come out and twinkle in the sky. At last the eclipse was total,
and I was very glad of it, but everybody else was in misery; which
was quite natural. I said:
"The king, by his silence, still stands to the terms." Then
I lifted up my hands--stood just so a moment--then I said, with
the most awful solemnity: "Let the enchantment dissolve and
pass harmless away!"
There was no response, for a moment, in that deep darkness and
that graveyard hush. But when the silver rim of the sun pushed
itself out, a moment or two later, the assemblage broke loose with
a vast shout and came pouring down like a deluge to smother me
with blessings and gratitude; and Clarence was not the last of
the wash, to be sure.
Inasmuch as I was now the second personage in the Kingdom, as far
as political power and authority were concerned, much was made
of me. My raiment was of silks and velvets and cloth of gold,
and by consequence was very showy, also uncomfortable. But habit
would soon reconcile me to my clothes; I was aware of that. I was
given the choicest suite of apartments in the castle, after
the king's. They were aglow with loud-colored silken hangings,
but the stone floors had nothing but rushes on them for a carpet,
and they were misfit rushes at that, being not all of one breed.
As for conveniences, properly speaking, there weren't any. I mean
_little_ conveniences; it is the little conveniences that make
the real comfort of life. The big oaken chairs, graced with rude
carvings, were well enough, but that was the stopping place.
There was no soap, no matches, no looking-glass--except a metal
one, about as powerful as a pail of water. And not a chromo.
I had been used to chromos for years, and I saw now that without
my suspecting it a passion for art had got worked into the fabric
of my being, and was become a part of me. It made me homesick
to look around over this proud and gaudy but heartless barrenness
and remember that in our house in East Hartford, all unpretending
as it was, you couldn't go into a room but you would find an
insurance-chromo, or at least a three-color God-Bless-Our-Home
over the door; and in the parlor we had nine. But here, even in
my grand room of state, there wasn't anything in the nature of
a picture except a thing the size of a bedquilt, which was either
woven or knitted (it had darned places in it), and nothing in it
was the right color or the right shape; and as for proportions,
even Raphael himself couldn't have botched them more formidably,
after all his practice on those nightmares they call his "celebrated
Hampton Court cartoons." Raphael was a bird. We had several
of his chromos; one was his "Miraculous Draught of Fishes," where
he puts in a miracle of his own--puts three men into a canoe which
wouldn't have held a dog without upsetting. I always admired
to study R.'s art, it was so fresh and unconventional.
There wasn't even a bell or a speaking-tube in the castle. I had
a great many servants, and those that were on duty lolled in the
anteroom; and when I wanted one of them I had to go and call for him.
There was no gas, there were no candles; a bronze dish half full
of boarding-house butter with a blazing rag floating in it was
the thing that produced what was regarded as light. A lot of
these hung along the walls and modified the dark, just toned it
down enough to make it dismal. If you went out at night, your
servants carried torches. There were no books, pens, paper or
ink, and no glass in the openings they believed to be windows.
It is a little thing--glass is--until it is absent, then it becomes
a big thing. But perhaps the worst of all was, that there wasn't
any sugar, coffee, tea, or tobacco. I saw that I was just another
Robinson Crusoe cast away on an uninhabited island, with no society
but some more or less tame animals, and if I wanted to make life
bearable I must do as he did--invent, contrive, create, reorganize
things; set brain and hand to work, and keep them busy. Well,
that was in my line.
One thing troubled me along at first--the immense interest which
people took in me. Apparently the whole nation wanted a look
at me. It soon transpired that the eclipse had scared the British
world almost to death; that while it lasted the whole country,
from one end to the other, was in a pitiable state of panic, and
the churches, hermitages, and monkeries overflowed with praying
and weeping poor creatures who thought the end of the world was
come. Then had followed the news that the producer of this awful
event was a stranger, a mighty magician at Arthur's court; that he
could have blown out the sun like a candle, and was just going
to do it when his mercy was purchased, and he then dissolved
his enchantments, and was now recognized and honored as the man
who had by his unaided might saved the globe from destruction and
its peoples from extinction. Now if you consider that everybody
believed that, and not only believed it, but never even dreamed
of doubting it, you will easily understand that there was not
a person in all Britain that would not have walked fifty miles
to get a sight of me. Of course I was all the talk--all other
subjects were dropped; even the king became suddenly a person of
minor interest and notoriety. Within twenty-four hours the
delegations began to arrive, and from that time onward for a fortnight
they kept coming. The village was crowded, and all the countryside.
I had to go out a dozen times a day and show myself to these
reverent and awe-stricken multitudes. It came to be a great burden,
as to time and trouble, but of course it was at the same time
compensatingly agreeable to be so celebrated and such a center
of homage. It turned Brer Merlin green with envy and spite, which
was a great satisfaction to me. But there was one thing I couldn't
understand--nobody had asked for an autograph. I spoke to Clarence
about it. By George! I had to explain to him what it was. Then
he said nobody in the country could read or write but a few dozen
priests. Land! think of that.
There was another thing that troubled me a little. Those multitudes
presently began to agitate for another miracle. That was natural.
To be able to carry back to their far homes the boast that they
had seen the man who could command the sun, riding in the heavens,
and be obeyed, would make them great in the eyes of their neighbors,
and envied by them all; but to be able to also say they had seen
him work a miracle themselves--why, people would come a distance
to see _them_. The pressure got to be pretty strong. There was
going to be an eclipse of the moon, and I knew the date and hour,
but it was too far away. Two years. I would have given a good
deal for license to hurry it up and use it now when there was
a big market for it. It seemed a great pity to have it wasted so,
and come lagging along at a time when a body wouldn't have any
use for it, as like as not. If it had been booked for only a month
away, I could have sold it short; but, as matters stood, I couldn't
seem to cipher out any way to make it do me any good, so I gave up
trying. Next, Clarence found that old Merlin was making himself
busy on the sly among those people. He was spreading a report that
I was a humbug, and that the reason I didn't accommodate the people
with a miracle was because I couldn't. I saw that I must do
something. I presently thought out a plan.
By my authority as executive I threw Merlin into prison--the same
cell I had occupied myself. Then I gave public notice by herald
and trumpet that I should be busy with affairs of state for
a fortnight, but about the end of that time I would take a moment's
leisure and blow up Merlin's stone tower by fires from heaven;
in the meantime, whoso listened to evil reports about me, let him
beware. Furthermore, I would perform but this one miracle at
this time, and no more; if it failed to satisfy and any murmured,
I would turn the murmurers into horses, and make them useful.
I took Clarence into my confidence, to a certain degree, and we
went to work privately. I told him that this was a sort of miracle
that required a trifle of preparation, and that it would be sudden
death to ever talk about these preparations to anybody. That made
his mouth safe enough. Clandestinely we made a few bushels of
first-rate blasting powder, and I superintended my armorers while
they constructed a lightning-rod and some wires. This old stone
tower was very massive--and rather ruinous, too, for it was Roman,
and four hundred years old. Yes, and handsome, after a rude
fashion, and clothed with ivy from base to summit, as with a shirt
of scale mail. It stood on a lonely eminence, in good view from
the castle, and about half a mile away.
Working by night, we stowed the powder in the tower--dug stones
out, on the inside, and buried the powder in the walls themselves,
which were fifteen feet thick at the base. We put in a peck
at a time, in a dozen places. We could have blown up the Tower
of London with these charges. When the thirteenth night was come
we put up our lightning-rod, bedded it in one of the batches of
powder, and ran wires from it to the other batches. Everybody
had shunned that locality from the day of my proclamation, but
on the morning of the fourteenth I thought best to warn the people,
through the heralds, to keep clear away--a quarter of a mile away.
Then added, by command, that at some time during the twenty-four
hours I would consummate the miracle, but would first give a brief
notice; by flags on the castle towers if in the daytime, by
torch-baskets in the same places if at night.
Thunder-showers had been tolerably frequent of late, and I was
not much afraid of a failure; still, I shouldn't have cared for
a delay of a day or two; I should have explained that I was busy
with affairs of state yet, and the people must wait.
Of course, we had a blazing sunny day--almost the first one without
a cloud for three weeks; things always happen so. I kept secluded,
and watched the weather. Clarence dropped in from time to time
and said the public excitement was growing and growing all the
time, and the whole country filling up with human masses as far
as one could see from the battlements. At last the wind sprang up
and a cloud appeared--in the right quarter, too, and just at
nightfall. For a little while I watched that distant cloud spread
and blacken, then I judged it was time for me to appear. I ordered
the torch-baskets to be lit, and Merlin liberated and sent to me.
A quarter of an hour later I ascended the parapet and there found
the king and the court assembled and gazing off in the darkness
toward Merlin's Tower. Already the darkness was so heavy that
one could not see far; these people and the old turrets, being
partly in deep shadow and partly in the red glow from the great
torch-baskets overhead, made a good deal of a picture.
Merlin arrived in a gloomy mood. I said:
"You wanted to burn me alive when I had not done you any harm,
and latterly you have been trying to injure my professional
reputation. Therefore I am going to call down fire and blow up
your tower, but it is only fair to give you a chance; now if you
think you can break my enchantments and ward off the fires, step
to the bat, it's your innings."
"I can, fair sir, and I will. Doubt it not."
He drew an imaginary circle on the stones of the roof, and burnt
a pinch of powder in it, which sent up a small cloud of aromatic
smoke, whereat everybody fell back and began to cross themselves
and get uncomfortable. Then he began to mutter and make passes
in the air with his hands. He worked himself up slowly and
gradually into a sort of frenzy, and got to thrashing around with
his arms like the sails of a windmill. By this time the storm had
about reached us; the gusts of wind were flaring the torches and
making the shadows swash about, the first heavy drops of rain
were falling, the world abroad was black as pitch, the lightning
began to wink fitfully. Of course, my rod would be loading itself
now. In fact, things were imminent. So I said:
"You have had time enough. I have given you every advantage,
and not interfered. It is plain your magic is weak. It is only
fair that I begin now."
I made about three passes in the air, and then there was an awful
crash and that old tower leaped into the sky in chunks, along
with a vast volcanic fountain of fire that turned night to noonday,
and showed a thousand acres of human beings groveling on the ground
in a general collapse of consternation. Well, it rained mortar and
masonry the rest of the week. This was the report; but probably
the facts would have modified it.
It was an effective miracle. The great bothersome temporary
population vanished. There were a good many thousand tracks
in the mud the next morning, but they were all outward bound.
If I had advertised another miracle I couldn't have raised an
audience with a sheriff.
Merlin's stock was flat. The king wanted to stop his wages; he
even wanted to banish him, but I interfered. I said he would be
useful to work the weather, and attend to small matters like that,
and I would give him a lift now and then when his poor little
parlor-magic soured on him. There wasn't a rag of his tower left,
but I had the government rebuild it for him, and advised him
to take boarders; but he was too high-toned for that. And as for
being grateful, he never even said thank you. He was a rather
hard lot, take him how you might; but then you couldn't fairly
expect a man to be sweet that had been set back so.
To be vested with enormous authority is a fine thing; but to have
the on-looking world consent to it is a finer. The tower episode
solidified my power, and made it impregnable. If any were perchance
disposed to be jealous and critical before that, they experienced
a change of heart, now. There was not any one in the kingdom
who would have considered it good judgment to meddle with my matters.
I was fast getting adjusted to my situation and circumstances.
For a time, I used to wake up, mornings, and smile at my "dream,"
and listen for the Colt's factory whistle; but that sort of thing
played itself out, gradually, and at last I was fully able to realize
that I was actually living in the sixth century, and in Arthur's
court, not a lunatic asylum. After that, I was just as much
at home in that century as I could have been in any other; and
as for preference, I wouldn't have traded it for the twentieth.
Look at the opportunities here for a man of knowledge, brains,
pluck, and enterprise to sail in and grow up with the country.
The grandest field that ever was; and all my own; not a competitor;
not a man who wasn't a baby to me in acquirements and capacities;
whereas, what would I amount to in the twentieth century? I should
be foreman of a factory, that is about all; and could drag a seine
down street any day and catch a hundred better men than myself.
What a jump I had made! I couldn't keep from thinking about it,
and contemplating it, just as one does who has struck oil. There
was nothing back of me that could approach it, unless it might be
Joseph's case; and Joseph's only approached it, it didn't equal
it, quite. For it stands to reason that as Joseph's splendid
financial ingenuities advantaged nobody but the king, the general
public must have regarded him with a good deal of disfavor, whereas
I had done my entire public a kindness in sparing the sun, and was
popular by reason of it.
I was no shadow of a king; I was the substance; the king himself
was the shadow. My power was colossal; and it was not a mere
name, as such things have generally been, it was the genuine
article. I stood here, at the very spring and source of the second
great period of the world's history; and could see the trickling
stream of that history gather and deepen and broaden, and roll
its mighty tides down the far centuries; and I could note the
upspringing of adventurers like myself in the shelter of its long
array of thrones: De Montforts, Gavestons, Mortimers, Villierses;
the war-making, campaign-directing wantons of France, and Charles
the Second's scepter-wielding drabs; but nowhere in the procession
was my full-sized fellow visible. I was a Unique; and glad to know
that that fact could not be dislodged or challenged for thirteen
centuries and a half, for sure. Yes, in power I was equal to
the king. At the same time there was another power that was
a trifle stronger than both of us put together. That was the Church.
I do not wish to disguise that fact. I couldn't, if I wanted to.
But never mind about that, now; it will show up, in its proper
place, later on. It didn't cause me any trouble in the beginning
--at least any of consequence.
Well, it was a curious country, and full of interest. And the
people! They were the quaintest and simplest and trustingest race;
why, they were nothing but rabbits. It was pitiful for a person
born in a wholesome free atmosphere to listen to their humble
and hearty outpourings of loyalty toward their king and Church
and nobility; as if they had any more occasion to love and honor
king and Church and noble than a slave has to love and honor
the lash, or a dog has to love and honor the stranger that kicks him!
Why, dear me, _any_ kind of royalty, howsoever modified, _any_ kind
of aristocracy, howsoever pruned, is rightly an insult; but if you
are born and brought up under that sort of arrangement you probably
never find it out for yourself, and don't believe it when somebody
else tells you. It is enough to make a body ashamed of his race
to think of the sort of froth that has always occupied its thrones
without shadow of right or reason, and the seventh-rate people
that have always figured as its aristocracies--a company of monarchs
and nobles who, as a rule, would have achieved only poverty and
obscurity if left, like their betters, to their own exertions.
The most of King Arthur's British nation were slaves, pure and
simple, and bore that name, and wore the iron collar on their
necks; and the rest were slaves in fact, but without the name;
they imagined themselves men and freemen, and called themselves
so. The truth was, the nation as a body was in the world for one
object, and one only: to grovel before king and Church and noble;
to slave for them, sweat blood for them, starve that they might
be fed, work that they might play, drink misery to the dregs that
they might be happy, go naked that they might wear silks and
jewels, pay taxes that they might be spared from paying them,
be familiar all their lives with the degrading language and postures
of adulation that they might walk in pride and think themselves
the gods of this world. And for all this, the thanks they got were
cuffs and contempt; and so poor-spirited were they that they took
even this sort of attention as an honor.
Inherited ideas are a curious thing, and interesting to observe
and examine. I had mine, the king and his people had theirs.
In both cases they flowed in ruts worn deep by time and habit,
and the man who should have proposed to divert them by reason
and argument would have had a long contract on his hands. For
instance, those people had inherited the idea that all men without
title and a long pedigree, whether they had great natural gifts
and acquirements or hadn't, were creatures of no more consideration
than so many animals, bugs, insects; whereas I had inherited the idea
that human daws who can consent to masquerade in the peacock-shams
of inherited dignities and unearned titles, are of no good but
to be laughed at. The way I was looked upon was odd, but it was
natural. You know how the keeper and the public regard the elephant
in the menagerie: well, that is the idea. They are full of
admiration of his vast bulk and his prodigious strength; they
speak with pride of the fact that he can do a hundred marvels
which are far and away beyond their own powers; and they speak
with the same pride of the fact that in his wrath he is able
to drive a thousand men before him. But does that make him one
of _them_? No; the raggedest tramp in the pit would smile at
the idea. He couldn't comprehend it; couldn't take it in; couldn't
in any remote way conceive of it. Well, to the king, the nobles,
and all the nation, down to the very slaves and tramps, I was
just that kind of an elephant, and nothing more. I was admired,
also feared; but it was as an animal is admired and feared.
The animal is not reverenced, neither was I; I was not even
respected. I had no pedigree, no inherited title; so in the king's
and nobles' eyes I was mere dirt; the people regarded me with
wonder and awe, but there was no reverence mixed with it; through
the force of inherited ideas they were not able to conceive of
anything being entitled to that except pedigree and lordship.
There you see the hand of that awful power, the Roman Catholic
Church. In two or three little centuries it had converted a nation
of men to a nation of worms. Before the day of the Church's
supremacy in the world, men were men, and held their heads up,
and had a man's pride and spirit and independence; and what
of greatness and position a person got, he got mainly by achievement,
not by birth. But then the Church came to the front, with an axe
to grind; and she was wise, subtle, and knew more than one way
to skin a cat--or a nation; she invented "divine right of kings,"
and propped it all around, brick by brick, with the Beatitudes
--wrenching them from their good purpose to make them fortify
an evil one; she preached (to the commoner) humility, obedience
to superiors, the beauty of self-sacrifice; she preached (to the
commoner) meekness under insult; preached (still to the commoner,
always to the commoner) patience, meanness of spirit, non-resistance
under oppression; and she introduced heritable ranks and
aristocracies, and taught all the Christian populations of the earth
to bow down to them and worship them. Even down to my birth-century
that poison was still in the blood of Christendom, and the best
of English commoners was still content to see his inferiors
impudently continuing to hold a number of positions, such as
lordships and the throne, to which the grotesque laws of his country
did not allow him to aspire; in fact, he was not merely contented
with this strange condition of things, he was even able to persuade
himself that he was proud of it. It seems to show that there isn't
anything you can't stand, if you are only born and bred to it.
Of course that taint, that reverence for rank and title, had been
in our American blood, too--I know that; but when I left America
it had disappeared--at least to all intents and purposes. The
remnant of it was restricted to the dudes and dudesses. When
a disease has worked its way down to that level, it may fairly
be said to be out of the system.
But to return to my anomalous position in King Arthur's kingdom.
Here I was, a giant among pigmies, a man among children, a master
intelligence among intellectual moles: by all rational measurement
the one and only actually great man in that whole British world;
and yet there and then, just as in the remote England of my
birth-time, the sheep-witted earl who could claim long descent
from a king's leman, acquired at second-hand from the slums of
London, was a better man than I was. Such a personage was fawned
upon in Arthur's realm and reverently looked up to by everybody,
even though his dispositions were as mean as his intelligence,
and his morals as base as his lineage. There were times when
_he_ could sit down in the king's presence, but I couldn't. I could
have got a title easily enough, and that would have raised me
a large step in everybody's eyes; even in the king's, the giver
of it. But I didn't ask for it; and I declined it when it was
offered. I couldn't have enjoyed such a thing with my notions;
and it wouldn't have been fair, anyway, because as far back as
I could go, our tribe had always been short of the bar sinister.
I couldn't have felt really and satisfactorily fine and proud
and set-up over any title except one that should come from the nation
itself, the only legitimate source; and such an one I hoped to win;
and in the course of years of honest and honorable endeavor, I did
win it and did wear it with a high and clean pride. This title
fell casually from the lips of a blacksmith, one day, in a village,
was caught up as a happy thought and tossed from mouth to mouth
with a laugh and an affirmative vote; in ten days it had swept
the kingdom, and was become as familiar as the king's name. I was
never known by any other designation afterward, whether in the
nation's talk or in grave debate upon matters of state at the
council-board of the sovereign. This title, translated into modern
speech, would be THE BOSS. Elected by the nation. That suited me.
And it was a pretty high title. There were very few THE'S, and
I was one of them. If you spoke of the duke, or the earl, or
the bishop, how could anybody tell which one you meant? But if
you spoke of The King or The Queen or The Boss, it was different.
Well, I liked the king, and as king I respected him--respected
the office; at least respected it as much as I was capable of
respecting any unearned supremacy; but as MEN I looked down upon
him and his nobles--privately. And he and they liked me, and
respected my office; but as an animal, without birth or sham title,
they looked down upon me--and were not particularly private about it,
either. I didn't charge for my opinion about them, and they didn't
charge for their opinion about me: the account was square, the
books balanced, everybody was satisfied.
They were always having grand tournaments there at Camelot; and
very stirring and picturesque and ridiculous human bull-fights
they were, too, but just a little wearisome to the practical mind.
However, I was generally on hand--for two reasons: a man must
not hold himself aloof from the things which his friends and his
community have at heart if he would be liked--especially as
a statesman; and both as business man and statesman I wanted
to study the tournament and see if I couldn't invent an improvement
on it. That reminds me to remark, in passing, that the very first
official thing I did, in my administration--and it was on the very
first day of it, too--was to start a patent office; for I knew
that a country without a patent office and good patent laws was
just a crab, and couldn't travel any way but sideways or backways.
Things ran along, a tournament nearly every week; and now and then
the boys used to want me to take a hand--I mean Sir Launcelot and
the rest--but I said I would by and by; no hurry yet, and too much
government machinery to oil up and set to rights and start a-going.
We had one tournament which was continued from day to day during
more than a week, and as many as five hundred knights took part
in it, from first to last. They were weeks gathering. They came
on horseback from everywhere; from the very ends of the country,
and even from beyond the sea; and many brought ladies, and all
brought squires and troops of servants. It was a most gaudy and
gorgeous crowd, as to costumery, and very characteristic of the
country and the time, in the way of high animal spirits, innocent
indecencies of language, and happy-hearted indifference to morals.
It was fight or look on, all day and every day; and sing, gamble,
dance, carouse half the night every night. They had a most noble
good time. You never saw such people. Those banks of beautiful
ladies, shining in their barbaric splendors, would see a knight
sprawl from his horse in the lists with a lanceshaft the thickness
of your ankle clean through him and the blood spouting, and instead
of fainting they would clap their hands and crowd each other for a
better view; only sometimes one would dive into her handkerchief,
and look ostentatiously broken-hearted, and then you could lay
two to one that there was a scandal there somewhere and she was
afraid the public hadn't found it out.
The noise at night would have been annoying to me ordinarily, but
I didn't mind it in the present circumstances, because it kept me
from hearing the quacks detaching legs and arms from the day's
cripples. They ruined an uncommon good old cross-cut saw for me,
and broke the saw-buck, too, but I let it pass. And as for my
axe--well, I made up my mind that the next time I lent an axe
to a surgeon I would pick my century.
I not only watched this tournament from day to day, but detailed
an intelligent priest from my Department of Public Morals and
Agriculture, and ordered him to report it; for it was my purpose
by and by, when I should have gotten the people along far enough,
to start a newspaper. The first thing you want in a new country,
is a patent office; then work up your school system; and after that,
out with your paper. A newspaper has its faults, and plenty of them,
but no matter, it's hark from the tomb for a dead nation, and don't
you forget it. You can't resurrect a dead nation without it; there
isn't any way. So I wanted to sample things, and be finding out
what sort of reporter-material I might be able to rake together out
of the sixth century when I should come to need it.
Well, the priest did very well, considering. He got in all
the details, and that is a good thing in a local item: you see,
he had kept books for the undertaker-department of his church
when he was younger, and there, you know, the money's in the details;
the more details, the more swag: bearers, mutes, candles, prayers
--everything counts; and if the bereaved don't buy prayers enough
you mark up your candles with a forked pencil, and your bill
shows up all right. And he had a good knack at getting in the
complimentary thing here and there about a knight that was likely
to advertise--no, I mean a knight that had influence; and he also
had a neat gift of exaggeration, for in his time he had kept door
for a pious hermit who lived in a sty and worked miracles.
Of course this novice's report lacked whoop and crash and lurid
description, and therefore wanted the true ring; but its antique
wording was quaint and sweet and simple, and full of the fragrances
and flavors of the time, and these little merits made up in a measure
for its more important lacks. Here is an extract from it:
Then Sir Brian de les Isles and Grummore Grummorsum,
knights of the castle, encountered with Sir Aglovale and
Sir Tor, and Sir Tor smote down Sir Grummore Grummorsum
to the earth. Then came Sir Carados of the dolorous
tower, and Sir Turquine, knights of the castle, and
there encountered with them Sir Percivale de Galis
and Sir Lamorak de Galis, that were two brethren, and
there encountered Sir Percivale with Sir Carados, and
either brake their spears unto their hands, and then
Sir Turquine with Sir Lamorak, and either of them smote
down other, horse and all, to the earth, and either
parties rescued other and horsed them again. And Sir
Arnold, and Sir Gauter, knights of the castle,
encountered with Sir Brandiles and Sir Kay, and these
four knights encountered mightily, and brake their
spears to their hands. Then came Sir Pertolope from
the castle, and there encountered with him Sir Lionel,
and there Sir Pertolope the green knight smote down Sir
Lionel, brother to Sir Launcelot. All this was marked
by noble heralds, who bare him best, and their names.
Then Sir Bleobaris brake his spear upon Sir Gareth,
but of that stroke Sir Bleobaris fell to the earth.
When Sir Galihodin saw that, he bad Sir Gareth keep him,
and Sir Gareth smote him to the earth. Then Sir Galihud
gat a spear to avenge his brother, and in the same wise
Sir Gareth served him, and Sir Dinadan and his brother
La Cote Male Taile, and Sir Sagramore le Disirous, and
Sir Dodinas le Savage; all these he bare down with one
spear. When King Aswisance of Ireland saw Sir Gareth
fare so he marvelled what he might be, that one time
seemed green, and another time, at his again coming,
he seemed blue. And thus at every course that he rode
to and fro he changed his color, so that there might
neither king nor knight have ready cognizance of him.
Then Sir Agwisance the King of Ireland encountered
with Sir Gareth, and there Sir Gareth smote him from
his horse, saddle and all. And then came King Carados
of Scotland, and Sir Gareth smote him down horse and
man. And in the same wise he served King Uriens of the
land of Gore. And then there came in Sir Bagdemagus,
and Sir Gareth smote him down horse and man to the
earth. And Bagdemagus's son Meliganus brake a spear
upon Sir Gareth mightily and knightly. And then Sir
Galahault the noble prince cried on high, Knight with
the many colors, well hast thou justed; now make thee
ready that I may just with thee. Sir Gareth heard him,
and he gat a great spear, and so they encountered
together, and there the prince brake his spear; but Sir
Gareth smote him upon the left side of the helm, that
he reeled here and there, and he had fallen down had not
his men recovered him. Truly, said King Arthur, that
knight with the many colors is a good knight. Wherefore
the king called unto him Sir Launcelot, and prayed him
to encounter with that knight. Sir, said Launcelot, I
may as well find in my heart for to forbear him at
this time, for he hath had travail enough this day, and
when a good knight doth so well upon some day, it is
no good knight's part to let him of his worship, and,
namely, when he seeth a knight hath done so great
labour; for peradventure, said Sir Launcelot, his
quarrel is here this day, and peradventure he is best
beloved with this lady of all that be here, for I see
well he paineth himself and enforceth him to do great
deeds, and therefore, said Sir Launcelot, as for me,
this day he shall have the honour; though it lay in my
power to put him from it, I would not.
There was an unpleasant little episode that day, which for reasons
of state I struck out of my priest's report. You will have noticed
that Garry was doing some great fighting in the engagement. When
I say Garry I mean Sir Gareth. Garry was my private pet name
for him; it suggests that I had a deep affection for him, and that
was the case. But it was a private pet name only, and never spoken
aloud to any one, much less to him; being a noble, he would not
have endured a familiarity like that from me. Well, to proceed:
I sat in the private box set apart for me as the king's minister.
While Sir Dinadan was waiting for his turn to enter the lists,
he came in there and sat down and began to talk; for he was always
making up to me, because I was a stranger and he liked to have
a fresh market for his jokes, the most of them having reached that
stage of wear where the teller has to do the laughing himself while
the other person looks sick. I had always responded to his efforts
as well as I could, and felt a very deep and real kindness for him,
too, for the reason that if by malice of fate he knew the one
particular anecdote which I had heard oftenest and had most hated
and most loathed all my life, he had at least spared it me. It was
one which I had heard attributed to every humorous person who
had ever stood on American soil, from Columbus down to Artemus Ward.
It was about a humorous lecturer who flooded an ignorant audience
with the killingest jokes for an hour and never got a laugh; and
then when he was leaving, some gray simpletons wrung him gratefully
by the hand and said it had been the funniest thing they had ever
heard, and "it was all they could do to keep from laughin' right
out in meetin'." That anecdote never saw the day that it was
worth the telling; and yet I had sat under the telling of it
hundreds and thousands and millions and billions of times, and
cried and cursed all the way through. Then who can hope to know
what my feelings were, to hear this armor-plated ass start in on
it again, in the murky twilight of tradition, before the dawn of
history, while even Lactantius might be referred to as "the late
Lactantius," and the Crusades wouldn't be born for five hundred
years yet? Just as he finished, the call-boy came; so, haw-hawing
like a demon, he went rattling and clanking out like a crate of
loose castings, and I knew nothing more. It was some minutes
before I came to, and then I opened my eyes just in time to see
Sir Gareth fetch him an awful welt, and I unconsciously out with
the prayer, "I hope to gracious he's killed!" But by ill-luck,
before I had got half through with the words, Sir Gareth crashed
into Sir Sagramor le Desirous and sent him thundering over his
horse's crupper, and Sir Sagramor caught my remark and thought
I meant it for _him_.
Well, whenever one of those people got a thing into his head,
there was no getting it out again. I knew that, so I saved my
breath, and offered no explanations. As soon as Sir Sagramor
got well, he notified me that there was a little account to settle
between us, and he named a day three or four years in the future;
place of settlement, the lists where the offense had been given.
I said I would be ready when he got back. You see, he was going
for the Holy Grail. The boys all took a flier at the Holy Grail
now and then. It was a several years' cruise. They always put in
the long absence snooping around, in the most conscientious way,
though none of them had any idea where the Holy Grail really was,
and I don't think any of them actually expected to find it, or
would have known what to do with it if he _had_ run across it.
You see, it was just the Northwest Passage of that day, as you may
say; that was all. Every year expeditions went out holy grailing,
and next year relief expeditions went out to hunt for _them_. There
was worlds of reputation in it, but no money. Why, they actually
wanted _me_ to put in! Well, I should smile.
BEGINNINGS OF CIVILIZATION
The Round Table soon heard of the challenge, and of course it was
a good deal discussed, for such things interested the boys.
The king thought I ought now to set forth in quest of adventures,
so that I might gain renown and be the more worthy to meet
Sir Sagramor when the several years should have rolled away.
I excused myself for the present; I said it would take me three
or four years yet to get things well fixed up and going smoothly;
then I should be ready; all the chances were that at the end of
that time Sir Sagramor would still be out grailing, so no valuable
time would be lost by the postponement; I should then have been
in office six or seven years, and I believed my system and machinery
would be so well developed that I could take a holiday without
its working any harm.
I was pretty well satisfied with what I had already accomplished.
In various quiet nooks and corners I had the beginnings of all
sorts of industries under way--nuclei of future vast factories,
the iron and steel missionaries of my future civilization. In these
were gathered together the brightest young minds I could find,
and I kept agents out raking the country for more, all the time.
I was training a crowd of ignorant folk into experts--experts
in every sort of handiwork and scientific calling. These nurseries
of mine went smoothly and privately along undisturbed in their
obscure country retreats, for nobody was allowed to come into their
precincts without a special permit--for I was afraid of the Church.
I had started a teacher-factory and a lot of Sunday-schools the
first thing; as a result, I now had an admirable system of graded
schools in full blast in those places, and also a complete variety
of Protestant congregations all in a prosperous and growing
condition. Everybody could be any kind of a Christian he wanted
to; there was perfect freedom in that matter. But I confined public
religious teaching to the churches and the Sunday-schools, permitting
nothing of it in my other educational buildings. I could have
given my own sect the preference and made everybody a Presbyterian
without any trouble, but that would have been to affront a law
of human nature: spiritual wants and instincts are as various in
the human family as are physical appetites, complexions, and
features, and a man is only at his best, morally, when he is
equipped with the religious garment whose color and shape and
size most nicely accommodate themselves to the spiritual complexion,
angularities, and stature of the individual who wears it; and,
besides, I was afraid of a united Church; it makes a mighty power,
the mightiest conceivable, and then when it by and by gets into
selfish hands, as it is always bound to do, it means death to
human liberty and paralysis to human thought.
All mines were royal property, and there were a good many of them.
They had formerly been worked as savages always work mines--holes
grubbed in the earth and the mineral brought up in sacks of hide by
hand, at the rate of a ton a day; but I had begun to put the mining
on a scientific basis as early as I could.
Yes, I had made pretty handsome progress when Sir Sagramor's
challenge struck me.
Four years rolled by--and then! Well, you would never imagine
it in the world. Unlimited power is the ideal thing when it is in
safe hands. The despotism of heaven is the one absolutely perfect
government. An earthly despotism would be the absolutely perfect
earthly government, if the conditions were the same, namely, the
despot the perfectest individual of the human race, and his lease
of life perpetual. But as a perishable perfect man must die, and
leave his despotism in the hands of an imperfect successor, an
earthly despotism is not merely a bad form of government, it is
the worst form that is possible.
My works showed what a despot could do with the resources of
a kingdom at his command. Unsuspected by this dark land, I had
the civilization of the nineteenth century booming under its very
nose! It was fenced away from the public view, but there it was,
a gigantic and unassailable fact--and to be heard from, yet, if
I lived and had luck. There it was, as sure a fact and as substantial
a fact as any serene volcano, standing innocent with its smokeless
summit in the blue sky and giving no sign of the rising hell in its
bowels. My schools and churches were children four years before;
they were grown-up now; my shops of that day were vast factories
now; where I had a dozen trained men then, I had a thousand now;
where I had one brilliant expert then, I had fifty now. I stood
with my hand on the cock, so to speak, ready to turn it on and
flood the midnight world with light at any moment. But I was not
going to do the thing in that sudden way. It was not my policy.
The people could not have stood it; and, moreover, I should have
had the Established Roman Catholic Church on my back in a minute.
No, I had been going cautiously all the while. I had had confidential
agents trickling through the country some time, whose office was
to undermine knighthood by imperceptible degrees, and to gnaw
a little at this and that and the other superstition, and so prepare
the way gradually for a better order of things. I was turning on
my light one-candle-power at a time, and meant to continue to do so.
I had scattered some branch schools secretly about the kingdom,
and they were doing very well. I meant to work this racket more
and more, as time wore on, if nothing occurred to frighten me.
One of my deepest secrets was my West Point--my military academy.
I kept that most jealously out of sight; and I did the same with my
naval academy which I had established at a remote seaport. Both
were prospering to my satisfaction.
Clarence was twenty-two now, and was my head executive, my right
hand. He was a darling; he was equal to anything; there wasn't
anything he couldn't turn his hand to. Of late I had been training
him for journalism, for the time seemed about right for a start
in the newspaper line; nothing big, but just a small weekly for
experimental circulation in my civilization-nurseries. He took
to it like a duck; there was an editor concealed in him, sure.
Already he had doubled himself in one way; he talked sixth century
and wrote nineteenth. His journalistic style was climbing,
steadily; it was already up to the back settlement Alabama mark,
and couldn't be told from the editorial output of that region
either by matter or flavor.
We had another large departure on hand, too. This was a telegraph
and a telephone; our first venture in this line. These wires were
for private service only, as yet, and must be kept private until
a riper day should come. We had a gang of men on the road, working
mainly by night. They were stringing ground wires; we were afraid
to put up poles, for they would attract too much inquiry. Ground
wires were good enough, in both instances, for my wires were
protected by an insulation of my own invention which was perfect.
My men had orders to strike across country, avoiding roads, and
establishing connection with any considerable towns whose lights
betrayed their presence, and leaving experts in charge. Nobody
could tell you how to find any place in the kingdom, for nobody
ever went intentionally to any place, but only struck it by
accident in his wanderings, and then generally left it without
thinking to inquire what its name was. At one time and another
we had sent out topographical expeditions to survey and map the
kingdom, but the priests had always interfered and raised trouble.
So we had given the thing up, for the present; it would be poor
wisdom to antagonize the Church.
As for the general condition of the country, it was as it had been
when I arrived in it, to all intents and purposes. I had made
changes, but they were necessarily slight, and they were not
noticeable. Thus far, I had not even meddled with taxation,
outside of the taxes which provided the royal revenues. I had
systematized those, and put the service on an effective and
righteous basis. As a result, these revenues were already quadrupled,
and yet the burden was so much more equably distributed than
before, that all the kingdom felt a sense of relief, and the praises
of my administration were hearty and general.
Personally, I struck an interruption, now, but I did not mind it,
it could not have happened at a better time. Earlier it could
have annoyed me, but now everything was in good hands and swimming
right along. The king had reminded me several times, of late, that
the postponement I had asked for, four years before, had about
run out now. It was a hint that I ought to be starting out to seek
adventures and get up a reputation of a size to make me worthy
of the honor of breaking a lance with Sir Sagramor, who was still
out grailing, but was being hunted for by various relief expeditions,
and might be found any year, now. So you see I was expecting
this interruption; it did not take me by surprise.
THE YANKEE IN SEARCH OF ADVENTURES
There never was such a country for wandering liars; and they were
of both sexes. Hardly a month went by without one of these tramps
arriving; and generally loaded with a tale about some princess or
other wanting help to get her out of some far-away castle where
she was held in captivity by a lawless scoundrel, usually a giant.
Now you would think that the first thing the king would do after
listening to such a novelette from an entire stranger, would be
to ask for credentials--yes, and a pointer or two as to locality
of castle, best route to it, and so on. But nobody ever thought
of so simple and common-sense a thing at that. No, everybody
swallowed these people's lies whole, and never asked a question
of any sort or about anything. Well, one day when I was not
around, one of these people came along--it was a she one, this
time--and told a tale of the usual pattern. Her mistress was
a captive in a vast and gloomy castle, along with forty-four other
young and beautiful girls, pretty much all of them princesses;
they had been languishing in that cruel captivity for twenty-six
years; the masters of the castle were three stupendous brothers,
each with four arms and one eye--the eye in the center of the
forehead, and as big as a fruit. Sort of fruit not mentioned;
their usual slovenliness in statistics.
Would you believe it? The king and the whole Round Table were
in raptures over this preposterous opportunity for adventure.
Every knight of the Table jumped for the chance, and begged for it;
but to their vexation and chagrin the king conferred it upon me,
who had not asked for it at all.
By an effort, I contained my joy when Clarence brought me the news.
But he--he could not contain his. His mouth gushed delight and
gratitude in a steady discharge--delight in my good fortune,
gratitude to the king for this splendid mark of his favor for me.
He could keep neither his legs nor his body still, but pirouetted
about the place in an airy ecstasy of happiness.
On my side, I could have cursed the kindness that conferred upon
me this benefaction, but I kept my vexation under the surface
for policy's sake, and did what I could to let on to be glad.
Indeed, I _said_ I was glad. And in a way it was true; I was as
glad as a person is when he is scalped.
Well, one must make the best of things, and not waste time with
useless fretting, but get down to business and see what can be
done. In all lies there is wheat among the chaff; I must get at
the wheat in this case: so I sent for the girl and she came. She
was a comely enough creature, and soft and modest, but, if signs
went for anything, she didn't know as much as a lady's watch. I said:
"My dear, have you been questioned as to particulars?"
She said she hadn't.
"Well, I didn't expect you had, but I thought I would ask, to make
sure; it's the way I've been raised. Now you mustn't take it
unkindly if I remind you that as we don't know you, we must go
a little slow. You may be all right, of course, and we'll hope
that you are; but to take it for granted isn't business. _You_
understand that. I'm obliged to ask you a few questions; just
answer up fair and square, and don't be afraid. Where do you
live, when you are at home?"
"In the land of Moder, fair sir."
"Land of Moder. I don't remember hearing of it before.
"As to that, I know not if they be yet on live, sith it is many
years that I have lain shut up in the castle."
"Your name, please?"
"I hight the Demoiselle Alisande la Carteloise, an it please you."
"Do you know anybody here who can identify you?"
"That were not likely, fair lord, I being come hither now for
the first time."
"Have you brought any letters--any documents--any proofs that
you are trustworthy and truthful?"
"Of a surety, no; and wherefore should I? Have I not a tongue,
and cannot I say all that myself?"
"But _your_ saying it, you know, and somebody else's saying it,
"Different? How might that be? I fear me I do not understand."
"Don't _understand_? Land of--why, you see--you see--why, great Scott,
can't you understand a little thing like that? Can't you understand
the difference between your--_why_ do you look so innocent and idiotic!"
"I? In truth I know not, but an it were the will of God."
"Yes, yes, I reckon that's about the size of it. Don't mind my
seeming excited; I'm not. Let us change the subject. Now as
to this castle, with forty-five princesses in it, and three ogres
at the head of it, tell me--where is this harem?"
"The _castle_, you understand; where is the castle?"
"Oh, as to that, it is great, and strong, and well beseen, and
lieth in a far country. Yes, it is many leagues."
"Ah, fair sir, it were woundily hard to tell, they are so many,
and do so lap the one upon the other, and being made all in the
same image and tincted with the same color, one may not know
the one league from its fellow, nor how to count them except
they be taken apart, and ye wit well it were God's work to do
that, being not within man's capacity; for ye will note--"
"Hold on, hold on, never mind about the distance; _whereabouts_
does the castle lie? What's the direction from here?"
"Ah, please you sir, it hath no direction from here; by reason
that the road lieth not straight, but turneth evermore; wherefore
the direction of its place abideth not, but is some time under
the one sky and anon under another, whereso if ye be minded that
it is in the east, and wend thitherward, ye shall observe that
the way of the road doth yet again turn upon itself by the space
of half a circle, and this marvel happing again and yet again and
still again, it will grieve you that you had thought by vanities
of the mind to thwart and bring to naught the will of Him that
giveth not a castle a direction from a place except it pleaseth
Him, and if it please Him not, will the rather that even all castles
and all directions thereunto vanish out of the earth, leaving the
places wherein they tarried desolate and vacant, so warning His
creatures that where He will He will, and where He will not He--"
"Oh, that's all right, that's all right, give us a rest; never mind
about the direction, _hang_ the direction--I beg pardon, I beg
a thousand pardons, I am not well to-day; pay no attention when
I soliloquize, it is an old habit, an old, bad habit, and hard
to get rid of when one's digestion is all disordered with eating
food that was raised forever and ever before he was born; good
land! a man can't keep his functions regular on spring chickens
thirteen hundred years old. But come--never mind about that;
let's--have you got such a thing as a map of that region about
you? Now a good map--"
"Is it peradventure that manner of thing which of late the unbelievers
have brought from over the great seas, which, being boiled in oil,
and an onion and salt added thereto, doth--"
"What, a map? What are you talking about? Don't you know what
a map is? There, there, never mind, don't explain, I hate
explanations; they fog a thing up so that you can't tell anything
about it. Run along, dear; good-day; show her the way, Clarence."
Oh, well, it was reasonably plain, now, why these donkeys didn't
prospect these liars for details. It may be that this girl had
a fact in her somewhere, but I don't believe you could have sluiced
it out with a hydraulic; nor got it with the earlier forms of
blasting, even; it was a case for dynamite. Why, she was a perfect
ass; and yet the king and his knights had listened to her as if
she had been a leaf out of the gospel. It kind of sizes up the
whole party. And think of the simple ways of this court: this
wandering wench hadn't any more trouble to get access to the king
in his palace than she would have had to get into the poorhouse
in my day and country. In fact, he was glad to see her, glad
to hear her tale; with that adventure of hers to offer, she was
as welcome as a corpse is to a coroner.
Just as I was ending-up these reflections, Clarence came back.
I remarked upon the barren result of my efforts with the girl;
hadn't got hold of a single point that could help me to find
the castle. The youth looked a little surprised, or puzzled,
or something, and intimated that he had been wondering to himself
what I had wanted to ask the girl all those questions for.
"Why, great guns," I said, "don't I want to find the castle? And
how else would I go about it?"
"La, sweet your worship, one may lightly answer that, I ween.
She will go with thee. They always do. She will ride with thee."
"Ride with me? Nonsense!"
"But of a truth she will. She will ride with thee. Thou shalt see."
"What? She browse around the hills and scour the woods with me
--alone--and I as good as engaged to be married? Why, it's scandalous.
Think how it would look."
My, the dear face that rose before me! The boy was eager to know
all about this tender matter. I swore him to secrecy and then
whispered her name--"Puss Flanagan." He looked disappointed,
and said he didn't remember the countess. How natural it was for
the little courtier to give her a rank. He asked me where she lived.
"In East Har--" I came to myself and stopped, a little confused;
then I said, "Never mind, now; I'll tell you some time."
And might he see her? Would I let him see her some day?
It was but a little thing to promise--thirteen hundred years
or so--and he so eager; so I said Yes. But I sighed; I couldn't
help it. And yet there was no sense in sighing, for she wasn't
born yet. But that is the way we are made: we don't reason,
where we feel; we just feel.
My expedition was all the talk that day and that night, and the
boys were very good to me, and made much of me, and seemed to have
forgotten their vexation and disappointment, and come to be as
anxious for me to hive those ogres and set those ripe old virgins
loose as if it were themselves that had the contract. Well, they
_were_ good children--but just children, that is all. And they
gave me no end of points about how to scout for giants, and how
to scoop them in; and they told me all sorts of charms against
enchantments, and gave me salves and other rubbish to put on my
wounds. But it never occurred to one of them to reflect that if
I was such a wonderful necromancer as I was pretending to be,
I ought not to need salves or instructions, or charms against
enchantments, and, least of all, arms and armor, on a foray of any
kind--even against fire-spouting dragons, and devils hot from
perdition, let alone such poor adversaries as these I was after,
these commonplace ogres of the back settlements.
I was to have an early breakfast, and start at dawn, for that was
the usual way; but I had the demon's own time with my armor,
and this delayed me a little. It is troublesome to get into, and
there is so much detail. First you wrap a layer or two of blanket
around your body, for a sort of cushion and to keep off the cold
iron; then you put on your sleeves and shirt of chain mail--these
are made of small steel links woven together, and they form a fabric
so flexible that if you toss your shirt onto the floor, it slumps
into a pile like a peck of wet fish-net; it is very heavy and
is nearly the uncomfortablest material in the world for a night
shirt, yet plenty used it for that--tax collectors, and reformers,
and one-horse kings with a defective title, and those sorts of
people; then you put on your shoes--flat-boats roofed over with
interleaving bands of steel--and screw your clumsy spurs into
the heels. Next you buckle your greaves on your legs, and your
cuisses on your thighs; then come your backplate and your breastplate,
and you begin to feel crowded; then you hitch onto the breastplate
the half-petticoat of broad overlapping bands of steel which hangs
down in front but is scolloped out behind so you can sit down,
and isn't any real improvement on an inverted coal scuttle, either
for looks or for wear, or to wipe your hands on; next you belt
on your sword; then you put your stove-pipe joints onto your arms,
your iron gauntlets onto your hands, your iron rat-trap onto your
head, with a rag of steel web hitched onto it to hang over the back
of your neck--and there you are, snug as a candle in a candle-mould.
This is no time to dance. Well, a man that is packed away like
that is a nut that isn't worth the cracking, there is so little of
the meat, when you get down to it, by comparison with the shell.
The boys helped me, or I never could have got in. Just as we
finished, Sir Bedivere happened in, and I saw that as like as not
I hadn't chosen the most convenient outfit for a long trip. How
stately he looked; and tall and broad and grand. He had on his
head a conical steel casque that only came down to his ears, and
for visor had only a narrow steel bar that extended down to his
upper lip and protected his nose; and all the rest of him, from
neck to heel, was flexible chain mail, trousers and all. But
pretty much all of him was hidden under his outside garment, which
of course was of chain mail, as I said, and hung straight from his
shoulders to his ankles; and from his middle to the bottom, both
before and behind, was divided, so that he could ride and let the
skirts hang down on each side. He was going grailing, and it was
just the outfit for it, too. I would have given a good deal for
that ulster, but it was too late now to be fooling around. The sun
was just up, the king and the court were all on hand to see me off
and wish me luck; so it wouldn't be etiquette for me to tarry.
You don't get on your horse yourself; no, if you tried it you
would get disappointed. They carry you out, just as they carry
a sun-struck man to the drug store, and put you on, and help get
you to rights, and fix your feet in the stirrups; and all the while
you do feel so strange and stuffy and like somebody else--like
somebody that has been married on a sudden, or struck by lightning,
or something like that, and hasn't quite fetched around yet, and
is sort of numb, and can't just get his bearings. Then they
stood up the mast they called a spear, in its socket by my left
foot, and I gripped it with my hand; lastly they hung my shield
around my neck, and I was all complete and ready to up anchor
and get to sea. Everybody was as good to me as they could be,
and a maid of honor gave me the stirrup-cup her own self. There was
nothing more to do now, but for that damsel to get up behind me on
a pillion, which she did, and put an arm or so around me to hold on.
And so we started, and everybody gave us a goodbye and waved their
handkerchiefs or helmets. And everybody we met, going down the hill
and through the village was respectful to us, except some shabby
little boys on the outskirts. They said:
"Oh, what a guy!" And hove clods at us.
In my experience boys are the same in all ages. They don't respect
anything, they don't care for anything or anybody. They say
"Go up, baldhead" to the prophet going his unoffending way in
the gray of antiquity; they sass me in the holy gloom of the
Middle Ages; and I had seen them act the same way in Buchanan's
administration; I remember, because I was there and helped. The
prophet had his bears and settled with his boys; and I wanted
to get down and settle with mine, but it wouldn't answer, because
I couldn't have got up again. I hate a country without a derrick.
Straight off, we were in the country. It was most lovely and
pleasant in those sylvan solitudes in the early cool morning
in the first freshness of autumn. From hilltops we saw fair
green valleys lying spread out below, with streams winding through
them, and island groves of trees here and there, and huge lonely
oaks scattered about and casting black blots of shade; and beyond
the valleys we saw the ranges of hills, blue with haze, stretching
away in billowy perspective to the horizon, with at wide intervals
a dim fleck of white or gray on a wave-summit, which we knew was
a castle. We crossed broad natural lawns sparkling with dew,
and we moved like spirits, the cushioned turf giving out no sound
of footfall; we dreamed along through glades in a mist of green
light that got its tint from the sun-drenched roof of leaves
overhead, and by our feet the clearest and coldest of runlets
went frisking and gossiping over its reefs and making a sort of
whispering music, comfortable to hear; and at times we left the
world behind and entered into the solemn great deeps and rich
gloom of the forest, where furtive wild things whisked and scurried
by and were gone before you could even get your eye on the place
where the noise was; and where only the earliest birds were turning
out and getting to business with a song here and a quarrel yonder
and a mysterious far-off hammering and drumming for worms on
a tree trunk away somewhere in the impenetrable remotenesses of
the woods. And by and by out we would swing again into the glare.
About the third or fourth or fifth time that we swung out into
the glare--it was along there somewhere, a couple of hours or so
after sun-up--it wasn't as pleasant as it had been. It was
beginning to get hot. This was quite noticeable. We had a very
long pull, after that, without any shade. Now it is curious how
progressively little frets grow and multiply after they once get
a start. Things which I didn't mind at all, at first, I began
to mind now--and more and more, too, all the time. The first
ten or fifteen times I wanted my handkerchief I didn't seem to care;
I got along, and said never mind, it isn't any matter, and dropped
it out of my mind. But now it was different; I wanted it all
the time; it was nag, nag, nag, right along, and no rest; I couldn't
get it out of my mind; and so at last I lost my temper and said
hang a man that would make a suit of armor without any pockets
in it. You see I had my handkerchief in my helmet; and some other
things; but it was that kind of a helmet that you can't take off
by yourself. That hadn't occurred to me when I put it there;
and in fact I didn't know it. I supposed it would be particularly
convenient there. And so now, the thought of its being there,
so handy and close by, and yet not get-at-able, made it all the
worse and the harder to bear. Yes, the thing that you can't get
is the thing that you want, mainly; every one has noticed that.
Well, it took my mind off from everything else; took it clear off,
and centered it in my helmet; and mile after mile, there it stayed,
imagining the handkerchief, picturing the handkerchief; and it
was bitter and aggravating to have the salt sweat keep trickling
down into my eyes, and I couldn't get at it. It seems like a little
thing, on paper, but it was not a little thing at all; it was
the most real kind of misery. I would not say it if it was not so.
I made up my mind that I would carry along a reticule next time,
let it look how it might, and people say what they would. Of course
these iron dudes of the Round Table would think it was scandalous,
and maybe raise Sheol about it, but as for me, give me comfort
first, and style afterwards. So we jogged along, and now and then
we struck a stretch of dust, and it would tumble up in clouds and
get into my nose and make me sneeze and cry; and of course I said
things I oughtn't to have said, I don't deny that. I am not
better than others.
We couldn't seem to meet anybody in this lonesome Britain, not
even an ogre; and, in the mood I was in then, it was well for
the ogre; that is, an ogre with a handkerchief. Most knights
would have thought of nothing but getting his armor; but so I got
his bandanna, he could keep his hardware, for all of me.
Meantime, it was getting hotter and hotter in there. You see,
the sun was beating down and warming up the iron more and more
all the time. Well, when you are hot, that way, every little thing
irritates you. When I trotted, I rattled like a crate of dishes,
and that annoyed me; and moreover I couldn't seem to stand that
shield slatting and banging, now about my breast, now around my
back; and if I dropped into a walk my joints creaked and screeched
in that wearisome way that a wheelbarrow does, and as we didn't
create any breeze at that gait, I was like to get fried in that
stove; and besides, the quieter you went the heavier the iron
settled down on you and the more and more tons you seemed to weigh
every minute. And you had to be always changing hands, and passing
your spear over to the other foot, it got so irksome for one hand
to hold it long at a time.
Well, you know, when you perspire that way, in rivers, there comes
a time when you--when you--well, when you itch. You are inside,
your hands are outside; so there you are; nothing but iron between.
It is not a light thing, let it sound as it may. First it is one
place; then another; then some more; and it goes on spreading and
spreading, and at last the territory is all occupied, and nobody
can imagine what you feel like, nor how unpleasant it is. And
when it had got to the worst, and it seemed to me that I could
not stand anything more, a fly got in through the bars and settled
on my nose, and the bars were stuck and wouldn't work, and I
couldn't get the visor up; and I could only shake my head, which
was baking hot by this time, and the fly--well, you know how a fly
acts when he has got a certainty--he only minded the shaking enough
to change from nose to lip, and lip to ear, and buzz and buzz
all around in there, and keep on lighting and biting, in a way
that a person, already so distressed as I was, simply could not
stand. So I gave in, and got Alisande to unship the helmet and
relieve me of it. Then she emptied the conveniences out of it
and fetched it full of water, and I drank and then stood up, and
she poured the rest down inside the armor. One cannot think how
refreshing it was. She continued to fetch and pour until I was
well soaked and thoroughly comfortable.
It was good to have a rest--and peace. But nothing is quite
perfect in this life, at any time. I had made a pipe a while back,
and also some pretty fair tobacco; not the real thing, but what
some of the Indians use: the inside bark of the willow, dried.
These comforts had been in the helmet, and now I had them again,
but no matches.
Gradually, as the time wore along, one annoying fact was borne in
upon my understanding--that we were weather-bound. An armed novice
cannot mount his horse without help and plenty of it. Sandy was
not enough; not enough for me, anyway. We had to wait until
somebody should come along. Waiting, in silence, would have been
agreeable enough, for I was full of matter for reflection, and
wanted to give it a chance to work. I wanted to try and think out
how it was that rational or even half-rational men could ever
have learned to wear armor, considering its inconveniences; and
how they had managed to keep up such a fashion for generations
when it was plain that what I had suffered to-day they had had
to suffer all the days of their lives. I wanted to think that out;
and moreover I wanted to think out some way to reform this evil
and persuade the people to let the foolish fashion die out; but
thinking was out of the question in the circumstances. You couldn't
think, where Sandy was.
She was a quite biddable creature and good-hearted, but she had
a flow of talk that was as steady as a mill, and made your head
sore like the drays and wagons in a city. If she had had a cork
she would have been a comfort. But you can't cork that kind;
they would die. Her clack was going all day, and you would think
something would surely happen to her works, by and by; but no,
they never got out of order; and she never had to slack up for
words. She could grind, and pump, and churn, and buzz by the week,
and never stop to oil up or blow out. And yet the result was just
nothing but wind. She never had any ideas, any more than a fog
has. She was a perfect blatherskite; I mean for jaw, jaw, jaw,
talk, talk, talk, jabber, jabber, jabber; but just as good as she
could be. I hadn't minded her mill that morning, on account of
having that hornets' nest of other troubles; but more than once
in the afternoon I had to say:
"Take a rest, child; the way you are using up all the domestic air,
the kingdom will have to go to importing it by to-morrow, and it's
a low enough treasury without that."
Yes, it is strange how little a while at a time a person can be
contented. Only a little while back, when I was riding and
suffering, what a heaven this peace, this rest, this sweet serenity
in this secluded shady nook by this purling stream would have
seemed, where I could keep perfectly comfortable all the time
by pouring a dipper of water into my armor now and then; yet
already I was getting dissatisfied; partly because I could not
light my pipe--for, although I had long ago started a match factory,
I had forgotten to bring matches with me--and partly because we
had nothing to eat. Here was another illustration of the childlike
improvidence of this age and people. A man in armor always trusted
to chance for his food on a journey, and would have been scandalized
at the idea of hanging a basket of sandwiches on his spear. There
was probably not a knight of all the Round Table combination who
would not rather have died than been caught carrying such a thing
as that on his flagstaff. And yet there could not be anything more
sensible. It had been my intention to smuggle a couple of sandwiches
into my helmet, but I was interrupted in the act, and had to make
an excuse and lay them aside, and a dog got them.
Night approached, and with it a storm. The darkness came on fast.
We must camp, of course. I found a good shelter for the demoiselle
under a rock, and went off and found another for myself. But
I was obliged to remain in my armor, because I could not get it off
by myself and yet could not allow Alisande to help, because it
would have seemed so like undressing before folk. It would not
have amounted to that in reality, because I had clothes on
underneath; but the prejudices of one's breeding are not gotten
rid of just at a jump, and I knew that when it came to stripping
off that bob-tailed iron petticoat I should be embarrassed.
With the storm came a change of weather; and the stronger the wind
blew, and the wilder the rain lashed around, the colder and colder
it got. Pretty soon, various kinds of bugs and ants and worms
and things began to flock in out of the wet and crawl down inside
my armor to get warm; and while some of them behaved well enough,
and snuggled up amongst my clothes and got quiet, the majority
were of a restless, uncomfortable sort, and never stayed still,
but went on prowling and hunting for they did not know what;
especially the ants, which went tickling along in wearisome
procession from one end of me to the other by the hour, and are
a kind of creatures which I never wish to sleep with again.
It would be my advice to persons situated in this way, to not roll
or thrash around, because this excites the interest of all the
different sorts of animals and makes every last one of them want
to turn out and see what is going on, and this makes things worse
than they were before, and of course makes you objurgate harder,
too, if you can. Still, if one did not roll and thrash around
he would die; so perhaps it is as well to do one way as the other;
there is no real choice. Even after I was frozen solid I could
still distinguish that tickling, just as a corpse does when he is
taking electric treatment. I said I would never wear armor
after this trip.
All those trying hours whilst I was frozen and yet was in a living
fire, as you may say, on account of that swarm of crawlers, that
same unanswerable question kept circling and circling through my
tired head: How do people stand this miserable armor? How have
they managed to stand it all these generations? How can they sleep
at night for dreading the tortures of next day?
When the morning came at last, I was in a bad enough plight: seedy,
drowsy, fagged, from want of sleep; weary from thrashing around,
famished from long fasting; pining for a bath, and to get rid of
the animals; and crippled with rheumatism. And how had it fared
with the nobly born, the titled aristocrat, the Demoiselle Alisande
la Carteloise? Why, she was as fresh as a squirrel; she had slept
like the dead; and as for a bath, probably neither she nor any
other noble in the land had ever had one, and so she was not
missing it. Measured by modern standards, they were merely modified
savages, those people. This noble lady showed no impatience to get
to breakfast--and that smacks of the savage, too. On their journeys
those Britons were used to long fasts, and knew how to bear them;
and also how to freight up against probable fasts before starting,
after the style of the Indian and the anaconda. As like as not,
Sandy was loaded for a three-day stretch.
We were off before sunrise, Sandy riding and I limping along
behind. In half an hour we came upon a group of ragged poor
creatures who had assembled to mend the thing which was regarded
as a road. They were as humble as animals to me; and when I
proposed to breakfast with them, they were so flattered, so
overwhelmed by this extraordinary condescension of mine that
at first they were not able to believe that I was in earnest.
My lady put up her scornful lip and withdrew to one side; she said
in their hearing that she would as soon think of eating with the
other cattle--a remark which embarrassed these poor devils merely
because it referred to them, and not because it insulted or offended
them, for it didn't. And yet they were not slaves, not chattels.
By a sarcasm of law and phrase they were freemen. Seven-tenths
of the free population of the country were of just their class and
degree: small "independent" farmers, artisans, etc.; which is
to say, they were the nation, the actual Nation; they were about
all of it that was useful, or worth saving, or really respect-worthy,
and to subtract them would have been to subtract the Nation and
leave behind some dregs, some refuse, in the shape of a king,
nobility and gentry, idle, unproductive, acquainted mainly with
the arts of wasting and destroying, and of no sort of use or value
in any rationally constructed world. And yet, by ingenious
contrivance, this gilded minority, instead of being in the tail
of the procession where it belonged, was marching head up and
banners flying, at the other end of it; had elected itself to be
the Nation, and these innumerable clams had permitted it so long
that they had come at last to accept it as a truth; and not only
that, but to believe it right and as it should be. The priests
had told their fathers and themselves that this ironical state
of things was ordained of God; and so, not reflecting upon how
unlike God it would be to amuse himself with sarcasms, and especially
such poor transparent ones as this, they had dropped the matter
there and become respectfully quiet.
The talk of these meek people had a strange enough sound in
a formerly American ear. They were freemen, but they could not
leave the estates of their lord or their bishop without his
permission; they could not prepare their own bread, but must have
their corn ground and their bread baked at his mill and his bakery,
and pay roundly for the same; they could not sell a piece of their
own property without paying him a handsome percentage of the
proceeds, nor buy a piece of somebody else's without remembering
him in cash for the privilege; they had to harvest his grain for him
gratis, and be ready to come at a moment's notice, leaving their
own crop to destruction by the threatened storm; they had to let
him plant fruit trees in their fields, and then keep their indignation
to themselves when his heedless fruit-gatherers trampled the grain
around the trees; they had to smother their anger when his hunting
parties galloped through their fields laying waste the result of
their patient toil; they were not allowed to keep doves themselves,
and when the swarms from my lord's dovecote settled on their crops
they must not lose their temper and kill a bird, for awful would
the penalty be; when the harvest was at last gathered, then came
the procession of robbers to levy their blackmail upon it: first
the Church carted off its fat tenth, then the king's commissioner
took his twentieth, then my lord's people made a mighty inroad
upon the remainder; after which, the skinned freeman had liberty
to bestow the remnant in his barn, in case it was worth the trouble;
there were taxes, and taxes, and taxes, and more taxes, and taxes
again, and yet other taxes--upon this free and independent pauper,
but none upon his lord the baron or the bishop, none upon the
wasteful nobility or the all-devouring Church; if the baron would
sleep unvexed, the freeman must sit up all night after his day's
work and whip the ponds to keep the frogs quiet; if the freeman's
daughter--but no, that last infamy of monarchical government is
unprintable; and finally, if the freeman, grown desperate with his
tortures, found his life unendurable under such conditions, and
sacrificed it and fled to death for mercy and refuge, the gentle
Church condemned him to eternal fire, the gentle law buried him
at midnight at the cross-roads with a stake through his back,
and his master the baron or the bishop confiscated all his property
and turned his widow and his orphans out of doors.
And here were these freemen assembled in the early morning to work
on their lord the bishop's road three days each--gratis; every
head of a family, and every son of a family, three days each,
gratis, and a day or so added for their servants. Why, it was
like reading about France and the French, before the ever memorable
and blessed Revolution, which swept a thousand years of such
villany away in one swift tidal-wave of blood--one: a settlement
of that hoary debt in the proportion of half a drop of blood for
each hogshead of it that had been pressed by slow tortures out of
that people in the weary stretch of ten centuries of wrong and
shame and misery the like of which was not to be mated but in hell.
There were two "Reigns of Terror," if we would but remember it
and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passion, the other
in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had
lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon ten thousand
persons, the other upon a hundred millions; but our shudders are
all for the "horrors" of the minor Terror, the momentary Terror,
so to speak; whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the axe,
compared with lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty,
and heart-break? What is swift death by lightning compared with
death by slow fire at the stake? A city cemetery could contain the
coffins filled by that brief Terror which we have all been so
diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could
hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror
--that unspeakably bitter and awful Terror which none of us has
been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves.
These poor ostensible freemen who were sharing their breakfast
and their talk with me, were as full of humble reverence for their
king and Church and nobility as their worst enemy could desire.
There was something pitifully ludicrous about it. I asked them
if they supposed a nation of people ever existed, who, with a free
vote in every man's hand, would elect that a single family and its
descendants should reign over it forever, whether gifted or boobies,
to the exclusion of all other families--including the voter's; and
would also elect that a certain hundred families should be raised
to dizzy summits of rank, and clothed on with offensive transmissible
glories and privileges to the exclusion of the rest of the nation's
families--_including his own_.
They all looked unhit, and said they didn't know; that they had
never thought about it before, and it hadn't ever occurred to them
that a nation could be so situated that every man _could_ have
a say in the government. I said I had seen one--and that it would
last until it had an Established Church. Again they were all
unhit--at first. But presently one man looked up and asked me
to state that proposition again; and state it slowly, so it could
soak into his understanding. I did it; and after a little he had
the idea, and he brought his fist down and said _he_ didn't believe
a nation where every man had a vote would voluntarily get down
in the mud and dirt in any such way; and that to steal from a nation
its will and preference must be a crime and the first of all crimes.
I said to myself:
"This one's a man. If I were backed by enough of his sort, I would
make a strike for the welfare of this country, and try to prove
myself its loyalest citizen by making a wholesome change in its
system of government."
You see my kind of loyalty was loyalty to one's country, not to
its institutions or its office-holders. The country is the real
thing, the substantial thing, the eternal thing; it is the thing
to watch over, and care for, and be loyal to; institutions are
extraneous, they are its mere clothing, and clothing can wear out,
become ragged, cease to be comfortable, cease to protect the body
from winter, disease, and death. To be loyal to rags, to shout
for rags, to worship rags, to die for rags--that is a loyalty
of unreason, it is pure animal; it belongs to monarchy, was invented
by monarchy; let monarchy keep it. I was from Connecticut, whose
Constitution declares "that all political power is inherent in
the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority
and instituted for their benefit; and that they have _at all times_
an undeniable and indefeasible right to _alter their form of
government_ in such a manner as they may think expedient."
Under that gospel, the citizen who thinks he sees that the
commonwealth's political clothes are worn out, and yet holds his
peace and does not agitate for a new suit, is disloyal; he is
a traitor. That he may be the only one who thinks he sees this
decay, does not excuse him; it is his duty to agitate anyway, and
it is the duty of the others to vote him down if they do not see
the matter as he does.
And now here I was, in a country where a right to say how the
country should be governed was restricted to six persons in each
thousand of its population. For the nine hundred and ninety-four
to express dissatisfaction with the regnant system and propose
to change it, would have made the whole six shudder as one man,
it would have been so disloyal, so dishonorable, such putrid black
treason. So to speak, I was become a stockholder in a corporation
where nine hundred and ninety-four of the members furnished all
the money and did all the work, and the other six elected themselves
a permanent board of direction and took all the dividends. It seemed
to me that what the nine hundred and ninety-four dupes needed was
a new deal. The thing that would have best suited the circus side
of my nature would have been to resign the Boss-ship and get up
an insurrection and turn it into a revolution; but I knew that the
Jack Cade or the Wat Tyler who tries such a thing without first
educating his materials up to revolution grade is almost absolutely
certain to get left. I had never been accustomed to getting left,
even if I do say it myself. Wherefore, the "deal" which had been
for some time working into shape in my mind was of a quite different
pattern from the Cade-Tyler sort.
So I did not talk blood and insurrection to that man there who sat
munching black bread with that abused and mistaught herd of human
sheep, but took him aside and talked matter of another sort to him.
After I had finished, I got him to lend me a little ink from his
veins; and with this and a sliver I wrote on a piece of bark--
Put him in the Man-factory--
and gave it to him, and said:
"Take it to the palace at Camelot and give it into the hands of
Amyas le Poulet, whom I call Clarence, and he will understand."
"He is a priest, then," said the man, and some of the enthusiasm
went out of his face.
"How--a priest? Didn't I tell you that no chattel of the Church,
no bond-slave of pope or bishop can enter my Man-Factory? Didn't
I tell you that _you_ couldn't enter unless your religion, whatever
it might be, was your own free property?"
"Marry, it is so, and for that I was glad; wherefore it liked me not,
and bred in me a cold doubt, to hear of this priest being there."
"But he isn't a priest, I tell you."
The man looked far from satisfied. He said:
"He is not a priest, and yet can read?"
"He is not a priest and yet can read--yes, and write, too, for that
matter. I taught him myself." The man's face cleared. "And it is
the first thing that you yourself will be taught in that Factory--"
"I? I would give blood out of my heart to know that art. Why,
I will be your slave, your--"
"No you won't, you won't be anybody's slave. Take your family
and go along. Your lord the bishop will confiscate your small
property, but no matter. Clarence will fix you all right."
"DEFEND THEE, LORD"
I paid three pennies for my breakfast, and a most extravagant
price it was, too, seeing that one could have breakfasted a dozen
persons for that money; but I was feeling good by this time, and
I had always been a kind of spendthrift anyway; and then these
people had wanted to give me the food for nothing, scant as
their provision was, and so it was a grateful pleasure to emphasize
my appreciation and sincere thankfulness with a good big financial
lift where the money would do so much more good than it would
in my helmet, where, these pennies being made of iron and not
stinted in weight, my half-dollar's worth was a good deal of a
burden to me. I spent money rather too freely in those days,
it is true; but one reason for it was that I hadn't got the
proportions of things entirely adjusted, even yet, after so long
a sojourn in Britain--hadn't got along to where I was able to
absolutely realize that a penny in Arthur's land and a couple of
dollars in Connecticut were about one and the same thing: just
twins, as you may say, in purchasing power. If my start from
Camelot could have been delayed a very few days I could have paid
these people in beautiful new coins from our own mint, and that
would have pleased me; and them, too, not less. I had adopted
the American values exclusively. In a week or two now, cents,
nickels, dimes, quarters, and half-dollars, and also a trifle of
gold, would be trickling in thin but steady streams all through
the commercial veins of the kingdom, and I looked to see this
new blood freshen up its life.
The farmers were bound to throw in something, to sort of offset
my liberality, whether I would or no; so I let them give me a flint
and steel; and as soon as they had comfortably bestowed Sandy
and me on our horse, I lit my pipe. When the first blast of smoke
shot out through the bars of my helmet, all those people broke
for the woods, and Sandy went over backwards and struck the ground
with a dull thud. They thought I was one of those fire-belching
dragons they had heard so much about from knights and other
professional liars. I had infinite trouble to persuade those people
to venture back within explaining distance. Then I told them that
this was only a bit of enchantment which would work harm to none
but my enemies. And I promised, with my hand on my heart, that
if all who felt no enmity toward me would come forward and pass
before me they should see that only those who remained behind would
be struck dead. The procession moved with a good deal of promptness.
There were no casualties to report, for nobody had curiosity enough
to remain behind to see what would happen.
I lost some time, now, for these big children, their fears gone,
became so ravished with wonder over my awe-compelling fireworks
that I had to stay there and smoke a couple of pipes out before
they would let me go. Still the delay was not wholly unproductive,
for it took all that time to get Sandy thoroughly wonted to the new
thing, she being so close to it, you know. It plugged up her
conversation mill, too, for a considerable while, and that was
a gain. But above all other benefits accruing, I had learned
something. I was ready for any giant or any ogre that might come
We tarried with a holy hermit, that night, and my opportunity
came about the middle of the next afternoon. We were crossing
a vast meadow by way of short-cut, and I was musing absently,
hearing nothing, seeing nothing, when Sandy suddenly interrupted
a remark which she had begun that morning, with the cry:
"Defend thee, lord!--peril of life is toward!"
And she slipped down from the horse and ran a little way and stood.
I looked up and saw, far off in the shade of a tree, half a dozen
armed knights and their squires; and straightway there was bustle
among them and tightening of saddle-girths for the mount. My pipe
was ready and would have been lit, if I had not been lost in
thinking about how to banish oppression from this land and restore
to all its people their stolen rights and manhood without disobliging
anybody. I lit up at once, and by the time I had got a good head
of reserved steam on, here they came. All together, too; none of
those chivalrous magnanimities which one reads so much about
--one courtly rascal at a time, and the rest standing by to see fair
play. No, they came in a body, they came with a whirr and a rush,
they came like a volley from a battery; came with heads low down,
plumes streaming out behind, lances advanced at a level. It was
a handsome sight, a beautiful sight--for a man up a tree. I laid
my lance in rest and waited, with my heart beating, till the iron
wave was just ready to break over me, then spouted a column of
white smoke through the bars of my helmet. You should have seen
the wave go to pieces and scatter! This was a finer sight than
the other one.
But these people stopped, two or three hundred yards away, and
this troubled me. My satisfaction collapsed, and fear came;
I judged I was a lost man. But Sandy was radiant; and was going
to be eloquent--but I stopped her, and told her my magic had
miscarried, somehow or other, and she must mount, with all despatch,
and we must ride for life. No, she wouldn't. She said that my
enchantment had disabled those knights; they were not riding on,
because they couldn't; wait, they would drop out of their saddles
presently, and we would get their horses and harness. I could not
deceive such trusting simplicity, so I said it was a mistake; that
when my fireworks killed at all, they killed instantly; no, the men
would not die, there was something wrong about my apparatus,
I couldn't tell what; but we must hurry and get away, for those
people would attack us again, in a minute. Sandy laughed, and said:
"Lack-a-day, sir, they be not of that breed! Sir Launcelot will
give battle to dragons, and will abide by them, and will assail
them again, and yet again, and still again, until he do conquer
and destroy them; and so likewise will Sir Pellinore and Sir Aglovale
and Sir Carados, and mayhap others, but there be none else that
will venture it, let the idle say what the idle will. And, la,
as to yonder base rufflers, think ye they have not their fill,
but yet desire more?"
"Well, then, what are they waiting for? Why don't they leave?
Nobody's hindering. Good land, I'm willing to let bygones be
bygones, I'm sure."
"Leave, is it? Oh, give thyself easement as to that. They dream
not of it, no, not they. They wait to yield them."
"Come--really, is that 'sooth'--as you people say? If they want to,
why don't they?"
"It would like them much; but an ye wot how dragons are esteemed,
ye would not hold them blamable. They fear to come."
"Well, then, suppose I go to them instead, and--"
"Ah, wit ye well they would not abide your coming. I will go."
And she did. She was a handy person to have along on a raid.
I would have considered this a doubtful errand, myself. I presently
saw the knights riding away, and Sandy coming back. That was
a relief. I judged she had somehow failed to get the first innings
--I mean in the conversation; otherwise the interview wouldn't have
been so short. But it turned out that she had managed the business
well; in fact, admirably. She said that when she told those people
I was The Boss, it hit them where they lived: "smote them sore
with fear and dread" was her word; and then they were ready to
put up with anything she might require. So she swore them to appear
at Arthur's court within two days and yield them, with horse and
harness, and be my knights henceforth, and subject to my command.
How much better she managed that thing than I should have done
it myself! She was a daisy.
"And so I'm proprietor of some knights," said I, as we rode off.
"Who would ever have supposed that I should live to list up assets
of that sort. I shan't know what to do with them; unless I raffle
them off. How many of them are there, Sandy?"
"Seven, please you, sir, and their squires."
"It is a good haul. Who are they? Where do they hang out?"
"Where do they hang out?"
"Yes, where do they live?"
"Ah, I understood thee not. That will I tell eftsoons." Then she
said musingly, and softly, turning the words daintily over her
tongue: "Hang they out--hang they out--where hang--where do they
hang out; eh, right so; where do they hang out. Of a truth the
phrase hath a fair and winsome grace, and is prettily worded
withal. I will repeat it anon and anon in mine idlesse, whereby
I may peradventure learn it. Where do they hang out. Even so!
already it falleth trippingly from my tongue, and forasmuch as--"
"Don't forget the cowboys, Sandy."
"Yes; the knights, you know: You were going to tell me about them.
A while back, you remember. Figuratively speaking, game's called."
"Yes, yes, yes! Go to the bat. I mean, get to work on your
statistics, and don't burn so much kindling getting your fire
started. Tell me about the knights."
"I will well, and lightly will begin. So they two departed and
rode into a great forest. And--"
You see, I recognized my mistake at once. I had set her works
a-going; it was my own fault; she would be thirty days getting down
to those facts. And she generally began without a preface and
finished without a result. If you interrupted her she would either
go right along without noticing, or answer with a couple of words,
and go back and say the sentence over again. So, interruptions
only did harm; and yet I had to interrupt, and interrupt pretty
frequently, too, in order to save my life; a person would die if
he let her monotony drip on him right along all day.
"Great Scott!" I said in my distress. She went right back and
began over again:
"So they two departed and rode into a great forest. And--"
"Sir Gawaine and Sir Uwaine. And so they came to an abbey of monks,
and there were well lodged. So on the morn they heard their masses
in the abbey, and so they rode forth till they came to a great
forest; then was Sir Gawaine ware in a valley by a turret, of
twelve fair damsels, and two knights armed on great horses, and
the damsels went to and fro by a tree. And then was Sir Gawaine
ware how there hung a white shield on that tree, and ever as the
damsels came by it they spit upon it, and some threw mire upon
"Now, if I hadn't seen the like myself in this country, Sandy,
I wouldn't believe it. But I've seen it, and I can just see those
creatures now, parading before that shield and acting like that.
The women here do certainly act like all possessed. Yes, and
I mean your best, too, society's very choicest brands. The humblest
hello-girl along ten thousand miles of wire could teach gentleness,
patience, modesty, manners, to the highest duchess in Arthur's land."
"Yes, but don't you ask me to explain; it's a new kind of a girl;
they don't have them here; one often speaks sharply to them when
they are not the least in fault, and he can't get over feeling
sorry for it and ashamed of himself in thirteen hundred years,
it's such shabby mean conduct and so unprovoked; the fact is,
no gentleman ever does it--though I--well, I myself, if I've got
"Never mind her; never mind her; I tell you I couldn't ever explain
her so you would understand."
"Even so be it, sith ye are so minded. Then Sir Gawaine and
Sir Uwaine went and saluted them, and asked them why they did that
despite to the shield. Sirs, said the damsels, we shall tell you.
There is a knight in this country that owneth this white shield,
and he is a passing good man of his hands, but he hateth all
ladies and gentlewomen, and therefore we do all this despite to
the shield. I will say you, said Sir Gawaine, it beseemeth evil
a good knight to despise all ladies and gentlewomen, and peradventure
though he hate you he hath some cause, and peradventure he loveth
in some other places ladies and gentlewomen, and to be loved again,
and he such a man of prowess as ye speak of--"
"Man of prowess--yes, that is the man to please them, Sandy.
Man of brains--that is a thing they never think of. Tom Sayers
--John Heenan--John L. Sullivan--pity but you could be here. You
would have your legs under the Round Table and a 'Sir' in front
of your names within the twenty-four hours; and you could bring
about a new distribution of the married princesses and duchesses
of the Court in another twenty-four. The fact is, it is just
a sort of polished-up court of Comanches, and there isn't a squaw
in it who doesn't stand ready at the dropping of a hat to desert
to the buck with the biggest string of scalps at his belt."
"--and he be such a man of prowess as ye speak of, said Sir Gawaine.
Now, what is his name? Sir, said they, his name is Marhaus the
king's son of Ireland."
"Son of the king of Ireland, you mean; the other form doesn't mean
anything. And look out and hold on tight, now, we must jump
this gully.... There, we are all right now. This horse belongs in
the circus; he is born before his time."
"I know him well, said Sir Uwaine, he is a passing good knight as
any is on live."
"_On live_. If you've got a fault in the world, Sandy, it is that
you are a shade too archaic. But it isn't any matter."
"--for I saw him once proved at a justs where many knights were
gathered, and that time there might no man withstand him. Ah, said
Sir Gawaine, damsels, methinketh ye are to blame, for it is to
suppose he that hung that shield there will not be long therefrom,
and then may those knights match him on horseback, and that is
more your worship than thus; for I will abide no longer to see
a knight's shield dishonored. And therewith Sir Uwaine and
Sir Gawaine departed a little from them, and then were they ware
where Sir Marhaus came riding on a great horse straight toward
them. And when the twelve damsels saw Sir Marhaus they fled into
the turret as they were wild, so that some of them fell by the way.
Then the one of the knights of the tower dressed his shield, and
said on high, Sir Marhaus defend thee. And so they ran together
that the knight brake his spear on Marhaus, and Sir Marhaus smote
him so hard that he brake his neck and the horse's back--"
"Well, that is just the trouble about this state of things,
it ruins so many horses."
"That saw the other knight of the turret, and dressed him toward
Marhaus, and they went so eagerly together, that the knight of
the turret was soon smitten down, horse and man, stark dead--"
"_Another_ horse gone; I tell you it is a custom that ought to be
broken up. I don't see how people with any feeling can applaud
and support it."
. . . .
"So these two knights came together with great random--"
I saw that I had been asleep and missed a chapter, but I didn't
say anything. I judged that the Irish knight was in trouble with
the visitors by this time, and this turned out to be the case.
"--that Sir Uwaine smote Sir Marhaus that his spear brast in pieces
on the shield, and Sir Marhaus smote him so sore that horse and
man he bare to the earth, and hurt Sir Uwaine on the left side--"
"The truth is, Alisande, these archaics are a little _too_ simple;
the vocabulary is too limited, and so, by consequence, descriptions
suffer in the matter of variety; they run too much to level Saharas
of fact, and not enough to picturesque detail; this throws about
them a certain air of the monotonous; in fact the fights are all
alike: a couple of people come together with great random
--random is a good word, and so is exegesis, for that matter, and
so is holocaust, and defalcation, and usufruct and a hundred others,
but land! a body ought to discriminate--they come together with
great random, and a spear is brast, and one party brake his shield
and the other one goes down, horse and man, over his horse-tail
and brake his neck, and then the next candidate comes randoming in,
and brast _his_ spear, and the other man brast his shield, and down
_he_ goes, horse and man, over his horse-tail, and brake _his_ neck,
and then there's another elected, and another and another and still
another, till the material is all used up; and when you come to
figure up results, you can't tell one fight from another, nor who
whipped; and as a _picture_, of living, raging, roaring battle,
sho! why, it's pale and noiseless--just ghosts scuffling in a fog.
Dear me, what would this barren vocabulary get out of the mightiest
spectacle?--the burning of Rome in Nero's time, for instance?
Why, it would merely say, 'Town burned down; no insurance; boy
brast a window, fireman brake his neck!' Why, _that_ ain't a picture!"
It was a good deal of a lecture, I thought, but it didn't disturb
Sandy, didn't turn a feather; her steam soared steadily up again,
the minute I took off the lid:
"Then Sir Marhaus turned his horse and rode toward Gawaine with
his spear. And when Sir Gawaine saw that, he dressed his shield,
and they aventred their spears, and they came together with all
the might of their horses, that either knight smote other so hard
in the midst of their shields, but Sir Gawaine's spear brake--"
"I knew it would."
--"but Sir Marhaus's spear held; and therewith Sir Gawaine and
his horse rushed down to the earth--"
"Just so--and brake his back."
--"and lightly Sir Gawaine rose upon his feet and pulled out
his sword, and dressed him toward Sir Marhaus on foot, and therewith
either came unto other eagerly, and smote together with their
swords, that their shields flew in cantels, and they bruised their
helms and their hauberks, and wounded either other. But Sir Gawaine,
fro it passed nine of the clock, waxed by the space of three hours
ever stronger and stronger and thrice his might was increased.
All this espied Sir Marhaus, and had great wonder how his might
increased, and so they wounded other passing sore; and then when
it was come noon--"
The pelting sing-song of it carried me forward to scenes and
sounds of my boyhood days:
"N-e-e-ew Haven! ten minutes for refreshments--knductr'll strike
the gong-bell two minutes before train leaves--passengers for
the Shore line please take seats in the rear k'yar, this k'yar
don't go no furder--_ahh_-pls, _aw_-rnjz, b'_nan_ners,
--"and waxed past noon and drew toward evensong. Sir Gawaine's
strength feebled and waxed passing faint, that unnethes he might
dure any longer, and Sir Marhaus was then bigger and bigger--"
"Which strained his armor, of course; and yet little would one
of these people mind a small thing like that."
--"and so, Sir Knight, said Sir Marhaus, I have well felt that
ye are a passing good knight, and a marvelous man of might as ever
I felt any, while it lasteth, and our quarrels are not great, and
therefore it were a pity to do you hurt, for I feel you are passing
feeble. Ah, said Sir Gawaine, gentle knight, ye say the word
that I should say. And therewith they took off their helms and
either kissed other, and there they swore together either to love
other as brethren--"
But I lost the thread there, and dozed off to slumber, thinking
about what a pity it was that men with such superb strength
--strength enabling them to stand up cased in cruelly burdensome
iron and drenched with perspiration, and hack and batter and bang
each other for six hours on a stretch--should not have been born
at a time when they could put it to some useful purpose. Take
a jackass, for instance: a jackass has that kind of strength, and
puts it to a useful purpose, and is valuable to this world because
he is a jackass; but a nobleman is not valuable because he is
a jackass. It is a mixture that is always ineffectual, and should
never have been attempted in the first place. And yet, once you
start a mistake, the trouble is done and you never know what is
going to come of it.
When I came to myself again and began to listen, I perceived that
I had lost another chapter, and that Alisande had wandered a long
way off with her people.
"And so they rode and came into a deep valley full of stones,
and thereby they saw a fair stream of water; above thereby was
the head of the stream, a fair fountain, and three damsels sitting
thereby. In this country, said Sir Marhaus, came never knight
since it was christened, but he found strange adventures--"
"This is not good form, Alisande. Sir Marhaus the king's son of
Ireland talks like all the rest; you ought to give him a brogue,
or at least a characteristic expletive; by this means one would
recognize him as soon as he spoke, without his ever being named.
It is a common literary device with the great authors. You should
make him say, 'In this country, be jabers, came never knight since
it was christened, but he found strange adventures, be jabers.'
You see how much better that sounds."
--"came never knight but he found strange adventures, be jabers.
Of a truth it doth indeed, fair lord, albeit 'tis passing hard
to say, though peradventure that will not tarry but better speed
with usage. And then they rode to the damsels, and either saluted
other, and the eldest had a garland of gold about her head, and
she was threescore winter of age or more--"
"The _damsel_ was?"
"Even so, dear lord--and her hair was white under the garland--"
"Celluloid teeth, nine dollars a set, as like as not--the loose-fit
kind, that go up and down like a portcullis when you eat, and
fall out when you laugh."
"The second damsel was of thirty winter of age, with a circlet of
gold about her head. The third damsel was but fifteen year of age--"
Billows of thought came rolling over my soul, and the voice faded
out of my hearing!
Fifteen! Break--my heart! oh, my lost darling! Just her age
who was so gentle, and lovely, and all the world to me, and whom
I shall never see again! How the thought of her carries me back
over wide seas of memory to a vague dim time, a happy time, so many,
many centuries hence, when I used to wake in the soft summer
mornings, out of sweet dreams of her, and say "Hello, Central!"
just to hear her dear voice come melting back to me with a
"Hello, Hank!" that was music of the spheres to my enchanted ear.
She got three dollars a week, but she was worth it.
I could not follow Alisande's further explanation of who our
captured knights were, now--I mean in case she should ever get
to explaining who they were. My interest was gone, my thoughts
were far away, and sad. By fitful glimpses of the drifting tale,
caught here and there and now and then, I merely noted in a vague
way that each of these three knights took one of these three damsels
up behind him on his horse, and one rode north, another east,
the other south, to seek adventures, and meet again and lie, after
year and day. Year and day--and without baggage. It was of
a piece with the general simplicity of the country.
The sun was now setting. It was about three in the afternoon when
Alisande had begun to tell me who the cowboys were; so she had made
pretty good progress with it--for her. She would arrive some time
or other, no doubt, but she was not a person who could be hurried.
We were approaching a castle which stood on high ground; a huge,
strong, venerable structure, whose gray towers and battlements were
charmingly draped with ivy, and whose whole majestic mass was
drenched with splendors flung from the sinking sun. It was the
largest castle we had seen, and so I thought it might be the one
we were after, but Sandy said no. She did not know who owned it;
she said she had passed it without calling, when she went down
MORGAN LE FAY
If knights errant were to be believed, not all castles were desirable
places to seek hospitality in. As a matter of fact, knights errant
were _not_ persons to be believed--that is, measured by modern
standards of veracity; yet, measured by the standards of their own
time, and scaled accordingly, you got the truth. It was very
simple: you discounted a statement ninety-seven per cent; the rest
was fact. Now after making this allowance, the truth remained
that if I could find out something about a castle before ringing
the door-bell--I mean hailing the warders--it was the sensible
thing to do. So I was pleased when I saw in the distance a horseman
making the bottom turn of the road that wound down from this castle.
As we approached each other, I saw that he wore a plumed helmet,
and seemed to be otherwise clothed in steel, but bore a curious
addition also--a stiff square garment like a herald's tabard.
However, I had to smile at my own forgetfulness when I got nearer
and read this sign on his tabard:
"Persimmon's Soap -- All the Prime-Donna Use It."
That was a little idea of my own, and had several wholesome purposes
in view toward the civilizing and uplifting of this nation. In the
first place, it was a furtive, underhand blow at this nonsense
of knight errantry, though nobody suspected that but me. I had
started a number of these people out--the bravest knights I could
get--each sandwiched between bulletin-boards bearing one device
or another, and I judged that by and by when they got to be numerous
enough they would begin to look ridiculous; and then, even the
steel-clad ass that _hadn't_ any board would himself begin to look
ridiculous because he was out of the fashion.
Secondly, these missionaries would gradually, and without creating
suspicion or exciting alarm, introduce a rudimentary cleanliness
among the nobility, and from them it would work down to the people,
if the priests could be kept quiet. This would undermine the Church.
I mean would be a step toward that. Next, education--next, freedom
--and then she would begin to crumble. It being my conviction that
any Established Church is an established crime, an established
slave-pen, I had no scruples, but was willing to assail it in
any way or with any weapon that promised to hurt it. Why, in my
own former day--in remote centuries not yet stirring in the womb
of time--there were old Englishmen who imagined that they had been
born in a free country: a "free" country with the Corporation Act
and the Test still in force in it--timbers propped against men's
liberties and dishonored consciences to shore up an Established
My missionaries were taught to spell out the gilt signs on their
tabards--the showy gilding was a neat idea, I could have got the
king to wear a bulletin-board for the sake of that barbaric
splendor--they were to spell out these signs and then explain to
the lords and ladies what soap was; and if the lords and ladies
were afraid of it, get them to try it on a dog. The missionary's
next move was to get the family together and try it on himself;
he was to stop at no experiment, however desperate, that could
convince the nobility that soap was harmless; if any final doubt
remained, he must catch a hermit--the woods were full of them;
saints they called themselves, and saints they were believed to be.
They were unspeakably holy, and worked miracles, and everybody
stood in awe of them. If a hermit could survive a wash, and that
failed to convince a duke, give him up, let him alone.
Whenever my missionaries overcame a knight errant on the road
they washed him, and when he got well they swore him to go and
get a bulletin-board and disseminate soap and civilization the rest
of his days. As a consequence the workers in the field were
increasing by degrees, and the reform was steadily spreading.
My soap factory felt the strain early. At first I had only two
hands; but before I had left home I was already employing fifteen,
and running night and day; and the atmospheric result was getting
so pronounced that the king went sort of fainting and gasping
around and said he did not believe he could stand it much longer,
and Sir Launcelot got so that he did hardly anything but walk up
and down the roof and swear, although I told him it was worse up
there than anywhere else, but he said he wanted plenty of air; and
he was always complaining that a palace was no place for a soap
factory anyway, and said if a man was to start one in his house
he would be damned if he wouldn't strangle him. There were ladies
present, too, but much these people ever cared for that; they would
swear before children, if the wind was their way when the factory
This missionary knight's name was La Cote Male Taile, and he said
that this castle was the abode of Morgan le Fay, sister of
King Arthur, and wife of King Uriens, monarch of a realm about
as big as the District of Columbia--you could stand in the middle
of it and throw bricks into the next kingdom. "Kings" and "Kingdoms"
were as thick in Britain as they had been in little Palestine in
Joshua's time, when people had to sleep with their knees pulled up
because they couldn't stretch out without a passport.
La Cote was much depressed, for he had scored here the worst
failure of his campaign. He had not worked off a cake; yet he had
tried all the tricks of the trade, even to the washing of a hermit;
but the hermit died. This was, indeed, a bad failure, for this
animal would now be dubbed a martyr, and would take his place
among the saints of the Roman calendar. Thus made he his moan,
this poor Sir La Cote Male Taile, and sorrowed passing sore. And
so my heart bled for him, and I was moved to comfort and stay him.
Wherefore I said:
"Forbear to grieve, fair knight, for this is not a defeat. We have
brains, you and I; and for such as have brains there are no defeats,
but only victories. Observe how we will turn this seeming disaster
into an advertisement; an advertisement for our soap; and the
biggest one, to draw, that was ever thought of; an advertisement
that will transform that Mount Washington defeat into a Matterhorn
victory. We will put on your bulletin-board, '_Patronized by the
elect_.' How does that strike you?"
"Verily, it is wonderly bethought!"
"Well, a body is bound to admit that for just a modest little
one-line ad, it's a corker."
So the poor colporteur's griefs vanished away. He was a brave
fellow, and had done mighty feats of arms in his time. His chief
celebrity rested upon the events of an excursion like this one
of mine, which he had once made with a damsel named Maledisant,
who was as handy with her tongue as was Sandy, though in a different
way, for her tongue churned forth only railings and insult, whereas
Sandy's music was of a kindlier sort. I knew his story well, and so
I knew how to interpret the compassion that was in his face when he
bade me farewell. He supposed I was having a bitter hard time of it.
Sandy and I discussed his story, as we rode along, and she said
that La Cote's bad luck had begun with the very beginning of that
trip; for the king's fool had overthrown him on the first day,
and in such cases it was customary for the girl to desert to the
conqueror, but Maledisant didn't do it; and also persisted afterward
in sticking to him, after all his defeats. But, said I, suppose
the victor should decline to accept his spoil? She said that that
wouldn't answer--he must. He couldn't decline; it wouldn't be
regular. I made a note of that. If Sandy's music got to be too
burdensome, some time, I would let a knight defeat me, on the chance
that she would desert to him.
In due time we were challenged by the warders, from the castle
walls, and after a parley admitted. I have nothing pleasant to
tell about that visit. But it was not a disappointment, for I knew
Mrs. le Fay by reputation, and was not expecting anything pleasant.
She was held in awe by the whole realm, for she had made everybody
believe she was a great sorceress. All her ways were wicked, all
her instincts devilish. She was loaded to the eyelids with cold
malice. All her history was black with crime; and among her crimes
murder was common. I was most curious to see her; as curious as
I could have been to see Satan. To my surprise she was beautiful;
black thoughts had failed to make her expression repulsive, age
had failed to wrinkle her satin skin or mar its bloomy freshness.
She could have passed for old Uriens' granddaughter, she could
have been mistaken for sister to her own son.
As soon as we were fairly within the castle gates we were ordered
into her presence. King Uriens was there, a kind-faced old man
with a subdued look; and also the son, Sir Uwaine le Blanchemains,
in whom I was, of course, interested on account of the tradition
that he had once done battle with thirty knights, and also on
account of his trip with Sir Gawaine and Sir Marhaus, which Sandy
had been aging me with. But Morgan was the main attraction, the
conspicuous personality here; she was head chief of this household,
that was plain. She caused us to be seated, and then she began,
with all manner of pretty graces and graciousnesses, to ask me
questions. Dear me, it was like a bird or a flute, or something,
talking. I felt persuaded that this woman must have been
misrepresented, lied about. She trilled along, and trilled along,
and presently a handsome young page, clothed like the rainbow, and
as easy and undulatory of movement as a wave, came with something
on a golden salver, and, kneeling to present it to her, overdid
his graces and lost his balance, and so fell lightly against her
knee. She slipped a dirk into him in as matter-of-course a way as
another person would have harpooned a rat!
Poor child! he slumped to the floor, twisted his silken limbs in
one great straining contortion of pain, and was dead. Out of the
old king was wrung an involuntary "O-h!" of compassion. The look
he got, made him cut it suddenly short and not put any more hyphens
in it. Sir Uwaine, at a sign from his mother, went to the anteroom
and called some servants, and meanwhile madame went rippling sweetly
along with her talk.
I saw that she was a good housekeeper, for while she talked she
kept a corner of her eye on the servants to see that they made
no balks in handling the body and getting it out; when they came
with fresh clean towels, she sent back for the other kind; and
when they had finished wiping the floor and were going, she indicated
a crimson fleck the size of a tear which their duller eyes had
overlooked. It was plain to me that La Cote Male Taile had failed
to see the mistress of the house. Often, how louder and clearer
than any tongue, does dumb circumstantial evidence speak.
Morgan le Fay rippled along as musically as ever. Marvelous woman.
And what a glance she had: when it fell in reproof upon those
servants, they shrunk and quailed as timid people do when the
lightning flashes out of a cloud. I could have got the habit
myself. It was the same with that poor old Brer Uriens; he was
always on the ragged edge of apprehension; she could not even turn
toward him but he winced.
In the midst of the talk I let drop a complimentary word about
King Arthur, forgetting for the moment how this woman hated her
brother. That one little compliment was enough. She clouded up
like storm; she called for her guards, and said:
"Hale me these varlets to the dungeons."
That struck cold on my ears, for her dungeons had a reputation.
Nothing occurred to me to say--or do. But not so with Sandy.
As the guard laid a hand upon me, she piped up with the tranquilest
confidence, and said:
"God's wounds, dost thou covet destruction, thou maniac? It is
Now what a happy idea that was!--and so simple; yet it would never
have occurred to me. I was born modest; not all over, but in spots;
and this was one of the spots.
The effect upon madame was electrical. It cleared her countenance
and brought back her smiles and all her persuasive graces and
blandishments; but nevertheless she was not able to entirely cover up
with them the fact that she was in a ghastly fright. She said:
"La, but do list to thine handmaid! as if one gifted with powers
like to mine might say the thing which I have said unto one who
has vanquished Merlin, and not be jesting. By mine enchantments
I foresaw your coming, and by them I knew you when you entered
here. I did but play this little jest with hope to surprise you
into some display of your art, as not doubting you would blast
the guards with occult fires, consuming them to ashes on the spot,
a marvel much beyond mine own ability, yet one which I have long
been childishly curious to see."
The guards were less curious, and got out as soon as they got permission.
A ROYAL BANQUET
Madame, seeing me pacific and unresentful, no doubt judged that
I was deceived by her excuse; for her fright dissolved away, and
she was soon so importunate to have me give an exhibition and kill
somebody, that the thing grew to be embarrassing. However, to my
relief she was presently interrupted by the call to prayers. I will
say this much for the nobility: that, tyrannical, murderous,
rapacious, and morally rotten as they were, they were deeply and
enthusiastically religious. Nothing could divert them from the
regular and faithful performance of the pieties enjoined by the
Church. More than once I had seen a noble who had gotten his
enemy at a disadvantage, stop to pray before cutting his throat;
more than once I had seen a noble, after ambushing and despatching
his enemy, retire to the nearest wayside shrine and humbly give
thanks, without even waiting to rob the body. There was to be
nothing finer or sweeter in the life of even Benvenuto Cellini,
that rough-hewn saint, ten centuries later. All the nobles of
Britain, with their families, attended divine service morning and
night daily, in their private chapels, and even the worst of them
had family worship five or six times a day besides. The credit
of this belonged entirely to the Church. Although I was no friend
to that Catholic Church, I was obliged to admit this. And often,
in spite of me, I found myself saying, "What would this country
be without the Church?"
After prayers we had dinner in a great banqueting hall which was
lighted by hundreds of grease-jets, and everything was as fine and
lavish and rudely splendid as might become the royal degree of the
hosts. At the head of the hall, on a dais, was the table of the
king, queen, and their son, Prince Uwaine. Stretching down the hall
from this, was the general table, on the floor. At this, above
the salt, sat the visiting nobles and the grown members of their
families, of both sexes,--the resident Court, in effect--sixty-one
persons; below the salt sat minor officers of the household, with
their principal subordinates: altogether a hundred and eighteen
persons sitting, and about as many liveried servants standing
behind their chairs, or serving in one capacity or another. It was
a very fine show. In a gallery a band with cymbals, horns, harps,
and other horrors, opened the proceedings with what seemed to be
the crude first-draft or original agony of the wail known to later
centuries as "In the Sweet Bye and Bye." It was new, and ought
to have been rehearsed a little more. For some reason or other
the queen had the composer hanged, after dinner.
After this music, the priest who stood behind the royal table said
a noble long grace in ostensible Latin. Then the battalion of
waiters broke away from their posts, and darted, rushed, flew,
fetched and carried, and the mighty feeding began; no words
anywhere, but absorbing attention to business. The rows of chops
opened and shut in vast unison, and the sound of it was like to
the muffled burr of subterranean machinery.
The havoc continued an hour and a half, and unimaginable was the
destruction of substantials. Of the chief feature of the feast
--the huge wild boar that lay stretched out so portly and imposing
at the start--nothing was left but the semblance of a hoop-skirt;
and he was but the type and symbol of what had happened to all
the other dishes.
With the pastries and so on, the heavy drinking began--and the talk.
Gallon after gallon of wine and mead disappeared, and everybody
got comfortable, then happy, then sparklingly joyous--both sexes,
--and by and by pretty noisy. Men told anecdotes that were terrific
to hear, but nobody blushed; and when the nub was sprung, the
assemblage let go with a horse-laugh that shook the fortress.
Ladies answered back with historiettes that would almost have made
Queen Margaret of Navarre or even the great Elizabeth of England
hide behind a handkerchief, but nobody hid here, but only laughed
--howled, you may say. In pretty much all of these dreadful stories,
ecclesiastics were the hardy heroes, but that didn't worry the
chaplain any, he had his laugh with the rest; more than that, upon
invitation he roared out a song which was of as daring a sort as
any that was sung that night.
By midnight everybody was fagged out, and sore with laughing; and,
as a rule, drunk: some weepingly, some affectionately, some
hilariously, some quarrelsomely, some dead and under the table.
Of the ladies, the worst spectacle was a lovely young duchess, whose
wedding-eve this was; and indeed she was a spectacle, sure enough.
Just as she was she could have sat in advance for the portrait of the
young daughter of the Regent d'Orleans, at the famous dinner whence
she was carried, foul-mouthed, intoxicated, and helpless, to her bed,
in the lost and lamented days of the Ancient Regime.
Suddenly, even while the priest was lifting his hands, and all
conscious heads were bowed in reverent expectation of the coming
blessing, there appeared under the arch of the far-off door at
the bottom of the hall an old and bent and white-haired lady,
leaning upon a crutch-stick; and she lifted the stick and pointed it
toward the queen and cried out:
"The wrath and curse of God fall upon you, woman without pity,
who have slain mine innocent grandchild and made desolate this
old heart that had nor chick, nor friend nor stay nor comfort in
all this world but him!"
Everybody crossed himself in a grisly fright, for a curse was an
awful thing to those people; but the queen rose up majestic, with
the death-light in her eye, and flung back this ruthless command:
"Lay hands on her! To the stake with her!"
The guards left their posts to obey. It was a shame; it was a
cruel thing to see. What could be done? Sandy gave me a look;
I knew she had another inspiration. I said:
"Do what you choose."
She was up and facing toward the queen in a moment. She indicated
me, and said:
"Madame, _he_ saith this may not be. Recall the commandment, or he
will dissolve the castle and it shall vanish away like the instable
fabric of a dream!"
Confound it, what a crazy contract to pledge a person to! What if
But my consternation subsided there, and my panic passed off;
for the queen, all in a collapse, made no show of resistance but
gave a countermanding sign and sunk into her seat. When she reached
it she was sober. So were many of the others. The assemblage rose,
whiffed ceremony to the winds, and rushed for the door like a mob;
overturning chairs, smashing crockery, tugging, struggling,
shouldering, crowding--anything to get out before I should change
my mind and puff the castle into the measureless dim vacancies of
space. Well, well, well, they _were_ a superstitious lot. It is
all a body can do to conceive of it.
The poor queen was so scared and humbled that she was even afraid
to hang the composer without first consulting me. I was very sorry
for her--indeed, any one would have been, for she was really
suffering; so I was willing to do anything that was reasonable, and
had no desire to carry things to wanton extremities. I therefore
considered the matter thoughtfully, and ended by having the
musicians ordered into our presence to play that Sweet Bye and
Bye again, which they did. Then I saw that she was right, and
gave her permission to hang the whole band. This little relaxation
of sternness had a good effect upon the queen. A statesman gains
little by the arbitrary exercise of iron-clad authority upon all
occasions that offer, for this wounds the just pride of his
subordinates, and thus tends to undermine his strength. A little
concession, now and then, where it can do no harm, is the wiser policy.
Now that the queen was at ease in her mind once more, and measurably
happy, her wine naturally began to assert itself again, and it got
a little the start of her. I mean it set her music going--her silver
bell of a tongue. Dear me, she was a master talker. It would not
become me to suggest that it was pretty late and that I was a tired
man and very sleepy. I wished I had gone off to bed when I had
the chance. Now I must stick it out; there was no other way. So
she tinkled along and along, in the otherwise profound and ghostly
hush of the sleeping castle, until by and by there came, as if
from deep down under us, a far-away sound, as of a muffled shriek
--with an expression of agony about it that made my flesh crawl.
The queen stopped, and her eyes lighted with pleasure; she tilted
her graceful head as a bird does when it listens. The sound bored
its way up through the stillness again.
"What is it?" I said.
"It is truly a stubborn soul, and endureth long. It is many hours now."
"The rack. Come--ye shall see a blithe sight. An he yield not
his secret now, ye shall see him torn asunder."
What a silky smooth hellion she was; and so composed and serene,
when the cords all down my legs were hurting in sympathy with that
man's pain. Conducted by mailed guards bearing flaring torches,
we tramped along echoing corridors, and down stone stairways dank
and dripping, and smelling of mould and ages of imprisoned night
--a chill, uncanny journey and a long one, and not made the shorter
or the cheerier by the sorceress's talk, which was about this
sufferer and his crime. He had been accused by an anonymous
informer, of having killed a stag in the royal preserves. I said:
"Anonymous testimony isn't just the right thing, your Highness.
It were fairer to confront the accused with the accuser."
"I had not thought of that, it being but of small consequence.
But an I would, I could not, for that the accuser came masked by
night, and told the forester, and straightway got him hence again,
and so the forester knoweth him not."
"Then is this Unknown the only person who saw the stag killed?"
"Marry, _no_ man _saw_ the killing, but this Unknown saw this hardy
wretch near to the spot where the stag lay, and came with right
loyal zeal and betrayed him to the forester."
"So the Unknown was near the dead stag, too? Isn't it just possible
that he did the killing himself? His loyal zeal--in a mask--looks
just a shade suspicious. But what is your highness's idea for
racking the prisoner? Where is the profit?"
"He will not confess, else; and then were his soul lost. For his
crime his life is forfeited by the law--and of a surety will I see
that he payeth it!--but it were peril to my own soul to let him
die unconfessed and unabsolved. Nay, I were a fool to fling me
into hell for _his_ accommodation."
"But, your Highness, suppose he has nothing to confess?"
"As to that, we shall see, anon. An I rack him to death and he
confess not, it will peradventure show that he had indeed naught
to confess--ye will grant that that is sooth? Then shall I not be
damned for an unconfessed man that had naught to confess
--wherefore, I shall be safe."
It was the stubborn unreasoning of the time. It was useless to
argue with her. Arguments have no chance against petrified
training; they wear it as little as the waves wear a cliff. And
her training was everybody's. The brightest intellect in the land
would not have been able to see that her position was defective.
As we entered the rack-cell I caught a picture that will not go
from me; I wish it would. A native young giant of thirty or
thereabouts lay stretched upon the frame on his back, with his
wrists and ankles tied to ropes which led over windlasses at either
end. There was no color in him; his features were contorted and
set, and sweat-drops stood upon his forehead. A priest bent over
him on each side; the executioner stood by; guards were on duty;
smoking torches stood in sockets along the walls; in a corner
crouched a poor young creature, her face drawn with anguish,
a half-wild and hunted look in her eyes, and in her lap lay a little
child asleep. Just as we stepped across the threshold the
executioner gave his machine a slight turn, which wrung a cry
from both the prisoner and the woman; but I shouted, and the
executioner released the strain without waiting to see who spoke.
I could not let this horror go on; it would have killed me to
see it. I asked the queen to let me clear the place and speak
to the prisoner privately; and when she was going to object I spoke
in a low voice and said I did not want to make a scene before
her servants, but I must have my way; for I was King Arthur's
representative, and was speaking in his name. She saw she had
to yield. I asked her to indorse me to these people, and then
leave me. It was not pleasant for her, but she took the pill;
and even went further than I was meaning to require. I only wanted
the backing of her own authority; but she said:
"Ye will do in all things as this lord shall command. It is The Boss."
It was certainly a good word to conjure with: you could see it
by the squirming of these rats. The queen's guards fell into line,
and she and they marched away, with their torch-bearers, and woke
the echoes of the cavernous tunnels with the measured beat of their
retreating footfalls. I had the prisoner taken from the rack and
placed upon his bed, and medicaments applied to his hurts, and
wine given him to drink. The woman crept near and looked on,
eagerly, lovingly, but timorously,--like one who fears a repulse;
indeed, she tried furtively to touch the man's forehead, and jumped
back, the picture of fright, when I turned unconsciously toward
her. It was pitiful to see.
"Lord," I said, "stroke him, lass, if you want to. Do anything
you're a mind to; don't mind me."
Why, her eyes were as grateful as an animal's, when you do it
a kindness that it understands. The baby was out of her way and
she had her cheek against the man's in a minute and her hands
fondling his hair, and her happy tears running down. The man
revived and caressed his wife with his eyes, which was all he
could do. I judged I might clear the den, now, and I did; cleared
it of all but the family and myself. Then I said:
"Now, my friend, tell me your side of this matter; I know
the other side."
The man moved his head in sign of refusal. But the woman looked
pleased--as it seemed to me--pleased with my suggestion. I went on--
"You know of me?"
"Yes. All do, in Arthur's realms."
"If my reputation has come to you right and straight, you should
not be afraid to speak."
The woman broke in, eagerly:
"Ah, fair my lord, do thou persuade him! Thou canst an thou wilt.
Ah, he suffereth so; and it is for me--for _me_! And how can I bear it?
I would I might see him die--a sweet, swift death; oh, my Hugo,
I cannot bear this one!"
And she fell to sobbing and grovelling about my feet, and still
imploring. Imploring what? The man's death? I could not quite
get the bearings of the thing. But Hugo interrupted her and said:
"Peace! Ye wit not what ye ask. Shall I starve whom I love,
to win a gentle death? I wend thou knewest me better."
"Well," I said, "I can't quite make this out. It is a puzzle. Now--"
"Ah, dear my lord, an ye will but persuade him! Consider how
these his tortures wound me! Oh, and he will not speak!--whereas,
the healing, the solace that lie in a blessed swift death--"
"What _are_ you maundering about? He's going out from here a free
man and whole--he's not going to die."
The man's white face lit up, and the woman flung herself at me
in a most surprising explosion of joy, and cried out:
"He is saved!--for it is the king's word by the mouth of the king's
servant--Arthur, the king whose word is gold!"
"Well, then you do believe I can be trusted, after all. Why
didn't you before?"
"Who doubted? Not I, indeed; and not she."
"Well, why wouldn't you tell me your story, then?"
"Ye had made no promise; else had it been otherwise."
"I see, I see.... And yet I believe I don't quite see, after all.
You stood the torture and refused to confess; which shows plain
enough to even the dullest understanding that you had nothing
"I, my lord? How so? It was I that killed the deer!"
"You _did_? Oh, dear, this is the most mixed-up business that ever--"
"Dear lord, I begged him on my knees to confess, but--"
"You _did_! It gets thicker and thicker. What did you want him
to do that for?"
"Sith it would bring him a quick death and save him all this
"Well--yes, there is reason in that. But _he_ didn't want the
"He? Why, of a surety he _did_."
"Well, then, why in the world _didn't_ he confess?"
"Ah, sweet sir, and leave my wife and chick without bread and shelter?"
"Oh, heart of gold, now I see it! The bitter law takes the convicted
man's estate and beggars his widow and his orphans. They could
torture you to death, but without conviction or confession they
could not rob your wife and baby. You stood by them like a man;
and _you_--true wife and the woman that you are--you would have
bought him release from torture at cost to yourself of slow
starvation and death--well, it humbles a body to think what your
sex can do when it comes to self-sacrifice. I'll book you both
for my colony; you'll like it there; it's a Factory where I'm going
to turn groping and grubbing automata into _men_."
IN THE QUEEN'S DUNGEONS
Well, I arranged all that; and I had the man sent to his home.
I had a great desire to rack the executioner; not because he was
a good, painstaking and paingiving official,--for surely it was
not to his discredit that he performed his functions well--but to
pay him back for wantonly cuffing and otherwise distressing that
young woman. The priests told me about this, and were generously
hot to have him punished. Something of this disagreeable sort
was turning up every now and then. I mean, episodes that showed
that not all priests were frauds and self-seekers, but that many,
even the great majority, of these that were down on the ground
among the common people, were sincere and right-hearted, and
devoted to the alleviation of human troubles and sufferings.
Well, it was a thing which could not be helped, so I seldom fretted
about it, and never many minutes at a time; it has never been my
way to bother much about things which you can't cure. But I did
not like it, for it was just the sort of thing to keep people
reconciled to an Established Church. We _must_ have a religion
--it goes without saying--but my idea is, to have it cut up into
forty free sects, so that they will police each other, as had been
the case in the United States in my time. Concentration of power
in a political machine is bad; and and an Established Church is
only a political machine; it was invented for that; it is nursed,
cradled, preserved for that; it is an enemy to human liberty, and
does no good which it could not better do in a split-up and scattered
condition. That wasn't law; it wasn't gospel: it was only
an opinion--my opinion, and I was only a man, one man: so it wasn't
worth any more than the pope's--or any less, for that matter.
Well, I couldn't rack the executioner, neither would I overlook
the just complaint of the priests. The man must be punished
somehow or other, so I degraded him from his office and made him
leader of the band--the new one that was to be started. He begged
hard, and said he couldn't play--a plausible excuse, but too thin;
there wasn't a musician in the country that could.
The queen was a good deal outraged, next morning when she found
she was going to have neither Hugo's life nor his property. But
I told her she must bear this cross; that while by law and custom
she certainly was entitled to both the man's life and his property,
there were extenuating circumstances, and so in Arthur the king's
name I had pardoned him. The deer was ravaging the man's fields,
and he had killed it in sudden passion, and not for gain; and he
had carried it into the royal forest in the hope that that might make
detection of the misdoer impossible. Confound her, I couldn't
make her see that sudden passion is an extenuating circumstance
in the killing of venison--or of a person--so I gave it up and let
her sulk it out. I _did_ think I was going to make her see it by
remarking that her own sudden passion in the case of the page
modified that crime.
"Crime!" she exclaimed. "How thou talkest! Crime, forsooth!
Man, I am going to _pay_ for him!"
Oh, it was no use to waste sense on her. Training--training is
everything; training is all there is _to_ a person. We speak of
nature; it is folly; there is no such thing as nature; what we
call by that misleading name is merely heredity and training.
We have no thoughts of our own, no opinions of our own; they are
transmitted to us, trained into us. All that is original in us,
and therefore fairly creditable or discreditable to us, can be
covered up and hidden by the point of a cambric needle, all the
rest being atoms contributed by, and inherited from, a procession
of ancestors that stretches back a billion years to the Adam-clam
or grasshopper or monkey from whom our race has been so tediously
and ostentatiously and unprofitably developed. And as for me,
all that I think about in this plodding sad pilgrimage, this
pathetic drift between the eternities, is to look out and humbly
live a pure and high and blameless life, and save that one
microscopic atom in me that is truly _me_: the rest may land in
Sheol and welcome for all I care.
No, confound her, her intellect was good, she had brains enough,
but her training made her an ass--that is, from a many-centuries-later
point of view. To kill the page was no crime--it was her right;
and upon her right she stood, serenely and unconscious of offense.
She was a result of generations of training in the unexamined and
unassailed belief that the law which permitted her to kill a subject
when she chose was a perfectly right and righteous one.
Well, we must give even Satan his due. She deserved a compliment
for one thing; and I tried to pay it, but the words stuck in my
throat. She had a right to kill the boy, but she was in no wise
obliged to pay for him. That was law for some other people, but
not for her. She knew quite well that she was doing a large and
generous thing to pay for that lad, and that I ought in common
fairness to come out with something handsome about it, but I
couldn't--my mouth refused. I couldn't help seeing, in my fancy,
that poor old grandma with the broken heart, and that fair young
creature lying butchered, his little silken pomps and vanities
laced with his golden blood. How could she _pay_ for him! _Whom_
could she pay? And so, well knowing that this woman, trained
as she had been, deserved praise, even adulation, I was yet not
able to utter it, trained as I had been. The best I could do was
to fish up a compliment from outside, so to speak--and the pity
of it was, that it was true:
"Madame, your people will adore you for this."
Quite true, but I meant to hang her for it some day if I lived.
Some of those laws were too bad, altogether too bad. A master
might kill his slave for nothing--for mere spite, malice, or
to pass the time--just as we have seen that the crowned head could
do it with _his_ slave, that is to say, anybody. A gentleman could
kill a free commoner, and pay for him--cash or garden-truck.
A noble could kill a noble without expense, as far as the law was
concerned, but reprisals in kind were to be expected. _Any_body
could kill _some_body, except the commoner and the slave; these had
no privileges. If they killed, it was murder, and the law wouldn't
stand murder. It made short work of the experimenter--and of
his family, too, if he murdered somebody who belonged up among
the ornamental ranks. If a commoner gave a noble even so much
as a Damiens-scratch which didn't kill or even hurt, he got Damiens'
dose for it just the same; they pulled him to rags and tatters
with horses, and all the world came to see the show, and crack
jokes, and have a good time; and some of the performances of the
best people present were as tough, and as properly unprintable,
as any that have been printed by the pleasant Casanova in his
chapter about the dismemberment of Louis XV's poor awkward enemy.
I had had enough of this grisly place by this time, and wanted
to leave, but I couldn't, because I had something on my mind that
my conscience kept prodding me about, and wouldn't let me forget.
If I had the remaking of man, he wouldn't have any conscience.
It is one of the most disagreeable things connected with a person;
and although it certainly does a great deal of good, it cannot
be said to pay, in the long run; it would be much better to have
less good and more comfort. Still, this is only my opinion, and
I am only one man; others, with less experience, may think
differently. They have a right to their view. I only stand
to this: I have noticed my conscience for many years, and I know
it is more trouble and bother to me than anything else I started
with. I suppose that in the beginning I prized it, because we
prize anything that is ours; and yet how foolish it was to think so.
If we look at it in another way, we see how absurd it is: if I had
an anvil in me would I prize it? Of course not. And yet when you
come to think, there is no real difference between a conscience
and an anvil--I mean for comfort. I have noticed it a thousand
times. And you could dissolve an anvil with acids, when you
couldn't stand it any longer; but there isn't any way that you can
work off a conscience--at least so it will stay worked off; not
that I know of, anyway.
There was something I wanted to do before leaving, but it was
a disagreeable matter, and I hated to go at it. Well, it bothered
me all the morning. I could have mentioned it to the old king,
but what would be the use?--he was but an extinct volcano; he had
been active in his time, but his fire was out, this good while,
he was only a stately ash-pile now; gentle enough, and kindly
enough for my purpose, without doubt, but not usable. He was
nothing, this so-called king: the queen was the only power there.
And she was a Vesuvius. As a favor, she might consent to warm
a flock of sparrows for you, but then she might take that very
opportunity to turn herself loose and bury a city. However,
I reflected that as often as any other way, when you are expecting
the worst, you get something that is not so bad, after all.
So I braced up and placed my matter before her royal Highness.
I said I had been having a general jail-delivery at Camelot and
among neighboring castles, and with her permission I would like
to examine her collection, her bric-a-brac--that is to say, her
prisoners. She resisted; but I was expecting that. But she finally
consented. I was expecting that, too, but not so soon. That about
ended my discomfort. She called her guards and torches, and
we went down into the dungeons. These were down under the castle's
foundations, and mainly were small cells hollowed out of the living
rock. Some of these cells had no light at all. In one of them was
a woman, in foul rags, who sat on the ground, and would not answer
a question or speak a word, but only looked up at us once or twice,
through a cobweb of tangled hair, as if to see what casual thing
it might be that was disturbing with sound and light the meaningless
dull dream that was become her life; after that, she sat bowed,
with her dirt-caked fingers idly interlocked in her lap, and gave
no further sign. This poor rack of bones was a woman of middle
age, apparently; but only apparently; she had been there nine
years, and was eighteen when she entered. She was a commoner,
and had been sent here on her bridal night by Sir Breuse Sance Pite,
a neighboring lord whose vassal her father was, and to which said
lord she had refused what has since been called le droit du
seigneur, and, moreover, had opposed violence to violence and spilt
half a gill of his almost sacred blood. The young husband had
interfered at that point, believing the bride's life in danger,
and had flung the noble out into the midst of the humble and
trembling wedding guests, in the parlor, and left him there
astonished at this strange treatment, and implacably embittered
against both bride and groom. The said lord being cramped for
dungeon-room had asked the queen to accommodate his two criminals,
and here in her bastile they had been ever since; hither, indeed,
they had come before their crime was an hour old, and had never
seen each other since. Here they were, kenneled like toads in the
same rock; they had passed nine pitch dark years within fifty feet
of each other, yet neither knew whether the other was alive or not.
All the first years, their only question had been--asked with
beseechings and tears that might have moved stones, in time,
perhaps, but hearts are not stones: "Is he alive?" "Is she alive?"
But they had never got an answer; and at last that question was
not asked any more--or any other.
I wanted to see the man, after hearing all this.