Part 4 out of 7
of people moan and howl when that crimson hell joined the blue!
After sixty seconds I shouted:
--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:
--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.
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
"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
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."
"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
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:
"Webster--Webster. H'm--I--my memory faileth to recall the
"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?"
"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."
"Also Sir Pertipole, Baron of Barley Mash."
"The same name and title."
"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."
"For that she hath established the self-same rule regarding
saints. By her law none may be canonized until he hath lain dead
"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
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
"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.
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
THE WATER-WORKS CORKED!
BRER MERLIN WORKS HIS ARTS, BUT GETS
But the Boss scores on his first Innings!
The Miraculous Well Uncorked amid
awful outbursts of
INFERNAL FIRE AND SMOKE
THE BUZZARD-ROOST ASTONISHED!
--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
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:
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
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.
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
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
"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 cake 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.
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
"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.
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?"
"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.