A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by
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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 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. He was thirty-four

years old, and looked sixty. He sat upon a squared block of

stone, with his head bent down, his forearms resting on his knees,

his long hair hanging like a fringe before his face, and he was

muttering to himself. He raised his chin and looked us slowly

over, in a listless dull way, blinking with the distress of the

torchlight, then dropped his head and fell to muttering again

and took no further notice of us. There were some pathetically

suggestive dumb witnesses present. On his wrists and ankles were

cicatrices, old smooth scars, and fastened to the stone on which

he sat was a chain with manacles and fetters attached; but this

apparatus lay idle on the ground, and was thick with rust. Chains

cease to be needed after the spirit has gone out of a prisoner.

I could not rouse the man; so I said we would take him to her,

and see--to the bride who was the fairest thing in the earth to him,

once--roses, pearls, and dew made flesh, for him; a wonder-work,

the master-work of nature: with eyes like no other eyes, and voice

like no other voice, and a freshness, and lithe young grace, and

beauty, that belonged properly to the creatures of dreams--as he

thought--and to no other. The sight of her would set his stagnant

blood leaping; the sight of her--

But it was a disappointment. They sat together on the ground and

looked dimly wondering into each other’s faces a while, with a

sort of weak animal curiosity; then forgot each other’s presence,

and dropped their eyes, and you saw that they were away again and

wandering in some far land of dreams and shadows that we know

nothing about.

I had them taken out and sent to their friends. The queen did not

like it much. Not that she felt any personal interest in the matter,

but she thought it disrespectful to Sir Breuse Sance Pite. However,

I assured her that if he found he couldn’t stand it I would fix him

so that he could.

I set forty-seven prisoners loose out of those awful rat-holes,

and left only one in captivity. He was a lord, and had killed

another lord, a sort of kinsman of the queen. That other lord

had ambushed him to assassinate him, but this fellow had got the

best of him and cut his throat. However, it was not for that that

I left him jailed, but for maliciously destroying the only public

well in one of his wretched villages. The queen was bound to hang

him for killing her kinsman, but I would not allow it: it was no

crime to kill an assassin. But I said I was willing to let her

hang him for destroying the well; so she concluded to put up with

that, as it was better than nothing.

Dear me, for what trifling offenses the most of those forty-seven

men and women were shut up there! Indeed, some were there for

no distinct offense at all, but only to gratify somebody’s spite;

and not always the queen’s by any means, but a friend’s. The newest

prisoner’s crime was a mere remark which he had made. He said

he believed that men were about all alike, and one man as good

as another, barring clothes. He said he believed that if you were

to strip the nation naked and send a stranger through the crowd, he

couldn’t tell the king from a quack doctor, nor a duke from a hotel

clerk. Apparently here was a man whose brains had not been reduced

to an ineffectual mush by idiotic training. I set him loose and

sent him to the Factory.

Some of the cells carved in the living rock were just behind the

face of the precipice, and in each of these an arrow-slit had been

pierced outward to the daylight, and so the captive had a thin

ray from the blessed sun for his comfort. The case of one of

these poor fellows was particularly hard. From his dusky swallow’s

hole high up in that vast wall of native rock he could peer out

through the arrow-slit and see his own home off yonder in the

valley; and for twenty-two years he had watched it, with heartache

and longing, through that crack. He could see the lights shine

there at night, and in the daytime he could see figures go in and

come out--his wife and children, some of them, no doubt, though

he could not make out at that distance. In the course of years

he noted festivities there, and tried to rejoice, and wondered

if they were weddings or what they might be. And he noted funerals;

and they wrung his heart. He could make out the coffin, but he

could not determine its size, and so could not tell whether it was

wife or child. He could see the procession form, with priests

and mourners, and move solemnly away, bearing the secret with

them. He had left behind him five children and a wife; and in

nineteen years he had seen five funerals issue, and none of them

humble enough in pomp to denote a servant. So he had lost five

of his treasures; there must still be one remaining--one now

infinitely, unspeakably precious,--but _which_ one? wife, or child?

That was the question that tortured him, by night and by day,

asleep and awake. Well, to have an interest, of some sort, and

half a ray of light, when you are in a dungeon, is a great support

to the body and preserver of the intellect. This man was in pretty

good condition yet. By the time he had finished telling me his

distressful tale, I was in the same state of mind that you would

have been in yourself, if you have got average human curiosity;

that is to say, I was as burning up as he was to find out which

member of the family it was that was left. So I took him over

home myself; and an amazing kind of a surprise party it was, too

--typhoons and cyclones of frantic joy, and whole Niagaras of happy

tears; and by George! we found the aforetime young matron graying

toward the imminent verge of her half century, and the babies all

men and women, and some of them married and experimenting familywise

themselves--for not a soul of the tribe was dead! Conceive of the

ingenious devilishness of that queen: she had a special hatred for

this prisoner, and she had _invented_ all those funerals herself,

to scorch his heart with; and the sublimest stroke of genius of

the whole thing was leaving the family-invoice a funeral _short_,

so as to let him wear his poor old soul out guessing.

But for me, he never would have got out. Morgan le Fay hated him

with her whole heart, and she never would have softened toward him.

And yet his crime was committed more in thoughtlessness than

deliberate depravity. He had said she had red hair. Well, she

had; but that was no way to speak of it. When red-headed people

are above a certain social grade their hair is auburn.

Consider it: among these forty-seven captives there were five

whose names, offenses, and dates of incarceration were no longer

known! One woman and four men--all bent, and wrinkled, and

mind-extinguished patriarchs. They themselves had long ago forgotten

these details; at any rate they had mere vague theories about them,

nothing definite and nothing that they repeated twice in the same

way. The succession of priests whose office it had been to pray

daily with the captives and remind them that God had put them

there, for some wise purpose or other, and teach them that patience,

humbleness, and submission to oppression was what He loved to see

in parties of a subordinate rank, had traditions about these poor

old human ruins, but nothing more. These traditions went but

little way, for they concerned the length of the incarceration only,

and not the names of the offenses. And even by the help of

tradition the only thing that could be proven was that none of

the five had seen daylight for thirty-five years: how much longer

this privation has lasted was not guessable. The king and the queen

knew nothing about these poor creatures, except that they were

heirlooms, assets inherited, along with the throne, from the former

firm. Nothing of their history had been transmitted with their

persons, and so the inheriting owners had considered them of no

value, and had felt no interest in them. I said to the queen:

“Then why in the world didn’t you set them free?”

The question was a puzzler. She didn’t know _why_ she hadn’t, the

thing had never come up in her mind. So here she was, forecasting

the veritable history of future prisoners of the Castle d’If,

without knowing it. It seemed plain to me now, that with her

training, those inherited prisoners were merely property--nothing

more, nothing less. Well, when we inherit property, it does not

occur to us to throw it away, even when we do not value it.

When I brought my procession of human bats up into the open world

and the glare of the afternoon sun--previously blindfolding them,

in charity for eyes so long untortured by light--they were a

spectacle to look at. Skeletons, scarecrows, goblins, pathetic

frights, every one; legitimatest possible children of Monarchy

by the Grace of God and the Established Church. I muttered absently:

“I _wish_ I could photograph them!”

You have seen that kind of people who will never let on that they

don’t know the meaning of a new big word. The more ignorant they

are, the more pitifully certain they are to pretend you haven’t

shot over their heads. The queen was just one of that sort, and

was always making the stupidest blunders by reason of it. She

hesitated a moment; then her face brightened up with sudden

comprehension, and she said she would do it for me.

I thought to myself: She? why what can she know about photography?

But it was a poor time to be thinking. When I looked around, she

was moving on the procession with an axe!

Well, she certainly was a curious one, was Morgan le Fay. I have

seen a good many kinds of women in my time, but she laid over them

all for variety. And how sharply characteristic of her this episode

was. She had no more idea than a horse of how to photograph

a procession; but being in doubt, it was just like her to try

to do it with an axe.

CHAPTER XIX

KNIGHT-ERRANTRY AS A TRADE

Sandy and I were on the road again, next morning, bright and early.

It was so good to open up one’s lungs and take in whole luscious

barrels-ful of the blessed God’s untainted, dew-fashioned,

woodland-scented air once more, after suffocating body and mind for two

days and nights in the moral and physical stenches of that intolerable

old buzzard-roost! I mean, for me: of course the place was all

right and agreeable enough for Sandy, for she had been used to

high life all her days.

Poor girl, her jaws had had a wearisome rest now for a while,

and I was expecting to get the consequences. I was right; but she

had stood by me most helpfully in the castle, and had mightily

supported and reinforced me with gigantic foolishnesses which were

worth more for the occasion than wisdoms double their size; so

I thought she had earned a right to work her mill for a while,

if she wanted to, and I felt not a pang when she started it up:

“Now turn we unto Sir Marhaus that rode with the damsel of thirty

winter of age southward--”

“Are you going to see if you can work up another half-stretch on

the trail of the cowboys, Sandy?”

“Even so, fair my lord.”

“Go ahead, then. I won’t interrupt this time, if I can help it.

Begin over again; start fair, and shake out all your reefs, and

I will load my pipe and give good attention.”

“Now turn we unto Sir Marhaus that rode with the damsel of thirty

winter of age southward. And so they came into a deep forest,

and by fortune they were nighted, and rode along in a deep way,

and at the last they came into a courtelage where abode the duke

of South Marches, and there they asked harbour. And on the morn

the duke sent unto Sir Marhaus, and bad him make him ready. And

so Sir Marhaus arose and armed him, and there was a mass sung

afore him, and he brake his fast, and so mounted on horseback in

the court of the castle, there they should do the battle. So there

was the duke already on horseback, clean armed, and his six sons

by him, and every each had a spear in his hand, and so they

encountered, whereas the duke and his two sons brake their spears

upon him, but Sir Marhaus held up his spear and touched none of

them. Then came the four sons by couples, and two of them brake

their spears, and so did the other two. And all this while

Sir Marhaus touched them not. Then Sir Marhaus ran to the duke,

and smote him with his spear that horse and man fell to the earth.

And so he served his sons. And then Sir Marhaus alight down, and

bad the duke yield him or else he would slay him. And then some

of his sons recovered, and would have set upon Sir Marhaus. Then

Sir Marhaus said to the duke, Cease thy sons, or else I will do

the uttermost to you all. When the duke saw he might not escape

the death, he cried to his sons, and charged them to yield them

to Sir Marhaus. And they kneeled all down and put the pommels

of their swords to the knight, and so he received them. And then

they holp up their father, and so by their common assent promised

unto Sir Marhaus never to be foes unto King Arthur, and thereupon

at Whitsuntide after, to come he and his sons, and put them in

the king’s grace.*

[*Footnote: The story is borrowed, language and all, from the

Morte d’Arthur.--M.T.]

“Even so standeth the history, fair Sir Boss. Now ye shall wit

that that very duke and his six sons are they whom but few days

past you also did overcome and send to Arthur’s court!”

“Why, Sandy, you can’t mean it!”

“An I speak not sooth, let it be the worse for me.”

“Well, well, well,--now who would ever have thought it? One

whole duke and six dukelets; why, Sandy, it was an elegant haul.

Knight-errantry is a most chuckle-headed trade, and it is tedious

hard work, too, but I begin to see that there _is_ money in it,

after all, if you have luck. Not that I would ever engage in it

as a business, for I wouldn’t. No sound and legitimate business

can be established on a basis of speculation. A successful whirl

in the knight-errantry line--now what is it when you blow away

the nonsense and come down to the cold facts? It’s just a corner

in pork, that’s all, and you can’t make anything else out of it.

You’re rich--yes,--suddenly rich--for about a day, maybe a week;

then somebody corners the market on _you_, and down goes your

bucket-shop; ain’t that so, Sandy?”

“Whethersoever it be that my mind miscarrieth, bewraying simple

language in such sort that the words do seem to come endlong

and overthwart--”

“There’s no use in beating about the bush and trying to get around

it that way, Sandy, it’s _so_, just as I say. I _know_ it’s so. And,

moreover, when you come right down to the bedrock, knight-errantry

is _worse_ than pork; for whatever happens, the pork’s left, and

so somebody’s benefited anyway; but when the market breaks, in a

knight-errantry whirl, and every knight in the pool passes in his

checks, what have you got for assets? Just a rubbish-pile of

battered corpses and a barrel or two of busted hardware. Can you

call _those_ assets? Give me pork, every time. Am I right?”

“Ah, peradventure my head being distraught by the manifold matters

whereunto the confusions of these but late adventured haps and

fortunings whereby not I alone nor you alone, but every each of us,

meseemeth--”

“No, it’s not your head, Sandy. Your head’s all right, as far as

it goes, but you don’t know business; that’s where the trouble

is. It unfits you to argue about business, and you’re wrong

to be always trying. However, that aside, it was a good haul,

anyway, and will breed a handsome crop of reputation in Arthur’s

court. And speaking of the cowboys, what a curious country this

is for women and men that never get old. Now there’s Morgan le Fay,

as fresh and young as a Vassar pullet, to all appearances, and

here is this old duke of the South Marches still slashing away with

sword and lance at his time of life, after raising such a family

as he has raised. As I understand it, Sir Gawaine killed seven

of his sons, and still he had six left for Sir Marhaus and me to

take into camp. And then there was that damsel of sixty winter

of age still excursioning around in her frosty bloom--How old

are you, Sandy?”

It was the first time I ever struck a still place in her. The mill

had shut down for repairs, or something.

CHAPTER XX

THE OGRE’S CASTLE

Between six and nine we made ten miles, which was plenty for a

horse carrying triple--man, woman, and armor; then we stopped

for a long nooning under some trees by a limpid brook.

Right so came by and by a knight riding; and as he drew near he

made dolorous moan, and by the words of it I perceived that he

was cursing and swearing; yet nevertheless was I glad of his

coming, for that I saw he bore a bulletin-board whereon in letters

all of shining gold was writ:

“USE PETERSON’S PROPHYLACTIC TOOTH-BRUSH--ALL THE GO.”

I was glad of his coming, for even by this token I knew him for

knight of mine. It was Sir Madok de la Montaine, a burly great

fellow whose chief distinction was that he had come within an ace

of sending Sir Launcelot down over his horse-tail once. He was

never long in a stranger’s presence without finding some pretext

or other to let out that great fact. But there was another fact

of nearly the same size, which he never pushed upon anybody unasked,

and yet never withheld when asked: that was, that the reason he

didn’t quite succeed was, that he was interrupted and sent down

over horse-tail himself. This innocent vast lubber did not see

any particular difference between the two facts. I liked him,

for he was earnest in his work, and very valuable. And he was so

fine to look at, with his broad mailed shoulders, and the grand

leonine set of his plumed head, and his big shield with its quaint

device of a gauntleted hand clutching a prophylactic tooth-brush,

with motto: “Try Noyoudont.” This was a tooth-wash that I was

introducing.

He was aweary, he said, and indeed he looked it; but he would not

alight. He said he was after the stove-polish man; and with this

he broke out cursing and swearing anew. The bulletin-boarder

referred to was Sir Ossaise of Surluse, a brave knight, and of

considerable celebrity on account of his having tried conclusions

in a tournament once, with no less a Mogul than Sir Gaheris

himself--although not successfully. He was of a light and laughing

disposition, and to him nothing in this world was serious. It was

for this reason that I had chosen him to work up a stove-polish

sentiment. There were no stoves yet, and so there could be nothing

serious about stove-polish. All that the agent needed to do was

to deftly and by degrees prepare the public for the great change,

and have them established in predilections toward neatness against

the time when the stove should appear upon the stage.

Sir Madok was very bitter, and brake out anew with cursings. He

said he had cursed his soul to rags; and yet he would not get down

from his horse, neither would he take any rest, or listen to any

comfort, until he should have found Sir Ossaise and settled this

account. It appeared, by what I could piece together of the

unprofane fragments of his statement, that he had chanced upon

Sir Ossaise at dawn of the morning, and been told that if he would

make a short cut across the fields and swamps and broken hills and

glades, he could head off a company of travelers who would be rare

customers for prophylactics and tooth-wash. With characteristic

zeal Sir Madok had plunged away at once upon this quest, and after

three hours of awful crosslot riding had overhauled his game. And

behold, it was the five patriarchs that had been released from the

dungeons the evening before! Poor old creatures, it was all of

twenty years since any one of them had known what it was to be

equipped with any remaining snag or remnant of a tooth.

“Blank-blank-blank him,” said Sir Madok, “an I do not stove-polish

him an I may find him, leave it to me; for never no knight that

hight Ossaise or aught else may do me this disservice and bide

on live, an I may find him, the which I have thereunto sworn a

great oath this day.”

And with these words and others, he lightly took his spear and

gat him thence. In the middle of the afternoon we came upon one

of those very patriarchs ourselves, in the edge of a poor village.

He was basking in the love of relatives and friends whom he had not

seen for fifty years; and about him and caressing him were also

descendants of his own body whom he had never seen at all till now;

but to him these were all strangers, his memory was gone, his mind

was stagnant. It seemed incredible that a man could outlast half

a century shut up in a dark hole like a rat, but here were his old

wife and some old comrades to testify to it. They could remember

him as he was in the freshness and strength of his young manhood,

when he kissed his child and delivered it to its mother’s hands

and went away into that long oblivion. The people at the castle

could not tell within half a generation the length of time the man

had been shut up there for his unrecorded and forgotten offense;

but this old wife knew; and so did her old child, who stood there

among her married sons and daughters trying to realize a father

who had been to her a name, a thought, a formless image, a tradition,

all her life, and now was suddenly concreted into actual flesh

and blood and set before her face.

It was a curious situation; yet it is not on that account that

I have made room for it here, but on account of a thing which

seemed to me still more curious. To wit, that this dreadful matter

brought from these downtrodden people no outburst of rage against

these oppressors. They had been heritors and subjects of cruelty

and outrage so long that nothing could have startled them but

a kindness. Yes, here was a curious revelation, indeed, of the

depth to which this people had been sunk in slavery. Their entire

being was reduced to a monotonous dead level of patience, resignation,

dumb uncomplaining acceptance of whatever might befall them in

this life. Their very imagination was dead. When you can say

that of a man, he has struck bottom, I reckon; there is no lower

deep for him.

I rather wished I had gone some other road. This was not the sort

of experience for a statesman to encounter who was planning out

a peaceful revolution in his mind. For it could not help bringing

up the unget-aroundable fact that, all gentle cant and philosophizing

to the contrary notwithstanding, no people in the world ever did

achieve their freedom by goody-goody talk and moral suasion:

it being immutable law that all revolutions that will succeed must

_begin_ in blood, whatever may answer afterward. If history teaches

anything, it teaches that. What this folk needed, then, was a

Reign of Terror and a guillotine, and I was the wrong man for them.

Two days later, toward noon, Sandy began to show signs of excitement

and feverish expectancy. She said we were approaching the ogre’s

castle. I was surprised into an uncomfortable shock. The object

of our quest had gradually dropped out of my mind; this sudden

resurrection of it made it seem quite a real and startling thing

for a moment, and roused up in me a smart interest. Sandy’s

excitement increased every moment; and so did mine, for that sort

of thing is catching. My heart got to thumping. You can’t reason

with your heart; it has its own laws, and thumps about things which

the intellect scorns. Presently, when Sandy slid from the horse,

motioned me to stop, and went creeping stealthily, with her head

bent nearly to her knees, toward a row of bushes that bordered

a declivity, the thumpings grew stronger and quicker. And they

kept it up while she was gaining her ambush and getting her glimpse

over the declivity; and also while I was creeping to her side on

my knees. Her eyes were burning now, as she pointed with her

finger, and said in a panting whisper:

“The castle! The castle! Lo, where it looms!”

What a welcome disappointment I experienced! I said:

“Castle? It is nothing but a pigsty; a pigsty with a wattled

fence around it.”

She looked surprised and distressed. The animation faded out of

her face; and during many moments she was lost in thought and

silent. Then:

“It was not enchanted aforetime,” she said in a musing fashion,

as if to herself. “And how strange is this marvel, and how awful

--that to the one perception it is enchanted and dight in a base

and shameful aspect; yet to the perception of the other it is not

enchanted, hath suffered no change, but stands firm and stately

still, girt with its moat and waving its banners in the blue air

from its towers. And God shield us, how it pricks the heart to

see again these gracious captives, and the sorrow deepened in their

sweet faces! We have tarried along, and are to blame.”

I saw my cue. The castle was enchanted to _me_, not to her. It would

be wasted time to try to argue her out of her delusion, it couldn’t

be done; I must just humor it. So I said:

“This is a common case--the enchanting of a thing to one eye and

leaving it in its proper form to another. You have heard of it

before, Sandy, though you haven’t happened to experience it.

But no harm is done. In fact, it is lucky the way it is. If these

ladies were hogs to everybody and to themselves, it would be

necessary to break the enchantment, and that might be impossible

if one failed to find out the particular process of the enchantment.

And hazardous, too; for in attempting a disenchantment without the

true key, you are liable to err, and turn your hogs into dogs,

and the dogs into cats, the cats into rats, and so on, and end by

reducing your materials to nothing finally, or to an odorless gas

which you can’t follow--which, of course, amounts to the same

thing. But here, by good luck, no one’s eyes but mine are under

the enchantment, and so it is of no consequence to dissolve it.

These ladies remain ladies to you, and to themselves, and to

everybody else; and at the same time they will suffer in no way

from my delusion, for when I know that an ostensible hog is a

lady, that is enough for me, I know how to treat her.”

“Thanks, oh, sweet my lord, thou talkest like an angel. And I know

that thou wilt deliver them, for that thou art minded to great

deeds and art as strong a knight of your hands and as brave to will

and to do, as any that is on live.”

“I will not leave a princess in the sty, Sandy. Are those three

yonder that to my disordered eyes are starveling swine-herds--”

“The ogres, Are _they_ changed also? It is most wonderful. Now

am I fearful; for how canst thou strike with sure aim when five of

their nine cubits of stature are to thee invisible? Ah, go warily,

fair sir; this is a mightier emprise than I wend.”

“You be easy, Sandy. All I need to know is, how _much_ of an ogre

is invisible; then I know how to locate his vitals. Don’t you be

afraid, I will make short work of these bunco-steerers. Stay

where you are.”

I left Sandy kneeling there, corpse-faced but plucky and hopeful,

and rode down to the pigsty, and struck up a trade with the

swine-herds. I won their gratitude by buying out all the hogs

at the lump sum of sixteen pennies, which was rather above latest

quotations. I was just in time; for the Church, the lord of the

manor, and the rest of the tax-gatherers would have been along

next day and swept off pretty much all the stock, leaving the

swine-herds very short of hogs and Sandy out of princesses. But

now the tax people could be paid in cash, and there would be

a stake left besides. One of the men had ten children; and he

said that last year when a priest came and of his ten pigs took

the fattest one for tithes, the wife burst out upon him, and offered

him a child and said:

“Thou beast without bowels of mercy, why leave me my child, yet

rob me of the wherewithal to feed it?”

How curious. The same thing had happened in the Wales of my day,

under this same old Established Church, which was supposed by many

to have changed its nature when it changed its disguise.

I sent the three men away, and then opened the sty gate and beckoned

Sandy to come--which she did; and not leisurely, but with the rush

of a prairie fire. And when I saw her fling herself upon those

hogs, with tears of joy running down her cheeks, and strain them

to her heart, and kiss them, and caress them, and call them

reverently by grand princely names, I was ashamed of her, ashamed

of the human race.

We had to drive those hogs home--ten miles; and no ladies were

ever more fickle-minded or contrary. They would stay in no road,

no path; they broke out through the brush on all sides, and flowed

away in all directions, over rocks, and hills, and the roughest

places they could find. And they must not be struck, or roughly

accosted; Sandy could not bear to see them treated in ways unbecoming

their rank. The troublesomest old sow of the lot had to be called

my Lady, and your Highness, like the rest. It is annoying and

difficult to scour around after hogs, in armor. There was one

small countess, with an iron ring in her snout and hardly any hair

on her back, that was the devil for perversity. She gave me a race

of an hour, over all sorts of country, and then we were right where

we had started from, having made not a rod of real progress.

I seized her at last by the tail, and brought her along squealing.

When I overtook Sandy she was horrified, and said it was in the

last degree indelicate to drag a countess by her train.

We got the hogs home just at dark--most of them. The princess

Nerovens de Morganore was missing, and two of her ladies in waiting:

namely, Miss Angela Bohun, and the Demoiselle Elaine Courtemains,

the former of these two being a young black sow with a white star

in her forehead, and the latter a brown one with thin legs and a

slight limp in the forward shank on the starboard side--a couple

of the tryingest blisters to drive that I ever saw. Also among

the missing were several mere baronesses--and I wanted them to

stay missing; but no, all that sausage-meat had to be found; so

servants were sent out with torches to scour the woods and hills

to that end.

Of course, the whole drove was housed in the house, and, great

guns!--well, I never saw anything like it. Nor ever heard anything

like it. And never smelt anything like it. It was like an

insurrection in a gasometer.

CHAPTER XXI

THE PILGRIMS

When I did get to bed at last I was unspeakably tired; the stretching

out, and the relaxing of the long-tense muscles, how luxurious,

how delicious! but that was as far as I could get--sleep was out of

the question for the present. The ripping and tearing and squealing

of the nobility up and down the halls and corridors was pandemonium

come again, and kept me broad awake. Being awake, my thoughts

were busy, of course; and mainly they busied themselves with Sandy’s

curious delusion. Here she was, as sane a person as the kingdom

could produce; and yet, from my point of view she was acting like

a crazy woman. My land, the power of training! of influence!

of education! It can bring a body up to believe anything. I had

to put myself in Sandy’s place to realize that she was not a

lunatic. Yes, and put her in mine, to demonstrate how easy it is

to seem a lunatic to a person who has not been taught as you have

been taught. If I had told Sandy I had seen a wagon, uninfluenced

by enchantment, spin along fifty miles an hour; had seen a man,

unequipped with magic powers, get into a basket and soar out of

sight among the clouds; and had listened, without any necromancer’s

help, to the conversation of a person who was several hundred miles

away, Sandy would not merely have supposed me to be crazy, she

would have thought she knew it. Everybody around her believed in

enchantments; nobody had any doubts; to doubt that a castle could

be turned into a sty, and its occupants into hogs, would have been

the same as my doubting among Connecticut people the actuality

of the telephone and its wonders,--and in both cases would be

absolute proof of a diseased mind, an unsettled reason. Yes, Sandy

was sane; that must be admitted. If I also would be sane--to Sandy

--I must keep my superstitions about unenchanted and unmiraculous

locomotives, balloons, and telephones, to myself. Also, I believed

that the world was not flat, and hadn’t pillars under it to support

it, nor a canopy over it to turn off a universe of water that

occupied all space above; but as I was the only person in the kingdom

afflicted with such impious and criminal opinions, I recognized

that it would be good wisdom to keep quiet about this matter, too,

if I did not wish to be suddenly shunned and forsaken by everybody

as a madman.

The next morning Sandy assembled the swine in the dining-room and

gave them their breakfast, waiting upon them personally and

manifesting in every way the deep reverence which the natives of

her island, ancient and modern, have always felt for rank, let its

outward casket and the mental and moral contents be what they may.

I could have eaten with the hogs if I had had birth approaching my

lofty official rank; but I hadn’t, and so accepted the unavoidable

slight and made no complaint. Sandy and I had our breakfast at

the second table. The family were not at home. I said:

“How many are in the family, Sandy, and where do they keep themselves?”

“Family?”

“Yes.”

“Which family, good my lord?”

“Why, this family; your own family.”

“Sooth to say, I understand you not. I have no family.”

“No family? Why, Sandy, isn’t this your home?”

“Now how indeed might that be? I have no home.”

“Well, then, whose house is this?”

“Ah, wit you well I would tell you an I knew myself.”

“Come--you don’t even know these people? Then who invited us here?”

“None invited us. We but came; that is all.”

“Why, woman, this is a most extraordinary performance. The

effrontery of it is beyond admiration. We blandly march into

a man’s house, and cram it full of the only really valuable nobility

the sun has yet discovered in the earth, and then it turns out

that we don’t even know the man’s name. How did you ever venture

to take this extravagant liberty? I supposed, of course, it was

your home. What will the man say?”

“What will he say? Forsooth what can he say but give thanks?”

“Thanks for what?”

Her face was filled with a puzzled surprise:

“Verily, thou troublest mine understanding with strange words.

Do ye dream that one of his estate is like to have the honor twice

in his life to entertain company such as we have brought to grace

his house withal?”

“Well, no--when you come to that. No, it’s an even bet that this

is the first time he has had a treat like this.”

“Then let him be thankful, and manifest the same by grateful speech

and due humility; he were a dog, else, and the heir and ancestor

of dogs.”

To my mind, the situation was uncomfortable. It might become more so.

It might be a good idea to muster the hogs and move on. So I said:

“The day is wasting, Sandy. It is time to get the nobility together

and be moving.”

“Wherefore, fair sir and Boss?”

“We want to take them to their home, don’t we?”

“La, but list to him! They be of all the regions of the earth!

Each must hie to her own home; wend you we might do all these

journeys in one so brief life as He hath appointed that created

life, and thereto death likewise with help of Adam, who by sin

done through persuasion of his helpmeet, she being wrought upon

and bewrayed by the beguilements of the great enemy of man, that

serpent hight Satan, aforetime consecrated and set apart unto that

evil work by overmastering spite and envy begotten in his heart

through fell ambitions that did blight and mildew a nature erst

so white and pure whenso it hove with the shining multitudes

its brethren-born in glade and shade of that fair heaven wherein

all such as native be to that rich estate and--”

“Great Scott!”

“My lord?”

“Well, you know we haven’t got time for this sort of thing. Don’t

you see, we could distribute these people around the earth in less

time than it is going to take you to explain that we can’t. We

mustn’t talk now, we must act. You want to be careful; you mustn’t

let your mill get the start of you that way, at a time like this.

To business now--and sharp’s the word. Who is to take the

aristocracy home?”

“Even their friends. These will come for them from the far parts

of the earth.”

This was lightning from a clear sky, for unexpectedness; and the

relief of it was like pardon to a prisoner. She would remain to

deliver the goods, of course.

“Well, then, Sandy, as our enterprise is handsomely and successfully

ended, I will go home and report; and if ever another one--”

“I also am ready; I will go with thee.”

This was recalling the pardon.

“How? You will go with me? Why should you?”

“Will I be traitor to my knight, dost think? That were dishonor.

I may not part from thee until in knightly encounter in the field

some overmatching champion shall fairly win and fairly wear me.

I were to blame an I thought that that might ever hap.”

“Elected for the long term,” I sighed to myself. “I may as well

make the best of it.” So then I spoke up and said:

“All right; let us make a start.”

While she was gone to cry her farewells over the pork, I gave that

whole peerage away to the servants. And I asked them to take

a duster and dust around a little where the nobilities had mainly

lodged and promenaded; but they considered that that would be

hardly worth while, and would moreover be a rather grave departure

from custom, and therefore likely to make talk. A departure from

custom--that settled it; it was a nation capable of committing any

crime but that. The servants said they would follow the fashion,

a fashion grown sacred through immemorial observance; they would

scatter fresh rushes in all the rooms and halls, and then the

evidence of the aristocratic visitation would be no longer visible.

It was a kind of satire on Nature: it was the scientific method,

the geologic method; it deposited the history of the family in

a stratified record; and the antiquary could dig through it and

tell by the remains of each period what changes of diet the family

had introduced successively for a hundred years.

The first thing we struck that day was a procession of pilgrims.

It was not going our way, but we joined it, nevertheless; for it

was hourly being borne in upon me now, that if I would govern

this country wisely, I must be posted in the details of its life,

and not at second hand, but by personal observation and scrutiny.

This company of pilgrims resembled Chaucer’s in this: that it

had in it a sample of about all the upper occupations and professions

the country could show, and a corresponding variety of costume.

There were young men and old men, young women and old women,

lively folk and grave folk. They rode upon mules and horses, and

there was not a side-saddle in the party; for this specialty was

to remain unknown in England for nine hundred years yet.

It was a pleasant, friendly, sociable herd; pious, happy, merry and

full of unconscious coarsenesses and innocent indecencies. What

they regarded as the merry tale went the continual round and caused

no more embarrassment than it would have caused in the best English

society twelve centuries later. Practical jokes worthy of the

English wits of the first quarter of the far-off nineteenth century

were sprung here and there and yonder along the line, and compelled

the delightedest applause; and sometimes when a bright remark was

made at one end of the procession and started on its travels toward

the other, you could note its progress all the way by the sparkling

spray of laughter it threw off from its bows as it plowed along;

and also by the blushes of the mules in its wake.

Sandy knew the goal and purpose of this pilgrimage, and she posted

me. She said:

“They journey to the Valley of Holiness, for to be blessed of the

godly hermits and drink of the miraculous waters and be cleansed

from sin.”

“Where is this watering place?”

“It lieth a two-day journey hence, by the borders of the land that

hight the Cuckoo Kingdom.”

“Tell me about it. Is it a celebrated place?”

“Oh, of a truth, yes. There be none more so. Of old time there

lived there an abbot and his monks. Belike were none in the world

more holy than these; for they gave themselves to study of pious

books, and spoke not the one to the other, or indeed to any, and

ate decayed herbs and naught thereto, and slept hard, and prayed

much, and washed never; also they wore the same garment until it

fell from their bodies through age and decay. Right so came they

to be known of all the world by reason of these holy austerities,

and visited by rich and poor, and reverenced.”

“Proceed.”

“But always there was lack of water there. Whereas, upon a time,

the holy abbot prayed, and for answer a great stream of clear

water burst forth by miracle in a desert place. Now were the

fickle monks tempted of the Fiend, and they wrought with their

abbot unceasingly by beggings and beseechings that he would construct

a bath; and when he was become aweary and might not resist more,

he said have ye your will, then, and granted that they asked.

Now mark thou what ‘tis to forsake the ways of purity the which

He loveth, and wanton with such as be worldly and an offense.

These monks did enter into the bath and come thence washed as

white as snow; and lo, in that moment His sign appeared, in

miraculous rebuke! for His insulted waters ceased to flow, and

utterly vanished away.”

“They fared mildly, Sandy, considering how that kind of crime

is regarded in this country.”

“Belike; but it was their first sin; and they had been of perfect

life for long, and differing in naught from the angels. Prayers,

tears, torturings of the flesh, all was vain to beguile that water

to flow again. Even processions; even burnt-offerings; even votive

candles to the Virgin, did fail every each of them; and all in

the land did marvel.”

“How odd to find that even this industry has its financial panics,

and at times sees its assignats and greenbacks languish to zero,

and everything come to a standstill. Go on, Sandy.”

“And so upon a time, after year and day, the good abbot made humble

surrender and destroyed the bath. And behold, His anger was in that

moment appeased, and the waters gushed richly forth again, and even

unto this day they have not ceased to flow in that generous measure.”

“Then I take it nobody has washed since.”

“He that would essay it could have his halter free; yes, and

swiftly would he need it, too.”

“The community has prospered since?”

“Even from that very day. The fame of the miracle went abroad

into all lands. From every land came monks to join; they came

even as the fishes come, in shoals; and the monastery added building

to building, and yet others to these, and so spread wide its arms

and took them in. And nuns came, also; and more again, and yet

more; and built over against the monastery on the yon side of the

vale, and added building to building, until mighty was that nunnery.

And these were friendly unto those, and they joined their loving

labors together, and together they built a fair great foundling

asylum midway of the valley between.”

“You spoke of some hermits, Sandy.”

“These have gathered there from the ends of the earth. A hermit

thriveth best where there be multitudes of pilgrims. Ye shall not

find no hermit of no sort wanting. If any shall mention a hermit

of a kind he thinketh new and not to be found but in some far

strange land, let him but scratch among the holes and caves and

swamps that line that Valley of Holiness, and whatsoever be his

breed, it skills not, he shall find a sample of it there.”

I closed up alongside of a burly fellow with a fat good-humored

face, purposing to make myself agreeable and pick up some further

crumbs of fact; but I had hardly more than scraped acquaintance

with him when he began eagerly and awkwardly to lead up, in the

immemorial way, to that same old anecdote--the one Sir Dinadan

told me, what time I got into trouble with Sir Sagramor and was

challenged of him on account of it. I excused myself and dropped

to the rear of the procession, sad at heart, willing to go hence

from this troubled life, this vale of tears, this brief day of

broken rest, of cloud and storm, of weary struggle and monotonous

defeat; and yet shrinking from the change, as remembering how long

eternity is, and how many have wended thither who know that anecdote.

Early in the afternoon we overtook another procession of pilgrims;

but in this one was no merriment, no jokes, no laughter, no playful

ways, nor any happy giddiness, whether of youth or age. Yet both

were here, both age and youth; gray old men and women, strong men

and women of middle age, young husbands, young wives, little boys

and girls, and three babies at the breast. Even the children were

smileless; there was not a face among all these half a hundred

people but was cast down, and bore that set expression of hopelessness

which is bred of long and hard trials and old acquaintance with

despair. They were slaves. Chains led from their fettered feet

and their manacled hands to a sole-leather belt about their waists;

and all except the children were also linked together in a file

six feet apart, by a single chain which led from collar to collar

all down the line. They were on foot, and had tramped three

hundred miles in eighteen days, upon the cheapest odds and ends

of food, and stingy rations of that. They had slept in these

chains every night, bundled together like swine. They had upon

their bodies some poor rags, but they could not be said to be

clothed. Their irons had chafed the skin from their ankles and

made sores which were ulcerated and wormy. Their naked feet were

torn, and none walked without a limp. Originally there had been a

hundred of these unfortunates, but about half had been sold on

the trip. The trader in charge of them rode a horse and carried

a whip with a short handle and a long heavy lash divided into

several knotted tails at the end. With this whip he cut the

shoulders of any that tottered from weariness and pain, and

straightened them up. He did not speak; the whip conveyed his

desire without that. None of these poor creatures looked up as

we rode along by; they showed no consciousness of our presence.

And they made no sound but one; that was the dull and awful clank

of their chains from end to end of the long file, as forty-three

burdened feet rose and fell in unison. The file moved in a cloud

of its own making.

All these faces were gray with a coating of dust. One has seen

the like of this coating upon furniture in unoccupied houses, and

has written his idle thought in it with his finger. I was reminded

of this when I noticed the faces of some of those women, young

mothers carrying babes that were near to death and freedom, how

a something in their hearts was written in the dust upon their

faces, plain to see, and lord, how plain to read! for it was the

track of tears. One of these young mothers was but a girl, and

it hurt me to the heart to read that writing, and reflect that it

was come up out of the breast of such a child, a breast that ought

not to know trouble yet, but only the gladness of the morning of

life; and no doubt--

She reeled just then, giddy with fatigue, and down came the lash

and flicked a flake of skin from her naked shoulder. It stung me

as if I had been hit instead. The master halted the file and

jumped from his horse. He stormed and swore at this girl, and

said she had made annoyance enough with her laziness, and as this

was the last chance he should have, he would settle the account now.

She dropped on her knees and put up her hands and began to beg,

and cry, and implore, in a passion of terror, but the master gave

no attention. He snatched the child from her, and then made the

men-slaves who were chained before and behind her throw her on

the ground and hold her there and expose her body; and then he

laid on with his lash like a madman till her back was flayed, she

shrieking and struggling the while piteously. One of the men who

was holding her turned away his face, and for this humanity he was

reviled and flogged.

All our pilgrims looked on and commented--on the expert way in

which the whip was handled. They were too much hardened by lifelong

everyday familiarity with slavery to notice that there was anything

else in the exhibition that invited comment. This was what slavery

could do, in the way of ossifying what one may call the superior

lobe of human feeling; for these pilgrims were kind-hearted people,

and they would not have allowed that man to treat a horse like that.

I wanted to stop the whole thing and set the slaves free, but that

would not do. I must not interfere too much and get myself a name

for riding over the country’s laws and the citizen’s rights

roughshod. If I lived and prospered I would be the death of

slavery, that I was resolved upon; but I would try to fix it so

that when I became its executioner it should be by command of

the nation.

Just here was the wayside shop of a smith; and now arrived a landed

proprietor who had bought this girl a few miles back, deliverable

here where her irons could be taken off. They were removed; then

there was a squabble between the gentleman and the dealer as to

which should pay the blacksmith. The moment the girl was delivered

from her irons, she flung herself, all tears and frantic sobbings,

into the arms of the slave who had turned away his face when she

was whipped. He strained her to his breast, and smothered her

face and the child’s with kisses, and washed them with the rain

of his tears. I suspected. I inquired. Yes, I was right; it was

husband and wife. They had to be torn apart by force; the girl

had to be dragged away, and she struggled and fought and shrieked

like one gone mad till a turn of the road hid her from sight; and

even after that, we could still make out the fading plaint of those

receding shrieks. And the husband and father, with his wife and

child gone, never to be seen by him again in life?--well, the look

of him one might not bear at all, and so I turned away; but I knew

I should never get his picture out of my mind again, and there

it is to this day, to wring my heartstrings whenever I think of it.

We put up at the inn in a village just at nightfall, and when

I rose next morning and looked abroad, I was ware where a knight

came riding in the golden glory of the new day, and recognized him

for knight of mine--Sir Ozana le Cure Hardy. He was in the

gentlemen’s furnishing line, and his missionarying specialty was

plug hats. He was clothed all in steel, in the beautifulest armor

of the time--up to where his helmet ought to have been; but he

hadn’t any helmet, he wore a shiny stove-pipe hat, and was ridiculous

a spectacle as one might want to see. It was another of my

surreptitious schemes for extinguishing knighthood by making it

grotesque and absurd. Sir Ozana’s saddle was hung about with

leather hat boxes, and every time he overcame a wandering knight

he swore him into my service and fitted him with a plug and made

him wear it. I dressed and ran down to welcome Sir Ozana and

get his news.

“How is trade?” I asked.

“Ye will note that I have but these four left; yet were they sixteen

whenas I got me from Camelot.”

“Why, you have certainly done nobly, Sir Ozana. Where have you

been foraging of late?”

“I am but now come from the Valley of Holiness, please you sir.”

“I am pointed for that place myself. Is there anything stirring

in the monkery, more than common?”

“By the mass ye may not question it!.... Give him good feed,

boy, and stint it not, an thou valuest thy crown; so get ye lightly

to the stable and do even as I bid.... Sir, it is parlous news

I bring, and--be these pilgrims? Then ye may not do better, good

folk, than gather and hear the tale I have to tell, sith it

concerneth you, forasmuch as ye go to find that ye will not find,

and seek that ye will seek in vain, my life being hostage for my

word, and my word and message being these, namely: That a hap

has happened whereof the like has not been seen no more but once

this two hundred years, which was the first and last time that

that said misfortune strake the holy valley in that form by

commandment of the Most High whereto by reasons just and causes

thereunto contributing, wherein the matter--”

“The miraculous fount hath ceased to flow!” This shout burst from

twenty pilgrim mouths at once.

“Ye say well, good people. I was verging to it, even when ye spake.”

“Has somebody been washing again?”

“Nay, it is suspected, but none believe it. It is thought to be

some other sin, but none wit what.”

“How are they feeling about the calamity?”

“None may describe it in words. The fount is these nine days dry.

The prayers that did begin then, and the lamentations in sackcloth

and ashes, and the holy processions, none of these have ceased

nor night nor day; and so the monks and the nuns and the foundlings

be all exhausted, and do hang up prayers writ upon parchment,

sith that no strength is left in man to lift up voice. And at last

they sent for thee, Sir Boss, to try magic and enchantment; and

if you could not come, then was the messenger to fetch Merlin,

and he is there these three days now, and saith he will fetch that

water though he burst the globe and wreck its kingdoms to accomplish

it; and right bravely doth he work his magic and call upon his

hellions to hie them hither and help, but not a whiff of moisture

hath he started yet, even so much as might qualify as mist upon

a copper mirror an ye count not the barrel of sweat he sweateth

betwixt sun and sun over the dire labors of his task; and if ye--”

Breakfast was ready. As soon as it was over I showed to Sir Ozana

these words which I had written on the inside of his hat: “Chemical

Department, Laboratory extension, Section G. Pxxp. Send two of

first size, two of No. 3, and six of No. 4, together with the proper

complementary details--and two of my trained assistants.” And I said:

“Now get you to Camelot as fast as you can fly, brave knight, and

show the writing to Clarence, and tell him to have these required

matters in the Valley of Holiness with all possible dispatch.”

“I will well, Sir Boss,” and he was off.

CHAPTER XXII

THE HOLY FOUNTAIN

The pilgrims were human beings. Otherwise they would have acted

differently. They had come a long and difficult journey, and now

when the journey was nearly finished, and they learned that the main

thing they had come for had ceased to exist, they didn’t do as

horses or cats or angle-worms would probably have done--turn back

and get at something profitable--no, anxious as they had before

been to see the miraculous fountain, they were as much as forty

times as anxious now to see the place where it had used to be.

There is no accounting for human beings.

We made good time; and a couple of hours before sunset we stood

upon the high confines of the Valley of Holiness, and our eyes

swept it from end to end and noted its features. That is, its

large features. These were the three masses of buildings. They

were distant and isolated temporalities shrunken to toy constructions

in the lonely waste of what seemed a desert--and was. Such a scene

is always mournful, it is so impressively still, and looks so

steeped in death. But there was a sound here which interrupted

the stillness only to add to its mournfulness; this was the faint

far sound of tolling bells which floated fitfully to us on the

passing breeze, and so faintly, so softly, that we hardly knew

whether we heard it with our ears or with our spirits.

We reached the monastery before dark, and there the males were

given lodging, but the women were sent over to the nunnery. The

bells were close at hand now, and their solemn booming smote

upon the ear like a message of doom. A superstitious despair

possessed the heart of every monk and published itself in his

ghastly face. Everywhere, these black-robed, soft-sandaled,

tallow-visaged specters appeared, flitted about and disappeared,

noiseless as the creatures of a troubled dream, and as uncanny.

The old abbot’s joy to see me was pathetic. Even to tears; but

he did the shedding himself. He said:

“Delay not, son, but get to thy saving work. An we bring not

the water back again, and soon, we are ruined, and the good work

of two hundred years must end. And see thou do it with enchantments

that be holy, for the Church will not endure that work in her cause

be done by devil’s magic.”

“When I work, Father, be sure there will be no devil’s work

connected with it. I shall use no arts that come of the devil,

and no elements not created by the hand of God. But is Merlin

working strictly on pious lines?”

“Ah, he said he would, my son, he said he would, and took oath

to make his promise good.”

“Well, in that case, let him proceed.”

“But surely you will not sit idle by, but help?”

“It will not answer to mix methods, Father; neither would it be

professional courtesy. Two of a trade must not underbid each

other. We might as well cut rates and be done with it; it would

arrive at that in the end. Merlin has the contract; no other

magician can touch it till he throws it up.”

“But I will take it from him; it is a terrible emergency and the

act is thereby justified. And if it were not so, who will give

law to the Church? The Church giveth law to all; and what she

wills to do, that she may do, hurt whom it may. I will take it

from him; you shall begin upon the moment.”

“It may not be, Father. No doubt, as you say, where power is

supreme, one can do as one likes and suffer no injury; but we poor

magicians are not so situated. Merlin is a very good magician

in a small way, and has quite a neat provincial reputation. He

is struggling along, doing the best he can, and it would not be

etiquette for me to take his job until he himself abandons it.”

The abbot’s face lighted.

“Ah, that is simple. There are ways to persuade him to abandon it.”

“No-no, Father, it skills not, as these people say. If he were

persuaded against his will, he would load that well with a malicious

enchantment which would balk me until I found out its secret.

It might take a month. I could set up a little enchantment of

mine which I call the telephone, and he could not find out its

secret in a hundred years. Yes, you perceive, he might block me

for a month. Would you like to risk a month in a dry time like this?”

“A month! The mere thought of it maketh me to shudder. Have it

thy way, my son. But my heart is heavy with this disappointment.

Leave me, and let me wear my spirit with weariness and waiting,

even as I have done these ten long days, counterfeiting thus

the thing that is called rest, the prone body making outward sign

of repose where inwardly is none.”

Of course, it would have been best, all round, for Merlin to waive

etiquette and quit and call it half a day, since he would never be

able to start that water, for he was a true magician of the time;

which is to say, the big miracles, the ones that gave him his

reputation, always had the luck to be performed when nobody but

Merlin was present; he couldn’t start this well with all this crowd

around to see; a crowd was as bad for a magician’s miracle in

that day as it was for a spiritualist’s miracle in mine; there was

sure to be some skeptic on hand to turn up the gas at the crucial

moment and spoil everything. But I did not want Merlin to retire

from the job until I was ready to take hold of it effectively

myself; and I could not do that until I got my things from Camelot,

and that would take two or three days.

My presence gave the monks hope, and cheered them up a good deal;

insomuch that they ate a square meal that night for the first time

in ten days. As soon as their stomachs had been properly reinforced

with food, their spirits began to rise fast; when the mead began to

go round they rose faster. By the time everybody was half-seas over,

the holy community was in good shape to make a night of it; so we

stayed by the board and put it through on that line. Matters got

to be very jolly. Good old questionable stories were told that made

the tears run down and cavernous mouths stand wide and the round

bellies shake with laughter; and questionable songs were bellowed out

in a mighty chorus that drowned the boom of the tolling bells.

At last I ventured a story myself; and vast was the success of it.

Not right off, of course, for the native of those islands does

not, as a rule, dissolve upon the early applications of a humorous

thing; but the fifth time I told it, they began to crack in places;

the eight time I told it, they began to crumble; at the twelfth

repetition they fell apart in chunks; and at the fifteenth they

disintegrated, and I got a broom and swept them up. This language

is figurative. Those islanders--well, they are slow pay at first,

in the matter of return for your investment of effort, but in the end

they make the pay of all other nations poor and small by contrast.

I was at the well next day betimes. Merlin was there, enchanting

away like a beaver, but not raising the moisture. He was not in

a pleasant humor; and every time I hinted that perhaps this contract

was a shade too hefty for a novice he unlimbered his tongue and

cursed like a bishop--French bishop of the Regency days, I mean.

Matters were about as I expected to find them. The “fountain” was

an ordinary well, it had been dug in the ordinary way, and stoned up

in the ordinary way. There was no miracle about it. Even the lie

that had created its reputation was not miraculous; I could have

told it myself, with one hand tied behind me. The well was in a

dark chamber which stood in the center of a cut-stone chapel, whose

walls were hung with pious pictures of a workmanship that would

have made a chromo feel good; pictures historically commemorative

of curative miracles which had been achieved by the waters when

nobody was looking. That is, nobody but angels; they are always

on deck when there is a miracle to the fore--so as to get put in

the picture, perhaps. Angels are as fond of that as a fire company;

look at the old masters.

The well-chamber was dimly lighted by lamps; the water was drawn

with a windlass and chain by monks, and poured into troughs which

delivered it into stone reservoirs outside in the chapel--when

there was water to draw, I mean--and none but monks could enter

the well-chamber. I entered it, for I had temporary authority

to do so, by courtesy of my professional brother and subordinate.

But he hadn’t entered it himself. He did everything by incantations;

he never worked his intellect. If he had stepped in there and used

his eyes, instead of his disordered mind, he could have cured

the well by natural means, and then turned it into a miracle in

the customary way; but no, he was an old numskull, a magician who

believed in his own magic; and no magician can thrive who is

handicapped with a superstition like that.

I had an idea that the well had sprung a leak; that some of the

wall stones near the bottom had fallen and exposed fissures that

allowed the water to escape. I measured the chain--98 feet. Then

I called in a couple of monks, locked the door, took a candle, and

made them lower me in the bucket. When the chain was all paid out,

the candle confirmed my suspicion; a considerable section of the

wall was gone, exposing a good big fissure.

I almost regretted that my theory about the well’s trouble was

correct, because I had another one that had a showy point or two

about it for a miracle. I remembered that in America, many

centuries later, when an oil well ceased to flow, they used to

blast it out with a dynamite torpedo. If I should find this well

dry and no explanation of it, I could astonish these people most

nobly by having a person of no especial value drop a dynamite

bomb into it. It was my idea to appoint Merlin. However, it was

plain that there was no occasion for the bomb. One cannot have

everything the way he would like it. A man has no business to

be depressed by a disappointment, anyway; he ought to make up his

mind to get even. That is what I did. I said to myself, I am in no

hurry, I can wait; that bomb will come good yet. And it did, too.

When I was above ground again, I turned out the monks, and let down

a fish-line; the well was a hundred and fifty feet deep, and there

was forty-one feet of water in it. I called in a monk and asked:

“How deep is the well?”

“That, sir, I wit not, having never been told.”

“How does the water usually stand in it?”

“Near to the top, these two centuries, as the testimony goeth,

brought down to us through our predecessors.”

It was true--as to recent times at least--for there was witness

to it, and better witness than a monk; only about twenty or thirty

feet of the chain showed wear and use, the rest of it was unworn

and rusty. What had happened when the well gave out that other

time? Without doubt some practical person had come along and

mended the leak, and then had come up and told the abbot he had

discovered by divination that if the sinful bath were destroyed

the well would flow again. The leak had befallen again now, and

these children would have prayed, and processioned, and tolled

their bells for heavenly succor till they all dried up and blew

away, and no innocent of them all would ever have thought to drop

a fish-line into the well or go down in it and find out what was

really the matter. Old habit of mind is one of the toughest things

to get away from in the world. It transmits itself like physical

form and feature; and for a man, in those days, to have had an idea

that his ancestors hadn’t had, would have brought him under suspicion

of being illegitimate. I said to the monk:

“It is a difficult miracle to restore water in a dry well, but we

will try, if my brother Merlin fails. Brother Merlin is a very

passable artist, but only in the parlor-magic line, and he may

not succeed; in fact, is not likely to succeed. But that should

be nothing to his discredit; the man that can do _this_ kind of

miracle knows enough to keep hotel.”

“Hotel? I mind not to have heard--”

“Of hotel? It’s what you call hostel. The man that can do this

miracle can keep hostel. I can do this miracle; I shall do this

miracle; yet I do not try to conceal from you that it is a miracle

to tax the occult powers to the last strain.”

“None knoweth that truth better than the brotherhood, indeed; for

it is of record that aforetime it was parlous difficult and took

a year. Natheless, God send you good success, and to that end

will we pray.”

As a matter of business it was a good idea to get the notion around

that the thing was difficult. Many a small thing has been made

large by the right kind of advertising. That monk was filled up

with the difficulty of this enterprise; he would fill up the others.

In two days the solicitude would be booming.

On my way home at noon, I met Sandy. She had been sampling the

hermits. I said:

“I would like to do that myself. This is Wednesday. Is there

a matinee?”

“A which, please you, sir?”

“Matinee. Do they keep open afternoons?”

“Who?”

“The hermits, of course.”

“Keep open?”

“Yes, keep open. Isn’t that plain enough? Do they knock off at noon?”

“Knock off?”

“Knock off?--yes, knock off. What is the matter with knock off?

I never saw such a dunderhead; can’t you understand anything at all?

In plain terms, do they shut up shop, draw the game, bank the fires--”

“Shut up shop, draw--”

“There, never mind, let it go; you make me tired. You can’t seem

to understand the simplest thing.”

“I would I might please thee, sir, and it is to me dole and sorrow

that I fail, albeit sith I am but a simple damsel and taught of

none, being from the cradle unbaptized in those deep waters of

learning that do anoint with a sovereignty him that partaketh of

that most noble sacrament, investing him with reverend state to

the mental eye of the humble mortal who, by bar and lack of that

great consecration seeth in his own unlearned estate but a symbol

of that other sort of lack and loss which men do publish to the

pitying eye with sackcloth trappings whereon the ashes of grief

do lie bepowdered and bestrewn, and so, when such shall in the

darkness of his mind encounter these golden phrases of high mystery,

these shut-up-shops, and draw-the-game, and bank-the-fires, it is

but by the grace of God that he burst not for envy of the mind that

can beget, and tongue that can deliver so great and mellow-sounding

miracles of speech, and if there do ensue confusion in that humbler

mind, and failure to divine the meanings of these wonders, then

if so be this miscomprehension is not vain but sooth and true,

wit ye well it is the very substance of worshipful dear homage and

may not lightly be misprized, nor had been, an ye had noted this

complexion of mood and mind and understood that that I would

I could not, and that I could not I might not, nor yet nor might

_nor_ could, nor might-not nor could-not, might be by advantage

turned to the desired _would_, and so I pray you mercy of my fault,

and that ye will of your kindness and your charity forgive it, good

my master and most dear lord.”

I couldn’t make it all out--that is, the details--but I got the

general idea; and enough of it, too, to be ashamed. It was not

fair to spring those nineteenth century technicalities upon the

untutored infant of the sixth and then rail at her because she

couldn’t get their drift; and when she was making the honest best

drive at it she could, too, and no fault of hers that she couldn’t

fetch the home plate; and so I apologized. Then we meandered

pleasantly away toward the hermit holes in sociable converse

together, and better friends than ever.

I was gradually coming to have a mysterious and shuddery reverence

for this girl; nowadays whenever she pulled out from the station

and got her train fairly started on one of those horizonless

transcontinental sentences of hers, it was borne in upon me that

I was standing in the awful presence of the Mother of the German

Language. I was so impressed with this, that sometimes when she

began to empty one of these sentences on me I unconsciously took

the very attitude of reverence, and stood uncovered; and if words

had been water, I had been drowned, sure. She had exactly the

German way; whatever was in her mind to be delivered, whether a

mere remark, or a sermon, or a cyclopedia, or the history of a war,

she would get it into a single sentence or die. Whenever the literary

German dives into a sentence, that is the last you are going to see

of him till he emerges on the other side of his Atlantic with his

verb in his mouth.

We drifted from hermit to hermit all the afternoon. It was a most

strange menagerie. The chief emulation among them seemed to be,

to see which could manage to be the uncleanest and most prosperous

with vermin. Their manner and attitudes were the last expression

of complacent self-righteousness. It was one anchorite’s pride

to lie naked in the mud and let the insects bite him and blister

him unmolested; it was another’s to lean against a rock, all day

long, conspicuous to the admiration of the throng of pilgrims

and pray; it was another’s to go naked and crawl around on all fours;

it was another’s to drag about with him, year in and year out,

eighty pounds of iron; it was another’s to never lie down when

he slept, but to stand among the thorn-bushes and snore when there

were pilgrims around to look; a woman, who had the white hair of

age, and no other apparel, was black from crown to heel with

forty-seven years of holy abstinence from water. Groups of gazing

pilgrims stood around all and every of these strange objects, lost

in reverent wonder, and envious of the fleckless sanctity which

these pious austerities had won for them from an exacting heaven.

By and by we went to see one of the supremely great ones. He was

a mighty celebrity; his fame had penetrated all Christendom; the

noble and the renowned journeyed from the remotest lands on the globe

to pay him reverence. His stand was in the center of the widest part

of the valley; and it took all that space to hold his crowds.

His stand was a pillar sixty feet high, with a broad platform on

the top of it. He was now doing what he had been doing every day

for twenty years up there--bowing his body ceaselessly and rapidly

almost to his feet. It was his way of praying. I timed him with a

stop watch, and he made 1,244 revolutions in 24 minutes and

46 seconds. It seemed a pity to have all this power going to waste.

It was one of the most useful motions in mechanics, the pedal

movement; so I made a note in my memorandum book, purposing some

day to apply a system of elastic cords to him and run a sewing

machine with it. I afterward carried out that scheme, and got

five years’ good service out of him; in which time he turned out

upward of eighteen thousand first-rate tow-linen shirts, which

was ten a day. I worked him Sundays and all; he was going, Sundays,

the same as week days, and it was no use to waste the power.

These shirts cost me nothing but just the mere trifle for the

materials--I furnished those myself, it would not have been right

to make him do that--and they sold like smoke to pilgrims at a

dollar and a half apiece, which was the price of fifty cows or

a blooded race horse in Arthurdom. They were regarded as a perfect

protection against sin, and advertised as such by my knights

everywhere, with the paint-pot and stencil-plate; insomuch that

there was not a cliff or a bowlder or a dead wall in England but

you could read on it at a mile distance:

“Buy the only genuine St. Stylite; patronized by the Nobility.

Patent applied for.”

There was more money in the business than one knew what to do with.

As it extended, I brought out a line of goods suitable for kings,

and a nobby thing for duchesses and that sort, with ruffles down

the forehatch and the running-gear clewed up with a featherstitch

to leeward and then hauled aft with a back-stay and triced up with

a half-turn in the standing rigging forward of the weather-gaskets.

Yes, it was a daisy.

But about that time I noticed that the motive power had taken to

standing on one leg, and I found that there was something the matter

with the other one; so I stocked the business and unloaded, taking

Sir Bors de Ganis into camp financially along with certain of his

friends; for the works stopped within a year, and the good saint

got him to his rest. But he had earned it. I can say that for him.

When I saw him that first time--however, his personal condition

will not quite bear description here. You can read it in the

Lives of the Saints.*

[*All the details concerning the hermits, in this chapter, are from

Lecky--but greatly modified. This book not being a history but

only a tale, the majority of the historian’s frank details were too

strong for reproduction in it.--_Editor_]

CHAPTER XXIII

RESTORATION OF THE FOUNTAIN

Saturday noon I went to the well and looked on a while. Merlin

was still burning smoke-powders, and pawing the air, and muttering

gibberish as hard as ever, but looking pretty down-hearted, for

of course he had not started even a perspiration in that well yet.

Finally I said:

“How does the thing promise by this time, partner?”

“Behold, I am even now busied with trial of the powerfulest

enchantment known to the princes of the occult arts in the lands

of the East; an it fail me, naught can avail. Peace, until I finish.”

He raised a smoke this time that darkened all the region, and must

have made matters uncomfortable for the hermits, for the wind

was their way, and it rolled down over their dens in a dense and

billowy fog. He poured out volumes of speech to match, and contorted

his body and sawed the air with his hands in a most extraordinary

way. At the end of twenty minutes he dropped down panting, and

about exhausted. Now arrived the abbot and several hundred monks

and nuns, and behind them a multitude of pilgrims and a couple of

acres of foundlings, all drawn by the prodigious smoke, and all

in a grand state of excitement. The abbot inquired anxiously for

results. Merlin said:

“If any labor of mortal might break the spell that binds these

waters, this which I have but just essayed had done it. It has

failed; whereby I do now know that that which I had feared is

a truth established; the sign of this failure is, that the most

potent spirit known to the magicians of the East, and whose name

none may utter and live, has laid his spell upon this well. The

mortal does not breathe, nor ever will, who can penetrate the secret

of that spell, and without that secret none can break it. The

water will flow no more forever, good Father. I have done what

man could. Suffer me to go.”

Of course this threw the abbot into a good deal of a consternation.

He turned to me with the signs of it in his face, and said:

“Ye have heard him. Is it true?”

“Part of it is.”

“Not all, then, not all! What part is true?”

“That that spirit with the Russian name has put his spell

upon the well.”

“God’s wounds, then are we ruined!”

“Possibly.”

“But not certainly? Ye mean, not certainly?”

“That is it.”

“Wherefore, ye also mean that when he saith none can break the spell--”

“Yes, when he says that, he says what isn’t necessarily true.

There are conditions under which an effort to break it may have

some chance--that is, some small, some trifling chance--of success.”

“The conditions--”

“Oh, they are nothing difficult. Only these: I want the well

and the surroundings for the space of half a mile, entirely to

myself from sunset to-day until I remove the ban--and nobody

allowed to cross the ground but by my authority.”

“Are these all?”

“Yes.”

“And you have no fear to try?”

“Oh, none. One may fail, of course; and one may also succeed.

One can try, and I am ready to chance it. I have my conditions?”

“These and all others ye may name. I will issue commandment

to that effect.”

“Wait,” said Merlin, with an evil smile. “Ye wit that he that

would break this spell must know that spirit’s name?”

“Yes, I know his name.”

“And wit you also that to know it skills not of itself, but ye

must likewise pronounce it? Ha-ha! Knew ye that?”

“Yes, I knew that, too.”

“You had that knowledge! Art a fool? Are ye minded to utter

that name and die?”

“Utter it? Why certainly. I would utter it if it was Welsh.”

“Ye are even a dead man, then; and I go to tell Arthur.”

“That’s all right. Take your gripsack and get along. The thing

for _you_ to do is to go home and work the weather, John W. Merlin.”

It was a home shot, and it made him wince; for he was the worst

weather-failure in the kingdom. Whenever he ordered up the

danger-signals along the coast there was a week’s dead calm, sure,

and every time he prophesied fair weather it rained brickbats.

But I kept him in the weather bureau right along, to undermine

his reputation. However, that shot raised his bile, and instead

of starting home to report my death, he said he would remain

and enjoy it.

My two experts arrived in the evening, and pretty well fagged,

for they had traveled double tides. They had pack-mules along,

and had brought everything I needed--tools, pump, lead pipe,

Greek fire, sheaves of big rockets, roman candles, colored fire

sprays, electric apparatus, and a lot of sundries--everything

necessary for the stateliest kind of a miracle. They got their

supper and a nap, and about midnight we sallied out through a

solitude so wholly vacant and complete that it quite overpassed

the required conditions. We took possession of the well and its

surroundings. My boys were experts in all sorts of things, from

the stoning up of a well to the constructing of a mathematical

instrument. An hour before sunrise we had that leak mended in

ship-shape fashion, and the water began to rise. Then we stowed our

fireworks in the chapel, locked up the place, and went home to bed.

Before the noon mass was over, we were at the well again; for there

was a deal to do yet, and I was determined to spring the miracle

before midnight, for business reasons: for whereas a miracle

worked for the Church on a week-day is worth a good deal, it is

worth six times as much if you get it in on a Sunday. In nine hours

the water had risen to its customary level--that is to say, it was

within twenty-three feet of the top. We put in a little iron pump,

one of the first turned out by my works near the capital; we bored

into a stone reservoir which stood against the outer wall of the

well-chamber and inserted a section of lead pipe that was long

enough to reach to the door of the chapel and project beyond

the threshold, where the gushing water would be visible to the

two hundred and fifty acres of people I was intending should be

present on the flat plain in front of this little holy hillock at

the proper time.

We knocked the head out of an empty hogshead and hoisted this

hogshead to the flat roof of the chapel, where we clamped it down

fast, poured in gunpowder till it lay loosely an inch deep on the

bottom, then we stood up rockets in the hogshead as thick as they

could loosely stand, all the different breeds of rockets there are;

and they made a portly and imposing sheaf, I can tell you. We

grounded the wire of a pocket electrical battery in that powder,

we placed a whole magazine of Greek fire on each corner of the

roof--blue on one corner, green on another, red on another, and

purple on the last--and grounded a wire in each.

About two hundred yards off, in the flat, we built a pen of

scantlings, about four feet high, and laid planks on it, and so

made a platform. We covered it with swell tapestries borrowed

for the occasion, and topped it off with the abbot’s own throne.

When you are going to do a miracle for an ignorant race, you want

to get in every detail that will count; you want to make all the

properties impressive to the public eye; you want to make matters

comfortable for your head guest; then you can turn yourself loose

and play your effects for all they are worth. I know the value of

these things, for I know human nature. You can’t throw too much

style into a miracle. It costs trouble, and work, and sometimes

money; but it pays in the end. Well, we brought the wires to

the ground at the chapel, and then brought them under the ground

to the platform, and hid the batteries there. We put a rope fence

a hundred feet square around the platform to keep off the common

multitude, and that finished the work. My idea was, doors open

at 10:30, performance to begin at 11:25 sharp. I wished I could

charge admission, but of course that wouldn’t answer. I instructed

my boys to be in the chapel as early as 10, before anybody was

around, and be ready to man the pumps at the proper time, and

make the fur fly. Then we went home to supper.

The news of the disaster to the well had traveled far by this time;

and now for two or three days a steady avalanche of people had

been pouring into the valley. The lower end of the valley was

become one huge camp; we should have a good house, no question

about that. Criers went the rounds early in the evening and

announced the coming attempt, which put every pulse up to fever

heat. They gave notice that the abbot and his official suite would

move in state and occupy the platform at 10:30, up to which time

all the region which was under my ban must be clear; the bells

would then cease from tolling, and this sign should be permission

to the multitudes to close in and take their places.

I was at the platform and all ready to do the honors when the

abbot’s solemn procession hove in sight--which it did not do till

it was nearly to the rope fence, because it was a starless black

night and no torches permitted. With it came Merlin, and took

a front seat on the platform; he was as good as his word for once.

One could not see the multitudes banked together beyond the ban,

but they were there, just the same. The moment the bells stopped,

those banked masses broke and poured over the line like a vast

black wave, and for as much as a half hour it continued to flow,

and then it solidified itself, and you could have walked upon

a pavement of human heads to--well, miles.

We had a solemn stage-wait, now, for about twenty minutes--a thing

I had counted on for effect; it is always good to let your audience

have a chance to work up its expectancy. At length, out of the

silence a noble Latin chant--men’s voices--broke and swelled up

and rolled away into the night, a majestic tide of melody. I had

put that up, too, and it was one of the best effects I ever invented.

When it was finished I stood up on the platform and extended my

hands abroad, for two minutes, with my face uplifted--that always

produces a dead hush--and then slowly pronounced this ghastly word

with a kind of awfulness which caused hundreds to tremble, and

many women to faint:

“Constantinopolitanischerdudelsackspfeifenmachersgesellschafft!”

Just as I was moaning out the closing hunks of that word, I touched

off one of my electric connections and all that murky world of

people stood revealed in a hideous blue glare! It was immense

--that effect! Lots of people shrieked, women curled up and quit

in every direction, foundlings collapsed by platoons. The abbot

and the monks crossed themselves nimbly and their lips fluttered

with agitated prayers. Merlin held his grip, but he was astonished

clear down to his corns; he had never seen anything to begin

with that, before. Now was the time to pile in the effects. I lifted

my hands and groaned out this word--as it were in agony:

“Nihilistendynamittheaterkaestchenssprengungsattentaetsversuchungen!”

--and turned on the red fire! You should have heard that Atlantic

of people moan and howl when that crimson hell joined the blue!

After sixty seconds I shouted:

“Transvaaltruppentropentransporttrampelthiertreibertrauungsthraenen-

tragoedie!”

--and lit up the green fire! After waiting only forty seconds this

time, I spread my arms abroad and thundered out the devastating

syllables of this word of words:

“Mekkamuselmannenmassenmenchenmoerdermohrenmuttermarmormonumentenmacher!”

--and whirled on the purple glare! There they were, all going

at once, red, blue, green, purple!--four furious volcanoes pouring

vast clouds of radiant smoke aloft, and spreading a blinding

rainbowed noonday to the furthest confines of that valley. In

the distance one could see that fellow on the pillar standing rigid

against the background of sky, his seesaw stopped for the first

time in twenty years. I knew the boys were at the pump now and

ready. So I said to the abbot:

“The time is come, Father. I am about to pronounce the dread name

and command the spell to dissolve. You want to brace up, and take

hold of something.” Then I shouted to the people: “Behold, in

another minute the spell will be broken, or no mortal can break it.

If it break, all will know it, for you will see the sacred water

gush from the chapel door!”

I stood a few moments, to let the hearers have a chance to spread

my announcement to those who couldn’t hear, and so convey it

to the furthest ranks, then I made a grand exhibition of extra

posturing and gesturing, and shouted:

“Lo, I command the fell spirit that possesses the holy fountain

to now disgorge into the skies all the infernal fires that still

remain in him, and straightway dissolve his spell and flee hence

to the pit, there to lie bound a thousand years. By his own dread

name I command it--BGWJJILLIGKKK!”

Then I touched off the hogshead of rockets, and a vast fountain of

dazzling lances of fire vomited itself toward the zenith with a

hissing rush, and burst in mid-sky into a storm of flashing jewels!

One mighty groan of terror started up from the massed people

--then suddenly broke into a wild hosannah of joy--for there, fair

and plain in the uncanny glare, they saw the freed water leaping

forth! The old abbot could not speak a word, for tears and the

chokings in his throat; without utterance of any sort, he folded me

in his arms and mashed me. It was more eloquent than speech.

And harder to get over, too, in a country where there were really

no doctors that were worth a damaged nickel.

You should have seen those acres of people throw themselves down

in that water and kiss it; kiss it, and pet it, and fondle it, and

talk to it as if it were alive, and welcome it back with the dear

names they gave their darlings, just as if it had been a friend who

was long gone away and lost, and was come home again. Yes, it was

pretty to see, and made me think more of them than I had done before.

I sent Merlin home on a shutter. He had caved in and gone down

like a landslide when I pronounced that fearful name, and had

never come to since. He never had heard that name before,--neither

had I--but to him it was the right one. Any jumble would have

been the right one. He admitted, afterward, that that spirit’s own

mother could not have pronounced that name better than I did.

He never could understand how I survived it, and I didn’t tell

him. It is only young magicians that give away a secret like that.

Merlin spent three months working enchantments to try to find out

the deep trick of how to pronounce that name and outlive it.

But he didn’t arrive.

When I started to the chapel, the populace uncovered and fell back

reverently to make a wide way for me, as if I had been some kind

of a superior being--and I was. I was aware of that. I took along

a night shift of monks, and taught them the mystery of the pump,

and set them to work, for it was plain that a good part of the

people out there were going to sit up with the water all night,

consequently it was but right that they should have all they wanted

of it. To those monks that pump was a good deal of a miracle

itself, and they were full of wonder over it; and of admiration,

too, of the exceeding effectiveness of its performance.

It was a great night, an immense night. There was reputation in it.

I could hardly get to sleep for glorying over it.

CHAPTER XXIV

A RIVAL MAGICIAN

My influence in the Valley of Holiness was something prodigious

now. It seemed worth while to try to turn it to some valuable

account. The thought came to me the next morning, and was suggested

by my seeing one of my knights who was in the soap line come

riding in. According to history, the monks of this place two

centuries before had been worldly minded enough to want to wash.

It might be that there was a leaven of this unrighteousness still

remaining. So I sounded a Brother:

“Wouldn’t you like a bath?”

He shuddered at the thought--the thought of the peril of it to

the well--but he said with feeling:

“One needs not to ask that of a poor body who has not known that

blessed refreshment sith that he was a boy. Would God I might

wash me! but it may not be, fair sir, tempt me not; it is forbidden.”

And then he sighed in such a sorrowful way that I was resolved

he should have at least one layer of his real estate removed,

if it sized up my whole influence and bankrupted the pile. So I

went to the abbot and asked for a permit for this Brother. He

blenched at the idea--I don’t mean that you could see him blench,

for of course you couldn’t see it without you scraped him, and

I didn’t care enough about it to scrape him, but I knew the blench

was there, just the same, and within a book-cover’s thickness of

the surface, too--blenched, and trembled. He said:

“Ah, son, ask aught else thou wilt, and it is thine, and freely

granted out of a grateful heart--but this, oh, this! Would you

drive away the blessed water again?”

“No, Father, I will not drive it away. I have mysterious knowledge

which teaches me that there was an error that other time when

it was thought the institution of the bath banished the fountain.”

A large interest began to show up in the old man’s face. “My

knowledge informs me that the bath was innocent of that misfortune,

which was caused by quite another sort of sin.”

“These are brave words--but--but right welcome, if they be true.”

“They are true, indeed. Let me build the bath again, Father.

Let me build it again, and the fountain shall flow forever.”

“You promise this?--you promise it? Say the word--say you promise it!”

“I do promise it.”

“Then will I have the first bath myself! Go--get ye to your work.

Tarry not, tarry not, but go.”

I and my boys were at work, straight off. The ruins of the old

bath were there yet in the basement of the monastery, not a stone

missing. They had been left just so, all these lifetimes, and

avoided with a pious fear, as things accursed. In two days we

had it all done and the water in--a spacious pool of clear pure

water that a body could swim in. It was running water, too.

It came in, and went out, through the ancient pipes. The old abbot

kept his word, and was the first to try it. He went down black

and shaky, leaving the whole black community above troubled and

worried and full of bodings; but he came back white and joyful,

and the game was made! another triumph scored.

It was a good campaign that we made in that Valley of Holiness,

and I was very well satisfied, and ready to move on now, but

I struck a disappointment. I caught a heavy cold, and it started

up an old lurking rheumatism of mine. Of course the rheumatism

hunted up my weakest place and located itself there. This was

the place where the abbot put his arms about me and mashed me, what

time he was moved to testify his gratitude to me with an embrace.

When at last I got out, I was a shadow. But everybody was full

of attentions and kindnesses, and these brought cheer back into

my life, and were the right medicine to help a convalescent swiftly

up toward health and strength again; so I gained fast.

Sandy was worn out with nursing; so I made up my mind to turn out

and go a cruise alone, leaving her at the nunnery to rest up.

My idea was to disguise myself as a freeman of peasant degree

and wander through the country a week or two on foot. This would

give me a chance to eat and lodge with the lowliest and poorest

class of free citizens on equal terms. There was no other way

to inform myself perfectly of their everyday life and the operation

of the laws upon it. If I went among them as a gentleman, there

would be restraints and conventionalities which would shut me out

from their private joys and troubles, and I should get no further

than the outside shell.

One morning I was out on a long walk to get up muscle for my trip,

and had climbed the ridge which bordered the northern extremity

of the valley, when I came upon an artificial opening in the face

of a low precipice, and recognized it by its location as a hermitage

which had often been pointed out to me from a distance as the den

of a hermit of high renown for dirt and austerity. I knew he had

lately been offered a situation in the Great Sahara, where lions

and sandflies made the hermit-life peculiarly attractive and

difficult, and had gone to Africa to take possession, so I thought

I would look in and see how the atmosphere of this den agreed

with its reputation.

My surprise was great: the place was newly swept and scoured.

Then there was another surprise. Back in the gloom of the cavern

I heard the clink of a little bell, and then this exclamation:

“Hello Central! Is this you, Camelot?--Behold, thou mayst glad

thy heart an thou hast faith to believe the wonderful when that

it cometh in unexpected guise and maketh itself manifest in

impossible places--here standeth in the flesh his mightiness

The Boss, and with thine own ears shall ye hear him speak!”

Now what a radical reversal of things this was; what a jumbling

together of extravagant incongruities; what a fantastic conjunction

of opposites and irreconcilables--the home of the bogus miracle

become the home of a real one, the den of a mediaeval hermit turned

into a telephone office!

The telephone clerk stepped into the light, and I recognized one

of my young fellows. I said:

“How long has this office been established here, Ulfius?”

“But since midnight, fair Sir Boss, an it please you. We saw many

lights in the valley, and so judged it well to make a station,

for that where so many lights be needs must they indicate a town

of goodly size.”

“Quite right. It isn’t a town in the customary sense, but it’s

a good stand, anyway. Do you know where you are?”

“Of that I have had no time to make inquiry; for whenas my

comradeship moved hence upon their labors, leaving me in charge,

I got me to needed rest, purposing to inquire when I waked, and

report the place’s name to Camelot for record.”

“Well, this is the Valley of Holiness.”

It didn’t take; I mean, he didn’t start at the name, as I had

supposed he would. He merely said:

“I will so report it.”

“Why, the surrounding regions are filled with the noise of late

wonders that have happened here! You didn’t hear of them?”

“Ah, ye will remember we move by night, and avoid speech with all.

We learn naught but that we get by the telephone from Camelot.”

“Why _they_ know all about this thing. Haven’t they told you anything

about the great miracle of the restoration of a holy fountain?”

“Oh, _that_? Indeed yes. But the name of _this_ valley doth woundily

differ from the name of _that_ one; indeed to differ wider were not pos--”

“What was that name, then?”

“The Valley of Hellishness.”

“_That_ explains it. Confound a telephone, anyway. It is the very

demon for conveying similarities of sound that are miracles of

divergence from similarity of sense. But no matter, you know

the name of the place now. Call up Camelot.”

He did it, and had Clarence sent for. It was good to hear my boy’s

voice again. It was like being home. After some affectionate

interchanges, and some account of my late illness, I said:

“What is new?”

“The king and queen and many of the court do start even in this

hour, to go to your valley to pay pious homage to the waters ye

have restored, and cleanse themselves of sin, and see the place

where the infernal spirit spouted true hell-flames to the clouds

--an ye listen sharply ye may hear me wink and hear me likewise

smile a smile, sith ‘twas I that made selection of those flames

from out our stock and sent them by your order.”

“Does the king know the way to this place?”

“The king?--no, nor to any other in his realms, mayhap; but the lads

that holp you with your miracle will be his guide and lead the way,

and appoint the places for rests at noons and sleeps at night.”

“This will bring them here--when?”

“Mid-afternoon, or later, the third day.”

“Anything else in the way of news?”

“The king hath begun the raising of the standing army ye suggested

to him; one regiment is complete and officered.”

“The mischief! I wanted a main hand in that myself. There is

only one body of men in the kingdom that are fitted to officer

a regular army.”

“Yes--and now ye will marvel to know there’s not so much as one

West Pointer in that regiment.”

“What are you talking about? Are you in earnest?”

“It is truly as I have said.”

“Why, this makes me uneasy. Who were chosen, and what was the

method? Competitive examination?”

“Indeed, I know naught of the method. I but know this--these

officers be all of noble family, and are born--what is it you

call it?--chuckleheads.”

“There’s something wrong, Clarence.”

“Comfort yourself, then; for two candidates for a lieutenancy do

travel hence with the king--young nobles both--and if you but wait

where you are you will hear them questioned.”

“That is news to the purpose. I will get one West Pointer in,

anyway. Mount a man and send him to that school with a message;

let him kill horses, if necessary, but he must be there before

sunset to-night and say--”

“There is no need. I have laid a ground wire to the school.

Prithee let me connect you with it.”

It sounded good! In this atmosphere of telephones and lightning

communication with distant regions, I was breathing the breath

of life again after long suffocation. I realized, then, what a

creepy, dull, inanimate horror this land had been to me all these

years, and how I had been in such a stifled condition of mind as

to have grown used to it almost beyond the power to notice it.

I gave my order to the superintendent of the Academy personally.

I also asked him to bring me some paper and a fountain pen and

a box or so of safety matches. I was getting tired of doing

without these conveniences. I could have them now, as I wasn’t

going to wear armor any more at present, and therefore could get

at my pockets.

When I got back to the monastery, I found a thing of interest

going on. The abbot and his monks were assembled in the great

hall, observing with childish wonder and faith the performances

of a new magician, a fresh arrival. His dress was the extreme of

the fantastic; as showy and foolish as the sort of thing an Indian

medicine-man wears. He was mowing, and mumbling, and gesticulating,

and drawing mystical figures in the air and on the floor,--the

regular thing, you know. He was a celebrity from Asia--so he

said, and that was enough. That sort of evidence was as good

as gold, and passed current everywhere.

How easy and cheap it was to be a great magician on this fellow’s

terms. His specialty was to tell you what any individual on the

face of the globe was doing at the moment; and what he had done

at any time in the past, and what he would do at any time in the

future. He asked if any would like to know what the Emperor of

the East was doing now? The sparkling eyes and the delighted rubbing

of hands made eloquent answer--this reverend crowd _would_ like to

know what that monarch was at, just as this moment. The fraud

went through some more mummery, and then made grave announcement:

“The high and mighty Emperor of the East doth at this moment put

money in the palm of a holy begging friar--one, two, three pieces,

and they be all of silver.”

A buzz of admiring exclamations broke out, all around:

“It is marvelous!” “Wonderful!” “What study, what labor, to have

acquired a so amazing power as this!”

Would they like to know what the Supreme Lord of Inde was doing?

Yes. He told them what the Supreme Lord of Inde was doing. Then

he told them what the Sultan of Egypt was at; also what the King

of the Remote Seas was about. And so on and so on; and with each

new marvel the astonishment at his accuracy rose higher and higher.

They thought he must surely strike an uncertain place some time;

but no, he never had to hesitate, he always knew, and always with

unerring precision. I saw that if this thing went on I should lose

my supremacy, this fellow would capture my following, I should

be left out in the cold. I must put a cog in his wheel, and do it

right away, too. I said:

“If I might ask, I should very greatly like to know what a certain

person is doing.”

“Speak, and freely. I will tell you.”

“It will be difficult--perhaps impossible.”

“My art knoweth not that word. The more difficult it is, the more

certainly will I reveal it to you.”

You see, I was working up the interest. It was getting pretty

high, too; you could see that by the craning necks all around,

and the half-suspended breathing. So now I climaxed it:

“If you make no mistake--if you tell me truly what I want to

know--I will give you two hundred silver pennies.”

“The fortune is mine! I will tell you what you would know.”

“Then tell me what I am doing with my right hand.”

“Ah-h!” There was a general gasp of surprise. It had not occurred

to anybody in the crowd--that simple trick of inquiring about

somebody who wasn’t ten thousand miles away. The magician was

hit hard; it was an emergency that had never happened in his

experience before, and it corked him; he didn’t know how to meet

it. He looked stunned, confused; he couldn’t say a word. “Come,”

I said, “what are you waiting for? Is it possible you can answer up,

right off, and tell what anybody on the other side of the earth is

doing, and yet can’t tell what a person is doing who isn’t three

yards from you? Persons behind me know what I am doing with my

right hand--they will indorse you if you tell correctly.” He was

still dumb. “Very well, I’ll tell you why you don’t speak up and

tell; it is because you don’t know. _You_ a magician! Good friends,

this tramp is a mere fraud and liar.”

This distressed the monks and terrified them. They were not used

to hearing these awful beings called names, and they did not know

what might be the consequence. There was a dead silence now;

superstitious bodings were in every mind. The magician began to

pull his wits together, and when he presently smiled an easy,

nonchalant smile, it spread a mighty relief around; for it indicated

that his mood was not destructive. He said:

“It hath struck me speechless, the frivolity of this person’s

speech. Let all know, if perchance there be any who know it not,

that enchanters of my degree deign not to concern themselves with

the doings of any but kings, princes, emperors, them that be born

in the purple and them only. Had ye asked me what Arthur the great

king is doing, it were another matter, and I had told ye; but the

doings of a subject interest me not.”

“Oh, I misunderstood you. I thought you said ‘anybody,’ and so

I supposed ‘anybody’ included--well, anybody; that is, everybody.”

“It doth--anybody that is of lofty birth; and the better if

he be royal.”

“That, it meseemeth, might well be,” said the abbot, who saw his

opportunity to smooth things and avert disaster, “for it were not

likely that so wonderful a gift as this would be conferred for

the revelation of the concerns of lesser beings than such as be

born near to the summits of greatness. Our Arthur the king--”

“Would you know of him?” broke in the enchanter.

“Most gladly, yea, and gratefully.”

Everybody was full of awe and interest again right away, the

incorrigible idiots. They watched the incantations absorbingly,

and looked at me with a “There, now, what can you say to that?”

air, when the announcement came:

“The king is weary with the chase, and lieth in his palace these

two hours sleeping a dreamless sleep.”

“God’s benison upon him!” said the abbot, and crossed himself;

“may that sleep be to the refreshment of his body and his soul.”

“And so it might be, if he were sleeping,” I said, “but the king

is not sleeping, the king rides.”

Here was trouble again--a conflict of authority. Nobody knew which

of us to believe; I still had some reputation left. The magician’s

scorn was stirred, and he said:

“Lo, I have seen many wonderful soothsayers and prophets and

magicians in my life days, but none before that could sit idle and

see to the heart of things with never an incantation to help.”

“You have lived in the woods, and lost much by it. I use incantations

myself, as this good brotherhood are aware--but only on occasions

of moment.”

When it comes to sarcasming, I reckon I know how to keep my end up.

That jab made this fellow squirm. The abbot inquired after the

queen and the court, and got this information:

“They be all on sleep, being overcome by fatigue, like as to the king.”

I said:

“That is merely another lie. Half of them are about their amusements,

the queen and the other half are not sleeping, they ride. Now

perhaps you can spread yourself a little, and tell us where the king

and queen and all that are this moment riding with them are going?”

“They sleep now, as I said; but on the morrow they will ride,

for they go a journey toward the sea.”

“And where will they be the day after to-morrow at vespers?”

“Far to the north of Camelot, and half their journey will be done.”

“That is another lie, by the space of a hundred and fifty miles.

Their journey will not be merely half done, it will be all done,

and they will be _here_, in this valley.”

_That_ was a noble shot! It set the abbot and the monks in a whirl

of excitement, and it rocked the enchanter to his base. I followed

the thing right up:

“If the king does not arrive, I will have myself ridden on a rail:

if he does I will ride you on a rail instead.”

Next day I went up to the telephone office and found that the king

had passed through two towns that were on the line. I spotted

his progress on the succeeding day in the same way. I kept these

matters to myself. The third day’s reports showed that if he

kept up his gait he would arrive by four in the afternoon. There

was still no sign anywhere of interest in his coming; there seemed

to be no preparations making to receive him in state; a strange

thing, truly. Only one thing could explain this: that other

magician had been cutting under me, sure. This was true. I asked

a friend of mine, a monk, about it, and he said, yes, the magician

had tried some further enchantments and found out that the court

had concluded to make no journey at all, but stay at home. Think

of that! Observe how much a reputation was worth in such a country.

These people had seen me do the very showiest bit of magic in

history, and the only one within their memory that had a positive

value, and yet here they were, ready to take up with an adventurer

who could offer no evidence of his powers but his mere unproven word.

However, it was not good politics to let the king come without

any fuss and feathers at all, so I went down and drummed up a

procession of pilgrims and smoked out a batch of hermits and

started them out at two o’clock to meet him. And that was the

sort of state he arrived in. The abbot was helpless with rage

and humiliation when I brought him out on a balcony and showed

him the head of the state marching in and never a monk on hand to

offer him welcome, and no stir of life or clang of joy-bell to glad

his spirit. He took one look and then flew to rouse out his forces.

The next minute the bells were dinning furiously, and the various

buildings were vomiting monks and nuns, who went swarming in a

rush toward the coming procession; and with them went that magician

--and he was on a rail, too, by the abbot’s order; and his reputation

was in the mud, and mine was in the sky again. Yes, a man can

keep his trademark current in such a country, but he can’t sit

around and do it; he has got to be on deck and attending to business

right along.

CHAPTER XXV

A COMPETITIVE EXAMINATION

When the king traveled for change of air, or made a progress, or

visited a distant noble whom he wished to bankrupt with the cost

of his keep, part of the administration moved with him. It was

a fashion of the time. The Commission charged with the examination

of candidates for posts in the army came with the king to the

Valley, whereas they could have transacted their business just

as well at home. And although this expedition was strictly a

holiday excursion for the king, he kept some of his business

functions going just the same. He touched for the evil, as usual;

he held court in the gate at sunrise and tried cases, for he was

himself Chief Justice of the King’s Bench.

He shone very well in this latter office. He was a wise and humane

judge, and he clearly did his honest best and fairest,--according

to his lights. That is a large reservation. His lights--I mean

his rearing--often colored his decisions. Whenever there was a

dispute between a noble or gentleman and a person of lower degree,

the king’s leanings and sympathies were for the former class always,

whether he suspected it or not. It was impossible that this should

be otherwise. The blunting effects of slavery upon the slaveholder’s

moral perceptions are known and conceded, the world over; and a

privileged class, an aristocracy, is but a band of slaveholders

under another name. This has a harsh sound, and yet should not

be offensive to any--even to the noble himself--unless the fact

itself be an offense: for the statement simply formulates a fact.

The repulsive feature of slavery is the _thing_, not its name. One

needs but to hear an aristocrat speak of the classes that are below

him to recognize--and in but indifferently modified measure

--the very air and tone of the actual slaveholder; and behind these

are the slaveholder’s spirit, the slaveholder’s blunted feeling.

They are the result of the same cause in both cases: the possessor’s

old and inbred custom of regarding himself as a superior being.

The king’s judgments wrought frequent injustices, but it was merely

the fault of his training, his natural and unalterable sympathies.

He was as unfitted for a judgeship as would be the average mother

for the position of milk-distributor to starving children in

famine-time; her own children would fare a shade better than the rest.

One very curious case came before the king. A young girl, an

orphan, who had a considerable estate, married a fine young fellow

who had nothing. The girl’s property was within a seigniory held

by the Church. The bishop of the diocese, an arrogant scion of

the great nobility, claimed the girl’s estate on the ground that

she had married privately, and thus had cheated the Church out

of one of its rights as lord of the seigniory--the one heretofore

referred to as le droit du seigneur. The penalty of refusal or

avoidance was confiscation. The girl’s defense was, that the

lordship of the seigniory was vested in the bishop, and the

particular right here involved was not transferable, but must be

exercised by the lord himself or stand vacated; and that an older

law, of the Church itself, strictly barred the bishop from exercising

it. It was a very odd case, indeed.

It reminded me of something I had read in my youth about the

ingenious way in which the aldermen of London raised the money

that built the Mansion House. A person who had not taken the

Sacrament according to the Anglican rite could not stand as a

candidate for sheriff of London. Thus Dissenters were ineligible;

they could not run if asked, they could not serve if elected.

The aldermen, who without any question were Yankees in disguise,

hit upon this neat device: they passed a by-law imposing a fine

of L400 upon any one who should refuse to be a candidate for

sheriff, and a fine of L600 upon any person who, after being

elected sheriff, refused to serve. Then they went to work and

elected a lot of Dissenters, one after another, and kept it up

until they had collected L15,000 in fines; and there stands the

stately Mansion House to this day, to keep the blushing citizen

in mind of a long past and lamented day when a band of Yankees

slipped into London and played games of the sort that has given

their race a unique and shady reputation among all truly good

and holy peoples that be in the earth.

The girl’s case seemed strong to me; the bishop’s case was just

as strong. I did not see how the king was going to get out of

this hole. But he got out. I append his decision:

“Truly I find small difficulty here, the matter being even a

child’s affair for simpleness. An the young bride had conveyed

notice, as in duty bound, to her feudal lord and proper master

and protector the bishop, she had suffered no loss, for the said

bishop could have got a dispensation making him, for temporary

conveniency, eligible to the exercise of his said right, and thus

would she have kept all she had. Whereas, failing in her first

duty, she hath by that failure failed in all; for whoso, clinging

to a rope, severeth it above his hands, must fall; it being no

defense to claim that the rest of the rope is sound, neither any

deliverance from his peril, as he shall find. Pardy, the woman’s

case is rotten at the source. It is the decree of the court that

she forfeit to the said lord bishop all her goods, even to the

last farthing that she doth possess, and be thereto mulcted in

the costs. Next!”

Here was a tragic end to a beautiful honeymoon not yet three months

old. Poor young creatures! They had lived these three months

lapped to the lips in worldly comforts. These clothes and trinkets

they were wearing were as fine and dainty as the shrewdest stretch

of the sumptuary laws allowed to people of their degree; and in

these pretty clothes, she crying on his shoulder, and he trying

to comfort her with hopeful words set to the music of despair,

they went from the judgment seat out into the world homeless,

bedless, breadless; why, the very beggars by the roadsides were

not so poor as they.

Well, the king was out of the hole; and on terms satisfactory to

the Church and the rest of the aristocracy, no doubt. Men write

many fine and plausible arguments in support of monarchy, but

the fact remains that where every man in a State has a vote, brutal

laws are impossible. Arthur’s people were of course poor material

for a republic, because they had been debased so long by monarchy;

and yet even they would have been intelligent enough to make short

work of that law which the king had just been administering if it

had been submitted to their full and free vote. There is a phrase

which has grown so common in the world’s mouth that it has come

to seem to have sense and meaning--the sense and meaning implied

when it is used; that is the phrase which refers to this or that or

the other nation as possibly being “capable of self-government”;

and the implied sense of it is, that there has been a nation

somewhere, some time or other which _wasn’t_ capable of it--wasn’t as

able to govern itself as some self-appointed specialists were or

would be to govern it. The master minds of all nations, in all

ages, have sprung in affluent multitude from the mass of the nation,

and from the mass of the nation only--not from its privileged

classes; and so, no matter what the nation’s intellectual grade

was; whether high or low, the bulk of its ability was in the long

ranks of its nameless and its poor, and so it never saw the day

that it had not the material in abundance whereby to govern itself.

Which is to assert an always self-proven fact: that even the best

governed and most free and most enlightened monarchy is still

behind the best condition attainable by its people; and that the

same is true of kindred governments of lower grades, all the way

down to the lowest.

King Arthur had hurried up the army business altogether beyond

my calculations. I had not supposed he would move in the matter

while I was away; and so I had not mapped out a scheme for determining

the merits of officers; I had only remarked that it would be wise

to submit every candidate to a sharp and searching examination;

and privately I meant to put together a list of military qualifications

that nobody could answer to but my West Pointers. That ought

to have been attended to before I left; for the king was so taken

with the idea of a standing army that he couldn’t wait but must

get about it at once, and get up as good a scheme of examination

as he could invent out of his own head.

I was impatient to see what this was; and to show, too, how much

more admirable was the one which I should display to the Examining

Board. I intimated this, gently, to the king, and it fired his

curiosity. When the Board was assembled, I followed him in; and

behind us came the candidates. One of these candidates was a bright

young West Pointer of mine, and with him were a couple of my

West Point professors.

When I saw the Board, I did not know whether to cry or to laugh.

The head of it was the officer known to later centuries as Norroy

King-at-Arms! The two other members were chiefs of bureaus in

his department; and all three were priests, of course; all officials

who had to know how to read and write were priests.

My candidate was called first, out of courtesy to me, and the head

of the Board opened on him with official solemnity:

“Name?”

“Mal-ease.”

“Son of?”

“Webster.”

“Webster--Webster. H’m--I--my memory faileth to recall the

name. Condition?”

“Weaver.”

“Weaver!--God keep us!”

The king was staggered, from his summit to his foundations; one

clerk fainted, and the others came near it. The chairman pulled

himself together, and said indignantly:

“It is sufficient. Get you hence.”

But I appealed to the king. I begged that my candidate might be

examined. The king was willing, but the Board, who were all

well-born folk, implored the king to spare them the indignity of

examining the weaver’s son. I knew they didn’t know enough to

examine him anyway, so I joined my prayers to theirs and the king

turned the duty over to my professors. I had had a blackboard

prepared, and it was put up now, and the circus began. It was

beautiful to hear the lad lay out the science of war, and wallow

in details of battle and siege, of supply, transportation, mining

and countermining, grand tactics, big strategy and little strategy,

signal service, infantry, cavalry, artillery, and all about siege

guns, field guns, gatling guns, rifled guns, smooth bores, musket

practice, revolver practice--and not a solitary word of it all

could these catfish make head or tail of, you understand--and it

was handsome to see him chalk off mathematical nightmares on the

blackboard that would stump the angels themselves, and do it like

nothing, too--all about eclipses, and comets, and solstices, and

constellations, and mean time, and sidereal time, and dinner time,

and bedtime, and every other imaginable thing above the clouds or

under them that you could harry or bullyrag an enemy with and make

him wish he hadn’t come--and when the boy made his military salute

and stood aside at last, I was proud enough to hug him, and all

those other people were so dazed they looked partly petrified,

partly drunk, and wholly caught out and snowed under. I judged

that the cake was ours, and by a large majority.

Education is a great thing. This was the same youth who had come

to West Point so ignorant that when I asked him, “If a general

officer should have a horse shot under him on the field of battle,

what ought he to do?” answered up naively and said:

“Get up and brush himself.”

One of the young nobles was called up now. I thought I would

question him a little myself. I said:

“Can your lordship read?”

His face flushed indignantly, and he fired this at me:

“Takest me for a clerk? I trow I am not of a blood that--”

“Answer the question!”

He crowded his wrath down and made out to answer “No.”

“Can you write?”

He wanted to resent this, too, but I said:

“You will confine yourself to the questions, and make no comments.

You are not here to air your blood or your graces, and nothing

of the sort will be permitted. Can you write?”

“No.”

“Do you know the multiplication table?”

“I wit not what ye refer to.”

“How much is 9 times 6?”

“It is a mystery that is hidden from me by reason that the emergency

requiring the fathoming of it hath not in my life-days occurred,

and so, not having no need to know this thing, I abide barren

of the knowledge.”

“If A trade a barrel of onions to B, worth 2 pence the bushel,

in exchange for a sheep worth 4 pence and a dog worth a penny,

and C kill the dog before delivery, because bitten by the same,

who mistook him for D, what sum is still due to A from B, and

which party pays for the dog, C or D, and who gets the money?

If A, is the penny sufficient, or may he claim consequential damages

in the form of additional money to represent the possible profit

which might have inured from the dog, and classifiable as earned

increment, that is to say, usufruct?”

“Verily, in the all-wise and unknowable providence of God, who

moveth in mysterious ways his wonders to perform, have I never

heard the fellow to this question for confusion of the mind and

congestion of the ducts of thought. Wherefore I beseech you let

the dog and the onions and these people of the strange and godless

names work out their several salvations from their piteous and

wonderful difficulties without help of mine, for indeed their

trouble is sufficient as it is, whereas an I tried to help I should

but damage their cause the more and yet mayhap not live myself

to see the desolation wrought.”

“What do you know of the laws of attraction and gravitation?”

“If there be such, mayhap his grace the king did promulgate them

whilst that I lay sick about the beginning of the year and thereby

failed to hear his proclamation.”

“What do you know of the science of optics?”

“I know of governors of places, and seneschals of castles, and

sheriffs of counties, and many like small offices and titles of

honor, but him you call the Science of Optics I have not heard

of before; peradventure it is a new dignity.”

“Yes, in this country.”

Try to conceive of this mollusk gravely applying for an official

position, of any kind under the sun! Why, he had all the earmarks

of a typewriter copyist, if you leave out the disposition to

contribute uninvited emendations of your grammar and punctuation.

It was unaccountable that he didn’t attempt a little help of that

sort out of his majestic supply of incapacity for the job. But that

didn’t prove that he hadn’t material in him for the disposition,

it only proved that he wasn’t a typewriter copyist yet. After

nagging him a little more, I let the professors loose on him and

they turned him inside out, on the line of scientific war, and

found him empty, of course. He knew somewhat about the warfare

of the time--bushwhacking around for ogres, and bull-fights in

the tournament ring, and such things--but otherwise he was empty

and useless. Then we took the other young noble in hand, and he

was the first one’s twin, for ignorance and incapacity. I delivered

them into the hands of the chairman of the Board with the comfortable

consciousness that their cake was dough. They were examined in

the previous order of precedence.

“Name, so please you?”

“Pertipole, son of Sir Pertipole, Baron of Barley Mash.”

“Grandfather?”

“Also Sir Pertipole, Baron of Barley Mash.”

“Great-grandfather?”

“The same name and title.”

“Great-great-grandfather?”

“We had none, worshipful sir, the line failing before it had

reached so far back.”

“It mattereth not. It is a good four generations, and fulfilleth

the requirements of the rule.”

“Fulfills what rule?” I asked.

“The rule requiring four generations of nobility or else the

candidate is not eligible.”

“A man not eligible for a lieutenancy in the army unless he can

prove four generations of noble descent?”

“Even so; neither lieutenant nor any other officer may be commissioned

without that qualification.”

“Oh, come, this is an astonishing thing. What good is such a

qualification as that?”

“What good? It is a hardy question, fair sir and Boss, since it doth

go far to impugn the wisdom of even our holy Mother Church herself.”

“As how?”

“For that she hath established the self-same rule regarding

saints. By her law none may be canonized until he hath lain dead

four generations.”

“I see, I see--it is the same thing. It is wonderful. In the one

case a man lies dead-alive four generations--mummified in ignorance

and sloth--and that qualifies him to command live people, and take

their weal and woe into his impotent hands; and in the other case,

a man lies bedded with death and worms four generations, and that

qualifies him for office in the celestial camp. Does the king’s

grace approve of this strange law?”

The king said:

“Why, truly I see naught about it that is strange. All places of

honor and of profit do belong, by natural right, to them that be

of noble blood, and so these dignities in the army are their

property and would be so without this or any rule. The rule is

but to mark a limit. Its purpose is to keep out too recent blood,

which would bring into contempt these offices, and men of lofty

lineage would turn their backs and scorn to take them. I were

to blame an I permitted this calamity. _You_ can permit it an you

are minded so to do, for you have the delegated authority, but

that the king should do it were a most strange madness and not

comprehensible to any.”

“I yield. Proceed, sir Chief of the Herald’s College.”

The chairman resumed as follows:

“By what illustrious achievement for the honor of the Throne and

State did the founder of your great line lift himself to the

sacred dignity of the British nobility?”

“He built a brewery.”

“Sire, the Board finds this candidate perfect in all the requirements

and qualifications for military command, and doth hold his case

open for decision after due examination of his competitor.”

The competitor came forward and proved exactly four generations

of nobility himself. So there was a tie in military qualifications

that far.

He stood aside a moment, and Sir Pertipole was questioned further:

“Of what condition was the wife of the founder of your line?”

“She came of the highest landed gentry, yet she was not noble;

she was gracious and pure and charitable, of a blameless life and

character, insomuch that in these regards was she peer of the

best lady in the land.”

“That will do. Stand down.” He called up the competing lordling

again, and asked: “What was the rank and condition of the

great-grandmother who conferred British nobility upon your

great house?”

“She was a king’s leman and did climb to that splendid eminence

by her own unholpen merit from the sewer where she was born.”

“Ah, this, indeed, is true nobility, this is the right and perfect

intermixture. The lieutenancy is yours, fair lord. Hold it not in

contempt; it is the humble step which will lead to grandeurs more

worthy of the splendor of an origin like to thine.”

I was down in the bottomless pit of humiliation. I had promised

myself an easy and zenith-scouring triumph, and this was the outcome!

I was almost ashamed to look my poor disappointed cadet in the

face. I told him to go home and be patient, this wasn’t the end.

I had a private audience with the king, and made a proposition.

I said it was quite right to officer that regiment with nobilities,

and he couldn’t have done a wiser thing. It would also be a good

idea to add five hundred officers to it; in fact, add as many

officers as there were nobles and relatives of nobles in the

country, even if there should finally be five times as many officers

as privates in it; and thus make it the crack regiment, the envied

regiment, the King’s Own regiment, and entitled to fight on its

own hook and in its own way, and go whither it would and come

when it pleased, in time of war, and be utterly swell and independent.

This would make that regiment the heart’s desire of all the

nobility, and they would all be satisfied and happy. Then we

would make up the rest of the standing army out of commonplace

materials, and officer it with nobodies, as was proper--nobodies

selected on a basis of mere efficiency--and we would make this

regiment toe the line, allow it no aristocratic freedom from

restraint, and force it to do all the work and persistent hammering,

to the end that whenever the King’s Own was tired and wanted to go

off for a change and rummage around amongst ogres and have a good

time, it could go without uneasiness, knowing that matters were in

safe hands behind it, and business going to be continued at the

old stand, same as usual. The king was charmed with the idea.

When I noticed that, it gave me a valuable notion. I thought

I saw my way out of an old and stubborn difficulty at last. You

see, the royalties of the Pendragon stock were a long-lived race

and very fruitful. Whenever a child was born to any of these

--and it was pretty often--there was wild joy in the nation’s mouth,

and piteous sorrow in the nation’s heart. The joy was questionable,

but the grief was honest. Because the event meant another call

for a Royal Grant. Long was the list of these royalties, and

they were a heavy and steadily increasing burden upon the treasury

and a menace to the crown. Yet Arthur could not believe this

latter fact, and he would not listen to any of my various projects

for substituting something in the place of the royal grants. If I

could have persuaded him to now and then provide a support for

one of these outlying scions from his own pocket, I could have

made a grand to-do over it, and it would have had a good effect

with the nation; but no, he wouldn’t hear of such a thing. He had

something like a religious passion for royal grant; he seemed to

look upon it as a sort of sacred swag, and one could not irritate

him in any way so quickly and so surely as by an attack upon that

venerable institution. If I ventured to cautiously hint that there

was not another respectable family in England that would humble

itself to hold out the hat--however, that is as far as I ever got;

he always cut me short there, and peremptorily, too.

But I believed I saw my chance at last. I would form this crack

regiment out of officers alone--not a single private. Half of it

should consist of nobles, who should fill all the places up to

Major-General, and serve gratis and pay their own expenses; and

they would be glad to do this when they should learn that the rest

of the regiment would consist exclusively of princes of the blood.

These princes of the blood should range in rank from Lieutenant-General

up to Field Marshal, and be gorgeously salaried and equipped and

fed by the state. Moreover--and this was the master stroke

--it should be decreed that these princely grandees should be always

addressed by a stunningly gaudy and awe-compelling title (which

I would presently invent), and they and they only in all England

should be so addressed. Finally, all princes of the blood should

have free choice; join that regiment, get that great title, and

renounce the royal grant, or stay out and receive a grant. Neatest

touch of all: unborn but imminent princes of the blood could be

_born_ into the regiment, and start fair, with good wages and a

permanent situation, upon due notice from the parents.

All the boys would join, I was sure of that; so, all existing

grants would be relinquished; that the newly born would always

join was equally certain. Within sixty days that quaint and

bizarre anomaly, the Royal Grant, would cease to be a living fact,

and take its place among the curiosities of the past.

CHAPTER XXVI

THE FIRST NEWSPAPER

When I told the king I was going out disguised as a petty freeman

to scour the country and familiarize myself with the humbler life

of the people, he was all afire with the novelty of the thing

in a minute, and was bound to take a chance in the adventure

himself--nothing should stop him--he would drop everything and

go along--it was the prettiest idea he had run across for many

a day. He wanted to glide out the back way and start at once;

but I showed him that that wouldn’t answer. You see, he was billed

for the king’s-evil--to touch for it, I mean--and it wouldn’t be

right to disappoint the house and it wouldn’t make a delay worth

considering, anyway, it was only a one-night stand. And I thought

he ought to tell the queen he was going away. He clouded up at

that and looked sad. I was sorry I had spoken, especially when

he said mournfully:

“Thou forgettest that Launcelot is here; and where Launcelot is,

she noteth not the going forth of the king, nor what day he returneth.”

Of course, I changed the Subject. Yes, Guenever was beautiful,

it is true, but take her all around she was pretty slack. I never

meddled in these matters, they weren’t my affair, but I did hate

to see the way things were going on, and I don’t mind saying that

much. Many’s the time she had asked me, “Sir Boss, hast seen

Sir Launcelot about?” but if ever she went fretting around for

the king I didn’t happen to be around at the time.

There was a very good lay-out for the king’s-evil business--very

tidy and creditable. The king sat under a canopy of state; about

him were clustered a large body of the clergy in full canonicals.

Conspicuous, both for location and personal outfit, stood Marinel,

a hermit of the quack-doctor species, to introduce the sick. All

abroad over the spacious floor, and clear down to the doors,

in a thick jumble, lay or sat the scrofulous, under a strong light.

It was as good as a tableau; in fact, it had all the look of being

gotten up for that, though it wasn’t. There were eight hundred

sick people present. The work was slow; it lacked the interest

of novelty for me, because I had seen the ceremonies before;

the thing soon became tedious, but the proprieties required me

to stick it out. The doctor was there for the reason that in all

such crowds there were many people who only imagined something

was the matter with them, and many who were consciously sound

but wanted the immortal honor of fleshly contact with a king, and

yet others who pretended to illness in order to get the piece of

coin that went with the touch. Up to this time this coin had been

a wee little gold piece worth about a third of a dollar. When you

consider how much that amount of money would buy, in that age

and country, and how usual it was to be scrofulous, when not dead,

you would understand that the annual king’s-evil appropriation was

just the River and Harbor bill of that government for the grip it

took on the treasury and the chance it afforded for skinning the

surplus. So I had privately concluded to touch the treasury itself

for the king’s-evil. I covered six-sevenths of the appropriation

into the treasury a week before starting from Camelot on my

adventures, and ordered that the other seventh be inflated into

five-cent nickels and delivered into the hands of the head clerk

of the King’s Evil Department; a nickel to take the place of each

gold coin, you see, and do its work for it. It might strain the

nickel some, but I judged it could stand it. As a rule, I do not

approve of watering stock, but I considered it square enough

in this case, for it was just a gift, anyway. Of course, you can

water a gift as much as you want to; and I generally do. The old

gold and silver coins of the country were of ancient and unknown

origin, as a rule, but some of them were Roman; they were ill-shapen,

and seldom rounder than a moon that is a week past the full; they

were hammered, not minted, and they were so worn with use that

the devices upon them were as illegible as blisters, and looked

like them. I judged that a sharp, bright new nickel, with a

first-rate likeness of the king on one side of it and Guenever

on the other, and a blooming pious motto, would take the tuck out

of scrofula as handy as a nobler coin and please the scrofulous

fancy more; and I was right. This batch was the first it was

tried on, and it worked to a charm. The saving in expense was

a notable economy. You will see that by these figures: We touched

a trifle over 700 of the 800 patients; at former rates, this would

have cost the government about $240; at the new rate we pulled

through for about $35, thus saving upward of $200 at one swoop.

To appreciate the full magnitude of this stroke, consider these

other figures: the annual expenses of a national government amount

to the equivalent of a contribution of three days’ average wages of

every individual of the population, counting every individual as

if he were a man. If you take a nation of 60,000,000, where average

wages are $2 per day, three days’ wages taken from each individual

will provide $360,000,000 and pay the government’s expenses. In my

day, in my own country, this money was collected from imposts,

and the citizen imagined that the foreign importer paid it, and it

made him comfortable to think so; whereas, in fact, it was paid

by the American people, and was so equally and exactly distributed

among them that the annual cost to the 100-millionaire and the

annual cost to the sucking child of the day-laborer was precisely

the same--each paid $6. Nothing could be equaler than that,

I reckon. Well, Scotland and Ireland were tributary to Arthur,

and the united populations of the British Islands amounted to

something less than 1,000,000. A mechanic’s average wage was

3 cents a day, when he paid his own keep. By this rule the national

government’s expenses were $90,000 a year, or about $250 a day.

Thus, by the substitution of nickels for gold on a king’s-evil

day, I not only injured no one, dissatisfied no one, but pleased

all concerned and saved four-fifths of that day’s national expense

into the bargain--a saving which would have been the equivalent

of $800,000 in my day in America. In making this substitution

I had drawn upon the wisdom of a very remote source--the wisdom

of my boyhood--for the true statesman does not despise any wisdom,

howsoever lowly may be its origin: in my boyhood I had always

saved my pennies and contributed buttons to the foreign missionary

cause. The buttons would answer the ignorant savage as well as

the coin, the coin would answer me better than the buttons; all

hands were happy and nobody hurt.

Marinel took the patients as they came. He examined the candidate;

if he couldn’t qualify he was warned off; if he could he was passed

along to the king. A priest pronounced the words, “They shall

lay their hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” Then the king

stroked the ulcers, while the reading continued; finally, the

patient graduated and got his nickel--the king hanging it around

his neck himself--and was dismissed. Would you think that that

would cure? It certainly did. Any mummery will cure if the

patient’s faith is strong in it. Up by Astolat there was a chapel

where the Virgin had once appeared to a girl who used to herd

geese around there--the girl said so herself--and they built the

chapel upon that spot and hung a picture in it representing the

occurrence--a picture which you would think it dangerous for a sick

person to approach; whereas, on the contrary, thousands of the lame

and the sick came and prayed before it every year and went away

whole and sound; and even the well could look upon it and live.

Of course, when I was told these things I did not believe them;

but when I went there and saw them I had to succumb. I saw the

cures effected myself; and they were real cures and not questionable.

I saw cripples whom I had seen around Camelot for years on crutches,

arrive and pray before that picture, and put down their crutches

and walk off without a limp. There were piles of crutches there

which had been left by such people as a testimony.

In other places people operated on a patient’s mind, without saying

a word to him, and cured him. In others, experts assembled patients

in a room and prayed over them, and appealed to their faith, and

those patients went away cured. Wherever you find a king who can’t

cure the king’s-evil you can be sure that the most valuable

superstition that supports his throne--the subject’s belief in

the divine appointment of his sovereign--has passed away. In my

youth the monarchs of England had ceased to touch for the evil,

but there was no occasion for this diffidence: they could have

cured it forty-nine times in fifty.

Well, when the priest had been droning for three hours, and the

good king polishing the evidences, and the sick were still pressing

forward as plenty as ever, I got to feeling intolerably bored.

I was sitting by an open window not far from the canopy of state.

For the five hundredth time a patient stood forward to have his

repulsivenesses stroked; again those words were being droned out:

“they shall lay their hands on the sick”--when outside there rang

clear as a clarion a note that enchanted my soul and tumbled

thirteen worthless centuries about my ears: “Camelot _Weekly

Hosannah and Literary Volcano!_--latest irruption--only two cents

--all about the big miracle in the Valley of Holiness!” One greater

than kings had arrived--the newsboy. But I was the only person

in all that throng who knew the meaning of this mighty birth, and

what this imperial magician was come into the world to do.

I dropped a nickel out of the window and got my paper; the

Adam-newsboy of the world went around the corner to get my change;

is around the corner yet. It was delicious to see a newspaper

again, yet I was conscious of a secret shock when my eye fell upon

the first batch of display head-lines. I had lived in a clammy

atmosphere of reverence, respect, deference, so long that they

sent a quivery little cold wave through me:

HIGH TIMES IN THE VALLEY

OF HOLINESS!

----

THE WATER-WORKS CORKED!

----

BRER MERLIN WORKS HIS ARTS, BUT GETS

LEFT?

----

But the Boss scores on his first Innings!

----

The Miraculous Well Uncorked amid

awful outbursts of

INFERNAL FIRE AND SMOKE

ATHUNDER!

----

THE BUZZARD-ROOST ASTONISHED!

----

UNPARALLELED REJOIBINGS!

--and so on, and so on. Yes, it was too loud. Once I could have

enjoyed it and seen nothing out of the way about it, but now its

note was discordant. It was good Arkansas journalism, but this

was not Arkansas. Moreover, the next to the last line was calculated

to give offense to the hermits, and perhaps lose us their advertising.

Indeed, there was too lightsome a tone of flippancy all through

the paper. It was plain I had undergone a considerable change

without noticing it. I found myself unpleasantly affected by

pert little irreverencies which would have seemed but proper and

airy graces of speech at an earlier period of my life. There was an

abundance of the following breed of items, and they discomforted me:

LOCAL SMOKE AND CINDERS.

Sir Launcelot met up with old King

Agrivance of Ireland unexpectedly last

weok over on the moor south of Sir

Balmoral le Merveilleuse’s hog dasture.

The widow has been notified.

Expedition No. 3 will start adout the

first of mext month on a search f8r Sir

Sagramour le Desirous. It is in com-

and of the renowned Knight of the Red

Lawns, assissted by Sir Persant of Inde,

who is compete9t. intelligent, courte-

ous, and in every way a brick, and fur-

tHer assisted by Sir Palamides the Sara-

cen, who is no huckleberry hinself.

This is no pic-nic, these boys mean

busine&s.

The readers of the Hosannah will re-

gret to learn that the hadndsome and

popular Sir Charolais of Gaul, who dur-

ing his four weeks’ stay at the Bull and

Halibut, this city, has won every heart

by his polished manners and elegant

cPnversation, will pUll out to-day for

home. Give us another call, Charley!

The bdsiness end of the funeral of

the late Sir Dalliance the duke’s son of

Cornwall, killed in an encounter with

the Giant of the Knotted Bludgeon last

Tuesday on the borders of the Plain of

Enchantment was in the hands of the

ever affable and efficient Mumble,

prince of un3ertakers, then whom there

exists none by whom it were a more

satisfying pleasure to have the last sad

offices performed. Give him a trial.

The cordial thanks of the Hosannah

office are due, from editor down to

devil, to the ever courteous and thought-

ful Lord High Stew d of the Palace’s

Third Assistant V t for several sau-

ceTs of ice crEam a quality calculated

to make the ey of the recipients hu-

mid with grt ude; and it done it.

When this administration wants to

chalk up a desirable name for early

promotion, the Hosannah would like a

chance to sudgest.

The Demoiselle Irene Dewlap, of

South Astolat, is visiting her uncle, the

popular host of the Cattlemen’s Board-

ing Ho&se, Liver Lane, this city.

Young Barker the bellows-mender is

hoMe again, and looks much improved

by his vacation round-up among the out-

lying smithies. See his ad.

Of course it was good enough journalism for a beginning; I knew

that quite well, and yet it was somehow disappointing. The

“Court Circular” pleased me better; indeed, its simple and dignified

respectfulness was a distinct refreshment to me after all those

disgraceful familiarities. But even it could have been improved.

Do what one may, there is no getting an air of variety into a court

circular, I acknowledge that. There is a profound monotonousness

about its facts that baffles and defeats one’s sincerest efforts

to make them sparkle and enthuse. The best way to manage--in fact,

the only sensible way--is to disguise repetitiousness of fact under

variety of form: skin your fact each time and lay on a new cuticle

of words. It deceives the eye; you think it is a new fact; it

gives you the idea that the court is carrying on like everything;

this excites you, and you drain the whole column, with a good

appetite, and perhaps never notice that it’s a barrel of soup made

out of a single bean. Clarence’s way was good, it was simple,

it was dignified, it was direct and business-like; all I say is,

it was not the best way:

COURT CIRCULAR.

On Monday, the king rode in the park.

“ Tuesday, “ “ ”

“ Wendesday “ “ ”

“ Thursday “ “ ”

“ Friday, “ “ ”

“ Saturday “ “ ”

“ Sunday, “ “ ”

However, take the paper by and large, I was vastly pleased with it.

Little crudities of a mechanical sort were observable here and

there, but there were not enough of them to amount to anything,

and it was good enough Arkansas proof-reading, anyhow, and better

than was needed in Arthur’s day and realm. As a rule, the grammar

was leaky and the construction more or less lame; but I did not

much mind these things. They are common defects of my own, and

one mustn’t criticise other people on grounds where he can’t stand

perpendicular himself.

I was hungry enough for literature to want to take down the whole

paper at this one meal, but I got only a few bites, and then had

to postpone, because the monks around me besieged me so with eager

questions: What is this curious thing? What is it for? Is it a

handkerchief?--saddle blanket?--part of a shirt? What is it made of?

How thin it is, and how dainty and frail; and how it rattles.

Will it wear, do you think, and won’t the rain injure it? Is it

writing that appears on it, or is it only ornamentation? They

suspected it was writing, because those among them who knew how

to read Latin and had a smattering of Greek, recognized some of

the letters, but they could make nothing out of the result as a

whole. I put my information in the simplest form I could:

“It is a public journal; I will explain what that is, another time.

It is not cloth, it is made of paper; some time I will explain

what paper is. The lines on it are reading matter; and not written

by hand, but printed; by and by I will explain what printing is.

A thousand of these sheets have been made, all exactly like this,

in every minute detail--they can’t be told apart.” Then they all

broke out with exclamations of surprise and admiration:

“A thousand! Verily a mighty work--a year’s work for many men.”

“No--merely a day’s work for a man and a boy.”

They crossed themselves, and whiffed out a protective prayer or two.

“Ah-h--a miracle, a wonder! Dark work of enchantment.”

I let it go at that. Then I read in a low voice, to as many as

could crowd their shaven heads within hearing distance, part of

the account of the miracle of the restoration of the well, and

was accompanied by astonished and reverent ejaculations all through:

“Ah-h-h!” “How true!” “Amazing, amazing!” “These be the very

haps as they happened, in marvelous exactness!” And might they

take this strange thing in their hands, and feel of it and examine

it?--they would be very careful. Yes. So they took it, handling

it as cautiously and devoutly as if it had been some holy thing

come from some supernatural region; and gently felt of its texture,

caressed its pleasant smooth surface with lingering touch, and

scanned the mysterious characters with fascinated eyes. These

grouped bent heads, these charmed faces, these speaking eyes

--how beautiful to me! For was not this my darling, and was not

all this mute wonder and interest and homage a most eloquent

tribute and unforced compliment to it? I knew, then, how a mother

feels when women, whether strangers or friends, take her new baby,

and close themselves about it with one eager impulse, and bend

their heads over it in a tranced adoration that makes all the rest

of the universe vanish out of their consciousness and be as if it

were not, for that time. I knew how she feels, and that there is

no other satisfied ambition, whether of king, conqueror, or poet,

that ever reaches half-way to that serene far summit or yields half

so divine a contentment.

During all the rest of the seance my paper traveled from group to

group all up and down and about that huge hall, and my happy eye

was upon it always, and I sat motionless, steeped in satisfaction,

drunk with enjoyment. Yes, this was heaven; I was tasting it once,

if I might never taste it more.

CHAPTER XXVII

THE YANKEE AND THE KING TRAVEL INCOGNITO

About bedtime I took the king to my private quarters to cut his

hair and help him get the hang of the lowly raiment he was to wear.

The high classes wore their hair banged across the forehead but

hanging to the shoulders the rest of the way around, whereas the

lowest ranks of commoners were banged fore and aft both; the slaves

were bangless, and allowed their hair free growth. So I inverted

a bowl over his head and cut away all the locks that hung below it.

I also trimmed his whiskers and mustache until they were only

about a half-inch long; and tried to do it inartistically, and

succeeded. It was a villainous disfigurement. When he got his

lubberly sandals on, and his long robe of coarse brown linen cloth,

which hung straight from his neck to his ankle-bones, he was no

longer the comeliest man in his kingdom, but one of the unhandsomest

and most commonplace and unattractive. We were dressed and barbered

alike, and could pass for small farmers, or farm bailiffs, or

shepherds, or carters; yes, or for village artisans, if we chose,

our costume being in effect universal among the poor, because of

its strength and cheapness. I don’t mean that it was really cheap

to a very poor person, but I do mean that it was the cheapest

material there was for male attire--manufactured material, you

understand.

We slipped away an hour before dawn, and by broad sun-up had made

eight or ten miles, and were in the midst of a sparsely settled

country. I had a pretty heavy knapsack; it was laden with

provisions--provisions for the king to taper down on, till he

could take to the coarse fare of the country without damage.

I found a comfortable seat for the king by the roadside, and then

gave him a morsel or two to stay his stomach with. Then I said

I would find some water for him, and strolled away. Part of my

project was to get out of sight and sit down and rest a little

myself. It had always been my custom to stand when in his presence;

even at the council board, except upon those rare occasions when

the sitting was a very long one, extending over hours; then I had

a trifling little backless thing which was like a reversed culvert

and was as comfortable as the toothache. I didn’t want to break

him in suddenly, but do it by degrees. We should have to sit

together now when in company, or people would notice; but it would

not be good politics for me to be playing equality with him when

there was no necessity for it.

I found the water some three hundred yards away, and had been

resting about twenty minutes, when I heard voices. That is all

right, I thought--peasants going to work; nobody else likely to be

stirring this early. But the next moment these comers jingled into

sight around a turn of the road--smartly clad people of quality,

with luggage-mules and servants in their train! I was off like

a shot, through the bushes, by the shortest cut. For a while it

did seem that these people would pass the king before I could

get to him; but desperation gives you wings, you know, and I canted

my body forward, inflated my breast, and held my breath and flew.

I arrived. And in plenty good enough time, too.

“Pardon, my king, but it’s no time for ceremony--jump! Jump to

your feet--some quality are coming!”

“Is that a marvel? Let them come.”

“But my liege! You must not be seen sitting. Rise!--and stand in

humble posture while they pass. You are a peasant, you know.”

“True--I had forgot it, so lost was I in planning of a huge war

with Gaul”--he was up by this time, but a farm could have got up

quicker, if there was any kind of a boom in real estate--“and

right-so a thought came randoming overthwart this majestic dream

the which--”

“A humbler attitude, my lord the king--and quick! Duck your head!

--more!--still more!--droop it!”

He did his honest best, but lord, it was no great things. He looked

as humble as the leaning tower at Pisa. It is the most you could

say of it. Indeed, it was such a thundering poor success that

it raised wondering scowls all along the line, and a gorgeous

flunkey at the tail end of it raised his whip; but I jumped in

time and was under it when it fell; and under cover of the volley

of coarse laughter which followed, I spoke up sharply and warned

the king to take no notice. He mastered himself for the moment,

but it was a sore tax; he wanted to eat up the procession. I said:

“It would end our adventures at the very start; and we, being

without weapons, could do nothing with that armed gang. If we

are going to succeed in our emprise, we must not only look the

peasant but act the peasant.”

“It is wisdom; none can gainsay it. Let us go on, Sir Boss.

I will take note and learn, and do the best I may.”

He kept his word. He did the best he could, but I’ve seen better.

If you have ever seen an active, heedless, enterprising child

going diligently out of one mischief and into another all day

long, and an anxious mother at its heels all the while, and just

saving it by a hair from drowning itself or breaking its neck with

each new experiment, you’ve seen the king and me.

If I could have foreseen what the thing was going to be like,

I should have said, No, if anybody wants to make his living

exhibiting a king as a peasant, let him take the layout; I can

do better with a menagerie, and last longer. And yet, during

the first three days I never allowed him to enter a hut or other

dwelling. If he could pass muster anywhere during his early

novitiate it would be in small inns and on the road; so to these

places we confined ourselves. Yes, he certainly did the best he

could, but what of that? He didn’t improve a bit that I could see.

He was always frightening me, always breaking out with fresh

astonishers, in new and unexpected places. Toward evening on

the second day, what does he do but blandly fetch out a dirk

from inside his robe!

“Great guns, my liege, where did you get that?”

“From a smuggler at the inn, yester eve.”

“What in the world possessed you to buy it?”

“We have escaped divers dangers by wit--thy wit--but I have

bethought me that it were but prudence if I bore a weapon, too.

Thine might fail thee in some pinch.”

“But people of our condition are not allowed to carry arms. What

would a lord say--yes, or any other person of whatever condition

--if he caught an upstart peasant with a dagger on his person?”

It was a lucky thing for us that nobody came along just then.

I persuaded him to throw the dirk away; and it was as easy as

persuading a child to give up some bright fresh new way of killing

itself. We walked along, silent and thinking. Finally the king said:

“When ye know that I meditate a thing inconvenient, or that hath

a peril in it, why do you not warn me to cease from that project?”

It was a startling question, and a puzzler. I didn’t quite know

how to take hold of it, or what to say, and so, of course, I ended

by saying the natural thing:

“But, sire, how can I know what your thoughts are?”

The king stopped dead in his tracks, and stared at me.

“I believed thou wert greater than Merlin; and truly in magic

thou art. But prophecy is greater than magic. Merlin is a prophet.”

I saw I had made a blunder. I must get back my lost ground.

After a deep reflection and careful planning, I said:

“Sire, I have been misunderstood. I will explain. There are two

kinds of prophecy. One is the gift to foretell things that are but

a little way off, the other is the gift to foretell things that

are whole ages and centuries away. Which is the mightier gift,

do you think?”

“Oh, the last, most surely!”

“True. Does Merlin possess it?”

“Partly, yes. He foretold mysteries about my birth and future

kingship that were twenty years away.”

“Has he ever gone beyond that?”

“He would not claim more, I think.”

“It is probably his limit. All prophets have their limit. The limit

of some of the great prophets has been a hundred years.”

“These are few, I ween.”

“There have been two still greater ones, whose limit was four

hundred and six hundred years, and one whose limit compassed

even seven hundred and twenty.”

“Gramercy, it is marvelous!”

“But what are these in comparison with me? They are nothing.”

“What? Canst thou truly look beyond even so vast a stretch

of time as--”

“Seven hundred years? My liege, as clear as the vision of an eagle

does my prophetic eye penetrate and lay bare the future of this

world for nearly thirteen centuries and a half!”

My land, you should have seen the king’s eyes spread slowly open,

and lift the earth’s entire atmosphere as much as an inch! That

settled Brer Merlin. One never had any occasion to prove his

facts, with these people; all he had to do was to state them. It

never occurred to anybody to doubt the statement.

“Now, then,” I continued, “I _could_ work both kinds of prophecy

--the long and the short--if I chose to take the trouble to keep

in practice; but I seldom exercise any but the long kind, because

the other is beneath my dignity. It is properer to Merlin’s sort

--stump-tail prophets, as we call them in the profession. Of course,

I whet up now and then and flirt out a minor prophecy, but not

often--hardly ever, in fact. You will remember that there was

great talk, when you reached the Valley of Holiness, about my

having prophesied your coming and the very hour of your arrival,

two or three days beforehand.”

“Indeed, yes, I mind it now.”

“Well, I could have done it as much as forty times easier, and

piled on a thousand times more detail into the bargain, if it had

been five hundred years away instead of two or three days.”

“How amazing that it should be so!”

“Yes, a genuine expert can always foretell a thing that is five

hundred years away easier than he can a thing that’s only five

hundred seconds off.”

“And yet in reason it should clearly be the other way; it should

be five hundred times as easy to foretell the last as the first,

for, indeed, it is so close by that one uninspired might almost

see it. In truth, the law of prophecy doth contradict the likelihoods,

most strangely making the difficult easy, and the easy difficult.”

It was a wise head. A peasant’s cap was no safe disguise for it;

you could know it for a king’s under a diving-bell, if you could

hear it work its intellect.

I had a new trade now, and plenty of business in it. The king

was as hungry to find out everything that was going to happen

during the next thirteen centuries as if he were expecting to live

in them. From that time out, I prophesied myself bald-headed

trying to supply the demand. I have done some indiscreet things in

my day, but this thing of playing myself for a prophet was the

worst. Still, it had its ameliorations. A prophet doesn’t have

to have any brains. They are good to have, of course, for the

ordinary exigencies of life, but they are no use in professional

work. It is the restfulest vocation there is. When the spirit of

prophecy comes upon you, you merely take your intellect and lay it

off in a cool place for a rest, and unship your jaw and leave it

alone; it will work itself: the result is prophecy.

Every day a knight-errant or so came along, and the sight of them

fired the king’s martial spirit every time. He would have forgotten

himself, sure, and said something to them in a style a suspicious

shade or so above his ostensible degree, and so I always got him

well out of the road in time. Then he would stand and look with

all his eyes; and a proud light would flash from them, and his

nostrils would inflate like a war-horse’s, and I knew he was

longing for a brush with them. But about noon of the third day

I had stopped in the road to take a precaution which had been

suggested by the whip-stroke that had fallen to my share two days

before; a precaution which I had afterward decided to leave untaken,

I was so loath to institute it; but now I had just had a fresh

reminder: while striding heedlessly along, with jaw spread and

intellect at rest, for I was prophesying, I stubbed my toe and

fell sprawling. I was so pale I couldn’t think for a moment;

then I got softly and carefully up and unstrapped my knapsack.

I had that dynamite bomb in it, done up in wool in a box. It was

a good thing to have along; the time would come when I could do

a valuable miracle with it, maybe, but it was a nervous thing

to have about me, and I didn’t like to ask the king to carry it.

Yet I must either throw it away or think up some safe way to get

along with its society. I got it out and slipped it into my scrip,

and just then here came a couple of knights. The king stood,

stately as a statue, gazing toward them--had forgotten himself again,

of course--and before I could get a word of warning out, it was

time for him to skip, and well that he did it, too. He supposed

they would turn aside. Turn aside to avoid trampling peasant dirt

under foot? When had he ever turned aside himself--or ever had

the chance to do it, if a peasant saw him or any other noble knight

in time to judiciously save him the trouble? The knights paid

no attention to the king at all; it was his place to look out

himself, and if he hadn’t skipped he would have been placidly

ridden down, and laughed at besides.

The king was in a flaming fury, and launched out his challenge

and epithets with a most royal vigor. The knights were some little

distance by now. They halted, greatly surprised, and turned in

their saddles and looked back, as if wondering if it might be worth

while to bother with such scum as we. Then they wheeled and

started for us. Not a moment must be lost. I started for _them_.

I passed them at a rattling gait, and as I went by I flung out a

hair-lifting soul-scorching thirteen-jointed insult which made

the king’s effort poor and cheap by comparison. I got it out of

the nineteenth century where they know how. They had such headway

that they were nearly to the king before they could check up;

then, frantic with rage, they stood up their horses on their hind

hoofs and whirled them around, and the next moment here they came,

breast to breast. I was seventy yards off, then, and scrambling up

a great bowlder at the roadside. When they were within thirty

yards of me they let their long lances droop to a level, depressed

their mailed heads, and so, with their horse-hair plumes streaming

straight out behind, most gallant to see, this lightning express

came tearing for me! When they were within fifteen yards, I sent

that bomb with a sure aim, and it struck the ground just under

the horses’ noses.

Yes, it was a neat thing, very neat and pretty to see. It resembled

a steamboat explosion on the Mississippi; and during the next

fifteen minutes we stood under a steady drizzle of microscopic

fragments of knights and hardware and horse-flesh. I say we,

for the king joined the audience, of course, as soon as he had got

his breath again. There was a hole there which would afford steady

work for all the people in that region for some years to come

--in trying to explain it, I mean; as for filling it up, that service

would be comparatively prompt, and would fall to the lot of a

select few--peasants of that seignory; and they wouldn’t get

anything for it, either.

But I explained it to the king myself. I said it was done with a

dynamite bomb. This information did him no damage, because it

left him as intelligent as he was before. However, it was a noble

miracle, in his eyes, and was another settler for Merlin. I thought

it well enough to explain that this was a miracle of so rare a sort

that it couldn’t be done except when the atmospheric conditions

were just right. Otherwise he would be encoring it every time we

had a good subject, and that would be inconvenient, because I

hadn’t any more bombs along.

CHAPTER XXVIII

DRILLING THE KING

On the morning of the fourth day, when it was just sunrise, and we

had been tramping an hour in the chill dawn, I came to a resolution:

the king _must_ be drilled; things could not go on so, he must be

taken in hand and deliberately and conscientiously drilled, or we

couldn’t ever venture to enter a dwelling; the very cats would know

this masquerader for a humbug and no peasant. So I called a halt

and said:

“Sire, as between clothes and countenance, you are all right, there

is no discrepancy; but as between your clothes and your bearing,

you are all wrong, there is a most noticeable discrepancy. Your

soldierly stride, your lordly port--these will not do. You stand

too straight, your looks are too high, too confident. The cares

of a kingdom do not stoop the shoulders, they do not droop the chin,

they do not depress the high level of the eye-glance, they do not

put doubt and fear in the heart and hang out the signs of them

in slouching body and unsure step. It is the sordid cares of

the lowly born that do these things. You must learn the trick;

you must imitate the trademarks of poverty, misery, oppression,

insult, and the other several and common inhumanities that sap

the manliness out of a man and make him a loyal and proper and

approved subject and a satisfaction to his masters, or the very

infants will know you for better than your disguise, and we shall go

to pieces at the first hut we stop at. Pray try to walk like this.”

The king took careful note, and then tried an imitation.

“Pretty fair--pretty fair. Chin a little lower, please--there, very

good. Eyes too high; pray don’t look at the horizon, look at the

ground, ten steps in front of you. Ah--that is better, that is

very good. Wait, please; you betray too much vigor, too much

decision; you want more of a shamble. Look at me, please--this is

what I mean.... Now you are getting it; that is the idea--at least,

it sort of approaches it.... Yes, that is pretty fair. _But!_

There is a great big something wanting, I don’t quite know what

it is. Please walk thirty yards, so that I can get a perspective

on the thing.... Now, then--your head’s right, speed’s right,

shoulders right, eyes right, chin right, gait, carriage, general

style right--everything’s right! And yet the fact remains, the

aggregate’s wrong. The account don’t balance. Do it again,

please.... _Now_ I think I begin to see what it is. Yes, I’ve

struck it. You see, the genuine spiritlessness is wanting; that’s

what’s the trouble. It’s all _amateur_--mechanical details all

right, almost to a hair; everything about the delusion perfect,

except that it don’t delude.”

“What, then, must one do, to prevail?”

“Let me think... I can’t seem to quite get at it. In fact, there

isn’t anything that can right the matter but practice. This is

a good place for it: roots and stony ground to break up your

stately gait, a region not liable to interruption, only one field

and one hut in sight, and they so far away that nobody could

see us from there. It will be well to move a little off the road

and put in the whole day drilling you, sire.”

After the drill had gone on a little while, I said:

“Now, sire, imagine that we are at the door of the hut yonder,

and the family are before us. Proceed, please--accost the head

of the house.”

The king unconsciously straightened up like a monument, and said,

with frozen austerity:

“Varlet, bring a seat; and serve to me what cheer ye have.”

“Ah, your grace, that is not well done.”

“In what lacketh it?”

“These people do not call _each other_ varlets.”

“Nay, is that true?”

“Yes; only those above them call them so.”

“Then must I try again. I will call him villein.”

“No-no; for he may be a freeman.”

“Ah--so. Then peradventure I should call him goodman.”

“That would answer, your grace, but it would be still better if

you said friend, or brother.”

“Brother!--to dirt like that?”

“Ah, but _we_ are pretending to be dirt like that, too.”

“It is even true. I will say it. Brother, bring a seat, and

thereto what cheer ye have, withal. Now ‘tis right.”

“Not quite, not wholly right. You have asked for one, not _us_

--for one, not both; food for one, a seat for one.”

The king looked puzzled--he wasn’t a very heavy weight, intellectually.

His head was an hour-glass; it could stow an idea, but it had to do

it a grain at a time, not the whole idea at once.

“Would _you_ have a seat also--and sit?”

“If I did not sit, the man would perceive that we were only pretending

to be equals--and playing the deception pretty poorly, too.”

“It is well and truly said! How wonderful is truth, come it in

whatsoever unexpected form it may! Yes, he must bring out seats

and food for both, and in serving us present not ewer and napkin

with more show of respect to the one than to the other.”

“And there is even yet a detail that needs correcting. He must

bring nothing outside; we will go in--in among the dirt, and

possibly other repulsive things,--and take the food with the

household, and after the fashion of the house, and all on equal

terms, except the man be of the serf class; and finally, there

will be no ewer and no napkin, whether he be serf or free. Please

walk again, my liege. There--it is better--it is the best yet;

but not perfect. The shoulders have known no ignobler burden

than iron mail, and they will not stoop.”

“Give me, then, the bag. I will learn the spirit that goeth

with burdens that have not honor. It is the spirit that stoopeth

the shoulders, I ween, and not the weight; for armor is heavy,

yet it is a proud burden, and a man standeth straight in it....

Nay, but me no buts, offer me no objections. I will have the thing.

Strap it upon my back.”

He was complete now with that knapsack on, and looked as little

like a king as any man I had ever seen. But it was an obstinate

pair of shoulders; they could not seem to learn the trick of

stooping with any sort of deceptive naturalness. The drill went on,

I prompting and correcting:

“Now, make believe you are in debt, and eaten up by relentless

creditors; you are out of work--which is horse-shoeing, let us

say--and can get none; and your wife is sick, your children are

crying because they are hungry--”

And so on, and so on. I drilled him as representing in turn all

sorts of people out of luck and suffering dire privations and

misfortunes. But lord, it was only just words, words--they meant

nothing in the world to him, I might just as well have whistled.

Words realize nothing, vivify nothing to you, unless you have

suffered in your own person the thing which the words try to

describe. There are wise people who talk ever so knowingly and

complacently about “the working classes,” and satisfy themselves

that a day’s hard intellectual work is very much harder than

a day’s hard manual toil, and is righteously entitled to much

bigger pay. Why, they really think that, you know, because they

know all about the one, but haven’t tried the other. But I know

all about both; and so far as I am concerned, there isn’t money

enough in the universe to hire me to swing a pickaxe thirty days,

but I will do the hardest kind of intellectual work for just as

near nothing as you can cipher it down--and I will be satisfied, too.

Intellectual “work” is misnamed; it is a pleasure, a dissipation,

and is its own highest reward. The poorest paid architect,

engineer, general, author, sculptor, painter, lecturer, advocate,

legislator, actor, preacher, singer is constructively in heaven

when he is at work; and as for the musician with the fiddle-bow

in his hand who sits in the midst of a great orchestra with the

ebbing and flowing tides of divine sound washing over him--why,

certainly, he is at work, if you wish to call it that, but lord,

it’s a sarcasm just the same. The law of work does seem utterly

unfair--but there it is, and nothing can change it: the higher

the pay in enjoyment the worker gets out of it, the higher shall

be his pay in cash, also. And it’s also the very law of those

transparent swindles, transmissible nobility and kingship.

CHAPTER XXIX

THE SMALLPOX HUT

When we arrived at that hut at mid-afternoon, we saw no signs

of life about it. The field near by had been denuded of its crop

some time before, and had a skinned look, so exhaustively had

it been harvested and gleaned. Fences, sheds, everything had a

ruined look, and were eloquent of poverty. No animal was around

anywhere, no living thing in sight. The stillness was awful, it

was like the stillness of death. The cabin was a one-story one,

whose thatch was black with age, and ragged from lack of repair.

The door stood a trifle ajar. We approached it stealthily--on tiptoe

and at half-breath--for that is the way one’s feeling makes him do,

at such a time. The king knocked. We waited. No answer. Knocked

again. No answer. I pushed the door softly open and looked in.

I made out some dim forms, and a woman started up from the ground

and stared at me, as one does who is wakened from sleep. Presently

she found her voice:

“Have mercy!” she pleaded. “All is taken, nothing is left.”

“I have not come to take anything, poor woman.”

“You are not a priest?”

“No.”

“Nor come not from the lord of the manor?”

“No, I am a stranger.”

“Oh, then, for the fear of God, who visits with misery and death

such as be harmless, tarry not here, but fly! This place is under

his curse--and his Church’s.”

“Let me come in and help you--you are sick and in trouble.”

I was better used to the dim light now. I could see her hollow

eyes fixed upon me. I could see how emaciated she was.

“I tell you the place is under the Church’s ban. Save yourself

--and go, before some straggler see thee here, and report it.”

“Give yourself no trouble about me; I don’t care anything for the

Church’s curse. Let me help you.”

“Now all good spirits--if there be any such--bless thee for that

word. Would God I had a sup of water!--but hold, hold, forget

I said it, and fly; for there is that here that even he that

feareth not the Church must fear: this disease whereof we die.

Leave us, thou brave, good stranger, and take with thee such

whole and sincere blessing as them that be accursed can give.”

But before this I had picked up a wooden bowl and was rushing

past the king on my way to the brook. It was ten yards away.

When I got back and entered, the king was within, and was opening

the shutter that closed the window-hole, to let in air and light.

The place was full of a foul stench. I put the bowl to the woman’s

lips, and as she gripped it with her eager talons the shutter came

open and a strong light flooded her face. Smallpox!

I sprang to the king, and said in his ear:

“Out of the door on the instant, sire! the woman is dying of that

disease that wasted the skirts of Camelot two years ago.”

He did not budge.

“Of a truth I shall remain--and likewise help.”

I whispered again:

“King, it must not be. You must go.”

“Ye mean well, and ye speak not unwisely. But it were shame that

a king should know fear, and shame that belted knight should

withhold his hand where be such as need succor. Peace, I will

not go. It is you who must go. The Church’s ban is not upon me,

but it forbiddeth you to be here, and she will deal with you with

a heavy hand an word come to her of your trespass.”

It was a desperate place for him to be in, and might cost him his

life, but it was no use to argue with him. If he considered his

knightly honor at stake here, that was the end of argument; he

would stay, and nothing could prevent it; I was aware of that.

And so I dropped the subject. The woman spoke:

“Fair sir, of your kindness will ye climb the ladder there,

and bring me news of what ye find? Be not afraid to report,

for times can come when even a mother’s heart is past breaking

--being already broke.”

“Abide,” said the king, “and give the woman to eat. I will go.”

And he put down the knapsack.

I turned to start, but the king had already started. He halted,

and looked down upon a man who lay in a dim light, and had not

noticed us thus far, or spoken.

“Is it your husband?” the king asked.

“Yes.”

“Is he asleep?”

“God be thanked for that one charity, yes--these three hours.

Where shall I pay to the full, my gratitude! for my heart is

bursting with it for that sleep he sleepeth now.”

I said:

“We will be careful. We will not wake him.”

“Ah, no, that ye will not, for he is dead.”

“Dead?”

“Yes, what triumph it is to know it! None can harm him, none

insult him more. He is in heaven now, and happy; or if not there,

he bides in hell and is content; for in that place he will find

neither abbot nor yet bishop. We were boy and girl together; we

were man and wife these five and twenty years, and never separated

till this day. Think how long that is to love and suffer together.

This morning was he out of his mind, and in his fancy we were

boy and girl again and wandering in the happy fields; and so in

that innocent glad converse wandered he far and farther, still

lightly gossiping, and entered into those other fields we know

not of, and was shut away from mortal sight. And so there was

no parting, for in his fancy I went with him; he knew not but

I went with him, my hand in his--my young soft hand, not this

withered claw. Ah, yes, to go, and know it not; to separate and

know it not; how could one go peace--fuller than that? It was

his reward for a cruel life patiently borne.”

There was a slight noise from the direction of the dim corner where

the ladder was. It was the king descending. I could see that he

was bearing something in one arm, and assisting himself with the

other. He came forward into the light; upon his breast lay a

slender girl of fifteen. She was but half conscious; she was dying

of smallpox. Here was heroism at its last and loftiest possibility,

its utmost summit; this was challenging death in the open field

unarmed, with all the odds against the challenger, no reward set

upon the contest, and no admiring world in silks and cloth of gold

to gaze and applaud; and yet the king’s bearing was as serenely

brave as it had always been in those cheaper contests where knight

meets knight in equal fight and clothed in protecting steel. He

was great now; sublimely great. The rude statues of his ancestors

in his palace should have an addition--I would see to that; and it

would not be a mailed king killing a giant or a dragon, like the

rest, it would be a king in commoner’s garb bearing death in his

arms that a peasant mother might look her last upon her child and

be comforted.

He laid the girl down by her mother, who poured out endearments

and caresses from an overflowing heart, and one could detect a

flickering faint light of response in the child’s eyes, but that

was all. The mother hung over her, kissing her, petting her, and

imploring her to speak, but the lips only moved and no sound came.

I snatched my liquor flask from my knapsack, but the woman forbade

me, and said:

“No--she does not suffer; it is better so. It might bring her back

to life. None that be so good and kind as ye are would do her

that cruel hurt. For look you--what is left to live for? Her

brothers are gone, her father is gone, her mother goeth, the

Church’s curse is upon her, and none may shelter or befriend her

even though she lay perishing in the road. She is desolate. I have

not asked you, good heart, if her sister be still on live, here

overhead; I had no need; ye had gone back, else, and not left

the poor thing forsaken--”

“She lieth at peace,” interrupted the king, in a subdued voice.

“I would not change it. How rich is this day in happiness! Ah,

my Annis, thou shalt join thy sister soon--thou’rt on thy way,

and these be merciful friends that will not hinder.”

And so she fell to murmuring and cooing over the girl again, and

softly stroking her face and hair, and kissing her and calling her

by endearing names; but there was scarcely sign of response now

in the glazing eyes. I saw tears well from the king’s eyes, and

trickle down his face. The woman noticed them, too, and said:

“Ah, I know that sign: thou’st a wife at home, poor soul, and

you and she have gone hungry to bed, many’s the time, that the

little ones might have your crust; you know what poverty is, and

the daily insults of your betters, and the heavy hand of the Church

and the king.”

The king winced under this accidental home-shot, but kept still;

he was learning his part; and he was playing it well, too, for

a pretty dull beginner. I struck up a diversion. I offered the

woman food and liquor, but she refused both. She would allow

nothing to come between her and the release of death. Then I slipped

away and brought the dead child from aloft, and laid it by her.

This broke her down again, and there was another scene that was

full of heartbreak. By and by I made another diversion, and beguiled

her to sketch her story.

“Ye know it well yourselves, having suffered it--for truly none

of our condition in Britain escape it. It is the old, weary tale.

We fought and struggled and succeeded; meaning by success, that

we lived and did not die; more than that is not to be claimed. No

troubles came that we could not outlive, till this year brought

them; then came they all at once, as one might say, and overwhelmed

us. Years ago the lord of the manor planted certain fruit trees on

our farm; in the best part of it, too--a grievous wrong and shame--”

“But it was his right,” interrupted the king.

“None denieth that, indeed; an the law mean anything, what is

the lord’s is his, and what is mine is his also. Our farm was

ours by lease, therefore ‘twas likewise his, to do with it as he

would. Some little time ago, three of those trees were found hewn

down. Our three grown sons ran frightened to report the crime.

Well, in his lordship’s dungeon there they lie, who saith there

shall they lie and rot till they confess. They have naught to

confess, being innocent, wherefore there will they remain until

they die. Ye know that right well, I ween. Think how this left us;

a man, a woman and two children, to gather a crop that was planted

by so much greater force, yes, and protect it night and day from

pigeons and prowling animals that be sacred and must not be hurt

by any of our sort. When my lord’s crop was nearly ready for

the harvest, so also was ours; when his bell rang to call us to

his fields to harvest his crop for nothing, he would not allow that

I and my two girls should count for our three captive sons, but

for only two of them; so, for the lacking one were we daily fined.

All this time our own crop was perishing through neglect; and so

both the priest and his lordship fined us because their shares

of it were suffering through damage. In the end the fines ate up

our crop--and they took it all; they took it all and made us harvest

it for them, without pay or food, and we starving. Then the worst

came when I, being out of my mind with hunger and loss of my boys,

and grief to see my husband and my little maids in rags and misery

and despair, uttered a deep blasphemy--oh! a thousand of them!

--against the Church and the Church’s ways. It was ten days ago.

I had fallen sick with this disease, and it was to the priest

I said the words, for he was come to chide me for lack of due

humility under the chastening hand of God. He carried my trespass

to his betters; I was stubborn; wherefore, presently upon my head

and upon all heads that were dear to me, fell the curse of Rome.

“Since that day we are avoided, shunned with horror. None has

come near this hut to know whether we live or not. The rest of us

were taken down. Then I roused me and got up, as wife and mother

will. It was little they could have eaten in any case; it was

less than little they had to eat. But there was water, and I gave

them that. How they craved it! and how they blessed it! But the

end came yesterday; my strength broke down. Yesterday was the

last time I ever saw my husband and this youngest child alive.

I have lain here all these hours--these ages, ye may say--listening,

listening for any sound up there that--”

She gave a sharp quick glance at her eldest daughter, then cried

out, “Oh, my darling!” and feebly gathered the stiffening form

to her sheltering arms. She had recognized the death-rattle.

CHAPTER XXX

THE TRAGEDY OF THE MANOR-HOUSE

At midnight all was over, and we sat in the presence of four

corpses. We covered them with such rags as we could find, and

started away, fastening the door behind us. Their home must be

these people’s grave, for they could not have Christian burial,

or be admitted to consecrated ground. They were as dogs, wild

beasts, lepers, and no soul that valued its hope of eternal life

would throw it away by meddling in any sort with these rebuked and

smitten outcasts.

We had not moved four steps when I caught a sound as of footsteps

upon gravel. My heart flew to my throat. We must not be seen

coming from that house. I plucked at the king’s robe and we drew

back and took shelter behind the corner of the cabin.

“Now we are safe,” I said, “but it was a close call--so to speak.

If the night had been lighter he might have seen us, no doubt,

he seemed to be so near.”

“Mayhap it is but a beast and not a man at all.”

“True. But man or beast, it will be wise to stay here a minute

and let it get by and out of the way.”

“Hark! It cometh hither.”

True again. The step was coming toward us--straight toward the hut.

It must be a beast, then, and we might as well have saved our

trepidation. I was going to step out, but the king laid his hand

upon my arm. There was a moment of silence, then we heard a soft

knock on the cabin door. It made me shiver. Presently the knock

was repeated, and then we heard these words in a guarded voice:

“Mother! Father! Open--we have got free, and we bring news to

pale your cheeks but glad your hearts; and we may not tarry, but

must fly! And--but they answer not. Mother! father!--”

I drew the king toward the other end of the hut and whispered:

“Come--now we can get to the road.”

The king hesitated, was going to demur; but just then we heard

the door give way, and knew that those desolate men were in the

presence of their dead.

“Come, my liege! in a moment they will strike a light, and then

will follow that which it would break your heart to hear.”

He did not hesitate this time. The moment we were in the road

I ran; and after a moment he threw dignity aside and followed.

I did not want to think of what was happening in the hut--I couldn’t

bear it; I wanted to drive it out of my mind; so I struck into the

first subject that lay under that one in my mind:

“I have had the disease those people died of, and so have nothing

to fear; but if you have not had it also--”

He broke in upon me to say he was in trouble, and it was his

conscience that was troubling him:

“These young men have got free, they say--but _how_? It is not

likely that their lord hath set them free.”

“Oh, no, I make no doubt they escaped.”

“That is my trouble; I have a fear that this is so, and your

suspicion doth confirm it, you having the same fear.”

“I should not call it by that name though. I do suspect that they

escaped, but if they did, I am not sorry, certainly.”

“I am not sorry, I _think_--but--”

“What is it? What is there for one to be troubled about?”

“_If_ they did escape, then are we bound in duty to lay hands upon

them and deliver them again to their lord; for it is not seemly

that one of his quality should suffer a so insolent and high-handed

outrage from persons of their base degree.”

There it was again. He could see only one side of it. He was

born so, educated so, his veins were full of ancestral blood that

was rotten with this sort of unconscious brutality, brought down

by inheritance from a long procession of hearts that had each done

its share toward poisoning the stream. To imprison these men

without proof, and starve their kindred, was no harm, for they were

merely peasants and subject to the will and pleasure of their lord,

no matter what fearful form it might take; but for these men to

break out of unjust captivity was insult and outrage, and a thing

not to be countenanced by any conscientious person who knew his

duty to his sacred caste.

I worked more than half an hour before I got him to change the

subject--and even then an outside matter did it for me. This was

a something which caught our eyes as we struck the summit of a

small hill--a red glow, a good way off.

“That’s a fire,” said I.

Fires interested me considerably, because I was getting a good

deal of an insurance business started, and was also training some

horses and building some steam fire-engines, with an eye to a paid

fire department by and by. The priests opposed both my fire and

life insurance, on the ground that it was an insolent attempt to

hinder the decrees of God; and if you pointed out that they did not

hinder the decrees in the least, but only modified the hard

consequences of them if you took out policies and had luck, they

retorted that that was gambling against the decrees of God, and was

just as bad. So they managed to damage those industries more

or less, but I got even on my accident business. As a rule, a knight

is a lummux, and some times even a labrick, and hence open to pretty

poor arguments when they come glibly from a superstition-monger,

but even _he_ could see the practical side of a thing once in a while;

and so of late you couldn’t clean up a tournament and pile the

result without finding one of my accident-tickets in every helmet.

We stood there awhile, in the thick darkness and stillness, looking

toward the red blur in the distance, and trying to make out the

meaning of a far-away murmur that rose and fell fitfully on the

night. Sometimes it swelled up and for a moment seemed less

remote; but when we were hopefully expecting it to betray its cause

and nature, it dulled and sank again, carrying its mystery with it.

We started down the hill in its direction, and the winding road

plunged us at once into almost solid darkness--darkness that was

packed and crammed in between two tall forest walls. We groped

along down for half a mile, perhaps, that murmur growing more and

more distinct all the time. The coming storm threatening more and

more, with now and then a little shiver of wind, a faint show of

lightning, and dull grumblings of distant thunder. I was in the

lead. I ran against something--a soft heavy something which gave,

slightly, to the impulse of my weight; at the same moment the

lightning glared out, and within a foot of my face was the writhing

face of a man who was hanging from the limb of a tree! That is,

it seemed to be writhing, but it was not. It was a grewsome sight.

Straightway there was an ear-splitting explosion of thunder, and

the bottom of heaven fell out; the rain poured down in a deluge.

No matter, we must try to cut this man down, on the chance that

there might be life in him yet, mustn’t we? The lightning came

quick and sharp now, and the place was alternately noonday and

midnight. One moment the man would be hanging before me in an

intense light, and the next he was blotted out again in the darkness.

I told the king we must cut him down. The king at once objected.

“If he hanged himself, he was willing to lose him property to

his lord; so let him be. If others hanged him, belike they had

the right--let him hang.”

“But--”

“But me no buts, but even leave him as he is. And for yet another

reason. When the lightning cometh again--there, look abroad.”

Two others hanging, within fifty yards of us!

“It is not weather meet for doing useless courtesies unto dead folk.

They are past thanking you. Come--it is unprofitable to tarry here.”

There was reason in what he said, so we moved on. Within the next

mile we counted six more hanging forms by the blaze of the lightning,

and altogether it was a grisly excursion. That murmur was a murmur

no longer, it was a roar; a roar of men’s voices. A man came flying

by now, dimly through the darkness, and other men chasing him.

They disappeared. Presently another case of the kind occurred,

and then another and another. Then a sudden turn of the road

brought us in sight of that fire--it was a large manor-house, and

little or nothing was left of it--and everywhere men were flying

and other men raging after them in pursuit.

I warned the king that this was not a safe place for strangers.

We would better get away from the light, until matters should

improve. We stepped back a little, and hid in the edge of the

wood. From this hiding-place we saw both men and women hunted

by the mob. The fearful work went on until nearly dawn. Then,

the fire being out and the storm spent, the voices and flying

footsteps presently ceased, and darkness and stillness reigned again.

We ventured out, and hurried cautiously away; and although we were

worn out and sleepy, we kept on until we had put this place some

miles behind us. Then we asked hospitality at the hut of a charcoal

burner, and got what was to be had. A woman was up and about, but

the man was still asleep, on a straw shake-down, on the clay floor.

The woman seemed uneasy until I explained that we were travelers

and had lost our way and been wandering in the woods all night.

She became talkative, then, and asked if we had heard of the

terrible goings-on at the manor-house of Abblasoure. Yes, we had

heard of them, but what we wanted now was rest and sleep. The

king broke in:

“Sell us the house and take yourselves away, for we be perilous

company, being late come from people that died of the Spotted Death.”

It was good of him, but unnecessary. One of the commonest decorations

of the nation was the waffle-iron face. I had early noticed that

the woman and her husband were both so decorated. She made us

entirely welcome, and had no fears; and plainly she was immensely

impressed by the king’s proposition; for, of course, it was a good

deal of an event in her life to run across a person of the king’s

humble appearance who was ready to buy a man’s house for the sake

of a night’s lodging. It gave her a large respect for us, and she

strained the lean possibilities of her hovel to the utmost to make

us comfortable.

We slept till far into the afternoon, and then got up hungry enough to

make cotter fare quite palatable to the king, the more particularly

as it was scant in quantity. And also in variety; it consisted

solely of onions, salt, and the national black bread made out of

horse-feed. The woman told us about the affair of the evening

before. At ten or eleven at night, when everybody was in bed,

the manor-house burst into flames. The country-side swarmed to

the rescue, and the family were saved, with one exception, the

master. He did not appear. Everybody was frantic over this loss,

and two brave yeomen sacrificed their lives in ransacking the

burning house seeking that valuable personage. But after a while

he was found--what was left of him--which was his corpse. It was

in a copse three hundred yards away, bound, gagged, stabbed in a

dozen places.

Who had done this? Suspicion fell upon a humble family in the

neighborhood who had been lately treated with peculiar harshness

by the baron; and from these people the suspicion easily extended

itself to their relatives and familiars. A suspicion was enough;

my lord’s liveried retainers proclaimed an instant crusade against

these people, and were promptly joined by the community in general.

The woman’s husband had been active with the mob, and had not

returned home until nearly dawn. He was gone now to find out

what the general result had been. While we were still talking he

came back from his quest. His report was revolting enough. Eighteen

persons hanged or butchered, and two yeomen and thirteen prisoners

lost in the fire.

“And how many prisoners were there altogether in the vaults?”

“Thirteen.”

“Then every one of them was lost?”

“Yes, all.”

“But the people arrived in time to save the family; how is it they

could save none of the prisoners?”

The man looked puzzled, and said:

“Would one unlock the vaults at such a time? Marry, some would

have escaped.”

“Then you mean that nobody _did_ unlock them?”

“None went near them, either to lock or unlock. It standeth to

reason that the bolts were fast; wherefore it was only needful

to establish a watch, so that if any broke the bonds he might not

escape, but be taken. None were taken.”

“Natheless, three did escape,” said the king, “and ye will do well

to publish it and set justice upon their track, for these murthered

the baron and fired the house.”

I was just expecting he would come out with that. For a moment

the man and his wife showed an eager interest in this news and

an impatience to go out and spread it; then a sudden something

else betrayed itself in their faces, and they began to ask questions.

I answered the questions myself, and narrowly watched the effects

produced. I was soon satisfied that the knowledge of who these

three prisoners were had somehow changed the atmosphere; that

our hosts’ continued eagerness to go and spread the news was now

only pretended and not real. The king did not notice the change,

and I was glad of that. I worked the conversation around toward

other details of the night’s proceedings, and noted that these

people were relieved to have it take that direction.

The painful thing observable about all this business was the

alacrity with which this oppressed community had turned their

cruel hands against their own class in the interest of the common

oppressor. This man and woman seemed to feel that in a quarrel

between a person of their own class and his lord, it was the natural

and proper and rightful thing for that poor devil’s whole caste

to side with the master and fight his battle for him, without ever

stopping to inquire into the rights or wrongs of the matter. This

man had been out helping to hang his neighbors, and had done his

work with zeal, and yet was aware that there was nothing against

them but a mere suspicion, with nothing back of it describable

as evidence, still neither he nor his wife seemed to see anything

horrible about it.

This was depressing--to a man with the dream of a republic in his

head. It reminded me of a time thirteen centuries away, when

the “poor whites” of our South who were always despised and

frequently insulted by the slave-lords around them, and who owed

their base condition simply to the presence of slavery in their

midst, were yet pusillanimously ready to side with the slave-lords

in all political moves for the upholding and perpetuating of

slavery, and did also finally shoulder their muskets and pour out

their lives in an effort to prevent the destruction of that very

institution which degraded them. And there was only one redeeming

feature connected with that pitiful piece of history; and that was,

that secretly the “poor white” did detest the slave-lord, and did

feel his own shame. That feeling was not brought to the surface,

but the fact that it was there and could have been brought out,

under favoring circumstances, was something--in fact, it was enough;

for it showed that a man is at bottom a man, after all, even if it

doesn’t show on the outside.

Well, as it turned out, this charcoal burner was just the twin of

the Southern “poor white” of the far future. The king presently

showed impatience, and said:

“An ye prattle here all the day, justice will miscarry. Think ye

the criminals will abide in their father’s house? They are fleeing,

they are not waiting. You should look to it that a party of horse

be set upon their track.”

The woman paled slightly, but quite perceptibly, and the man looked

flustered and irresolute. I said:

“Come, friend, I will walk a little way with you, and explain which

direction I think they would try to take. If they were merely

resisters of the gabelle or some kindred absurdity I would try

to protect them from capture; but when men murder a person of

high degree and likewise burn his house, that is another matter.”

The last remark was for the king--to quiet him. On the road

the man pulled his resolution together, and began the march with

a steady gait, but there was no eagerness in it. By and by I said:

“What relation were these men to you--cousins?”

He turned as white as his layer of charcoal would let him, and

stopped, trembling.

“Ah, my God, how know ye that?”

“I didn’t know it; it was a chance guess.”

“Poor lads, they are lost. And good lads they were, too.”

“Were you actually going yonder to tell on them?”

He didn’t quite know how to take that; but he said, hesitatingly:

“Ye-s.”

“Then I think you are a damned scoundrel!”

It made him as glad as if I had called him an angel.

“Say the good words again, brother! for surely ye mean that ye

would not betray me an I failed of my duty.”

“Duty? There is no duty in the matter, except the duty to keep

still and let those men get away. They’ve done a righteous deed.”

He looked pleased; pleased, and touched with apprehension at the

same time. He looked up and down the road to see that no one

was coming, and then said in a cautious voice:

“From what land come you, brother, that you speak such perilous

words, and seem not to be afraid?”

“They are not perilous words when spoken to one of my own caste,

I take it. You would not tell anybody I said them?”

“I? I would be drawn asunder by wild horses first.”

“Well, then, let me say my say. I have no fears of your repeating

it. I think devil’s work has been done last night upon those

innocent poor people. That old baron got only what he deserved.

If I had my way, all his kind should have the same luck.”

Fear and depression vanished from the man’s manner, and gratefulness

and a brave animation took their place:

“Even though you be a spy, and your words a trap for my undoing,

yet are they such refreshment that to hear them again and others

like to them, I would go to the gallows happy, as having had one

good feast at least in a starved life. And I will say my say now,

and ye may report it if ye be so minded. I helped to hang my

neighbors for that it were peril to my own life to show lack of

zeal in the master’s cause; the others helped for none other reason.

All rejoice to-day that he is dead, but all do go about seemingly

sorrowing, and shedding the hypocrite’s tear, for in that lies

safety. I have said the words, I have said the words! the only

ones that have ever tasted good in my mouth, and the reward of

that taste is sufficient. Lead on, an ye will, be it even to the

scaffold, for I am ready.”

There it was, you see. A man is a man, at bottom. Whole ages

of abuse and oppression cannot crush the manhood clear out of him.

Whoever thinks it a mistake is himself mistaken. Yes, there is

plenty good enough material for a republic in the most degraded

people that ever existed--even the Russians; plenty of manhood

in them--even in the Germans--if one could but force it out of

its timid and suspicious privacy, to overthrow and trample in the

mud any throne that ever was set up and any nobility that ever

supported it. We should see certain things yet, let us hope and

believe. First, a modified monarchy, till Arthur’s days were done,

then the destruction of the throne, nobility abolished, every

member of it bound out to some useful trade, universal suffrage

instituted, and the whole government placed in the hands of the

men and women of the nation there to remain. Yes, there was no

occasion to give up my dream yet a while.

CHAPTER XXXI

MARCO

We strolled along in a sufficiently indolent fashion now, and

talked. We must dispose of about the amount of time it ought

to take to go to the little hamlet of Abblasoure and put justice

on the track of those murderers and get back home again. And

meantime I had an auxiliary interest which had never paled yet,

never lost its novelty for me since I had been in Arthur’s kingdom:

the behavior--born of nice and exact subdivisions of caste--of chance

passers-by toward each other. Toward the shaven monk who trudged

along with his cowl tilted back and the sweat washing down his

fat jowls, the coal-burner was deeply reverent; to the gentleman

he was abject; with the small farmer and the free mechanic he was

cordial and gossipy; and when a slave passed by with a countenance

respectfully lowered, this chap’s nose was in the air--he couldn’t

even see him. Well, there are times when one would like to hang

the whole human race and finish the farce.

Presently we struck an incident. A small mob of half-naked boys

and girls came tearing out of the woods, scared and shrieking.

The eldest among them were not more than twelve or fourteen years

old. They implored help, but they were so beside themselves that

we couldn’t make out what the matter was. However, we plunged

into the wood, they skurrying in the lead, and the trouble was

quickly revealed: they had hanged a little fellow with a bark rope,

and he was kicking and struggling, in the process of choking to

death. We rescued him, and fetched him around. It was some more

human nature; the admiring little folk imitating their elders;

they were playing mob, and had achieved a success which promised

to be a good deal more serious than they had bargained for.

It was not a dull excursion for me. I managed to put in the time

very well. I made various acquaintanceships, and in my quality

of stranger was able to ask as many questions as I wanted to.

A thing which naturally interested me, as a statesman, was the

matter of wages. I picked up what I could under that head during

the afternoon. A man who hasn’t had much experience, and doesn’t

think, is apt to measure a nation’s prosperity or lack of prosperity

by the mere size of the prevailing wages; if the wages be high, the

nation is prosperous; if low, it isn’t. Which is an error. It

isn’t what sum you get, it’s how much you can buy with it, that’s

the important thing; and it’s that that tells whether your wages

are high in fact or only high in name. I could remember how it

was in the time of our great civil war in the nineteenth century.

In the North a carpenter got three dollars a day, gold valuation;

in the South he got fifty--payable in Confederate shinplasters

worth a dollar a bushel. In the North a suit of overalls cost

three dollars--a day’s wages; in the South it cost seventy-five

--which was two days’ wages. Other things were in proportion.

Consequently, wages were twice as high in the North as they were

in the South, because the one wage had that much more purchasing

power than the other had.

Yes, I made various acquaintances in the hamlet and a thing that

gratified me a good deal was to find our new coins in circulation

--lots of milrays, lots of mills, lots of cents, a good many nickels,

and some silver; all this among the artisans and commonalty

generally; yes, and even some gold--but that was at the bank,

that is to say, the goldsmith’s. I dropped in there while Marco,

the son of Marco, was haggling with a shopkeeper over a quarter

of a pound of salt, and asked for change for a twenty-dollar gold

piece. They furnished it--that is, after they had chewed the piece,

and rung it on the counter, and tried acid on it, and asked me

where I got it, and who I was, and where I was from, and where

I was going to, and when I expected to get there, and perhaps

a couple of hundred more questions; and when they got aground,

I went right on and furnished them a lot of information voluntarily;

told them I owned a dog, and his name was Watch, and my first wife

was a Free Will Baptist, and her grandfather was a Prohibitionist,

and I used to know a man who had two thumbs on each hand and a wart

on the inside of his upper lip, and died in the hope of a glorious

resurrection, and so on, and so on, and so on, till even that

hungry village questioner began to look satisfied, and also a shade

put out; but he had to respect a man of my financial strength,

and so he didn’t give me any lip, but I noticed he took it out of

his underlings, which was a perfectly natural thing to do. Yes,

they changed my twenty, but I judged it strained the bank a little,

which was a thing to be expected, for it was the same as walking

into a paltry village store in the nineteenth century and requiring

the boss of it to change a two thousand-dollar bill for you all

of a sudden. He could do it, maybe; but at the same time he

would wonder how a small farmer happened to be carrying so much

money around in his pocket; which was probably this goldsmith’s

thought, too; for he followed me to the door and stood there gazing

after me with reverent admiration.

Our new money was not only handsomely circulating, but its language

was already glibly in use; that is to say, people had dropped

the names of the former moneys, and spoke of things as being worth

so many dollars or cents or mills or milrays now. It was very

gratifying. We were progressing, that was sure.

I got to know several master mechanics, but about the most interesting

fellow among them was the blacksmith, Dowley. He was a live man

and a brisk talker, and had two journeymen and three apprentices,

and was doing a raging business. In fact, he was getting rich,

hand over fist, and was vastly respected. Marco was very proud of

having such a man for a friend. He had taken me there ostensibly

to let me see the big establishment which bought so much of his

charcoal, but really to let me see what easy and almost familiar

terms he was on with this great man. Dowley and I fraternized

at once; I had had just such picked men, splendid fellows, under

me in the Colt Arms Factory. I was bound to see more of him, so

I invited him to come out to Marco’s Sunday, and dine with us.

Marco was appalled, and held his breath; and when the grandee

accepted, he was so grateful that he almost forgot to be astonished

at the condescension.

Marco’s joy was exuberant--but only for a moment; then he grew

thoughtful, then sad; and when he heard me tell Dowley I should

have Dickon, the boss mason, and Smug, the boss wheelwright, out

there, too, the coal-dust on his face turned to chalk, and he lost

his grip. But I knew what was the matter with him; it was the

expense. He saw ruin before him; he judged that his financial

days were numbered. However, on our way to invite the others,

I said:

“You must allow me to have these friends come; and you must also

allow me to pay the costs.”

His face cleared, and he said with spirit:

“But not all of it, not all of it. Ye cannot well bear a burden

like to this alone.”

I stopped him, and said:

“Now let’s understand each other on the spot, old friend. I am

only a farm bailiff, it is true; but I am not poor, nevertheless.

I have been very fortunate this year--you would be astonished

to know how I have thriven. I tell you the honest truth when I say

I could squander away as many as a dozen feasts like this and never

care _that_ for the expense!” and I snapped my fingers. I could

see myself rise a foot at a time in Marco’s estimation, and when

I fetched out those last words I was become a very tower for style

and altitude. “So you see, you must let me have my way. You

can’t contribute a cent to this orgy, that’s _settled_.”

“It’s grand and good of you--”

“No, it isn’t. You’ve opened your house to Jones and me in the

most generous way; Jones was remarking upon it to-day, just before

you came back from the village; for although he wouldn’t be likely

to say such a thing to you--because Jones isn’t a talker, and is

diffident in society--he has a good heart and a grateful, and

knows how to appreciate it when he is well treated; yes, you and

your wife have been very hospitable toward us--”

“Ah, brother, ‘tis nothing--_such_ hospitality!”

“But it _is_ something; the best a man has, freely given, is always

something, and is as good as a prince can do, and ranks right

along beside it--for even a prince can but do his best. And so

we’ll shop around and get up this layout now, and don’t you worry

about the expense. I’m one of the worst spendthrifts that ever

was born. Why, do you know, sometimes in a single week I spend

--but never mind about that--you’d never believe it anyway.”

And so we went gadding along, dropping in here and there, pricing

things, and gossiping with the shopkeepers about the riot, and now

and then running across pathetic reminders of it, in the persons of

shunned and tearful and houseless remnants of families whose homes

had been taken from them and their parents butchered or hanged.

The raiment of Marco and his wife was of coarse tow-linen and

linsey-woolsey respectively, and resembled township maps, it being

made up pretty exclusively of patches which had been added, township

by township, in the course of five or six years, until hardly a

hand’s-breadth of the original garments was surviving and present.

Now I wanted to fit these people out with new suits, on account of

that swell company, and I didn’t know just how to get at it

--with delicacy, until at last it struck me that as I had already

been liberal in inventing wordy gratitude for the king, it would

be just the thing to back it up with evidence of a substantial

sort; so I said:

“And Marco, there’s another thing which you must permit--out of

kindness for Jones--because you wouldn’t want to offend him.

He was very anxious to testify his appreciation in some way, but

he is so diffident he couldn’t venture it himself, and so he begged

me to buy some little things and give them to you and Dame Phyllis

and let him pay for them without your ever knowing they came from

him--you know how a delicate person feels about that sort of thing

--and so I said I would, and we would keep mum. Well, his idea

was, a new outfit of clothes for you both--”

“Oh, it is wastefulness! It may not be, brother, it may not be.

Consider the vastness of the sum--”

“Hang the vastness of the sum! Try to keep quiet for a moment,

and see how it would seem; a body can’t get in a word edgeways,

you talk so much. You ought to cure that, Marco; it isn’t good

form, you know, and it will grow on you if you don’t check it.

Yes, we’ll step in here now and price this man’s stuff--and don’t

forget to remember to not let on to Jones that you know he had

anything to do with it. You can’t think how curiously sensitive

and proud he is. He’s a farmer--pretty fairly well-to-do farmer

--and I’m his bailiff; _but_--the imagination of that man! Why,

sometimes when he forgets himself and gets to blowing off, you’d

think he was one of the swells of the earth; and you might listen

to him a hundred years and never take him for a farmer--especially if

he talked agriculture. He _thinks_ he’s a Sheol of a farmer; thinks

he’s old Grayback from Wayback; but between you and me privately

he don’t know as much about farming as he does about running

a kingdom--still, whatever he talks about, you want to drop your

underjaw and listen, the same as if you had never heard such

incredible wisdom in all your life before, and were afraid you

might die before you got enough of it. That will please Jones.”

It tickled Marco to the marrow to hear about such an odd character;

but it also prepared him for accidents; and in my experience when

you travel with a king who is letting on to be something else and

can’t remember it more than about half the time, you can’t take

too many precautions.

This was the best store we had come across yet; it had everything

in it, in small quantities, from anvils and drygoods all the way

down to fish and pinchbeck jewelry. I concluded I would bunch

my whole invoice right here, and not go pricing around any more.

So I got rid of Marco, by sending him off to invite the mason and

the wheelwright, which left the field free to me. For I never care

to do a thing in a quiet way; it’s got to be theatrical or I don’t

take any interest in it. I showed up money enough, in a careless

way, to corral the shopkeeper’s respect, and then I wrote down

a list of the things I wanted, and handed it to him to see if he

could read it. He could, and was proud to show that he could.

He said he had been educated by a priest, and could both read

and write. He ran it through, and remarked with satisfaction that

it was a pretty heavy bill. Well, and so it was, for a little

concern like that. I was not only providing a swell dinner, but

some odds and ends of extras. I ordered that the things be carted

out and delivered at the dwelling of Marco, the son of Marco,

by Saturday evening, and send me the bill at dinner-time Sunday.

He said I could depend upon his promptness and exactitude, it was

the rule of the house. He also observed that he would throw in

a couple of miller-guns for the Marcos gratis--that everybody

was using them now. He had a mighty opinion of that clever

device. I said:

“And please fill them up to the middle mark, too; and add that

to the bill.”

He would, with pleasure. He filled them, and I took them with

me. I couldn’t venture to tell him that the miller-gun was a

little invention of my own, and that I had officially ordered that

every shopkeeper in the kingdom keep them on hand and sell them

at government price--which was the merest trifle, and the shopkeeper

got that, not the government. We furnished them for nothing.

The king had hardly missed us when we got back at nightfall. He

had early dropped again into his dream of a grand invasion of Gaul

with the whole strength of his kingdom at his back, and the afternoon

had slipped away without his ever coming to himself again.

CHAPTER XXXII

DOWLEY’S HUMILIATION

Well, when that cargo arrived toward sunset, Saturday afternoon,

I had my hands full to keep the Marcos from fainting. They were

sure Jones and I were ruined past help, and they blamed themselves

as accessories to this bankruptcy. You see, in addition to the

dinner-materials, which called for a sufficiently round sum,

I had bought a lot of extras for the future comfort of the family:

for instance, a big lot of wheat, a delicacy as rare to the tables

of their class as was ice-cream to a hermit’s; also a sizeable

deal dinner-table; also two entire pounds of salt, which was

another piece of extravagance in those people’s eyes; also crockery,

stools, the clothes, a small cask of beer, and so on. I instructed

the Marcos to keep quiet about this sumptuousness, so as to give

me a chance to surprise the guests and show off a little. Concerning

the new clothes, the simple couple were like children; they were up

and down, all night, to see if it wasn’t nearly daylight, so that

they could put them on, and they were into them at last as much

as an hour before dawn was due. Then their pleasure--not to say

delirium--was so fresh and novel and inspiring that the sight of it

paid me well for the interruptions which my sleep had suffered.

The king had slept just as usual--like the dead. The Marcos could

not thank him for their clothes, that being forbidden; but they

tried every way they could think of to make him see how grateful

they were. Which all went for nothing: he didn’t notice any change.

It turned out to be one of those rich and rare fall days which is

just a June day toned down to a degree where it is heaven to be

out of doors. Toward noon the guests arrived, and we assembled

under a great tree and were soon as sociable as old acquaintances.

Even the king’s reserve melted a little, though it was some little

trouble to him to adjust himself to the name of Jones along at

first. I had asked him to try to not forget that he was a farmer;

but I had also considered it prudent to ask him to let the thing

stand at that, and not elaborate it any. Because he was just the

kind of person you could depend on to spoil a little thing like

that if you didn’t warn him, his tongue was so handy, and his

spirit so willing, and his information so uncertain.

Dowley was in fine feather, and I early got him started, and then

adroitly worked him around onto his own history for a text and

himself for a hero, and then it was good to sit there and hear him

hum. Self-made man, you know. They know how to talk. They do

deserve more credit than any other breed of men, yes, that is true;

and they are among the very first to find it out, too. He told how

he had begun life an orphan lad without money and without friends

able to help him; how he had lived as the slaves of the meanest

master lived; how his day’s work was from sixteen to eighteen hours

long, and yielded him only enough black bread to keep him in a

half-fed condition; how his faithful endeavors finally attracted

the attention of a good blacksmith, who came near knocking him

dead with kindness by suddenly offering, when he was totally

unprepared, to take him as his bound apprentice for nine years

and give him board and clothes and teach him the trade--or “mystery”

as Dowley called it. That was his first great rise, his first

gorgeous stroke of fortune; and you saw that he couldn’t yet speak

of it without a sort of eloquent wonder and delight that such a

gilded promotion should have fallen to the lot of a common human

being. He got no new clothing during his apprenticeship, but on

his graduation day his master tricked him out in spang-new tow-linens

and made him feel unspeakably rich and fine.

“I remember me of that day!” the wheelwright sang out, with

enthusiasm.

“And I likewise!” cried the mason. “I would not believe they

were thine own; in faith I could not.”

“Nor other!” shouted Dowley, with sparkling eyes. “I was like

to lose my character, the neighbors wending I had mayhap been

stealing. It was a great day, a great day; one forgetteth not

days like that.”

Yes, and his master was a fine man, and prosperous, and always

had a great feast of meat twice in the year, and with it white

bread, true wheaten bread; in fact, lived like a lord, so to speak.

And in time Dowley succeeded to the business and married the daughter.

“And now consider what is come to pass,” said he, impressively.

“Two times in every month there is fresh meat upon my table.”

He made a pause here, to let that fact sink home, then added

--“and eight times salt meat.”

“It is even true,” said the wheelwright, with bated breath.

“I know it of mine own knowledge,” said the mason, in the same

reverent fashion.

“On my table appeareth white bread every Sunday in the year,”

added the master smith, with solemnity. “I leave it to your own

consciences, friends, if this is not also true?”

“By my head, yes,” cried the mason.

“I can testify it--and I do,” said the wheelwright.

“And as to furniture, ye shall say yourselves what mine equipment

is.” He waved his hand in fine gesture of granting frank and

unhampered freedom of speech, and added: “Speak as ye are moved;

speak as ye would speak; an I were not here.”

“Ye have five stools, and of the sweetest workmanship at that, albeit

your family is but three,” said the wheelwright, with deep respect.

“And six wooden goblets, and six platters of wood and two of pewter

to eat and drink from withal,” said the mason, impressively. “And

I say it as knowing God is my judge, and we tarry not here alway,

but must answer at the last day for the things said in the body,

be they false or be they sooth.”

“Now ye know what manner of man I am, brother Jones,” said the

smith, with a fine and friendly condescension, “and doubtless ye

would look to find me a man jealous of his due of respect and

but sparing of outgo to strangers till their rating and quality be

assured, but trouble yourself not, as concerning that; wit ye well

ye shall find me a man that regardeth not these matters but is

willing to receive any he as his fellow and equal that carrieth

a right heart in his body, be his worldly estate howsoever modest.

And in token of it, here is my hand; and I say with my own mouth

we are equals--equals”--and he smiled around on the company with

the satisfaction of a god who is doing the handsome and gracious

thing and is quite well aware of it.

The king took the hand with a poorly disguised reluctance, and

let go of it as willingly as a lady lets go of a fish; all of which

had a good effect, for it was mistaken for an embarrassment natural

to one who was being called upon by greatness.

The dame brought out the table now, and set it under the tree.

It caused a visible stir of surprise, it being brand new and a

sumptuous article of deal. But the surprise rose higher still

when the dame, with a body oozing easy indifference at every pore,

but eyes that gave it all away by absolutely flaming with vanity,

slowly unfolded an actual simon-pure tablecloth and spread it.

That was a notch above even the blacksmith’s domestic grandeurs,

and it hit him hard; you could see it. But Marco was in Paradise;

you could see that, too. Then the dame brought two fine new

stools--whew! that was a sensation; it was visible in the eyes of

every guest. Then she brought two more--as calmly as she could.

Sensation again--with awed murmurs. Again she brought two

--walking on air, she was so proud. The guests were petrified, and

the mason muttered:

“There is that about earthly pomps which doth ever move to reverence.”

As the dame turned away, Marco couldn’t help slapping on the climax

while the thing was hot; so he said with what was meant for a

languid composure but was a poor imitation of it:

“These suffice; leave the rest.”

So there were more yet! It was a fine effect. I couldn’t have

played the hand better myself.

From this out, the madam piled up the surprises with a rush that

fired the general astonishment up to a hundred and fifty in the

shade, and at the same time paralyzed expression of it down to

gasped “Oh’s” and “Ah’s,” and mute upliftings of hands and eyes.

She fetched crockery--new, and plenty of it; new wooden goblets

and other table furniture; and beer, fish, chicken, a goose, eggs,

roast beef, roast mutton, a ham, a small roast pig, and a wealth

of genuine white wheaten bread. Take it by and large, that spread

laid everything far and away in the shade that ever that crowd had

seen before. And while they sat there just simply stupefied with

wonder and awe, I sort of waved my hand as if by accident, and

the storekeeper’s son emerged from space and said he had come

to collect.

“That’s all right,” I said, indifferently. “What is the amount?

give us the items.”

Then he read off this bill, while those three amazed men listened,

and serene waves of satisfaction rolled over my soul and alternate

waves of terror and admiration surged over Marco’s:

2 pounds salt . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 200

8 dozen pints beer, in the wood . . . . . 800

3 bushels wheat . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2,700

2 pounds fish . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 100

3 hens . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 400

1 goose . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 400

3 dozen eggs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 150

1 roast of beef . . . . . . . . . . . . . 450

1 roast of mutton . . . . . . . . . . . . 400

1 ham . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 800

1 sucking pig . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 500

2 crockery dinner sets . . . . . . . . . 6,000

2 men’s suits and underwear . . . . . . . 2,800

1 stuff and 1 linsey-woolsey gown

and underwear . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1,600

8 wooden goblets . . . . . . . . . . . . 800

Various table furniture . . . . . . . . .10,000

1 deal table . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3,000

8 stools . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4,000

2 miller guns, loaded . . . . . . . . . . 3,000

He ceased. There was a pale and awful silence. Not a limb stirred.

Not a nostril betrayed the passage of breath.

“Is that all?” I asked, in a voice of the most perfect calmness.

“All, fair sir, save that certain matters of light moment are

placed together under a head hight sundries. If it would like

you, I will sepa--”

“It is of no consequence,” I said, accompanying the words with

a gesture of the most utter indifference; “give me the grand

total, please.”

The clerk leaned against the tree to stay himself, and said:

“Thirty-nine thousand one hundred and fifty milrays!”

The wheelwright fell off his stool, the others grabbed the table

to save themselves, and there was a deep and general ejaculation of:

“God be with us in the day of disaster!”

The clerk hastened to say:

“My father chargeth me to say he cannot honorably require you

to pay it all at this time, and therefore only prayeth you--”

I paid no more heed than if it were the idle breeze, but, with an

air of indifference amounting almost to weariness, got out my money

and tossed four dollars on to the table. Ah, you should have seen

them stare!

The clerk was astonished and charmed. He asked me to retain

one of the dollars as security, until he could go to town and

--I interrupted:

“What, and fetch back nine cents? Nonsense! Take the whole.

Keep the change.”

There was an amazed murmur to this effect:

“Verily this being is _made_ of money! He throweth it away even

as if it were dirt.”

The blacksmith was a crushed man.

The clerk took his money and reeled away drunk with fortune. I said

to Marco and his wife:

“Good folk, here is a little trifle for you”--handing the miller-guns

as if it were a matter of no consequence, though each of them

contained fifteen cents in solid cash; and while the poor creatures

went to pieces with astonishment and gratitude, I turned to the

others and said as calmly as one would ask the time of day:

“Well, if we are all ready, I judge the dinner is. Come, fall to.”

Ah, well, it was immense; yes, it was a daisy. I don’t know that

I ever put a situation together better, or got happier spectacular

effects out of the materials available. The blacksmith--well, he

was simply mashed. Land! I wouldn’t have felt what that man was

feeling, for anything in the world. Here he had been blowing and

bragging about his grand meat-feast twice a year, and his fresh

meat twice a month, and his salt meat twice a week, and his white

bread every Sunday the year round--all for a family of three; the

entire cost for the year not above 69.2.6 (sixty-nine cents, two

mills and six milrays), and all of a sudden here comes along a man

who slashes out nearly four dollars on a single blow-out; and not

only that, but acts as if it made him tired to handle such small

sums. Yes, Dowley was a good deal wilted, and shrunk-up and

collapsed; he had the aspect of a bladder-balloon that’s been

stepped on by a cow.

CHAPTER XXXIII

SIXTH CENTURY POLITICAL ECONOMY

However, I made a dead set at him, and before the first third

of the dinner was reached, I had him happy again. It was easy

to do--in a country of ranks and castes. You see, in a country

where they have ranks and castes, a man isn’t ever a man, he is

only part of a man, he can’t ever get his full growth. You prove

your superiority over him in station, or rank, or fortune, and

that’s the end of it--he knuckles down. You can’t insult him

after that. No, I don’t mean quite that; of course you _can_ insult

him, I only mean it’s difficult; and so, unless you’ve got a lot

of useless time on your hands it doesn’t pay to try. I had the

smith’s reverence now, because I was apparently immensely prosperous

and rich; I could have had his adoration if I had had some little

gimcrack title of nobility. And not only his, but any commoner’s

in the land, though he were the mightiest production of all the ages,

in intellect, worth, and character, and I bankrupt in all three.

This was to remain so, as long as England should exist in the

earth. With the spirit of prophecy upon me, I could look into

the future and see her erect statues and monuments to her unspeakable

Georges and other royal and noble clothes-horses, and leave unhonored

the creators of this world--after God--Gutenburg, Watt, Arkwright,

Whitney, Morse, Stephenson, Bell.

The king got his cargo aboard, and then, the talk not turning upon

battle, conquest, or iron-clad duel, he dulled down to drowsiness

and went off to take a nap. Mrs. Marco cleared the table, placed

the beer keg handy, and went away to eat her dinner of leavings

in humble privacy, and the rest of us soon drifted into matters

near and dear to the hearts of our sort--business and wages,

of course. At a first glance, things appeared to be exceeding

prosperous in this little tributary kingdom--whose lord was

King Bagdemagus--as compared with the state of things in my own

region. They had the “protection” system in full force here,

whereas we were working along down toward free-trade, by easy

stages, and were now about half way. Before long, Dowley and I

were doing all the talking, the others hungrily listening. Dowley

warmed to his work, snuffed an advantage in the air, and began

to put questions which he considered pretty awkward ones for me,

and they did have something of that look:

“In your country, brother, what is the wage of a master bailiff,

master hind, carter, shepherd, swineherd?”

“Twenty-five milrays a day; that is to say, a quarter of a cent.”

The smith’s face beamed with joy. He said:

“With us they are allowed the double of it! And what may a mechanic

get--carpenter, dauber, mason, painter, blacksmith, wheelwright,

and the like?”

“On the average, fifty milrays; half a cent a day.”

“Ho-ho! With us they are allowed a hundred! With us any good

mechanic is allowed a cent a day! I count out the tailor, but

not the others--they are all allowed a cent a day, and in driving

times they get more--yes, up to a hundred and ten and even fifteen

milrays a day. I’ve paid a hundred and fifteen myself, within

the week. ‘Rah for protection--to Sheol with free-trade!”

And his face shone upon the company like a sunburst. But I didn’t

scare at all. I rigged up my pile-driver, and allowed myself

fifteen minutes to drive him into the earth--drive him _all_ in

--drive him in till not even the curve of his skull should show

above ground. Here is the way I started in on him. I asked:

“What do you pay a pound for salt?”

“A hundred milrays.”

“We pay forty. What do you pay for beef and mutton--when you

buy it?” That was a neat hit; it made the color come.

“It varieth somewhat, but not much; one may say seventy-five milrays

the pound.”

“_We_ pay thirty-three. What do you pay for eggs?”

“Fifty milrays the dozen.”

“We pay twenty. What do you pay for beer?”

“It costeth us eight and one-half milrays the pint.”

“We get it for four; twenty-five bottles for a cent.

What do you pay for wheat?”

“At the rate of nine hundred milrays the bushel.”

“We pay four hundred. What do you pay for a man’s tow-linen suit?”

“Thirteen cents.”

“We pay six. What do you pay for a stuff gown for the wife of the

laborer or the mechanic?”

“We pay eight cents, four mills.”

“Well, observe the difference: you pay eight cents and four mills,

we pay only four cents.” I prepared now to sock it to him. I said:

“Look here, dear friend, _what’s become of your high wages you

were bragging so about a few minutes ago?_”--and I looked around

on the company with placid satisfaction, for I had slipped up

on him gradually and tied him hand and foot, you see, without his

ever noticing that he was being tied at all. “What’s become of

those noble high wages of yours?--I seem to have knocked the

stuffing all out of them, it appears to me.”

But if you will believe me, he merely looked surprised, that

is all! he didn’t grasp the situation at all, didn’t know he had

walked into a trap, didn’t discover that he was _in_ a trap. I could

have shot him, from sheer vexation. With cloudy eye and a struggling

intellect he fetched this out:

“Marry, I seem not to understand. It is _proved_ that our wages

be double thine; how then may it be that thou’st knocked therefrom

the stuffing?--an miscall not the wonderly word, this being the

first time under grace and providence of God it hath been granted

me to hear it.”

Well, I was stunned; partly with this unlooked-for stupidity on

his part, and partly because his fellows so manifestly sided with

him and were of his mind--if you might call it mind. My position

was simple enough, plain enough; how could it ever be simplified

more? However, I must try:

“Why, look here, brother Dowley, don’t you see? Your wages are

merely higher than ours in _name_, not in _fact_.”

“Hear him! They are the _double_--ye have confessed it yourself.”

“Yes-yes, I don’t deny that at all. But that’s got nothing to do

with it; the _amount_ of the wages in mere coins, with meaningless

names attached to them to know them by, has got nothing to do

with it. The thing is, how much can you _buy_ with your wages?

--that’s the idea. While it is true that with you a good mechanic

is allowed about three dollars and a half a year, and with us only

about a dollar and seventy-five--”

“There--ye’re confessing it again, ye’re confessing it again!”

“Confound it, I’ve never denied it, I tell you! What I say is

this. With us _half_ a dollar buys more than a _dollar_ buys

with you--and THEREFORE it stands to reason and the commonest

kind of common-sense, that our wages are _higher_ than yours.”

He looked dazed, and said, despairingly:

“Verily, I cannot make it out. Ye’ve just said ours are the

higher, and with the same breath ye take it back.”

“Oh, great Scott, isn’t it possible to get such a simple thing

through your head? Now look here--let me illustrate. We pay

four cents for a woman’s stuff gown, you pay 8.4.0, which is

four mills more than _double_. What do you allow a laboring

woman who works on a farm?”

“Two mills a day.”

“Very good; we allow but half as much; we pay her only a tenth

of a cent a day; and--”

“Again ye’re conf--”

“Wait! Now, you see, the thing is very simple; this time you’ll

understand it. For instance, it takes your woman 42 days to earn

her gown, at 2 mills a day--7 weeks’ work; but ours earns hers

in forty days--two days _short_ of 7 weeks. Your woman has a gown,

and her whole seven weeks wages are gone; ours has a gown, and

two days’ wages left, to buy something else with. There--_now_

you understand it!”

He looked--well, he merely looked dubious, it’s the most I can say;

so did the others. I waited--to let the thing work. Dowley spoke

at last--and betrayed the fact that he actually hadn’t gotten away

from his rooted and grounded superstitions yet. He said, with

a trifle of hesitancy:

“But--but--ye cannot fail to grant that two mills a day is better

than one.”

Shucks! Well, of course, I hated to give it up. So I chanced

another flyer:

“Let us suppose a case. Suppose one of your journeymen goes out

and buys the following articles:

“1 pound of salt;

1 dozen eggs;

1 dozen pints of beer;

1 bushel of wheat;

1 tow-linen suit;

5 pounds of beef;

5 pounds of mutton.

“The lot will cost him 32 cents. It takes him 32 working days

to earn the money--5 weeks and 2 days. Let him come to us and

work 32 days at _half_ the wages; he can buy all those things for

a shade under 14 1/2 cents; they will cost him a shade under 29

days’ work, and he will have about half a week’s wages over. Carry

it through the year; he would save nearly a week’s wages every

two months, _your_ man nothing; thus saving five or six weeks’ wages

in a year, your man not a cent. _Now_ I reckon you understand that

‘high wages’ and ‘low wages’ are phrases that don’t mean anything

in the world until you find out which of them will _buy_ the most!”

It was a crusher.

But, alas! it didn’t crush. No, I had to give it up. What those

people valued was _high wages_; it didn’t seem to be a matter of

any consequence to them whether the high wages would buy anything

or not. They stood for “protection,” and swore by it, which was

reasonable enough, because interested parties had gulled them into

the notion that it was protection which had created their high

wages. I proved to them that in a quarter of a century their wages

had advanced but 30 per cent., while the cost of living had gone

up 100; and that with us, in a shorter time, wages had advanced

40 per cent. while the cost of living had gone steadily down. But

it didn’t do any good. Nothing could unseat their strange beliefs.

Well, I was smarting under a sense of defeat. Undeserved defeat,

but what of that? That didn’t soften the smart any. And to think

of the circumstances! the first statesman of the age, the capablest

man, the best-informed man in the entire world, the loftiest

uncrowned head that had moved through the clouds of any political

firmament for centuries, sitting here apparently defeated in

argument by an ignorant country blacksmith! And I could see that

those others were sorry for me--which made me blush till I could

smell my whiskers scorching. Put yourself in my place; feel as mean

as I did, as ashamed as I felt--wouldn’t _you_ have struck below the

belt to get even? Yes, you would; it is simply human nature.

Well, that is what I did. I am not trying to justify it; I’m only

saying that I was mad, and _anybody_ would have done it.

Well, when I make up my mind to hit a man, I don’t plan out

a love-tap; no, that isn’t my way; as long as I’m going to hit him

at all, I’m going to hit him a lifter. And I don’t jump at him

all of a sudden, and risk making a blundering half-way business

of it; no, I get away off yonder to one side, and work up on him

gradually, so that he never suspects that I’m going to hit him

at all; and by and by, all in a flash, he’s flat on his back, and

he can’t tell for the life of him how it all happened. That is

the way I went for brother Dowley. I started to talking lazy and

comfortable, as if I was just talking to pass the time; and the

oldest man in the world couldn’t have taken the bearings of my

starting place and guessed where I was going to fetch up:

“Boys, there’s a good many curious things about law, and custom,

and usage, and all that sort of thing, when you come to look at it;

yes, and about the drift and progress of human opinion and movement,

too. There are written laws--they perish; but there are also

unwritten laws--_they_ are eternal. Take the unwritten law of wages:

it says they’ve got to advance, little by little, straight through

the centuries. And notice how it works. We know what wages are

now, here and there and yonder; we strike an average, and say that’s

the wages of to-day. We know what the wages were a hundred years

ago, and what they were two hundred years ago; that’s as far back

as we can get, but it suffices to give us the law of progress,

the measure and rate of the periodical augmentation; and so, without

a document to help us, we can come pretty close to determining

what the wages were three and four and five hundred years ago.

Good, so far. Do we stop there? No. We stop looking backward;

we face around and apply the law to the future. My friends, I can

tell you what people’s wages are going to be at any date in the

future you want to know, for hundreds and hundreds of years.”

“What, goodman, what!”

“Yes. In seven hundred years wages will have risen to six times

what they are now, here in your region, and farm hands will be

allowed 3 cents a day, and mechanics 6.”

“I would’t I might die now and live then!” interrupted Smug, the

wheelwright, with a fine avaricious glow in his eye.

“And that isn’t all; they’ll get their board besides--such as it is:

it won’t bloat them. Two hundred and fifty years later--pay attention

now--a mechanic’s wages will be--mind you, this is law, not

guesswork; a mechanic’s wages will then be _twenty_ cents a day!”

There was a general gasp of awed astonishment, Dickon the mason

murmured, with raised eyes and hands:

“More than three weeks’ pay for one day’s work!”

“Riches!--of a truth, yes, riches!” muttered Marco, his breath

coming quick and short, with excitement.

“Wages will keep on rising, little by little, little by little,

as steadily as a tree grows, and at the end of three hundred and

forty years more there’ll be at least _one_ country where the

mechanic’s average wage will be _two hundred_ cents a day!”

It knocked them absolutely dumb! Not a man of them could get

his breath for upwards of two minutes. Then the coal-burner

said prayerfully:

“Might I but live to see it!”

“It is the income of an earl!” said Smug.

“An earl, say ye?” said Dowley; “ye could say more than that and

speak no lie; there’s no earl in the realm of Bagdemagus that hath

an income like to that. Income of an earl--mf! it’s the income

of an angel!”

“Now, then, that is what is going to happen as regards wages.

In that remote day, that man will earn, with _one_ week’s work,

that bill of goods which it takes you upwards of _fifty_ weeks to

earn now. Some other pretty surprising things are going to happen,

too. Brother Dowley, who is it that determines, every spring,

what the particular wage of each kind of mechanic, laborer, and

servant shall be for that year?”

“Sometimes the courts, sometimes the town council; but most of all,

the magistrate. Ye may say, in general terms, it is the magistrate

that fixes the wages.”

“Doesn’t ask any of those poor devils to _help_ him fix their wages

for them, does he?”

“Hm! That _were_ an idea! The master that’s to pay him the money

is the one that’s rightly concerned in that matter, ye will notice.”

“Yes--but I thought the other man might have some little trifle

at stake in it, too; and even his wife and children, poor creatures.

The masters are these: nobles, rich men, the prosperous generally.

These few, who do no work, determine what pay the vast hive shall

have who _do_ work. You see? They’re a ‘combine’--a trade union,

to coin a new phrase--who band themselves together to force their

lowly brother to take what they choose to give. Thirteen hundred

years hence--so says the unwritten law--the ‘combine’ will be the

other way, and then how these fine people’s posterity will fume

and fret and grit their teeth over the insolent tyranny of trade

unions! Yes, indeed! the magistrate will tranquilly arrange the

wages from now clear away down into the nineteenth century; and

then all of a sudden the wage-earner will consider that a couple

of thousand years or so is enough of this one-sided sort of thing;

and he will rise up and take a hand in fixing his wages himself.

Ah, he will have a long and bitter account of wrong and humiliation

to settle.”

“Do ye believe--”

“That he actually will help to fix his own wages? Yes, indeed.

And he will be strong and able, then.”

“Brave times, brave times, of a truth!” sneered the prosperous smith.

“Oh,--and there’s another detail. In that day, a master may hire

a man for only just one day, or one week, or one month at a time,

if he wants to.”

“What?”

“It’s true. Moreover, a magistrate won’t be able to force a man

to work for a master a whole year on a stretch whether the man

wants to or not.”

“Will there be _no_ law or sense in that day?”

“Both of them, Dowley. In that day a man will be his own property,

not the property of magistrate and master. And he can leave town

whenever he wants to, if the wages don’t suit him!--and they can’t

put him in the pillory for it.”

“Perdition catch such an age!” shouted Dowley, in strong indignation.

“An age of dogs, an age barren of reverence for superiors and

respect for authority! The pillory--”

“Oh, wait, brother; say no good word for that institution. I think

the pillory ought to be abolished.”

“A most strange idea. Why?”

“Well, I’ll tell you why. Is a man ever put in the pillory for

a capital crime?”

“No.”

“Is it right to condemn a man to a slight punishment for a small

offense and then kill him?”

There was no answer. I had scored my first point! For the first

time, the smith wasn’t up and ready. The company noticed it.

Good effect.

“You don’t answer, brother. You were about to glorify the pillory

a while ago, and shed some pity on a future age that isn’t going

to use it. I think the pillory ought to be abolished. What

usually happens when a poor fellow is put in the pillory for some

little offense that didn’t amount to anything in the world? The

mob try to have some fun with him, don’t they?”

“Yes.”

“They begin by clodding him; and they laugh themselves to pieces

to see him try to dodge one clod and get hit with another?”

“Yes.”

“Then they throw dead cats at him, don’t they?”

“Yes.”

“Well, then, suppose he has a few personal enemies in that mob

and here and there a man or a woman with a secret grudge against

him--and suppose especially that he is unpopular in the community,

for his pride, or his prosperity, or one thing or another--stones

and bricks take the place of clods and cats presently, don’t they?”

“There is no doubt of it.”

“As a rule he is crippled for life, isn’t he?--jaws broken, teeth

smashed out?--or legs mutilated, gangrened, presently cut off?

--or an eye knocked out, maybe both eyes?”

“It is true, God knoweth it.”

“And if he is unpopular he can depend on _dying_, right there in

the stocks, can’t he?”

“He surely can! One may not deny it.”

“I take it none of _you_ are unpopular--by reason of pride or

insolence, or conspicuous prosperity, or any of those things that

excite envy and malice among the base scum of a village? _You_

wouldn’t think it much of a risk to take a chance in the stocks?”

Dowley winced, visibly. I judged he was hit. But he didn’t betray

it by any spoken word. As for the others, they spoke out plainly,

and with strong feeling. They said they had seen enough of the

stocks to know what a man’s chance in them was, and they would

never consent to enter them if they could compromise on a quick

death by hanging.

“Well, to change the subject--for I think I’ve established my

point that the stocks ought to be abolished. I think some of our

laws are pretty unfair. For instance, if I do a thing which ought

to deliver me to the stocks, and you know I did it and yet keep

still and don’t report me, _you_ will get the stocks if anybody

informs on you.”

“Ah, but that would serve you but right,” said Dowley, “for you

_must_ inform. So saith the law.”

The others coincided.

“Well, all right, let it go, since you vote me down. But there’s

one thing which certainly isn’t fair. The magistrate fixes a

mechanic’s wage at one cent a day, for instance. The law says that

if any master shall venture, even under utmost press of business,

to pay anything _over_ that cent a day, even for a single day, he

shall be both fined and pilloried for it; and whoever knows he did

it and doesn’t inform, they also shall be fined and pilloried. Now

it seems to me unfair, Dowley, and a deadly peril to all of us,

that because you thoughtlessly confessed, a while ago, that within

a week you have paid a cent and fifteen mil--”

Oh, I tell _you_ it was a smasher! You ought to have seen them to

go to pieces, the whole gang. I had just slipped up on poor

smiling and complacent Dowley so nice and easy and softly, that

he never suspected anything was going to happen till the blow

came crashing down and knocked him all to rags.

A fine effect. In fact, as fine as any I ever produced, with so

little time to work it up in.

But I saw in a moment that I had overdone the thing a little.

I was expecting to scare them, but I wasn’t expecting to scare

them to death. They were mighty near it, though. You see they

had been a whole lifetime learning to appreciate the pillory; and

to have that thing staring them in the face, and every one of them

distinctly at the mercy of me, a stranger, if I chose to go and

report--well, it was awful, and they couldn’t seem to recover

from the shock, they couldn’t seem to pull themselves together.

Pale, shaky, dumb, pitiful? Why, they weren’t any better than

so many dead men. It was very uncomfortable. Of course, I thought

they would appeal to me to keep mum, and then we would shake hands,

and take a drink all round, and laugh it off, and there an end.

But no; you see I was an unknown person, among a cruelly oppressed

and suspicious people, a people always accustomed to having advantage

taken of their helplessness, and never expecting just or kind

treatment from any but their own families and very closest intimates.

Appeal to _me_ to be gentle, to be fair, to be generous? Of course,

they wanted to, but they couldn’t dare.

CHAPTER XXXIV

THE YANKEE AND THE KING SOLD AS SLAVES

Well, what had I better do? Nothing in a hurry, sure. I must

get up a diversion; anything to employ me while I could think,

and while these poor fellows could have a chance to come to life

again. There sat Marco, petrified in the act of trying to get

the hang of his miller-gun--turned to stone, just in the attitude

he was in when my pile-driver fell, the toy still gripped in his

unconscious fingers. So I took it from him and proposed to explain

its mystery. Mystery! a simple little thing like that; and yet it

was mysterious enough, for that race and that age.

I never saw such an awkward people, with machinery; you see, they

were totally unused to it. The miller-gun was a little double-barreled

tube of toughened glass, with a neat little trick of a spring

to it, which upon pressure would let a shot escape. But the shot

wouldn’t hurt anybody, it would only drop into your hand. In the

gun were two sizes--wee mustard-seed shot, and another sort that

were several times larger. They were money. The mustard-seed

shot represented milrays, the larger ones mills. So the gun was

a purse; and very handy, too; you could pay out money in the dark

with it, with accuracy; and you could carry it in your mouth; or

in your vest pocket, if you had one. I made them of several sizes

--one size so large that it would carry the equivalent of a dollar.

Using shot for money was a good thing for the government; the metal

cost nothing, and the money couldn’t be counterfeited, for I was

the only person in the kingdom who knew how to manage a shot tower.

“Paying the shot” soon came to be a common phrase. Yes, and I knew

it would still be passing men’s lips, away down in the nineteenth

century, yet none would suspect how and when it originated.

The king joined us, about this time, mightily refreshed by his nap,

and feeling good. Anything could make me nervous now, I was so

uneasy--for our lives were in danger; and so it worried me to

detect a complacent something in the king’s eye which seemed to

indicate that he had been loading himself up for a performance

of some kind or other; confound it, why must he go and choose

such a time as this?

I was right. He began, straight off, in the most innocently

artful, and transparent, and lubberly way, to lead up to the

subject of agriculture. The cold sweat broke out all over me.

I wanted to whisper in his ear, “Man, we are in awful danger!

every moment is worth a principality till we get back these men’s

confidence; _don’t_ waste any of this golden time.” But of course

I couldn’t do it. Whisper to him? It would look as if we were

conspiring. So I had to sit there and look calm and pleasant while

the king stood over that dynamite mine and mooned along about his

damned onions and things. At first the tumult of my own thoughts,

summoned by the danger-signal and swarming to the rescue from

every quarter of my skull, kept up such a hurrah and confusion

and fifing and drumming that I couldn’t take in a word; but

presently when my mob of gathering plans began to crystallize

and fall into position and form line of battle, a sort of order and

quiet ensued and I caught the boom of the king’s batteries, as if

out of remote distance:

“--were not the best way, methinks, albeit it is not to be denied

that authorities differ as concerning this point, some contending

that the onion is but an unwholesome berry when stricken early

from the tree--”

The audience showed signs of life, and sought each other’s eyes

in a surprised and troubled way.

“--whileas others do yet maintain, with much show of reason, that

this is not of necessity the case, instancing that plums and other

like cereals do be always dug in the unripe state--”

The audience exhibited distinct distress; yes, and also fear.

“--yet are they clearly wholesome, the more especially when one

doth assuage the asperities of their nature by admixture of the

tranquilizing juice of the wayward cabbage--”

The wild light of terror began to glow in these men’s eyes, and

one of them muttered, “These be errors, every one--God hath surely

smitten the mind of this farmer.” I was in miserable apprehension;

I sat upon thorns.

“--and further instancing the known truth that in the case of

animals, the young, which may be called the green fruit of the

creature, is the better, all confessing that when a goat is ripe,

his fur doth heat and sore engame his flesh, the which defect,

taken in connection with his several rancid habits, and fulsome

appetites, and godless attitudes of mind, and bilious quality

of morals--”

They rose and went for him! With a fierce shout, “The one would

betray us, the other is mad! Kill them! Kill them!” they flung

themselves upon us. What joy flamed up in the king’s eye! He

might be lame in agriculture, but this kind of thing was just in

his line. He had been fasting long, he was hungry for a fight.

He hit the blacksmith a crack under the jaw that lifted him clear

off his feet and stretched him flat on his back. “St. George for

Britain!” and he downed the wheelwright. The mason was big, but

I laid him out like nothing. The three gathered themselves up and

came again; went down again; came again; and kept on repeating

this, with native British pluck, until they were battered to jelly,

reeling with exhaustion, and so blind that they couldn’t tell us

from each other; and yet they kept right on, hammering away with

what might was left in them. Hammering each other--for we stepped

aside and looked on while they rolled, and struggled, and gouged,

and pounded, and bit, with the strict and wordless attention to

business of so many bulldogs. We looked on without apprehension,

for they were fast getting past ability to go for help against us,

and the arena was far enough from the public road to be safe

from intrusion.

Well, while they were gradually playing out, it suddenly occurred

to me to wonder what had become of Marco. I looked around; he

was nowhere to be seen. Oh, but this was ominous! I pulled the

king’s sleeve, and we glided away and rushed for the hut. No Marco

there, no Phyllis there! They had gone to the road for help, sure.

I told the king to give his heels wings, and I would explain later.

We made good time across the open ground, and as we darted into

the shelter of the wood I glanced back and saw a mob of excited

peasants swarm into view, with Marco and his wife at their head.

They were making a world of noise, but that couldn’t hurt anybody;

the wood was dense, and as soon as we were well into its depths

we would take to a tree and let them whistle. Ah, but then came

another sound--dogs! Yes, that was quite another matter. It

magnified our contract--we must find running water.

We tore along at a good gait, and soon left the sounds far behind

and modified to a murmur. We struck a stream and darted into it.

We waded swiftly down it, in the dim forest light, for as much

as three hundred yards, and then came across an oak with a great

bough sticking out over the water. We climbed up on this bough,

and began to work our way along it to the body of the tree; now

we began to hear those sounds more plainly; so the mob had struck

our trail. For a while the sounds approached pretty fast. And

then for another while they didn’t. No doubt the dogs had found

the place where we had entered the stream, and were now waltzing

up and down the shores trying to pick up the trail again.

When we were snugly lodged in the tree and curtained with foliage,

the king was satisfied, but I was doubtful. I believed we could

crawl along a branch and get into the next tree, and I judged it

worth while to try. We tried it, and made a success of it, though

the king slipped, at the junction, and came near failing to connect.

We got comfortable lodgment and satisfactory concealment among

the foliage, and then we had nothing to do but listen to the hunt.

Presently we heard it coming--and coming on the jump, too; yes,

and down both sides of the stream. Louder--louder--next minute

it swelled swiftly up into a roar of shoutings, barkings, tramplings,

and swept by like a cyclone.

“I was afraid that the overhanging branch would suggest something

to them,” said I, “but I don’t mind the disappointment. Come,

my liege, it were well that we make good use of our time. We’ve

flanked them. Dark is coming on, presently. If we can cross the

stream and get a good start, and borrow a couple of horses from

somebody’s pasture to use for a few hours, we shall be safe enough.”

We started down, and got nearly to the lowest limb, when we seemed

to hear the hunt returning. We stopped to listen.

“Yes,” said I, “they’re baffled, they’ve given it up, they’re on

their way home. We will climb back to our roost again, and let

them go by.”

So we climbed back. The king listened a moment and said:

“They still search--I wit the sign. We did best to abide.”

He was right. He knew more about hunting than I did. The noise

approached steadily, but not with a rush. The king said:

“They reason that we were advantaged by no parlous start of them,

and being on foot are as yet no mighty way from where we took

the water.”

“Yes, sire, that is about it, I am afraid, though I was hoping

better things.”

The noise drew nearer and nearer, and soon the van was drifting

under us, on both sides of the water. A voice called a halt from

the other bank, and said:

“An they were so minded, they could get to yon tree by this branch

that overhangs, and yet not touch ground. Ye will do well to send

a man up it.”

“Marry, that we will do!”

I was obliged to admire my cuteness in foreseeing this very thing

and swapping trees to beat it. But, don’t you know, there are

some things that can beat smartness and foresight? Awkwardness

and stupidity can. The best swordsman in the world doesn’t need

to fear the second best swordsman in the world; no, the person

for him to be afraid of is some ignorant antagonist who has never

had a sword in his hand before; he doesn’t do the thing he ought

to do, and so the expert isn’t prepared for him; he does the thing

he ought not to do; and often it catches the expert out and ends

him on the spot. Well, how could I, with all my gifts, make any

valuable preparation against a near-sighted, cross-eyed, pudding-headed

clown who would aim himself at the wrong tree and hit the right

one? And that is what he did. He went for the wrong tree, which

was, of course, the right one by mistake, and up he started.

Matters were serious now. We remained still, and awaited developments.

The peasant toiled his difficult way up. The king raised himself

up and stood; he made a leg ready, and when the comer’s head

arrived in reach of it there was a dull thud, and down went the man

floundering to the ground. There was a wild outbreak of anger

below, and the mob swarmed in from all around, and there we were

treed, and prisoners. Another man started up; the bridging bough

was detected, and a volunteer started up the tree that furnished

the bridge. The king ordered me to play Horatius and keep the

bridge. For a while the enemy came thick and fast; but no matter,

the head man of each procession always got a buffet that dislodged

him as soon as he came in reach. The king’s spirits rose, his joy

was limitless. He said that if nothing occurred to mar the prospect

we should have a beautiful night, for on this line of tactics we

could hold the tree against the whole country-side.

However, the mob soon came to that conclusion themselves; wherefore

they called off the assault and began to debate other plans.

They had no weapons, but there were plenty of stones, and stones

might answer. We had no objections. A stone might possibly

penetrate to us once in a while, but it wasn’t very likely; we were

well protected by boughs and foliage, and were not visible from

any good aiming point. If they would but waste half an hour in

stone-throwing, the dark would come to our help. We were feeling

very well satisfied. We could smile; almost laugh.

But we didn’t; which was just as well, for we should have been

interrupted. Before the stones had been raging through the leaves

and bouncing from the boughs fifteen minutes, we began to notice

a smell. A couple of sniffs of it was enough of an explanation

--it was smoke! Our game was up at last. We recognized that. When

smoke invites you, you have to come. They raised their pile of

dry brush and damp weeds higher and higher, and when they saw

the thick cloud begin to roll up and smother the tree, they broke

out in a storm of joy-clamors. I got enough breath to say:

“Proceed, my liege; after you is manners.”

The king gasped:

“Follow me down, and then back thyself against one side of the

trunk, and leave me the other. Then will we fight. Let each pile

his dead according to his own fashion and taste.”

Then he descended, barking and coughing, and I followed. I struck

the ground an instant after him; we sprang to our appointed places,

and began to give and take with all our might. The powwow and

racket were prodigious; it was a tempest of riot and confusion and

thick-falling blows. Suddenly some horsemen tore into the midst

of the crowd, and a voice shouted:

“Hold--or ye are dead men!”

How good it sounded! The owner of the voice bore all the marks of

a gentleman: picturesque and costly raiment, the aspect of command,

a hard countenance, with complexion and features marred by dissipation.

The mob fell humbly back, like so many spaniels. The gentleman

inspected us critically, then said sharply to the peasants:

“What are ye doing to these people?”

“They be madmen, worshipful sir, that have come wandering we know

not whence, and--”

“Ye know not whence? Do ye pretend ye know them not?”

“Most honored sir, we speak but the truth. They are strangers

and unknown to any in this region; and they be the most violent

and bloodthirsty madmen that ever--”

“Peace! Ye know not what ye say. They are not mad. Who are ye?

And whence are ye? Explain.”

“We are but peaceful strangers, sir,” I said, “and traveling upon

our own concerns. We are from a far country, and unacquainted

here. We have purposed no harm; and yet but for your brave

interference and protection these people would have killed us.

As you have divined, sir, we are not mad; neither are we violent

or bloodthirsty.”

The gentleman turned to his retinue and said calmly: “Lash me

these animals to their kennels!”

The mob vanished in an instant; and after them plunged the horsemen,

laying about them with their whips and pitilessly riding down such

as were witless enough to keep the road instead of taking to the

bush. The shrieks and supplications presently died away in the

distance, and soon the horsemen began to straggle back. Meantime

the gentleman had been questioning us more closely, but had dug

no particulars out of us. We were lavish of recognition of the

service he was doing us, but we revealed nothing more than that we

were friendless strangers from a far country. When the escort were

all returned, the gentleman said to one of his servants:

“Bring the led-horses and mount these people.”

“Yes, my lord.”

We were placed toward the rear, among the servants. We traveled

pretty fast, and finally drew rein some time after dark at a

roadside inn some ten or twelve miles from the scene of our

troubles. My lord went immediately to his room, after ordering

his supper, and we saw no more of him. At dawn in the morning

we breakfasted and made ready to start.

My lord’s chief attendant sauntered forward at that moment with

indolent grace, and said:

“Ye have said ye should continue upon this road, which is our

direction likewise; wherefore my lord, the earl Grip, hath given

commandment that ye retain the horses and ride, and that certain

of us ride with ye a twenty mile to a fair town that hight Cambenet,

whenso ye shall be out of peril.”

We could do nothing less than express our thanks and accept the

offer. We jogged along, six in the party, at a moderate and

comfortable gait, and in conversation learned that my lord Grip

was a very great personage in his own region, which lay a day’s

journey beyond Cambenet. We loitered to such a degree that it was

near the middle of the forenoon when we entered the market square

of the town. We dismounted, and left our thanks once more for

my lord, and then approached a crowd assembled in the center of

the square, to see what might be the object of interest. It was the

remnant of that old peregrinating band of slaves! So they had

been dragging their chains about, all this weary time. That poor

husband was gone, and also many others; and some few purchases

had been added to the gang. The king was not interested, and

wanted to move along, but I was absorbed, and full of pity. I could

not take my eyes away from these worn and wasted wrecks of humanity.

There they sat, grounded upon the ground, silent, uncomplaining,

with bowed heads, a pathetic sight. And by hideous contrast, a

redundant orator was making a speech to another gathering not thirty

steps away, in fulsome laudation of “our glorious British liberties!”

I was boiling. I had forgotten I was a plebeian, I was remembering

I was a man. Cost what it might, I would mount that rostrum and--

Click! the king and I were handcuffed together! Our companions,

those servants, had done it; my lord Grip stood looking on. The

king burst out in a fury, and said:

“What meaneth this ill-mannered jest?”

My lord merely said to his head miscreant, coolly:

“Put up the slaves and sell them!”

_Slaves!_ The word had a new sound--and how unspeakably awful! The

king lifted his manacles and brought them down with a deadly force;

but my lord was out of the way when they arrived. A dozen of

the rascal’s servants sprang forward, and in a moment we were

helpless, with our hands bound behind us. We so loudly and so

earnestly proclaimed ourselves freemen, that we got the interested

attention of that liberty-mouthing orator and his patriotic crowd,

and they gathered about us and assumed a very determined attitude.

The orator said:

“If, indeed, ye are freemen, ye have nought to fear--the God-given

liberties of Britain are about ye for your shield and shelter!

(Applause.) Ye shall soon see. Bring forth your proofs.”

“What proofs?”

“Proof that ye are freemen.”

Ah--I remembered! I came to myself; I said nothing. But the

king stormed out:

“Thou’rt insane, man. It were better, and more in reason, that

this thief and scoundrel here prove that we are _not_ freemen.”

You see, he knew his own laws just as other people so often know

the laws; by words, not by effects. They take a _meaning_, and get

to be very vivid, when you come to apply them to yourself.

All hands shook their heads and looked disappointed; some turned

away, no longer interested. The orator said--and this time in the

tones of business, not of sentiment:

“An ye do not know your country’s laws, it were time ye learned

them. Ye are strangers to us; ye will not deny that. Ye may be

freemen, we do not deny that; but also ye may be slaves. The law

is clear: it doth not require the claimant to prove ye are slaves,

it requireth you to prove ye are not.”

I said:

“Dear sir, give us only time to send to Astolat; or give us only

time to send to the Valley of Holiness--”

“Peace, good man, these are extraordinary requests, and you may

not hope to have them granted. It would cost much time, and would

unwarrantably inconvenience your master--”

“_Master_, idiot!” stormed the king. “I have no master, I myself

am the m--”

“Silence, for God’s sake!”

I got the words out in time to stop the king. We were in trouble

enough already; it could not help us any to give these people

the notion that we were lunatics.

There is no use in stringing out the details. The earl put us up

and sold us at auction. This same infernal law had existed in

our own South in my own time, more than thirteen hundred years

later, and under it hundreds of freemen who could not prove that

they were freemen had been sold into lifelong slavery without

the circumstance making any particular impression upon me; but the

minute law and the auction block came into my personal experience,

a thing which had been merely improper before became suddenly

hellish. Well, that’s the way we are made.

Yes, we were sold at auction, like swine. In a big town and an

active market we should have brought a good price; but this place

was utterly stagnant and so we sold at a figure which makes me

ashamed, every time I think of it. The King of England brought

seven dollars, and his prime minister nine; whereas the king was

easily worth twelve dollars and I as easily worth fifteen. But

that is the way things always go; if you force a sale on a dull

market, I don’t care what the property is, you are going to make

a poor business of it, and you can make up your mind to it. If

the earl had had wit enough to--

However, there is no occasion for my working my sympathies up

on his account. Let him go, for the present; I took his number,

so to speak.

The slave-dealer bought us both, and hitched us onto that long

chain of his, and we constituted the rear of his procession. We

took up our line of march and passed out of Cambenet at noon;

and it seemed to me unaccountably strange and odd that the King

of England and his chief minister, marching manacled and fettered

and yoked, in a slave convoy, could move by all manner of idle men

and women, and under windows where sat the sweet and the lovely,

and yet never attract a curious eye, never provoke a single remark.

Dear, dear, it only shows that there is nothing diviner about a king

than there is about a tramp, after all. He is just a cheap and

hollow artificiality when you don’t know he is a king. But reveal

his quality, and dear me it takes your very breath away to look

at him. I reckon we are all fools. Born so, no doubt.

CHAPTER XXXV

A PITIFUL INCIDENT

It’s a world of surprises. The king brooded; this was natural.

What would he brood about, should you say? Why, about the prodigious

nature of his fall, of course--from the loftiest place in the world

to the lowest; from the most illustrious station in the world to

the obscurest; from the grandest vocation among men to the basest.

No, I take my oath that the thing that graveled him most, to start

with, was not this, but the price he had fetched! He couldn’t

seem to get over that seven dollars. Well, it stunned me so, when

I first found it out, that I couldn’t believe it; it didn’t seem

natural. But as soon as my mental sight cleared and I got a right

focus on it, I saw I was mistaken; it _was_ natural. For this

reason: a king is a mere artificiality, and so a king’s feelings,

like the impulses of an automatic doll, are mere artificialities;

but as a man, he is a reality, and his feelings, as a man, are

real, not phantoms. It shames the average man to be valued below

his own estimate of his worth, and the king certainly wasn’t

anything more than an average man, if he was up that high.

Confound him, he wearied me with arguments to show that in anything

like a fair market he would have fetched twenty-five dollars,

sure--a thing which was plainly nonsense, and full or the baldest

conceit; I wasn’t worth it myself. But it was tender ground for

me to argue on. In fact, I had to simply shirk argument and do

the diplomatic instead. I had to throw conscience aside, and

brazenly concede that he ought to have brought twenty-five dollars;

whereas I was quite well aware that in all the ages, the world had

never seen a king that was worth half the money, and during the

next thirteen centuries wouldn’t see one that was worth the fourth

of it. Yes, he tired me. If he began to talk about the crops;

or about the recent weather; or about the condition of politics;

or about dogs, or cats, or morals, or theology--no matter what

--I sighed, for I knew what was coming; he was going to get out of it

a palliation of that tiresome seven-dollar sale. Wherever we

halted where there was a crowd, he would give me a look which

said plainly: “if that thing could be tried over again now, with

this kind of folk, you would see a different result.” Well, when

he was first sold, it secretly tickled me to see him go for seven

dollars; but before he was done with his sweating and worrying

I wished he had fetched a hundred. The thing never got a chance

to die, for every day, at one place or another, possible purchasers

looked us over, and, as often as any other way, their comment on

the king was something like this:

“Here’s a two-dollar-and-a-half chump with a thirty-dollar style.

Pity but style was marketable.”

At last this sort of remark produced an evil result. Our owner

was a practical person and he perceived that this defect must be

mended if he hoped to find a purchaser for the king. So he went

to work to take the style out of his sacred majesty. I could have

given the man some valuable advice, but I didn’t; you mustn’t

volunteer advice to a slave-driver unless you want to damage

the cause you are arguing for. I had found it a sufficiently

difficult job to reduce the king’s style to a peasant’s style,

even when he was a willing and anxious pupil; now then, to undertake

to reduce the king’s style to a slave’s style--and by force--go to!

it was a stately contract. Never mind the details--it will save me

trouble to let you imagine them. I will only remark that at the

end of a week there was plenty of evidence that lash and club

and fist had done their work well; the king’s body was a sight

to see--and to weep over; but his spirit?--why, it wasn’t even

phased. Even that dull clod of a slave-driver was able to see

that there can be such a thing as a slave who will remain a man

till he dies; whose bones you can break, but whose manhood you

can’t. This man found that from his first effort down to his

latest, he couldn’t ever come within reach of the king, but the

king was ready to plunge for him, and did it. So he gave up

at last, and left the king in possession of his style unimpaired.

The fact is, the king was a good deal more than a king, he was

a man; and when a man is a man, you can’t knock it out of him.

We had a rough time for a month, tramping to and fro in the earth,

and suffering. And what Englishman was the most interested in

the slavery question by that time? His grace the king! Yes; from

being the most indifferent, he was become the most interested.

He was become the bitterest hater of the institution I had ever

heard talk. And so I ventured to ask once more a question which

I had asked years before and had gotten such a sharp answer that

I had not thought it prudent to meddle in the matter further.

Would he abolish slavery?

His answer was as sharp as before, but it was music this time;

I shouldn’t ever wish to hear pleasanter, though the profanity

was not good, being awkwardly put together, and with the crash-word

almost in the middle instead of at the end, where, of course, it

ought to have been.

I was ready and willing to get free now; I hadn’t wanted to get

free any sooner. No, I cannot quite say that. I had wanted to,

but I had not been willing to take desperate chances, and had

always dissuaded the king from them. But now--ah, it was a new

atmosphere! Liberty would be worth any cost that might be put

upon it now. I set about a plan, and was straightway charmed

with it. It would require time, yes, and patience, too, a great

deal of both. One could invent quicker ways, and fully as sure

ones; but none that would be as picturesque as this; none that

could be made so dramatic. And so I was not going to give this

one up. It might delay us months, but no matter, I would carry

it out or break something.

Now and then we had an adventure. One night we were overtaken

by a snow-storm while still a mile from the village we were making

for. Almost instantly we were shut up as in a fog, the driving

snow was so thick. You couldn’t see a thing, and we were soon

lost. The slave-driver lashed us desperately, for he saw ruin

before him, but his lashings only made matters worse, for they

drove us further from the road and from likelihood of succor.

So we had to stop at last and slump down in the snow where we

were. The storm continued until toward midnight, then ceased.

By this time two of our feebler men and three of our women were

dead, and others past moving and threatened with death. Our

master was nearly beside himself. He stirred up the living, and

made us stand, jump, slap ourselves, to restore our circulation,

and he helped as well as he could with his whip.

Now came a diversion. We heard shrieks and yells, and soon a

woman came running and crying; and seeing our group, she flung

herself into our midst and begged for protection. A mob of people

came tearing after her, some with torches, and they said she was a

witch who had caused several cows to die by a strange disease,

and practiced her arts by help of a devil in the form of a black

cat. This poor woman had been stoned until she hardly looked

human, she was so battered and bloody. The mob wanted to burn her.

Well, now, what do you suppose our master did? When we closed

around this poor creature to shelter her, he saw his chance. He

said, burn her here, or they shouldn’t have her at all. Imagine

that! They were willing. They fastened her to a post; they

brought wood and piled it about her; they applied the torch while

she shrieked and pleaded and strained her two young daughters

to her breast; and our brute, with a heart solely for business,

lashed us into position about the stake and warmed us into life

and commercial value by the same fire which took away the innocent

life of that poor harmless mother. That was the sort of master we

had. I took _his_ number. That snow-storm cost him nine of his

flock; and he was more brutal to us than ever, after that, for

many days together, he was so enraged over his loss.

We had adventures all along. One day we ran into a procession.

And such a procession! All the riffraff of the kingdom seemed

to be comprehended in it; and all drunk at that. In the van was

a cart with a coffin in it, and on the coffin sat a comely young

girl of about eighteen suckling a baby, which she squeezed to her

breast in a passion of love every little while, and every little

while wiped from its face the tears which her eyes rained down

upon it; and always the foolish little thing smiled up at her,

happy and content, kneading her breast with its dimpled fat hand,

which she patted and fondled right over her breaking heart.

Men and women, boys and girls, trotted along beside or after

the cart, hooting, shouting profane and ribald remarks, singing

snatches of foul song, skipping, dancing--a very holiday of

hellions, a sickening sight. We had struck a suburb of London,

outside the walls, and this was a sample of one sort of London

society. Our master secured a good place for us near the gallows.

A priest was in attendance, and he helped the girl climb up, and

said comforting words to her, and made the under-sheriff provide

a stool for her. Then he stood there by her on the gallows, and

for a moment looked down upon the mass of upturned faces at his

feet, then out over the solid pavement of heads that stretched away

on every side occupying the vacancies far and near, and then began

to tell the story of the case. And there was pity in his voice

--how seldom a sound that was in that ignorant and savage land!

I remember every detail of what he said, except the words he said

it in; and so I change it into my own words:

“Law is intended to mete out justice. Sometimes it fails. This

cannot be helped. We can only grieve, and be resigned, and pray

for the soul of him who falls unfairly by the arm of the law, and

that his fellows may be few. A law sends this poor young thing

to death--and it is right. But another law had placed her where

she must commit her crime or starve with her child--and before God

that law is responsible for both her crime and her ignominious death!

“A little while ago this young thing, this child of eighteen years,

was as happy a wife and mother as any in England; and her lips

were blithe with song, which is the native speech of glad and

innocent hearts. Her young husband was as happy as she; for he was

doing his whole duty, he worked early and late at his handicraft,

his bread was honest bread well and fairly earned, he was prospering,

he was furnishing shelter and sustenance to his family, he was

adding his mite to the wealth of the nation. By consent of a

treacherous law, instant destruction fell upon this holy home and

swept it away! That young husband was waylaid and impressed,

and sent to sea. The wife knew nothing of it. She sought him

everywhere, she moved the hardest hearts with the supplications

of her tears, the broken eloquence of her despair. Weeks dragged

by, she watching, waiting, hoping, her mind going slowly to wreck

under the burden of her misery. Little by little all her small

possessions went for food. When she could no longer pay her rent,

they turned her out of doors. She begged, while she had strength;

when she was starving at last, and her milk failing, she stole a

piece of linen cloth of the value of a fourth part of a cent,

thinking to sell it and save her child. But she was seen by the

owner of the cloth. She was put in jail and brought to trial.

The man testified to the facts. A plea was made for her, and her

sorrowful story was told in her behalf. She spoke, too, by

permission, and said she did steal the cloth, but that her mind

was so disordered of late by trouble that when she was overborne

with hunger all acts, criminal or other, swam meaningless through

her brain and she knew nothing rightly, except that she was so

hungry! For a moment all were touched, and there was disposition

to deal mercifully with her, seeing that she was so young and

friendless, and her case so piteous, and the law that robbed her

of her support to blame as being the first and only cause of her

transgression; but the prosecuting officer replied that whereas

these things were all true, and most pitiful as well, still there

was much small theft in these days, and mistimed mercy here would

be a danger to property--oh, my God, is there no property in ruined

homes, and orphaned babes, and broken hearts that British law

holds precious!--and so he must require sentence.

“When the judge put on his black cap, the owner of the stolen

linen rose trembling up, his lip quivering, his face as gray as

ashes; and when the awful words came, he cried out, ‘Oh, poor

child, poor child, I did not know it was death!’ and fell as a

tree falls. When they lifted him up his reason was gone; before

the sun was set, he had taken his own life. A kindly man; a man

whose heart was right, at bottom; add his murder to this that

is to be now done here; and charge them both where they belong

--to the rulers and the bitter laws of Britain. The time is come, my

child; let me pray over thee--not _for_ thee, dear abused poor heart

and innocent, but for them that be guilty of thy ruin and death,

who need it more.”

After his prayer they put the noose around the young girl’s neck,

and they had great trouble to adjust the knot under her ear,

because she was devouring the baby all the time, wildly kissing it,

and snatching it to her face and her breast, and drenching it

with tears, and half moaning, half shrieking all the while, and the

baby crowing, and laughing, and kicking its feet with delight over

what it took for romp and play. Even the hangman couldn’t stand it,

but turned away. When all was ready the priest gently pulled and

tugged and forced the child out of the mother’s arms, and stepped

quickly out of her reach; but she clasped her hands, and made a

wild spring toward him, with a shriek; but the rope--and the

under-sheriff--held her short. Then she went on her knees and

stretched out her hands and cried:

“One more kiss--oh, my God, one more, one more,--it is the dying

that begs it!”

She got it; she almost smothered the little thing. And when they

got it away again, she cried out:

“Oh, my child, my darling, it will die! It has no home, it has

no father, no friend, no mother--”

“It has them all!” said that good priest. “All these will I be

to it till I die.”

You should have seen her face then! Gratitude? Lord, what do

you want with words to express that? Words are only painted fire;

a look is the fire itself. She gave that look, and carried it away

to the treasury of heaven, where all things that are divine belong.

CHAPTER XXXVI

AN ENCOUNTER IN THE DARK

London--to a slave--was a sufficiently interesting place. It was

merely a great big village; and mainly mud and thatch. The streets

were muddy, crooked, unpaved. The populace was an ever flocking

and drifting swarm of rags, and splendors, of nodding plumes and

shining armor. The king had a palace there; he saw the outside

of it. It made him sigh; yes, and swear a little, in a poor

juvenile sixth century way. We saw knights and grandees whom

we knew, but they didn’t know us in our rags and dirt and raw

welts and bruises, and wouldn’t have recognized us if we had hailed

them, nor stopped to answer, either, it being unlawful to speak

with slaves on a chain. Sandy passed within ten yards of me on

a mule--hunting for me, I imagined. But the thing which clean

broke my heart was something which happened in front of our old

barrack in a square, while we were enduring the spectacle of a man

being boiled to death in oil for counterfeiting pennies. It was

the sight of a newsboy--and I couldn’t get at him! Still, I had

one comfort--here was proof that Clarence was still alive and

banging away. I meant to be with him before long; the thought was

full of cheer.

I had one little glimpse of another thing, one day, which gave me

a great uplift. It was a wire stretching from housetop to housetop.

Telegraph or telephone, sure. I did very much wish I had a little

piece of it. It was just what I needed, in order to carry out my

project of escape. My idea was to get loose some night, along with

the king, then gag and bind our master, change clothes with him,

batter him into the aspect of a stranger, hitch him to the slave-chain,

assume possession of the property, march to Camelot, and--

But you get my idea; you see what a stunning dramatic surprise

I would wind up with at the palace. It was all feasible, if

I could only get hold of a slender piece of iron which I could

shape into a lock-pick. I could then undo the lumbering padlocks

with which our chains were fastened, whenever I might choose.

But I never had any luck; no such thing ever happened to fall

in my way. However, my chance came at last. A gentleman who

had come twice before to dicker for me, without result, or indeed

any approach to a result, came again. I was far from expecting

ever to belong to him, for the price asked for me from the time

I was first enslaved was exorbitant, and always provoked either

anger or derision, yet my master stuck stubbornly to it--twenty-two

dollars. He wouldn’t bate a cent. The king was greatly admired,

because of his grand physique, but his kingly style was against

him, and he wasn’t salable; nobody wanted that kind of a slave.

I considered myself safe from parting from him because of my

extravagant price. No, I was not expecting to ever belong to

this gentleman whom I have spoken of, but he had something which

I expected would belong to me eventually, if he would but visit

us often enough. It was a steel thing with a long pin to it, with

which his long cloth outside garment was fastened together in

front. There were three of them. He had disappointed me twice,

because he did not come quite close enough to me to make my project

entirely safe; but this time I succeeded; I captured the lower

clasp of the three, and when he missed it he thought he had lost

it on the way.

I had a chance to be glad about a minute, then straightway a chance

to be sad again. For when the purchase was about to fail, as usual,

the master suddenly spoke up and said what would be worded thus

--in modern English:

“I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’m tired supporting these two for

no good. Give me twenty-two dollars for this one, and I’ll throw

the other one in.”

The king couldn’t get his breath, he was in such a fury. He began

to choke and gag, and meantime the master and the gentleman moved

away discussing.

“An ye will keep the offer open--”

“‘Tis open till the morrow at this hour.”

“Then I will answer you at that time,” said the gentleman, and

disappeared, the master following him.

I had a time of it to cool the king down, but I managed it.

I whispered in his ear, to this effect:

“Your grace _will_ go for nothing, but after another fashion. And

so shall I. To-night we shall both be free.”

“Ah! How is that?”

“With this thing which I have stolen, I will unlock these locks

and cast off these chains to-night. When he comes about nine-thirty

to inspect us for the night, we will seize him, gag him, batter

him, and early in the morning we will march out of this town,

proprietors of this caravan of slaves.”

That was as far as I went, but the king was charmed and satisfied.

That evening we waited patiently for our fellow-slaves to get

to sleep and signify it by the usual sign, for you must not take

many chances on those poor fellows if you can avoid it. It is

best to keep your own secrets. No doubt they fidgeted only about

as usual, but it didn’t seem so to me. It seemed to me that they

were going to be forever getting down to their regular snoring.

As the time dragged on I got nervously afraid we shouldn’t have

enough of it left for our needs; so I made several premature

attempts, and merely delayed things by it; for I couldn’t seem

to touch a padlock, there in the dark, without starting a rattle

out of it which interrupted somebody’s sleep and made him turn

over and wake some more of the gang.

But finally I did get my last iron off, and was a free man once

more. I took a good breath of relief, and reached for the king’s

irons. Too late! in comes the master, with a light in one hand

and his heavy walking-staff in the other. I snuggled close among

the wallow of snorers, to conceal as nearly as possible that I was

naked of irons; and I kept a sharp lookout and prepared to spring

for my man the moment he should bend over me.

But he didn’t approach. He stopped, gazed absently toward our

dusky mass a minute, evidently thinking about something else;

then set down his light, moved musingly toward the door, and before

a body could imagine what he was going to do, he was out of the

door and had closed it behind him.

“Quick!” said the king. “Fetch him back!”

Of course, it was the thing to do, and I was up and out in a

moment. But, dear me, there were no lamps in those days, and

it was a dark night. But I glimpsed a dim figure a few steps

away. I darted for it, threw myself upon it, and then there was

a state of things and lively! We fought and scuffled and struggled,

and drew a crowd in no time. They took an immense interest in

the fight and encouraged us all they could, and, in fact, couldn’t

have been pleasanter or more cordial if it had been their own

fight. Then a tremendous row broke out behind us, and as much

as half of our audience left us, with a rush, to invest some

sympathy in that. Lanterns began to swing in all directions;

it was the watch gathering from far and near. Presently a halberd

fell across my back, as a reminder, and I knew what it meant.

I was in custody. So was my adversary. We were marched off toward

prison, one on each side of the watchman. Here was disaster,

here was a fine scheme gone to sudden destruction! I tried to

imagine what would happen when the master should discover that

it was I who had been fighting him; and what would happen if they

jailed us together in the general apartment for brawlers and petty

law-breakers, as was the custom; and what might--

Just then my antagonist turned his face around in my direction,

the freckled light from the watchman’s tin lantern fell on it,

and, by George, he was the wrong man!

CHAPTER XXXVII

AN AWFUL PREDICAMENT

Sleep? It was impossible. It would naturally have been impossible

in that noisome cavern of a jail, with its mangy crowd of drunken,

quarrelsome, and song-singing rapscallions. But the thing that

made sleep all the more a thing not to be dreamed of, was my

racking impatience to get out of this place and find out the whole

size of what might have happened yonder in the slave-quarters

in consequence of that intolerable miscarriage of mine.

It was a long night, but the morning got around at last. I made

a full and frank explanation to the court. I said I was a slave,

the property of the great Earl Grip, who had arrived just after

dark at the Tabard inn in the village on the other side of the

water, and had stopped there over night, by compulsion, he being

taken deadly sick with a strange and sudden disorder. I had been

ordered to cross to the city in all haste and bring the best

physician; I was doing my best; naturally I was running with all

my might; the night was dark, I ran against this common person

here, who seized me by the throat and began to pummel me, although

I told him my errand, and implored him, for the sake of the great

earl my master’s mortal peril--

The common person interrupted and said it was a lie; and was going

to explain how I rushed upon him and attacked him without a word--

“Silence, sirrah!” from the court. “Take him hence and give him

a few stripes whereby to teach him how to treat the servant of

a nobleman after a different fashion another time. Go!”

Then the court begged my pardon, and hoped I would not fail

to tell his lordship it was in no wise the court’s fault that this

high-handed thing had happened. I said I would make it all right,

and so took my leave. Took it just in time, too; he was starting

to ask me why I didn’t fetch out these facts the moment I was

arrested. I said I would if I had thought of it--which was true

--but that I was so battered by that man that all my wit was knocked

out of me--and so forth and so on, and got myself away, still

mumbling. I didn’t wait for breakfast. No grass grew under my

feet. I was soon at the slave quarters. Empty--everybody gone!

That is, everybody except one body--the slave-master’s. It lay

there all battered to pulp; and all about were the evidences of

a terrific fight. There was a rude board coffin on a cart at

the door, and workmen, assisted by the police, were thinning a

road through the gaping crowd in order that they might bring it in.

I picked out a man humble enough in life to condescend to talk

with one so shabby as I, and got his account of the matter.

“There were sixteen slaves here. They rose against their master

in the night, and thou seest how it ended.”

“Yes. How did it begin?”

“There was no witness but the slaves. They said the slave that

was most valuable got free of his bonds and escaped in some strange

way--by magic arts ‘twas thought, by reason that he had no key,

and the locks were neither broke nor in any wise injured. When

the master discovered his loss, he was mad with despair, and threw

himself upon his people with his heavy stick, who resisted and

brake his back and in other and divers ways did give him hurts

that brought him swiftly to his end.”

“This is dreadful. It will go hard with the slaves, no doubt,

upon the trial.”

“Marry, the trial is over.”

“Over!”

“Would they be a week, think you--and the matter so simple? They

were not the half of a quarter of an hour at it.”

“Why, I don’t see how they could determine which were the guilty

ones in so short a time.”

“_Which_ ones? Indeed, they considered not particulars like to that.

They condemned them in a body. Wit ye not the law?--which men

say the Romans left behind them here when they went--that if one

slave killeth his master all the slaves of that man must die for it.”

“True. I had forgotten. And when will these die?”

“Belike within a four and twenty hours; albeit some say they will

wait a pair of days more, if peradventure they may find the missing

one meantime.”

The missing one! It made me feel uncomfortable.

“Is it likely they will find him?”

“Before the day is spent--yes. They seek him everywhere. They

stand at the gates of the town, with certain of the slaves who

will discover him to them if he cometh, and none can pass out

but he will be first examined.”

“Might one see the place where the rest are confined?”

“The outside of it--yes. The inside of it--but ye will not want

to see that.”

I took the address of that prison for future reference and then

sauntered off. At the first second-hand clothing shop I came to,

up a back street, I got a rough rig suitable for a common seaman

who might be going on a cold voyage, and bound up my face with

a liberal bandage, saying I had a toothache. This concealed my

worst bruises. It was a transformation. I no longer resembled my

former self. Then I struck out for that wire, found it and

followed it to its den. It was a little room over a butcher’s

shop--which meant that business wasn’t very brisk in the telegraphic

line. The young chap in charge was drowsing at his table. I locked

the door and put the vast key in my bosom. This alarmed the young

fellow, and he was going to make a noise; but I said:

“Save your wind; if you open your mouth you are dead, sure. Tackle

your instrument. Lively, now! Call Camelot.”

“This doth amaze me! How should such as you know aught of such

matters as--”

“Call Camelot! I am a desperate man. Call Camelot, or get away

from the instrument and I will do it myself.”

“What--you?”

“Yes--certainly. Stop gabbling. Call the palace.”

He made the call.

“Now, then, call Clarence.”

“Clarence _who_?”

“Never mind Clarence who. Say you want Clarence; you’ll get

an answer.”

He did so. We waited five nerve-straining minutes--ten minutes

--how long it did seem!--and then came a click that was as familiar

to me as a human voice; for Clarence had been my own pupil.

“Now, my lad, vacate! They would have known _my_ touch, maybe,

and so your call was surest; but I’m all right now.”

He vacated the place and cocked his ear to listen--but it didn’t

win. I used a cipher. I didn’t waste any time in sociabilities

with Clarence, but squared away for business, straight-off--thus:

“The king is here and in danger. We were captured and brought

here as slaves. We should not be able to prove our identity

--and the fact is, I am not in a position to try. Send a telegram

for the palace here which will carry conviction with it.”

His answer came straight back:

“They don’t know anything about the telegraph; they haven’t had

any experience yet, the line to London is so new. Better not

venture that. They might hang you. Think up something else.”

Might hang us! Little he knew how closely he was crowding the

facts. I couldn’t think up anything for the moment. Then an idea

struck me, and I started it along:

“Send five hundred picked knights with Launcelot in the lead; and

send them on the jump. Let them enter by the southwest gate, and

look out for the man with a white cloth around his right arm.”

The answer was prompt:

“They shall start in half an hour.”

“All right, Clarence; now tell this lad here that I’m a friend

of yours and a dead-head; and that he must be discreet and say

nothing about this visit of mine.”

The instrument began to talk to the youth and I hurried away.

I fell to ciphering. In half an hour it would be nine o’clock.

Knights and horses in heavy armor couldn’t travel very fast.

These would make the best time they could, and now that the ground

was in good condition, and no snow or mud, they would probably

make a seven-mile gait; they would have to change horses a couple

of times; they would arrive about six, or a little after; it would

still be plenty light enough; they would see the white cloth which

I should tie around my right arm, and I would take command. We

would surround that prison and have the king out in no time.

It would be showy and picturesque enough, all things considered,

though I would have preferred noonday, on account of the more

theatrical aspect the thing would have.

Now, then, in order to increase the strings to my bow, I thought

I would look up some of those people whom I had formerly recognized,

and make myself known. That would help us out of our scrape,

without the knights. But I must proceed cautiously, for it was

a risky business. I must get into sumptuous raiment, and it

wouldn’t do to run and jump into it. No, I must work up to it

by degrees, buying suit after suit of clothes, in shops wide apart,

and getting a little finer article with each change, until I should

finally reach silk and velvet, and be ready for my project. So

I started.

But the scheme fell through like scat! The first corner I turned,

I came plump upon one of our slaves, snooping around with a watchman.

I coughed at the moment, and he gave me a sudden look that bit right

into my marrow. I judge he thought he had heard that cough before.

I turned immediately into a shop and worked along down the counter,

pricing things and watching out of the corner of my eye. Those

people had stopped, and were talking together and looking in at

the door. I made up my mind to get out the back way, if there

was a back way, and I asked the shopwoman if I could step out

there and look for the escaped slave, who was believed to be in

hiding back there somewhere, and said I was an officer in disguise,

and my pard was yonder at the door with one of the murderers in

charge, and would she be good enough to step there and tell him

he needn’t wait, but had better go at once to the further end of

the back alley and be ready to head him off when I rousted him out.

She was blazing with eagerness to see one of those already celebrated

murderers, and she started on the errand at once. I slipped out

the back way, locked the door behind me, put the key in my pocket

and started off, chuckling to myself and comfortable.

Well, I had gone and spoiled it again, made another mistake.

A double one, in fact. There were plenty of ways to get rid of

that officer by some simple and plausible device, but no, I must

pick out a picturesque one; it is the crying defect of my character.

And then, I had ordered my procedure upon what the officer, being

human, would _naturally_ do; whereas when you are least expecting it,

a man will now and then go and do the very thing which it’s _not_

natural for him to do. The natural thing for the officer to do,

in this case, was to follow straight on my heels; he would find

a stout oaken door, securely locked, between him and me; before

he could break it down, I should be far away and engaged in slipping

into a succession of baffling disguises which would soon get me

into a sort of raiment which was a surer protection from meddling

law-dogs in Britain than any amount of mere innocence and purity

of character. But instead of doing the natural thing, the officer

took me at my word, and followed my instructions. And so, as I

came trotting out of that cul de sac, full of satisfaction with my

own cleverness, he turned the corner and I walked right into his

handcuffs. If I had known it was a cul de sac--however, there

isn’t any excusing a blunder like that, let it go. Charge it up

to profit and loss.

Of course, I was indignant, and swore I had just come ashore from

a long voyage, and all that sort of thing--just to see, you know,

if it would deceive that slave. But it didn’t. He knew me. Then

I reproached him for betraying me. He was more surprised than

hurt. He stretched his eyes wide, and said:

“What, wouldst have me let thee, of all men, escape and not hang

with us, when thou’rt the very _cause_ of our hanging? Go to!”

“Go to” was their way of saying “I should smile!” or “I like that!”

Queer talkers, those people.

Well, there was a sort of bastard justice in his view of the case,

and so I dropped the matter. When you can’t cure a disaster by

argument, what is the use to argue? It isn’t my way. So I only said:

“You’re not going to be hanged. None of us are.”

Both men laughed, and the slave said:

“Ye have not ranked as a fool--before. You might better keep

your reputation, seeing the strain would not be for long.”

“It will stand it, I reckon. Before to-morrow we shall be out

of prison, and free to go where we will, besides.”

The witty officer lifted at his left ear with his thumb, made

a rasping noise in his throat, and said:

“Out of prison--yes--ye say true. And free likewise to go where

ye will, so ye wander not out of his grace the Devil’s sultry realm.”

I kept my temper, and said, indifferently:

“Now I suppose you really think we are going to hang within

a day or two.”

“I thought it not many minutes ago, for so the thing was decided

and proclaimed.”

“Ah, then you’ve changed your mind, is that it?”

“Even that. I only _thought_, then; I _know_, now.”

I felt sarcastical, so I said:

“Oh, sapient servant of the law, condescend to tell us, then,

what you _know_.”

“That ye will all be hanged _to-day_, at mid-afternoon! Oho! that

shot hit home! Lean upon me.”

The fact is I did need to lean upon somebody. My knights couldn’t

arrive in time. They would be as much as three hours too late.

Nothing in the world could save the King of England; nor me, which

was more important. More important, not merely to me, but to

the nation--the only nation on earth standing ready to blossom

into civilization. I was sick. I said no more, there wasn’t

anything to say. I knew what the man meant; that if the missing

slave was found, the postponement would be revoked, the execution

take place to-day. Well, the missing slave was found.

CHAPTER XXXVIII

SIR LAUNCELOT AND KNIGHTS TO THE RESCUE

Nearing four in the afternoon. The scene was just outside the

walls of London. A cool, comfortable, superb day, with a brilliant

sun; the kind of day to make one want to live, not die. The

multitude was prodigious and far-reaching; and yet we fifteen

poor devils hadn’t a friend in it. There was something painful

in that thought, look at it how you might. There we sat, on our

tall scaffold, the butt of the hate and mockery of all those

enemies. We were being made a holiday spectacle. They had built

a sort of grand stand for the nobility and gentry, and these were

there in full force, with their ladies. We recognized a good

many of them.

The crowd got a brief and unexpected dash of diversion out of

the king. The moment we were freed of our bonds he sprang up,

in his fantastic rags, with face bruised out of all recognition, and

proclaimed himself Arthur, King of Britain, and denounced the

awful penalties of treason upon every soul there present if hair

of his sacred head were touched. It startled and surprised him

to hear them break into a vast roar of laughter. It wounded his

dignity, and he locked himself up in silence. Then, although

the crowd begged him to go on, and tried to provoke him to it

by catcalls, jeers, and shouts of:

“Let him speak! The king! The king! his humble subjects hunger

and thirst for words of wisdom out of the mouth of their master

his Serene and Sacred Raggedness!”

But it went for nothing. He put on all his majesty and sat under

this rain of contempt and insult unmoved. He certainly was great

in his way. Absently, I had taken off my white bandage and wound

it about my right arm. When the crowd noticed this, they began

upon me. They said:

“Doubtless this sailor-man is his minister--observe his costly

badge of office!”

I let them go on until they got tired, and then I said:

“Yes, I am his minister, The Boss; and to-morrow you will hear

that from Camelot which--”

I got no further. They drowned me out with joyous derision. But

presently there was silence; for the sheriffs of London, in their

official robes, with their subordinates, began to make a stir which

indicated that business was about to begin. In the hush which

followed, our crime was recited, the death warrant read, then

everybody uncovered while a priest uttered a prayer.

Then a slave was blindfolded; the hangman unslung his rope. There

lay the smooth road below us, we upon one side of it, the banked

multitude wailing its other side--a good clear road, and kept free

by the police--how good it would be to see my five hundred horsemen

come tearing down it! But no, it was out of the possibilities.

I followed its receding thread out into the distance--not a horseman

on it, or sign of one.

There was a jerk, and the slave hung dangling; dangling and hideously

squirming, for his limbs were not tied.

A second rope was unslung, in a moment another slave was dangling.

In a minute a third slave was struggling in the air. It was

dreadful. I turned away my head a moment, and when I turned back

I missed the king! They were blindfolding him! I was paralyzed;

I couldn’t move, I was choking, my tongue was petrified. They

finished blindfolding him, they led him under the rope. I couldn’t

shake off that clinging impotence. But when I saw them put the

noose around his neck, then everything let go in me and I made

a spring to the rescue--and as I made it I shot one more glance

abroad--by George! here they came, a-tilting!--five hundred mailed

and belted knights on bicycles!

The grandest sight that ever was seen. Lord, how the plumes

streamed, how the sun flamed and flashed from the endless procession

of webby wheels!

I waved my right arm as Launcelot swept in--he recognized my rag

--I tore away noose and bandage, and shouted:

“On your knees, every rascal of you, and salute the king! Who

fails shall sup in hell to-night!”

I always use that high style when I’m climaxing an effect. Well,

it was noble to see Launcelot and the boys swarm up onto that

scaffold and heave sheriffs and such overboard. And it was fine

to see that astonished multitude go down on their knees and beg

their lives of the king they had just been deriding and insulting.

And as he stood apart there, receiving this homage in rags,

I thought to myself, well, really there is something peculiarly

grand about the gait and bearing of a king, after all.

I was immensely satisfied. Take the whole situation all around,

it was one of the gaudiest effects I ever instigated.

And presently up comes Clarence, his own self! and winks, and

says, very modernly:

“Good deal of a surprise, wasn’t it? I knew you’d like it. I’ve

had the boys practicing this long time, privately; and just hungry

for a chance to show off.”

CHAPTER XXXIX

THE YANKEE’S FIGHT WITH THE KNIGHTS

Home again, at Camelot. A morning or two later I found the paper,

damp from the press, by my plate at the breakfast table. I turned

to the advertising columns, knowing I should find something of

personal interest to me there. It was this:

DE PAR LE ROI.

Know that the great lord and illus-

trious Kni8ht, SIR SAGRAMOR LE

DESIROUS having condescended to

meet the King’s Minister, Hank Mor-

gan, the which is surnamed The Boss,

for satisfgction of offence anciently given,

these wilL engage in the lists by

Camelot about the fourth hour of the

morning of the sixteenth day of this

next succeeding month. The battle

will be a l outrance, sith the said offence

was of a deadly sort, admitting of no

comPosition.

DE PAR LE ROI

Clarence’s editorial reference to this affair was to this effect:

It will be observed, by a gl7nce at our

advertising columns, that the commu-

nity is to be favored with a treat of un-

usual interest in the tournament line.

The names of the artists are warrant of

good enterrainment. The box-office

will be open at noon of the 13th; ad-

mission 3 cents, reserved seatsh 5; pro-

ceeds to go to the hospital fund The

royal pair and all the Court will be pres-

ent. With these exceptions, and the

press and the clergy, the free list is strict-

ly susPended. Parties are hereby warn-

ed against buying tickets of speculators;

they will not be good at the door.

Everybody knows and likes The Boss,

everybody knows and likes Sir Sag.;

come, let us give the lads a good send-

off. ReMember, the proceeds go to a

great and free charity, and one whose

broad begevolence stretches out its help-

ing hand, warm with the blood of a lov-

ing heart, to all that suffer, regardless of

race, creed, condition or color--the

only charity yet established in the earth

which has no politico-religious stop-

cock on its compassion, but says Here

flows the stream, let ALL come and

drink! Turn out, all hands! fetch along

your dou3hnuts and your gum-drops

and have a good time. Pie for sale on

the grounds, and rocks to crack it with;

and ciRcus-lemonade--three drops of

lime juice to a barrel of water.

N.B. This is the first tournament

under the new law, whidh allow each

combatant to use any weapon he may pre-

fer. You may want to make a note of that.

Up to the day set, there was no talk in all Britain of anything

but this combat. All other topics sank into insignificance and

passed out of men’s thoughts and interest. It was not because

a tournament was a great matter, it was not because Sir Sagramor

had found the Holy Grail, for he had not, but had failed; it was

not because the second (official) personage in the kingdom was

one of the duellists; no, all these features were commonplace.

Yet there was abundant reason for the extraordinary interest which

this coming fight was creating. It was born of the fact that all

the nation knew that this was not to be a duel between mere men,

so to speak, but a duel between two mighty magicians; a duel not

of muscle but of mind, not of human skill but of superhuman art

and craft; a final struggle for supremacy between the two master

enchanters of the age. It was realized that the most prodigious

achievements of the most renowned knights could not be worthy

of comparison with a spectacle like this; they could be but child’s

play, contrasted with this mysterious and awful battle of the gods.

Yes, all the world knew it was going to be in reality a duel

between Merlin and me, a measuring of his magic powers against

mine. It was known that Merlin had been busy whole days and nights

together, imbuing Sir Sagramor’s arms and armor with supernal

powers of offense and defense, and that he had procured for him

from the spirits of the air a fleecy veil which would render the

wearer invisible to his antagonist while still visible to other

men. Against Sir Sagramor, so weaponed and protected, a thousand

knights could accomplish nothing; against him no known enchantments

could prevail. These facts were sure; regarding them there was

no doubt, no reason for doubt. There was but one question: might

there be still other enchantments, _unknown_ to Merlin, which could

render Sir Sagramor’s veil transparent to me, and make his enchanted

mail vulnerable to my weapons? This was the one thing to be

decided in the lists. Until then the world must remain in suspense.

So the world thought there was a vast matter at stake here, and

the world was right, but it was not the one they had in their

minds. No, a far vaster one was upon the cast of this die:

_the life of knight-errantry_. I was a champion, it was true, but

not the champion of the frivolous black arts, I was the champion

of hard unsentimental common-sense and reason. I was entering

the lists to either destroy knight-errantry or be its victim.

Vast as the show-grounds were, there were no vacant spaces in them

outside of the lists, at ten o’clock on the morning of the 16th.

The mammoth grand-stand was clothed in flags, streamers, and rich

tapestries, and packed with several acres of small-fry tributary

kings, their suites, and the British aristocracy; with our own

royal gang in the chief place, and each and every individual

a flashing prism of gaudy silks and velvets--well, I never saw

anything to begin with it but a fight between an Upper Mississippi

sunset and the aurora borealis. The huge camp of beflagged and

gay-colored tents at one end of the lists, with a stiff-standing

sentinel at every door and a shining shield hanging by him for

challenge, was another fine sight. You see, every knight was

there who had any ambition or any caste feeling; for my feeling

toward their order was not much of a secret, and so here was their

chance. If I won my fight with Sir Sagramor, others would have

the right to call me out as long as I might be willing to respond.

Down at our end there were but two tents; one for me, and another

for my servants. At the appointed hour the king made a sign, and

the heralds, in their tabards, appeared and made proclamation,

naming the combatants and stating the cause of quarrel. There

was a pause, then a ringing bugle-blast, which was the signal for

us to come forth. All the multitude caught their breath, and

an eager curiosity flashed into every face.

Out from his tent rode great Sir Sagramor, an imposing tower

of iron, stately and rigid, his huge spear standing upright in its

socket and grasped in his strong hand, his grand horse’s face and

breast cased in steel, his body clothed in rich trappings that

almost dragged the ground--oh, a most noble picture. A great

shout went up, of welcome and admiration.

And then out I came. But I didn’t get any shout. There was

a wondering and eloquent silence for a moment, then a great wave

of laughter began to sweep along that human sea, but a warning

bugle-blast cut its career short. I was in the simplest and

comfortablest of gymnast costumes--flesh-colored tights from neck

to heel, with blue silk puffings about my loins, and bareheaded.

My horse was not above medium size, but he was alert, slender-limbed,

muscled with watchsprings, and just a greyhound to go. He was

a beauty, glossy as silk, and naked as he was when he was born,

except for bridle and ranger-saddle.

The iron tower and the gorgeous bedquilt came cumbrously but

gracefully pirouetting down the lists, and we tripped lightly up

to meet them. We halted; the tower saluted, I responded; then

we wheeled and rode side by side to the grand-stand and faced

our king and queen, to whom we made obeisance. The queen exclaimed:

“Alack, Sir Boss, wilt fight naked, and without lance or sword or--”

But the king checked her and made her understand, with a polite

phrase or two, that this was none of her business. The bugles

rang again; and we separated and rode to the ends of the lists,

and took position. Now old Merlin stepped into view and cast

a dainty web of gossamer threads over Sir Sagramor which turned

him into Hamlet’s ghost; the king made a sign, the bugles blew,

Sir Sagramor laid his great lance in rest, and the next moment here

he came thundering down the course with his veil flying out behind,

and I went whistling through the air like an arrow to meet him

--cocking my ear the while, as if noting the invisible knight’s

position and progress by hearing, not sight. A chorus of encouraging

shouts burst out for him, and one brave voice flung out a heartening

word for me--said:

“Go it, slim Jim!”

It was an even bet that Clarence had procured that favor for me

--and furnished the language, too. When that formidable lance-point

was within a yard and a half of my breast I twitched my horse aside

without an effort, and the big knight swept by, scoring a blank.

I got plenty of applause that time. We turned, braced up, and

down we came again. Another blank for the knight, a roar of

applause for me. This same thing was repeated once more; and

it fetched such a whirlwind of applause that Sir Sagramor lost his

temper, and at once changed his tactics and set himself the task

of chasing me down. Why, he hadn’t any show in the world at that;

it was a game of tag, with all the advantage on my side; I whirled

out of his path with ease whenever I chose, and once I slapped him

on the back as I went to the rear. Finally I took the chase into

my own hands; and after that, turn, or twist, or do what he would,

he was never able to get behind me again; he found himself always

in front at the end of his maneuver. So he gave up that business

and retired to his end of the lists. His temper was clear gone now,

and he forgot himself and flung an insult at me which disposed

of mine. I slipped my lasso from the horn of my saddle, and

grasped the coil in my right hand. This time you should have seen

him come!--it was a business trip, sure; by his gait there was

blood in his eye. I was sitting my horse at ease, and swinging

the great loop of my lasso in wide circles about my head; the

moment he was under way, I started for him; when the space between

us had narrowed to forty feet, I sent the snaky spirals of the rope

a-cleaving through the air, then darted aside and faced about and

brought my trained animal to a halt with all his feet braced under

him for a surge. The next moment the rope sprang taut and yanked

Sir Sagramor out of the saddle! Great Scott, but there was

a sensation!

Unquestionably, the popular thing in this world is novelty. These

people had never seen anything of that cowboy business before,

and it carried them clear off their feet with delight. From all

around and everywhere, the shout went up:

“Encore! encore!”

I wondered where they got the word, but there was no time to cipher

on philological matters, because the whole knight-errantry hive

was just humming now, and my prospect for trade couldn’t have

been better. The moment my lasso was released and Sir Sagramor

had been assisted to his tent, I hauled in the slack, took my

station and began to swing my loop around my head again. I was

sure to have use for it as soon as they could elect a successor

for Sir Sagramor, and that couldn’t take long where there were

so many hungry candidates. Indeed, they elected one straight off

--Sir Hervis de Revel.

_Bzz_! Here he came, like a house afire; I dodged: he passed like

a flash, with my horse-hair coils settling around his neck;

a second or so later, _fst_! his saddle was empty.

I got another encore; and another, and another, and still another.

When I had snaked five men out, things began to look serious to

the ironclads, and they stopped and consulted together. As a

result, they decided that it was time to waive etiquette and send

their greatest and best against me. To the astonishment of that

little world, I lassoed Sir Lamorak de Galis, and after him

Sir Galahad. So you see there was simply nothing to be done now,

but play their right bower--bring out the superbest of the superb,

the mightiest of the mighty, the great Sir Launcelot himself!

A proud moment for me? I should think so. Yonder was Arthur,

King of Britain; yonder was Guenever; yes, and whole tribes of

little provincial kings and kinglets; and in the tented camp yonder,

renowned knights from many lands; and likewise the selectest body

known to chivalry, the Knights of the Table Round, the most

illustrious in Christendom; and biggest fact of all, the very sun

of their shining system was yonder couching his lance, the focal

point of forty thousand adoring eyes; and all by myself, here was

I laying for him. Across my mind flitted the dear image of a

certain hello-girl of West Hartford, and I wished she could see

me now. In that moment, down came the Invincible, with the rush

of a whirlwind--the courtly world rose to its feet and bent forward

--the fateful coils went circling through the air, and before you

could wink I was towing Sir Launcelot across the field on his

back, and kissing my hand to the storm of waving kerchiefs and

the thunder-crash of applause that greeted me!

Said I to myself, as I coiled my lariat and hung it on my saddle-horn,

and sat there drunk with glory, “The victory is perfect--no other

will venture against me--knight-errantry is dead.” Now imagine my

astonishment--and everybody else’s, too--to hear the peculiar

bugle-call which announces that another competitor is about to

enter the lists! There was a mystery here; I couldn’t account for

this thing. Next, I noticed Merlin gliding away from me; and then

I noticed that my lasso was gone! The old sleight-of-hand expert

had stolen it, sure, and slipped it under his robe.

The bugle blew again. I looked, and down came Sagramor riding

again, with his dust brushed off and his veil nicely re-arranged.

I trotted up to meet him, and pretended to find him by the sound

of his horse’s hoofs. He said:

“Thou’rt quick of ear, but it will not save thee from this!” and

he touched the hilt of his great sword. “An ye are not able to see

it, because of the influence of the veil, know that it is no cumbrous

lance, but a sword--and I ween ye will not be able to avoid it.”

His visor was up; there was death in his smile. I should never

be able to dodge his sword, that was plain. Somebody was going

to die this time. If he got the drop on me, I could name the

corpse. We rode forward together, and saluted the royalties.

This time the king was disturbed. He said:

“Where is thy strange weapon?”

“It is stolen, sire.”

“Hast another at hand?”

“No, sire, I brought only the one.”

Then Merlin mixed in:

“He brought but the one because there was but the one to bring.

There exists none other but that one. It belongeth to the king

of the Demons of the Sea. This man is a pretender, and ignorant,

else he had known that that weapon can be used in but eight bouts

only, and then it vanisheth away to its home under the sea.”

“Then is he weaponless,” said the king. “Sir Sagramore, ye will

grant him leave to borrow.”

“And I will lend!” said Sir Launcelot, limping up. “He is as

brave a knight of his hands as any that be on live, and he shall

have mine.”

He put his hand on his sword to draw it, but Sir Sagramor said:

“Stay, it may not be. He shall fight with his own weapons; it

was his privilege to choose them and bring them. If he has erred,

on his head be it.”

“Knight!” said the king. “Thou’rt overwrought with passion; it

disorders thy mind. Wouldst kill a naked man?”

“An he do it, he shall answer it to me,” said Sir Launcelot.

“I will answer it to any he that desireth!” retorted Sir Sagramor hotly.

Merlin broke in, rubbing his hands and smiling his lowdownest

smile of malicious gratification:

“‘Tis well said, right well said! And ‘tis enough of parleying,

let my lord the king deliver the battle signal.”

The king had to yield. The bugle made proclamation, and we turned

apart and rode to our stations. There we stood, a hundred yards

apart, facing each other, rigid and motionless, like horsed statues.

And so we remained, in a soundless hush, as much as a full minute,

everybody gazing, nobody stirring. It seemed as if the king could

not take heart to give the signal. But at last he lifted his hand,

the clear note of the bugle followed, Sir Sagramor’s long blade

described a flashing curve in the air, and it was superb to see him

come. I sat still. On he came. I did not move. People got so

excited that they shouted to me:

“Fly, fly! Save thyself! This is murther!”

I never budged so much as an inch till that thundering apparition

had got within fifteen paces of me; then I snatched a dragoon

revolver out of my holster, there was a flash and a roar, and

the revolver was back in the holster before anybody could tell

what had happened.

Here was a riderless horse plunging by, and yonder lay Sir Sagramor,

stone dead.

The people that ran to him were stricken dumb to find that the life

was actually gone out of the man and no reason for it visible,

no hurt upon his body, nothing like a wound. There was a hole

through the breast of his chain-mail, but they attached no importance

to a little thing like that; and as a bullet wound there produces

but little blood, none came in sight because of the clothing and

swaddlings under the armor. The body was dragged over to let

the king and the swells look down upon it. They were stupefied

with astonishment naturally. I was requested to come and explain

the miracle. But I remained in my tracks, like a statue, and said:

“If it is a command, I will come, but my lord the king knows that

I am where the laws of combat require me to remain while any desire

to come against me.”

I waited. Nobody challenged. Then I said:

“If there are any who doubt that this field is well and fairly won,

I do not wait for them to challenge me, I challenge them.”

“It is a gallant offer,” said the king, “and well beseems you.

Whom will you name first?”

“I name none, I challenge all! Here I stand, and dare the chivalry

of England to come against me--not by individuals, but in mass!”

“What!” shouted a score of knights.

“You have heard the challenge. Take it, or I proclaim you recreant

knights and vanquished, every one!”

It was a “bluff” you know. At such a time it is sound judgment

to put on a bold face and play your hand for a hundred times what

it is worth; forty-nine times out of fifty nobody dares to “call,”

and you rake in the chips. But just this once--well, things looked

squally! In just no time, five hundred knights were scrambling

into their saddles, and before you could wink a widely scattering

drove were under way and clattering down upon me. I snatched

both revolvers from the holsters and began to measure distances

and calculate chances.

Bang! One saddle empty. Bang! another one. Bang--bang, and

I bagged two. Well, it was nip and tuck with us, and I knew it.

If I spent the eleventh shot without convincing these people,

the twelfth man would kill me, sure. And so I never did feel

so happy as I did when my ninth downed its man and I detected

the wavering in the crowd which is premonitory of panic. An instant

lost now could knock out my last chance. But I didn’t lose it.

I raised both revolvers and pointed them--the halted host stood

their ground just about one good square moment, then broke and fled.

The day was mine. Knight-errantry was a doomed institution. The

march of civilization was begun. How did I feel? Ah, you never

could imagine it.

And Brer Merlin? His stock was flat again. Somehow, every time

the magic of fol-de-rol tried conclusions with the magic of science,

the magic of fol-de-rol got left.

CHAPTER XL

THREE YEARS LATER

When I broke the back of knight-errantry that time, I no longer

felt obliged to work in secret. So, the very next day I exposed

my hidden schools, my mines, and my vast system of clandestine

factories and workshops to an astonished world. That is to say,

I exposed the nineteenth century to the inspection of the sixth.

Well, it is always a good plan to follow up an advantage promptly.

The knights were temporarily down, but if I would keep them so

I must just simply paralyze them--nothing short of that would

answer. You see, I was “bluffing” that last time in the field;

it would be natural for them to work around to that conclusion,

if I gave them a chance. So I must not give them time; and I didn’t.

I renewed my challenge, engraved it on brass, posted it up where

any priest could read it to them, and also kept it standing in

the advertising columns of the paper.

I not only renewed it, but added to its proportions. I said,

name the day, and I would take fifty assistants and stand up

_against the massed chivalry of the whole earth and destroy it_.

I was not bluffing this time. I meant what I said; I could do

what I promised. There wasn’t any way to misunderstand the language

of that challenge. Even the dullest of the chivalry perceived

that this was a plain case of “put up, or shut up.” They were

wise and did the latter. In all the next three years they gave

me no trouble worth mentioning.

Consider the three years sped. Now look around on England. A happy

and prosperous country, and strangely altered. Schools everywhere,

and several colleges; a number of pretty good newspapers. Even

authorship was taking a start; Sir Dinadan the Humorist was first

in the field, with a volume of gray-headed jokes which I had been

familiar with during thirteen centuries. If he had left out that

old rancid one about the lecturer I wouldn’t have said anything;

but I couldn’t stand that one. I suppressed the book and hanged

the author.

Slavery was dead and gone; all men were equal before the law;

taxation had been equalized. The telegraph, the telephone, the

phonograph, the typewriter, the sewing-machine, and all the thousand

willing and handy servants of steam and electricity were working

their way into favor. We had a steamboat or two on the Thames,

we had steam warships, and the beginnings of a steam commercial

marine; I was getting ready to send out an expedition to discover

America.

We were building several lines of railway, and our line from

Camelot to London was already finished and in operation. I was

shrewd enough to make all offices connected with the passenger

service places of high and distinguished honor. My idea was

to attract the chivalry and nobility, and make them useful and keep

them out of mischief. The plan worked very well, the competition

for the places was hot. The conductor of the 4.33 express was

a duke; there wasn’t a passenger conductor on the line below

the degree of earl. They were good men, every one, but they had

two defects which I couldn’t cure, and so had to wink at: they

wouldn’t lay aside their armor, and they would “knock down” fare

--I mean rob the company.

There was hardly a knight in all the land who wasn’t in some useful

employment. They were going from end to end of the country in all

manner of useful missionary capacities; their penchant for wandering,

and their experience in it, made them altogether the most effective

spreaders of civilization we had. They went clothed in steel and

equipped with sword and lance and battle-axe, and if they couldn’t

persuade a person to try a sewing-machine on the installment plan,

or a melodeon, or a barbed-wire fence, or a prohibition journal,

or any of the other thousand and one things they canvassed for,

they removed him and passed on.

I was very happy. Things were working steadily toward a secretly

longed-for point. You see, I had two schemes in my head which

were the vastest of all my projects. The one was to overthrow the

Catholic Church and set up the Protestant faith on its ruins

--not as an Established Church, but a go-as-you-please one; and

the other project was to get a decree issued by and by, commanding

that upon Arthur’s death unlimited suffrage should be introduced,

and given to men and women alike--at any rate to all men, wise

or unwise, and to all mothers who at middle age should be found

to know nearly as much as their sons at twenty-one. Arthur was

good for thirty years yet, he being about my own age--that is

to say, forty--and I believed that in that time I could easily

have the active part of the population of that day ready and eager

for an event which should be the first of its kind in the history

of the world--a rounded and complete governmental revolution

without bloodshed. The result to be a republic. Well, I may

as well confess, though I do feel ashamed when I think of it:

I was beginning to have a base hankering to be its first president

myself. Yes, there was more or less human nature in me; I found

that out.

Clarence was with me as concerned the revolution, but in a modified

way. His idea was a republic, without privileged orders, but with

a hereditary royal family at the head of it instead of an elective

chief magistrate. He believed that no nation that had ever known

the joy of worshiping a royal family could ever be robbed of it

and not fade away and die of melancholy. I urged that kings were

dangerous. He said, then have cats. He was sure that a royal

family of cats would answer every purpose. They would be as useful

as any other royal family, they would know as much, they would

have the same virtues and the same treacheries, the same disposition

to get up shindies with other royal cats, they would be laughably

vain and absurd and never know it, they would be wholly inexpensive;

finally, they would have as sound a divine right as any other

royal house, and “Tom VII, or Tom XI, or Tom XIV by the grace

of God King,” would sound as well as it would when applied to

the ordinary royal tomcat with tights on. “And as a rule,” said

he, in his neat modern English, “the character of these cats would

be considerably above the character of the average king, and this

would be an immense moral advantage to the nation, for the reason

that a nation always models its morals after its monarch’s. The

worship of royalty being founded in unreason, these graceful and

harmless cats would easily become as sacred as any other royalties,

and indeed more so, because it would presently be noticed that

they hanged nobody, beheaded nobody, imprisoned nobody, inflicted

no cruelties or injustices of any sort, and so must be worthy of

a deeper love and reverence than the customary human king, and

would certainly get it. The eyes of the whole harried world would

soon be fixed upon this humane and gentle system, and royal butchers

would presently begin to disappear; their subjects would fill

the vacancies with catlings from our own royal house; we should

become a factory; we should supply the thrones of the world; within

forty years all Europe would be governed by cats, and we should

furnish the cats. The reign of universal peace would begin then,

to end no more forever.... Me-e-e-yow-ow-ow-ow--fzt!--wow!”

Hang him, I supposed he was in earnest, and was beginning to be

persuaded by him, until he exploded that cat-howl and startled me

almost out of my clothes. But he never could be in earnest. He

didn’t know what it was. He had pictured a distinct and perfectly

rational and feasible improvement upon constitutional monarchy,

but he was too feather-headed to know it, or care anything about

it, either. I was going to give him a scolding, but Sandy came

flying in at that moment, wild with terror, and so choked with sobs

that for a minute she could not get her voice. I ran and took her

in my arms, and lavished caresses upon her and said, beseechingly:

“Speak, darling, speak! What is it?”

Her head fell limp upon my bosom, and she gasped, almost inaudibly:

“HELLO-CENTRAL!”

“Quick!” I shouted to Clarence; “telephone the king’s homeopath

to come!”

In two minutes I was kneeling by the child’s crib, and Sandy was

dispatching servants here, there, and everywhere, all over the

palace. I took in the situation almost at a glance--membranous

croup! I bent down and whispered:

“Wake up, sweetheart! Hello-Central.”

She opened her soft eyes languidly, and made out to say:

“Papa.”

That was a comfort. She was far from dead yet. I sent for

preparations of sulphur, I rousted out the croup-kettle myself;

for I don’t sit down and wait for doctors when Sandy or the child

is sick. I knew how to nurse both of them, and had had experience.

This little chap had lived in my arms a good part of its small life,

and often I could soothe away its troubles and get it to laugh

through the tear-dews on its eye-lashes when even its mother couldn’t.

Sir Launcelot, in his richest armor, came striding along the great

hall now on his way to the stock-board; he was president of the

stock-board, and occupied the Siege Perilous, which he had bought

of Sir Galahad; for the stock-board consisted of the Knights of

the Round Table, and they used the Round Table for business purposes

now. Seats at it were worth--well, you would never believe the

figure, so it is no use to state it. Sir Launcelot was a bear, and

he had put up a corner in one of the new lines, and was just getting

ready to squeeze the shorts to-day; but what of that? He was

the same old Launcelot, and when he glanced in as he was passing

the door and found out that his pet was sick, that was enough

for him; bulls and bears might fight it out their own way for all

him, he would come right in here and stand by little Hello-Central

for all he was worth. And that was what he did. He shied his

helmet into the corner, and in half a minute he had a new wick

in the alcohol lamp and was firing up on the croup-kettle. By this

time Sandy had built a blanket canopy over the crib, and everything

was ready.

Sir Launcelot got up steam, he and I loaded up the kettle with

unslaked lime and carbolic acid, with a touch of lactic acid added

thereto, then filled the thing up with water and inserted the

steam-spout under the canopy. Everything was ship-shape now,

and we sat down on either side of the crib to stand our watch.

Sandy was so grateful and so comforted that she charged a couple

of church-wardens with willow-bark and sumach-tobacco for us,

and told us to smoke as much as we pleased, it couldn’t get under

the canopy, and she was used to smoke, being the first lady in the

land who had ever seen a cloud blown. Well, there couldn’t be

a more contented or comfortable sight than Sir Launcelot in his

noble armor sitting in gracious serenity at the end of a yard

of snowy church-warden. He was a beautiful man, a lovely man,

and was just intended to make a wife and children happy. But, of

course Guenever--however, it’s no use to cry over what’s done and

can’t be helped.

Well, he stood watch-and-watch with me, right straight through,

for three days and nights, till the child was out of danger; then

he took her up in his great arms and kissed her, with his plumes

falling about her golden head, then laid her softly in Sandy’s

lap again and took his stately way down the vast hall, between

the ranks of admiring men-at-arms and menials, and so disappeared.

And no instinct warned me that I should never look upon him again

in this world! Lord, what a world of heart-break it is.

The doctors said we must take the child away, if we would coax

her back to health and strength again. And she must have sea-air.

So we took a man-of-war, and a suite of two hundred and sixty

persons, and went cruising about, and after a fortnight of this we

stepped ashore on the French coast, and the doctors thought it

would be a good idea to make something of a stay there. The little

king of that region offered us his hospitalities, and we were glad

to accept. If he had had as many conveniences as he lacked, we

should have been plenty comfortable enough; even as it was, we

made out very well, in his queer old castle, by the help of comforts

and luxuries from the ship.

At the end of a month I sent the vessel home for fresh supplies,

and for news. We expected her back in three or four days. She

would bring me, along with other news, the result of a certain

experiment which I had been starting. It was a project of mine

to replace the tournament with something which might furnish an

escape for the extra steam of the chivalry, keep those bucks

entertained and out of mischief, and at the same time preserve

the best thing in them, which was their hardy spirit of emulation.

I had had a choice band of them in private training for some time,

and the date was now arriving for their first public effort.

This experiment was baseball. In order to give the thing vogue

from the start, and place it out of the reach of criticism, I chose

my nines by rank, not capacity. There wasn’t a knight in either

team who wasn’t a sceptered sovereign. As for material of this

sort, there was a glut of it always around Arthur. You couldn’t

throw a brick in any direction and not cripple a king. Of course,

I couldn’t get these people to leave off their armor; they wouldn’t

do that when they bathed. They consented to differentiate the

armor so that a body could tell one team from the other, but that

was the most they would do. So, one of the teams wore chain-mail

ulsters, and the other wore plate-armor made of my new Bessemer

steel. Their practice in the field was the most fantastic thing I

ever saw. Being ball-proof, they never skipped out of the way,

but stood still and took the result; when a Bessemer was at the bat

and a ball hit him, it would bound a hundred and fifty yards

sometimes. And when a man was running, and threw himself on his

stomach to slide to his base, it was like an iron-clad coming into

port. At first I appointed men of no rank to act as umpires, but

I had to discontinue that. These people were no easier to please

than other nines. The umpire’s first decision was usually his

last; they broke him in two with a bat, and his friends toted him

home on a shutter. When it was noticed that no umpire ever survived

a game, umpiring got to be unpopular. So I was obliged to appoint

somebody whose rank and lofty position under the government would

protect him.

Here are the names of the nines:

BESSEMERS ULSTERS

KING ARTHUR. EMPEROR LUCIUS.

KING LOT OF LOTHIAN. KING LOGRIS.

KING OF NORTHGALIS. KING MARHALT OF IRELAND.

KING MARSIL. KING MORGANORE.

KING OF LITTLE BRITAIN. KING MARK OF CORNWALL.

KING LABOR. KING NENTRES OF GARLOT.

KING PELLAM OF LISTENGESE. KING MELIODAS OF LIONES.

KING BAGDEMAGUS. KING OF THE LAKE.

KING TOLLEME LA FEINTES. THE SOWDAN OF SYRIA.

Umpire--CLARENCE.

The first public game would certainly draw fifty thousand people;

and for solid fun would be worth going around the world to see.

Everything would be favorable; it was balmy and beautiful spring

weather now, and Nature was all tailored out in her new clothes.

CHAPTER XLI

THE INTERDICT

However, my attention was suddenly snatched from such matters;

our child began to lose ground again, and we had to go to sitting

up with her, her case became so serious. We couldn’t bear to allow

anybody to help in this service, so we two stood watch-and-watch,

day in and day out. Ah, Sandy, what a right heart she had, how

simple, and genuine, and good she was! She was a flawless wife

and mother; and yet I had married her for no other particular

reasons, except that by the customs of chivalry she was my property

until some knight should win her from me in the field. She had

hunted Britain over for me; had found me at the hanging-bout

outside of London, and had straightway resumed her old place at

my side in the placidest way and as of right. I was a New Englander,

and in my opinion this sort of partnership would compromise her,

sooner or later. She couldn’t see how, but I cut argument short

and we had a wedding.

Now I didn’t know I was drawing a prize, yet that was what I did

draw. Within the twelvemonth I became her worshiper; and ours

was the dearest and perfectest comradeship that ever was. People

talk about beautiful friendships between two persons of the same

sex. What is the best of that sort, as compared with the friendship

of man and wife, where the best impulses and highest ideals of

both are the same? There is no place for comparison between

the two friendships; the one is earthly, the other divine.

In my dreams, along at first, I still wandered thirteen centuries

away, and my unsatisfied spirit went calling and harking all up

and down the unreplying vacancies of a vanished world. Many a

time Sandy heard that imploring cry come from my lips in my sleep.

With a grand magnanimity she saddled that cry of mine upon our

child, conceiving it to be the name of some lost darling of mine.

It touched me to tears, and it also nearly knocked me off my feet,

too, when she smiled up in my face for an earned reward, and played

her quaint and pretty surprise upon me:

“The name of one who was dear to thee is here preserved, here made

holy, and the music of it will abide alway in our ears. Now

thou’lt kiss me, as knowing the name I have given the child.”

But I didn’t know it, all the same. I hadn’t an idea in the

world; but it would have been cruel to confess it and spoil her

pretty game; so I never let on, but said:

“Yes, I know, sweetheart--how dear and good it is of you, too!

But I want to hear these lips of yours, which are also mine, utter

it first--then its music will be perfect.”

Pleased to the marrow, she murmured:

“HELLO-CENTRAL!”

I didn’t laugh--I am always thankful for that--but the strain

ruptured every cartilage in me, and for weeks afterward I could

hear my bones clack when I walked. She never found out her mistake.

The first time she heard that form of salute used at the telephone

she was surprised, and not pleased; but I told her I had given

order for it: that henceforth and forever the telephone must

always be invoked with that reverent formality, in perpetual honor

and remembrance of my lost friend and her small namesake. This

was not true. But it answered.

Well, during two weeks and a half we watched by the crib, and in

our deep solicitude we were unconscious of any world outside of

that sick-room. Then our reward came: the center of the universe

turned the corner and began to mend. Grateful? It isn’t the term.

There _isn’t_ any term for it. You know that yourself, if you’ve

watched your child through the Valley of the Shadow and seen it

come back to life and sweep night out of the earth with one

all-illuminating smile that you could cover with your hand.

Why, we were back in this world in one instant! Then we looked

the same startled thought into each other’s eyes at the same

moment; more than two weeks gone, and that ship not back yet!

In another minute I appeared in the presence of my train. They

had been steeped in troubled bodings all this time--their faces

showed it. I called an escort and we galloped five miles to a

hilltop overlooking the sea. Where was my great commerce that

so lately had made these glistening expanses populous and beautiful

with its white-winged flocks? Vanished, every one! Not a sail,

from verge to verge, not a smoke-bank--just a dead and empty

solitude, in place of all that brisk and breezy life.

I went swiftly back, saying not a word to anybody. I told Sandy

this ghastly news. We could imagine no explanation that would

begin to explain. Had there been an invasion? an earthquake?

a pestilence? Had the nation been swept out of existence? But

guessing was profitless. I must go--at once. I borrowed the king’s

navy--a “ship” no bigger than a steam launch--and was soon ready.

The parting--ah, yes, that was hard. As I was devouring the child

with last kisses, it brisked up and jabbered out its vocabulary!

--the first time in more than two weeks, and it made fools of us

for joy. The darling mispronunciations of childhood!--dear me,

there’s no music that can touch it; and how one grieves when it

wastes away and dissolves into correctness, knowing it will never

visit his bereaved ear again. Well, how good it was to be able

to carry that gracious memory away with me!

I approached England the next morning, with the wide highway of

salt water all to myself. There were ships in the harbor, at

Dover, but they were naked as to sails, and there was no sign

of life about them. It was Sunday; yet at Canterbury the streets

were empty; strangest of all, there was not even a priest in sight,

and no stroke of a bell fell upon my ear. The mournfulness of

death was everywhere. I couldn’t understand it. At last, in

the further edge of that town I saw a small funeral procession

--just a family and a few friends following a coffin--no priest;

a funeral without bell, book, or candle; there was a church there

close at hand, but they passed it by weeping, and did not enter it;

I glanced up at the belfry, and there hung the bell, shrouded in

black, and its tongue tied back. Now I knew! Now I understood

the stupendous calamity that had overtaken England. Invasion?

Invasion is a triviality to it. It was the INTERDICT!

I asked no questions; I didn’t need to ask any. The Church had

struck; the thing for me to do was to get into a disguise, and

go warily. One of my servants gave me a suit of clothes, and

when we were safe beyond the town I put them on, and from that time

I traveled alone; I could not risk the embarrassment of company.

A miserable journey. A desolate silence everywhere. Even in

London itself. Traffic had ceased; men did not talk or laugh, or

go in groups, or even in couples; they moved aimlessly about, each

man by himself, with his head down, and woe and terror at his heart.

The Tower showed recent war-scars. Verily, much had been happening.

Of course, I meant to take the train for Camelot. Train! Why,

the station was as vacant as a cavern. I moved on. The journey

to Camelot was a repetition of what I had already seen. The Monday

and the Tuesday differed in no way from the Sunday. I arrived

far in the night. From being the best electric-lighted town in

the kingdom and the most like a recumbent sun of anything you ever

saw, it was become simply a blot--a blot upon darkness--that is

to say, it was darker and solider than the rest of the darkness,

and so you could see it a little better; it made me feel as if

maybe it was symbolical--a sort of sign that the Church was going to

_keep_ the upper hand now, and snuff out all my beautiful civilization

just like that. I found no life stirring in the somber streets.

I groped my way with a heavy heart. The vast castle loomed black

upon the hilltop, not a spark visible about it. The drawbridge

was down, the great gate stood wide, I entered without challenge,

my own heels making the only sound I heard--and it was sepulchral

enough, in those huge vacant courts.

CHAPTER XLII

WAR!

I found Clarence alone in his quarters, drowned in melancholy;

and in place of the electric light, he had reinstituted the ancient

rag-lamp, and sat there in a grisly twilight with all curtains

drawn tight. He sprang up and rushed for me eagerly, saying:

“Oh, it’s worth a billion milrays to look upon a live person again!”

He knew me as easily as if I hadn’t been disguised at all. Which

frightened me; one may easily believe that.

“Quick, now, tell me the meaning of this fearful disaster,” I said.

“How did it come about?”

“Well, if there hadn’t been any Queen Guenever, it wouldn’t have

come so early; but it would have come, anyway. It would have

come on your own account by and by; by luck, it happened to come

on the queen’s.”

“_And_ Sir Launcelot’s?”

“Just so.”

“Give me the details.”

“I reckon you will grant that during some years there has been

only one pair of eyes in these kingdoms that has not been looking

steadily askance at the queen and Sir Launcelot--”

“Yes, King Arthur’s.”

“--and only one heart that was without suspicion--”

“Yes--the king’s; a heart that isn’t capable of thinking evil

of a friend.”

“Well, the king might have gone on, still happy and unsuspecting,

to the end of his days, but for one of your modern improvements

--the stock-board. When you left, three miles of the London,

Canterbury and Dover were ready for the rails, and also ready and

ripe for manipulation in the stock-market. It was wildcat, and

everybody knew it. The stock was for sale at a give-away. What

does Sir Launcelot do, but--”

“Yes, I know; he quietly picked up nearly all of it for a song;

then he bought about twice as much more, deliverable upon call;

and he was about to call when I left.”

“Very well, he did call. The boys couldn’t deliver. Oh, he had

them--and he just settled his grip and squeezed them. They were

laughing in their sleeves over their smartness in selling stock

to him at 15 and 16 and along there that wasn’t worth 10. Well,

when they had laughed long enough on that side of their mouths,

they rested-up that side by shifting the laugh to the other side.

That was when they compromised with the Invincible at 283!”

“Good land!”

“He skinned them alive, and they deserved it--anyway, the whole

kingdom rejoiced. Well, among the flayed were Sir Agravaine and

Sir Mordred, nephews to the king. End of the first act. Act

second, scene first, an apartment in Carlisle castle, where the

court had gone for a few days’ hunting. Persons present, the

whole tribe of the king’s nephews. Mordred and Agravaine propose

to call the guileless Arthur’s attention to Guenever and Sir

Launcelot. Sir Gawaine, Sir Gareth, and Sir Gaheris will have

nothing to do with it. A dispute ensues, with loud talk; in the

midst of it enter the king. Mordred and Agravaine spring their

devastating tale upon him. _Tableau_. A trap is laid for Launcelot,

by the king’s command, and Sir Launcelot walks into it. He made

it sufficiently uncomfortable for the ambushed witnesses--to wit,

Mordred, Agravaine, and twelve knights of lesser rank, for he

killed every one of them but Mordred; but of course that couldn’t

straighten matters between Launcelot and the king, and didn’t.”

“Oh, dear, only one thing could result--I see that. War, and

the knights of the realm divided into a king’s party and a

Sir Launcelot’s party.”

“Yes--that was the way of it. The king sent the queen to the

stake, proposing to purify her with fire. Launcelot and his

knights rescued her, and in doing it slew certain good old friends

of yours and mine--in fact, some of the best we ever had; to wit,

Sir Belias le Orgulous, Sir Segwarides, Sir Griflet le Fils de Dieu,

Sir Brandiles, Sir Aglovale--”

“Oh, you tear out my heartstrings.”

“--wait, I’m not done yet--Sir Tor, Sir Gauter, Sir Gillimer--”

“The very best man in my subordinate nine. What a handy right-fielder

he was!”

“--Sir Reynold’s three brothers, Sir Damus, Sir Priamus, Sir Kay

the Stranger--”

“My peerless short-stop! I’ve seen him catch a daisy-cutter in

his teeth. Come, I can’t stand this!”

“--Sir Driant, Sir Lambegus, Sir Herminde, Sir Pertilope,

Sir Perimones, and--whom do you think?”

“Rush! Go on.”

“Sir Gaheris, and Sir Gareth--both!”

“Oh, incredible! Their love for Launcelot was indestructible.”

“Well, it was an accident. They were simply onlookers; they were

unarmed, and were merely there to witness the queen’s punishment.

Sir Launcelot smote down whoever came in the way of his blind fury,

and he killed these without noticing who they were. Here is an

instantaneous photograph one of our boys got of the battle; it’s

for sale on every news-stand. There--the figures nearest the queen

are Sir Launcelot with his sword up, and Sir Gareth gasping his

latest breath. You can catch the agony in the queen’s face through

the curling smoke. It’s a rattling battle-picture.”

“Indeed, it is. We must take good care of it; its historical value

is incalculable. Go on.”

“Well, the rest of the tale is just war, pure and simple. Launcelot

retreated to his town and castle of Joyous Gard, and gathered

there a great following of knights. The king, with a great host,

went there, and there was desperate fighting during several days,

and, as a result, all the plain around was paved with corpses

and cast-iron. Then the Church patched up a peace between Arthur

and Launcelot and the queen and everybody--everybody but Sir Gawaine.

He was bitter about the slaying of his brothers, Gareth and Gaheris,

and would not be appeased. He notified Launcelot to get him

thence, and make swift preparation, and look to be soon attacked.

So Launcelot sailed to his Duchy of Guienne with his following, and

Gawaine soon followed with an army, and he beguiled Arthur to go

with him. Arthur left the kingdom in Sir Mordred’s hands until

you should return--”

“Ah--a king’s customary wisdom!”

“Yes. Sir Mordred set himself at once to work to make his kingship

permanent. He was going to marry Guenever, as a first move; but

she fled and shut herself up in the Tower of London. Mordred

attacked; the Bishop of Canterbury dropped down on him with the

Interdict. The king returned; Mordred fought him at Dover, at

Canterbury, and again at Barham Down. Then there was talk of peace

and a composition. Terms, Mordred to have Cornwall and Kent during

Arthur’s life, and the whole kingdom afterward.”

“Well, upon my word! My dream of a republic to _be_ a dream, and

so remain.”

“Yes. The two armies lay near Salisbury. Gawaine--Gawaine’s head

is at Dover Castle, he fell in the fight there--Gawaine appeared to

Arthur in a dream, at least his ghost did, and warned him to

refrain from conflict for a month, let the delay cost what it might.

But battle was precipitated by an accident. Arthur had given

order that if a sword was raised during the consultation over

the proposed treaty with Mordred, sound the trumpet and fall on!

for he had no confidence in Mordred. Mordred had given a similar

order to _his_ people. Well, by and by an adder bit a knight’s heel;

the knight forgot all about the order, and made a slash at the

adder with his sword. Inside of half a minute those two prodigious

hosts came together with a crash! They butchered away all day.

Then the king--however, we have started something fresh since

you left--our paper has.”

“No? What is that?”

“War correspondence!”

“Why, that’s good.”

“Yes, the paper was booming right along, for the Interdict made

no impression, got no grip, while the war lasted. I had war

correspondents with both armies. I will finish that battle by

reading you what one of the boys says:

‘Then the king looked about him, and then was he

ware of all his host and of all his good knights

were left no more on live but two knights, that

was Sir Lucan de Butlere, and his brother Sir

Bedivere: and they were full sore wounded. Jesu

mercy, said the king, where are all my noble

knights becomen? Alas that ever I should see this

doleful day. For now, said Arthur, I am come to

mine end. But would to God that I wist where were

that traitor Sir Mordred, that hath caused all

this mischief. Then was King Arthur ware where Sir

Mordred leaned upon his sword among a great heap

of dead men. Now give me my spear, said Arthur

unto Sir Lucan, for yonder I have espied the

traitor that all this woe hath wrought. Sir, let

him be, said Sir Lucan, for he is unhappy; and if

ye pass this unhappy day, ye shall be right well

revenged upon him. Good lord, remember ye of your

night’s dream, and what the spirit of Sir Gawaine

told you this night, yet God of his great goodness

hath preserved you hitherto. Therefore, for God’s

sake, my lord, leave off by this. For blessed be

God ye have won the field: for here we be three

on live, and with Sir Mordred is none on live.

And if ye leave off now, this wicked day of

destiny is past. Tide me death, betide me life,

saith the king, now I see him yonder alone, he

shall never escape mine hands, for at a better

avail shall I never have him. God speed you well,

said Sir Bedivere. Then the king gat his spear

in both his hands, and ran toward Sir Mordred

crying, Traitor, now is thy death day come. And

when Sir Mordred heard Sir Arthur, he ran until

him with his sword drawn in his hand. And then

King Arthur smote Sir Mordred under the shield,

with a foin of his spear throughout the body more

than a fathom. And when Sir Mordred felt that he

had his death’s wound, he thrust himself, with

the might that he had, up to the butt of King

Arthur’s spear. And right so he smote his father

Arthur with his sword holden in both his hands,

on the side of the head, that the sword pierced

the helmet and the brain-pan, and therewithal

Sir Mordred fell stark dead to the earth. And

the noble Arthur fell in a swoon to the earth,

and there he swooned oft-times--’”

“That is a good piece of war correspondence, Clarence; you are

a first-rate newspaper man. Well--is the king all right? Did

he get well?”

“Poor soul, no. He is dead.”

I was utterly stunned; it had not seemed to me that any wound

could be mortal to him.

“And the queen, Clarence?”

“She is a nun, in Almesbury.”

“What changes! and in such a short while. It is inconceivable.

What next, I wonder?”

“I can tell you what next.”

“Well?”

“Stake our lives and stand by them!”

“What do you mean by that?”

“The Church is master now. The Interdict included you with Mordred;

it is not to be removed while you remain alive. The clans are

gathering. The Church has gathered all the knights that are left

alive, and as soon as you are discovered we shall have business

on our hands.”

“Stuff! With our deadly scientific war-material; with our hosts

of trained--”

“Save your breath--we haven’t sixty faithful left!”

“What are you saying? Our schools, our colleges, our vast

workshops, our--”

“When those knights come, those establishments will empty themselves

and go over to the enemy. Did you think you had educated the

superstition out of those people?”

“I certainly did think it.”

“Well, then, you may unthink it. They stood every strain easily

--until the Interdict. Since then, they merely put on a bold

outside--at heart they are quaking. Make up your mind to it

--when the armies come, the mask will fall.”

“It’s hard news. We are lost. They will turn our own science

against us.”

“No they won’t.”

“Why?”

“Because I and a handful of the faithful have blocked that game.

I’ll tell you what I’ve done, and what moved me to it. Smart as

you are, the Church was smarter. It was the Church that sent

you cruising--through her servants, the doctors.”

“Clarence!”

“It is the truth. I know it. Every officer of your ship was

the Church’s picked servant, and so was every man of the crew.”

“Oh, come!”

“It is just as I tell you. I did not find out these things at once,

but I found them out finally. Did you send me verbal information,

by the commander of the ship, to the effect that upon his return

to you, with supplies, you were going to leave Cadiz--”

“Cadiz! I haven’t been at Cadiz at all!”

“--going to leave Cadiz and cruise in distant seas indefinitely,

for the health of your family? Did you send me that word?”

“Of course not. I would have written, wouldn’t I?”

“Naturally. I was troubled and suspicious. When the commander

sailed again I managed to ship a spy with him. I have never

heard of vessel or spy since. I gave myself two weeks to hear

from you in. Then I resolved to send a ship to Cadiz. There was

a reason why I didn’t.”

“What was that?”

“Our navy had suddenly and mysteriously disappeared! Also, as

suddenly and as mysteriously, the railway and telegraph and

telephone service ceased, the men all deserted, poles were cut

down, the Church laid a ban upon the electric light! I had to be

up and doing--and straight off. Your life was safe--nobody in

these kingdoms but Merlin would venture to touch such a magician

as you without ten thousand men at his back--I had nothing to

think of but how to put preparations in the best trim against your

coming. I felt safe myself--nobody would be anxious to touch

a pet of yours. So this is what I did. From our various works

I selected all the men--boys I mean--whose faithfulness under

whatsoever pressure I could swear to, and I called them together

secretly and gave them their instructions. There are fifty-two of

them; none younger than fourteen, and none above seventeen years old.”

“Why did you select boys?”

“Because all the others were born in an atmosphere of superstition

and reared in it. It is in their blood and bones. We imagined

we had educated it out of them; they thought so, too; the Interdict

woke them up like a thunderclap! It revealed them to themselves,

and it revealed them to me, too. With boys it was different. Such

as have been under our training from seven to ten years have had

no acquaintance with the Church’s terrors, and it was among these

that I found my fifty-two. As a next move, I paid a private visit

to that old cave of Merlin’s--not the small one--the big one--”

“Yes, the one where we secretly established our first great electric

plant when I was projecting a miracle.”

“Just so. And as that miracle hadn’t become necessary then,

I thought it might be a good idea to utilize the plant now. I’ve

provisioned the cave for a siege--”

“A good idea, a first-rate idea.”

“I think so. I placed four of my boys there as a guard--inside,

and out of sight. Nobody was to be hurt--while outside; but any

attempt to enter--well, we said just let anybody try it! Then

I went out into the hills and uncovered and cut the secret wires

which connected your bedroom with the wires that go to the dynamite

deposits under all our vast factories, mills, workshops, magazines,

etc., and about midnight I and my boys turned out and connected

that wire with the cave, and nobody but you and I suspects where

the other end of it goes to. We laid it under ground, of course, and

it was all finished in a couple of hours or so. We sha’n’t have

to leave our fortress now when we want to blow up our civilization.”

“It was the right move--and the natural one; military necessity,

in the changed condition of things. Well, what changes _have_ come!

We expected to be besieged in the palace some time or other, but

--however, go on.”

“Next, we built a wire fence.”

“Wire fence?”

“Yes. You dropped the hint of it yourself, two or three years ago.”

“Oh, I remember--the time the Church tried her strength against

us the first time, and presently thought it wise to wait for a

hopefuler season. Well, how have you arranged the fence?”

“I start twelve immensely strong wires--naked, not insulated

--from a big dynamo in the cave--dynamo with no brushes except

a positive and a negative one--”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“The wires go out from the cave and fence in a circle of level

ground a hundred yards in diameter; they make twelve independent

fences, ten feet apart--that is to say, twelve circles within

circles--and their ends come into the cave again.”

“Right; go on.”

“The fences are fastened to heavy oaken posts only three feet apart,

and these posts are sunk five feet in the ground.”

“That is good and strong.”

“Yes. The wires have no ground-connection outside of the cave.

They go out from the positive brush of the dynamo; there is a

ground-connection through the negative brush; the other ends of

the wire return to the cave, and each is grounded independently.”

“No, no, that won’t do!”

“Why?”

“It’s too expensive--uses up force for nothing. You don’t want

any ground-connection except the one through the negative brush.

The other end of every wire must be brought back into the cave

and fastened independently, and _without_ any ground-connection.

Now, then, observe the economy of it. A cavalry charge hurls

itself against the fence; you are using no power, you are spending

no money, for there is only one ground-connection till those horses

come against the wire; the moment they touch it they form a

connection with the negative brush _through the ground_, and drop

dead. Don’t you see?--you are using no energy until it is needed;

your lightning is there, and ready, like the load in a gun; but

it isn’t costing you a cent till you touch it off. Oh, yes, the

single ground-connection--”

“Of course! I don’t know how I overlooked that. It’s not only

cheaper, but it’s more effectual than the other way, for if wires

break or get tangled, no harm is done.”

“No, especially if we have a tell-tale in the cave and disconnect

the broken wire. Well, go on. The gatlings?”

“Yes--that’s arranged. In the center of the inner circle, on a

spacious platform six feet high, I’ve grouped a battery of thirteen

gatling guns, and provided plenty of ammunition.”

“That’s it. They command every approach, and when the Church’s

knights arrive, there’s going to be music. The brow of the

precipice over the cave--”

“I’ve got a wire fence there, and a gatling. They won’t drop any

rocks down on us.”

“Well, and the glass-cylinder dynamite torpedoes?”

“That’s attended to. It’s the prettiest garden that was ever

planted. It’s a belt forty feet wide, and goes around the outer

fence--distance between it and the fence one hundred yards--kind of

neutral ground that space is. There isn’t a single square yard

of that whole belt but is equipped with a torpedo. We laid them

on the surface of the ground, and sprinkled a layer of sand over

them. It’s an innocent looking garden, but you let a man start

in to hoe it once, and you’ll see.”

“You tested the torpedoes?”

“Well, I was going to, but--”

“But what? Why, it’s an immense oversight not to apply a--”

“Test? Yes, I know; but they’re all right; I laid a few in the

public road beyond our lines and they’ve been tested.”

“Oh, that alters the case. Who did it?”

“A Church committee.”

“How kind!”

“Yes. They came to command us to make submission. You see they

didn’t really come to test the torpedoes; that was merely an incident.”

“Did the committee make a report?”

“Yes, they made one. You could have heard it a mile.”

“Unanimous?”

“That was the nature of it. After that I put up some signs, for the

protection of future committees, and we have had no intruders since.”

“Clarence, you’ve done a world of work, and done it perfectly.”

“We had plenty of time for it; there wasn’t any occasion for hurry.”

We sat silent awhile, thinking. Then my mind was made up, and

I said:

“Yes, everything is ready; everything is shipshape, no detail is

wanting. I know what to do now.”

“So do I; sit down and wait.”

“No, _sir_! rise up and _strike_!”

“Do you mean it?”

“Yes, indeed! The _de_fensive isn’t in my line, and the _of_fensive

is. That is, when I hold a fair hand--two-thirds as good a hand

as the enemy. Oh, yes, we’ll rise up and strike; that’s our game.”

“A hundred to one you are right. When does the performance begin?”

“_Now!_ We’ll proclaim the Republic.”

“Well, that _will_ precipitate things, sure enough!”

“It will make them buzz, I tell you! England will be a hornets’

nest before noon to-morrow, if the Church’s hand hasn’t lost its

cunning--and we know it hasn’t. Now you write and I’ll dictate thus:

“PROCLAMATION

---

“BE IT KNOWN UNTO ALL. Whereas the king having died

and left no heir, it becomes my duty to continue the

executive authority vested in me, until a government

shall have been created and set in motion. The

monarchy has lapsed, it no longer exists. By

consequence, all political power has reverted to its

original source, the people of the nation. With the

monarchy, its several adjuncts died also; wherefore

there is no longer a nobility, no longer a privileged

class, no longer an Established Church; all men are

become exactly equal; they are upon one common

level, and religion is free. _A Republic is hereby

proclaimed_, as being the natural estate of a nation

when other authority has ceased. It is the duty of

the British people to meet together immediately,

and by their votes elect representatives and deliver

into their hands the government.”

I signed it “The Boss,” and dated it from Merlin’s Cave.

Clarence said--

“Why, that tells where we are, and invites them to call right away.”

“That is the idea. We _strike_--by the Proclamation--then it’s

their innings. Now have the thing set up and printed and posted,

right off; that is, give the order; then, if you’ve got a couple

of bicycles handy at the foot of the hill, ho for Merlin’s Cave!”

“I shall be ready in ten minutes. What a cyclone there is going

to be to-morrow when this piece of paper gets to work!... It’s a

pleasant old palace, this is; I wonder if we shall ever again

--but never mind about that.”

CHAPTER XLIII

THE BATTLE OF THE SAND BELT

In Merlin’s Cave--Clarence and I and fifty-two fresh, bright,

well-educated, clean-minded young British boys. At dawn I sent

an order to the factories and to all our great works to stop

operations and remove all life to a safe distance, as everything

was going to be blown up by secret mines, “_and no telling at what

moment--therefore, vacate at once_.” These people knew me, and

had confidence in my word. They would clear out without waiting

to part their hair, and I could take my own time about dating the

explosion. You couldn’t hire one of them to go back during the

century, if the explosion was still impending.

We had a week of waiting. It was not dull for me, because I was

writing all the time. During the first three days, I finished

turning my old diary into this narrative form; it only required

a chapter or so to bring it down to date. The rest of the week

I took up in writing letters to my wife. It was always my habit

to write to Sandy every day, whenever we were separate, and now

I kept up the habit for love of it, and of her, though I couldn’t

do anything with the letters, of course, after I had written them.

But it put in the time, you see, and was almost like talking;

it was almost as if I was saying, “Sandy, if you and Hello-Central

were here in the cave, instead of only your photographs, what

good times we could have!” And then, you know, I could imagine

the baby goo-gooing something out in reply, with its fists in its

mouth and itself stretched across its mother’s lap on its back,

and she a-laughing and admiring and worshipping, and now and then

tickling under the baby’s chin to set it cackling, and then maybe

throwing in a word of answer to me herself--and so on and so on

--well, don’t you know, I could sit there in the cave with my pen,

and keep it up, that way, by the hour with them. Why, it was

almost like having us all together again.

I had spies out every night, of course, to get news. Every report

made things look more and more impressive. The hosts were gathering,

gathering; down all the roads and paths of England the knights were

riding, and priests rode with them, to hearten these original

Crusaders, this being the Church’s war. All the nobilities, big

and little, were on their way, and all the gentry. This was all

as was expected. We should thin out this sort of folk to such

a degree that the people would have nothing to do but just step

to the front with their republic and--

Ah, what a donkey I was! Toward the end of the week I began to get

this large and disenchanting fact through my head: that the mass

of the nation had swung their caps and shouted for the republic for

about one day, and there an end! The Church, the nobles, and

the gentry then turned one grand, all-disapproving frown upon them

and shriveled them into sheep! From that moment the sheep had

begun to gather to the fold--that is to say, the camps--and offer

their valueless lives and their valuable wool to the “righteous

cause.” Why, even the very men who had lately been slaves were

in the “righteous cause,” and glorifying it, praying for it,

sentimentally slabbering over it, just like all the other commoners.

Imagine such human muck as this; conceive of this folly!

Yes, it was now “Death to the Republic!” everywhere--not a dissenting

voice. All England was marching against us! Truly, this was more

than I had bargained for.

I watched my fifty-two boys narrowly; watched their faces, their

walk, their unconscious attitudes: for all these are a language

--a language given us purposely that it may betray us in times of

emergency, when we have secrets which we want to keep. I knew

that that thought would keep saying itself over and over again

in their minds and hearts, _All England is marching against us!_

and ever more strenuously imploring attention with each repetition,

ever more sharply realizing itself to their imaginations, until

even in their sleep they would find no rest from it, but hear

the vague and flitting creatures of the dreams say, _All England_

--ALL ENGLAND!--_is marching against you_! I knew all this would

happen; I knew that ultimately the pressure would become so great

that it would compel utterance; therefore, I must be ready with an

answer at that time--an answer well chosen and tranquilizing.

I was right. The time came. They HAD to speak. Poor lads, it

was pitiful to see, they were so pale, so worn, so troubled. At

first their spokesman could hardly find voice or words; but he

presently got both. This is what he said--and he put it in the

neat modern English taught him in my schools:

“We have tried to forget what we are--English boys! We have tried

to put reason before sentiment, duty before love; our minds

approve, but our hearts reproach us. While apparently it was

only the nobility, only the gentry, only the twenty-five or thirty

thousand knights left alive out of the late wars, we were of one

mind, and undisturbed by any troubling doubt; each and every one

of these fifty-two lads who stand here before you, said, ‘They

have chosen--it is their affair.’ But think!--the matter is

altered--_All England is marching against us_! Oh, sir, consider!

--reflect!--these people are our people, they are bone of our bone,

flesh of our flesh, we love them--do not ask us to destroy our nation!”

Well, it shows the value of looking ahead, and being ready for

a thing when it happens. If I hadn’t foreseen this thing and been

fixed, that boy would have had me!--I couldn’t have said a word.

But I was fixed. I said:

“My boys, your hearts are in the right place, you have thought the

worthy thought, you have done the worthy thing. You are English

boys, you will remain English boys, and you will keep that name

unsmirched. Give yourselves no further concern, let your minds be

at peace. Consider this: while all England is marching against

us, who is in the van? Who, by the commonest rules of war, will

march in the front? Answer me.”

“The mounted host of mailed knights.”

“True. They are thirty thousand strong. Acres deep they will march.

Now, observe: none but _they_ will ever strike the sand-belt! Then

there will be an episode! Immediately after, the civilian multitude

in the rear will retire, to meet business engagements elsewhere.

None but nobles and gentry are knights, and _none but these_ will

remain to dance to our music after that episode. It is absolutely

true that we shall have to fight nobody but these thirty thousand

knights. Now speak, and it shall be as you decide. Shall we

avoid the battle, retire from the field?”

“NO!!!”

The shout was unanimous and hearty.

“Are you--are you--well, afraid of these thirty thousand knights?”

That joke brought out a good laugh, the boys’ troubles vanished

away, and they went gaily to their posts. Ah, they were a darling

fifty-two! As pretty as girls, too.

I was ready for the enemy now. Let the approaching big day come

along--it would find us on deck.

The big day arrived on time. At dawn the sentry on watch in the

corral came into the cave and reported a moving black mass under

the horizon, and a faint sound which he thought to be military

music. Breakfast was just ready; we sat down and ate it.

This over, I made the boys a little speech, and then sent out

a detail to man the battery, with Clarence in command of it.

The sun rose presently and sent its unobstructed splendors over

the land, and we saw a prodigious host moving slowly toward us,

with the steady drift and aligned front of a wave of the sea.

Nearer and nearer it came, and more and more sublimely imposing

became its aspect; yes, all England was there, apparently. Soon

we could see the innumerable banners fluttering, and then the sun

struck the sea of armor and set it all aflash. Yes, it was a fine

sight; I hadn’t ever seen anything to beat it.

At last we could make out details. All the front ranks, no telling

how many acres deep, were horsemen--plumed knights in armor.

Suddenly we heard the blare of trumpets; the slow walk burst into

a gallop, and then--well, it was wonderful to see! Down swept

that vast horse-shoe wave--it approached the sand-belt--my breath

stood still; nearer, nearer--the strip of green turf beyond the

yellow belt grew narrow--narrower still--became a mere ribbon in

front of the horses--then disappeared under their hoofs. Great

Scott! Why, the whole front of that host shot into the sky with

a thunder-crash, and became a whirling tempest of rags and fragments;

and along the ground lay a thick wall of smoke that hid what was

left of the multitude from our sight.

Time for the second step in the plan of campaign! I touched

a button, and shook the bones of England loose from her spine!

In that explosion all our noble civilization-factories went up in

the air and disappeared from the earth. It was a pity, but it

was necessary. We could not afford to let the enemy turn our own

weapons against us.

Now ensued one of the dullest quarter-hours I had ever endured.

We waited in a silent solitude enclosed by our circles of wire,

and by a circle of heavy smoke outside of these. We couldn’t

see over the wall of smoke, and we couldn’t see through it. But

at last it began to shred away lazily, and by the end of another

quarter-hour the land was clear and our curiosity was enabled

to satisfy itself. No living creature was in sight! We now

perceived that additions had been made to our defenses. The

dynamite had dug a ditch more than a hundred feet wide, all around

us, and cast up an embankment some twenty-five feet high on both

borders of it. As to destruction of life, it was amazing. Moreover,

it was beyond estimate. Of course, we could not _count_ the dead,

because they did not exist as individuals, but merely as homogeneous

protoplasm, with alloys of iron and buttons.

No life was in sight, but necessarily there must have been some

wounded in the rear ranks, who were carried off the field under

cover of the wall of smoke; there would be sickness among the

others--there always is, after an episode like that. But there

would be no reinforcements; this was the last stand of the chivalry

of England; it was all that was left of the order, after the recent

annihilating wars. So I felt quite safe in believing that the

utmost force that could for the future be brought against us

would be but small; that is, of knights. I therefore issued a

congratulatory proclamation to my army in these words:

SOLDIERS, CHAMPIONS OF HUMAN LIBERTY AND EQUALITY:

Your General congratulates you! In the pride of his

strength and the vanity of his renown, an arrogant

enemy came against you. You were ready. The conflict

was brief; on your side, glorious. This mighty

victory, having been achieved utterly without loss,

stands without example in history. So long as the

planets shall continue to move in their orbits, the

BATTLE OF THE SAND-BELT will not perish out of the

memories of men.

THE BOSS.

I read it well, and the applause I got was very gratifying to me.

I then wound up with these remarks:

“The war with the English nation, as a nation, is at an end.

The nation has retired from the field and the war. Before it can

be persuaded to return, war will have ceased. This campaign is

the only one that is going to be fought. It will be brief

--the briefest in history. Also the most destructive to life,

considered from the standpoint of proportion of casualties to

numbers engaged. We are done with the nation; henceforth we deal

only with the knights. English knights can be killed, but they

cannot be conquered. We know what is before us. While one of

these men remains alive, our task is not finished, the war is not

ended. We will kill them all.” [Loud and long continued applause.]

I picketed the great embankments thrown up around our lines by

the dynamite explosion--merely a lookout of a couple of boys

to announce the enemy when he should appear again.

Next, I sent an engineer and forty men to a point just beyond

our lines on the south, to turn a mountain brook that was there,

and bring it within our lines and under our command, arranging

it in such a way that I could make instant use of it in an emergency.

The forty men were divided into two shifts of twenty each, and

were to relieve each other every two hours. In ten hours the

work was accomplished.

It was nightfall now, and I withdrew my pickets. The one who

had had the northern outlook reported a camp in sight, but visible

with the glass only. He also reported that a few knights had been

feeling their way toward us, and had driven some cattle across our

lines, but that the knights themselves had not come very near.

That was what I had been expecting. They were feeling us, you

see; they wanted to know if we were going to play that red terror

on them again. They would grow bolder in the night, perhaps.

I believed I knew what project they would attempt, because it was

plainly the thing I would attempt myself if I were in their places

and as ignorant as they were. I mentioned it to Clarence.

“I think you are right,” said he; “it is the obvious thing for

them to try.”

“Well, then,” I said, “if they do it they are doomed.”

“Certainly.”

“They won’t have the slightest show in the world.”

“Of course they won’t.”

“It’s dreadful, Clarence. It seems an awful pity.”

The thing disturbed me so that I couldn’t get any peace of mind

for thinking of it and worrying over it. So, at last, to quiet

my conscience, I framed this message to the knights:

TO THE HONORABLE THE COMMANDER OF THE INSURGENT

CHIVALRY OF ENGLAND: YOU fight in vain. We know

your strength--if one may call it by that name.

We know that at the utmost you cannot bring

against us above five and twenty thousand knights.

Therefore, you have no chance--none whatever.

Reflect: we are well equipped, well fortified, we

number 54. Fifty-four what? Men? No, MINDS--the

capablest in the world; a force against which

mere animal might may no more hope to prevail than

may the idle waves of the sea hope to prevail

against the granite barriers of England. Be advised.

We offer you your lives; for the sake of your

families, do not reject the gift. We offer you

this chance, and it is the last: throw down your

arms; surrender unconditionally to the Republic,

and all will be forgiven.

(Signed) THE BOSS.

I read it to Clarence, and said I proposed to send it by a flag

of truce. He laughed the sarcastic laugh he was born with, and said:

“Somehow it seems impossible for you to ever fully realize what

these nobilities are. Now let us save a little time and trouble.

Consider me the commander of the knights yonder. Now, then,

you are the flag of truce; approach and deliver me your message,

and I will give you your answer.”

I humored the idea. I came forward under an imaginary guard of

the enemy’s soldiers, produced my paper, and read it through.

For answer, Clarence struck the paper out of my hand, pursed up

a scornful lip and said with lofty disdain:

“Dismember me this animal, and return him in a basket to the

base-born knave who sent him; other answer have I none!”

How empty is theory in presence of fact! And this was just fact,

and nothing else. It was the thing that would have happened,

there was no getting around that. I tore up the paper and granted

my mistimed sentimentalities a permanent rest.

Then, to business. I tested the electric signals from the gatling

platform to the cave, and made sure that they were all right;

I tested and retested those which commanded the fences--these

were signals whereby I could break and renew the electric current

in each fence independently of the others at will. I placed the

brook-connection under the guard and authority of three of my

best boys, who would alternate in two-hour watches all night and

promptly obey my signal, if I should have occasion to give it

--three revolver-shots in quick succession. Sentry-duty was discarded

for the night, and the corral left empty of life; I ordered that

quiet be maintained in the cave, and the electric lights turned

down to a glimmer.

As soon as it was good and dark, I shut off the current from all

the fences, and then groped my way out to the embankment bordering

our side of the great dynamite ditch. I crept to the top of it

and lay there on the slant of the muck to watch. But it was

too dark to see anything. As for sounds, there were none. The

stillness was deathlike. True, there were the usual night-sounds

of the country--the whir of night-birds, the buzzing of insects,

the barking of distant dogs, the mellow lowing of far-off kine

--but these didn’t seem to break the stillness, they only intensified

it, and added a grewsome melancholy to it into the bargain.

I presently gave up looking, the night shut down so black, but

I kept my ears strained to catch the least suspicious sound, for

I judged I had only to wait, and I shouldn’t be disappointed.

However, I had to wait a long time. At last I caught what you

may call in distinct glimpses of sound dulled metallic sound.

I pricked up my ears, then, and held my breath, for this was the

sort of thing I had been waiting for. This sound thickened, and

approached--from toward the north. Presently, I heard it at my

own level--the ridge-top of the opposite embankment, a hundred

feet or more away. Then I seemed to see a row of black dots appear

along that ridge--human heads? I couldn’t tell; it mightn’t be

anything at all; you can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination

is out of focus. However, the question was soon settled. I heard

that metallic noise descending into the great ditch. It augmented

fast, it spread all along, and it unmistakably furnished me this

fact: an armed host was taking up its quarters in the ditch. Yes,

these people were arranging a little surprise party for us. We

could expect entertainment about dawn, possibly earlier.

I groped my way back to the corral now; I had seen enough. I went

to the platform and signaled to turn the current on to the two

inner fences. Then I went into the cave, and found everything

satisfactory there--nobody awake but the working-watch. I woke

Clarence and told him the great ditch was filling up with men,

and that I believed all the knights were coming for us in a body.

It was my notion that as soon as dawn approached we could expect

the ditch’s ambuscaded thousands to swarm up over the embankment

and make an assault, and be followed immediately by the rest

of their army.

Clarence said:

“They will be wanting to send a scout or two in the dark to make

preliminary observations. Why not take the lightning off the

outer fences, and give them a chance?”

“I’ve already done it, Clarence. Did you ever know me to be

inhospitable?”

“No, you are a good heart. I want to go and--”

“Be a reception committee? I will go, too.”

We crossed the corral and lay down together between the two inside

fences. Even the dim light of the cave had disordered our eyesight

somewhat, but the focus straightway began to regulate itself and

soon it was adjusted for present circumstances. We had had to feel

our way before, but we could make out to see the fence posts now.

We started a whispered conversation, but suddenly Clarence broke

off and said:

“What is that?”

“What is what?”

“That thing yonder.”

“What thing--where?”

“There beyond you a little piece--dark something--a dull shape

of some kind--against the second fence.”

I gazed and he gazed. I said:

“Could it be a man, Clarence?”

“No, I think not. If you notice, it looks a lit--why, it _is_

a man!--leaning on the fence.”

“I certainly believe it is; let us go and see.”

We crept along on our hands and knees until we were pretty close,

and then looked up. Yes, it was a man--a dim great figure in armor,

standing erect, with both hands on the upper wire--and, of course,

there was a smell of burning flesh. Poor fellow, dead as a

door-nail, and never knew what hurt him. He stood there like a

statue--no motion about him, except that his plumes swished about

a little in the night wind. We rose up and looked in through

the bars of his visor, but couldn’t make out whether we knew him

or not--features too dim and shadowed.

We heard muffled sounds approaching, and we sank down to the ground

where we were. We made out another knight vaguely; he was coming

very stealthily, and feeling his way. He was near enough now for

us to see him put out a hand, find an upper wire, then bend and

step under it and over the lower one. Now he arrived at the

first knight--and started slightly when he discovered him. He

stood a moment--no doubt wondering why the other one didn’t move

on; then he said, in a low voice, “Why dreamest thou here, good

Sir Mar--” then he laid his hand on the corpse’s shoulder--and just

uttered a little soft moan and sunk down dead. Killed by a dead

man, you see--killed by a dead friend, in fact. There was something

awful about it.

These early birds came scattering along after each other, about

one every five minutes in our vicinity, during half an hour.

They brought no armor of offense but their swords; as a rule,

they carried the sword ready in the hand, and put it forward and

found the wires with it. We would now and then see a blue spark

when the knight that caused it was so far away as to be invisible

to us; but we knew what had happened, all the same; poor fellow,

he had touched a charged wire with his sword and been electrocuted.

We had brief intervals of grim stillness, interrupted with piteous

regularity by the clash made by the falling of an iron-clad; and

this sort of thing was going on, right along, and was very creepy

there in the dark and lonesomeness.

We concluded to make a tour between the inner fences. We elected

to walk upright, for convenience’s sake; we argued that if discerned,

we should be taken for friends rather than enemies, and in any case

we should be out of reach of swords, and these gentry did not seem

to have any spears along. Well, it was a curious trip. Everywhere

dead men were lying outside the second fence--not plainly visible,

but still visible; and we counted fifteen of those pathetic

statues--dead knights standing with their hands on the upper wire.

One thing seemed to be sufficiently demonstrated: our current

was so tremendous that it killed before the victim could cry out.

Pretty soon we detected a muffled and heavy sound, and next moment

we guessed what it was. It was a surprise in force coming! I whispered

Clarence to go and wake the army, and notify it to wait in silence

in the cave for further orders. He was soon back, and we stood

by the inner fence and watched the silent lightning do its awful

work upon that swarming host. One could make out but little of

detail; but he could note that a black mass was piling itself up

beyond the second fence. That swelling bulk was dead men! Our

camp was enclosed with a solid wall of the dead--a bulwark,

a breastwork, of corpses, you may say. One terrible thing about

this thing was the absence of human voices; there were no cheers,

no war cries; being intent upon a surprise, these men moved as

noiselessly as they could; and always when the front rank was near

enough to their goal to make it proper for them to begin to get

a shout ready, of course they struck the fatal line and went down

without testifying.

I sent a current through the third fence now; and almost immediately

through the fourth and fifth, so quickly were the gaps filled up.

I believed the time was come now for my climax; I believed that

that whole army was in our trap. Anyway, it was high time to find

out. So I touched a button and set fifty electric suns aflame

on the top of our precipice.

Land, what a sight! We were enclosed in three walls of dead men!

All the other fences were pretty nearly filled with the living,

who were stealthily working their way forward through the wires.

The sudden glare paralyzed this host, petrified them, you may say,

with astonishment; there was just one instant for me to utilize

their immobility in, and I didn’t lose the chance. You see, in

another instant they would have recovered their faculties, then

they’d have burst into a cheer and made a rush, and my wires

would have gone down before it; but that lost instant lost them

their opportunity forever; while even that slight fragment of time

was still unspent, I shot the current through all the fences and

struck the whole host dead in their tracks! _There_ was a groan

you could _hear_! It voiced the death-pang of eleven thousand men.

It swelled out on the night with awful pathos.

A glance showed that the rest of the enemy--perhaps ten thousand

strong--were between us and the encircling ditch, and pressing

forward to the assault. Consequently we had them _all!_ and had

them past help. Time for the last act of the tragedy. I fired

the three appointed revolver shots--which meant:

“Turn on the water!”

There was a sudden rush and roar, and in a minute the mountain

brook was raging through the big ditch and creating a river a

hundred feet wide and twenty-five deep.

“Stand to your guns, men! Open fire!”

The thirteen gatlings began to vomit death into the fated ten

thousand. They halted, they stood their ground a moment against

that withering deluge of fire, then they broke, faced about and

swept toward the ditch like chaff before a gale. A full fourth

part of their force never reached the top of the lofty embankment;

the three-fourths reached it and plunged over--to death by drowning.

Within ten short minutes after we had opened fire, armed resistance

was totally annihilated, the campaign was ended, we fifty-four were

masters of England. Twenty-five thousand men lay dead around us.

But how treacherous is fortune! In a little while--say an hour

--happened a thing, by my own fault, which--but I have no heart

to write that. Let the record end here.

CHAPTER XLIV

A POSTSCRIPT BY CLARENCE

I, Clarence, must write it for him. He proposed that we two

go out and see if any help could be accorded the wounded. I was

strenuous against the project. I said that if there were many,

we could do but little for them; and it would not be wise for us to

trust ourselves among them, anyway. But he could seldom be turned

from a purpose once formed; so we shut off the electric current

from the fences, took an escort along, climbed over the enclosing

ramparts of dead knights, and moved out upon the field. The first

wounded mall who appealed for help was sitting with his back

against a dead comrade. When The Boss bent over him and spoke

to him, the man recognized him and stabbed him. That knight was

Sir Meliagraunce, as I found out by tearing off his helmet. He

will not ask for help any more.

We carried The Boss to the cave and gave his wound, which was

not very serious, the best care we could. In this service we had

the help of Merlin, though we did not know it. He was disguised

as a woman, and appeared to be a simple old peasant goodwife.

In this disguise, with brown-stained face and smooth shaven, he

had appeared a few days after The Boss was hurt and offered to cook

for us, saying her people had gone off to join certain new camps

which the enemy were forming, and that she was starving. The Boss

had been getting along very well, and had amused himself with

finishing up his record.

We were glad to have this woman, for we were short handed. We

were in a trap, you see--a trap of our own making. If we stayed

where we were, our dead would kill us; if we moved out of our

defenses, we should no longer be invincible. We had conquered;

in turn we were conquered. The Boss recognized this; we all

recognized it. If we could go to one of those new camps and

patch up some kind of terms with the enemy--yes, but The Boss

could not go, and neither could I, for I was among the first that

were made sick by the poisonous air bred by those dead thousands.

Others were taken down, and still others. To-morrow--

_To-morrow._ It is here. And with it the end. About midnight

I awoke, and saw that hag making curious passes in the air about

The Boss’s head and face, and wondered what it meant. Everybody

but the dynamo-watch lay steeped in sleep; there was no sound.

The woman ceased from her mysterious foolery, and started tip-toeing

toward the door. I called out:

“Stop! What have you been doing?”

She halted, and said with an accent of malicious satisfaction:

“Ye were conquerors; ye are conquered! These others are perishing

--you also. Ye shall all die in this place--every one--except _him_.

He sleepeth now--and shall sleep thirteen centuries. I am Merlin!”

Then such a delirium of silly laughter overtook him that he reeled

about like a drunken man, and presently fetched up against one

of our wires. His mouth is spread open yet; apparently he is still

laughing. I suppose the face will retain that petrified laugh until

the corpse turns to dust.

The Boss has never stirred--sleeps like a stone. If he does not

wake to-day we shall understand what kind of a sleep it is, and

his body will then be borne to a place in one of the remote recesses

of the cave where none will ever find it to desecrate it. As for

the rest of us--well, it is agreed that if any one of us ever

escapes alive from this place, he will write the fact here, and

loyally hide this Manuscript with The Boss, our dear good chief,

whose property it is, be he alive or dead.

THE END OF THE MANUSCRIPT

FINAL P.S. BY M.T.

The dawn was come when I laid the Manuscript aside. The rain

had almost ceased, the world was gray and sad, the exhausted storm

was sighing and sobbing itself to rest. I went to the stranger’s

room, and listened at his door, which was slightly ajar. I could

hear his voice, and so I knocked. There was no answer, but I still

heard the voice. I peeped in. The man lay on his back in bed,

talking brokenly but with spirit, and punctuating with his arms,

which he thrashed about, restlessly, as sick people do in delirium.

I slipped in softly and bent over him. His mutterings and

ejaculations went on. I spoke--merely a word, to call his attention.

His glassy eyes and his ashy face were alight in an instant with

pleasure, gratitude, gladness, welcome:

“Oh, Sandy, you are come at last--how I have longed for you! Sit

by me--do not leave me--never leave me again, Sandy, never again.

Where is your hand?--give it me, dear, let me hold it--there

--now all is well, all is peace, and I am happy again--_we_ are happy

again, isn’t it so, Sandy? You are so dim, so vague, you are but

a mist, a cloud, but you are _here_, and that is blessedness sufficient;

and I have your hand; don’t take it away--it is for only a little

while, I shall not require it long.... Was that the child?...

Hello-Central!... she doesn’t answer. Asleep, perhaps? Bring her

when she wakes, and let me touch her hands, her face, her hair,

and tell her good-bye.... Sandy! Yes, you are there. I lost

myself a moment, and I thought you were gone.... Have I been

sick long? It must be so; it seems months to me. And such dreams!

such strange and awful dreams, Sandy! Dreams that were as real

as reality--delirium, of course, but _so_ real! Why, I thought

the king was dead, I thought you were in Gaul and couldn’t get

home, I thought there was a revolution; in the fantastic frenzy

of these dreams, I thought that Clarence and I and a handful of

my cadets fought and exterminated the whole chivalry of England!

But even that was not the strangest. I seemed to be a creature

out of a remote unborn age, centuries hence, and even _that_ was

as real as the rest! Yes, I seemed to have flown back out of that

age into this of ours, and then forward to it again, and was set

down, a stranger and forlorn in that strange England, with an

abyss of thirteen centuries yawning between me and you! between

me and my home and my friends! between me and all that is dear

to me, all that could make life worth the living! It was awful

--awfuler than you can ever imagine, Sandy. Ah, watch by me, Sandy

--stay by me every moment--_don’t_ let me go out of my mind again;

death is nothing, let it come, but not with those dreams, not with

the torture of those hideous dreams--I cannot endure _that_ again....

Sandy?...”

He lay muttering incoherently some little time; then for a time he

lay silent, and apparently sinking away toward death. Presently

his fingers began to pick busily at the coverlet, and by that sign

I knew that his end was at hand with the first suggestion of the

death-rattle in his throat he started up slightly, and seemed

to listen: then he said:

“A bugle?... It is the king! The drawbridge, there! Man the

battlements!--turn out the--”

He was getting up his last “effect”; but he never finished it.