Produced by David Widger
A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT
(Samuel L. Clemens)
Inasmuch as I was now the second personage in the Kingdom, as far
as political power and authority were concerned, much was made
of me. My raiment was of silks and velvets and cloth of gold,
and by consequence was very showy, also uncomfortable. But habit
would soon reconcile me to my clothes; I was aware of that. I was
given the choicest suite of apartments in the castle, after
the king's. They were aglow with loud-colored silken hangings,
but the stone floors had nothing but rushes on them for a carpet,
and they were misfit rushes at that, being not all of one breed.
As for conveniences, properly speaking, there weren't any. I mean
_little_ conveniences; it is the little conveniences that make
the real comfort of life. The big oaken chairs, graced with rude
carvings, were well enough, but that was the stopping place.
There was no soap, no matches, no looking-glass--except a metal
one, about as powerful as a pail of water. And not a chromo.
I had been used to chromos for years, and I saw now that without
my suspecting it a passion for art had got worked into the fabric
of my being, and was become a part of me. It made me homesick
to look around over this proud and gaudy but heartless barrenness
and remember that in our house in East Hartford, all unpretending
as it was, you couldn't go into a room but you would find an
insurance-chromo, or at least a three-color God-Bless-Our-Home
over the door; and in the parlor we had nine. But here, even in
my grand room of state, there wasn't anything in the nature of
a picture except a thing the size of a bedquilt, which was either
woven or knitted (it had darned places in it), and nothing in it
was the right color or the right shape; and as for proportions,
even Raphael himself couldn't have botched them more formidably,
after all his practice on those nightmares they call his "celebrated
Hampton Court cartoons." Raphael was a bird. We had several
of his chromos; one was his "Miraculous Draught of Fishes," where
he puts in a miracle of his own--puts three men into a canoe which
wouldn't have held a dog without upsetting. I always admired
to study R.'s art, it was so fresh and unconventional.
There wasn't even a bell or a speaking-tube in the castle. I had
a great many servants, and those that were on duty lolled in the
anteroom; and when I wanted one of them I had to go and call for him.
There was no gas, there were no candles; a bronze dish half full
of boarding-house butter with a blazing rag floating in it was
the thing that produced what was regarded as light. A lot of
these hung along the walls and modified the dark, just toned it
down enough to make it dismal. If you went out at night, your
servants carried torches. There were no books, pens, paper or
ink, and no glass in the openings they believed to be windows.
It is a little thing--glass is--until it is absent, then it becomes
a big thing. But perhaps the worst of all was, that there wasn't
any sugar, coffee, tea, or tobacco. I saw that I was just another
Robinson Crusoe cast away on an uninhabited island, with no society
but some more or less tame animals, and if I wanted to make life
bearable I must do as he did--invent, contrive, create, reorganize
things; set brain and hand to work, and keep them busy. Well,
that was in my line.
One thing troubled me along at first--the immense interest which
people took in me. Apparently the whole nation wanted a look
at me. It soon transpired that the eclipse had scared the British
world almost to death; that while it lasted the whole country,
from one end to the other, was in a pitiable state of panic, and
the churches, hermitages, and monkeries overflowed with praying
and weeping poor creatures who thought the end of the world was
come. Then had followed the news that the producer of this awful
event was a stranger, a mighty magician at Arthur's court; that he
could have blown out the sun like a candle, and was just going
to do it when his mercy was purchased, and he then dissolved
his enchantments, and was now recognized and honored as the man
who had by his unaided might saved the globe from destruction and
its peoples from extinction. Now if you consider that everybody
believed that, and not only believed it, but never even dreamed
of doubting it, you will easily understand that there was not
a person in all Britain that would not have walked fifty miles
to get a sight of me. Of course I was all the talk--all other
subjects were dropped; even the king became suddenly a person of
minor interest and notoriety. Within twenty-four hours the
delegations began to arrive, and from that time onward for a fortnight
they kept coming. The village was crowded, and all the countryside.
I had to go out a dozen times a day and show myself to these
reverent and awe-stricken multitudes. It came to be a great burden,
as to time and trouble, but of course it was at the same time
compensatingly agreeable to be so celebrated and such a center
of homage. It turned Brer Merlin green with envy and spite, which
was a great satisfaction to me. But there was one thing I couldn't
understand--nobody had asked for an autograph. I spoke to Clarence
about it. By George! I had to explain to him what it was. Then
he said nobody in the country could read or write but a few dozen
priests. Land! think of that.
There was another thing that troubled me a little. Those multitudes
presently began to agitate for another miracle. That was natural.
To be able to carry back to their far homes the boast that they
had seen the man who could command the sun, riding in the heavens,
and be obeyed, would make them great in the eyes of their neighbors,
and envied by them all; but to be able to also say they had seen
him work a miracle themselves--why, people would come a distance
to see _them_. The pressure got to be pretty strong. There was
going to be an eclipse of the moon, and I knew the date and hour,
but it was too far away. Two years. I would have given a good
deal for license to hurry it up and use it now when there was
a big market for it. It seemed a great pity to have it wasted so,
and come lagging along at a time when a body wouldn't have any
use for it, as like as not. If it had been booked for only a month
away, I could have sold it short; but, as matters stood, I couldn't
seem to cipher out any way to make it do me any good, so I gave up
trying. Next, Clarence found that old Merlin was making himself
busy on the sly among those people. He was spreading a report that
I was a humbug, and that the reason I didn't accommodate the people
with a miracle was because I couldn't. I saw that I must do
something. I presently thought out a plan.
By my authority as executive I threw Merlin into prison--the same
cell I had occupied myself. Then I gave public notice by herald
and trumpet that I should be busy with affairs of state for
a fortnight, but about the end of that time I would take a moment's
leisure and blow up Merlin's stone tower by fires from heaven;
in the meantime, whoso listened to evil reports about me, let him
beware. Furthermore, I would perform but this one miracle at
this time, and no more; if it failed to satisfy and any murmured,
I would turn the murmurers into horses, and make them useful.
I took Clarence into my confidence, to a certain degree, and we
went to work privately. I told him that this was a sort of miracle
that required a trifle of preparation, and that it would be sudden
death to ever talk about these preparations to anybody. That made
his mouth safe enough. Clandestinely we made a few bushels of
first-rate blasting powder, and I superintended my armorers while
they constructed a lightning-rod and some wires. This old stone
tower was very massive--and rather ruinous, too, for it was Roman,
and four hundred years old. Yes, and handsome, after a rude
fashion, and clothed with ivy from base to summit, as with a shirt
of scale mail. It stood on a lonely eminence, in good view from
the castle, and about half a mile away.
Working by night, we stowed the powder in the tower--dug stones
out, on the inside, and buried the powder in the walls themselves,
which were fifteen feet thick at the base. We put in a peck
at a time, in a dozen places. We could have blown up the Tower
of London with these charges. When the thirteenth night was come
we put up our lightning-rod, bedded it in one of the batches of
powder, and ran wires from it to the other batches. Everybody
had shunned that locality from the day of my proclamation, but
on the morning of the fourteenth I thought best to warn the people,
through the heralds, to keep clear away--a quarter of a mile away.
Then added, by command, that at some time during the twenty-four
hours I would consummate the miracle, but would first give a brief
notice; by flags on the castle towers if in the daytime, by
torch-baskets in the same places if at night.
Thunder-showers had been tolerably frequent of late, and I was
not much afraid of a failure; still, I shouldn't have cared for
a delay of a day or two; I should have explained that I was busy
with affairs of state yet, and the people must wait.
Of course, we had a blazing sunny day--almost the first one without
a cloud for three weeks; things always happen so. I kept secluded,
and watched the weather. Clarence dropped in from time to time
and said the public excitement was growing and growing all the
time, and the whole country filling up with human masses as far
as one could see from the battlements. At last the wind sprang up
and a cloud appeared--in the right quarter, too, and just at
nightfall. For a little while I watched that distant cloud spread
and blacken, then I judged it was time for me to appear. I ordered
the torch-baskets to be lit, and Merlin liberated and sent to me.
A quarter of an hour later I ascended the parapet and there found
the king and the court assembled and gazing off in the darkness
toward Merlin's Tower. Already the darkness was so heavy that
one could not see far; these people and the old turrets, being
partly in deep shadow and partly in the red glow from the great
torch-baskets overhead, made a good deal of a picture.
Merlin arrived in a gloomy mood. I said:
"You wanted to burn me alive when I had not done you any harm,
and latterly you have been trying to injure my professional
reputation. Therefore I am going to call down fire and blow up
your tower, but it is only fair to give you a chance; now if you
think you can break my enchantments and ward off the fires, step
to the bat, it's your innings."
"I can, fair sir, and I will. Doubt it not."
He drew an imaginary circle on the stones of the roof, and burnt
a pinch of powder in it, which sent up a small cloud of aromatic
smoke, whereat everybody fell back and began to cross themselves
and get uncomfortable. Then he began to mutter and make passes
in the air with his hands. He worked himself up slowly and
gradually into a sort of frenzy, and got to thrashing around with
his arms like the sails of a windmill. By this time the storm had
about reached us; the gusts of wind were flaring the torches and
making the shadows swash about, the first heavy drops of rain
were falling, the world abroad was black as pitch, the lightning
began to wink fitfully. Of course, my rod would be loading itself
now. In fact, things were imminent. So I said:
"You have had time enough. I have given you every advantage,
and not interfered. It is plain your magic is weak. It is only
fair that I begin now."
I made about three passes in the air, and then there was an awful
crash and that old tower leaped into the sky in chunks, along
with a vast volcanic fountain of fire that turned night to noonday,
and showed a thousand acres of human beings groveling on the ground
in a general collapse of consternation. Well, it rained mortar and
masonry the rest of the week. This was the report; but probably
the facts would have modified it.
It was an effective miracle. The great bothersome temporary
population vanished. There were a good many thousand tracks
in the mud the next morning, but they were all outward bound.
If I had advertised another miracle I couldn't have raised an
audience with a sheriff.
Merlin's stock was flat. The king wanted to stop his wages; he
even wanted to banish him, but I interfered. I said he would be
useful to work the weather, and attend to small matters like that,
and I would give him a lift now and then when his poor little
parlor-magic soured on him. There wasn't a rag of his tower left,
but I had the government rebuild it for him, and advised him
to take boarders; but he was too high-toned for that. And as for
being grateful, he never even said thank you. He was a rather
hard lot, take him how you might; but then you couldn't fairly
expect a man to be sweet that had been set back so.
To be vested with enormous authority is a fine thing; but to have
the on-looking world consent to it is a finer. The tower episode
solidified my power, and made it impregnable. If any were perchance
disposed to be jealous and critical before that, they experienced
a change of heart, now. There was not any one in the kingdom
who would have considered it good judgment to meddle with my matters.
I was fast getting adjusted to my situation and circumstances.
For a time, I used to wake up, mornings, and smile at my "dream,"
and listen for the Colt's factory whistle; but that sort of thing
played itself out, gradually, and at last I was fully able to realize
that I was actually living in the sixth century, and in Arthur's
court, not a lunatic asylum. After that, I was just as much
at home in that century as I could have been in any other; and
as for preference, I wouldn't have traded it for the twentieth.
Look at the opportunities here for a man of knowledge, brains,
pluck, and enterprise to sail in and grow up with the country.
The grandest field that ever was; and all my own; not a competitor;
not a man who wasn't a baby to me in acquirements and capacities;
whereas, what would I amount to in the twentieth century? I should
be foreman of a factory, that is about all; and could drag a seine
down street any day and catch a hundred better men than myself.
What a jump I had made! I couldn't keep from thinking about it,
and contemplating it, just as one does who has struck oil. There
was nothing back of me that could approach it, unless it might be
Joseph's case; and Joseph's only approached it, it didn't equal
it, quite. For it stands to reason that as Joseph's splendid
financial ingenuities advantaged nobody but the king, the general
public must have regarded him with a good deal of disfavor, whereas
I had done my entire public a kindness in sparing the sun, and was
popular by reason of it.
I was no shadow of a king; I was the substance; the king himself
was the shadow. My power was colossal; and it was not a mere
name, as such things have generally been, it was the genuine
article. I stood here, at the very spring and source of the second
great period of the world's history; and could see the trickling
stream of that history gather and deepen and broaden, and roll
its mighty tides down the far centuries; and I could note the
upspringing of adventurers like myself in the shelter of its long
array of thrones: De Montforts, Gavestons, Mortimers, Villierses;
the war-making, campaign-directing wantons of France, and Charles
the Second's scepter-wielding drabs; but nowhere in the procession
was my full-sized fellow visible. I was a Unique; and glad to know
that that fact could not be dislodged or challenged for thirteen
centuries and a half, for sure. Yes, in power I was equal to
the king. At the same time there was another power that was
a trifle stronger than both of us put together. That was the Church.
I do not wish to disguise that fact. I couldn't, if I wanted to.
But never mind about that, now; it will show up, in its proper
place, later on. It didn't cause me any trouble in the beginning
--at least any of consequence.
Well, it was a curious country, and full of interest. And the
people! They were the quaintest and simplest and trustingest race;
why, they were nothing but rabbits. It was pitiful for a person
born in a wholesome free atmosphere to listen to their humble
and hearty outpourings of loyalty toward their king and Church
and nobility; as if they had any more occasion to love and honor
king and Church and noble than a slave has to love and honor
the lash, or a dog has to love and honor the stranger that kicks him!
Why, dear me, _any_ kind of royalty, howsoever modified, _any_ kind
of aristocracy, howsoever pruned, is rightly an insult; but if you
are born and brought up under that sort of arrangement you probably
never find it out for yourself, and don't believe it when somebody
else tells you. It is enough to make a body ashamed of his race
to think of the sort of froth that has always occupied its thrones
without shadow of right or reason, and the seventh-rate people
that have always figured as its aristocracies--a company of monarchs
and nobles who, as a rule, would have achieved only poverty and
obscurity if left, like their betters, to their own exertions.
The most of King Arthur's British nation were slaves, pure and
simple, and bore that name, and wore the iron collar on their
necks; and the rest were slaves in fact, but without the name;
they imagined themselves men and freemen, and called themselves
so. The truth was, the nation as a body was in the world for one
object, and one only: to grovel before king and Church and noble;
to slave for them, sweat blood for them, starve that they might
be fed, work that they might play, drink misery to the dregs that
they might be happy, go naked that they might wear silks and
jewels, pay taxes that they might be spared from paying them,
be familiar all their lives with the degrading language and postures
of adulation that they might walk in pride and think themselves
the gods of this world. And for all this, the thanks they got were
cuffs and contempt; and so poor-spirited were they that they took
even this sort of attention as an honor.
Inherited ideas are a curious thing, and interesting to observe
and examine. I had mine, the king and his people had theirs.
In both cases they flowed in ruts worn deep by time and habit,
and the man who should have proposed to divert them by reason
and argument would have had a long contract on his hands. For
instance, those people had inherited the idea that all men without
title and a long pedigree, whether they had great natural gifts
and acquirements or hadn't, were creatures of no more consideration
than so many animals, bugs, insects; whereas I had inherited the idea
that human daws who can consent to masquerade in the peacock-shams
of inherited dignities and unearned titles, are of no good but
to be laughed at. The way I was looked upon was odd, but it was
natural. You know how the keeper and the public regard the elephant
in the menagerie: well, that is the idea. They are full of
admiration of his vast bulk and his prodigious strength; they
speak with pride of the fact that he can do a hundred marvels
which are far and away beyond their own powers; and they speak
with the same pride of the fact that in his wrath he is able
to drive a thousand men before him. But does that make him one
of _them_? No; the raggedest tramp in the pit would smile at
the idea. He couldn't comprehend it; couldn't take it in; couldn't
in any remote way conceive of it. Well, to the king, the nobles,
and all the nation, down to the very slaves and tramps, I was
just that kind of an elephant, and nothing more. I was admired,
also feared; but it was as an animal is admired and feared.
The animal is not reverenced, neither was I; I was not even
respected. I had no pedigree, no inherited title; so in the king's
and nobles' eyes I was mere dirt; the people regarded me with
wonder and awe, but there was no reverence mixed with it; through
the force of inherited ideas they were not able to conceive of
anything being entitled to that except pedigree and lordship.
There you see the hand of that awful power, the Roman Catholic
Church. In two or three little centuries it had converted a nation
of men to a nation of worms. Before the day of the Church's
supremacy in the world, men were men, and held their heads up,
and had a man's pride and spirit and independence; and what
of greatness and position a person got, he got mainly by achievement,
not by birth. But then the Church came to the front, with an axe
to grind; and she was wise, subtle, and knew more than one way
to skin a cat--or a nation; she invented "divine right of kings,"
and propped it all around, brick by brick, with the Beatitudes
--wrenching them from their good purpose to make them fortify
an evil one; she preached (to the commoner) humility, obedience
to superiors, the beauty of self-sacrifice; she preached (to the
commoner) meekness under insult; preached (still to the commoner,
always to the commoner) patience, meanness of spirit, non-resistance
under oppression; and she introduced heritable ranks and
aristocracies, and taught all the Christian populations of the earth
to bow down to them and worship them. Even down to my birth-century
that poison was still in the blood of Christendom, and the best
of English commoners was still content to see his inferiors
impudently continuing to hold a number of positions, such as
lordships and the throne, to which the grotesque laws of his country
did not allow him to aspire; in fact, he was not merely contented
with this strange condition of things, he was even able to persuade
himself that he was proud of it. It seems to show that there isn't
anything you can't stand, if you are only born and bred to it.
Of course that taint, that reverence for rank and title, had been
in our American blood, too--I know that; but when I left America
it had disappeared--at least to all intents and purposes. The
remnant of it was restricted to the dudes and dudesses. When
a disease has worked its way down to that level, it may fairly
be said to be out of the system.
But to return to my anomalous position in King Arthur's kingdom.
Here I was, a giant among pigmies, a man among children, a master
intelligence among intellectual moles: by all rational measurement
the one and only actually great man in that whole British world;
and yet there and then, just as in the remote England of my
birth-time, the sheep-witted earl who could claim long descent
from a king's leman, acquired at second-hand from the slums of
London, was a better man than I was. Such a personage was fawned
upon in Arthur's realm and reverently looked up to by everybody,
even though his dispositions were as mean as his intelligence,
and his morals as base as his lineage. There were times when
_he_ could sit down in the king's presence, but I couldn't. I could
have got a title easily enough, and that would have raised me
a large step in everybody's eyes; even in the king's, the giver
of it. But I didn't ask for it; and I declined it when it was
offered. I couldn't have enjoyed such a thing with my notions;
and it wouldn't have been fair, anyway, because as far back as
I could go, our tribe had always been short of the bar sinister.
I couldn't have felt really and satisfactorily fine and proud
and set-up over any title except one that should come from the nation
itself, the only legitimate source; and such an one I hoped to win;
and in the course of years of honest and honorable endeavor, I did
win it and did wear it with a high and clean pride. This title
fell casually from the lips of a blacksmith, one day, in a village,
was caught up as a happy thought and tossed from mouth to mouth
with a laugh and an affirmative vote; in ten days it had swept
the kingdom, and was become as familiar as the king's name. I was
never known by any other designation afterward, whether in the
nation's talk or in grave debate upon matters of state at the
council-board of the sovereign. This title, translated into modern
speech, would be THE BOSS. Elected by the nation. That suited me.
And it was a pretty high title. There were very few THE'S, and
I was one of them. If you spoke of the duke, or the earl, or
the bishop, how could anybody tell which one you meant? But if
you spoke of The King or The Queen or The Boss, it was different.
Well, I liked the king, and as king I respected him--respected
the office; at least respected it as much as I was capable of
respecting any unearned supremacy; but as MEN I looked down upon
him and his nobles--privately. And he and they liked me, and
respected my office; but as an animal, without birth or sham title,
they looked down upon me--and were not particularly private about it,
either. I didn't charge for my opinion about them, and they didn't
charge for their opinion about me: the account was square, the
books balanced, everybody was satisfied.
They were always having grand tournaments there at Camelot; and
very stirring and picturesque and ridiculous human bull-fights
they were, too, but just a little wearisome to the practical mind.
However, I was generally on hand--for two reasons: a man must
not hold himself aloof from the things which his friends and his
community have at heart if he would be liked--especially as
a statesman; and both as business man and statesman I wanted
to study the tournament and see if I couldn't invent an improvement
on it. That reminds me to remark, in passing, that the very first
official thing I did, in my administration--and it was on the very
first day of it, too--was to start a patent office; for I knew
that a country without a patent office and good patent laws was
just a crab, and couldn't travel any way but sideways or backways.
Things ran along, a tournament nearly every week; and now and then
the boys used to want me to take a hand--I mean Sir Launcelot and
the rest--but I said I would by and by; no hurry yet, and too much
government machinery to oil up and set to rights and start a-going.
We had one tournament which was continued from day to day during
more than a week, and as many as five hundred knights took part
in it, from first to last. They were weeks gathering. They came
on horseback from everywhere; from the very ends of the country,
and even from beyond the sea; and many brought ladies, and all
brought squires and troops of servants. It was a most gaudy and
gorgeous crowd, as to costumery, and very characteristic of the
country and the time, in the way of high animal spirits, innocent
indecencies of language, and happy-hearted indifference to morals.
It was fight or look on, all day and every day; and sing, gamble,
dance, carouse half the night every night. They had a most noble
good time. You never saw such people. Those banks of beautiful
ladies, shining in their barbaric splendors, would see a knight
sprawl from his horse in the lists with a lanceshaft the thickness
of your ankle clean through him and the blood spouting, and instead
of fainting they would clap their hands and crowd each other for a
better view; only sometimes one would dive into her handkerchief,
and look ostentatiously broken-hearted, and then you could lay
two to one that there was a scandal there somewhere and she was
afraid the public hadn't found it out.
The noise at night would have been annoying to me ordinarily, but
I didn't mind it in the present circumstances, because it kept me
from hearing the quacks detaching legs and arms from the day's
cripples. They ruined an uncommon good old cross-cut saw for me,
and broke the saw-buck, too, but I let it pass. And as for my
axe--well, I made up my mind that the next time I lent an axe
to a surgeon I would pick my century.
I not only watched this tournament from day to day, but detailed
an intelligent priest from my Department of Public Morals and
Agriculture, and ordered him to report it; for it was my purpose
by and by, when I should have gotten the people along far enough,
to start a newspaper. The first thing you want in a new country,
is a patent office; then work up your school system; and after that,
out with your paper. A newspaper has its faults, and plenty of them,
but no matter, it's hark from the tomb for a dead nation, and don't
you forget it. You can't resurrect a dead nation without it; there
isn't any way. So I wanted to sample things, and be finding out
what sort of reporter-material I might be able to rake together out
of the sixth century when I should come to need it.
Well, the priest did very well, considering. He got in all
the details, and that is a good thing in a local item: you see,
he had kept books for the undertaker-department of his church
when he was younger, and there, you know, the money's in the details;
the more details, the more swag: bearers, mutes, candles, prayers
--everything counts; and if the bereaved don't buy prayers enough
you mark up your candles with a forked pencil, and your bill
shows up all right. And he had a good knack at getting in the
complimentary thing here and there about a knight that was likely
to advertise--no, I mean a knight that had influence; and he also
had a neat gift of exaggeration, for in his time he had kept door
for a pious hermit who lived in a sty and worked miracles.
Of course this novice's report lacked whoop and crash and lurid
description, and therefore wanted the true ring; but its antique
wording was quaint and sweet and simple, and full of the fragrances
and flavors of the time, and these little merits made up in a measure
for its more important lacks. Here is an extract from it:
Then Sir Brian de les Isles and Grummore Grummorsum,
knights of the castle, encountered with Sir Aglovale and
Sir Tor, and Sir Tor smote down Sir Grummore Grummorsum
to the earth. Then came Sir Carados of the dolorous
tower, and Sir Turquine, knights of the castle, and
there encountered with them Sir Percivale de Galis
and Sir Lamorak de Galis, that were two brethren, and
there encountered Sir Percivale with Sir Carados, and
either brake their spears unto their hands, and then
Sir Turquine with Sir Lamorak, and either of them smote
down other, horse and all, to the earth, and either
parties rescued other and horsed them again. And Sir
Arnold, and Sir Gauter, knights of the castle,
encountered with Sir Brandiles and Sir Kay, and these
four knights encountered mightily, and brake their
spears to their hands. Then came Sir Pertolope from
the castle, and there encountered with him Sir Lionel,
and there Sir Pertolope the green knight smote down Sir
Lionel, brother to Sir Launcelot. All this was marked
by noble heralds, who bare him best, and their names.
Then Sir Bleobaris brake his spear upon Sir Gareth,
but of that stroke Sir Bleobaris fell to the earth.
When Sir Galihodin saw that, he bad Sir Gareth keep him,
and Sir Gareth smote him to the earth. Then Sir Galihud
gat a spear to avenge his brother, and in the same wise
Sir Gareth served him, and Sir Dinadan and his brother
La Cote Male Taile, and Sir Sagramore le Disirous, and
Sir Dodinas le Savage; all these he bare down with one
spear. When King Aswisance of Ireland saw Sir Gareth
fare so he marvelled what he might be, that one time
seemed green, and another time, at his again coming,
he seemed blue. And thus at every course that he rode
to and fro he changed his color, so that there might
neither king nor knight have ready cognizance of him.
Then Sir Agwisance the King of Ireland encountered
with Sir Gareth, and there Sir Gareth smote him from
his horse, saddle and all. And then came King Carados
of Scotland, and Sir Gareth smote him down horse and
man. And in the same wise he served King Uriens of the
land of Gore. And then there came in Six Bagdemagus,
and Sir Gareth smote him down horse and man to the
earth. And Bagdemagus's son Meliganus brake a spear
upon Sir Gareth mightily and knightly. And then Sir
Galahault the noble prince cried on high, Knight with
the many colors, well hast thou justed; now make thee
ready that I may just with thee. Sir Gareth heard him,
and he gat a great spear, and so they encountered
together, and there the prince brake his spear; but Sir
Gareth smote him upon the left side of the helm, that
he reeled here and there, and he had fallen down had not
his men recovered him. Truly, said King Arthur, that
knight with the many colors is a good knight. Wherefore
the king called unto him Sir Launcelot, and prayed him
to encounter with that knight. Sir, said Launcelot, I
may as well find in my heart for to forbear him at
this time, for he hath had travail enough this day, and
when a good knight doth so well upon some day, it is
no good knight's part to let him of his worship, and,
namely, when he seeth a knight hath done so great
labour; for peradventure, said Sir Launcelot, his
quarrel is here this day, and peradventure he is best
beloved with this lady of all that be here, for I see
well he paineth himself and enforceth him to do great
deeds, and therefore, said Sir Launcelot, as for me,
this day he shall have the honour; though it lay in my
power to put him from it, I would not.
There was an unpleasant little episode that day, which for reasons
of state I struck out of my priest's report. You will have noticed
that Garry was doing some great fighting in the engagement. When
I say Garry I mean Sir Gareth. Garry was my private pet name
for him; it suggests that I had a deep affection for him, and that
was the case. But it was a private pet name only, and never spoken
aloud to any one, much less to him; being a noble, he would not
have endured a familiarity like that from me. Well, to proceed:
I sat in the private box set apart for me as the king's minister.
While Sir Dinadan was waiting for his turn to enter the lists,
he came in there and sat down and began to talk; for he was always
making up to me, because I was a stranger and he liked to have
a fresh market for his jokes, the most of them having reached that
stage of wear where the teller has to do the laughing himself while
the other person looks sick. I had always responded to his efforts
as well as I could, and felt a very deep and real kindness for him,
too, for the reason that if by malice of fate he knew the one
particular anecdote which I had heard oftenest and had most hated
and most loathed all my life, he had at least spared it me. It was
one which I had heard attributed to every humorous person who
had ever stood on American soil, from Columbus down to Artemus Ward.
It was about a humorous lecturer who flooded an ignorant audience
with the killingest jokes for an hour and never got a laugh; and
then when he was leaving, some gray simpletons wrung him gratefully
by the hand and said it had been the funniest thing they had ever
heard, and "it was all they could do to keep from laughin' right
out in meetin'." That anecdote never saw the day that it was
worth the telling; and yet I had sat under the telling of it
hundreds and thousands and millions and billions of times, and
cried and cursed all the way through. Then who can hope to know
what my feelings were, to hear this armor-plated ass start in on
it again, in the murky twilight of tradition, before the dawn of
history, while even Lactantius might be referred to as "the late
Lactantius," and the Crusades wouldn't be born for five hundred
years yet? Just as he finished, the call-boy came; so, haw-hawing
like a demon, he went rattling and clanking out like a crate of
loose castings, and I knew nothing more. It was some minutes
before I came to, and then I opened my eyes just in time to see
Sir Gareth fetch him an awful welt, and I unconsciously out with
the prayer, "I hope to gracious he's killed!" But by ill-luck,
before I had got half through with the words, Sir Gareth crashed
into Sir Sagramor le Desirous and sent him thundering over his
horse's crupper, and Sir Sagramor caught my remark and thought
I meant it for _him_.
Well, whenever one of those people got a thing into his head,
there was no getting it out again. I knew that, so I saved my
breath, and offered no explanations. As soon as Sir Sagramor
got well, he notified me that there was a little account to settle
between us, and he named a day three or four years in the future;
place of settlement, the lists where the offense had been given.
I said I would be ready when he got back. You see, he was going
for the Holy Grail. The boys all took a flier at the Holy Grail
now and then. It was a several years' cruise. They always put in
the long absence snooping around, in the most conscientious way,
though none of them had any idea where the Holy Grail really was,
and I don't think any of them actually expected to find it, or
would have known what to do with it if he _had_ run across it.
You see, it was just the Northwest Passage of that day, as you may
say; that was all. Every year expeditions went out holy grailing,
and next year relief expeditions went out to hunt for _them_. There
was worlds of reputation in it, but no money. Why, they actually
wanted _me_ to put in! Well, I should smile.
BEGINNINGS OF CIVILIZATION
The Round Table soon heard of the challenge, and of course it was
a good deal discussed, for such things interested the boys.
The king thought I ought now to set forth in quest of adventures,
so that I might gain renown and be the more worthy to meet
Sir Sagramor when the several years should have rolled away.
I excused myself for the present; I said it would take me three
or four years yet to get things well fixed up and going smoothly;
then I should be ready; all the chances were that at the end of
that time Sir Sagramor would still be out grailing, so no valuable
time would be lost by the postponement; I should then have been
in office six or seven years, and I believed my system and machinery
would be so well developed that I could take a holiday without
its working any harm.
I was pretty well satisfied with what I had already accomplished.
In various quiet nooks and corners I had the beginnings of all
sorts of industries under way--nuclei of future vast factories,
the iron and steel missionaries of my future civilization. In these
were gathered together the brightest young minds I could find,
and I kept agents out raking the country for more, all the time.
I was training a crowd of ignorant folk into experts--experts
in every sort of handiwork and scientific calling. These nurseries
of mine went smoothly and privately along undisturbed in their
obscure country retreats, for nobody was allowed to come into their
precincts without a special permit--for I was afraid of the Church.
I had started a teacher-factory and a lot of Sunday-schools the
first thing; as a result, I now had an admirable system of graded
schools in full blast in those places, and also a complete variety
of Protestant congregations all in a prosperous and growing
condition. Everybody could be any kind of a Christian he wanted
to; there was perfect freedom in that matter. But I confined public
religious teaching to the churches and the Sunday-schools, permitting
nothing of it in my other educational buildings. I could have
given my own sect the preference and made everybody a Presbyterian
without any trouble, but that would have been to affront a law
of human nature: spiritual wants and instincts are as various in
the human family as are physical appetites, complexions, and
features, and a man is only at his best, morally, when he is
equipped with the religious garment whose color and shape and
size most nicely accommodate themselves to the spiritual complexion,
angularities, and stature of the individual who wears it; and,
besides, I was afraid of a united Church; it makes a mighty power,
the mightiest conceivable, and then when it by and by gets into
selfish hands, as it is always bound to do, it means death to
human liberty and paralysis to human thought.
All mines were royal property, and there were a good many of them.
They had formerly been worked as savages always work mines--holes
grubbed in the earth and the mineral brought up in sacks of hide by
hand, at the rate of a ton a day; but I had begun to put the mining
on a scientific basis as early as I could.
Yes, I had made pretty handsome progress when Sir Sagramor's
challenge struck me.
Four years rolled by--and then! Well, you would never imagine
it in the world. Unlimited power is the ideal thing when it is in
safe hands. The despotism of heaven is the one absolutely perfect
government. An earthly despotism would be the absolutely perfect
earthly government, if the conditions were the same, namely, the
despot the perfectest individual of the human race, and his lease
of life perpetual. But as a perishable perfect man must die, and
leave his despotism in the hands of an imperfect successor, an
earthly despotism is not merely a bad form of government, it is
the worst form that is possible.
My works showed what a despot could do with the resources of
a kingdom at his command. Unsuspected by this dark land, I had
the civilization of the nineteenth century booming under its very
nose! It was fenced away from the public view, but there it was,
a gigantic and unassailable fact--and to be heard from, yet, if
I lived and had luck. There it was, as sure a fact and as substantial
a fact as any serene volcano, standing innocent with its smokeless
summit in the blue sky and giving no sign of the rising hell in its
bowels. My schools and churches were children four years before;
they were grown-up now; my shops of that day were vast factories
now; where I had a dozen trained men then, I had a thousand now;
where I had one brilliant expert then, I had fifty now. I stood
with my hand on the cock, so to speak, ready to turn it on and
flood the midnight world with light at any moment. But I was not
going to do the thing in that sudden way. It was not my policy.
The people could not have stood it; and, moreover, I should have
had the Established Roman Catholic Church on my back in a minute.
No, I had been going cautiously all the while. I had had confidential
agents trickling through the country some time, whose office was
to undermine knighthood by imperceptible degrees, and to gnaw
a little at this and that and the other superstition, and so prepare
the way gradually for a better order of things. I was turning on
my light one-candle-power at a time, and meant to continue to do so.
I had scattered some branch schools secretly about the kingdom,
and they were doing very well. I meant to work this racket more
and more, as time wore on, if nothing occurred to frighten me.
One of my deepest secrets was my West Point--my military academy.
I kept that most jealously out of sight; and I did the same with my
naval academy which I had established at a remote seaport. Both
were prospering to my satisfaction.
Clarence was twenty-two now, and was my head executive, my right
hand. He was a darling; he was equal to anything; there wasn't
anything he couldn't turn his hand to. Of late I had been training
him for journalism, for the time seemed about right for a start
in the newspaper line; nothing big, but just a small weekly for
experimental circulation in my civilization-nurseries. He took
to it like a duck; there was an editor concealed in him, sure.
Already he had doubled himself in one way; he talked sixth century
and wrote nineteenth. His journalistic style was climbing,
steadily; it was already up to the back settlement Alabama mark,
and couldn't be told from the editorial output of that region
either by matter or flavor.
We had another large departure on hand, too. This was a telegraph
and a telephone; our first venture in this line. These wires were
for private service only, as yet, and must be kept private until
a riper day should come. We had a gang of men on the road, working
mainly by night. They were stringing ground wires; we were afraid
to put up poles, for they would attract too much inquiry. Ground
wires were good enough, in both instances, for my wires were
protected by an insulation of my own invention which was perfect.
My men had orders to strike across country, avoiding roads, and
establishing connection with any considerable towns whose lights
betrayed their presence, and leaving experts in charge. Nobody
could tell you how to find any place in the kingdom, for nobody
ever went intentionally to any place, but only struck it by
accident in his wanderings, and then generally left it without
thinking to inquire what its name was. At one time and another
we had sent out topographical expeditions to survey and map the
kingdom, but the priests had always interfered and raised trouble.
So we had given the thing up, for the present; it would be poor
wisdom to antagonize the Church.
As for the general condition of the country, it was as it had been
when I arrived in it, to all intents and purposes. I had made
changes, but they were necessarily slight, and they were not
noticeable. Thus far, I had not even meddled with taxation,
outside of the taxes which provided the royal revenues. I had
systematized those, and put the service on an effective and
righteous basis. As a result, these revenues were already quadrupled,
and yet the burden was so much more equably distributed than
before, that all the kingdom felt a sense of relief, and the praises
of my administration were hearty and general.
Personally, I struck an interruption, now, but I did not mind it,
it could not have happened at a better time. Earlier it could
have annoyed me, but now everything was in good hands and swimming
right along. The king had reminded me several times, of late, that
the postponement I had asked for, four years before, had about
run out now. It was a hint that I ought to be starting out to seek
adventures and get up a reputation of a size to make me worthy
of the honor of breaking a lance with Sir Sagramor, who was still
out grailing, but was being hunted for by various relief expeditions,
and might be found any year, now. So you see I was expecting
this interruption; it did not take me by surprise.
THE YANKEE IN SEARCH OF ADVENTURES
There never was such a country for wandering liars; and they were
of both sexes. Hardly a month went by without one of these tramps
arriving; and generally loaded with a tale about some princess or
other wanting help to get her out of some far-away castle where
she was held in captivity by a lawless scoundrel, usually a giant.
Now you would think that the first thing the king would do after
listening to such a novelette from an entire stranger, would be
to ask for credentials--yes, and a pointer or two as to locality
of castle, best route to it, and so on. But nobody ever thought
of so simple and common-sense a thing at that. No, everybody
swallowed these people's lies whole, and never asked a question
of any sort or about anything. Well, one day when I was not
around, one of these people came along--it was a she one, this
time--and told a tale of the usual pattern. Her mistress was
a captive in a vast and gloomy castle, along with forty-four other
young and beautiful girls, pretty much all of them princesses;
they had been languishing in that cruel captivity for twenty-six
years; the masters of the castle were three stupendous brothers,
each with four arms and one eye--the eye in the center of the
forehead, and as big as a fruit. Sort of fruit not mentioned;
their usual slovenliness in statistics.
Would you believe it? The king and the whole Round Table were
in raptures over this preposterous opportunity for adventure.
Every knight of the Table jumped for the chance, and begged for it;
but to their vexation and chagrin the king conferred it upon me,
who had not asked for it at all.
By an effort, I contained my joy when Clarence brought me the news.
But he--he could not contain his. His mouth gushed delight and
gratitude in a steady discharge--delight in my good fortune,
gratitude to the king for this splendid mark of his favor for me.
He could keep neither his legs nor his body still, but pirouetted
about the place in an airy ecstasy of happiness.
On my side, I could have cursed the kindness that conferred upon
me this benefaction, but I kept my vexation under the surface
for policy's sake, and did what I could to let on to be glad.
Indeed, I _said_ I was glad. And in a way it was true; I was as
glad as a person is when he is scalped.
Well, one must make the best of things, and not waste time with
useless fretting, but get down to business and see what can be
done. In all lies there is wheat among the chaff; I must get at
the wheat in this case: so I sent for the girl and she came. She
was a comely enough creature, and soft and modest, but, if signs
went for anything, she didn't know as much as a lady's watch. I said:
"My dear, have you been questioned as to particulars?"
She said she hadn't.
"Well, I didn't expect you had, but I thought I would ask, to make
sure; it's the way I've been raised. Now you mustn't take it
unkindly if I remind you that as we don't know you, we must go
a little slow. You may be all right, of course, and we'll hope
that you are; but to take it for granted isn't business. _You_
understand that. I'm obliged to ask you a few questions; just
answer up fair and square, and don't be afraid. Where do you
live, when you are at home?"
"In the land of Moder, fair sir."
"Land of Moder. I don't remember hearing of it before.
"As to that, I know not if they be yet on live, sith it is many
years that I have lain shut up in the castle."
"Your name, please?"
"I hight the Demoiselle Alisande la Carteloise, an it please you."
"Do you know anybody here who can identify you?"
"That were not likely, fair lord, I being come hither now for
the first time."
"Have you brought any letters--any documents--any proofs that
you are trustworthy and truthful?"
"Of a surety, no; and wherefore should I? Have I not a tongue,
and cannot I say all that myself?"
"But _your_ saying it, you know, and somebody else's saying it,
"Different? How might that be? I fear me I do not understand."
"Don't _understand_? Land of--why, you see--you see--why, great Scott,
can't you understand a little thing like that? Can't you understand
the difference between your--_why_ do you look so innocent and idiotic!"
"I? In truth I know not, but an it were the will of God."
"Yes, yes, I reckon that's about the size of it. Don't mind my
seeming excited; I'm not. Let us change the subject. Now as
to this castle, with forty-five princesses in it, and three ogres
at the head of it, tell me--where is this harem?"
"The _castle_, you understand; where is the castle?"
"Oh, as to that, it is great, and strong, and well beseen, and
lieth in a far country. Yes, it is many leagues."
"Ah, fair sir, it were woundily hard to tell, they are so many,
and do so lap the one upon the other, and being made all in the
same image and tincted with the same color, one may not know
the one league from its fellow, nor how to count them except
they be taken apart, and ye wit well it were God's work to do
that, being not within man's capacity; for ye will note--"
"Hold on, hold on, never mind about the distance; _whereabouts_
does the castle lie? What's the direction from here?"
"Ah, please you sir, it hath no direction from here; by reason
that the road lieth not straight, but turneth evermore; wherefore
the direction of its place abideth not, but is some time under
the one sky and anon under another, whereso if ye be minded that
it is in the east, and wend thitherward, ye shall observe that
the way of the road doth yet again turn upon itself by the space
of half a circle, and this marvel happing again and yet again and
still again, it will grieve you that you had thought by vanities
of the mind to thwart and bring to naught the will of Him that
giveth not a castle a direction from a place except it pleaseth
Him, and if it please Him not, will the rather that even all castles
and all directions thereunto vanish out of the earth, leaving the
places wherein they tarried desolate and vacant, so warning His
creatures that where He will He will, and where He will not He--"
"Oh, that's all right, that's all right, give us a rest; never mind
about the direction, _hang_ the direction--I beg pardon, I beg
a thousand pardons, I am not well to-day; pay no attention when
I soliloquize, it is an old habit, an old, bad habit, and hard
to get rid of when one's digestion is all disordered with eating
food that was raised forever and ever before he was born; good
land! a man can't keep his functions regular on spring chickens
thirteen hundred years old. But come--never mind about that;
let's--have you got such a thing as a map of that region about
you? Now a good map--"
"Is it peradventure that manner of thing which of late the unbelievers
have brought from over the great seas, which, being boiled in oil,
and an onion and salt added thereto, doth--"
"What, a map? What are you talking about? Don't you know what
a map is? There, there, never mind, don't explain, I hate
explanations; they fog a thing up so that you can't tell anything
about it. Run along, dear; good-day; show her the way, Clarence."
Oh, well, it was reasonably plain, now, why these donkeys didn't
prospect these liars for details. It may be that this girl had
a fact in her somewhere, but I don't believe you could have sluiced
it out with a hydraulic; nor got it with the earlier forms of
blasting, even; it was a case for dynamite. Why, she was a perfect
ass; and yet the king and his knights had listened to her as if
she had been a leaf out of the gospel. It kind of sizes up the
whole party. And think of the simple ways of this court: this
wandering wench hadn't any more trouble to get access to the king
in his palace than she would have had to get into the poorhouse
in my day and country. In fact, he was glad to see her, glad
to hear her tale; with that adventure of hers to offer, she was
as welcome as a corpse is to a coroner.
Just as I was ending-up these reflections, Clarence came back.
I remarked upon the barren result of my efforts with the girl;
hadn't got hold of a single point that could help me to find
the castle. The youth looked a little surprised, or puzzled,
or something, and intimated that he had been wondering to himself
what I had wanted to ask the girl all those questions for.
"Why, great guns," I said, "don't I want to find the castle? And
how else would I go about it?"
"La, sweet your worship, one may lightly answer that, I ween.
She will go with thee. They always do. She will ride with thee."
"Ride with me? Nonsense!"
"But of a truth she will. She will ride with thee. Thou shalt see."
"What? She browse around the hills and scour the woods with me
--alone--and I as good as engaged to be married? Why, it's scandalous.
Think how it would look."
My, the dear face that rose before me! The boy was eager to know
all about this tender matter. I swore him to secrecy and then
whispered her name--"Puss Flanagan." He looked disappointed,
and said he didn't remember the countess. How natural it was for
the little courtier to give her a rank. He asked me where she lived.
"In East Har--" I came to myself and stopped, a little confused;
then I said, "Never mind, now; I'll tell you some time."
And might he see her? Would I let him see her some day?
It was but a little thing to promise--thirteen hundred years
or so--and he so eager; so I said Yes. But I sighed; I couldn't
help it. And yet there was no sense in sighing, for she wasn't
born yet. But that is the way we are made: we don't reason,
where we feel; we just feel.
My expedition was all the talk that day and that night, and the
boys were very good to me, and made much of me, and seemed to have
forgotten their vexation and disappointment, and come to be as
anxious for me to hive those ogres and set those ripe old virgins
loose as if it were themselves that had the contract. Well, they
_were_ good children--but just children, that is all. And they
gave me no end of points about how to scout for giants, and how
to scoop them in; and they told me all sorts of charms against
enchantments, and gave me salves and other rubbish to put on my
wounds. But it never occurred to one of them to reflect that if
I was such a wonderful necromancer as I was pretending to be,
I ought not to need salves or instructions, or charms against
enchantments, and, least of all, arms and armor, on a foray of any
kind--even against fire-spouting dragons, and devils hot from
perdition, let alone such poor adversaries as these I was after,
these commonplace ogres of the back settlements.
I was to have an early breakfast, and start at dawn, for that was
the usual way; but I had the demon's own time with my armor,
and this delayed me a little. It is troublesome to get into, and
there is so much detail. First you wrap a layer or two of blanket
around your body, for a sort of cushion and to keep off the cold
iron; then you put on your sleeves and shirt of chain mail--these
are made of small steel links woven together, and they form a fabric
so flexible that if you toss your shirt onto the floor, it slumps
into a pile like a peck of wet fish-net; it is very heavy and
is nearly the uncomfortablest material in the world for a night
shirt, yet plenty used it for that--tax collectors, and reformers,
and one-horse kings with a defective title, and those sorts of
people; then you put on your shoes--flat-boats roofed over with
interleaving bands of steel--and screw your clumsy spurs into
the heels. Next you buckle your greaves on your legs, and your
cuisses on your thighs; then come your backplate and your breastplate,
and you begin to feel crowded; then you hitch onto the breastplate
the half-petticoat of broad overlapping bands of steel which hangs
down in front but is scolloped out behind so you can sit down,
and isn't any real improvement on an inverted coal scuttle, either
for looks or for wear, or to wipe your hands on; next you belt
on your sword; then you put your stove-pipe joints onto your arms,
your iron gauntlets onto your hands, your iron rat-trap onto your
head, with a rag of steel web hitched onto it to hang over the back
of your neck--and there you are, snug as a candle in a candle-mould.
This is no time to dance. Well, a man that is packed away like
that is a nut that isn't worth the cracking, there is so little of
the meat, when you get down to it, by comparison with the shell.
The boys helped me, or I never could have got in. Just as we
finished, Sir Bedivere happened in, and I saw that as like as not
I hadn't chosen the most convenient outfit for a long trip. How
stately he looked; and tall and broad and grand. He had on his
head a conical steel casque that only came down to his ears, and
for visor had only a narrow steel bar that extended down to his
upper lip and protected his nose; and all the rest of him, from
neck to heel, was flexible chain mail, trousers and all. But
pretty much all of him was hidden under his outside garment, which
of course was of chain mail, as I said, and hung straight from his
shoulders to his ankles; and from his middle to the bottom, both
before and behind, was divided, so that he could ride and let the
skirts hang down on each side. He was going grailing, and it was
just the outfit for it, too. I would have given a good deal for
that ulster, but it was too late now to be fooling around. The sun
was just up, the king and the court were all on hand to see me off
and wish me luck; so it wouldn't be etiquette for me to tarry.
You don't get on your horse yourself; no, if you tried it you
would get disappointed. They carry you out, just as they carry
a sun-struck man to the drug store, and put you on, and help get
you to rights, and fix your feet in the stirrups; and all the while
you do feel so strange and stuffy and like somebody else--like
somebody that has been married on a sudden, or struck by lightning,
or something like that, and hasn't quite fetched around yet, and
is sort of numb, and can't just get his bearings. Then they
stood up the mast they called a spear, in its socket by my left
foot, and I gripped it with my hand; lastly they hung my shield
around my neck, and I was all complete and ready to up anchor
and get to sea. Everybody was as good to me as they could be,
and a maid of honor gave me the stirrup-cup her own self. There was
nothing more to do now, but for that damsel to get up behind me on
a pillion, which she did, and put an arm or so around me to hold on.
And so we started, and everybody gave us a goodbye and waved their
handkerchiefs or helmets. And everybody we met, going down the hill
and through the village was respectful to us, except some shabby
little boys on the outskirts. They said:
"Oh, what a guy!" And hove clods at us.
In my experience boys are the same in all ages. They don't respect
anything, they don't care for anything or anybody. They say
"Go up, baldhead" to the prophet going his unoffending way in
the gray of antiquity; they sass me in the holy gloom of the
Middle Ages; and I had seen them act the same way in Buchanan's
administration; I remember, because I was there and helped. The
prophet had his bears and settled with his boys; and I wanted
to get down and settle with mine, but it wouldn't answer, because
I couldn't have got up again. I hate a country without a derrick.