A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT

 

by

 

MARK TWAIN

(Samuel L. Clemens)

 

PREFACE

 

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.

 

MARK TWAIN

 

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

salaried cicerone:

 

"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

--as follows:

 

 

 

 

THE TALE OF THE LOST LAND

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER I

 

CAMELOT

 

"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.

 

 

 

CHAPTER II

 

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."

 

"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

right mind?"

 

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

to shudder.

 

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."

 

 

 

CHAPTER III

 

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

for evensong."

 

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."

 

 

 

CHAPTER IV

 

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.

 

 

 

CHAPTER V

 

AN INSPIRATION

 

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;

and shouted:

 

"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 resumed.

 

"I've known Merlin seven hundred years, and he--"

 

"Seven hun--"

 

"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?"

 

"The 20th--yes."

 

"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.

 

 

 

CHAPTER VI

 

THE ECLIPSE

 

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.

 

 

 

CHAPTER VII

 

MERLIN'S TOWER

 

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.

Quiet ensued.

 

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.

 

 

 

CHAPTER VIII

 

THE BOSS

 

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.

 

 

 

CHAPTER IX

 

THE TOURNAMENT

 

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.

 

 

 

CHAPTER X

 

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.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XI

 

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.

Parents living?"

 

"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,

is different."

 

"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?"

 

"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."

 

"_How_ many?"

 

"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.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XII

 

SLOW TORTURE

 

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."

 

 

 

CHAPTER XIII

 

FREEMEN

 

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."

 

 

 

CHAPTER XIV

 

"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

along, now.

 

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.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XV

 

SANDY'S TALE

 

"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."

 

"Cowboys?"

 

"Yes; the knights, you know: You were going to tell me about them.

A while back, you remember.  Figuratively speaking, game's called."

 

"Game--"

 

"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--"

 

"Great Scott!"

 

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--"

 

"_Which_ two?"

 

"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

the shield--"

 

"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."

 

"Hello-girl?"

 

"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

to confess--"

 

"Peradventure she--"

 

"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,

_s-a-n-d_'ches, p--_op_-corn!"

 

--"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

to Camelot.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XVI

 

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

Anachronism with.

 

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

was going.

 

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

The Boss!"

 

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.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XVII

 

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

the queen--

 

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."

 

"Endureth what?"

 

"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

to confess--"

 

"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

cruel pain."

 

"Well--yes, there is reason in that.  But _he_ didn't want the

quick death."

 

"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_."

 

 

 

CHAPTER XVIII

 

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.