Part 6 out of 7
There is no use in stringing out the details. The earl put us up
and sold us at auction. This same infernal law had existed in
our own South in my own time, more than thirteen hundred years
later, and under it hundreds of freemen who could not prove that
they were freemen had been sold into lifelong slavery without
the circumstance making any particular impression upon me; but the
minute law and the auction block came into my personal experience,
a thing which had been merely improper before became suddenly
hellish. Well, that's the way we are made.
Yes, we were sold at auction, like swine. In a big town and an
active market we should have brought a good price; but this place
was utterly stagnant and so we sold at a figure which makes me
ashamed, every time I think of it. The King of England brought
seven dollars, and his prime minister nine; whereas the king was
easily worth twelve dollars and I as easily worth fifteen. But
that is the way things always go; if you force a sale on a dull
market, I don't care what the property is, you are going to make
a poor business of it, and you can make up your mind to it. If
the earl had had wit enough to--
However, there is no occasion for my working my sympathies up
on his account. Let him go, for the present; I took his number,
so to speak.
The slave-dealer bought us both, and hitched us onto that long
chain of his, and we constituted the rear of his procession. We
took up our line of march and passed out of Cambenet at noon;
and it seemed to me unaccountably strange and odd that the King
of England and his chief minister, marching manacled and fettered
and yoked, in a slave convoy, could move by all manner of idle men
and women, and under windows where sat the sweet and the lovely,
and yet never attract a curious eye, never provoke a single remark.
Dear, dear, it only shows that there is nothing diviner about a king
than there is about a tramp, after all. He is just a cheap and
hollow artificiality when you don't know he is a king. But reveal
his quality, and dear me it takes your very breath away to look
at him. I reckon we are all fools. Born so, no doubt.
A PITIFUL INCIDENT
It's a world of surprises. The king brooded; this was natural.
What would he brood about, should you say? Why, about the prodigious
nature of his fall, of course--from the loftiest place in the world
to the lowest; from the most illustrious station in the world to
the obscurest; from the grandest vocation among men to the basest.
No, I take my oath that the thing that graveled him most, to start
with, was not this, but the price he had fetched! He couldn't
seem to get over that seven dollars. Well, it stunned me so, when
I first found it out, that I couldn't believe it; it didn't seem
natural. But as soon as my mental sight cleared and I got a right
focus on it, I saw I was mistaken; it _was_ natural. For this
reason: a king is a mere artificiality, and so a king's feelings,
like the impulses of an automatic doll, are mere artificialities;
but as a man, he is a reality, and his feelings, as a man, are
real, not phantoms. It shames the average man to be valued below
his own estimate of his worth, and the king certainly wasn't
anything more than an average man, if he was up that high.
Confound him, he wearied me with arguments to show that in anything
like a fair market he would have fetched twenty-five dollars,
sure--a thing which was plainly nonsense, and full or the baldest
conceit; I wasn't worth it myself. But it was tender ground for
me to argue on. In fact, I had to simply shirk argument and do
the diplomatic instead. I had to throw conscience aside, and
brazenly concede that he ought to have brought twenty-five dollars;
whereas I was quite well aware that in all the ages, the world had
never seen a king that was worth half the money, and during the
next thirteen centuries wouldn't see one that was worth the fourth
of it. Yes, he tired me. If he began to talk about the crops;
or about the recent weather; or about the condition of politics;
or about dogs, or cats, or morals, or theology--no matter what--
I sighed, for I knew what was coming; he was going to get out of it
a palliation of that tiresome seven-dollar sale. Wherever we
halted where there was a crowd, he would give me a look which
said plainly: "if that thing could be tried over again now, with
this kind of folk, you would see a different result." Well, when
he was first sold, it secretly tickled me to see him go for seven
dollars; but before he was done with his sweating and worrying
I wished he had fetched a hundred. The thing never got a chance
to die, for every day, at one place or another, possible purchasers
looked us over, and, as often as any other way, their comment on
the king was something like this:
"Here's a two-dollar-and-a-half chump with a thirty-dollar style.
Pity but style was marketable."
At last this sort of remark produced an evil result. Our owner
was a practical person and he perceived that this defect must be
mended if he hoped to find a purchaser for the king. So he went
to work to take the style out of his sacred majesty. I could have
given the man some valuable advice, but I didn't; you mustn't
volunteer advice to a slave-driver unless you want to damage
the cause you are arguing for. I had found it a sufficiently
difficult job to reduce the king's style to a peasant's style,
even when he was a willing and anxious pupil; now then, to undertake
to reduce the king's style to a slave's style--and by force--go to!
it was a stately contract. Never mind the details--it will save me
trouble to let you imagine them. I will only remark that at the
end of a week there was plenty of evidence that lash and club
and fist had done their work well; the king's body was a sight
to see--and to weep over; but his spirit?--why, it wasn't even
phased. Even that dull clod of a slave-driver was able to see
that there can be such a thing as a slave who will remain a man
till he dies; whose bones you can break, but whose manhood you
can't. This man found that from his first effort down to his
latest, he couldn't ever come within reach of the king, but the
king was ready to plunge for him, and did it. So he gave up
at last, and left the king in possession of his style unimpaired.
The fact is, the king was a good deal more than a king, he was
a man; and when a man is a man, you can't knock it out of him.
We had a rough time for a month, tramping to and fro in the earth,
and suffering. And what Englishman was the most interested in
the slavery question by that time? His grace the king! Yes; from
being the most indifferent, he was become the most interested.
He was become the bitterest hater of the institution I had ever
heard talk. And so I ventured to ask once more a question which
I had asked years before and had gotten such a sharp answer that
I had not thought it prudent to meddle in the matter further.
Would he abolish slavery?
His answer was as sharp as before, but it was music this time;
I shouldn't ever wish to hear pleasanter, though the profanity
was not good, being awkwardly put together, and with the crash-word
almost in the middle instead of at the end, where, of course, it
ought to have been.
I was ready and willing to get free now; I hadn't wanted to get
free any sooner. No, I cannot quite say that. I had wanted to,
but I had not been willing to take desperate chances, and had
always dissuaded the king from them. But now--ah, it was a new
atmosphere! Liberty would be worth any cost that might be put
upon it now. I set about a plan, and was straightway charmed
with it. It would require time, yes, and patience, too, a great
deal of both. One could invent quicker ways, and fully as sure
ones; but none that would be as picturesque as this; none that
could be made so dramatic. And so I was not going to give this
one up. It might delay us months, but no matter, I would carry
it out or break something.
Now and then we had an adventure. One night we were overtaken
by a snow-storm while still a mile from the village we were making
for. Almost instantly we were shut up as in a fog, the driving
snow was so thick. You couldn't see a thing, and we were soon
lost. The slave-driver lashed us desperately, for he saw ruin
before him, but his lashings only made matters worse, for they
drove us further from the road and from likelihood of succor.
So we had to stop at last and slump down in the snow where we
were. The storm continued until toward midnight, then ceased.
By this time two of our feebler men and three of our women were
dead, and others past moving and threatened with death. Our
master was nearly beside himself. He stirred up the living, and
made us stand, jump, slap ourselves, to restore our circulation,
and he helped as well as he could with his whip.
Now came a diversion. We heard shrieks and yells, and soon a
woman came running and crying; and seeing our group, she flung
herself into our midst and begged for protection. A mob of people
came tearing after her, some with torches, and they said she was a
witch who had caused several cows to die by a strange disease,
and practiced her arts by help of a devil in the form of a black
cat. This poor woman had been stoned until she hardly looked
human, she was so battered and bloody. The mob wanted to burn her.
Well, now, what do you suppose our master did? When we closed
around this poor creature to shelter her, he saw his chance. He
said, burn her here, or they shouldn't have her at all. Imagine
that! They were willing. They fastened her to a post; they
brought wood and piled it about her; they applied the torch while
she shrieked and pleaded and strained her two young daughters
to her breast; and our brute, with a heart solely for business,
lashed us into position about the stake and warmed us into life
and commercial value by the same fire which took away the innocent
life of that poor harmless mother. That was the sort of master we
had. I took _his_ number. That snow-storm cost him nine of his
flock; and he was more brutal to us than ever, after that, for
many days together, he was so enraged over his loss.
We had adventures all along. One day we ran into a procession.
And such a procession! All the riffraff of the kingdom seemed
to be comprehended in it; and all drunk at that. In the van was
a cart with a coffin in it, and on the coffin sat a comely young
girl of about eighteen suckling a baby, which she squeezed to her
breast in a passion of love every little while, and every little
while wiped from its face the tears which her eyes rained down
upon it; and always the foolish little thing smiled up at her,
happy and content, kneading her breast with its dimpled fat hand,
which she patted and fondled right over her breaking heart.
Men and women, boys and girls, trotted along beside or after
the cart, hooting, shouting profane and ribald remarks, singing
snatches of foul song, skipping, dancing--a very holiday of
hellions, a sickening sight. We had struck a suburb of London,
outside the walls, and this was a sample of one sort of London
society. Our master secured a good place for us near the gallows.
A priest was in attendance, and he helped the girl climb up, and
said comforting words to her, and made the under-sheriff provide
a stool for her. Then he stood there by her on the gallows, and
for a moment looked down upon the mass of upturned faces at his
feet, then out over the solid pavement of heads that stretched away
on every side occupying the vacancies far and near, and then began
to tell the story of the case. And there was pity in his voice--
how seldom a sound that was in that ignorant and savage land!
I remember every detail of what he said, except the words he said
it in; and so I change it into my own words:
"Law is intended to mete out justice. Sometimes it fails. This
cannot be helped. We can only grieve, and be resigned, and pray
for the soul of him who falls unfairly by the arm of the law, and
that his fellows may be few. A law sends this poor young thing
to death--and it is right. But another law had placed her where
she must commit her crime or starve with her child--and before God
that law is responsible for both her crime and her ignominious death!
"A little while ago this young thing, this child of eighteen years,
was as happy a wife and mother as any in England; and her lips
were blithe with song, which is the native speech of glad and
innocent hearts. Her young husband was as happy as she; for he was
doing his whole duty, he worked early and late at his handicraft,
his bread was honest bread well and fairly earned, he was prospering,
he was furnishing shelter and sustenance to his family, he was
adding his mite to the wealth of the nation. By consent of a
treacherous law, instant destruction fell upon this holy home and
swept it away! That young husband was waylaid and impressed,
and sent to sea. The wife knew nothing of it. She sought him
everywhere, she moved the hardest hearts with the supplications
of her tears, the broken eloquence of her despair. Weeks dragged
by, she watching, waiting, hoping, her mind going slowly to wreck
under the burden of her misery. Little by little all her small
possessions went for food. When she could no longer pay her rent,
they turned her out of doors. She begged, while she had strength;
when she was starving at last, and her milk failing, she stole a
piece of linen cloth of the value of a fourth part of a cent,
thinking to sell it and save her child. But she was seen by the
owner of the cloth. She was put in jail and brought to trial.
The man testified to the facts. A plea was made for her, and her
sorrowful story was told in her behalf. She spoke, too, by
permission, and said she did steal the cloth, but that her mind
was so disordered of late by trouble that when she was overborne
with hunger all acts, criminal or other, swam meaningless through
her brain and she knew nothing rightly, except that she was so
hungry! For a moment all were touched, and there was disposition
to deal mercifully with her, seeing that she was so young and
friendless, and her case so piteous, and the law that robbed her
of her support to blame as being the first and only cause of her
transgression; but the prosecuting officer replied that whereas
these things were all true, and most pitiful as well, still there
was much small theft in these days, and mistimed mercy here would
be a danger to property--oh, my God, is there no property in ruined
homes, and orphaned babes, and broken hearts that British law
holds precious!--and so he must require sentence.
"When the judge put on his black cap, the owner of the stolen
linen rose trembling up, his lip quivering, his face as gray as
ashes; and when the awful words came, he cried out, 'Oh, poor
child, poor child, I did not know it was death!' and fell as a
tree falls. When they lifted him up his reason was gone; before
the sun was set, he had taken his own life. A kindly man; a man
whose heart was right, at bottom; add his murder to this that
is to be now done here; and charge them both where they belong--
to the rulers and the bitter laws of Britain. The time is come, my
child; let me pray over thee--not _for_ thee, dear abused poor heart
and innocent, but for them that be guilty of thy ruin and death,
who need it more."
After his prayer they put the noose around the young girl's neck,
and they had great trouble to adjust the knot under her ear,
because she was devouring the baby all the time, wildly kissing it,
and snatching it to her face and her breast, and drenching it
with tears, and half moaning, half shrieking all the while, and the
baby crowing, and laughing, and kicking its feet with delight over
what it took for romp and play. Even the hangman couldn't stand it,
but turned away. When all was ready the priest gently pulled and
tugged and forced the child out of the mother's arms, and stepped
quickly out of her reach; but she clasped her hands, and made a
wild spring toward him, with a shriek; but the rope--and the
under-sheriff--held her short. Then she went on her knees and
stretched out her hands and cried:
"One more kiss--oh, my God, one more, one more,--it is the dying
that begs it!"
She got it; she almost smothered the little thing. And when they
got it away again, she cried out:
"Oh, my child, my darling, it will die! It has no home, it has
no father, no friend, no mother--"
"It has them all!" said that good priest. "All these will I be
to it till I die."
You should have seen her face then! Gratitude? Lord, what do
you want with words to express that? Words are only painted fire;
a look is the fire itself. She gave that look, and carried it away
to the treasury of heaven, where all things that are divine belong.
AN ENCOUNTER IN THE DARK
London--to a slave--was a sufficiently interesting place. It was
merely a great big village; and mainly mud and thatch. The streets
were muddy, crooked, unpaved. The populace was an ever flocking
and drifting swarm of rags, and splendors, of nodding plumes and
shining armor. The king had a palace there; he saw the outside
of it. It made him sigh; yes, and swear a little, in a poor
juvenile sixth century way. We saw knights and grandees whom
we knew, but they didn't know us in our rags and dirt and raw
welts and bruises, and wouldn't have recognized us if we had hailed
them, nor stopped to answer, either, it being unlawful to speak
with slaves on a chain. Sandy passed within ten yards of me on
a mule--hunting for me, I imagined. But the thing which clean
broke my heart was something which happened in front of our old
barrack in a square, while we were enduring the spectacle of a man
being boiled to death in oil for counterfeiting pennies. It was
the sight of a newsboy--and I couldn't get at him! Still, I had
one comfort--here was proof that Clarence was still alive and
banging away. I meant to be with him before long; the thought was
full of cheer.
I had one little glimpse of another thing, one day, which gave me
a great uplift. It was a wire stretching from housetop to housetop.
Telegraph or telephone, sure. I did very much wish I had a little
piece of it. It was just what I needed, in order to carry out my
project of escape. My idea was to get loose some night, along with
the king, then gag and bind our master, change clothes with him,
batter him into the aspect of a stranger, hitch him to the slave-chain,
assume possession of the property, march to Camelot, and--
But you get my idea; you see what a stunning dramatic surprise
I would wind up with at the palace. It was all feasible, if
I could only get hold of a slender piece of iron which I could
shape into a lock-pick. I could then undo the lumbering padlocks
with which our chains were fastened, whenever I might choose.
But I never had any luck; no such thing ever happened to fall
in my way. However, my chance came at last. A gentleman who
had come twice before to dicker for me, without result, or indeed
any approach to a result, came again. I was far from expecting
ever to belong to him, for the price asked for me from the time
I was first enslaved was exorbitant, and always provoked either
anger or derision, yet my master stuck stubbornly to it--twenty-two
dollars. He wouldn't bate a cent. The king was greatly admired,
because of his grand physique, but his kingly style was against
him, and he wasn't salable; nobody wanted that kind of a slave.
I considered myself safe from parting from him because of my
extravagant price. No, I was not expecting to ever belong to
this gentleman whom I have spoken of, but he had something which
I expected would belong to me eventually, if he would but visit
us often enough. It was a steel thing with a long pin to it, with
which his long cloth outside garment was fastened together in
front. There were three of them. He had disappointed me twice,
because he did not come quite close enough to me to make my project
entirely safe; but this time I succeeded; I captured the lower
clasp of the three, and when he missed it he thought he had lost
it on the way.
I had a chance to be glad about a minute, then straightway a chance
to be sad again. For when the purchase was about to fail, as usual,
the master suddenly spoke up and said what would be worded thus--
in modern English:
"I'll tell you what I'll do. I'm tired supporting these two for
no good. Give me twenty-two dollars for this one, and I'll throw
the other one in."
The king couldn't get his breath, he was in such a fury. He began
to choke and gag, and meantime the master and the gentleman moved
"An ye will keep the offer open--"
"'Tis open till the morrow at this hour."
"Then I will answer you at that time," said the gentleman, and
disappeared, the master following him.
I had a time of it to cool the king down, but I managed it.
I whispered in his ear, to this effect:
"Your grace _will_ go for nothing, but after another fashion. And
so shall I. To-night we shall both be free."
"Ah! How is that?"
"With this thing which I have stolen, I will unlock these locks
and cast off these chains to-night. When he comes about nine-thirty
to inspect us for the night, we will seize him, gag him, batter
him, and early in the morning we will march out of this town,
proprietors of this caravan of slaves."
That was as far as I went, but the king was charmed and satisfied.
That evening we waited patiently for our fellow-slaves to get
to sleep and signify it by the usual sign, for you must not take
many chances on those poor fellows if you can avoid it. It is
best to keep your own secrets. No doubt they fidgeted only about
as usual, but it didn't seem so to me. It seemed to me that they
were going to be forever getting down to their regular snoring.
As the time dragged on I got nervously afraid we shouldn't have
enough of it left for our needs; so I made several premature
attempts, and merely delayed things by it; for I couldn't seem
to touch a padlock, there in the dark, without starting a rattle
out of it which interrupted somebody's sleep and made him turn
over and wake some more of the gang.
But finally I did get my last iron off, and was a free man once
more. I took a good breath of relief, and reached for the king's
irons. Too late! in comes the master, with a light in one hand
and his heavy walking-staff in the other. I snuggled close among
the wallow of snorers, to conceal as nearly as possible that I was
naked of irons; and I kept a sharp lookout and prepared to spring
for my man the moment he should bend over me.
But he didn't approach. He stopped, gazed absently toward our
dusky mass a minute, evidently thinking about something else;
then set down his light, moved musingly toward the door, and before
a body could imagine what he was going to do, he was out of the
door and had closed it behind him.
"Quick!" said the king. "Fetch him back!"
Of course, it was the thing to do, and I was up and out in a
moment. But, dear me, there were no lamps in those days, and
it was a dark night. But I glimpsed a dim figure a few steps
away. I darted for it, threw myself upon it, and then there was
a state of things and lively! We fought and scuffled and struggled,
and drew a crowd in no time. They took an immense interest in
the fight and encouraged us all they could, and, in fact, couldn't
have been pleasanter or more cordial if it had been their own
fight. Then a tremendous row broke out behind us, and as much
as half of our audience left us, with a rush, to invest some
sympathy in that. Lanterns began to swing in all directions;
it was the watch gathering from far and near. Presently a halberd
fell across my back, as a reminder, and I knew what it meant.
I was in custody. So was my adversary. We were marched off toward
prison, one on each side of the watchman. Here was disaster,
here was a fine scheme gone to sudden destruction! I tried to
imagine what would happen when the master should discover that
it was I who had been fighting him; and what would happen if they
jailed us together in the general apartment for brawlers and petty
law-breakers, as was the custom; and what might--
Just then my antagonist turned his face around in my direction,
the freckled light from the watchman's tin lantern fell on it,
and, by George, he was the wrong man!
AN AWFUL PREDICAMENT
Sleep? It was impossible. It would naturally have been impossible
in that noisome cavern of a jail, with its mangy crowd of drunken,
quarrelsome, and song-singing rapscallions. But the thing that
made sleep all the more a thing not to be dreamed of, was my
racking impatience to get out of this place and find out the whole
size of what might have happened yonder in the slave-quarters
in consequence of that intolerable miscarriage of mine.
It was a long night, but the morning got around at last. I made
a full and frank explanation to the court. I said I was a slave,
the property of the great Earl Grip, who had arrived just after
dark at the Tabard inn in the village on the other side of the
water, and had stopped there over night, by compulsion, he being
taken deadly sick with a strange and sudden disorder. I had been
ordered to cross to the city in all haste and bring the best
physician; I was doing my best; naturally I was running with all
my might; the night was dark, I ran against this common person
here, who seized me by the throat and began to pummel me, although
I told him my errand, and implored him, for the sake of the great
earl my master's mortal peril--
The common person interrupted and said it was a lie; and was going
to explain how I rushed upon him and attacked him without a word--
"Silence, sirrah!" from the court. "Take him hence and give him
a few stripes whereby to teach him how to treat the servant of
a nobleman after a different fashion another time. Go!"
Then the court begged my pardon, and hoped I would not fail
to tell his lordship it was in no wise the court's fault that this
high-handed thing had happened. I said I would make it all right,
and so took my leave. Took it just in time, too; he was starting
to ask me why I didn't fetch out these facts the moment I was
arrested. I said I would if I had thought of it--which was true--
but that I was so battered by that man that all my wit was knocked
out of me--and so forth and so on, and got myself away, still
mumbling. I didn't wait for breakfast. No grass grew under my
feet. I was soon at the slave quarters. Empty--everybody gone!
That is, everybody except one body--the slave-master's. It lay
there all battered to pulp; and all about were the evidences of
a terrific fight. There was a rude board coffin on a cart at
the door, and workmen, assisted by the police, were thinning a
road through the gaping crowd in order that they might bring it in.
I picked out a man humble enough in life to condescend to talk
with one so shabby as I, and got his account of the matter.
"There were sixteen slaves here. They rose against their master
in the night, and thou seest how it ended."
"Yes. How did it begin?"
"There was no witness but the slaves. They said the slave that
was most valuable got free of his bonds and escaped in some strange
way--by magic arts 'twas thought, by reason that he had no key,
and the locks were neither broke nor in any wise injured. When
the master discovered his loss, he was mad with despair, and threw
himself upon his people with his heavy stick, who resisted and
brake his back and in other and divers ways did give him hurts
that brought him swiftly to his end."
"This is dreadful. It will go hard with the slaves, no doubt,
upon the trial."
"Marry, the trial is over."
"Would they be a week, think you--and the matter so simple? They
were not the half of a quarter of an hour at it."
"Why, I don't see how they could determine which were the guilty
ones in so short a time."
"_Which_ ones? Indeed, they considered not particulars like to that.
They condemned them in a body. Wit ye not the law?--which men
say the Romans left behind them here when they went--that if one
slave killeth his master all the slaves of that man must die for it."
"True. I had forgotten. And when will these die?"
"Belike within a four and twenty hours; albeit some say they will
wait a pair of days more, if peradventure they may find the missing
The missing one! It made me feel uncomfortable.
"Is it likely they will find him?"
"Before the day is spent--yes. They seek him everywhere. They
stand at the gates of the town, with certain of the slaves who
will discover him to them if he cometh, and none can pass out
but he will be first examined."
"Might one see the place where the rest are confined?"
"The outside of it--yes. The inside of it--but ye will not want
to see that."
I took the address of that prison for future reference and then
sauntered off. At the first second-hand clothing shop I came to,
up a back street, I got a rough rig suitable for a common seaman
who might be going on a cold voyage, and bound up my face with
a liberal bandage, saying I had a toothache. This concealed my
worst bruises. It was a transformation. I no longer resembled my
former self. Then I struck out for that wire, found it and
followed it to its den. It was a little room over a butcher's
shop--which meant that business wasn't very brisk in the telegraphic
line. The young chap in charge was drowsing at his table. I locked
the door and put the vast key in my bosom. This alarmed the young
fellow, and he was going to make a noise; but I said:
"Save your wind; if you open your mouth you are dead, sure. Tackle
your instrument. Lively, now! Call Camelot."
"This doth amaze me! How should such as you know aught of such
"Call Camelot! I am a desperate man. Call Camelot, or get away
from the instrument and I will do it myself."
"Yes--certainly. Stop gabbling. Call the palace."
He made the call.
"Now, then, call Clarence."
"Never mind Clarence who. Say you want Clarence; you'll get
He did so. We waited five nerve-straining minutes--ten minutes--
how long it did seem!--and then came a click that was as familiar
to me as a human voice; for Clarence had been my own pupil.
"Now, my lad, vacate! They would have known _my_ touch, maybe,
and so your call was surest; but I'm all right now."
He vacated the place and cocked his ear to listen--but it didn't
win. I used a cipher. I didn't waste any time in sociabilities
with Clarence, but squared away for business, straight-off--thus:
"The king is here and in danger. We were captured and brought
here as slaves. We should not be able to prove our identity--
and the fact is, I am not in a position to try. Send a telegram
for the palace here which will carry conviction with it."
His answer came straight back:
"They don't know anything about the telegraph; they haven't had
any experience yet, the line to London is so new. Better not
venture that. They might hang you. Think up something else."
Might hang us! Little he knew how closely he was crowding the
facts. I couldn't think up anything for the moment. Then an idea
struck me, and I started it along:
"Send five hundred picked knights with Launcelot in the lead; and
send them on the jump. Let them enter by the southwest gate, and
look out for the man with a white cloth around his right arm."
The answer was prompt:
"They shall start in half an hour."
"All right, Clarence; now tell this lad here that I'm a friend
of yours and a dead-head; and that he must be discreet and say
nothing about this visit of mine."
The instrument began to talk to the youth and I hurried away.
I fell to ciphering. In half an hour it would be nine o'clock.
Knights and horses in heavy armor couldn't travel very fast.
These would make the best time they could, and now that the ground
was in good condition, and no snow or mud, they would probably
make a seven-mile gait; they would have to change horses a couple
of times; they would arrive about six, or a little after; it would
still be plenty light enough; they would see the white cloth which
I should tie around my right arm, and I would take command. We
would surround that prison and have the king out in no time.
It would be showy and picturesque enough, all things considered,
though I would have preferred noonday, on account of the more
theatrical aspect the thing would have.
Now, then, in order to increase the strings to my bow, I thought
I would look up some of those people whom I had formerly recognized,
and make myself known. That would help us out of our scrape,
without the knights. But I must proceed cautiously, for it was
a risky business. I must get into sumptuous raiment, and it
wouldn't do to run and jump into it. No, I must work up to it
by degrees, buying suit after suit of clothes, in shops wide apart,
and getting a little finer article with each change, until I should
finally reach silk and velvet, and be ready for my project. So
But the scheme fell through like scat! The first corner I turned,
I came plump upon one of our slaves, snooping around with a watchman.
I coughed at the moment, and he gave me a sudden look that bit right
into my marrow. I judge he thought he had heard that cough before.
I turned immediately into a shop and worked along down the counter,
pricing things and watching out of the corner of my eye. Those
people had stopped, and were talking together and looking in at
the door. I made up my mind to get out the back way, if there
was a back way, and I asked the shopwoman if I could step out
there and look for the escaped slave, who was believed to be in
hiding back there somewhere, and said I was an officer in disguise,
and my pard was yonder at the door with one of the murderers in
charge, and would she be good enough to step there and tell him
he needn't wait, but had better go at once to the further end of
the back alley and be ready to head him off when I rousted him out.
She was blazing with eagerness to see one of those already celebrated
murderers, and she started on the errand at once. I slipped out
the back way, locked the door behind me, put the key in my pocket
and started off, chuckling to myself and comfortable.
Well, I had gone and spoiled it again, made another mistake.
A double one, in fact. There were plenty of ways to get rid of
that officer by some simple and plausible device, but no, I must
pick out a picturesque one; it is the crying defect of my character.
And then, I had ordered my procedure upon what the officer, being
human, would _naturally_ do; whereas when you are least expecting it,
a man will now and then go and do the very thing which it's _not_
natural for him to do. The natural thing for the officer to do,
in this case, was to follow straight on my heels; he would find
a stout oaken door, securely locked, between him and me; before
he could break it down, I should be far away and engaged in slipping
into a succession of baffling disguises which would soon get me
into a sort of raiment which was a surer protection from meddling
law-dogs in Britain than any amount of mere innocence and purity
of character. But instead of doing the natural thing, the officer
took me at my word, and followed my instructions. And so, as I
came trotting out of that cul de sac, full of satisfaction with my
own cleverness, he turned the corner and I walked right into his
handcuffs. If I had known it was a cul de sac--however, there
isn't any excusing a blunder like that, let it go. Charge it up
to profit and loss.
Of course, I was indignant, and swore I had just come ashore from
a long voyage, and all that sort of thing--just to see, you know,
if it would deceive that slave. But it didn't. He knew me. Then
I reproached him for betraying me. He was more surprised than
hurt. He stretched his eyes wide, and said:
"What, wouldst have me let thee, of all men, escape and not hang
with us, when thou'rt the very _cause_ of our hanging? Go to!"
"Go to" was their way of saying "I should smile!" or "I like that!"
Queer talkers, those people.
Well, there was a sort of bastard justice in his view of the case,
and so I dropped the matter. When you can't cure a disaster by
argument, what is the use to argue? It isn't my way. So I only said:
"You're not going to be hanged. None of us are."
Both men laughed, and the slave said:
"Ye have not ranked as a fool--before. You might better keep
your reputation, seeing the strain would not be for long."
"It will stand it, I reckon. Before to-morrow we shall be out
of prison, and free to go where we will, besides."
The witty officer lifted at his left ear with his thumb, made
a rasping noise in his throat, and said:
"Out of prison--yes--ye say true. And free likewise to go where
ye will, so ye wander not out of his grace the Devil's sultry realm."
I kept my temper, and said, indifferently:
"Now I suppose you really think we are going to hang within
a day or two."
"I thought it not many minutes ago, for so the thing was decided
"Ah, then you've changed your mind, is that it?"
"Even that. I only _thought_, then; I _know_, now."
I felt sarcastical, so I said:
"Oh, sapient servant of the law, condescend to tell us, then,
what you _know_."
"That ye will all be hanged _to-day_, at mid-afternoon! Oho! that
shot hit home! Lean upon me."
The fact is I did need to lean upon somebody. My knights couldn't
arrive in time. They would be as much as three hours too late.
Nothing in the world could save the King of England; nor me, which
was more important. More important, not merely to me, but to
the nation--the only nation on earth standing ready to blossom
into civilization. I was sick. I said no more, there wasn't
anything to say. I knew what the man meant; that if the missing
slave was found, the postponement would be revoked, the execution
take place to-day. Well, the missing slave was found.
SIR LAUNCELOT AND KNIGHTS TO THE RESCUE
Nearing four in the afternoon. The scene was just outside the
walls of London. A cool, comfortable, superb day, with a brilliant
sun; the kind of day to make one want to live, not die. The
multitude was prodigious and far-reaching; and yet we fifteen
poor devils hadn't a friend in it. There was something painful
in that thought, look at it how you might. There we sat, on our
tall scaffold, the butt of the hate and mockery of all those
enemies. We were being made a holiday spectacle. They had built
a sort of grand stand for the nobility and gentry, and these were
there in full force, with their ladies. We recognized a good
many of them.
The crowd got a brief and unexpected dash of diversion out of
the king. The moment we were freed of our bonds he sprang up,
in his fantastic rags, with face bruised out of all recognition, and
proclaimed himself Arthur, King of Britain, and denounced the
awful penalties of treason upon every soul there present if hair
of his sacred head were touched. It startled and surprised him
to hear them break into a vast roar of laughter. It wounded his
dignity, and he locked himself up in silence. Then, although
the crowd begged him to go on, and tried to provoke him to it
by catcalls, jeers, and shouts of
"Let him speak! The king! The king! his humble subjects hunger
and thirst for words of wisdom out of the mouth of their master
his Serene and Sacred Raggedness!"
But it went for nothing. He put on all his majesty and sat under
this rain of contempt and insult unmoved. He certainly was great
in his way. Absently, I had taken off my white bandage and wound
it about my right arm. When the crowd noticed this, they began
upon me. They said:
"Doubtless this sailor-man is his minister--observe his costly
badge of office!"
I let them go on until they got tired, and then I said:
"Yes, I am his minister, The Boss; and to-morrow you will hear
that from Camelot which--"
I got no further. They drowned me out with joyous derision. But
presently there was silence; for the sheriffs of London, in their
official robes, with their subordinates, began to make a stir which
indicated that business was about to begin. In the hush which
followed, our crime was recited, the death warrant read, then
everybody uncovered while a priest uttered a prayer.
Then a slave was blindfolded; the hangman unslung his rope. There
lay the smooth road below us, we upon one side of it, the banked
multitude wailing its other side--a good clear road, and kept free
by the police--how good it would be to see my five hundred horsemen
come tearing down it! But no, it was out of the possibilities.
I followed its receding thread out into the distance--not a horseman
on it, or sign of one.
There was a jerk, and the slave hung dangling; dangling and hideously
squirming, for his limbs were not tied.
A second rope was unslung, in a moment another slave was dangling.
In a minute a third slave was struggling in the air. It was
dreadful. I turned away my head a moment, and when I turned back
I missed the king! They were blindfolding him! I was paralyzed;
I couldn't move, I was choking, my tongue was petrified. They
finished blindfolding him, they led him under the rope. I couldn't
shake off that clinging impotence. But when I saw them put the
noose around his neck, then everything let go in me and I made
a spring to the rescue--and as I made it I shot one more glance
abroad--by George! here they came, a-tilting!--five hundred mailed
and belted knights on bicycles!
The grandest sight that ever was seen. Lord, how the plumes
streamed, how the sun flamed and flashed from the endless procession
of webby wheels!
I waved my right arm as Launcelot swept in--he recognized my rag--
I tore away noose and bandage, and shouted:
"On your knees, every rascal of you, and salute the king! Who
fails shall sup in hell to-night!"
I always use that high style when I'm climaxing an effect. Well,
it was noble to see Launcelot and the boys swarm up onto that
scaffold and heave sheriffs and such overboard. And it was fine
to see that astonished multitude go down on their knees and beg
their lives of the king they had just been deriding and insulting.
And as he stood apart there, receiving this homage in rags,
I thought to myself, well, really there is something peculiarly
grand about the gait and bearing of a king, after all.
I was immensely satisfied. Take the whole situation all around,
it was one of the gaudiest effects I ever instigated.
And presently up comes Clarence, his own self! and winks, and
says, very modernly:
"Good deal of a surprise, wasn't it? I knew you'd like it. I've
had the boys practicing this long time, privately; and just hungry
for a chance to show off."
THE YANKEE'S FIGHT WITH THE KNIGHTS
Home again, at Camelot. A morning or two later I found the paper,
damp from the press, by my plate at the breakfast table. I turned
to the advertising columns, knowing I should find something of
personal interest to me there. It was this:
DE PAR LE ROI.
Know that the great lord and illus-
trious Kni8ht, SIR SAGRAMOR LE
DESIROUS naving condescended to
meet the King's Minister, Hank Mor-
gan, the which is surnamed The Boss,
for satisfgction of offence anciently given,
these wilL engage in the lists by
Camelot about the fourth hour of the
morning of the sixteenth day of this
next succeeding month. The battle
will be a l outrance, sith the said offence
was of a deadly sort, admitting of no
DE PAR LE ROI
Clarence's editorial reference to this affair was to this effect:
It will be observed, by a gl7nce at our
advertising columns, that the commu-
nity is to be favored with a treat of un-
usual interest in the tournament line.
The n ames of the artists are warrant of
good enterTemment. The box-office
will be open at noon of the 13th; ad-
mission 3 cents, reserved seatsh 5; pro-
ceeds to go to the hospital fund The
royal pair and all the Court will be pres-
ent. With these exceptions, and the
press and the clergy, the free list is strict-
ly susPended. Parties are hereby warn-
ed against buying tickets of speculators;
they will not be good at the door.
Everybody knows and likes The Boss,
everybody knows and likes Sir Sag.;
come, let us give the lads a good send-
off. ReMember, the proceeds go to a
great and free charity, and one whose
broad begevolence stretches out its help-
ing hand, warm with the blood of a lov-
ing heart, to all that suffer, regardless of
race, creed, condition or color--the
only charity yet established in the earth
which has no politico-religious stop-
cock on its compassion, but says Here
flows the stream, let ALL come and
drink! Turn out, all hands! fetch along
your dou3hnuts and your gum-drops
and have a good time. Pie for sale on
the grounds, and rocks to crack it with;
and ciRcus-lemonade--three drops of
lime juice to a barrel of water.
N.B. This is the first tournament
under the new law, whidh allow each
combatant to use any weapon he may pre-
fer. You may want to make a note of that.
Up to the day set, there was no talk in all Britain of anything
but this combat. All other topics sank into insignificance and
passed out of men's thoughts and interest. It was not because
a tournament was a great matter, it was not because Sir Sagramor
had found the Holy Grail, for he had not, but had failed; it was
not because the second (official) personage in the kingdom was
one of the duellists; no, all these features were commonplace.
Yet there was abundant reason for the extraordinary interest which
this coming fight was creating. It was born of the fact that all
the nation knew that this was not to be a duel between mere men,
so to speak, but a duel between two mighty magicians; a duel not
of muscle but of mind, not of human skill but of superhuman art
and craft; a final struggle for supremacy between the two master
enchanters of the age. It was realized that the most prodigious
achievements of the most renowned knights could not be worthy
of comparison with a spectacle like this; they could be but child's
play, contrasted with this mysterious and awful battle of the gods.
Yes, all the world knew it was going to be in reality a duel
between Merlin and me, a measuring of his magic powers against
mine. It was known that Merlin had been busy whole days and nights
together, imbuing Sir Sagramor's arms and armor with supernal
powers of offense and defense, and that he had procured for him
from the spirits of the air a fleecy veil which would render the
wearer invisible to his antagonist while still visible to other
men. Against Sir Sagramor, so weaponed and protected, a thousand
knights could accomplish nothing; against him no known enchantments
could prevail. These facts were sure; regarding them there was
no doubt, no reason for doubt. There was but one question: might
there be still other enchantments, _unknown_ to Merlin, which could
render Sir Sagramor's veil transparent to me, and make his enchanted
mail vulnerable to my weapons? This was the one thing to be
decided in the lists. Until then the world must remain in suspense.
So the world thought there was a vast matter at stake here, and
the world was right, but it was not the one they had in their
minds. No, a far vaster one was upon the cast of this die:
_the life of knight-errantry_. I was a champion, it was true, but
not the champion of the frivolous black arts, I was the champion
of hard unsentimental common-sense and reason. I was entering
the lists to either destroy knight-errantry or be its victim.
Vast as the show-grounds were, there were no vacant spaces in them
outside of the lists, at ten o'clock on the morning of the 16th.
The mammoth grand-stand was clothed in flags, streamers, and rich
tapestries, and packed with several acres of small-fry tributary
kings, their suites, and the British aristocracy; with our own
royal gang in the chief place, and each and every individual
a flashing prism of gaudy silks and velvets--well, I never saw
anything to begin with it but a fight between an Upper Mississippi
sunset and the aurora borealis. The huge camp of beflagged and
gay-colored tents at one end of the lists, with a stiff-standing
sentinel at every door and a shining shield hanging by him for
challenge, was another fine sight. You see, every knight was
there who had any ambition or any caste feeling; for my feeling
toward their order was not much of a secret, and so here was their
chance. If I won my fight with Sir Sagramor, others would have
the right to call me out as long as I might be willing to respond.
Down at our end there were but two tents; one for me, and another
for my servants. At the appointed hour the king made a sign, and
the heralds, in their tabards, appeared and made proclamation,
naming the combatants and stating the cause of quarrel. There
was a pause, then a ringing bugle-blast, which was the signal for
us to come forth. All the multitude caught their breath, and
an eager curiosity flashed into every face.
Out from his tent rode great Sir Sagramor, an imposing tower
of iron, stately and rigid, his huge spear standing upright in its
socket and grasped in his strong hand, his grand horse's face and
breast cased in steel, his body clothed in rich trappings that
almost dragged the ground--oh, a most noble picture. A great
shout went up, of welcome and admiration.
And then out I came. But I didn't get any shout. There was
a wondering and eloquent silence for a moment, then a great wave
of laughter began to sweep along that human sea, but a warning
bugle-blast cut its career short. I was in the simplest and
comfortablest of gymnast costumes--flesh-colored tights from neck
to heel, with blue silk puffings about my loins, and bareheaded.
My horse was not above medium size, but he was alert, slender-limbed,
muscled with watchsprings, and just a greyhound to go. He was
a beauty, glossy as silk, and naked as he was when he was born,
except for bridle and ranger-saddle.
The iron tower and the gorgeous bedquilt came cumbrously but
gracefully pirouetting down the lists, and we tripped lightly up
to meet them. We halted; the tower saluted, I responded; then
we wheeled and rode side by side to the grand-stand and faced
our king and queen, to whom we made obeisance. The queen exclaimed:
"Alack, Sir Boss, wilt fight naked, and without lance or sword or--"
But the king checked her and made her understand, with a polite
phrase or two, that this was none of her business. The bugles
rang again; and we separated and rode to the ends of the lists,
and took position. Now old Merlin stepped into view and cast
a dainty web of gossamer threads over Sir Sagramor which turned
him into Hamlet's ghost; the king made a sign, the bugles blew,
Sir Sagramor laid his great lance in rest, and the next moment here
he came thundering down the course with his veil flying out behind,
and I went whistling through the air like an arrow to meet him--
cocking my ear the while, as if noting the invisible knight's
position and progress by hearing, not sight. A chorus of encouraging
shouts burst out for him, and one brave voice flung out a heartening
word for me--said:
"Go it, slim Jim!"
It was an even bet that Clarence had procured that favor for me--
and furnished the language, too. When that formidable lance-point
was within a yard and a half of my breast I twitched my horse aside
without an effort, and the big knight swept by, scoring a blank.
I got plenty of applause that time. We turned, braced up, and
down we came again. Another blank for the knight, a roar of
applause for me. This same thing was repeated once more; and
it fetched such a whirlwind of applause that Sir Sagramor lost his
temper, and at once changed his tactics and set himself the task
of chasing me down. Why, he hadn't any show in the world at that;
it was a game of tag, with all the advantage on my side; I whirled
out of his path with ease whenever I chose, and once I slapped him
on the back as I went to the rear. Finally I took the chase into
my own hands; and after that, turn, or twist, or do what he would,
he was never able to get behind me again; he found himself always
in front at the end of his maneuver. So he gave up that business
and retired to his end of the lists. His temper was clear gone now,
and he forgot himself and flung an insult at me which disposed
of mine. I slipped my lasso from the horn of my saddle, and
grasped the coil in my right hand. This time you should have seen
him come!--it was a business trip, sure; by his gait there was
blood in his eye. I was sitting my horse at ease, and swinging
the great loop of my lasso in wide circles about my head; the
moment he was under way, I started for him; when the space between
us had narrowed to forty feet, I sent the snaky spirals of the rope
a-cleaving through the air, then darted aside and faced about and
brought my trained animal to a halt with all his feet braced under
him for a surge. The next moment the rope sprang taut and yanked
Sir Sagramor out of the saddle! Great Scott, but there was
Unquestionably, the popular thing in this world is novelty. These
people had never seen anything of that cowboy business before,
and it carried them clear off their feet with delight. From all
around and everywhere, the shout went up:
I wondered where they got the word, but there was no time to cipher
on philological matters, because the whole knight-errantry hive
was just humming now, and my prospect for trade couldn't have
been better. The moment my lasso was released and Sir Sagramor
had been assisted to his tent, I hauled in the slack, took my
station and began to swing my loop around my head again. I was
sure to have use for it as soon as they could elect a successor
for Sir Sagramor, and that couldn't take long where there were
so many hungry candidates. Indeed, they elected one straight off--
Sir Hervis de Revel.
_Bzz_! Here he came, like a house afire; I dodged: he passed like
a flash, with my horse-hair coils settling around his neck;
a second or so later, _fst_! his saddle was empty.
I got another encore; and another, and another, and still another.
When I had snaked five men out, things began to look serious to
the ironclads, and they stopped and consulted together. As a
result, they decided that it was time to waive etiquette and send
their greatest and best against me. To the astonishment of that
little world, I lassoed Sir Lamorak de Galis, and after him
Sir Galahad. So you see there was simply nothing to be done now,
but play their right bower--bring out the superbest of the superb,
the mightiest of the mighty, the great Sir Launcelot himself!
A proud moment for me? I should think so. Yonder was Arthur,
King of Britain; yonder was Guenever; yes, and whole tribes of
little provincial kings and kinglets; and in the tented camp yonder,
renowned knights from many lands; and likewise the selectest body
known to chivalry, the Knights of the Table Round, the most
illustrious in Christendom; and biggest fact of all, the very sun
of their shining system was yonder couching his lance, the focal
point of forty thousand adoring eyes; and all by myself, here was
I laying for him. Across my mind flitted the dear image of a
certain hello-girl of West Hartford, and I wished she could see
me now. In that moment, down came the Invincible, with the rush
of a whirlwind--the courtly world rose to its feet and bent forward--
the fateful coils went circling through the air, and before you
could wink I was towing Sir Launcelot across the field on his
back, and kissing my hand to the storm of waving kerchiefs and
the thunder-crash of applause that greeted me!
Said I to myself, as I coiled my lariat and hung it on my saddle-horn,
and sat there drunk with glory, "The victory is perfect--no other
will venture against me--knight-errantry is dead." Now imagine my
astonishment--and everybody else's, too--to hear the peculiar
bugle-call which announces that another competitor is about to
enter the lists! There was a mystery here; I couldn't account for
this thing. Next, I noticed Merlin gliding away from me; and then
I noticed that my lasso was gone! The old sleight-of-hand expert
had stolen it, sure, and slipped it under his robe.
The bugle blew again. I looked, and down came Sagramor riding
again, with his dust brushed off and his veil nicely re-arranged.
I trotted up to meet him, and pretended to find him by the sound
of his horse's hoofs. He said:
"Thou'rt quick of ear, but it will not save thee from this!" and
he touched the hilt of his great sword. "An ye are not able to see
it, because of the influence of the veil, know that it is no cumbrous
lance, but a sword--and I ween ye will not be able to avoid it."
His visor was up; there was death in his smile. I should never
be able to dodge his sword, that was plain. Somebody was going
to die this time. If he got the drop on me, I could name the
corpse. We rode forward together, and saluted the royalties.
This time the king was disturbed. He said:
"Where is thy strange weapon?"
"It is stolen, sire."
"Hast another at hand?"
"No, sire, I brought only the one."
Then Merlin mixed in:
"He brought but the one because there was but the one to bring.
There exists none other but that one. It belongeth to the king
of the Demons of the Sea. This man is a pretender, and ignorant,
else he had known that that weapon can be used in but eight bouts
only, and then it vanisheth away to its home under the sea."
"Then is he weaponless," said the king. "Sir Sagramore, ye will
grant him leave to borrow."
"And I will lend!" said Sir Launcelot, limping up. "He is as
brave a knight of his hands as any that be on live, and he shall
He put his hand on his sword to draw it, but Sir Sagramor said:
"Stay, it may not be. He shall fight with his own weapons; it
was his privilege to choose them and bring them. If he has erred,
on his head be it."
"Knight!" said the king. "Thou'rt overwrought with passion; it
disorders thy mind. Wouldst kill a naked man?"
"An he do it, he shall answer it to me," said Sir Launcelot.
"I will answer it to any he that desireth!" retorted Sir Sagramor hotly.
Merlin broke in, rubbing his hands and smiling his lowdownest
smile of malicious gratification:
"'Tis well said, right well said! And 'tis enough of parleying,
let my lord the king deliver the battle signal."
The king had to yield. The bugle made proclamation, and we turned
apart and rode to our stations. There we stood, a hundred yards
apart, facing each other, rigid and motionless, like horsed statues.
And so we remained, in a soundless hush, as much as a full minute,
everybody gazing, nobody stirring. It seemed as if the king could
not take heart to give the signal. But at last he lifted his hand,
the clear note of the bugle followed, Sir Sagramor's long blade
described a flashing curve in the air, and it was superb to see him
come. I sat still. On he came. I did not move. People got so
excited that they shouted to me:
"Fly, fly! Save thyself! This is murther!"
I never budged so much as an inch till that thundering apparition
had got within fifteen paces of me; then I snatched a dragoon
revolver out of my holster, there was a flash and a roar, and
the revolver was back in the holster before anybody could tell
what had happened.
Here was a riderless horse plunging by, and yonder lay Sir Sagramor,
The people that ran to him were stricken dumb to find that the life
was actually gone out of the man and no reason for it visible,
no hurt upon his body, nothing like a wound. There was a hole
through the breast of his chain-mail, but they attached no importance
to a little thing like that; and as a bullet wound there produces
but little blood, none came in sight because of the clothing and
swaddlings under the armor. The body was dragged over to let
the king and the swells look down upon it. They were stupefied
with astonishment naturally. I was requested to come and explain
the miracle. But I remained in my tracks, like a statue, and said:
"If it is a command, I will come, but my lord the king knows that
I am where the laws of combat require me to remain while any desire
to come against me."
I waited. Nobody challenged. Then I said:
"If there are any who doubt that this field is well and fairly won,
I do not wait for them to challenge me, I challenge them."
"It is a gallant offer," said the king, "and well beseems you.
Whom will you name first?"
"I name none, I challenge all! Here I stand, and dare the chivalry
of England to come against me--not by individuals, but in mass!"
"What!" shouted a score of knights.
"You have heard the challenge. Take it, or I proclaim you recreant
knights and vanquished, every one!"
It was a "bluff" you know. At such a time it is sound judgment
to put on a bold face and play your hand for a hundred times what
it is worth; forty-nine times out of fifty nobody dares to "call,"
and you rake in the chips. But just this once--well, things looked
squally! In just no time, five hundred knights were scrambling
into their saddles, and before you could wink a widely scattering
drove were under way and clattering down upon me. I snatched
both revolvers from the holsters and began to measure distances
and calculate chances.
Bang! One saddle empty. Bang! another one. Bang--bang, and
I bagged two. Well, it was nip and tuck with us, and I knew it.
If I spent the eleventh shot without convincing these people,
the twelfth man would kill me, sure. And so I never did feel
so happy as I did when my ninth downed its man and I detected
the wavering in the crowd which is premonitory of panic. An instant
lost now could knock out my last chance. But I didn't lose it.
I raised both revolvers and pointed them--the halted host stood
their ground just about one good square moment, then broke and fled.
The day was mine. Knight-errantry was a doomed institution. The
march of civilization was begun. How did I feel? Ah, you never
could imagine it.
And Brer Merlin? His stock was flat again. Somehow, every time
the magic of fol-de-rol tried conclusions with the magic of science,
the magic of fol-de-rol got left.
THREE YEARS LATER
When I broke the back of knight-errantry that time, I no longer
felt obliged to work in secret. So, the very next day I exposed
my hidden schools, my mines, and my vast system of clandestine
factories and workshops to an astonished world. That is to say,
I exposed the nineteenth century to the inspection of the sixth.
Well, it is always a good plan to follow up an advantage promptly.
The knights were temporarily down, but if I would keep them so
I must just simply paralyze them--nothing short of that would
answer. You see, I was "bluffing" that last time in the field;
it would be natural for them to work around to that conclusion,
if I gave them a chance. So I must not give them time; and I didn't.
I renewed my challenge, engraved it on brass, posted it up where
any priest could read it to them, and also kept it standing in
the advertising columns of the paper.
I not only renewed it, but added to its proportions. I said,
name the day, and I would take fifty assistants and stand up
_against the massed chivalry of the whole earth and destroy it_.
I was not bluffing this time. I meant what I said; I could do
what I promised. There wasn't any way to misunderstand the language
of that challenge. Even the dullest of the chivalry perceived
that this was a plain case of "put up, or shut up." They were
wise and did the latter. In all the next three years they gave
me no trouble worth mentioning.
Consider the three years sped. Now look around on England. A happy
and prosperous country, and strangely altered. Schools everywhere,
and several colleges; a number of pretty good newspapers. Even
authorship was taking a start; Sir Dinadan the Humorist was first
in the field, with a volume of gray-headed jokes which I had been
familiar with during thirteen centuries. If he had left out that
old rancid one about the lecturer I wouldn't have said anything;
but I couldn't stand that one. I suppressed the book and hanged
Slavery was dead and gone; all men were equal before the law;
taxation had been equalized. The telegraph, the telephone, the
phonograph, the typewriter, the sewing-machine, and all the thousand
willing and handy servants of steam and electricity were working
their way into favor. We had a steamboat or two on the Thames,
we had steam warships, and the beginnings of a steam commercial
marine; I was getting ready to send out an expedition to discover
We were building several lines of railway, and our line from
Camelot to London was already finished and in operation. I was
shrewd enough to make all offices connected with the passenger
service places of high and distinguished honor. My idea was
to attract the chivalry and nobility, and make them useful and keep
them out of mischief. The plan worked very well, the competition
for the places was hot. The conductor of the 4.33 express was
a duke; there wasn't a passenger conductor on the line below
the degree of earl. They were good men, every one, but they had
two defects which I couldn't cure, and so had to wink at: they
wouldn't lay aside their armor, and they would "knock down" fare--
I mean rob the company.
There was hardly a knight in all the land who wasn't in some useful
employment. They were going from end to end of the country in all
manner of useful missionary capacities; their penchant for wandering,
and their experience in it, made them altogether the most effective
spreaders of civilization we had. They went clothed in steel and
equipped with sword and lance and battle-axe, and if they couldn't
persuade a person to try a sewing-machine on the installment plan,
or a melodeon, or a barbed-wire fence, or a prohibition journal,
or any of the other thousand and one things they canvassed for,
they removed him and passed on.
I was very happy. Things were working steadily toward a secretly
longed-for point. You see, I had two schemes in my head which
were the vastest of all my projects. The one was to overthrow the
Catholic Church and set up the Protestant faith on its ruins--
not as an Established Church, but a go-as-you-please one; and
the other project was to get a decree issued by and by, commanding
that upon Arthur's death unlimited suffrage should be introduced,
and given to men and women alike--at any rate to all men, wise
or unwise, and to all mothers who at middle age should be found
to know nearly as much as their sons at twenty-one. Arthur was
good for thirty years yet, he being about my own age--that is
to say, forty--and I believed that in that time I could easily
have the active part of the population of that day ready and eager
for an event which should be the first of its kind in the history
of the world--a rounded and complete governmental revolution
without bloodshed. The result to be a republic. Well, I may
as well confess, though I do feel ashamed when I think of it:
I was beginning to have a base hankering to be its first president
myself. Yes, there was more or less human nature in me; I found
Clarence was with me as concerned the revolution, but in a modified
way. His idea was a republic, without privileged orders, but with
a hereditary royal family at the head of it instead of an elective
chief magistrate. He believed that no nation that had ever known
the joy of worshiping a royal family could ever be robbed of it
and not fade away and die of melancholy. I urged that kings were
dangerous. He said, then have cats. He was sure that a royal
family of cats would answer every purpose. They would be as useful
as any other royal family, they would know as much, they would
have the same virtues and the same treacheries, the same disposition
to get up shindies with other royal cats, they would be laughably
vain and absurd and never know it, they would be wholly inexpensive;
finally, they would have as sound a divine right as any other
royal house, and "Tom VII, or Tom XI, or Tom XIV by the grace
of God King," would sound as well as it would when applied to
the ordinary royal tomcat with tights on. "And as a rule," said
he, in his neat modern English, "the character of these cats would
be considerably above the character of the average king, and this
would be an immense moral advantage to the nation, for the reason
that a nation always models its morals after its monarch's. The
worship of royalty being founded in unreason, these graceful and
harmless cats would easily become as sacred as any other royalties,
and indeed more so, because it would presently be noticed that
they hanged nobody, beheaded nobody, imprisoned nobody, inflicted
no cruelties or injustices of any sort, and so must be worthy of
a deeper love and reverence than the customary human king, and
would certainly get it. The eyes of the whole harried world would
soon be fixed upon this humane and gentle system, and royal butchers
would presently begin to disappear; their subjects would fill
the vacancies with catlings from our own royal house; we should
become a factory; we should supply the thrones of the world; within
forty years all Europe would be governed by cats, and we should
furnish the cats. The reign of universal peace would begin then,
to end no more forever.... Me-e-e-yow-ow-ow-ow--fzt!--wow!"
Hang him, I supposed he was in earnest, and was beginning to be
persuaded by him, until he exploded that cat-howl and startled me
almost out of my clothes. But he never could be in earnest. He
didn't know what it was. He had pictured a distinct and perfectly
rational and feasible improvement upon constitutional monarchy,
but he was too feather-headed to know it, or care anything about
it, either. I was going to give him a scolding, but Sandy came
flying in at that moment, wild with terror, and so choked with sobs
that for a minute she could not get her voice. I ran and took her
in my arms, and lavished caresses upon her and said, beseechingly:
"Speak, darling, speak! What is it?"
Her head fell limp upon my bosom, and she gasped, almost inaudibly:
"Quick!" I shouted to Clarence; "telephone the king's homeopath
In two minutes I was kneeling by the child's crib, and Sandy was
dispatching servants here, there, and everywhere, all over the
palace. I took in the situation almost at a glance--membranous
croup! I bent down and whispered:
"Wake up, sweetheart! Hello-Central."
She opened her soft eyes languidly, and made out to say:
That was a comfort. She was far from dead yet. I sent for
preparations of sulphur, I rousted out the croup-kettle myself;
for I don't sit down and wait for doctors when Sandy or the child
is sick. I knew how to nurse both of them, and had had experience.
This little chap had lived in my arms a good part of its small life,
and often I could soothe away its troubles and get it to laugh
through the tear-dews on its eye-lashes when even its mother couldn't.
Sir Launcelot, in his richest armor, came striding along the great
hall now on his way to the stock-board; he was president of the
stock-board, and occupied the Siege Perilous, which he had bought
of Sir Galahad; for the stock-board consisted of the Knights of
the Round Table, and they used the Round Table for business purposes
now. Seats at it were worth--well, you would never believe the
figure, so it is no use to state it. Sir Launcelot was a bear, and
he had put up a corner in one of the new lines, and was just getting
ready to squeeze the shorts to-day; but what of that? He was
the same old Launcelot, and when he glanced in as he was passing
the door and found out that his pet was sick, that was enough
for him; bulls and bears might fight it out their own way for all
him, he would come right in here and stand by little Hello-Central
for all he was worth. And that was what he did. He shied his
helmet into the corner, and in half a minute he had a new wick
in the alcohol lamp and was firing up on the croup-kettle. By this
time Sandy had built a blanket canopy over the crib, and everything
Sir Launcelot got up steam, he and I loaded up the kettle with
unslaked lime and carbolic acid, with a touch of lactic acid added
thereto, then filled the thing up with water and inserted the
steam-spout under the canopy. Everything was ship-shape now,
and we sat down on either side of the crib to stand our watch.
Sandy was so grateful and so comforted that she charged a couple
of church-wardens with willow-bark and sumach-tobacco for us,
and told us to smoke as much as we pleased, it couldn't get under
the canopy, and she was used to smoke, being the first lady in the
land who had ever seen a cloud blown. Well, there couldn't be
a more contented or comfortable sight than Sir Launcelot in his
noble armor sitting in gracious serenity at the end of a yard
of snowy church-warden. He was a beautiful man, a lovely man,
and was just intended to make a wife and children happy. But, of
course Guenever--however, it's no use to cry over what's done and
can't be helped.
Well, he stood watch-and-watch with me, right straight through,
for three days and nights, till the child was out of danger; then
he took her up in his great arms and kissed her, with his plumes
falling about her golden head, then laid her softly in Sandy's
lap again and took his stately way down the vast hall, between
the ranks of admiring men-at-arms and menials, and so disappeared.
And no instinct warned me that I should never look upon him again
in this world! Lord, what a world of heart-break it is.
The doctors said we must take the child away, if we would coax
her back to health and strength again. And she must have sea-air.
So we took a man-of-war, and a suite of two hundred and sixty
persons, and went cruising about, and after a fortnight of this we
stepped ashore on the French coast, and the doctors thought it
would be a good idea to make something of a stay there. The little
king of that region offered us his hospitalities, and we were glad
to accept. If he had had as many conveniences as he lacked, we
should have been plenty comfortable enough; even as it was, we
made out very well, in his queer old castle, by the help of comforts
and luxuries from the ship.
At the end of a month I sent the vessel home for fresh supplies,
and for news. We expected her back in three or four days. She
would bring me, along with other news, the result of a certain
experiment which I had been starting. It was a project of mine
to replace the tournament with something which might furnish an
escape for the extra steam of the chivalry, keep those bucks
entertained and out of mischief, and at the same time preserve
the best thing in them, which was their hardy spirit of emulation.
I had had a choice band of them in private training for some time,
and the date was now arriving for their first public effort.
This experiment was baseball. In order to give the thing vogue
from the start, and place it out of the reach of criticism, I chose
my nines by rank, not capacity. There wasn't a knight in either
team who wasn't a sceptered sovereign. As for material of this
sort, there was a glut of it always around Arthur. You couldn't
throw a brick in any direction and not cripple a king. Of course,
I couldn't get these people to leave off their armor; they wouldn't
do that when they bathed. They consented to differentiate the
armor so that a body could tell one team from the other, but that
was the most they would do. So, one of the teams wore chain-mail
ulsters, and the other wore plate-armor made of my new Bessemer
steel. Their practice in the field was the most fantastic thing I
ever saw. Being ball-proof, they never skipped out of the way,
but stood still and took the result; when a Bessemer was at the bat
and a ball hit him, it would bound a hundred and fifty yards
sometimes. And when a man was running, and threw himself on his
stomach to slide to his base, it was like an iron-clad coming into
port. At first I appointed men of no rank to act as umpires, but
I had to discontinue that. These people were no easier to please
than other nines. The umpire's first decision was usually his
last; they broke him in two with a bat, and his friends toted him
home on a shutter. When it was noticed that no umpire ever survived
a game, umpiring got to be unpopular. So I was obliged to appoint
somebody whose rank and lofty position under the government would
Here are the names of the nines:
KING ARTHUR. EMPEROR LUCIUS.
KING LOT OF LOTHIAN. KING LOGRIS.
KING OF NORTHGALIS. KING MARHALT OF IRELAND.
KING MARSIL. KING MORGANORE.
KING OF LITTLE BRITAIN. KING MARK OF CORNWALL.
KING LABOR. KING NENTRES OF GARLOT.
KING PELLAM OF LISTENGESE. KING MELIODAS OF LIONES.
KING BAGDEMAGUS. KING OF THE LAKE.
KING TOLLEME LA FEINTES. THE SOWDAN OF SYRIA.
The first public game would certainly draw fifty thousand people;
and for solid fun would be worth going around the world to see.
Everything would be favorable; it was balmy and beautiful spring
weather now, and Nature was all tailored out in her new clothes.
However, my attention was suddenly snatched from such matters;
our child began to lose ground again, and we had to go to sitting
up with her, her case became so serious. We couldn't bear to allow
anybody to help in this service, so we two stood watch-and-watch,
day in and day out. Ah, Sandy, what a right heart she had, how
simple, and genuine, and good she was! She was a flawless wife
and mother; and yet I had married her for no other particular
reasons, except that by the customs of chivalry she was my property
until some knight should win her from me in the field. She had
hunted Britain over for me; had found me at the hanging-bout
outside of London, and had straightway resumed her old place at
my side in the placidest way and as of right. I was a New Englander,
and in my opinion this sort of partnership would compromise her,
sooner or later. She couldn't see how, but I cut argument short
and we had a wedding.
Now I didn't know I was drawing a prize, yet that was what I did
draw. Within the twelvemonth I became her worshiper; and ours
was the dearest and perfectest comradeship that ever was. People
talk about beautiful friendships between two persons of the same
sex. What is the best of that sort, as compared with the friendship
of man and wife, where the best impulses and highest ideals of
both are the same? There is no place for comparison between
the two friendships; the one is earthly, the other divine.
In my dreams, along at first, I still wandered thirteen centuries
away, and my unsatisfied spirit went calling and harking all up
and down the unreplying vacancies of a vanished world. Many a
time Sandy heard that imploring cry come from my lips in my sleep.
With a grand magnanimity she saddled that cry of mine upon our
child, conceiving it to be the name of some lost darling of mine.
It touched me to tears, and it also nearly knocked me off my feet,
too, when she smiled up in my face for an earned reward, and played
her quaint and pretty surprise upon me:
"The name of one who was dear to thee is here preserved, here made
holy, and the music of it will abide alway in our ears. Now
thou'lt kiss me, as knowing the name I have given the child."
But I didn't know it, all the same. I hadn't an idea in the
world; but it would have been cruel to confess it and spoil her
pretty game; so I never let on, but said:
"Yes, I know, sweetheart--how dear and good it is of you, too!
But I want to hear these lips of yours, which are also mine, utter
it first--then its music will be perfect."
Pleased to the marrow, she murmured:
I didn't laugh--I am always thankful for that--but the strain
ruptured every cartilage in me, and for weeks afterward I could
hear my bones clack when I walked. She never found out her mistake.
The first time she heard that form of salute used at the telephone
she was surprised, and not pleased; but I told her I had given
order for it: that henceforth and forever the telephone must
always be invoked with that reverent formality, in perpetual honor
and remembrance of my lost friend and her small namesake. This
was not true. But it answered.
Well, during two weeks and a half we watched by the crib, and in
our deep solicitude we were unconscious of any world outside of
that sick-room. Then our reward came: the center of the universe
turned the corner and began to mend. Grateful? It isn't the term.
There _isn't_ any term for it. You know that yourself, if you've
watched your child through the Valley of the Shadow and seen it
come back to life and sweep night out of the earth with one
all-illuminating smile that you could cover with your hand.
Why, we were back in this world in one instant! Then we looked
the same startled thought into each other's eyes at the same
moment; more than two weeks gone, and that ship not back yet!
In another minute I appeared in the presence of my train. They
had been steeped in troubled bodings all this time--their faces
showed it. I called an escort and we galloped five miles to a
hilltop overlooking the sea. Where was my great commerce that
so lately had made these glistening expanses populous and beautiful
with its white-winged flocks? Vanished, every one! Not a sail,
from verge to verge, not a smoke-bank--just a dead and empty
solitude, in place of all that brisk and breezy life.
I went swiftly back, saying not a word to anybody. I told Sandy
this ghastly news. We could imagine no explanation that would
begin to explain. Had there been an invasion? an earthquake?
a pestilence? Had the nation been swept out of existence? But
guessing was profitless. I must go--at once. I borrowed the king's
navy--a "ship" no bigger than a steam launch--and was soon ready.
The parting--ah, yes, that was hard. As I was devouring the child
with last kisses, it brisked up and jabbered out its vocabulary!--
the first time in more than two weeks, and it made fools of us
for joy. The darling mispronunciations of childhood!--dear me,
there's no music that can touch it; and how one grieves when it
wastes away and dissolves into correctness, knowing it will never
visit his bereaved ear again. Well, how good it was to be able
to carry that gracious memory away with me!
I approached England the next morning, with the wide highway of
salt water all to myself. There were ships in the harbor, at
Dover, but they were naked as to sails, and there was no sign
of life about them. It was Sunday; yet at Canterbury the streets
were empty; strangest of all, there was not even a priest in sight,
and no stroke of a bell fell upon my ear. The mournfulness of
death was everywhere. I couldn't understand it. At last, in
the further edge of that town I saw a small funeral procession--
just a family and a few friends following a coffin--no priest;
a funeral without bell, book, or candle; there was a church there
close at hand, but they passed it by weeping, and did not enter it;
I glanced up at the belfry, and there hung the bell, shrouded in
black, and its tongue tied back. Now I knew! Now I understood
the stupendous calamity that had overtaken England. Invasion?
Invasion is a triviality to it. It was the INTERDICT!
I asked no questions; I didn't need to ask any. The Church had
struck; the thing for me to do was to get into a disguise, and
go warily. One of my servants gave me a suit of clothes, and
when we were safe beyond the town I put them on, and from that time
I traveled alone; I could not risk the embarrassment of company.
A miserable journey. A desolate silence everywhere. Even in
London itself. Traffic had ceased; men did not talk or laugh, or
go in groups, or even in couples; they moved aimlessly about, each
man by himself, with his head down, and woe and terror at his heart.
The Tower showed recent war-scars. Verily, much had been happening.
Of course, I meant to take the train for Camelot. Train! Why,
the station was as vacant as a cavern. I moved on. The journey
to Camelot was a repetition of what I had already seen. The Monday
and the Tuesday differed in no way from the Sunday. I arrived
far in the night. From being the best electric-lighted town in
the kingdom and the most like a recumbent sun of anything you ever
saw, it was become simply a blot--a blot upon darkness--that is
to say, it was darker and solider than the rest of the darkness,
and so you could see it a little better; it made me feel as if
maybe it was symbolical--a sort of sign that the Church was going to
_keep_ the upper hand now, and snuff out all my beautiful civilization
just like that. I found no life stirring in the somber streets.
I groped my way with a heavy heart. The vast castle loomed black
upon the hilltop, not a spark visible about it. The drawbridge
was down, the great gate stood wide, I entered without challenge,
my own heels making the only sound I heard--and it was sepulchral
enough, in those huge vacant courts.
I found Clarence alone in his quarters, drowned in melancholy;
and in place of the electric light, he had reinstituted the ancient
rag-lamp, and sat there in a grisly twilight with all curtains
drawn tight. He sprang up and rushed for me eagerly, saying:
"Oh, it's worth a billion milrays to look upon a live person again!"
He knew me as easily as if I hadn't been disguised at all. Which
frightened me; one may easily believe that.
"Quick, now, tell me the meaning of this fearful disaster," I said.
"How did it come about?"
"Well, if there hadn't been any Queen Guenever, it wouldn't have
come so early; but it would have come, anyway. It would have
come on your own account by and by; by luck, it happened to come
on the queen's."
"_And_ Sir Launcelot's?"
"Give me the details."
"I reckon you will grant that during some years there has been
only one pair of eyes in these kingdoms that has not been looking
steadily askance at the queen and Sir Launcelot--"
"Yes, King Arthur's."
"--and only one heart that was without suspicion--"
"Yes--the king's; a heart that isn't capable of thinking evil
of a friend."
"Well, the king might have gone on, still happy and unsuspecting,
to the end of his days, but for one of your modern improvements--
the stock-board. When you left, three miles of the London,
Canterbury and Dover were ready for the rails, and also ready and
ripe for manipulation in the stock-market. It was wildcat, and
everybody knew it. The stock was for sale at a give-away. What
does Sir Launcelot do, but--"
"Yes, I know; he quietly picked up nearly all of it for a song;
then he bought about twice as much more, deliverable upon call;
and he was about to call when I left."
"Very well, he did call. The boys couldn't deliver. Oh, he had
them--and he just settled his grip and squeezed them. They were
laughing in their sleeves over their smartness in selling stock
to him at 15 and 16 and along there that wasn't worth 10. Well,
when they had laughed long enough on that side of their mouths,
they rested-up that side by shifting the laugh to the other side.
That was when they compromised with the Invincible at 283!"
"He skinned them alive, and they deserved it--anyway, the whole
kingdom rejoiced. Well, among the flayed were Sir Agravaine and
Sir Mordred, nephews to the king. End of the first act. Act
second, scene first, an apartment in Carlisle castle, where the
court had gone for a few days' hunting. Persons present, the
whole tribe of the king's nephews. Mordred and Agravaine propose
to call the guileless Arthur's attention to Guenever and Sir
Launcelot. Sir Gawaine, Sir Gareth, and Sir Gaheris will have
nothing to do with it. A dispute ensues, with loud talk; in the
midst of it enter the king. Mordred and Agravaine spring their
devastating tale upon him. _Tableau_. A trap is laid for Launcelot,
by the king's command, and Sir Launcelot walks into it. He made
it sufficiently uncomfortable for the ambushed witnesses--to wit,
Mordred, Agravaine, and twelve knights of lesser rank, for he
killed every one of them but Mordred; but of course that couldn't
straighten matters between Launcelot and the king, and didn't."
"Oh, dear, only one thing could result--I see that. War, and
the knights of the realm divided into a king's party and a
Sir Launcelot's party."
"Yes--that was the way of it. The king sent the queen to the
stake, proposing to purify her with fire. Launcelot and his
knights rescued her, and in doing it slew certain good old friends
of yours and mine--in fact, some of the best we ever had; to wit,
Sir Belias le Orgulous, Sir Segwarides, Sir Griflet le Fils de Dieu,
Sir Brandiles, Sir Aglovale--"
"Oh, you tear out my heartstrings."
"--wait, I'm not done yet--Sir Tor, Sir Gauter, Sir Gillimer--"
"The very best man in my subordinate nine. What a handy right-fielder
"--Sir Reynold's three brothers, Sir Damus, Sir Priamus, Sir Kay
"My peerless short-stop! I've seen him catch a daisy-cutter in
his teeth. Come, I can't stand this!"
"--Sir Driant, Sir Lambegus, Sir Herminde, Sir Pertilope,
Sir Perimones, and--whom do you think?"
"Rush! Go on."
"Sir Gaheris, and Sir Gareth--both!"
"Oh, incredible! Their love for Launcelot was indestructible."
"Well, it was an accident. They were simply onlookers; they were
unarmed, and were merely there to witness the queen's punishment.
Sir Launcelot smote down whoever came in the way of his blind fury,
and he killed these without noticing who they were. Here is an
instantaneous photograph one of our boys got of the battle; it's
for sale on every news-stand. There--the figures nearest the queen
are Sir Launcelot with his sword up, and Sir Gareth gasping his
latest breath. You can catch the agony in the queen's face through
the curling smoke. It's a rattling battle-picture."
"Indeed, it is. We must take good care of it; its historical value
is incalculable. Go on."
"Well, the rest of the tale is just war, pure and simple. Launcelot
retreated to his town and castle of Joyous Gard, and gathered
there a great following of knights. The king, with a great host,
went there, and there was desperate fighting during several days,
and, as a result, all the plain around was paved with corpses
and cast-iron. Then the Church patched up a peace between Arthur
and Launcelot and the queen and everybody--everybody but Sir Gawaine.
He was bitter about the slaying of his brothers, Gareth and Gaheris,
and would not be appeased. He notified Launcelot to get him
thence, and make swift preparation, and look to be soon attacked.
So Launcelot sailed to his Duchy of Guienne with his following, and
Gawaine soon followed with an army, and he beguiled Arthur to go
with him. Arthur left the kingdom in Sir Mordred's hands until
you should return--"
"Ah--a king's customary wisdom!"
"Yes. Sir Mordred set himself at once to work to make his kingship
permanent. He was going to marry Guenever, as a first move; but
she fled and shut herself up in the Tower of London. Mordred
attacked; the Bishop of Canterbury dropped down on him with the
Interdict. The king returned; Mordred fought him at Dover, at
Canterbury, and again at Barham Down. Then there was talk of peace
and a composition. Terms, Mordred to have Cornwall and Kent during
Arthur's life, and the whole kingdom afterward."
"Well, upon my word! My dream of a republic to _be_ a dream, and
"Yes. The two armies lay near Salisbury. Gawaine--Gawaine's head
is at Dover Castle, he fell in the fight there--Gawaine appeared to
Arthur in a dream, at least his ghost did, and warned him to
refrain from conflict for a month, let the delay cost what it might.
But battle was precipitated by an accident. Arthur had given
order that if a sword was raised during the consultation over
the proposed treaty with Mordred, sound the trumpet and fall on!
for he had no confidence in Mordred. Mordred had given a similar
order to _his_ people. Well, by and by an adder bit a knight's heel;
the knight forgot all about the order, and made a slash at the
adder with his sword. Inside of half a minute those two prodigious
hosts came together with a crash! They butchered away all day.
Then the king--however, we have started something fresh since
you left--our paper has."
"No? What is that?"
"Why, that's good."
"Yes, the paper was booming right along, for the Interdict made
no impression, got no grip, while the war lasted. I had war
correspondents with both armies. I will finish that battle by
reading you what one of the boys says:
'Then the king looked about him, and then was he
ware of all his host and of all his good knights
were left no more on live but two knights, that
was Sir Lucan de Butlere, and his brother Sir
Bedivere: and they were full sore wounded. Jesu
mercy, said the king, where are all my noble
knights becomen? Alas that ever I should see this
doleful day. For now, said Arthur, I am come to
mine end. But would to God that I wist where were
that traitor Sir Mordred, that hath caused all
this mischief. Then was King Arthur ware where Sir
Mordred leaned upon his sword among a great heap
of dead men. Now give me my spear, said Arthur
unto Sir Lucan, for yonder I have espied the
traitor that all this woe hath wrought. Sir, let
him be, said Sir Lucan, for he is unhappy; and if
ye pass this unhappy day, ye shall be right well
revenged upon him. Good lord, remember ye of your
night's dream, and what the spirit of Sir Gawaine
told you this night, yet God of his great goodness
hath preserved you hitherto. Therefore, for God's
sake, my lord, leave off by this. For blessed be
God ye have won the field: for here we be three
on live, and with Sir Mordred is none on live.
And if ye leave off now, this wicked day of
destiny is past. Tide me death, betide me life,
saith the king, now I see him yonder alone, he
shall never escape mine hands, for at a better
avail shall I never have him. God speed you well,
said Sir Bedivere. Then the king gat his spear
in both his hands, and ran toward Sir Mordred
crying, Traitor, now is thy death day come. And
when Sir Mordred heard Sir Arthur, he ran until
him with his sword drawn in his hand. And then
King Arthur smote Sir Mordred under the shield,
with a foin of his spear throughout the body more
than a fathom. And when Sir Mordred felt that he
had his death's wound, he thrust himself, with
the might that he had, up to the butt of King
Arthur's spear. And right so he smote his father
Arthur with his sword holden in both his hands,
on the side of the head, that the sword pierced
the helmet and the brain-pan, and therewithal
Sir Mordred fell stark dead to the earth. And
the noble Arthur fell in a swoon to the earth,
and there he swooned oft-times--'"
"That is a good piece of war correspondence, Clarence; you are
a first-rate newspaper man. Well--is the king all right? Did
he get well?"
"Poor soul, no. He is dead."
I was utterly stunned; it had not seemed to me that any wound
could be mortal to him.
"And the queen, Clarence?"
"She is a nun, in Almesbury."
"What changes! and in such a short while. It is inconceivable.
What next, I wonder?"
"I can tell you what next."
"Stake our lives and stand by them!"
"What do you mean by that?"
"The Church is master now. The Interdict included you with Mordred;
it is not to be removed while you remain alive. The clans are
gathering. The Church has gathered all the knights that are left
alive, and as soon as you are discovered we shall have business
on our hands."
"Stuff! With our deadly scientific war-material; with our hosts
"Save your breath--we haven't sixty faithful left!"
"What are you saying? Our schools, our colleges, our vast
"When those knights come, those establishments will empty themselves
and go over to the enemy. Did you think you had educated the
superstition out of those people?"
"I certainly did think it."
"Well, then, you may unthink it. They stood every strain easily--
until the Interdict. Since then, they merely put on a bold
outside--at heart they are quaking. Make up your mind to it--
when the armies come, the mask will fall."
"It's hard news. We are lost. They will turn our own science
"No they won't."
"Because I and a handful of the faithful have blocked that game.
I'll tell you what I've done, and what moved me to it. Smart as
you are, the Church was smarter. It was the Church that sent