Readme.it in English  home page
Readme.it in Italiano  pagina iniziale
readme.it by logo SoftwareHouse.it

Ebook in formato Kindle (mobi) - Kindle File Ebook (mobi)

Formato per Iphone, Ipad e Ebook (epub) - Ipad, Iphone and Ebook reader format (epub)

Versione ebook di Readme.it powered by Softwarehouse.it


Mark Twain
(Samuel L. Clemens)



A CONNECTICUT YANKEE
IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT

 

 

 

 

PREFACE

 

THE ungentle laws and customs touched upon in this tale are historicaland the episodes which are used to illustrate them are also historical. It is not pretended that these laws and customs existed in England in the sixth century; noit is only pretended that inasmuch as they existed in the English and other civilizations of far later timesit is safe to consider that it is no libel upon the sixth century to suppose them to have been in practice in that day also. One is quite justified in inferring that whatever one of these laws or customs was lacking in that remote timeits place was competently filled by a worse one.

The question as to whether there is such a thing as divine right of kings is not settled in this book. It was found too difficult. That the executive head of a nation should be a person of lofty character and extraordinary abilitywas manifest and indisputable; that none but the Deity could select that head unerringlywas also manifest and indisputable; that the Deity ought to make that selectionthenwas likewise manifest and indisputable; consequentlythat He does make itas claimedwas an unavoidable deduction. I meanuntil the author of this book encountered the Pompadourand Lady Castlemaineand some other executive heads of that kind; these were found so difficult to work into the schemethat it was judged better to take the other tack in this book (which must be issued this fall)and then go into training and settle the question in another book. It isof coursea thing which ought to be settledand I am not going to have anything particular to do next winter anyway.

 

 

 

A WORD OF EXPLANATION

 

IT was in Warwick Castle that I came across the curious stranger whom I am going to talk about. He attracted me by three things: his candid simplicityhis marvelous familiarity with ancient armorand the restfulness of his company -- for he did all the talking. We fell togetheras modest people willin the tail of the herd that was being shown throughand he at once began to say things which interested me. As he talked alongsoftlypleasantlyflowinglyhe seemed to drift away imperceptibly out of this world and timeand into some remote era and old forgotten country; and so he gradually wove such a spell about me that I seemed to move among the specters and shadows and dust and mold of a gray antiquityholding speech with a relic of it! Exactly as I would speak of my nearest personal friends or enemiesor my most familiar neighborshe spoke of Sir BedivereSir Bors de GanisSir Launcelot of the LakeSir Galahadand all the other great names of the Table Round -- and how oldoldunspeakably old and faded and dry and musty and ancient he came to look as he went on! Presently he turned to me and saidjust as one might speak of the weatheror any other common matter --

"You know about transmigration of souls; do you know about transposition of epochs -- and bodies?"

I said I had not heard of it. He was so little interested -- just as when people speak of the weather -- that he did not notice whether I made him any answer or not. There was half a moment of silenceimmediately interrupted by the droning voice of the salaried cicerone:

"Ancient hauberkdate of the sixth centurytime of King Arthur and the Round Table; said to have belonged to the knight Sir Sagramor le Desirous; observe the round hole through the chain-mail in the left breast; can't be accounted for; supposed to have been done with a bullet since invention of firearms -- perhaps maliciously by Cromwell's soldiers."

My acquaintance smiled -- not a modern smilebut one that must have gone out of general use manymany centuries ago -- and muttered apparently to himself:

"Wit ye wellI SAW IT DONE." Thenafter a pauseadded: "I did it myself."

By the time I had recovered from the electric surprise of this remarkhe was gone.

All that evening I sat by my fire at the Warwick Armssteeped in a dream of the olden timewhile the rain beat upon the windowsand the wind roared about the eaves and corners. From time to time I dipped into old Sir Thomas Malory's enchanting bookand fed at its rich feast of prodigies and adventuresbreathed in the fragrance of its obsolete namesand dreamed again. Midnight being come at lengthI read another talefor a nightcap -- this which here followsto wit:

 

 

 

HOW SIR LAUNCELOT SLEW TWO GIANTSAND MADE A CASTLE FREE

 

Anon withal came there upon him two great giantswell armedall save the headswith two horrible clubs in their hands. Sir Launcelot put his shield afore himand put the stroke away of the one giantand with his sword he clave his head asunder. When his fellow saw thathe ran away as he were wood [* demented]for fear of the horrible strokesand Sir Launcelot after him with all his mightand smote him on the shoulderand clave him to the middle. Then Sir Launcelot went into the halland there came afore him three score ladies and damselsand all kneeled unto himand thanked God and him of their deliverance. Forsirsaid theythe most part of us have been here this seven year their prisonersand we have worked all manner of silk works for our meatand we are all great gentle-women bornand blessed be the timeknightthat ever thou wert born;for thou hast done the most worship that ever did knight in the worldthat will we bear recordand we all pray you to tell us your namethat we may tell our friends who delivered us out of prison. Fair damselshe saidmy name is Sir Launcelot du Lake. And so he departed from them and betaught them unto God. And then he mounted upon his horseand rode into many strange and wild countriesand through many waters and valleysand evil was he lodged. And at the last by fortune him happened against a night to come to a fair courtilageand therein he found an old gentle-woman that lodged him with a good-willand there he had good cheer for him and his horse. And when time washis host brought him into a fair garret over the gate to his bed. There Sir Launcelot unarmed himand set his harness by himand went to bedand anon he fell on sleep. Sosoon after there came one on horsebackand knocked at the gate in great haste. And when Sir Launcelot heard this he rose upand looked out at the windowand saw by the moonlight three knights come riding after that one manand all three lashed on him at once with swordsand that one knight turned on them knightly again and defended him. Trulysaid Sir Launcelotyonder one knight shall I helpfor it were shame for me to see three knights on oneand if he be slain I am partner of his death. And therewith he took his harness and went out at a window by a sheet down to the four knightsand then Sir Launcelot said on highTurn you knights unto meand leave your fighting with that knight. And then they all three left Sir Kayand turned unto Sir Launcelotand there began great battlefor they alight all threeand strake many strokes at Sir Launcelotand assailed him on every side. Then Sir Kay dressed him for to have holpen Sir Launcelot. Naysirsaid heI will none of your helptherefore as ye will have my help let me alone with them. Sir Kay for the pleasure of the knight suffered him for to do his willand so stood aside. And then anon within six strokes Sir Launcelot had stricken them to the earth.

And then they all three criedSir Knightwe yield us unto you as man of might matchless. As to thatsaid Sir LauncelotI will not take your yielding unto mebut so that ye yield you unto Sir Kay the seneschalon that covenant I will save your lives and else not. Fair knightsaid theythat were we loath to do; for as for Sir Kay we chased him hitherand had overcome him had ye not been; thereforeto yield us unto him it were no reason. Wellas to thatsaid Sir Launcelotadvise you wellfor ye may choose whether ye will die or livefor an ye be yieldenit shall be unto Sir Kay. Fair knightthen they saidin saving our lives we will do as thou commandest us. Then shall yesaid Sir Launceloton Whitsunday next coming go unto the court of King Arthurand there shall ye yield you unto Queen Gueneverand put you all three in her grace and mercyand say that Sir Kay sent you thither to be her prisoners. On the morn Sir Launcelot arose earlyand left Sir Kay sleeping; and Sir Launcelot took Sir Kay's armor and his shield and armed himand so he went to the stable and took his horseand took his leave of his hostand so he departed. Then soon after arose Sir Kay and missed Sir Launcelot; and then he espied that he had his armor and his horse. Now by my faith I know well that he will grieve some of the court of King Arthur; for on him knights will be boldand deem that it is Iand that will beguile them; and because of his armor and shield I am sure I shall ride in peace. And then soon after departed Sir Kayand thanked his host.

As I laid the book down there was a knock at the doorand my stranger came in. I gave him a pipe and a chairand made him welcome. I also comforted him with a hot Scotch whisky; gave him another one; then still another -- hoping always for his story. After a fourth persuaderhe drifted into it himselfin a quite simple and natural way:

 

 

 

THE STRANGER'S HISTORY

 

I am an American. I was born and reared in Hartfordin the State of Connecticut -- anywayjust over the riverin the country. So I am a Yankee of the Yankees -- and practical; yesand nearly barren of sentimentI suppose -- or poetryin other words. My father was a blacksmithmy uncle was a horse doctorand I was bothalong at first. Then I went over to the great arms factory and learned my real trade; learned all there was to it; learned to make everything: gunsrevolverscannonboilersenginesall sorts of labor-saving machinery. WhyI could make anything a body wanted -- anything in the worldit didn't make any difference what; and if there wasn't any quick new-fangled way to make a thingI could invent one -- and do it as easy as rolling off a log. I became head superintendent; had a couple of thousand men under me.

Wella man like that is a man that is full of fight -- that goes without saying. With a couple of thousand rough men under oneone has plenty of that sort of amusement. I hadanyway. At last I met my matchand I got my dose. It was during a misunderstanding conducted with crowbars with a fellow we used to call Hercules. He laid me out with a crusher alongside the head that made everything crackand seemed to spring every joint in my skull and made it overlap its neighbor. Then the world went out in darknessand I didn't feel anything moreand didn't know anything at all -- at least for a while.

When I came to againI was sitting under an oak treeon the grasswith a whole beautiful and broad country landscape all to myself -- nearly. Not entirely; for there was a fellow on a horselooking down at me -- a fellow fresh out of a picture-book. He was in old-time iron armor from head to heelwith a helmet on his head the shape of a nail-keg with slits in it; and he had a shieldand a swordand a prodigious spear; and his horse had armor ontooand a steel horn projecting from his foreheadand gorgeous red and green silk trappings that hung down all around him like a bedquiltnearly to the ground.

"Fair sirwill ye just?" said this fellow.

"Will I which?"

"Will ye try a passage of arms for land or lady or for --"

"What are you giving me?" I said. "Get along back to your circusor I'll report you."

Now what does this man do but fall back a couple of hundred yards and then come rushing at me as hard as he could tearwith his nail-keg bent down nearly to his horse's neck and his long spear pointed straight ahead. I saw he meant businessso I was up the tree when he arrived.

He allowed that I was his propertythe captive of his spear. There was argument on his side -- and the bulk of the advantage -- so I judged it best to humor him. We fixed up an agreement whereby I was to go with him and he was not to hurt me. I came downand we started awayI walking by the side of his horse. We marched comfortably alongthrough glades and over brooks which I could not remember to have seen before -- which puzzled me and made me wonder -- and yet we did not come to any circus or sign of a circus. So I gave up the idea of a circusand concluded he was from an asylum. But we never came to an asylum -- so I was up a stumpas you may say. I asked him how far we were from Hartford. He said he had never heard of the place; which I took to be a liebut allowed it to go at that. At the end of an hour we saw a far-away town sleeping in a valley by a winding river; and beyond it on a hilla vast gray fortresswith towers and turretsthe first I had ever seen out of a picture.

"Bridgeport?" said Ipointing.

"Camelot said he.

My stranger had been showing signs of sleepiness. He caught himself nodding, now, and smiled one of those pathetic, obsolete smiles of his, and said:

I find I can't go on; but come with meI've got it all written outand you can read it if you like."

In his chamberhe said: "FirstI kept a journal; then by and byafter yearsI took the journal and turned it into a book. How long ago that was!"

He handed me his manuscriptand pointed out the place where I should begin:

"Begin here -- I've already told you what goes before." He was steeped in drowsiness by this time. As I went out at his door I heard him murmur sleepily: "Give you good denfair sir."

I sat down by my fire and examined my treasure. The first part of it -- the great bulk of it -- was parchmentand yellow with age. I scanned a leaf particularly and saw that it was a palimpsest. Under the old dim writing of the Yankee historian appeared traces of a penmanship which was older and dimmer still -- Latin words and sentences: fragments from old monkish legendsevidently. I turned to the place indicated by my stranger and began to read -- as follows:

THE TALE OF THE LOST LAND.

 

 

 

CHAPTER I - CAMELOT

 

"CAMELOT -- Camelot said I to myself. I don't seem to remember hearing of it before. Name of the asylumlikely."

It was a softreposeful summer landscapeas lovely as a dreamand as lonesome as Sunday. The air was full of the smell of flowersand the buzzing of insectsand the twittering of birdsand there were no peopleno wagonsthere was no stir of lifenothing going on. The road was mainly a winding path with hoof-prints in itand now and then a faint trace of wheels on either side in the grass -- wheels that apparently had a tire as broad as one's hand.

Presently a fair slip of a girlabout ten years oldwith a cataract of golden hair streaming down over her shoulderscame along. Around her head she wore a hoop of flame-red poppies. It was as sweet an outfit as ever I sawwhat there was of it. She walked indolently alongwith a mind at restits peace reflected in her innocent face. The circus man paid no attention to her; didn't even seem to see her. And she -- she was no more startled at his fantastic make-up than if she was used to his like every day of her life. She was going by as indifferently as she might have gone by a couple of cows; but when she happened to notice meTHEN there was a change! Up went her handsand she was turned to stone; her mouth dropped openher eyes stared wide and timorouslyshe was the picture of astonished curiosity touched with fear. And there she stood gazingin a sort of stupefied fascinationtill we turned a corner of the wood and were lost to her view. That she should be startled at me instead of at the other manwas too many for me; I couldn't make head or tail of it . And that she should seem to consider me a spectacleand totally overlook her own merits in that respectwas another puzzling thingand a display of magnanimitytoothat was surprising in one so young. There was food for thought here. I moved along as one in a dream.

As we approached the townsigns of life began to appear. At intervals we passed a wretched cabinwith a thatched roofand about it small fields and garden patches in an indifferent state of cultivation. There were peopletoo; brawny menwith longcoarseuncombed hair that hung down over their faces and made them look like animals. They and the womenas a rulewore a coarse tow-linen robe that came well below the kneeand a rude sort of sandaland many wore an iron collar. The small boys and girls were always naked; but nobody seemed to know it. All of these people stared at metalked about meran into the huts and fetched out their families to gape at me; but nobody ever noticed that other fellowexcept to make him humble salutation and get no response for their pains.

In the town were some substantial windowless houses of stone scattered among a wilderness of thatched cabins; the streets were mere crooked alleysand unpaved; troops of dogs and nude children played in the sun and made life and noise; hogs roamed and rooted contentedly aboutand one of them lay in a reeking wallow in the middle of the main thoroughfare and suckled her family. Presently there was a distant blare of military music; it came nearerstill nearerand soon a noble cavalcade wound into viewglorious with plumed helmets and flashing mail and flaunting banners and rich doublets and horse-cloths and gilded spearheads; and through the muck and swineand naked bratsand joyous dogsand shabby hutsit took its gallant wayand in its wake we followed. Followed through one winding alley and then another-- and climbingalways climbing -- till at last we gained the breezy height where the huge castle stood. There was an exchange of bugle blasts; then a parley from the wallswhere men-at-armsin hauberk and morionmarched back and forth with halberd at shoulder under flapping banners with the rude figure of a dragon displayed upon them; and then the great gates were flung openthe drawbridge was loweredand the head of the cavalcade swept forward under the frowning arches; and wefollowingsoon found ourselves in a great paved courtwith towers and turrets stretching up into the blue air on all the four sides; and all about us the dismount was going onand much greeting and ceremonyand running to and froand a gay display of moving and intermingling colorsand an altogether pleasant stir and noise and confusion.

 

 

 

CHAPTER II - KING ARTHUR'S COURT

 

THE moment I got a chance I slipped aside privately and touched an ancient common looking man on the shoulder and saidin an insinuatingconfidential way:

"Frienddo me a kindness. Do you belong to the asylumor are you just on a visit or something like that?"

He looked me over stupidlyand said:

"Marryfair sirme seemeth --"

"That will do I said; I reckon you are a patient."

I moved awaycogitatingand at the same time keeping an eye out for any chance passenger in his right mind that might come along and give me some light. I judged I had found onepresently; so I drew him aside and said in his ear:

"If I could see the head keeper a minute -- only just a minute --"

"Prithee do not let me."

"Let you WHAT?"

"HINDER methenif the word please thee better. Then he went on to say he was an under-cook and could not stop to gossipthough he would like it another time; for it would comfort his very liver to know where I got my clothes. As he started away he pointed and said yonder was one who was idle enough for my purposeand was seeking me besidesno doubt. This was an airy slim boy in shrimp-colored tights that made him look like a forked carrotthe rest of his gear was blue silk and dainty laces and ruffles; and he had long yellow curlsand wore a plumed pink satin cap tilted complacently over his ear. By his lookhe was good-natured; by his gaithe was satisfied with himself. He was pretty enough to frame. He arrivedlooked me over with a smiling and impudent curiosity; said he had come for meand informed me that he was a page.

"Go 'long I said; you ain't more than a paragraph."

It was pretty severebut I was nettled. Howeverit never phazed him; he didn't appear to know he was hurt. He began to talk and laughin happythoughtlessboyish fashionas we walked alongand made himself old friends with me at once; asked me all sorts of questions about myself and about my clothesbut never waited for an answer -- always chattered straight aheadas if he didn't know he had asked a question and wasn't expecting any replyuntil at last he happened to mention that he was born in the beginning of the year 513.

It made the cold chills creep over me! I stopped and saida little faintly:

"Maybe I didn't hear you just right. Say it again -- and say it slow. What year was it?"

"513."

"513! You don't look it! Comemy boyI am a stranger and friendless; be honest and honorable with me. Are you in your right mind?"

He said he was.

"Are these other people in their right minds?"

He said they were.

"And this isn't an asylum? I meanit isn't a place where they cure crazy people?"

He said it wasn't.

"Wellthen I said, either I am a lunaticor something just as awful has happened. Now tell mehonest and truewhere am I?"

"IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT."

I waited a minuteto let that idea shudder its way homeand then said:

"And according to your notionswhat year is it now?"

"528 -- nineteenth of June."

I felt a mournful sinking at the heartand muttered: "I shall never see my friends again -- nevernever again. They will not be born for more than thirteen hundred years yet."

I seemed to believe the boyI didn't know why. SOMETHING in me seemed to believe him -- my consciousnessas you may say; but my reason didn't. My reason straightway began to clamor; that was natural. I didn't know how to go about satisfying itbecause I knew that the testimony of men wouldn't serve -- my reason would say they were lunaticsand throw out their evidence. But all of a sudden I stumbled on the very thingjust by luck. I knew that the only total eclipse of the sun in the first half of the sixth century occurred on the 21st of JuneA. D. 528O.S.and began at 3 minutes after 12 noon. I also knew that no total eclipse of the sun was due in what to ME was the present year -- i.e.1879. Soif I could keep my anxiety and curiosity from eating the heart out of me for forty-eight hoursI should then find out for certain whether this boy was telling me the truth or not.

Whereforebeing a practical Connecticut manI now shoved this whole problem clear out of my mind till its appointed day and hour should comein order that I might turn all my attention to the circumstances of the present momentand be alert and ready to make the most out of them that could be made. One thing at a timeis my motto -- and just play that thing for all it is wortheven if it's only two pair and a jack. I made up my mind to two things: if it was still the nineteenth century and I was among lunatics and couldn't get awayI would presently boss that asylum or know the reason why; and ifon the other handit was really the sixth centuryall rightI didn't want any softer thing: I would boss the whole country inside of three months; for I judged I would have the start of the best-educated man in the kingdom by a matter of thirteen hundred years and upward. I'm not a man to waste time after my mind's made up and there's work on hand; so I said to the page:

"NowClarencemy boy -- if that might happen to be your name -- I'll get you to post me up a little if you don't mind. What is the name of that apparition that brought me here?"

"My master and thine? That is the good knight and great lord Sir Kay the Seneschalfoster brother to our liege the king."

"Very good; go ontell me everything."

He made a long story of it; but the part that had immediate interest for me was this: He said I was Sir Kay's prisonerand that in the due course of custom I would be flung into a dungeon and left there on scant commons until my friends ransomed me -- unless I chanced to rotfirst. I saw that the last chance had the best showbut I didn't waste any bother about that; time was too precious. The page saidfurtherthat dinner was about ended in the great hall by this timeand that as soon as the sociability and the heavy drinking should beginSir Kay would have me in and exhibit me before King Arthur and his illustrious knights seated at the Table Roundand would brag about his exploit in capturing meand would probably exaggerate the facts a littlebut it wouldn't be good form for me to correct himand not over safeeither; and when I was done being exhibitedthen ho for the dungeon; but heClarencewould find a way to come and see me every now and thenand cheer me upand help me get word to my friends.

Get word to my friends! I thanked him; I couldn't do less; and about this time a lackey came to say I was wanted; so Clarence led me in and took me off to one side and sat down by me.

Wellit was a curious kind of spectacleand interesting. It was an immense placeand rather naked -- yesand full of loud contrasts. It was veryvery lofty; so lofty that the banners depending from the arched beams and girders away up there floated in a sort of twilight; there was a stone-railed gallery at each endhigh upwith musicians in the oneand womenclothed in stunning colorsin the other. The floor was of big stone flags laid in black and white squaresrather battered by age and useand needing repair. As to ornamentthere wasn't anystrictly speaking; though on the walls hung some huge tapestries which were probably taxed as works of art; battle-piecesthey werewith horses shaped like those which children cut out of paper or create in gingerbread; with men on them in scale armor whose scales are represented by round holes -- so that the man's coat looks as if it had been done with a biscuit-punch. There was a fireplace big enough to camp in; and its projecting sides and hoodof carved and pillared stoneworkhad the look of a cathedral door. Along the walls stood men-at-armsin breastplate and morionwith halberds for their only weapon -- rigid as statues; and that is what they looked like.

In the middle of this groined and vaulted public square was an oaken table which they called the Table Round. It was as large as a circus ring; and around it sat a great company of men dressed in such various and splendid colors that it hurt one's eyes to look at them. They wore their plumed hatsright alongexcept that whenever one addressed himself directly to the kinghe lifted his hat a trifle just as he was beginning his remark.

Mainly they were drinking -- from entire ox horns; but a few were still munching bread or gnawing beef bones. There was about an average of two dogs to one man; and these sat in expectant attitudes till a spent bone was flung to themand then they went for it by brigades and divisionswith a rushand there ensued a fight which filled the prospect with a tumultuous chaos of plunging heads and bodies and flashing tailsand the storm of howlings and barkings deafened all speech for the time; but that was no matterfor the dog-fight was always a bigger interest anyway; the men rosesometimesto observe it the better and bet on itand the ladies and the musicians stretched themselves out over their balusters with the same object; and all broke into delighted ejaculations from time to time. In the endthe winning dog stretched himself out comfortably with his bone between his pawsand proceeded to growl over itand gnaw itand grease the floor with itjust as fifty others were already doing; and the rest of the court resumed their previous industries and entertainments.

As a rulethe speech and behavior of these people were gracious and courtly; and I noticed that they were good and serious listeners when anybody was telling anything -- I mean in a dog-fightless interval. And plainlytoothey were a childlike and innocent lot; telling lies of the stateliest pattern with a most gentle and winning naivetyand ready and willing to listen to anybody else's lieand believe ittoo. It was hard to associate them with anything cruel or dreadful; and yet they dealt in tales of blood and suffering with a guileless relish that made me almost forget to shudder.

I was not the only prisoner present. There were twenty or more. Poor devilsmany of them were maimedhackedcarvedin a frightful way; and their hairtheir facestheir clothingwere caked with black and stiffened drenchings of blood. They were suffering sharp physical painof course; and wearinessand hunger and thirstno doubt; and at least none had given them the comfort of a washor even the poor charity of a lotion for their wounds; yet you never heard them utter a moan or a groanor saw them show any sign of restlessnessor any disposition to complain. The thought was forced upon me: "The rascals -- THEY have served other people so in their day; it being their own turnnowthey were not expecting any better treatment than this; so their philosophical bearing is not an outcome of mental trainingintellectual fortitudereasoning; it is mere animal training; they are white Indians."

 

 

 

CHAPTER III - KNIGHTS OF THE TABLE ROUND

 

MAINLY the Round Table talk was monologues -- narrative accounts of the adventures in which these prisoners were captured and their friends and backers killed and stripped of their steeds and armor. As a general thing -- as far as I could make out -- these murderous adventures were not forays undertaken to avenge injuriesnor to settle old disputes or sudden fallings out; noas a rule they were simply duels between strangers -- duels between people who had never even been introduced to each otherand between whom existed no cause of offense whatever. Many a time I had seen a couple of boysstrangersmeet by chanceand say simultaneouslyI can lick you,and go at it on the spot; but I had always imagined until now that that sort of thing belonged to children onlyand was a sign and mark of childhood; but here were these big boobies sticking to it and taking pride in it clear up into full age and beyond. Yet there was something very engaging about these great simple-hearted creaturessomething attractive and lovable. There did not seem to be brains enough in the entire nurseryso to speakto bait a fish-hook with; but you didn't seem to mind thatafter a littlebecause you soon saw that brains were not needed in a society like thatand indeed would have marred ithindered itspoiled its symmetry -- perhaps rendered its existence impossible.

There was a fine manliness observable in almost every face; and in some a certain loftiness and sweetness that rebuked your belittling criticisms and stilled them. A most noble benignity and purity reposed in the countenance of him they called Sir Galahadand likewise in the king's also; and there was majesty and greatness in the giant frame and high bearing of Sir Launcelot of the Lake.

There was presently an incident which centered the general interest upon this Sir Launcelot. At a sign from a sort of master of ceremoniessix or eight of the prisoners rose and came forward in a body and knelt on the floor and lifted up their hands toward the ladies' gallery and begged the grace of a word with the queen. The most conspicuously situated lady in that massed flower-bed of feminine show and finery inclined her head by way of assentand then the spokesman of the prisoners delivered himself and his fellows into her hands for free pardonransomcaptivityor deathas she in her good pleasure might elect; and thisas he saidhe was doing by command of Sir Kay the Seneschalwhose prisoners they werehe having vanquished them by his single might and prowess in sturdy conflict in the field.

Surprise and astonishment flashed from face to face all over the house; the queen's gratified smile faded out at the name of Sir Kayand she looked disappointed; and the page whispered in my ear with an accent and manner expressive of extravagant derision --

"Sir KAYforsooth! Ohcall me pet namesdearestcall me a marine! In twice a thousand years shall the unholy invention of man labor at odds to beget the fellow to this majestic lie!"

Every eye was fastened with severe inquiry upon Sir Kay. But he was equal to the occasion. He got up and played his hand like a major -- and took every trick. He said he would state the case exactly according to the facts; he would tell the simple straightforward talewithout comment of his own; "and then said he, if ye find glory and honor dueye will give it unto him who is the mightiest man of his hands that ever bare shield or strake with sword in the ranks of Christian battle -- even him that sitteth there!" and he pointed to Sir Launcelot. Ahhe fetched them; it was a rattling good stroke. Then he went on and told how Sir Launcelotseeking adventuressome brief time gone bykilled seven giants at one sweep of his swordand set a hundred and forty-two captive maidens free; and then went furtherstill seeking adventuresand found him (Sir Kay) fighting a desperate fight against nine foreign knightsand straightway took the battle solely into his own handsand conquered the nine; and that night Sir Launcelot rose quietlyand dressed him in Sir Kay's armor and took Sir Kay's horse and gat him away into distant landsand vanquished sixteen knights in one pitched battle and thirty-four in another; and all these and the former nine he made to swear that about Whitsuntide they would ride to Arthur's court and yield them to Queen Guenever's hands as captives of Sir Kay the Seneschalspoil of his knightly prowess; and now here were these half dozenand the rest would be along as soon as they might be healed of their desperate wounds.

Wellit was touching to see the queen blush and smileand look embarrassed and happyand fling furtive glances at Sir Launcelot that would have got him shot in Arkansasto a dead certainty.

Everybody praised the valor and magnanimity of Sir Launcelot; and as for meI was perfectly amazedthat one manall by himselfshould have been able to beat down and capture such battalions of practiced fighters. I said as much to Clarence; but this mocking featherhead only said:

"An Sir Kay had had time to get another skin of sour wine into himye had seen the accompt doubled."

I looked at the boy in sorrow; and as I looked I saw the cloud of a deep despondency settle upon his countenance. I followed the direction of his eyeand saw that a very old and white-bearded manclothed in a flowing black gownhad risen and was standing at the table upon unsteady legsand feebly swaying his ancient head and surveying the company with his watery and wandering eye. The same suffering look that was in the page's face was observable in all the faces around -- the look of dumb creatures who know that they must endure and make no moan.

"Marrywe shall have it a again sighed the boy; that same old weary tale that he hath told a thousand times in the same wordsand that he WILL tell till he diethevery time he hath gotten his barrel full and feeleth his exaggeration-mill a-working. Would God I had died or I saw this day!"

"Who is it?"

"Merlinthe mighty liar and magicianperdition singe him for the weariness he worketh with his one tale! But that men fear him for that he hath the storms and the lightnings and all the devils that be in hell at his beck and callthey would have dug his entrails out these many years ago to get at that tale and squelch it. He telleth it always in the third personmaking believe he is too modest to glorify himself -- maledictions light upon himmisfortune be his dole! Good friendprithee call me for evensong."

The boy nestled himself upon my shoulder and pretended to go to sleep. The old man began his tale; and presently the lad was asleep in reality; so also were the dogsand the courtthe lackeysand the files of men-at-arms. The droning voice droned on; a soft snoring arose on all sides and supported it like a deep and subdued accompaniment of wind instruments. Some heads were bowed upon folded armssome lay back with open mouths that issued unconscious music; the flies buzzed and bitunmolestedthe rats swarmed softly out from a hundred holesand pattered aboutand made themselves at home everywhere; and one of them sat up like a squirrel on the king's head and held a bit of cheese in its hands and nibbled itand dribbled the crumbs in the king's face with naive and impudent irreverence. It was a tranquil sceneand restful to the weary eye and the jaded spirit.

This was the old man's tale. He said:

"Right so the king and Merlin departedand went until an hermit that was a good man and a great leech. So the hermit searched all his wounds and gave him good salves; so the king was there three daysand then were his wounds well amended that he might ride and goand so departed. And as they rodeArthur saidI have no sword. No force *said Merlinhereby is a [* Footnote from M.T.: No matter.] sword that shall be yours and I may. So they rode till they came to a lakethe which was a fair water and broadand in the midst of the lake Arthur was ware of an arm clothed in white samitethat held a fair sword in that hand. Losaid Merlinyonder is that sword that I spake of. With that they saw a damsel going upon the lake. What damsel is that? said Arthur. That is the Lady of the lakesaid Merlin; and within that lake is a rockand therein is as fair a place as any on earthand richly beseenand this damsel will come to you anonand then speak ye fair to her that she will give you that sword. Anon withal came the damsel unto Arthur and saluted himand he her again. Damselsaid Arthurwhat sword is thatthat yonder the arm holdeth above the water? I would it were minefor I have no sword. Sir Arthur Kingsaid the damselthat sword is mineand if ye will give me a gift when I ask it youye shall have it. By my faithsaid ArthurI will give you what gift ye will ask. Wellsaid the damselgo ye into yonder barge and row yourself to the swordand take it and the scabbard with youand I will ask my gift when I see my time. So Sir Arthur and Merlin alightand tied their horses to two treesand so they went into the shipand when they came to the sword that the hand heldSir Arthur took it up by the handlesand took it with him. And the arm and the hand went under the water; and so they came unto the land and rode forth. And then Sir Arthur saw a rich pavilion. What signifieth yonder pavilion? It is the knight's pavilionsaid Merlinthat ye fought with lastSir Pellinorebut he is outhe is not there; he hath ado with a knight of yoursthat hight Egglameand they have fought togetherbut at the last Egglame fledand else he had been deadand he hath chased him even to Carlionand we shall meet with him anon in the highway. That is well saidsaid Arthurnow have I a swordnow will I wage battle with himand be avenged on him. Sirye shall not sosaid Merlinfor the knight is weary of fighting and chasingso that ye shall have no worship to have ado with him; alsohe will not lightly be matched of one knight living; and therefore it is my counsellet him passfor he shall do you good service in short timeand his sonsafter his days. Also ye shall see that day in short space ye shall be right glad to give him your sister to wed. When I see himI will do as ye advise mesaid Arthur. Then Sir Arthur looked on the swordand liked it passing well. Whether liketh you bettersaid Merlinthe sword or the scabbard? Me liketh better the swordsaid Arthur. Ye are more unwisesaid Merlinfor the scabbard is worth ten of the swordfor while ye have the scabbard upon you ye shall never lose no bloodbe ye never so sore wounded; thereforekeep well the scabbard always with you. So they rode into Carlionand by the way they met with Sir Pellinore; but Merlin had done such a craft that Pellinore saw not Arthurand he passed by without any words. I marvelsaid Arthurthat the knight would not speak. Sirsaid Merlinhe saw you not; for and he had seen you ye had not lightly departed. So they came unto Carlionwhereof his knights were passing glad. And when they heard of his adventures they marveled that he would jeopard his person so alone. But all men of worship said it was merry to be under such a chieftain that would put his person in adventure as other poor knights did."

 

 

 

CHAPTER IV - SIR DINADAN THE HUMORIST

 

IT seemed to me that this quaint lie was most simply and beautifully told; but then I had heard it only onceand that makes a difference; it was pleasant to the others when it was freshno doubt.

Sir Dinadan the Humorist was the first to awakeand he soon roused the rest with a practical joke of a sufficiently poor quality. He tied some metal mugs to a dog's tail and turned him looseand he tore around and around the place in a frenzy of frightwith all the other dogs bellowing after him and battering and crashing against everything that came in their way and making altogether a chaos of confusion and a most deafening din and turmoil; at which every man and woman of the multitude laughed till the tears flowedand some fell out of their chairs and wallowed on the floor in ecstasy. It was just like so many children. Sir Dinadan was so proud of his exploit that he could not keep from telling over and over againto wearinesshow the immortal idea happened to occur to him; and as is the way with humorists of his breedhe was still laughing at it after everybody else had got through. He was so set up that he concluded to make a speech -- of course a humorous speech. I think I never heard so many old played-out jokes strung together in my life. He was worse than the minstrelsworse than the clown in the circus. It seemed peculiarly sad to sit herethirteen hundred years before I was bornand listen again to poorflatworm-eaten jokes that had given me the dry gripes when I was a boy thirteen hundred years afterwards. It about convinced me that there isn't any such thing as a new joke possible. Everybody laughed at these antiquities -- but then they always do; I had noticed thatcenturies later. Howeverof course the scoffer didn't laugh -- I mean the boy. Nohe scoffed; there wasn't anything he wouldn't scoff at. He said the most of Sir Dinadan's jokes were rotten and the rest were petrified. I said "petrified" was good; as I believedmyselfthat the only right way to classify the majestic ages of some of those jokes was by geologic periods. But that neat idea hit the boy in a blank placefor geology hadn't been invented yet. HoweverI made a note of the remarkand calculated to educate the commonwealth up to it if I pulled through. It is no use to throw a good thing away merely because the market isn't ripe yet.

Now Sir Kay arose and began to fire up on his history-mill with me for fuel. It was time for me to feel seriousand I did. Sir Kay told how he had encountered me in a far land of barbarianswho all wore the same ridiculous garb that I did -- a garb that was a work of enchantmentand intended to make the wearer secure from hurt by human hands. However he had nullified the force of the enchantment by prayerand had killed my thirteen knights in a three hours' battleand taken me prisonersparing my life in order that so strange a curiosity as I was might be exhibited to the wonder and admiration of the king and the court. He spoke of me all the timein the blandest wayas "this prodigious giant and this horrible sky-towering monster and this tusked and taloned man-devouring ogre"and everybody took in all this bosh in the naivest wayand never smiled or seemed to notice that there was any discrepancy between these watered statistics and me. He said that in trying to escape from him I sprang into the top of a tree two hundred cubits high at a single boundbut he dislodged me with a stone the size of a cowwhich "all-to brast" the most of my bonesand then swore me to appear at Arthur's court for sentence. He ended by condemning me to die at noon on the 21st; and was so little concerned about it that he stopped to yawn before he named the date.

I was in a dismal state by this time; indeedI was hardly enough in my right mind to keep the run of a dispute that sprung up as to how I had better be killedthe possibility of the killing being doubted by somebecause of the enchantment in my clothes. And yet it was nothing but an ordinary suit of fifteen-dollar slopshops. StillI was sane enough to notice this detailto wit: many of the terms used in the most matter-of- fact way by this great assemblage of the first ladies and gentlemen in the land would have made a Comanche blush. Indelicacy is too mild a term to convey the idea. HoweverI had read "Tom Jones and Roderick Random and other books of that kind, and knew that the highest and first ladies and gentlemen in England had remained little or no cleaner in their talk, and in the morals and conduct which such talk implies, clear up to a hundred years ago; in fact clear into our own nineteenth century -- in which century, broadly speaking, the earliest samples of the real lady and real gentleman discoverable in English history -- or in European history, for that matter -- may be said to have made their appearance. Suppose Sir Walter, instead of putting the conversations into the mouths of his characters, had allowed the characters to speak for themselves? We should have had talk from Rebecca and Ivanhoe and the soft lady Rowena which would embarrass a tramp in our day. However, to the unconsciously indelicate all things are delicate. King Arthur's people were not aware that they were indecent and I had presence of mind enough not to mention it.

They were so troubled about my enchanted clothes that they were mightily relieved, at last, when old Merlin swept the difficulty away for them with a common-sense hint. He asked them why they were so dull -- why didn't it occur to them to strip me. In half a minute I was as naked as a pair of tongs! And dear, dear, to think of it: I was the only embarrassed person there. Everybody discussed me; and did it as unconcernedly as if I had been a cabbage. Queen Guenever was as naively interested as the rest, and said she had never seen anybody with legs just like mine before. It was the only compliment I got -- if it was a compliment.

Finally I was carried off in one direction, and my perilous clothes in another. I was shoved into a dark and narrow cell in a dungeon, with some scant remnants for dinner, some moldy straw for a bed, and no end of rats for company.

 

 

 

CHAPTER V - AN INSPIRATION

 

I WAS so tired that even my fears were not able to keep me awake long.

When I next came to myselfI seemed to have been asleep a very long time. My first thought wasWell, what an astonishing dream I've had! I reckon I've waked only just in time to keep from being hanged or drowned or burned or something.... I'll nap again till the whistle blows, and then I'll go down to the arms factory and have it out with Hercules.

But just then I heard the harsh music of rusty chains and boltsa light flashed in my eyesand that butterflyClarencestood before me! I gasped with surprise; my breath almost got away from me.

"What!" I saidyou here yet? Go along with the rest of the dream! scatter!

But he only laughedin his light-hearted wayand fell to making fun of my sorry plight.

"All right I said resignedly, let the dream go on; I'm in no hurry."

"Prithee what dream?"

"What dream? Whythe dream that I am in Arthur's court -- a person who never existed; and that I am talking to youwho are nothing but a work of the imagination."

"Ohlaindeed! and is it a dream that you're to be burned to-morrow? Ho-ho -- answer me that!"

The shock that went through me was distressing. I now began to reason that my situation was in the last degree seriousdream or no dream; for I knew by past experience of the lifelike intensity of dreamsthat to be burned to deatheven in a dreamwould be very far from being a jestand was a thing to be avoidedby any meansfair or foulthat I could contrive. So I said beseechingly:

"AhClarencegood boyonly friend I've got-- for you ARE my friendaren't you? -- don't fail me; help me to devise some way of escaping from this place!"

"Now do but hear thyself! Escape? Whymanthe corridors are in guard and keep of men-at-arms."

"No doubtno doubt. But how manyClarence? Not manyI hope?"

"Full a score. One may not hope to escape." After a pause -- hesitatingly: "and there be other reasons -- and weightier."

"Other ones? What are they?"

"Wellthey say -- ohbut I daren'tindeed daren't!"

"Whypoor ladwhat is the matter? Why do you blench? Why do you tremble so?"

"Ohin sooththere is need! I do want to tell youbut --"

"Comecomebe bravebe a man -- speak outthere's a good lad!"

He hesitatedpulled one way by desirethe other way by fear; then he stole to the door and peeped outlistening; and finally crept close to me and put his mouth to my ear and told me his fearful news in a whisperand with all the cowering apprehension of one who was venturing upon awful ground and speaking of things whose very mention might be freighted with death.

"Merlinin his malicehas woven a spell about this dungeonand there bides not the man in these kingdoms that would be desperate enough to essay to cross its lines with you! Now God pity meI have told it! Ahbe kind to mebe merciful to a poor boy who means thee well; for an thou betray me I am lost!"

I laughed the only really refreshing laugh I had had for some time; and shouted:

"Merlin has wrought a spell! MERLINforsooth! That cheap old humbugthat maundering old ass? Boshpure boshthe silliest bosh in the world! Whyit does seem to me that of all the childishidioticchuckle-headedchicken-livered superstitions that ev -- ohdamn Merlin!"

But Clarence had slumped to his knees before I had half finishedand he was like to go out of his mind with fright.

"Ohbeware! These are awful words! Any moment these walls may crumble upon us if you say such things. Oh call them back before it is too late!"

Now this strange exhibition gave me a good idea and set me to thinking. If everybody about here was so honestly and sincerely afraid of Merlin's pretended magic as Clarence wascertainly a superior man like me ought to be shrewd enough to contrive some way to take advantage of such a state of things. I went on thinkingand worked out a plan. Then I said:

"Get up. Pull yourself together; look me in the eye. Do you know why I laughed?"

"No -- but for our blessed Lady's sakedo it no more."

"WellI'll tell you why I laughed. Because I'm a magician myself."

"Thou!" The boy recoiled a stepand caught his breathfor the thing hit him rather sudden; but the aspect which he took on was veryvery respectful. I took quick note of that; it indicated that a humbug didn't need to have a reputation in this asylum; people stood ready to take him at his wordwithout that. I resumed.

"I've know Merlin seven hundred yearsand he --"

"Seven hun --"

"Don't interrupt me. He has died and come alive again thirteen timesand traveled under a new name every time: SmithJonesRobinsonJacksonPetersHaskinsMerlin -- a new alias every time he turns up. I knew him in Egypt three hundred years ago; I knew him in India five hundred years ago -- he is always blethering around in my wayeverywhere I go; he makes me tired. He don't amount to shucksas a magician; knows some of the old common tricksbut has never got beyond the rudimentsand never will. He is well enough for the provinces-- one-night stands and that sort of thingyou know -- but dear meHE oughtn't to set up for an expert -- anyway not where there's a real artist. Now look hereClarenceI am going to stand your friendright alongand in return you must be mine. I want you to do me a favor. I want you to get word to the king that I am a magician myself -- and the Supreme Grand High-yu-Muck- amuck and head of the tribeat that; and I want him to be made to understand that I am just quietly arranging a little calamity here that will make the fur fly in these realms if Sir Kay's project is carried out and any harm comes to me. Will you get that to the king for me?"

The poor boy was in such a state that he could hardly answer me. It was pitiful to see a creature so terrifiedso unnervedso demoralized. But he promised everything; and on my side he made me promise over and over again that I would remain his friendand never turn against him or cast any enchantments upon him. Then he worked his way outstaying himself with his hand along the walllike a sick person.

Presently this thought occurred to me: how heedless I have been! When the boy gets calmhe will wonder why a great magician like me should have begged a boy like him to help me get out of this place; he will put this and that togetherand will see that I am a humbug.

I worried over that heedless blunder for an hourand called myself a great many hard namesmeantime. But finally it occurred to me all of a sudden that these animals didn't reason; that THEY never put this and that together; that all their talk showed that they didn't know a discrepancy when they saw it. I was at restthen.

But as soon as one is at restin this worldoff he goes on something else to worry about. It occurred to me that I had made another blunder: I had sent the boy off to alarm his betters with a threat -- I intending to invent a calamity at my leisure; now the people who are the readiest and eagerest and willingest to swallow miracles are the very ones who are hungriest to see you perform them; suppose I should be called on for a sample? Suppose I should be asked to name my calamity? YesI had made a blunder; I ought to have invented my calamity first. "What shall I do? what can I sayto gain a little time?" I was in trouble again; in the deepest kind of trouble:... "There's a footstep! -- they're coming. If I had only just a moment to think.... GoodI've got it. I'm all right."

You seeit was the eclipse. It came into my mind in the nick of timehow Columbusor Cortezor one of those peopleplayed an eclipse as a saving trump onceon some savagesand I saw my chance. I could play it myselfnowand it wouldn't be any plagiarismeitherbecause I should get it in nearly a thousand years ahead of those parties.

Clarence came insubdueddistressedand said:

"I hasted the message to our liege the kingand straightway he had me to his presence. He was frighted even to the marrowand was minded to give order for your instant enlargementand that you be clothed in fine raiment and lodged as befitted one so great; but then came Merlin and spoiled all; for he persuaded the king that you are madand know not whereof you speak; and said your threat is but foolishness and idle vaporing. They disputed longbut in the endMerlinscoffingsaid'Wherefore hath he not NAMED his brave calamity? Verily it is because he cannot.' This thrust did in a most sudden sort close the king's mouthand he could offer naught to turn the argument; and soreluctantand full loth to do you the discourtesyhe yet prayeth you to consider his perplexed caseas noting how the matter standsand name the calamity -- if so be you have determined the nature of it and the time of its coming. Ohprithee delay not; to delay at such a time were to double and treble the perils that already compass thee about. Ohbe thou wise -- name the calamity!"

I allowed silence to accumulate while I got my impressiveness togetherand then said:

"How long have I been shut up in this hole?"

"Ye were shut up when yesterday was well spent It is 9 of the morning now."

"No! Then I have slept wellsure enough. Nine in the morning now! And yet it is the very complexion of midnightto a shade. This is the 20ththen?"

"The 20th -- yes."

"And I am to be burned alive to-morrow." The boy shuddered.

"At what hour?"

"At high noon."

"Now thenI will tell you what to say." I pausedand stood over that cowering lad a whole minute in awful silence; thenin a voice deepmeasuredcharged with doomI beganand rose by dramatically graded stages to my colossal climaxwhich I delivered in as sublime and noble a way as ever I did such a thing in my life: "Go back and tell the king that at that hour I will smother the whole world in the dead blackness of midnight; I will blot out the sunand he shall never shine again; the fruits of the earth shall rot for lack of light and warmthand the peoples of the earth shall famish and dieto the last man!"

I had to carry the boy out myselfhe sunk into such a collapse. I handed him over to the soldiersand went back.

 

 

 

CHAPTER VI - THE ECLIPSE

 

IN the stillness and the darknessrealization soon began to supplement knowledge. The mere knowledge of a fact is pale; but when you come to REALIZE your factit takes on color. It is all the difference between hearing of a man being stabbed to the heartand seeing it done. In the stillness and the darknessthe knowledge that I was in deadly danger took to itself deeper and deeper meaning all the time; a something which was realization crept inch by inch through my veins and turned me cold.

But it is a blessed provision of nature that at times like theseas soon as a man's mercury has got down to a certain point there comes a revulsionand he rallies. Hope springs upand cheerfulness along with itand then he is in good shape to do something for himselfif anything can be done. When my rally cameit came with a bound. I said to myself that my eclipse would be sure to save meand make me the greatest man in the kingdom besides; and straightway my mercury went up to the top of the tubeand my solicitudes all vanished. I was as happy a man as there was in the world. I was even impatient for tomorrow to comeI so wanted to gather in that great triumph and be the center of all the nation's wonder and reverence. Besidesin a business way it would be the making of me; I knew that.

Meantime there was one thing which had got pushed into the background of my mind. That was the halfconviction that when the nature of my proposed calamity should be reported to those superstitious peopleit would have such an effect that they would want to compromise. Soby and by when I heard footsteps comingthat thought was recalled to meand I said to myselfAs sure as anything, it's the compromise. Well, if it is good, all right, I will accept; but if it isn't, I mean to stand my ground and play my hand for all it is worth.

The door openedand some men-at-arms appeared. The leader said:

"The stake is ready. Come!"

The stake! The strength went out of meand I almost fell down. It is hard to get one's breath at such a timesuch lumps come into one's throatand such gaspings; but as soon as I could speakI said:

"But this is a mistake -- the execution is tomorrow."

"Order changed; been set forward a day. Haste thee!"

I was lost. There was no help for me. I was dazedstupefied; I had no command over myselfI only wandered purposely aboutlike one out of his mind; so the soldiers took hold of meand pulled me along with themout of the cell and along the maze of underground corridorsand finally into the fierce glare of daylight and the upper world. As we stepped into the vast enclosed court of the castle I got a shock; for the first thing I saw was the stakestanding in the centerand near it the piled fagots and a monk. On all four sides of the court the seated multitudes rose rank above rankforming sloping terraces that were rich with color. The king and the queen sat in their thronesthe most conspicuous figures thereof course.

To note all thisoccupied but a second. The next second Clarence had slipped from some place of concealment and was pouring news into my earhis eyes beaming with triumph and gladness. He said:

"'Tis through ME the change was wrought! And main hard have I worked to do ittoo. But when I revealed to them the calamity in storeand saw how mighty was the terror it did engenderthen saw I also that this was the time to strike! Wherefore I diligently pretendedunto this and that and the other onethat your power against the sun could not reach its full until the morrow; and so if any would save the sun and the worldyou must be slain to-daywhile your enchantments are but in the weaving and lack potency. Odsbodikinsit was but a dull liea most indifferent inventionbut you should have seen them seize it and swallow itin the frenzy of their frightas it were salvation sent from heaven; and all the while was I laughing in my sleeve the one momentto see them so cheaply deceivedand glorifying God the nextthat He was content to let the meanest of His creatures be His instrument to the saving of thy life. Ah how happy has the matter sped! You will not need to do the sun a REAL hurt -- ahforget not thaton your soul forget it not! Only make a little darkness -- only the littlest little darknessmindand cease with that. It will be sufficient. They will see that I spoke falsely-- being ignorantas they will fancy -- and with the falling of the first shadow of that darkness you shall see them go mad with fear; and they will set you free and make you great! Go to thy triumphnow! But remember -- ahgood friendI implore thee remember my supplicationand do the blessed sun no hurt. For MY sakethy true friend."

I choked out some words through my grief and misery; as much as to say I would spare the sun; for which the lad's eyes paid me back with such deep and loving gratitude that I had not the heart to tell him his good-hearted foolishness had ruined me and sent me to my death.

As the soldiers assisted me across the court the stillness was so profound that if I had been blindfold I should have supposed I was in a solitude instead of walled in by four thousand people. There was not a movement perceptible in those masses of humanity; they were as rigid as stone imagesand as pale; and dread sat upon every countenance. This hush continued while I was being chained to the stake; it still continued while the fagots were carefully and tediously piled about my anklesmy kneesmy thighsmy body. Then there was a pauseand a deeper hushif possibleand a man knelt down at my feet with a blazing torch; the multitude strained forwardgazingand parting slightly from their seats without knowing it; the monk raised his hands above my headand his eyes toward the blue skyand began some words in Latin; in this attitude he droned on and ona little whileand then stopped. I waited two or three moments; then looked up; he was standing there petrified. With a common impulse the multitude rose slowly up and stared into the sky. I followed their eyesas sure as gunsthere was my eclipse beginning! The life went boiling through my veins; I was a new man! The rim of black spread slowly into the sun's diskmy heart beat higher and higherand still the assemblage and the priest stared into the skymotionless. I knew that this gaze would be turned upon menext. When it wasl was ready. I was in one of the most grand attitudes I ever struckwith my arm stretched up pointing to the sun. It was a noble effect. You could SEE the shudder sweep the mass like a wave. Two shouts rang outone close upon the heels of the other:

"Apply the torch!"

"I forbid it!"

The one was from Merlinthe other from the king. Merlin started from his place -- to apply the torch himselfI judged. I said:

"Stay where you are. If any man moves -- even the king -- before I give him leaveI will blast him with thunderI will consume him with lightnings!"

The multitude sank meekly into their seatsand I was just expecting they would. Merlin hesitated a moment or twoand I was on pins and needles during that little while. Then he sat downand I took a good breath; for I knew I was master of the situation now. The king said:

"Be mercifulfair sirand essay no further in this perilous matterlest disaster follow. It was reported to us that your powers could not attain unto their full strength until the morrow; but --"

"Your Majesty thinks the report may have been a lie? It WAS a lie."

That made an immense effect; up went appealing hands everywhereand the king was assailed with a storm of supplications that I might be bought off at any priceand the calamity stayed. The king was eager to comply. He said:

"Name any termsreverend sireven to the halving of my kingdom; but banish this calamityspare the sun!"

My fortune was made. I would have taken him up in a minutebut I couldn't stop an eclipse; the thing was out of the question. So I asked time to consider. The king said:

"How long -- ahhow longgood sir? Be merciful; lookit groweth darkermoment by moment. Prithee how long?"

"Not long. Half an hour -- maybe an hour."

There were a thousand pathetic protestsbut I couldn't shorten up anyfor I couldn't remember how long a total eclipse lasts. I was in a puzzled conditionanywayand wanted to think. Something was wrong about that eclipseand the fact was very unsettling. If this wasn't the one I was afterhow was I to tell whether this was the sixth centuryor nothing but a dream? Dear meif I could only prove it was the latter! Here was a glad new hope. If the boy was right about the dateand this was surely the 20thit WASN'T the sixth century. I reached for the monk's sleevein considerable excitementand asked him what day of the month it was.

Hang himhe said it was the TWENTY-FIRST! It made me turn cold to hear him. I begged him not to make any mistake about it; but he was sure; he knew it was the 21st. Sothat feather-headed boy had botched things again! The time of the day was right for the eclipse; I had seen that for myselfin the beginningby the dial that was near by. YesI was in King Arthur's courtand I might as well make the most out of it I could.

The darkness was steadily growingthe people becoming more and more distressed. I now said:

"I have reflectedSir King. For a lessonI will let this darkness proceedand spread night in the world; but whether I blot out the sun for goodor restore itshall rest with you. These are the termsto wit: You shall remain king over all your dominionsand receive all the glories and honors that belong to the kingship; but you shall appoint me your perpetual minister and executiveand give me for my services one per cent. of such actual increase of revenue over and above its present amount as I may succeed in creating for the state. If I can't live on thatI sha'n't ask anybody to give me a lift. Is it satisfactory?"

There was a prodigious roar of applauseand out of the midst of it the king's voice rosesaying:

"Away with his bondsand set him free! and do him homagehigh and lowrich and poorfor he is become the king's right handis clothed with power and authorityand his seat is upon the highest step of the throne! Now sweep away this creeping nightand bring the light and cheer againthat all the world may bless thee."

But I said:

"That a common man should be shamed before the worldis nothing; but it were dishonor to the KING if any that saw his minister naked should not also see him delivered from his shame. If I might ask that my clothes be brought again --"

"They are not meet the king broke in. Fetch raiment of another sort; clothe him like a prince!"

My idea worked. I wanted to keep things as they were till the eclipse was totalotherwise they would be trying again to get me to dismiss the darknessand of course I couldn't do it. Sending for the clothes gained some delaybut not enough. So I had to make another excuse. I said it would be but natural if the king should change his mind and repent to some extent of what he had done under excitement; therefore I would let the darkness grow a whileand if at the end of a reasonable time the king had kept his mind the samethe darkness should be dismissed. Neither the king nor anybody else was satisfied with that arrangementbut I had to stick to my point.

It grew darker and darker and blacker and blackerwhile I struggled with those awkward sixth-century clothes. It got to be pitch darkat lastand the multitude groaned with horror to feel the cold uncanny night breezes fan through the place and see the stars come out and twinkle in the sky. At last the eclipse was totaland I was very glad of itbut everybody else was in misery; which was quite natural. I said:

"The kingby his silencestill stands to the terms." Then I lifted up my hands -- stood just so a moment -- then I saidwith the most awful solemnity: "Let the enchantment dissolve and pass harmless away!"

There was no responsefor a momentin that deep darkness and that graveyard hush. But when the silver rim of the sun pushed itself outa moment or two laterthe assemblage broke loose with a vast shout and came pouring down like a deluge to smother me with blessings and gratitude; and Clarence was not the last of the washto be sure.

 

 

 

CHAPTER VII - MERLIN'S TOWER

 

INASMUCH as I was now the second personage in the Kingdomas far as political power and authorty were concernedmuch was made of me. My raiment was of silks and velvets and cloth of goldand by consequence was very showyalso uncomfortable. But habit would soon reconcile me to my clothes; I was aware of that. I was given the choicest suite of apartments in the castleafter the king's. They were aglow with loud-colored silken hangingsbut the stone floors had nothing but rushes on them for a carpetand they were misfit rushes at thatbeing not all of one breed. As for conveniencesproperly speakingthere weren't any. I mean LITTLE conveniences; it is the little conveniences that make the real comfort of life. The big oaken chairsgraced with rude carvingswere well enoughbut that was the stopping place. There was no soapno matchesno looking-glass -- except a metal oneabout as powerful as a pail of water. And not a chromo. I had been used to chromos for yearsand I saw now that without my suspecting it a passion for art had got worked into the fabric of my beingand was become a part of me. It made me homesick to look around over this proud and gaudy but heartless barrenness and remember that in our house in East Hartfordall unpretending as it wasyou couldn't go into a room but you would find an insurance-chromoor at least a three-color God-Bless-Our-Home over the door; and in the parlor we had nine. But hereeven in my grand room of statethere wasn't anything in the nature of a picture except a thing the size of a bedquiltwhich was either woven or knitted (it had darned places in it)and nothing in it was the right color or the right shape; and as for proportionseven Raphael himself couldn't have botched them more formidablyafter all his practice on those nightmares they call his "celebrated Hampton Court cartoons." Raphael was a bird. We had several of his chromos; one was his "Miraculous Draught of Fishes where he puts in a miracle of his own -- puts three men into a canoe which wouldn't have held a dog without upsetting. I always admired to study R.'s art, it was so fresh and unconventional.

There wasn't even a bell or a speaking-tube in the castle. I had a great many servants, and those that were on duty lolled in the anteroom; and when I wanted one of them I had to go and call for him. There was no gas, there were no candles; a bronze dish half full of boarding-house butter with a blazing rag floating in it was the thing that produced what was regarded as light. A lot of these hung along the walls and modified the dark, just toned it down enough to make it dismal. If you went out at night, your servants carried torches. There were no books, pens, paper or ink, and no glass in the openings they believed to be windows. It is a little thing -- glass is -- until it is absent, then it becomes a big thing. But perhaps the worst of all was, that there wasn't any sugar, coffee, tea, or tobacco. I saw that I was just another Robinson Crusoe cast away on an uninhabited island, with no society but some more or less tame animals, and if I wanted to make life bearable I must do as he did -- invent, contrive, create, reorganize things; set brain and hand to work, and keep them busy. Well, that was in my line.

One thing troubled me along at first -- the immense interest which people took in me. Apparently the whole nation wanted a look at me. It soon transpired that the eclipse had scared the British world almost to death; that while it lasted the whole country, from one end to the other, was in a pitiable state of panic, and the churches, hermitages, and monkeries overflowed with praying and weeping poor creatures who thought the end of the world was come. Then had followed the news that the producer of this awful event was a stranger, a mighty magician at Arthur's court; that he could have blown out the sun like a candle, and was just going to do it when his mercy was purchased, and he then dissolved his enchantments, and was now recognized and honored as the man who had by his unaided might saved the globe from destruction and its peoples from extinction. Now if you consider that everybody believed that, and not only believed it, but never even dreamed of doubting it, you will easily understand that there was not a person in all Britain that would not have walked fifty miles to get a sight of me. Of course I was all the talk -- all other subjects were dropped; even the king became suddenly a person of minor interest and notoriety. Within twentyfour hours the delegations began to arrive, and from that time onward for a fortnight they kept coming. The village was crowded, and all the countryside. I had to go out a dozen times a day and show myself to these reverent and awe-stricken multitudes. It came to be a great burden, as to time and trouble, but of course it was at the same time compensatingly agreeable to be so celebrated and such a center of homage. It turned Brer Merlin green with envy and spite, which was a great satisfaction to me. But there was one thing I couldn't understand -- nobody had asked for an autograph. I spoke to Clarence about it. By George! I had to explain to him what it was. Then he said nobody in the country could read or write but a few dozen priests. Land! think of that.

There was another thing that troubled me a little. Those multitudes presently began to agitate for another miracle. That was natural. To be able to carry back to their far homes the boast that they had seen the man who could command the sun, riding in the heavens, and be obeyed, would make them great in the eyes of their neighbors, and envied by them all; but to be able to also say they had seen him work a miracle themselves -- why, people would come a distance to see THEM. The pressure got to be pretty strong. There was going to be an eclipse of the moon, and I knew the date and hour, but it was too far away. Two years. I would have given a good deal for license to hurry it up and use it now when there was a big market for it. It seemed a great pity to have it wasted so, and come lagging along at a time when a body wouldn't have any use for it, as like as not. If it had been booked for only a month away, I could have sold it short; but, as matters stood, I couldn't seem to cipher out any way to make it do me any good, so I gave up trying. Next, Clarence found that old Merlin was making himself busy on the sly among those people. He was spreading a report that I was a humbug, and that the reason I didn't accommodate the people with a miracle was because I couldn't. I saw that I must do something. I presently thought out a plan.

By my authority as executive I threw Merlin into prison -- the same cell I had occupied myself. Then I gave public notice by herald and trumpet that I should be busy with affairs of state for a fortnight, but about the end of that time I would take a moment's leisure and blow up Merlin's stone tower by fires from heaven; in the meantime, whoso listened to evil reports about me, let him beware. Furthermore, I would perform but this one miracle at this time, and no more; if it failed to satisfy and any murmured, I would turn the murmurers into horses, and make them useful. Quiet ensued.

I took Clarence into my confidence, to a certain degree, and we went to work privately. I told him that this was a sort of miracle that required a trifle of preparation, and that it would be sudden death to ever talk about these preparations to anybody. That made his mouth safe enough. Clandestinely we made a few bushels of first-rate blasting powder, and I superintended my armorers while they constructed a lightningrod and some wires. This old stone tower was very massive -- and rather ruinous, too, for it was Roman, and four hundred years old. Yes, and handsome, after a rude fashion, and clothed with ivy from base to summit, as with a shirt of scale mail. It stood on a lonely eminence, in good view from the castle, and about half a mile away.

Working by night, we stowed the powder in the tower -- dug stones out, on the inside, and buried the powder in the walls themselves, which were fifteen feet thick at the base. We put in a peck at a time, in a dozen places. We could have blown up the Tower of London with these charges. When the thirteenth night was come we put up our lightning-rod, bedded it in one of the batches of powder, and ran wires from it to the other batches. Everybody had shunned that locality from the day of my proclamation, but on the morning of the fourteenth I thought best to warn the people, through the heralds, to keep clear away -- a quarter of a mile away. Then added, by command, that at some time during the twenty-four hours I would consummate the miracle, but would first give a brief notice; by flags on the castle towers if in the daytime, by torch-baskets in the same places if at night.

Thunder-showers had been tolerably frequent of late, and I was not much afraid of a failure; still, I shouldn't have cared for a delay of a day or two; I should have explained that I was busy with affairs of state yet, and the people must wait.

Of course, we had a blazing sunny day -- almost the first one without a cloud for three weeks; things always happen so. I kept secluded, and watched the weather. Clarence dropped in from time to time and said the public excitement was growing and growing all the time, and the whole country filling up with human masses as far as one could see from the battlements. At last the wind sprang up and a cloud appeared -- in the right quarter, too, and just at nightfall. For a little while I watched that distant cloud spread and blacken, then I judged it was time for me to appear. I ordered the torch-baskets to be lit, and Merlin liberated and sent to me. A quarter of an hour later I ascended the parapet and there found the king and the court assembled and gazing off in the darkness toward Merlin's Tower. Already the darkness was so heavy that one could not see far; these people and the old turrets, being partly in deep shadow and partly in the red glow from the great torch-baskets overhead, made a good deal of a picture.

Merlin arrived in a gloomy mood. I said:

You wanted to burn me alive when I had not done you any harmand latterly you have been trying to injure my professional reputation. Therefore I am going to call down fire and blow up your towerbut it is only fair to give you a chance; now if you think you can break my enchantments and ward off the firesstep to the batit's your innings."

"I canfair sirand I will. Doubt it not."

He drew an imaginary circle on the stones of the roofand burnt a pinch of powder in itwhich sent up a small cloud of aromatic smokewhereat everybody fell back and began to cross themselves and get uncomfortable. Then he began to mutter and make passes in the air with his hands. He worked himself up slowly and gradually into a sort of frenzyand got to thrashing around with his arms like the sails of a windmill. By this time the storm had about reached us; the gusts of wind were flaring the torches and making the shadows swash aboutthe first heavy drops of rain were fallingthe world abroad was black as pitchthe lightning began to wink fitfully. Of coursemy rod would be loading itself now. In factthings were imminent. So I said:

"You have had time enough. I have given you every advantageand not interfered. It is plain your magic is weak. It is only fair that I begin now."

I made about three passes in the airand then there was an awful crash and that old tower leaped into the sky in chunksalong with a vast volcanic fountain of fire that turned night to noondayand showed a thousand acres of human beings groveling on the ground in a general collapse of consternation. Wellit rained mortar and masonry the rest of the week. This was the report; but probably the facts would have modified it.

It was an effective miracle. The great bothersome temporary population vanished. There were a good many thousand tracks in the mud the next morningbut they were all outward bound. If I had advertised another miracle I couldn't have raised an audience with a sheriff.

Merlin's stock was flat. The king wanted to stop his wages; he even wanted to banish himbut I interfered. I said he would be useful to work the weatherand attend to small matters like thatand I would give him a lift now and then when his poor little parlor- magic soured on him. There wasn't a rag of his tower leftbut I had the government rebuild it for himand advised him to take boarders; but he was too hightoned for that. And as for being gratefulhe never even said thank you. He was a rather hard lottake him how you might; but then you couldn't fairly expect a man to be sweet that had been set back so.

 

 

 

CHAPTER VIII - THE BOSS

 

TO be vested with enormous authority is a fine thing; but to have the on-looking world consent to it is a finer. The tower episode solidified my powerand made it impregnable. If any were perchance disposed to be jealous and critical before thatthey experienced a change of heartnow. There was not any one in the kingdom who would have considered it good judgment to meddle with my matters.

I was fast getting adjusted to my situation and circumstances. For a timeI used to wake upmorningsand smile at my "dream and listen for the Colt's factory whistle; but that sort of thing played itself out, gradually, and at last I was fully able to realize that I was actually living in the sixth century, and in Arthur's court, not a lunatic asylum. After that, I was just as much at home in that century as I could have been in any other; and as for preference, I wouldn't have traded it for the twentieth. Look at the opportunities here for a man of knowledge, brains, pluck, and enterprise to sail in and grow up with the country. The grandest field that ever was; and all my own; not a competitor; not a man who wasn't a baby to me in acquirements and capacities; whereas, what would I amount to in the twentieth century? I should be foreman of a factory, that is about all; and could drag a seine down street any day and catch a hundred better men than myself.

What a jump I had made! I couldn't keep from thinking about it, and contemplating it, just as one does who has struck oil. There was nothing back of me that could approach it, unless it might be Joseph's case; and Joseph's only approached it, it didn't equal it, quite. For it stands to reason that as Joseph's splendid financial ingenuities advantaged nobody but the king, the general public must have regarded him with a good deal of disfavor, whereas I had done my entire public a kindness in sparing the sun, and was popular by reason of it.

I was no shadow of a king; I was the substance; the king himself was the shadow. My power was colossal; and it was not a mere name, as such things have generally been, it was the genuine article. I stood here, at the very spring and source of the second great period of the world's history; and could see the trickling stream of that history gather and deepen and broaden, and roll its mighty tides down the far centuries; and I could note the upspringing of adventurers like myself in the shelter of its long array of thrones: De Montforts, Gavestons, Mortimers, Villierses; the war-making, campaign-directing wantons of France, and Charles the Second's scepter-wielding drabs; but nowhere in the procession was my fullsized fellow visible. I was a Unique; and glad to know that that fact could not be dislodged or challenged for thirteen centuries and a half, for sure. Yes, in power I was equal to the king. At the same time there was another power that was a trifle stronger than both of us put together. That was the Church. I do not wish to disguise that fact. I couldn't, if I wanted to. But never mind about that, now; it will show up, in its proper place, later on. It didn't cause me any trouble in the beginning -- at least any of consequence.

Well, it was a curious country, and full of interest. And the people! They were the quaintest and simplest and trustingest race; why, they were nothing but rabbits. It was pitiful for a person born in a wholesome free atmosphere to listen to their humble and hearty outpourings of loyalty toward their king and Church and nobility; as if they had any more occasion to love and honor king and Church and noble than a slave has to love and honor the lash, or a dog has to love and honor the stranger that kicks him! Why, dear me,ANY kind of royalty, howsoever modified, ANY kind of aristocracy, howsoever pruned, is rightly an insult; but if you are born and brought up under that sort of arrangement you probably never find it out for yourself, and don't believe it when somebody else tells you. It is enough to make a body ashamed of his race to think of the sort of froth that has always occupied its thrones without shadow of right or reason, and the seventh-rate people that have always figured as its aristocracies -- a company of monarchs and nobles who, as a rule, would have achieved only poverty and obscurity if left, like their betters, to their own exertions.

The most of King Arthur's British nation were slaves, pure and simple, and bore that name, and wore the iron collar on their necks; and the rest were slaves in fact, but without the name; they imagined themselves men and freemen, and called themselves so. The truth was, the nation as a body was in the world for one object, and one only: to grovel before king and Church and noble; to slave for them, sweat blood for them, starve that they might be fed, work that they might play, drink misery to the dregs that they might be happy, go naked that they might wear silks and jewels, pay taxes that they might be spared from paying them, be familiar all their lives with the degrading language and postures of adulation that they might walk in pride and think themselves the gods of this world. And for all this, the thanks they got were cuffs and contempt; and so poor-spirited were they that they took even this sort of attention as an honor.

Inherited ideas are a curious thing, and interesting to observe and examine. I had mine, the king and his people had theirs. In both cases they flowed in ruts worn deep by time and habit, and the man who should have proposed to divert them by reason and argument would have had a long contract on his hands. For instance, those people had inherited the idea that all men without title and a long pedigree, whether they had great natural gifts and acquirements or hadn't, were creatures of no more consideration than so many animals, bugs, insects; whereas I had inherited the idea that human daws who can consent to masquerade in the peacock-shams of inherited dignities and unearned titles, are of no good but to be laughed at. The way I was looked upon was odd, but it was natural. You know how the keeper and the public regard the elephant in the menagerie: well, that is the idea. They are full of admiration of his vast bulk and his prodigious strength; they speak with pride of the fact that he can do a hundred marvels which are far and away beyond their own powers; and they speak with the same pride of the fact that in his wrath he is able to drive a thousand men before him. But does that make him one of THEM? No; the raggedest tramp in the pit would smile at the idea. He couldn't comprehend it; couldn't take it in; couldn't in any remote way conceive of it. Well, to the king, the nobles, and all the nation, down to the very slaves and tramps, I was just that kind of an elephant, and nothing more. I was admired, also feared; but it was as an animal is admired and feared. The animal is not reverenced, neither was I; I was not even respected. I had no pedigree, no inherited title; so in the king's and nobles' eyes I was mere dirt; the people regarded me with wonder and awe, but there was no reverence mixed with it; through the force of inherited ideas they were not able to conceive of anything being entitled to that except pedigree and lordship. There you see the hand of that awful power, the Roman Catholic Church. In two or three little centuries it had converted a nation of men to a nation of worms. Before the day of the Church's supremacy in the world, men were men, and held their heads up, and had a man's pride and spirit and independence; and what of greatness and position a person got, he got mainly by achievement, not by birth. But then the Church came to the front, with an axe to grind; and she was wise, subtle, and knew more than one way to skin a cat -- or a nation; she invented divine right of kings and propped it all around, brick by brick, with the Beatitudes -- wrenching them from their good purpose to make them fortify an evil one; she preached (to the commoner) humility, obedience to superiors, the beauty of self-sacrifice; she preached (to the commoner) meekness under insult; preached (still to the commoner, always to the commoner) patience, meanness of spirit, non-resistance under oppression; and she introduced heritable ranks and aristocracies, and taught all the Christian populations of the earth to bow down to them and worship them. Even down to my birth-century that poison was still in the blood of Christendom, and the best of English commoners was still content to see his inferiors impudently continuing to hold a number of positions, such as lordships and the throne, to which the grotesque laws of his country did not allow him to aspire; in fact, he was not merely contented with this strange condition of things, he was even able to persuade himself that he was proud of it. It seems to show that there isn't anything you can't stand, if you are only born and bred to it. Of course that taint, that reverence for rank and title, had been in our American blood, too -- I know that; but when I left America it had disappeared -- at least to all intents and purposes. The remnant of it was restricted to the dudes and dudesses. When a disease has worked its way down to that level, it may fairly be said to be out of the system.

But to return to my anomalous position in King Arthur's kingdom. Here I was, a giant among pigmies, a man among children, a master intelligence among intellectual moles: by all rational measurement the one and only actually great man in that whole British world; and yet there and then, just as in the remote England of my birth-time, the sheep-witted earl who could claim long descent from a king's leman, acquired at second-hand from the slums of London, was a better man than I was. Such a personage was fawned upon in Arthur's realm and reverently looked up to by everybody, even though his dispositions were as mean as his intelligence, and his morals as base as his lineage. There were times when HE could sit down in the king's presence, but I couldn't. I could have got a title easily enough, and that would have raised me a large step in everybody's eyes; even in the king's, the giver of it. But I didn't ask for it; and I declined it when it was offered. I couldn't have enjoyed such a thing with my notions; and it wouldn't have been fair, anyway, because as far back as I could go, our tribe had always been short of the bar sinister. I couldn't have felt really and satisfactorily fine and proud and set-up over any title except one that should come from the nation itself, the only legitimate source; and such an one I hoped to win; and in the course of years of honest and honorable endeavor, I did win it and did wear it with a high and clean pride. This title fell casually from the lips of a blacksmith, one day, in a village, was caught up as a happy thought and tossed from mouth to mouth with a laugh and an affirmative vote; in ten days it had swept the kingdom, and was become as familiar as the king's name. I was never known by any other designation afterward, whether in the nation's talk or in grave debate upon matters of state at the council-board of the sovereign. This title, translated into modern speech, would be THE BOSS. Elected by the nation. That suited me. And it was a pretty high title. There were very few THE'S, and I was one of them. If you spoke of the duke, or the earl, or the bishop, how could anybody tell which one you meant? But if you spoke of The King or The Queen or The Boss, it was different.

Well, I liked the king, and as king I respected him -- respected the office; at least respected it as much as I was capable of respecting any unearned supremacy; but as MEN I looked down upon him and his nobles -- privately. And he and they liked me, and respected my office; but as an animal, without birth or sham title, they looked down upon me -- and were not particularly private about it, either. I didn't charge for my opinion about them, and they didn't charge for their opinion about me: the account was square, the books balanced, everybody was satisfied.

 

 

 

CHAPTER IX - THE TOURNAMENT

 

THEY were always having grand tournaments there at Camelot; and very stirring and picturesque and ridiculous human bull-fights they weretoobut just a little wearisome to the practical mind. HoweverI was generally on hand -- for two reasons: a man must not hold himself aloof from the things which his friends and his community have at heart if he would be liked -- especially as a statesman; and both as business man and statesman I wanted to study the tournament and see if I couldn't invent an improvement on it. That reminds me to remarkin passingthat the very first official thing I didin my administration -- and it was on the very first day of ittoo -- was to start a patent office; for I knew that a country without a patent office and good patent laws was just a craband couldn't travel any way but sideways or backways.

Things ran alonga tournament nearly every week; and now and then the boys used to want me to take a hand -- I mean Sir Launcelot and the rest -- but I said I would by and by; no hurry yetand too much government machinery to oil up and set to rights and start a-going.

We had one tournament which was continued from day to day during more than a weekand as many as five hundred knights took part in itfrom first to last. They were weeks gathering. They came on horseback from everywhere; from the very ends of the countryand even from beyond the sea; and many brought ladiesand all brought squires and troops of servants. It was a most gaudy and gorgeous crowdas to costumeryand very characteristic of the country and the timein the way of high animal spiritsinnocent indecencies of languageand happy-hearted indifference to morals. It was fight or look onall day and every day; and singgambledancecarouse half the night every night. They had a most noble good time. You never saw such people. Those banks of beautiful ladiesshining in their barbaric splendorswould see a knight sprawl from his horse in the lists with a lanceshaft the thickness of your ankle clean through him and the blood spoutingand instead of fainting they would clap their hands and crowd each other for a better view; only sometimes one would dive into her handkerchiefand look ostentatiously broken-heartedand then you could lay two to one that there was a scandal there somewhere and she was afraid the public hadn't found it out.

The noise at night would have been annoying to me ordinarilybut I didn't mind it in the present circumstancesbecause it kept me from hearing the quacks detaching legs and arms from the day's cripples. They ruined an uncommon good old cross-cut saw for meand broke the saw-bucktoobut I let it pass. And as for my axe -- wellI made up my mind that the next time I lent an axe to a surgeon I would pick my century.

I not only watched this tournament from day to daybut detailed an intelligent priest from my Department of Public Morals and Agricultureand ordered him to report it; for it was my purpose by and bywhen I should have gotten the people along far enoughto start a newspaper. The first thing you want in a new countryis a patent office; then work up your school system; and after thatout with your paper. A newspaper has its faultsand plenty of thembut no matterit's hark from the tomb for a dead nationand don't you forget it. You can't resurrect a dead nation without it; there isn't any way. So I wanted to sample thingsand be finding out what sort of reportermaterial I might be able to rake together out of the sixth century when I should come to need it.

Wellthe priest did very wellconsidering. He got in all the detailsand that is a good thing in a local item: you seehe had kept books for the undertakerdepartment of his church when he was youngerand thereyou knowthe money's in the details; the more detailsthe more swag: bearersmutescandlesprayers -- everything counts; and if the bereaved don't buy prayers enough you mark up your candles with a forked penciland your bill shows up all right. And he had a good knack at getting in the complimentary thing here and there about a knight that was likely to advertise -- noI mean a knight that had influence; and he also had a neat gift of exaggerationfor in his time he had kept door for a pious hermit who lived in a sty and worked miracles.

Of course this novice's report lacked whoop and crash and lurid descriptionand therefore wanted the true ring; but its antique wording was quaint and sweet and simpleand full of the fragrances and flavors of the timeand these little merits made up in a measure for its more important lacks. Here is an extract from it:

Then Sir Brian de les Isles and Grummore Grummorsumknights of the castleencountered with Sir Aglovale and Sir Torand Sir Tor smote down Sir Grummore Grummorsum to the earth. Then came Sir Carados of the dolorous towerand Sir Turquineknights of the castleand there encountered with them Sir Percivale de Galis and Sir Lamorak de Galisthat were two brethrenand there encountered Sir Percivale with Sir Caradosand either brake their spears unto their handsand then Sir Turquine with Sir Lamorakand either of them smote down otherhorse and allto the earthand either parties rescued other and horsed them again. And Sir Arnoldand Sir Gauterknights of the castleencountered with Sir Brandiles and Sir Kayand these four knights encountered mightilyand brake their spears to their hands. Then came Sir Pertolope from the castleand there encountered with him Sir Lioneland there Sir Pertolope the green knight smote down Sir Lionelbrother to Sir Launcelot. All this was marked by noble heraldswho bare him bestand their names. Then Sir Bleobaris brake his spear upon Sir Garethbut of that stroke Sir Bleobaris fell to the earth. When Sir Galihodin saw thathe bad Sir Gareth keep himand Sir Gareth smote him to the earth. Then Sir Galihud gat a spear to avenge his brotherand in the same wise Sir Gareth served himand Sir Dinadan and his brother La Cote Male Taileand Sir Sagramore le Disirousand Sir Dodinas le Savage; all these he bare down with one spear. When King Aswisance of Ireland saw Sir Gareth fare so he marvelled what he might bethat one time seemed greenand another timeat his again cominghe seemed blue. And thus at every course that he rode to and fro he changed his colorso that there might neither king nor knight have ready cognizance of him. Then Sir Agwisance the King of Ireland encountered with Sir Garethand there Sir Gareth smote him from his horsesaddle and all. And then came King Carados of Scotlandand Sir Gareth smote him down horse and man. And in the same wise he served King Uriens of the land of Gore. And then there came in Six Bagdemagusand Sir Gareth smote him down horse and man to the earth. And Bagdemagus's son Meliganus brake a spear upon Sir Gareth mightily and knightly. And then Sir Galahault the noble prince cried on highKnight with the many colorswell hast thou justed; now make thee ready that I may just with thee. Sir Gareth heard himand he gat a great spearand so they encountered togetherand there the prince brake his spear; but Sir Gareth smote him upon the left side of the helmthat he reeled here and thereand he had fallen down had not his men recovered him. Trulysaid King Arthurthat knight with the many colors is a good knight. Wherefore the king called unto him Sir Launcelotand prayed him to encounter with that knight. Sirsaid LauncelotI may as well find in my heart for to forbear him at this timefor he hath had travail enough this dayand when a good knight doth so well upon some dayit is no good knight's part to let him of his worshipandnamelywhen he seeth a knight hath done so great labour; for peradventuresaid Sir Launcelothis quarrel is here this dayand peradventure he is best beloved with this lady of all that be herefor I see well he paineth himself and enforceth him to do great deedsand thereforesaid Sir Launcelotas for methis day he shall have the honour; though it lay in my power to put him from itI would not.

There was an unpleasant little episode that daywhich for reasons of state I struck out of my priest's report. You will have noticed that Garry was doing some great fighting in the engagement. When I say Garry I mean Sir Gareth. Garry was my private pet name for him; it suggests that I had a deep affection for himand that was the case. But it was a private pet name onlyand never spoken aloud to any onemuch less to him; being a noblehe would not have endured a familiarity like that from me. Wellto proceed: I sat in the private box set apart for me as the king's minister. While Sir Dinadan was waiting for his turn to enter the listshe came in there and sat down and began to talk; for he was always making up to mebecause I was a stranger and he liked to have a fresh market for his jokesthe most of them having reached that stage of wear where the teller has to do the laughing himself while the other person looks sick. I had always responded to his efforts as well as I couldand felt a very deep and real kindness for himtoofor the reason that if by malice of fate he knew the one particular anecdote which I had heard oftenest and had most hated and most loathed all my lifehe had at least spared it me. It was one which I had heard attributed to every humorous person who had ever stood on American soilfrom Columbus down to Artemus Ward. It was about a humorous lecturer who flooded an ignorant audience with the killingest jokes for an hour and never got a laugh; and then when he was leavingsome gray simpletons wrung him gratefully by the hand and said it had been the funniest thing they had ever heardand "it was all they could do to keep from laughin' right out in meetin'." That anecdote never saw the day that it was worth the telling; and yet I had sat under the telling of it hundreds and thousands and millions and billions of timesand cried and cursed all the way through. Then who can hope to know what my feelings wereto hear this armorplated ass start in on it againin the murky twilight of traditionbefore the dawn of historywhile even Lactantius might be referred to as "the late Lactantius and the Crusades wouldn't be born for five hundred years yet? Just as he finished, the call-boy came; so, haw-hawing like a demon, he went rattling and clanking out like a crate of loose castings, and I knew nothing more. It was some minutes before I came to, and then I opened my eyes just in time to see Sir Gareth fetch him an awful welt, and I unconsciously out with the prayer, I hope to gracious he's killed!" But by ill-luckbefore I had got half through with the wordsSir Gareth crashed into Sir Sagramor le Desirous and sent him thundering over his horse's crupperand Sir Sagramor caught my remark and thought I meant it for HIM.

Wellwhenever one of those people got a thing into his headthere was no getting it out again. I knew thatso I saved my breathand offered no explanations. As soon as Sir Sagramor got wellhe notified me that there was a little account to settle between usand he named a day three or four years in the future; place of settlementthe lists where the offense had been given. I said I would be ready when he got back. You seehe was going for the Holy Grail. The boys all took a flier at the Holy Grail now and then. It was a several years' cruise. They always put in the long absence snooping aroundin the most conscientious waythough none of them had any idea where the Holy Grail really wasand I don't think any of them actually expected to find itor would have known what to do with it if he HAD run across it. You seeit was just the Northwest Passage of that dayas you may say; that was all. Every year expeditions went out holy grailingand next year relief expeditions went out to hunt for THEM. There was worlds of reputation in itbut no money. Whythey actually wanted ME to put in! WellI should smile.

 

 

 

CHAPTER X - BEGINNINGS OF CIVILIZATION

 

THE Round Table soon heard of the challengeand of course it was a good deal discussedfor such things interested the boys. The king thought I ought now to set forth in quest of adventuresso that I might gain renown and be the more worthy to meet Sir Sagramor when the several years should have rolled away. I excused myself for the present; I said it would take me three or four years yet to get things well fixed up and going smoothly; then I should be ready; all the chances were that at the end of that time Sir Sagramor would still be out grailingso no valuable time would be lost by the postponement; I should then have been in office six or seven yearsand I believed my system and machinery would be so well developed that I could take a holiday without its working any harm.

I was pretty well satisfied with what I had already accomplished. In various quiet nooks and corners I had the beginnings of all sorts of industries under way -- nuclei of future vast factoriesthe iron and steel missionaries of my future civilization. In these were gathered together the brightest young minds I could findand I kept agents out raking the country for moreall the time. I was training a crowd of ignorant folk into experts -- experts in every sort of handiwork and scientific calling. These nurseries of mine went smoothly and privately along undisturbed in their obscure country retreatsfor nobody was allowed to come into their precincts without a special permit -- for I was afraid of the Church.

I had started a teacher-factory and a lot of Sunday- schools the first thing; as a resultI now had an admirable system of graded schools in full blast in those placesand also a complete variety of Protestant congregations all in a prosperous and growing condition. Everybody could be any kind of a Christian he wanted to; there was perfect freedom in that matter. But I confined public religious teaching to the churches and the Sunday-schoolspermitting nothing of it in my other educational buildings. I could have given my own sect the preference and made everybody a Presbyterian without any troublebut that would have been to affront a law of human nature: spiritual wants and instincts are as various in the human family as are physical appetitescomplexionsand featuresand a man is only at his bestmorallywhen he is equipped with the religious garment whose color and shape and size most nicely accommodate themselves to the spiritual complexionangularitiesand stature of the individual who wears it; andbesidesI was afraid of a united Church; it makes a mighty powerthe mightiest conceivableand then when it by and by gets into selfish handsas it is always bound to doit means death to human liberty and paralysis to human thought.

All mines were royal propertyand there were a good many of them. They had formerly been worked as savages always work mines -- holes grubbed in the earth and the mineral brought up in sacks of hide by handat the rate of a ton a day; but I had begun to put the mining on a scientific basis as early as I could.

YesI had made pretty handsome progress when Sir Sagramor's challenge struck me.

Four years rolled by -- and then! Wellyou would never imagine it in the world. Unlimited power is the ideal thing when it is in safe hands. The despotism of heaven is the one absolutely perfect government. An earthly despotism would be the absolutely perfect earthly governmentif the conditions were the samenamelythe despot the perfectest individual of the human raceand his lease of life perpetual. But as a perishable perfect man must dieand leave his despotism in the hands of an imperfect successoran earthly despotism is not merely a bad form of governmentit is the worst form that is possible.

My works showed what a despot could do with the resources of a kingdom at his command. Unsuspected by this dark landI had the civilization of the nineteenth century booming under its very nose! It was fenced away from the public viewbut there it wasa gigantic and unassailable fact -- and to be heard fromyetif I lived and had luck. There it wasas sure a fact and as substantial a fact as any serene volcanostanding innocent with its smokeless summit in the blue sky and giving no sign of the rising hell in its bowels. My schools and churches were children four years before; they were grown-up now; my shops of that day were vast factories now; where I had a dozen trained men thenI had a thousand now; where I had one brilliant expert thenI had fifty now. I stood with my hand on the cockso to speakready to turn it on and flood the midnight world with light at any moment. But I was not going to do the thing in that sudden way. It was not my policy. The people could not have stood it; andmoreoverI should have had the Established Roman Catholic Church on my back in a minute.

NoI had been going cautiously all the while. I had had confidential agents trickling through the country some timewhose office was to undermine knighthood by imperceptible degreesand to gnaw a little at this and that and the other superstitionand so prepare the way gradually for a better order of things. I was turning on my light one-candle-power at a timeand meant to continue to do so.

I had scattered some branch schools secretly about the kingdomand they were doing very well. I meant to work this racket more and moreas time wore onif nothing occurred to frighten me. One of my deepest secrets was my West Point -- my military academy. I kept that most jealously out of sight; and I did the same with my naval academy which I had established at a remote seaport. Both were prospering to my satisfaction.

Clarence was twenty-two nowand was my head executivemy right hand. He was a darling; he was equal to anything; there wasn't anything he couldn't turn his hand to. Of late I had been training him for journalismfor the time seemed about right for a start in the newspaper line; nothing bigbut just a small weekly for experimental circulation in my civilizationnurseries. He took to it like a duck; there was an editor concealed in himsure. Already he had doubled himself in one way; he talked sixth century and wrote nineteenth. His journalistic style was climbingsteadily; it was already up to the back settlement Alabama markand couldn't be told from the editorial output of that region either by matter or flavor.

We had another large departure on handtoo. This was a telegraph and a telephone; our first venture in this line. These wires were for private service onlyas yetand must be kept private until a riper day should come. We had a gang of men on the roadworking mainly by night. They were stringing ground wires; we were afraid to put up polesfor they would attract too much inquiry. Ground wires were good enoughin both instancesfor my wires were protected by an insulation of my own invention which was perfect. My men had orders to strike across countryavoiding roadsand establishing connection with any considerable towns whose lights betrayed their presenceand leaving experts in charge. Nobody could tell you how to find any place in the kingdomfor nobody ever went intentionally to any placebut only struck it by accident in his wanderingsand then generally left it without thinking to inquire what its name was. At one time and another we had sent out topographical expeditions to survey and map the kingdombut the priests had always interfered and raised trouble. So we had given the thing upfor the present; it would be poor wisdom to antagonize the Church.

As for the general condition of the countryit was as it had been when I arrived in itto all intents and purposes. I had made changesbut they were necessarily slightand they were not noticeable. Thus farI had not even meddled with taxationoutside of the taxes which provided the royal revenues. I had systematized thoseand put the service on an effective and righteous basis. As a resultthese revenues were already quadrupledand yet the burden was so much more equably distributed than beforethat all the kingdom felt a sense of reliefand the praises of my administration were hearty and general.

PersonallyI struck an interruptionnowbut I did not mind itit could not have happened at a better time. Earlier it could have annoyed mebut now everything was in good hands and swimming right along. The king had reminded me several timesof latethat the postponement I had asked forfour years beforehad about run out now. It was a hint that I ought to be starting out to seek adventures and get up a reputation of a size to make me worthy of the honor of breaking a lance with Sir Sagramorwho was still out grailingbut was being hunted for by various relief expeditionsand might be found any yearnow. So you see I was expecting this interruption; it did not take me by surprise.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XI - THE YANKEE IN SEARCH OF ADVENTURES

 

THERE never was such a country for wandering liars; and they were of both sexes. Hardly a month went by without one of these tramps arriving; and generally loaded with a tale about some princess or other wanting help to get her out of some far-away castle where she was held in captivity by a lawless scoundrelusually a giant. Now you would think that the first thing the king would do after listening to such a novelette from an entire strangerwould be to ask for credentials -- yesand a pointer or two as to locality of castlebest route to itand so on. But nobody ever thought of so simple and common-sense a thing at that. Noeverybody swallowed these people's lies wholeand never asked a question of any sort or about anything. Wellone day when I was not aroundone of these people came along -- it was a she onethis time -- and told a tale of the usual pattern. Her mistress was a captive in a vast and gloomy castlealong with forty-four other young and beautiful girlspretty much all of them princesses; they had been languishing in that cruel captivity for twenty-six years; the masters of the castle were three stupendous brotherseach with four arms and one eye -- the eye in the center of the foreheadand as big as a fruit. Sort of fruit not mentioned; their usual slovenliness in statistics.

Would you believe it? The king and the whole Round Table were in raptures over this preposterous opportunity for adventure. Every knight of the Table jumped for the chanceand begged for it; but to their vexation and chagrin the king conferred it upon mewho had not asked for it at all.

By an effortI contained my joy when Clarence brought me the news. But he -- he could not contain his. His mouth gushed delight and gratitude in a steady discharge -- delight in my good fortunegratitude to the king for this splendid mark of his favor for me. He could keep neither his legs nor his body stillbut pirouetted about the place in an airy ecstasy of happiness.

On my sideI could have cursed the kindness that conferred upon me this benefactionbut I kept my vexation under the surface for policy's sakeand did what I could to let on to be glad. IndeedI SAID I was glad. And in a way it was true; I was as glad as a person is when he is scalped.

Wellone must make the best of thingsand not waste time with useless frettingbut get down to business and see what can be done. In all lies there is wheat among the chaff; I must get at the wheat in this case: so I sent for the girl and she came. She was a comely enough creatureand soft and modestbutif signs went for anythingshe didn't know as much as a lady's watch. I said:

"My dearhave you been questioned as to particulars?"

She said she hadn't.

"WellI didn't expect you hadbut I thought I would askto make sure; it's the way I've been raised. Now you mustn't take it unkindly if I remind you that as we don't know youwe must go a little slow. You may be all rightof courseand we'll hope that you are; but to take it for granted isn't business. YOU understand that. I'm obliged to ask you a few questions; just answer up fair and squareand don't be afraid. Where do you livewhen you are at home?"

"In the land of Moderfair sir."

"Land of Moder. I don't remember hearing of it before. Parents living?"

"As to thatI know not if they be yet on livesith it is many years that I have lain shut up in the castle."

"Your nameplease?"

"I hight the Demoiselle Alisande la Carteloisean it please you."

"Do you know anybody here who can identify you?"

"That were not likelyfair lordI being come hither now for the first time."

"Have you brought any letters -- any documents -- any proofs that you are trustworthy and truthful?"

"Of a suretyno; and wherefore should I? Have I not a tongueand cannot I say all that myself?"

"But YOUR saying ityou knowand somebody else's saying itis different."

"Different? How might that be? I fear me I do not understand."

"Don't UNDERSTAND? Land of -- whyyou see -- you see -- whygreat Scottcan't you understand a little thing like that? Can't you understand the difference between your -- WHY do you look so innocent and idiotic!"

"I? In truth I know notbut an it were the will of God."

"YesyesI reckon that's about the size of it. Don't mind my seeming excited; I'm not. Let us change the subject. Now as to this castlewith fortyfive princesses in itand three ogres at the head of ittell me -- where is this harem?"

"Harem?"

"The CASTLEyou understand; where is the castle?"

"Ohas to thatit is greatand strongand well beseenand lieth in a far country. Yesit is many leagues."

"HOW many?"

"Ahfair sirit were woundily hard to tellthey are so manyand do so lap the one upon the otherand being made all in the same image and tincted with the same colorone may not know the one league from its fellownor how to count them except they be taken apartand ye wit well it were God's work to do thatbeing not within man's capacity; for ye will note --"

"Hold onhold onnever mind about the distance; WHEREABOUTS does the castle lie? What's the direction from here?"

"Ahplease you sirit hath no direction from here; by reason that the road lieth not straightbut turneth evermore; wherefore the direction of its place abideth notbut is some time under the one sky and anon under anotherwhereso if ye be minded that it is in the eastand wend thitherwardye shall observe that the way of the road doth yet again turn upon itself by the space of half a circleand this marvel happing again and yet again and still againit will grieve you that you had thought by vanities of the mind to thwart and bring to naught the will of Him that giveth not a castle a direction from a place except it pleaseth Himand if it please Him notwill the rather that even all castles and all directions thereunto vanish out of the earthleaving the places wherein they tarried desolate and vacantso warning His creatures that where He will He willand where He will not He --"

"Ohthat's all rightthat's all rightgive us a rest; never mind about the directionHANG the direction -- I beg pardonI beg a thousand pardonsI am not well to-day; pay no attention when I soliloquizeit is an old habitan oldbad habitand hard to get rid of when one's digestion is all disordered with eating food that was raised forever and ever before he was born; good land! a man can't keep his functions regular on spring chickens thirteen hundred years old. But come -- never mind about that; let's -- have you got such a thing as a map of that region about you? Now a good map --"

"Is it peradventure that manner of thing which of late the unbelievers have brought from over the great seaswhichbeing boiled in oiland an onion and salt added theretodoth --"

"Whata map? What are you talking about? Don't you know what a map is? Theretherenever minddon't explainI hate explanations; they fog a thing up so that you can't tell anything about it. Run alongdear; good-day; show her the wayClarence."

Ohwellit was reasonably plainnowwhy these donkeys didn't prospect these liars for details. It may be that this girl had a fact in her somewherebut I don't believe you could have sluiced it out with a hydraulic; nor got it with the earlier forms of blastingeven; it was a case for dynamite. Whyshe was a perfect ass; and yet the king and his knights had listened to her as if she had been a leaf out of the gospel. It kind of sizes up the whole party. And think of the simple ways of this court: this wandering wench hadn't any more trouble to get access to the king in his palace than she would have had to get into the poorhouse in my day and country. In facthe was glad to see herglad to hear her tale; with that adventure of hers to offershe was as welcome as a corpse is to a coroner.

Just as I was ending-up these reflectionsClarence came back. I remarked upon the barren result of my efforts with the girl; hadn't got hold of a single point that could help me to find the castle. The youth looked a little surprisedor puzzledor somethingand intimated that he had been wondering to himself what I had wanted to ask the girl all those questions for.

"Whygreat guns I said, don't I want to find the castle? And how else would I go about it?"

"Lasweet your worshipone may lightly answer thatI ween. She will go with thee. They always do. She will ride with thee."

"Ride with me? Nonsense!"

"But of a truth she will. She will ride with thee. Thou shalt see."

"What? She browse around the hills and scour the woods with me -- alone -- and I as good as engaged to be married? Whyit's scandalous. Think how it would look."

Mythe dear face that rose before me! The boy was eager to know all about this tender matter. I swore him to secresy and then whispered her name -- "Puss Flanagan." He looked disappointedand said he didn't remember the countess. How natural it was for the little courtier to give her a rank. He asked me where she lived.

"In East Har--" I came to myself and stoppeda little confused; then I saidNever mind, now; I'll tell you some time.

And might he see her? Would I let him see her some day?

It was but a little thing to promise -- thirteen hundred years or so -- and he so eager; so I said Yes. But I sighed; I couldn't help it. And yet there was no sense in sighingfor she wasn't born yet. But that is the way we are made: we don't reasonwhere we feel; we just feel.

My expedition was all the talk that day and that nightand the boys were very good to meand made much of meand seemed to have forgotten their vexation and disappointmentand come to be as anxious for me to hive those ogres and set those ripe old virgins loose as if it were themselves that had the contract. Wellthey WERE good children -- but just childrenthat is all. And they gave me no end of points about how to scout for giantsand how to scoop them in; and they told me all sorts of charms against enchantmentsand gave me salves and other rubbish to put on my wounds. But it never occurred to one of them to reflect that if I was such a wonderful necromancer as I was pretending to beI ought not to need salves or instructionsor charms against enchantmentsandleast of allarms and armoron a foray of any kind -- even against fire-spouting dragonsand devils hot from perditionlet alone such poor adversaries as these I was afterthese commonplace ogres of the back settlements.

I was to have an early breakfastand start at dawnfor that was the usual way; but I had the demon's own time with my armorand this delayed me a little. It is troublesome to get intoand there is so much detail. First you wrap a layer or two of blanket around your bodyfor a sort of cushion and to keep off the cold iron; then you put on your sleeves and shirt of chain mail -- these are made of small steel links woven togetherand they form a fabric so flexible that if you toss your shirt onto the floorit slumps into a pile like a peck of wet fish-net; it is very heavy and is nearly the uncomfortablest material in the world for a night shirtyet plenty used it for that -- tax collectorsand reformersand one-horse kings with a defective titleand those sorts of people; then you put on your shoes -- flat-boats roofed over with interleaving bands of steel -- and screw your clumsy spurs into the heels. Next you buckle your greaves on your legsand your cuisses on your thighs; then come your backplate and your breastplateand you begin to feel crowded; then you hitch onto the breastplate the half-petticoat of broad overlapping bands of steel which hangs down in front but is scolloped out behind so you can sit downand isn't any real improvement on an inverted coal scuttleeither for looks or for wearor to wipe your hands on; next you belt on your sword; then you put your stove-pipe joints onto your armsyour iron gauntlets onto your handsyour iron rat-trap onto your headwith a rag of steel web hitched onto it to hang over the back of your neck -- and there you aresnug as a candle in a candle-mould. This is no time to dance. Wella man that is packed away like that is a nut that isn't worth the crackingthere is so little of the meatwhen you get down to itby comparison with the shell.

The boys helped meor I never could have got in. Just as we finishedSir Bedivere happened inand I saw that as like as not I hadn't chosen the most convenient outfit for a long trip. How stately he looked; and tall and broad and grand. He had on his head a conical steel casque that only came down to his earsand for visor had only a narrow steel bar that extended down to his upper lip and protected his nose; and all the rest of himfrom neck to heelwas flexible chain mailtrousers and all. But pretty much all of him was hidden under his outside garmentwhich of course was of chain mailas I saidand hung straight from his shoulders to his ankles; and from his middle to the bottomboth before and behindwas dividedso that he could ride and let the skirts hang down on each side. He was going grailingand it was just the outfit for ittoo. I would have given a good deal for that ulsterbut it was too late now to be fooling around. The sun was just upthe king and the court were all on hand to see me off and wish me luck; so it wouldn't be etiquette for me to tarry. You don't get on your horse yourself; noif you tried it you would get disappointed. They carry you outjust as they carry a sun-struck man to the drug storeand put you onand help get you to rightsand fix your feet in the stirrups; and all the while you do feel so strange and stuffy and like somebody else -- like somebody that has been married on a suddenor struck by lightningor something like thatand hasn't quite fetched around yetand is sort of numband can't just get his bearings. Then they stood up the mast they called a spearin its socket by my left footand I gripped it with my hand; lastly they hung my shield around my neckand I was all complete and ready to up anchor and get to sea. Everybody was as good to me as they could beand a maid of honor gave me the stirrup-cup her own self. There was nothing more to do nowbut for that damsel to get up behind me on a pillionwhich she didand put an arm or so around me to hold on.

And so we startedand everybody gave us a goodbye and waved their handkerchiefs or helmets. And everybody we metgoing down the hill and through the village was respectful to usexcept some shabby little boys on the outskirts. They said:

"Ohwhat a guy!" And hove clods at us.

In my experience boys are the same in all ages. They don't respect anythingthey don't care for anything or anybody. They say "Go upbaldhead" to the prophet going his unoffending way in the gray of antiquity; they sass me in the holy gloom of the Middle Ages; and I had seen them act the same way in Buchanan's administration; I rememberbecause I was there and helped. The prophet had his bears and settled with his boys; and I wanted to get down and settle with minebut it wouldn't answerbecause I couldn't have got up again. I hate a country without a derrick.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XII - SLOW TORTURE

 

STRAIGHT offwe were in the country. It was most lovely and pleasant in those sylvan solitudes in the early cool morning in the first freshness of autumn. From hilltops we saw fair green valleys lying spread out belowwith streams winding through themand island groves of trees here and thereand huge lonely oaks scattered about and casting black blots of shade; and beyond the valleys we saw the ranges of hillsblue with hazestretching away in billowy perspective to the horizonwith at wide intervals a dim fleck of white or gray on a wave-summitwhich we knew was a castle. We crossed broad natural lawns sparkling with dewand we moved like spiritsthe cushioned turf giving out no sound of footfall; we dreamed along through glades in a mist of green light that got its tint from the sun-drenched roof of leaves overheadand by our feet the clearest and coldest of runlets went frisking and gossiping over its reefs and making a sort of whispering musiccomfortable to hear; and at times we left the world behind and entered into the solemn great deeps and rich gloom of the forestwhere furtive wild things whisked and scurried by and were gone before you could even get your eye on the place where the noise was; and where only the earliest birds were turning out and getting to business with a song here and a quarrel yonder and a mysterious far- off hammering and drumming for worms on a tree trunk away somewhere in the impenetrable remotenesses of the woods. And by and by out we would swing again into the glare.

About the third or fourth or fifth time that we swung out into the glare -- it was along there somewherea couple of hours or so after sun-up -- it wasn't as pleasant as it had been. It was beginning to get hot. This was quite noticeable. We had a very long pullafter thatwithout any shade. Now it is curious how progressively little frets grow and multiply after they once get a start. Things which I didn't mind at allat firstI began to mind now -- and more and moretooall the time. The first ten or fifteen times I wanted my handkerchief I didn't seem to care; I got alongand said never mindit isn't any matterand dropped it out of my mind. But now it was different; I wanted it all the time; it was nagnagnagright alongand no rest; I couldn't get it out of my mind; and so at last I lost my temper and said hang a man that would make a suit of armor without any pockets in it. You see I had my handkerchief in my helmet; and some other things; but it was that kind of a helmet that you can't take off by yourself. That hadn't occurred to me when I put it there; and in fact I didn't know it. I supposed it would be particularly convenient there. And so nowthe thought of its being thereso handy and close byand yet not get-at-ablemade it all the worse and the harder to bear. Yesthe thing that you can't get is the thing that you wantmainly; every one has noticed that. Wellit took my mind off from everything else; took it clear offand centered it in my helmet; and mile after milethere it stayedimagining the handkerchiefpicturing the handkerchief; and it was bitter and aggravating to have the salt sweat keep trickling down into my eyesand I couldn't get at it. It seems like a little thingon paperbut it was not a little thing at all; it was the most real kind of misery. I would not say it if it was not so. I made up my mind that I would carry along a reticule next timelet it look how it mightand people say what they would. Of course these iron dudes of the Round Table would think it was scandalousand maybe raise Sheol about itbut as for megive me comfort firstand style afterwards. So we jogged alongand now and then we struck a stretch of dustand it would tumble up in clouds and get into my nose and make me sneeze and cry; and of course I said things I oughtn't to have saidI don't deny that. I am not better than others.

We couldn't seem to meet anybody in this lonesome Britainnot even an ogre; andin the mood I was in thenit was well for the ogre; that isan ogre with a handkerchief. Most knights would have thought of nothing but getting his armor; but so I got his bandannahe could keep his hardwarefor all of me.

Meantimeit was getting hotter and hotter in there. You seethe sun was beating down and warming up the iron more and more all the time. Wellwhen you are hotthat wayevery little thing irritates you. When I trottedI rattled like a crate of dishesand that annoyed me; and moreover I couldn't seem to stand that shield slatting and bangingnow about my breastnow around my back; and if I dropped into a walk my joints creaked and screeched in that wearisome way that a wheelbarrow doesand as we didn't create any breeze at that gaitI was like to get fried in that stove; and besidesthe quieter you went the heavier the iron settled down on you and the more and more tons you seemed to weigh every minute. And you had to be always changing handsand passing your spear over to the other footit got so irksome for one hand to hold it long at a time.

Wellyou knowwhen you perspire that wayin riversthere comes a time when you -- when you -- wellwhen you itch. You are insideyour hands are outside; so there you are; nothing but iron between. It is not a light thinglet it sound as it may. First it is one place; then another; then some more; and it goes on spreading and spreadingand at last the territory is all occupiedand nobody can imagine what you feel likenor how unpleasant it is. And when it had got to the worstand it seemed to me that I could not stand anything morea fly got in through the bars and settled on my noseand the bars were stuck and wouldn't workand I couldn't get the visor up; and I could only shake my headwhich was baking hot by this timeand the fly -- wellyou know how a fly acts when he has got a certainty -- he only minded the shaking enough to change from nose to lipand lip to earand buzz and buzz all around in thereand keep on lighting and bitingin a way that a personalready so distressed as I wassimply could not stand. So I gave inand got Alisande to unship the helmet and relieve me of it. Then she emptied the conveniences out of it and fetched it full of waterand I drank and then stood upand she poured the rest down inside the armor. One cannot think how refreshing it was. She continued to fetch and pour until I was well soaked and thoroughly comfortable.

It was good to have a rest -- and peace. But nothing is quite perfect in this lifeat any time. I had made a pipe a while backand also some pretty fair tobacco; not the real thingbut what some of the Indians use: the inside bark of the willowdried. These comforts had been in the helmetand now I had them againbut no matches.

Graduallyas the time wore alongone annoying fact was borne in upon my understanding -- that we were weather-bound. An armed novice cannot mount his horse without help and plenty of it. Sandy was not enough; not enough for meanyway. We had to wait until somebody should come along. Waitingin silencewould have been agreeable enoughfor I was full of matter for reflectionand wanted to give it a chance to work. I wanted to try and think out how it was that rational or even half-rational men could ever have learned to wear armorconsidering its inconveniences; and how they had managed to keep up such a fashion for generations when it was plain that what I had suffered to-day they had had to suffer all the days of their lives. I wanted to think that out; and moreover I wanted to think out some way to reform this evil and persuade the people to let the foolish fashion die out; but thinking was out of the question in the circumstances. You couldn't thinkwhere Sandy was.

She was a quite biddable creature and good-heartedbut she had a flow of talk that was as steady as a milland made your head sore like the drays and wagons in a city. If she had had a cork she would have been a comfort. But you can't cork that kind; they would die. Her clack was going all dayand you would think something would surely happen to her worksby and by; but nothey never got out of order; and she never had to slack up for words. She could grindand pumpand churnand buzz by the weekand never stop to oil up or blow out. And yet the result was just nothing but wind. She never had any ideasany more than a fog has. She was a perfect blatherskite; I mean for jawjawjawtalktalktalkjabberjabberjabber; but just as good as she could be. I hadn't minded her mill that morningon account of having that hornets' nest of other troubles; but more than once in the afternoon I had to say:

"Take a restchild; the way you are using up all the domestic airthe kingdom will have to go to importing it by to-morrowand it's a low enough treasury without that."

 

 

 

CHAPTER XIII - FREEMEN

 

YESit is strange how little a while at a time a person can be contented. Only a little while backwhen I was riding and sufferingwhat a heaven this peacethis restthis sweet serenity in this secluded shady nook by this purling stream would have seemedwhere I could keep perfectly comfortable all the time by pouring a dipper of water into my armor now and then; yet already I was getting dissatisfied; partly because I could not light my pipe -- foralthough I had long ago started a match factoryI had forgotten to bring matches with me -- and partly because we had nothing to eat. Here was another illustration of the childlike improvidence of this age and people. A man in armor always trusted to chance for his food on a journeyand would have been scandalized at the idea of hanging a basket of sandwiches on his spear. There was probably not a knight of all the Round Table combination who would not rather have died than been caught carrying such a thing as that on his flagstaff. And yet there could not be anything more sensible. It had been my intention to smuggle a couple of sandwiches into my helmetbut I was interrupted in the actand had to make an excuse and lay them asideand a dog got them.

Night approachedand with it a storm. The darkness came on fast. We must campof course. I found a good shelter for the demoiselle under a rockand went off and found another for myself. But I was obliged to remain in my armorbecause I could not get it off by myself and yet could not allow Alisande to helpbecause it would have seemed so like undressing before folk. It would not have amounted to that in realitybecause I had clothes on underneath; but the prejudices of one's breeding are not gotten rid of just at a jumpand I knew that when it came to stripping off that bob-tailed iron petticoat I should be embarrassed.

With the storm came a change of weather; and the stronger the wind blewand the wilder the rain lashed aroundthe colder and colder it got. Pretty soonvarious kinds of bugs and ants and worms and things began to flock in out of the wet and crawl down inside my armor to get warm; and while some of them behaved well enoughand snuggled up amongst my clothes and got quietthe majority were of a restlessuncomfortable sortand never stayed stillbut went on prowling and hunting for they did not know what; especially the antswhich went tickling along in wearisome procession from one end of me to the other by the hourand are a kind of creatures which I never wish to sleep with again. It would be my advice to persons situated in this wayto not roll or thrash aroundbecause this excites the interest of all the different sorts of animals and makes every last one of them want to turn out and see what is going onand this makes things worse than they were beforeand of course makes you objurgate hardertooif you can. Stillif one did not roll and thrash around he would die; so perhaps it is as well to do one way as the other; there is no real choice. Even after I was frozen solid I could still distinguish that ticklingjust as a corpse does when he is taking electric treatment. I said I would never wear armor after this trip.

All those trying hours whilst I was frozen and yet was in a living fireas you may sayon account of that swarm of crawlersthat same unanswerable question kept circling and circling through my tired head: How do people stand this miserable armor? How have they managed to stand it all these generations? How can they sleep at night for dreading the tortures of next day?

When the morning came at lastI was in a bad enough plight: seedydrowsyfaggedfrom want of sleep; weary from thrashing aroundfamished from long fasting; pining for a bathand to get rid of the animals; and crippled with rheumatism. And how had it fared with the nobly bornthe titled aristocratthe Demoiselle Alisande la Carteloise? Whyshe was as fresh as a squirrel; she had slept like the dead; and as for a bathprobably neither she nor any other noble in the land had ever had oneand so she was not missing it. Measured by modern standardsthey were merely modified savagesthose people. This noble lady showed no impatience to get to breakfast -- and that smacks of the savagetoo. On their journeys those Britons were used to long fastsand knew how to bear them; and also how to freight up against probable fasts before startingafter the style of the Indian and the anaconda. As like as notSandy was loaded for a three-day stretch.

We were off before sunriseSandy riding and I limping along behind. In half an hour we came upon a group of ragged poor creatures who had assembled to mend the thing which was regarded as a road. They were as humble as animals to me; and when I proposed to breakfast with themthey were so flatteredso overwhelmed by this extraordinary condescension of mine that at first they were not able to believe that I was in earnest. My lady put up her scornful lip and withdrew to one side; she said in their hearing that she would as soon think of eating with the other cattle -- a remark which embarrassed these poor devils merely because it referred to themand not because it insulted or offended themfor it didn't. And yet they were not slavesnot chattels. By a sarcasm of law and phrase they were freemen. Seven-tenths of the free population of the country were of just their class and degree: small "independent" farmersartisansetc.; which is to saythey were the nationthe actual Nation; they were about all of it that was usefulor worth savingor really respect-worthyand to subtract them would have been to subtract the Nation and leave behind some dregssome refusein the shape of a kingnobility and gentryidleunproductiveacquainted mainly with the arts of wasting and destroyingand of no sort of use or value in any rationally constructed world. And yetby ingenious contrivancethis gilded minorityinstead of being in the tail of the procession where it belongedwas marching head up and banners flyingat the other end of it; had elected itself to be the Nationand these innumerable clams had permitted it so long that they had come at last to accept it as a truth; and not only thatbut to believe it right and as it should be. The priests had told their fathers and themselves that this ironical state of things was ordained of God; and sonot reflecting upon how unlike God it would be to amuse himself with sarcasmsand especially such poor transparent ones as thisthey had dropped the matter there and become respectfully quiet.

The talk of these meek people had a strange enough sound in a formerly American ear. They were freemenbut they could not leave the estates of their lord or their bishop without his permission; they could not prepare their own breadbut must have their corn ground and their bread baked at his mill and his bakeryand pay roundly for the same; they could not sell a piece of their own property without paying him a handsome percentage of the proceedsnor buy a piece of somebody else's without remembering him in cash for the privilege; they had to harvest his grain for him gratisand be ready to come at a moment's noticeleaving their own crop to destruction by the threatened storm; they had to let him plant fruit trees in their fieldsand then keep their indignation to themselves when his heedless fruit-gatherers trampled the grain around the trees; they had to smother their anger when his hunting parties galloped through their fields laying waste the result of their patient toil; they were not allowed to keep doves themselvesand when the swarms from my lord's dovecote settled on their crops they must not lose their temper and kill a birdfor awful would the penalty be; when the harvest was at last gatheredthen came the procession of robbers to levy their blackmail upon it: first the Church carted off its fat tenththen the king's commissioner took his twentieththen my lord's people made a mighty inroad upon the remainder; after whichthe skinned freeman had liberty to bestow the remnant in his barnin case it was worth the trouble; there were taxesand taxesand taxesand more taxesand taxes againand yet other taxes -- upon this free and independent pauperbut none upon his lord the baron or the bishopnone upon the wasteful nobility or the all-devouring Church; if the baron would sleep unvexedthe freeman must sit up all night after his day's work and whip the ponds to keep the frogs quiet; if the freeman's daughter -- but nothat last infamy of monarchical government is unprintable; and finallyif the freemangrown desperate with his torturesfound his life unendurable under such conditionsand sacrificed it and fled to death for mercy and refugethe gentle Church condemned him to eternal firethe gentle law buried him at midnight at the cross-roads with a stake through his backand his master the baron or the bishop confiscated all his property and turned his widow and his orphans out of doors.

And here were these freemen assembled in the early morning to work on their lord the bishop's road three days each -- gratis; every head of a familyand every son of a familythree days eachgratisand a day or so added for their servants. Whyit was like reading about France and the Frenchbefore the ever memorable and blessed Revolutionwhich swept a thousand years of such villany away in one swift tidal-wave of blood -- one: a settlement of that hoary debt in the proportion of half a drop of blood for each hogshead of it that had been pressed by slow tortures out of that people in the weary stretch of ten centuries of wrong and shame and misery the like of which was not to be mated but in hell. There were two "Reigns of Terror if we would but remember it and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passion, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon ten thousand persons, the other upon a hundred millions; but our shudders are all for the horrors" of the minor Terrorthe momentary Terrorso to speak; whereaswhat is the horror of swift death by the axecompared with lifelong death from hungercoldinsultcrueltyand heart-break? What is swift death by lightning compared with death by slow fire at the stake? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief Terror which we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror -- that unspeakably bitter and awful Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves.

These poor ostensible freemen who were sharing their breakfast and their talk with mewere as full of humble reverence for their king and Church and nobility as their worst enemy could desire. There was something pitifully ludicrous about it. I asked them if they supposed a nation of people ever existedwhowith a free vote in every man's handwould elect that a single family and its descendants should reign over it foreverwhether gifted or boobiesto the exclusion of all other families -- including the voter's; and would also elect that a certain hundred families should be raised to dizzy summits of rankand clothed on with offensive transmissible glories and privileges to the exclusion of the rest of the nation's families -- INCLUDING HIS OWN.

They all looked unhitand said they didn't know; that they had never thought about it beforeand it hadn't ever occurred to them that a nation could be so situated that every man COULD have a say in the government. I said I had seen one -- and that it would last until it had an Established Church. Again they were all unhit -- at first. But presently one man looked up and asked me to state that proposition again; and state it slowlyso it could soak into his understanding. I did it; and after a little he had the ideaand he brought his fist down and said HE didn't believe a nation where every man had a vote would voluntarily get down in the mud and dirt in any such way; and that to steal from a nation its will and preference must be a crime and the first of all crimes. I said to myself:

"This one's a man. If I were backed by enough of his sortI would make a strike for the welfare of this countryand try to prove myself its loyalest citizen by making a wholesome change in its system of government."

You see my kind of loyalty was loyalty to one's countrynot to its institutions or its office-holders. The country is the real thingthe substantial thingthe eternal thing; it is the thing to watch overand care forand be loyal to; institutions are extraneousthey are its mere clothingand clothing can wear outbecome raggedcease to be comfortablecease to protect the body from winterdiseaseand death. To be loyal to ragsto shout for ragsto worship ragsto die for rags -- that is a loyalty of unreasonit is pure animal; it belongs to monarchywas invented by monarchy; let monarchy keep it. I was from Connecticutwhose Constitution declares "that all political power is inherent in the peopleand all free governments are founded on their authority and instituted for their benefit; and that they have AT ALL TIMES an undeniable and indefeasible right to ALTER THEIR FORM OF GOVERNMENT in such a manner as they may think expedient."

Under that gospelthe citizen who thinks he sees that the commonwealth's political clothes are worn outand yet holds his peace and does not agitate for a new suitis disloyal; he is a traitor. That he may be the only one who thinks he sees this decaydoes not excuse him; it is his duty to agitate anywayand it is the duty of the others to vote him down if they do not see the matter as he does.

And now here I wasin a country where a right to say how the country should be governed was restricted to six persons in each thousand of its population. For the nine hundred and ninety-four to express dissatisfaction with the regnant system and propose to change itwould have made the whole six shudder as one manit would have been so disloyalso dishonorablesuch putrid black treason. So to speakI was become a stockholder in a corporation where nine hundred and ninety-four of the members furnished all the money and did all the workand the other six elected themselves a permanent board of direction and took all the dividends. It seemed to me that what the nine hundred and ninety-four dupes needed was a new deal. The thing that would have best suited the circus side of my nature would have been to resign the Boss-ship and get up an insurrection and turn it into a revolution; but I knew that the Jack Cade or the Wat Tyler who tries such a thing without first educating his materials up to revolution grade is almost absolutely certain to get left. I had never been accustomed to getting lefteven if I do say it myself. Whereforethe "deal" which had been for some time working into shape in my mind was of a quite different pattern from the Cade-Tyler sort.

So I did not talk blood and insurrection to that man there who sat munching black bread with that abused and mistaught herd of human sheepbut took him aside and talked matter of another sort to him. After I had finishedI got him to lend me a little ink from his veins; and with this and a sliver I wrote on a piece of bark --

Put him in the Man-factory --

and gave it to himand said:

"Take it to the palace at Camelot and give it into the hands of Amyas le Pouletwhom I call Clarenceand he will understand."

"He is a priestthen said the man, and some of the enthusiasm went out of his face.

How -- a priest? Didn't I tell you that no chattel of the Churchno bond-slave of pope or bishop can enter my Man-Factory? Didn't I tell you that YOU couldn't enter unless your religionwhatever it might bewas your own free property?"

"Marryit is soand for that I was glad; wherefore it liked me notand bred in me a cold doubtto hear of this priest being there."

"But he isn't a priestI tell you."

The man looked far from satisfied. He said:

"He is not a priestand yet can read?"

"He is not a priest and yet can read -- yesand writetoofor that matter. I taught him myself." The man's face cleared. "And it is the first thing that you yourself will be taught in that Factory --"

"I? I would give blood out of my heart to know that art. WhyI will be your slaveyour --"

"No you won'tyou won't be anybody's slave. Take your family and go along. Your lord the bishop will confiscate your small propertybut no matter. Clarence will fix you all right."

 

 

 

CHAPTER XIV - "DEFEND THEELORD"

 

I PAID three pennies for my breakfastand a most extravagant price it wastooseeing that one could have breakfasted a dozen persons for that money; but I was feeling good by this timeand I had always been a kind of spendthrift anyway; and then these people had wanted to give me the food for nothingscant as their provision wasand so it was a grateful pleasure to emphasize my appreciation and sincere thankfulness with a good big financial lift where the money would do so much more good than it would in my helmetwherethese pennies being made of iron and not stinted in weightmy half-dollar's worth was a good deal of a burden to me. I spent money rather too freely in those daysit is true; but one reason for it was that I hadn't got the proportions of things entirely adjustedeven yetafter so long a sojourn in Britain -- hadn't got along to where I was able to absolutely realize that a penny in Arthur's land and a couple of dollars in Connecticut were about one and the same thing: just twinsas you may sayin purchasing power. If my start from Camelot could have been delayed a very few days I could have paid these people in beautiful new coins from our own mintand that would have pleased me; and themtoonot less. I had adopted the American values exclusively. In a week or two nowcentsnickelsdimesquartersand half-dollarsand also a trifle of goldwould be trickling in thin but steady streams all through the commercial veins of the kingdomand I looked to see this new blood freshen up its life.

The farmers were bound to throw in somethingto sort of offset my liberalitywhether I would or no; so I let them give me a flint and steel; and as soon as they had comfortably bestowed Sandy and me on our horseI lit my pipe. When the first blast of smoke shot out through the bars of my helmetall those people broke for the woodsand Sandy went over backwards and struck the ground with a dull thud. They thought I was one of those fire-belching dragons they had heard so much about from knights and other professional liars. I had infinite trouble to persuade those people to venture back within explaining distance. Then I told them that this was only a bit of enchantment which would work harm to none but my enemies. And I promisedwith my hand on my heartthat if all who felt no enmity toward me would come forward and pass before me they should see that only those who remained behind would be struck dead. The procession moved with a good deal of promptness. There were no casualties to reportfor nobody had curiosity enough to remain behind to see what would happen.

I lost some timenowfor these big childrentheir fears gonebecame so ravished with wonder over my awe-compelling fireworks that I had to stay there and smoke a couple of pipes out before they would let me go. Still the delay was not wholly unproductivefor it took all that time to get Sandy thoroughly wonted to the new thingshe being so close to ityou know. It plugged up her conversation milltoofor a considerable whileand that was a gain. But above all other benefits accruingI had learned something. I was ready for any giant or any ogre that might come alongnow.

We tarried with a holy hermitthat nightand my opportunity came about the middle of the next afternoon. We were crossing a vast meadow by way of short-cutand I was musing absentlyhearing nothingseeing nothingwhen Sandy suddenly interrupted a remark which she had begun that morningwith the cry:

"Defend theelord! -- peril of life is toward!"

And she slipped down from the horse and ran a little way and stood. I looked up and sawfar off in the shade of a treehalf a dozen armed knights and their squires; and straightway there was bustle among them and tightening of saddle-girths for the mount. My pipe was ready and would have been litif I had not been lost in thinking about how to banish oppression from this land and restore to all its people their stolen rights and manhood without disobliging anybody. I lit up at onceand by the time I had got a good head of reserved steam onhere they came. All togethertoo; none of those chivalrous magnanimities which one reads so much about -- one courtly rascal at a timeand the rest standing by to see fair play. Nothey came in a bodythey came with a whirr and a rushthey came like a volley from a battery; came with heads low downplumes streaming out behindlances advanced at a level. It was a handsome sighta beautiful sight -- for a man up a tree. I laid my lance in rest and waitedwith my heart beatingtill the iron wave was just ready to break over methen spouted a column of white smoke through the bars of my helmet. You should have seen the wave go to pieces and scatter! This was a finer sight than the other one.

But these people stoppedtwo or three hundred yards awayand this troubled me. My satisfaction collapsedand fear came; I judged I was a lost man. But Sandy was radiant; and was going to be eloquent -- but I stopped herand told her my magic had miscarriedsomehow or otherand she must mountwith all despatchand we must ride for life. Noshe wouldn't. She said that my enchantment had disabled those knights; they were not riding onbecause they couldn't; waitthey would drop out of their saddles presentlyand we would get their horses and harness. I could not deceive such trusting simplicityso I said it was a mistake; that when my fireworks killed at allthey killed instantly; nothe men would not diethere was something wrong about my apparatusI couldn't tell what; but we must hurry and get awayfor those people would attack us againin a minute. Sandy laughedand said:

"Lack-a-daysirthey be not of that breed! Sir Launcelot will give battle to dragonsand will abide by themand will assail them againand yet againand still againuntil he do conquer and destroy them; and so likewise will Sir Pellinore and Sir Aglovale and Sir Caradosand mayhap othersbut there be none else that will venture itlet the idle say what the idle will. Andlaas to yonder base rufflersthink ye they have not their fillbut yet desire more?"

"Wellthenwhat are they waiting for? Why don't they leave? Nobody's hindering. Good landI'm willing to let bygones be bygonesI'm sure."

"Leaveis it? Ohgive thyself easement as to that. They dream not of itnonot they. They wait to yield them."

"Come -- reallyis that 'sooth' -- as you people say? If they want towhy don't they?"

"It would like them much; but an ye wot how dragons are esteemedye would not hold them blamable. They fear to come."

"Wellthensuppose I go to them insteadand --"

"Ahwit ye well they would not abide your coming. I will go."

And she did. She was a handy person to have along on a raid. I would have considered this a doubtful errandmyself. I presently saw the knights riding awayand Sandy coming back. That was a relief. I judged she had somehow failed to get the first innings -- I mean in the conversation; otherwise the interview wouldn't have been so short. But it turned out that she had managed the business well; in factadmirably. She said that when she told those people I was The Bossit hit them where they lived: "smote them sore with fear and dread" was her word; and then they were ready to put up with anything she might require. So she swore them to appear at Arthur's court within two days and yield themwith horse and harnessand be my knights henceforthand subject to my command. How much better she managed that thing than I should have done it myself! She was a daisy.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XV - SANDY'S TALE

 

AND so I'm proprietor of some knights said I, as we rode off. Who would ever have supposed that I should live to list up assets of that sort. I shan't know what to do with them; unless I raffle them off. How many of them are thereSandy?"

"Sevenplease yousirand their squires."

"It is a good haul. Who are they? Where do they hang out?"

"Where do they hang out?"

"Yeswhere do they live?"

"AhI understood thee not. That will I tell eftsoons." Then she said musinglyand softlyturning the words daintily over her tongue: "Hang they out -- hang they out -- where hang -- where do they hang out; ehright so; where do they hang out. Of a truth the phrase hath a fair and winsome graceand is prettily worded withal. I will repeat it anon and anon in mine idlessewhereby I may peradventure learn it. Where do they hang out. Even so! already it falleth trippingly from my tongueand forasmuch as --"

"Don't forget the cowboysSandy."

"Cowboys?"

"Yes; the knightsyou know: You were going to tell me about them. A while backyou remember. Figuratively speakinggame's called."

"Game --"

"Yesyesyes! Go to the bat. I meanget to work on your statisticsand don't burn so much kindling getting your fire started. Tell me about the knights."

"I will welland lightly will begin. So they two departed and rode into a great forest. And --"

"Great Scott!"

You seeI recognized my mistake at once. I had set her works a-going; it was my own fault; she would be thirty days getting down to those facts. And she generally began without a preface and finished without a result. If you interrupted her she would either go right along without noticingor answer with a couple of wordsand go back and say the sentence over again. Sointerruptions only did harm; and yet I had to interruptand interrupt pretty frequentlytooin order to save my life; a person would die if he let her monotony drip on him right along all day.

"Great Scott! " I said in my distress. She went right back and began over again:

"So they two departed and rode into a great forest. And --"

"WHICH two?"

"Sir Gawaine and Sir Uwaine. And so they came to an abbey of monksand there were well lodged. So on the morn they heard their masses in the abbeyand so they rode forth till they came to a great forest; then was Sir Gawaine ware in a valley by a turretof twelve fair damselsand two knights armed on great horsesand the damsels went to and fro by a tree. And then was Sir Gawaine ware how there hung a white shield on that treeand ever as the damsels came by it they spit upon itand some threw mire upon the shield --"

"Nowif I hadn't seen the like myself in this countrySandyI wouldn't believe it. But I've seen itand I can just see those creatures nowparading before that shield and acting like that. The women here do certainly act like all possessed. Yesand I mean your besttoosociety's very choicest brands. The humblest hello-girl along ten thousand miles of wire could teach gentlenesspatiencemodestymannersto the highest duchess in Arthur's land."

"Hello-girl?"

"Yesbut don't you ask me to explain; it's a new kind of a girl; they don't have them here; one often speaks sharply to them when they are not the least in faultand he can't get over feeling sorry for it and ashamed of himself in thirteen hundred yearsit's such shabby mean conduct and so unprovoked; the fact isno gentleman ever does it -- though I -- wellI myselfif I've got to confess --"

"Peradventure she --"

"Never mind her; never mind her; I tell you I couldn't ever explain her so you would understand."

"Even so be itsith ye are so minded. Then Sir Gawaine and Sir Uwaine went and saluted themand asked them why they did that despite to the shield. Sirssaid the damselswe shall tell you. There is a knight in this country that owneth this white shieldand he is a passing good man of his handsbut he hateth all ladies and gentlewomenand therefore we do all this despite to the shield. I will say yousaid Sir Gawaineit beseemeth evil a good knight to despise all ladies and gentlewomenand peradventure though he hate you he hath some causeand peradventure he loveth in some other places ladies and gentlewomenand to be loved againand he such a man of prowess as ye speak of --"

"Man of prowess -- yesthat is the man to please themSandy. Man of brains -- that is a thing they never think of. Tom Sayers -- John Heenan -- John L. Sullivan -- pity but you could be here. You would have your legs under the Round Table and a 'Sir' in front of your names within the twenty-four hours; and you could bring about a new distribution of the married princesses and duchesses of the Court in another twenty-four. The fact isit is just a sort of polished-up court of Comanchesand there isn't a squaw in it who doesn't stand ready at the dropping of a hat to desert to the buck with the biggest string of scalps at his belt."

"-- and he be such a man of prowess as ye speak ofsaid Sir Gawaine. Nowwhat is his name? Sirsaid theyhis name is Marhaus the king's son of Ireland."

"Son of the king of Irelandyou mean; the other form doesn't mean anything. And look out and hold on tightnowwe must jump this gully.... Therewe are all right now. This horse belongs in the circus; he is born before his time."

"I know him wellsaid Sir Uwainehe is a passing good knight as any is on live."

"ON LIVE. If you've got a fault in the worldSandyit is that you are a shade too archaic. But it isn't any matter."

"-- for I saw him once proved at a justs where many knights were gatheredand that time there might no man withstand him. Ahsaid Sir Gawainedamselsmethinketh ye are to blamefor it is to suppose he that hung that shield there will not be long therefromand then may those knights match him on horsebackand that is more your worship than thus; for I will abide no longer to see a knight's shield dishonored. And therewith Sir Uwaine and Sir Gawaine departed a little from themand then were they ware where Sir Marhaus came riding on a great horse straight toward them. And when the twelve damsels saw Sir Marhaus they fled into the turret as they were wildso that some of them fell by the way. Then the one of the knights of the tower dressed his shieldand said on highSir Marhaus defend thee. And so they ran together that the knight brake his spear on Marhausand Sir Marhaus smote him so hard that he brake his neck and the horse's back --"

"Wellthat is just the trouble about this state of thingsit ruins so many horses."

"That saw the other knight of the turretand dressed him toward Marhausand they went so eagerly togetherthat the knight of the turret was soon smitten downhorse and manstark dead --"

"ANOTHER horse gone; I tell you it is a custom that ought to be broken up. I don't see how people with any feeling can applaud and support it."

....

"So these two knights came together with great random --"

I saw that I had been asleep and missed a chapterbut I didn't say anything. I judged that the Irish knight was in trouble with the visitors by this timeand this turned out to be the case.

"-- that Sir Uwaine smote Sir Marhaus that his spear brast in pieces on the shieldand Sir Marhaus smote him so sore that horse and man he bare to the earthand hurt Sir Uwaine on the left side --

"The truth isAlisandethese archaics are a little TOO simple; the vocabulary is too limitedand soby consequencedescriptions suffer in the matter of variety; they run too much to level Saharas of factand not enough to picturesque detail; this throws about them a certain air of the monotonous; in fact the fights are all alike: a couple of people come together with great random -- random is a good wordand so is exegesisfor that matterand so is holocaustand defalcationand usufruct and a hundred othersbut land! a body ought to discriminate -- they come together with great randomand a spear is brastand one party brake his shield and the other one goes downhorse and manover his horse-tail and brake his neckand then the next candidate comes randoming inand brast HIS spearand the other man brast his shieldand down HE goeshorse and manover his horse-tailand brake HIS neckand then there's another electedand another and another and still anothertill the material is all used up; and when you come to figure up resultsyou can't tell one fight from anothernor who whipped; and as a PICTUREof livingragingroaring battlesho! whyit's pale and noiseless -- just ghosts scuffling in a fog. Dear mewhat would this barren vocabulary get out of the mightiest spectacle? -- the burning of Rome in Nero's timefor instance? Whyit would merely say'Town burned down; no insurance; boy brast a windowfireman brake his neck!' WhyTHAT ain't a picture!"

It was a good deal of a lectureI thoughtbut it didn't disturb Sandydidn't turn a feather; her steam soared steadily up againthe minute I took off the lid:

"Then Sir Marhaus turned his horse and rode toward Gawaine with his spear. And when Sir Gawaine saw thathe dressed his shieldand they aventred their spearsand they came together with all the might of their horsesthat either knight smote other so hard in the midst of their shieldsbut Sir Gawaine's spear brake --"

"I knew it would."

-- "but Sir Marhaus's spear held; and therewith Sir Gawaine and his horse rushed down to the earth --"

"Just so -- and brake his back."

-- "and lightly Sir Gawaine rose upon his feet and pulled out his swordand dressed him toward Sir Marhaus on footand therewith either came unto other eagerlyand smote together with their swordsthat their shields flew in cantelsand they bruised their helms and their hauberksand wounded either other. But Sir Gawainefro it passed nine of the clockwaxed by the space of three hours ever stronger and stronger. and thrice his might was increased. All this espied Sir Marhausand had great wonder how his might increasedand so they wounded other passing sore; and then when it was come noon --"

The pelting sing-song of it carried me forward to scenes and sounds of my boyhood days:

"N-e-e-ew Haven! ten minutes for refreshments -- knductr'll strike the gong-bell two minutes before train leaves -- passengers for the Shore line please take seats in the rear k'yarthis k'yar don't go no furder -- AHH plsAW-rnjzb'NANnersS-A-N-D'chesp--OP-corn!"

-- "and waxed past noon and drew toward evensong. Sir Gawaine's strength feebled and waxed passing faintthat unnethes he might dure any longerand Sir Marhaus was then bigger and bigger --"

"Which strained his armorof course; and yet little would one of these people mind a small thing like that."

-- "and soSir Knightsaid Sir MarhausI have well felt that ye are a passing good knightand a marvelous man of might as ever I felt anywhile it lastethand our quarrels are not greatand therefore it were a pity to do you hurtfor I feel you are passing feeble. Ahsaid Sir Gawainegentle knightye say the word that I should say. And therewith they took off their helms and either kissed otherand there they swore together either to love other as brethren --"

But I lost the thread thereand dozed off to slumberthinking about what a pity it was that men with such superb strength -- strength enabling them to stand up cased in cruelly burdensome iron and drenched with perspirationand hack and batter and bang each other for six hours on a stretch -- should not have been born at a time when they could put it to some useful purpose. Take a jackassfor instance: a jackass has that kind of strengthand puts it to a useful purposeand is valuable to this world because he is a jackass; but a nobleman is not valuable because he is a jackass. It is a mixture that is always ineffectualand should never have been attempted in the first place. And yetonce you start a mistakethe trouble is done and you never know what is going to come of it.

When I came to myself again and began to listenI perceived that I had lost another chapterand that Alisande had wandered a long way off with her people.

"And so they rode and came into a deep valley full of stonesand thereby they saw a fair stream of water; above thereby was the head of the streama fair fountainand three damsels sitting thereby. In this countrysaid Sir Marhauscame never knight since it was christenedbut he found strange adventures --"

"This is not good formAlisande. Sir Marhaus the king's son of Ireland talks like all the rest; you ought to give him a brogueor at least a characteristic expletive; by this means one would recognize him as soon as he spokewithout his ever being named. It is a common literary device with the great authors. You should make him say'In this countrybe jaberscame never knight since it was christenedbut he found strange adventuresbe jabers.' You see how much better that sounds."

-- "came never knight but he found strange adventuresbe jabers. Of a truth it doth indeedfair lordalbeit 'tis passing hard to saythough peradventure that will not tarry but better speed with usage. And then they rode to the damselsand either saluted otherand the eldest had a garland of gold about her headand she was threescore winter of age or more --"

"The DAMSEL was?"

"Even sodear lord -- and her hair was white under the garland --"

"Celluloid teethnine dollars a setas like as not -- the loose-fit kindthat go up and down like a portcullis when you eatand fall out when you laugh."

"The second damsel was of thirty winter of agewith a circlet of gold about her head. The third damsel was but fifteen year of age --"

Billows of thought came rolling over my souland the voice faded out of my hearing!

Fifteen! Break -- my heart! ohmy lost darling! Just her age who was so gentleand lovelyand all the world to meand whom I shall never see again! How the thought of her carries me back over wide seas of memory to a vague dim timea happy timeso manymany centuries hencewhen I used to wake in the soft summer morningsout of sweet dreams of herand say "HelloCentral!" just to hear her dear voice come melting back to me with a "HelloHank!" that was music of the spheres to my enchanted ear. She got three dollars a weekbut she was worth it.

I could not follow Alisande's further explanation of who our captured knights werenow -- I mean in case she should ever get to explaining who they were. My interest was gonemy thoughts were far awayand sad. By fitful glimpses of the drifting talecaught here and there and now and thenI merely noted in a vague way that each of these three knights took one of these three damsels up behind him on his horseand one rode northanother eastthe other southto seek adventuresand meet again and lieafter year and day. Year and day -- and without baggage. It was of a piece with the general simplicity of the country.

The sun was now setting. It was about three in the afternoon when Alisande had begun to tell me who the cowboys were; so she had made pretty good progress with it -- for her. She would arrive some time or otherno doubtbut she was not a person who could be hurried.

We were approaching a castle which stood on high ground; a hugestrongvenerable structurewhose gray towers and battlements were charmingly draped with ivyand whose whole majestic mass was drenched with splendors flung from the sinking sun. It was the largest castle we had seenand so I thought it might be the one we were afterbut Sandy said no. She did not know who owned it; she said she had passed it without callingwhen she went down to Camelot.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XVI - MORGAN LE FAY

 

IF knights errant were to be believednot all castles were desirable places to seek hospitality in. As a matter of factknights errant were NOT persons to be believed -- that ismeasured by modern standards of veracity; yetmeasured by the standards of their own timeand scaled accordinglyyou got the truth. It was very simple: you discounted a statement ninetyseven per cent.; the rest was fact. Now after making this allowancethe truth remained that if I could find out something about a castle before ringing the doorbell -- I mean hailing the warders -- it was the sensible thing to do. So I was pleased when I saw in the distance a horseman making the bottom turn of the road that wound down from this castle.

As we approached each otherI saw that he wore a plumed helmetand seemed to be otherwise clothed in steelbut bore a curious addition also -- a stiff square garment like a herald's tabard. HoweverI had to smile at my own forgetfulness when I got nearer and read this sign on his tabard:

"Persimmon's Soap -- All the Prime-Donna Use It."

That was a little idea of my ownand had several wholesome purposes in view toward the civilizing and uplifting of this nation. In the first placeit was a furtiveunderhand blow at this nonsense of knight errantrythough nobody suspected that but me. I had started a number of these people out -- the bravest knights I could get -- each sandwiched between bulletin-boards bearing one device or anotherand I judged that by and by when they got to be numerous enough they would begin to look ridiculous; and theneven the steel-clad ass that HADN'T any board would himself begin to look ridiculous because he was out of the fashion.

Secondlythese missionaries would graduallyand without creating suspicion or exciting alarmintroduce a rudimentary cleanliness among the nobilityand from them it would work down to the peopleif the priests could be kept quiet. This would undermine the Church. I mean would be a step toward that. Nexteducation -- nextfreedom -- and then she would begin to crumble. It being my conviction that any Established Church is an established crimean established slave-penI had no scruplesbut was willing to assail it in any way or with any weapon that promised to hurt it. Whyin my own former day -- in remote centuries not yet stirring in the womb of time -- there were old Englishmen who imagined that they had been born in a free country: a "free" country with the Corporation Act and the Test still in force in it -- timbers propped against men's liberties and dishonored consciences to shore up an Established Anachronism with.

My missionaries were taught to spell out the gilt signs on their tabards -- the showy gilding was a neat ideaI could have got the king to wear a bulletin-board for the sake of that barbaric splendor -- they were to spell out these signs and then explain to the lords and ladies what soap was; and if the lords and ladies were afraid of itget them to try it on a dog. The missionary's next move was to get the family together and try it on himself; he was to stop at no experimenthowever desperate. that could convince the nobility that soap was harmless; if any final doubt remainedhe must catch a hermit -- the woods were full of them; saints they called themselvesand saints they were believed to be. They were unspeakably holyand worked miraclesand everybody stood in awe of them. If a hermit could survive a washand that failed to convince a dukegive him uplet him alone.

Whenever my missionaries overcame a knight errant on the road they washed himand when he got well they swore him to go and get a bulletin-board and disseminate soap and civilization the rest of his days. As a consequence the workers in the field were increasing by degreesand the reform was steadily spreading. My soap factory felt the strain early. At first I had only two hands; but before I had left home I was already employing fifteenand running night and day; and the atmospheric result was getting so pronounced that the king went sort of fainting and gasping around and said he did not believe he could stand it much longerand Sir Launcelot got so that he did hardly anything but walk up and down the roof and swearalthough I told him it was worse up there than anywhere elsebut he said he wanted plenty of air; and he was always complaining that a palace was no place for a soap factory anywayand said if a man was to start one in his house he would be damned if he wouldn't strangle him. There were ladies presenttoobut much these people ever cared for that; they would swear before childrenif the wind was their way when the factory was going.

This missionary knight's name was La Cote Male Taileand he said that this castle was the abode of Morgan le Faysister of King Arthurand wife of King Uriens. monarch of a realm about as big as the District of Columbia -- you could stand in the middle of it and throw bricks into the next kingdom. "Kings" and "Kingdoms" were as thick in Britain as they had been in little Palestine in Joshua's timewhen people had to sleep with their knees pulled up because they couldn't stretch out without a passport.

La Cote was much depressedfor he had scored here the worst failure of his campaign. He had not worked off a cake; yet he had tried all the tricks of the tradeeven to the washing of a hermit; but the hermit died. This wasindeeda bad failurefor this animal would now be dubbed a martyrand would take his place among the saints of the Roman calendar. Thus made he his moanthis poor Sir La Cote Male Taileand sorrowed passing sore. And so my heart bled for himand I was moved to comfort and stay him. Wherefore I said:

"Forbear to grievefair knightfor this is not a defeat. We have brainsyou and I; and for such as have brains there are no defeatsbut only victories. Observe how we will turn this seeming disaster into an advertisement; an advertisement for our soap; and the biggest oneto drawthat was ever thought of; an advertisement that will transform that Mount Washington defeat into a Matterhorn victory. We will put on your bulletin-board'PATRONIZED BY THE ELECT.' How does that strike you?"

"Verilyit is wonderly bethought!"

"Wella body is bound to admit that for just a modest little one-line ad.it's a corker."

So the poor colporteur's griefs vanished away. He was a brave fellowand had done mighty feats of arms in his time. His chief celebrity rested upon the events of an excursion like this one of minewhich he had once made with a damsel named Maledisantwho was as handy with her tongue as was Sandythough in a different wayfor her tongue churned forth only railings and insultwhereas Sandy's music was of a kindlier sort. I knew his story welland so I knew how to interpret the compassion that was in his face when he bade me farewell. He supposed I was having a bitter hard time of it.

Sandy and I discussed his storyas we rode alongand she said that La Cote's bad luck had begun with the very beginning of that trip; for the king's fool had overthrown him on the first dayand in such cases it was customary for the girl to desert to the conquerorbut Maledisant didn't do it; and also persisted afterward in sticking to himafter all his defeats. Butsaid Isuppose the victor should decline to accept his spoil? She said that that wouldn't answer -- he must. He couldn't decline; it wouldn't be regular. I made a note of that. If Sandy's music got to be too burdensomesome timeI would let a knight defeat meon the chance that she would desert to him.

In due time we were challenged by the wardersfrom the castle wallsand after a parley admitted. I have nothing pleasant to tell about that visit. But it was not a disappointmentfor I knew Mrs. le Fay by reputationand was not expecting anything pleasant. She was held in awe by the whole realmfor she had made everybody believe she was a great sorceress. All her ways were wickedall her instincts devilish. She was loaded to the eyelids with cold malice. All her history was black with crime; and among her crimes murder was common. I was most curious to see her; as curious as I could have been to see Satan. To my surprise she was beautiful; black thoughts had failed to make her expression repulsiveage had failed to wrinkle her satin skin or mar its bloomy freshness. She could have passed for old Uriens' granddaughtershe could have been mistaken for sister to her own son.

As soon as we were fairly within the castle gates we were ordered into her presence. King Uriens was therea kind-faced old man with a subdued look; and also the sonSir Uwaine le Blanchemainsin whom I wasof courseinterested on account of the tradition that he had once done battle with thirty knightsand also on account of his trip with Sir Gawaine and Sir Marhauswhich Sandy had been aging me with. But Morgan was the main attractionthe conspicuous personality here; she was head chief of this householdthat was plain. She caused us to be seatedand then she beganwith all manner of pretty graces and graciousnessesto ask me questions. Dear meit was like a bird or a fluteor somethingtalking. I felt persuaded that this woman must have been misrepresentedlied about. She trilled alongand trilled alongand presently a handsome young pageclothed like the rainbowand as easy and undulatory of movement as a wavecame with something on a golden salverandkneeling to present it to heroverdid his graces and lost his balanceand so fell lightly against her knee. She slipped a dirk into him in as matter-of-course a way as another person would have harpooned a rat!

Poor child! he slumped to the floortwisted his silken limbs in one great straining contortion of painand was dead. Out of the old king was wrung an involuntary "O-h!" of compassion. The look he gotmade him cut it suddenly short and not put any more hyphens in it. Sir Uwaineat a sign from his motherwent to the anteroom and called some servantsand meanwhile madame went rippling sweetly along with her talk.

I saw that she was a good housekeeperfor while she talked she kept a corner of her eye on the servants to see that they made no balks in handling the body and getting it out; when they came with fresh clean towelsshe sent back for the other kind; and when they had finished wiping the floor and were goingshe indicated a crimson fleck the size of a tear which their duller eyes had overlooked. It was plain to me that La Cote Male Taile had failed to see the mistress of the house. Oftenhow louder and clearer than any tonguedoes dumb circumstantial evidence speak.

Morgan le Fay rippled along as musically as ever. Marvelous woman. And what a glance she had: when it fell in reproof upon those servantsthey shrunk and quailed as timid people do when the lightning flashes out of a cloud. I could have got the habit myself. It was the same with that poor old Brer Uriens; he was always on the ragged edge of apprehension; she could not even turn toward him but he winced.

In the midst of the talk I let drop a complimentary word about King Arthurforgetting for the moment how this woman hated her brother. That one little compliment was enough. She clouded up like storm; she called for her guardsand said:

"Hale me these varlets to the dungeons."

That struck cold on my earsfor her dungeons had a reputation. Nothing occurred to me to say -- or do. But not so with Sandy. As the guard laid a hand upon meshe piped up with the tranquilest confidenceand said:

"God's woundsdost thou covet destructionthou maniac? It is The Boss!"

Now what a happy idea that was! -- and so simple; yet it would never have occurred to me. I was born modest; not all overbut in spots; and this was one of the spots.

The effect upon madame was electrical. It cleared her countenance and brought back her smiles and all her persuasive graces and blandishments; but nevertheless she was not able to entirely cover up with them the fact that she was in a ghastly fright. She said:

"Labut do list to thine handmaid! as if one gifted with powers like to mine might say the thing which I have said unto one who has vanquished Merlinand not be jesting. By mine enchantments I foresaw your comingand by them I knew you when you entered here. I did but play this little jest with hope to surprise you into some display of your artas not doubting you would blast the guards with occult firesconsuming them to ashes on the spota marvel much beyond mine own abilityyet one which I have long been childishly curious to see."

The guards were less curiousand got out as soon as they got permission.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XVII - A ROYAL BANQUET

 

MADAMEseeing me pacific and unresentfulno doubt judged that I was deceived by her excuse; for her fright dissolved awayand she was soon so importunate to have me give an exhibition and kill somebodythat the thing grew to be embarrassing. Howeverto my relief she was presently interrupted by the call to prayers. I will say this much for the nobility: thattyrannicalmurderousrapaciousand morally rotten as they werethey were deeply and enthusiastically religious. Nothing could divert them from the regular and faithful performance of the pieties enjoined by the Church. More than once I had seen a noble who had gotten his enemy at a disadvantagestop to pray before cutting his throat; more than once I had seen a nobleafter ambushing and despatching his enemyretire to the nearest wayside shrine and humbly give thankswithout even waiting to rob the body. There was to be nothing finer or sweeter in the life of even Benvenuto Cellinithat rough-hewn saintten centuries later. All the nobles of Britainwith their familiesattended divine service morning and night dailyin their private chapelsand even the worst of them had family worship five or six times a day besides. The credit of this belonged entirely to the Church. Although I was no friend to that Catholic ChurchI was obliged to admit this. And oftenin spite of meI found myself sayingWhat would this country be without the Church?

After prayers we had dinner in a great banqueting hall which was lighted by hundreds of grease-jetsand everything was as fine and lavish and rudely splendid as might become the royal degree of the hosts. At the head of the hallon a daiswas the table of the kingqueenand their sonPrince Uwaine. Stretching down the hall from thiswas the general tableon the floor. At thisabove the saltsat the visiting nobles and the grown members of their familiesof both sexes-- the resident Courtin effect -- sixty-one persons; below the salt sat minor officers of the householdwith their principal subordinates: altogether a hundred and eighteen persons sittingand about as many liveried servants standing behind their chairsor serving in one capacity or another. It was a very fine show. In a gallery a band with cymbalshornsharpsand other horrorsopened the proceedings with what seemed to be the crude first-draft or original agony of the wail known to later centuries as "In the Sweet Bye and Bye." It was newand ought to have been rehearsed a little more. For some reason or other the queen had the composer hangedafter dinner.

After this musicthe priest who stood behind the royal table said a noble long grace in ostensible Latin. Then the battalion of waiters broke away from their postsand dartedrushedflewfetched and carriedand the mighty feeding began; no words anywherebut absorbing attention to business. The rows of chops opened and shut in vast unisonand the sound of it was like to the muffled burr of subterranean machinery.

The havoc continued an hour and a halfand unimaginable was the destruction of substantials. Of the chief feature of the feast -- the huge wild boar that lay stretched out so portly and imposing at the start -- nothing was left but the semblance of a hoop-skirt; and he was but the type and symbol of what had happened to all the other dishes.

With the pastries and so onthe heavy drinking began -- and the talk. Gallon after gallon of wine and mead disappearedand everybody got comfortablethen happythen sparklingly joyous -- both sexes-- and by and by pretty noisy. Men told anecdotes that were terrific to hearbut nobody blushed; and when the nub was sprungthe assemblage let go with a horse-laugh that shook the fortress. Ladies answered back with historiettes that would almost have made Queen Margaret of Navarre or even the great Elizabeth of England hide behind a handkerchiefbut nobody hid herebut only laughed -- howledyou may say. In pretty much all of these dreadful storiesecclesiastics were the hardy heroesbut that didn't worry the chaplain anyhe had his laugh with the rest; more than thatupon invitation he roared out a song which was of as daring a sort as any that was sung that night.

By midnight everybody was fagged outand sore with laughing; andas a ruledrunk: some weepinglysome affectionatelysome hilariouslysome quarrelsomelysome dead and under the table. Of the ladiesthe worst spectacle was a lovely young duchesswhose wedding-eve this was; and indeed she was a spectaclesure enough. Just as she was she could have sat in advance for the portrait of the young daughter of the Regent d'Orleansat the famous dinner whence she was carriedfoul-mouthedintoxicatedand helplessto her bedin the lost and lamented days of the Ancient Regime.

Suddenlyeven while the priest was lifting his handsand all conscious heads were bowed in reverent expectation of the coming blessingthere appeared under the arch of the far-off door at the bottom of the hall an old and bent and white-haired ladyleaning upon a crutch-stick; and she lifted the stick and pointed it toward the queen and cried out:

"The wrath and curse of God fall upon youwoman without pitywho have slain mine innocent grandchild and made desolate this old heart that had nor chicknor friend nor stay nor comfort in all this world but him!"

Everybody crossed himself in a grisly frightfor a curse was an awful thing to those people; but the queen rose up majesticwith the death-light in her eyeand flung back this ruthless command:

"Lay hands on her! To the stake with her!"

The guards left their posts to obey. It was a shame; it was a cruel thing to see. What could be done? Sandy gave me a look; I knew she had another inspiration. I said:

"Do what you choose."

She was up and facing toward the queen in a moment. She indicated meand said:

"MadameHE saith this may not be. Recall the commandmentor he will dissolve the castle and it shall vanish away like the instable fabric of a dream!"

Confound itwhat a crazy contract to pledge a person to! What if the queen --

But my consternation subsided thereand my panic passed off; for the queenall in a collapsemade no show of resistance but gave a countermanding sign and sunk into her seat. When she reached it she was sober. So were many of the others. The assemblage rosewhiffed ceremony to the windsand rushed for the door like a mob; overturning chairssmashing crockerytuggingstrugglingshoulderingcrowding -- anything to get out before I should change my mind and puff the castle into the measureless dim vacancies of space. Wellwellwellthey WERE a superstitious lot. It is all a body can do to conceive of it.

The poor queen was so scared and humbled that she was even afraid to hang the composer without first consulting me. I was very sorry for her -- indeedany one would have beenfor she was really suffering; so I was willing to do anything that was reasonableand had no desire to carry things to wanton extremities. I therefore considered the matter thoughtfullyand ended by having the musicians ordered into our presence to play that Sweet Bye and Bye againwhich they did. Then I saw that she was rightand gave her permission to hang the whole band. This little relaxation of sternness had a good effect upon the queen. A statesman gains little by the arbitrary exercise of iron-clad authority upon all occasions that offerfor this wounds the just pride of his subordinatesand thus tends to undermine his strength. A little concessionnow and thenwhere it can do no harmis the wiser policy.

Now that the queen was at ease in her mind once moreand measurably happyher wine naturally began to assert itself againand it got a little the start of her. I mean it set her music going -- her silver bell of a tongue. Dear meshe was a master talker. It would not become me to suggest that it was pretty late and that I was a tired man and very sleepy. I wished I had gone off to bed when I had the chance. Now I must stick it out; there was no other way. So she tinkled along and alongin the otherwise profound and ghostly hush of the sleeping castleuntil by and by there cameas if from deep down under usa far-away soundas of a muffled shriek -- with an expression of agony about it that made my flesh crawl. The queen stoppedand her eyes lighted with pleasure; she tilted her graceful head as a bird does when it listens. The sound bored its way up through the stillness again.

"What is it?" I said.

"It is truly a stubborn souland endureth long. It is many hours now."

"Endureth what?"

"The rack. Come -- ye shall see a blithe sight. An he yield not his secret nowye shall see him torn asunder."

What a silky smooth hellion she was; and so composed and serenewhen the cords all down my legs were hurting in sympathy with that man's pain. Conducted by mailed guards bearing flaring torcheswe tramped along echoing corridorsand down stone stairways dank and drippingand smelling of mould and ages of imprisoned night -- a chilluncanny journey and a long oneand not made the shorter or the cheerier by the sorceress's talkwhich was about this sufferer and his crime. He had been accused by an anonymous informerof having killed a stag in the royal preserves. I said:

"Anonymous testimony isn't just the right thingyour Highness. It were fairer to confront the accused with the accuser."

"I had not thought of thatit being but of small consequence. But an I wouldI could notfor that the accuser came masked by nightand told the foresterand straightway got him hence againand so the forester knoweth him not."

"Then is this Unknown the only person who saw the stag killed?"

"MarryNO man SAW the killingbut this Unknown saw this hardy wretch near to the spot where the stag layand came with right loyal zeal and betrayed him to the forester."

"So the Unknown was near the dead stagtoo? Isn't it just possible that he did the killing himself? His loyal zeal -- in a mask -- looks just a shade suspicious. But what is your highness's idea for racking the prisoner? Where is the profit?"

"He will not confesselse; and then were his soul lost. For his crime his life is forfeited by the law -- and of a surety will I see that he payeth it! -- but it were peril to my own soul to let him die unconfessed and unabsolved. NayI were a fool to fling me into hell for HIS accommodation."

"Butyour Highnesssuppose he has nothing to confess?"

"As to thatwe shall seeanon. An I rack him to death and he confess notit will peradventure show that he had indeed naught to confess -- ye will grant that that is sooth? Then shall I not be damned for an unconfessed man that had naught to confess -- whereforeI shall be safe."

It was the stubborn unreasoning of the time. It was useless to argue with her. Arguments have no chance against petrified training; they wear it as little as the waves wear a cliff. And her training was everybody's. The brightest intellect in the land would not have been able to see that her position was defective.

As we entered the rack-cell I caught a picture that will not go from me; I wish it would. A native young giant of thirty or thereabouts lay stretched upon the frame on his backwith his wrists and ankles tied to ropes which led over windlasses at either end. There was no color in him; his features were contorted and setand sweat-drops stood upon his forehead. A priest bent over him on each side; the executioner stood by; guards were on duty; smoking torches stood in sockets along the walls; in a corner crouched a poor young creatureher face drawn with anguisha half-wild and hunted look in her eyesand in her lap lay a little child asleep. Just as we stepped across the threshold the executioner gave his machine a slight turnwhich wrung a cry from both the prisoner and the woman; but I shoutedand the executioner released the strain without waiting to see who spoke. I could not let this horror go on; it would have killed me to see it. I asked the queen to let me clear the place and speak to the prisoner privately; and when she was going to object I spoke in a low voice and said I did not want to make a scene before her servantsbut I must have my way; for I was King Arthur's representativeand was speaking in his name. She saw she had to yield. I asked her to indorse me to these peopleand then leave me. It was not pleasant for herbut she took the pill; and even went further than I was meaning to require. I only wanted the backing of her own authority; but she said:

"Ye will do in all things as this lord shall command. It is The Boss."

It was certainly a good word to conjure with: you could see it by the squirming of these rats. The queen's guards fell into lineand she and they marched awaywith their torch-bearersand woke the echoes of the cavernous tunnels with the measured beat of their retreating footfalls. I had the prisoner taken from the rack and placed upon his bedand medicaments applied to his hurtsand wine given him to drink. The woman crept near and looked oneagerlylovinglybut timorously-- like one who fears a repulse; indeedshe tried furtively to touch the man's foreheadand jumped backthe picture of frightwhen I turned unconsciously toward her. It was pitiful to see.

"Lord I said, stroke himlassif you want to. Do anything you're a mind to; don't mind me."

Whyher eyes were as grateful as an animal'swhen you do it a kindness that it understands. The baby was out of her way and she had her cheek against the man's in a minute. and her hands fondling his hairand her happy tears running down. The man revived and caressed his wife with his eyeswhich was all he could do. I judged I might clear the dennowand I did; cleared it of all but the family and myself. Then I said:

"Nowmy friendtell me your side of this matter; I know the other side."

The man moved his head in sign of refusal. But the woman looked pleased -- as it seemed to me -- pleased with my suggestion. I went on --

"You know of me?"

"Yes. All doin Arthur's realms."

"If my reputation has come to you right and straightyou should not be afraid to speak."

The woman broke ineagerly:

"Ahfair my lorddo thou persuade him! Thou canst an thou wilt. Ahhe suffereth so; and it is for me -- for ME! And how can I bear it? I would I might see him die -- a sweetswift death; ohmy HugoI cannot bear this one!"

And she fell to sobbing and grovelling about my feetand still imploring. Imploring what? The man's death? I could not quite get the bearings of the thing. But Hugo interrupted her and said:

"Peace! Ye wit not what ye ask. Shall I starve whom I loveto win a gentle death? I wend thou knewest me better."

"Well I said, I can't quite make this out. It is a puzzle. Now --"

"Ahdear my lordan ye will but persuade him! Consider how these his tortures wound me! Ohand he will not speak! -- whereasthe healingthe solace that lie in a blessed swift death --"

"What ARE you maundering about? He's going out from here a free man and whole -- he's not going to die."

The man's white face lit upand the woman flung herself at me in a most surprising explosion of joyand cried out:

"He is saved! -- for it is the king's word by the mouth of the king's servant -- Arthurthe king whose word is gold!"

"Wellthen you do believe I can be trustedafter all. Why didn't you before?"

"Who doubted? Not Iindeed; and not she."

"Wellwhy wouldn't you tell me your storythen?"

"Ye had made no promise; else had it been otherwise."

"I seeI see.... And yet I believe I don't quite seeafter all. You stood the torture and refused to confess; which shows plain enough to even the dullest understanding that you had nothing to confess --"

"Imy lord? How so? It was I that killed the deer!"

"You DID? Ohdearthis is the most mixed-up business that ever --"

"Dear lordI begged him on my knees to confessbut --"

"You DID! It gets thicker and thicker. What did you want him to do that for?"

"Sith it would bring him a quick death and save him all this cruel pain."

"Well -- yesthere is reason in that. But HE didn't want the quick death."

"He? Whyof a surety he DID."

"Wellthenwhy in the world DIDN'T he confess?"

"Ahsweet sirand leave my wife and chick without bread and shelter?"

"Ohheart of goldnow I see it! The bitter law takes the convicted man's estate and beggars his widow and his orphans. They could torture you to deathbut without conviction or confession they could not rob your wife and baby. You stood by them like a man; and YOU -- true wife and the woman that you are -- you would have bought him release from torture at cost to yourself of slow starvation and death -- wellit humbles a body to think what your sex can do when it comes to self-sacrifice. I'll book you both for my colony; you'll like it there; it's a Factory where I'm going to turn groping and grubbing automata into MEN."

 

 

 

CHAPTER XVIII - IN THE QUEEN'S DUNGEONS

 

WELLI arranged all that; and I had the man sent to his home. I had a great desire to rack the executioner; not because he was a goodpainstaking and paingiving official-- for surely it was not to his discredit that he performed his functions well -- but to pay him back for wantonly cuffing and otherwise distressing that young woman. The priests told me about thisand were generously hot to have him punished. Something of this disagreeable sort was turning up every now and then. I meanepisodes that showed that not all priests were frauds and self-seekersbut that manyeven the great majorityof these that were down on the ground among the common peoplewere sincere and right-heartedand devoted to the alleviation of human troubles and sufferings. Wellit was a thing which could not be helpedso I seldom fretted about itand never many minutes at a time; it has never been my way to bother much about things which you can't cure. But I did not like itfor it was just the sort of thing to keep people reconciled to an Established Church. We MUST have a religion -- it goes without saying -- but my idea isto have it cut up into forty free sectsso that they will police each otheras had been the case in the United States in my time. Concentration of power in a political machine is bad; and and an Established Church is only a political machine; it was invented for that; it is nursedcradledpreserved for that; it is an enemy to human libertyand does no good which it could not better do in a split-up and scattered condition. That wasn't law; it wasn't gospel: it was only an opinion -- my opinionand I was only a manone man: so it wasn't worth any more than the pope's -- or any lessfor that matter.

WellI couldn't rack the executionerneither would I overlook the just complaint of the priests. The man must be punished somehow or otherso I degraded him from his office and made him leader of the band -- the new one that was to be started. He begged hardand said he couldn't play -- a plausible excusebut too thin; there wasn't a musician in the country that could.

The queen was a good deal outragednext morning when she found she was going to have neither Hugo's life nor his property. But I told her she must bear this cross; that while by law and custom she certainly was entitled to both the man's life and his propertythere were extenuating circumstancesand so in Arthur the king's name I had pardoned him. The deer was ravaging the man's fieldsand he had killed it in sudden passionand not for gain; and he had carried it into the royal forest in the hope that that might make detection of the misdoer impossible. Confound herI couldn't make her see that sudden passion is an extenuating circumstance in the killing of venison -- or of a person -- so I gave it up and let her sulk it out I DID think I was going to make her see it by remarking that her own sudden passion in the case of the page modified that crime.

"Crime!" she exclaimed. "How thou talkest! Crimeforsooth! ManI am going to PAY for him!"

Ohit was no use to waste sense on her. Training -- training is everything; training is all there is TO a person. We speak of nature; it is folly; there is no such thing as nature; what we call by that misleading name is merely heredity and training. We have no thoughts of our ownno opinions of our own; they are transmitted to ustrained into us. All that is original in usand therefore fairly creditable or discreditable to uscan be covered up and hidden by the point of a cambric needleall the rest being atoms contributed byand inherited froma procession of ancestors that stretches back a billion years to the Adam-clam or grasshopper or monkey from whom our race has been so tediously and ostentatiously and unprofitably developed. And as for meall that I think about in this plodding sad pilgrimagethis pathetic drift between the eternitiesis to look out and humbly live a pure and high and blameless lifeand save that one microscopic atom in me that is truly ME: the rest may land in Sheol and welcome for all I care.

Noconfound herher intellect was goodshe had brains enoughbut her training made her an ass -- that isfrom a many-centuries-later point of view. To kill the page was no crime -- it was her right; and upon her right she stoodserenely and unconscious of offense. She was a result of generations of training in the unexamined and unassailed belief that the law which permitted her to kill a subject when she chose was a perfectly right and righteous one.

Wellwe must give even Satan his due. She deserved a compliment for one thing; and I tried to pay itbut the words stuck in my throat. She had a right to kill the boybut she was in no wise obliged to pay for him. That was law for some other peoplebut not for her. She knew quite well that she was doing a large and generous thing to pay for that ladand that I ought in common fairness to come out with something handsome about itbut I couldn't -- my mouth refused. I couldn't help seeingin my fancythat poor old grandma with the broken heartand that fair young creature lying butcheredhis little silken pomps and vanities laced with his golden blood. How could she PAY for him! WHOM could she pay? And sowell knowing that this womantrained as she had beendeserved praiseeven adulationI was yet not able to utter ittrained as I had been. The best I could do was to fish up a compliment from outsideso to speak -- and the pity of it wasthat it was true:

"Madameyour people will adore you for this."

Quite truebut I meant to hang her for it some day if I lived. Some of those laws were too badaltogether too bad. A master might kill his slave for nothing -- for mere spitemaliceor to pass the time -- just as we have seen that the crowned head could do it with HIS slavethat is to sayanybody. A gentleman could kill a free commonerand pay for him -- cash or garden-truck. A noble could kill a noble without expenseas far as the law was concernedbut reprisals in kind were to be expected. ANYbody could kill SOMEbodyexcept the commoner and the slave; these had no privileges. If they killedit was murderand the law wouldn't stand murder. It made short work of the experimenter -- and of his familytooif he murdered somebody who belonged up among the ornamental ranks. If a commoner gave a noble even so much as a Damiens-scratch which didn't kill or even hurthe got Damiens' dose for it just the same; they pulled him to rags and tatters with horsesand all the world came to see the showand crack jokesand have a good time; and some of the performances of the best people present were as toughand as properly unprintableas any that have been printed by the pleasant Casanova in his chapter about the dismemberment of Louis XV.'s poor awkward enemy.

I had had enough of this grisly place by this timeand wanted to leavebut I couldn'tbecause I had something on my mind that my conscience kept prodding me aboutand wouldn't let me forget. If I had the remaking of manhe wouldn't have any conscience. It is one of the most disagreeable things connected with a person; and although it certainly does a great deal of goodit cannot be said to payin the long run; it would be much better to have less good and more comfort. Stillthis is only my opinionand I am only one man; otherswith less experiencemay think differently. They have a right to their view. I only stand to this: I have noticed my conscience for many yearsand I know it is more trouble and bother to me than anything else I started with. I suppose that in the beginning I prized itbecause we prize anything that is ours; and yet how foolish it was to think so. If we look at it in another waywe see how absurd it is: if I had an anvil in me would I prize it? Of course not. And yet when you come to thinkthere is no real difference between a conscience and an anvil -- I mean for comfort. I have noticed it a thousand times. And you could dissolve an anvil with acidswhen you couldn't stand it any longer; but there isn't any way that you can work off a conscience -- at least so it will stay worked off; not that I know ofanyway.

There was something I wanted to do before leavingbut it was a disagreeable matterand I hated to go at it. Wellit bothered me all the morning. I could have mentioned it to the old kingbut what would be the use? -- he was but an extinct volcano; he had been active in his timebut his fire was outthis good whilehe was only a stately ash-pile now; gentle enoughand kindly enough for my purposewithout doubtbut not usable. He was nothingthis so-called king: the queen was the only power there. And she was a Vesuvius. As a favorshe might consent to warm a flock of sparrows for youbut then she might take that very opportunity to turn herself loose and bury a city. HoweverI reflected that as often as any other waywhen you are expecting the worstyou get something that is not so badafter all.

So I braced up and placed my matter before her royal Highness. I said I had been having a general jail-delivery at Camelot and among neighboring castlesand with her permission I would like to examine her collectionher bric-a-brac -- that is to sayher prisoners. She resisted; but I was expecting that. But she finally consented. I was expecting thattoobut not so soon. That about ended my discomfort. She called her guards and torchesand we went down into the dungeons. These were down under the castle's foundationsand mainly were small cells hollowed out of the living rock. Some of these cells had no light at all. In one of them was a womanin foul ragswho sat on the groundand would not answer a question or speak a wordbut only looked up at us once or twicethrough a cobweb of tangled hairas if to see what casual thing it might be that was disturbing with sound and light the meaningless dull dream that was become her life; after thatshe sat bowedwith her dirt-caked fingers idly interlocked in her lapand gave no further sign. This poor rack of bones was a woman of middle ageapparently; but only apparently; she had been there nine yearsand was eighteen when she entered. She was a commonerand had been sent here on her bridal night by Sir Breuse Sance Pitea neighboring lord whose vassal her father wasand to which said lord she had refused what has since been called le droit du seigneurandmoreoverhad opposed violence to violence and spilt half a gill of his almost sacred blood. The young husband had interfered at that point. believing the bride's life in dangerand had flung the noble out into the midst of the humble and trembling wedding guestsin the parlorand left him there astonished at this strange treatmentand implacably embittered against both bride and groom. The said lord being cramped for dungeon-room had asked the queen to accommodate his two criminalsand here in her bastile they had been ever since; hitherindeedthey had come before their crime was an hour oldand had never seen each other since. Here they werekenneled like toads in the same rock; they had passed nine pitch dark years within fifty feet of each otheryet neither knew whether the other was alive or not. All the first yearstheir only question had been -- asked with beseechings and tears that might have moved stonesin timeperhapsbut hearts are not stones: "Is he alive?" "Is she alive?" But they had never got an answer; and at last that question was not asked any more -- or any other.

I wanted to see the manafter hearing all this. He was thirty-four years oldand looked sixty. He sat upon a squared block of stonewith his head bent downhis forearms resting on his kneeshis long hair hanging like a fringe before his faceand he was muttering to himself. He raised his chin and looked us slowly overin a listless dull wayblinking with the distress of the torchlightthen dropped his head and fell to muttering again and took no further notice of us. There were some pathetically suggestive dumb witnesses present. On his wrists and ankles were cicatricesold smooth scarsand fastened to the stone on which he sat was a chain with manacles and fetters attached; but this apparatus lay idle on the groundand was thick with rust. Chains cease to be needed after the spirit has gone out of a prisoner.

I could not rouse the man; so I said we would take him to herand see -- to the bride who was the fairest thing in the earth to himonce -- rosespearlsand dew made fleshfor him; a wonder-workthe master-work of nature: with eyes like no other eyesand voice like no other voiceand a freshnessand lithe young graceand beautythat belonged properly to the creatures of dreams -- as he thought -- and to no other. The sight of her would set his stagnant blood leaping; the sight of her --

But it was a disappointment. They sat together on the ground and looked dimly wondering into each other's faces a whilewith a sort of weak animal curiosity; then forgot each other's presenceand dropped their eyesand you saw that they were away again and wandering in some far land of dreams and shadows that we know nothing about.

I had them taken out and sent to their friends. The queen did not like it much. Not that she felt any personal interest in the matterbut she thought it disrespectful to Sir Breuse Sance Pite. HoweverI assured her that if he found he couldn't stand it I would fix him so that he could.

I set forty-seven prisoners loose out of those awful rat-holesand left only one in captivity. He was a lordand had killed another lorda sort of kinsman of the queen. That other lord had ambushed him to assassinate himbut this fellow had got the best of him and cut his throat. Howeverit was not for that that I left him jailedbut for maliciously destroying the only public well in one of his wretched villages. The queen was bound to hang him for killing her kinsmanbut I would not allow it: it was no crime to kill an assassin. But I said I was willing to let her hang him for destroying the well; so she concluded to put up with thatas it was better than nothing.

Dear mefor what trifling offenses the most of those forty-seven men and women were shut up there! Indeedsome were there for no distinct offense at allbut only to gratify somebody's spite; and not always the queen's by any meansbut a friend's. The newest prisoner's crime was a mere remark which he had made. He said he believed that men were about all alikeand one man as good as anotherbarring clothes. He said he believed that if you were to strip the nation naked and send a stranger through the crowdhe couldn't tell the king from a quack doctornor a duke from a hotel clerk. Apparently here was a man whose brains had not been reduced to an ineffectual mush by idiotic training. I set him loose and sent him to the Factory.

Some of the cells carved in the living rock were just behind the face of the precipiceand in each of these an arrow-slit had been pierced outward to the daylightand so the captive had a thin ray from the blessed sun for his comfort. The case of one of these poor fellows was particularly hard. From his dusky swallow's hole high up in that vast wall of native rock he could peer out through the arrow-slit and see his own home off yonder in the valley; and for twenty-two years he had watched itwith heartache and longingthrough that crack. He could see the lights shine there at nightand in the daytime he could see figures go in and come out -- his wife and childrensome of themno doubtthough he could not make out at that distance. In the course of years he noted festivities thereand tried to rejoiceand wondered if they were weddings or what they might be. And he noted funerals; and they wrung his heart. He could make out the coffinbut he could not determine its sizeand so could not tell whether it was wife or child. He could see the procession formwith priests and mournersand move solemnly awaybearing the secret with them. He had left behind him five children and a wife; and in nineteen years he had seen five funerals issueand none of them humble enough in pomp to denote a servant. So he had lost five of his treasures; there must still be one remaining -- one now infinitelyunspeakably precious-- but WHICH one? wifeor child? That was the question that tortured himby night and by dayasleep and awake. Wellto have an interestof some sortand half a ray of lightwhen you are in a dungeonis a great support to the body and preserver of the intellect. This man was in pretty good condition yet. By the time he had finished telling me his distressful taleI was in the same state of mind that you would have been in yourselfif you have got average human curiosity; that is to sayI was as burning up as he was to find out which member of the family it was that was left. So I took him over home myself; and an amazing kind of a surprise party it wastoo -- typhoons and cyclones of frantic joyand whole Niagaras of happy tears; and by George! we found the aforetime young matron graying toward the imminent verge of her half centuryand the babies all men and womenand some of them married and experimenting familywise themselves -- for not a soul of the tribe was dead! Conceive of the ingenious devilishness of that queen: she had a special hatred for this prisonerand she had INVENTED all those funerals herselfto scorch his heart with; and the sublimest stroke of genius of the whole thing was leaving the family-invoice a funeral SHORTso as to let him wear his poor old soul out guessing.

But for mehe never would have got out. Morgan le Fay hated him with her whole heartand she never would have softened toward him. And yet his crime was committed more in thoughtlessness than deliberate depravity. He had said she had red hair. Wellshe had; but that was no way to speak of it. When redheaded people are above a certain social grade their hair is auburn.

Consider it: among these forty-seven captives there were five whose namesoffensesand dates of incarceration were no longer known! One woman and four men -- all bentand wrinkledand mind-extinguished patriarchs. They themselves had long ago forgotten these details; at any rate they had mere vague theories about themnothing definite and nothing that they repeated twice in the same way. The succession of priests whose office it had been to pray daily with the captives and remind them that God had put them therefor some wise purpose or otherand teach them that patiencehumblenessand submission to oppression was what He loved to see in parties of a subordinate rankhad traditions about these poor old human ruinsbut nothing more. These traditions went but little wayfor they concerned the length of the incarceration onlyand not the names of the offenses. And even by the help of tradition the only thing that could be proven was that none of the five had seen daylight for thirty-five years: how much longer this privation has lasted was not guessable. The king and the queen knew nothing about these poor creaturesexcept that they were heirloomsassets inheritedalong with the thronefrom the former firm. Nothing of their history had been transmitted with their personsand so the inheriting owners had considered them of no valueand had felt no interest in them. I said to the queen:

"Then why in the world didn't you set them free?"

The question was a puzzler. She didn't know WHY she hadn'tthe thing had never come up in her mind. So here she wasforecasting the veritable history of future prisoners of the Castle d'Ifwithout knowing it. It seemed plain to me nowthat with her trainingthose inherited prisoners were merely property -- nothing morenothing less. Wellwhen we inherit propertyit does not occur to us to throw it awayeven when we do not value it.

When I brought my procession of human bats up into the open world and the glare of the afternoon sun -- previously blindfolding themin charity for eyes so long untortured by light -- they were a spectacle to look at. Skeletonsscarecrowsgoblinspathetic frightsevery one; legitimatest possible children of Monarchy by the Grace of God and the Established Church. I muttered absently:

"I WISH I could photograph them!"

You have seen that kind of people who will never let on that they don't know the meaning of a new big word. The more ignorant they arethe more pitifully certain they are to pretend you haven't shot over their heads. The queen was just one of that sortand was always making the stupidest blunders by reason of it. She hesitated a moment; then her face brightened up with sudden comprehensionand she said she would do it for me.

I thought to myself: She? why what can she know about photography? But it was a poor time to be thinking. When I looked aroundshe was moving on the procession with an axe!

Wellshe certainly was a curious onewas Morgan le Fay. I have seen a good many kinds of women in my timebut she laid over them all for variety. And how sharply characteristic of her this episode was. She had no more idea than a horse of how to photograph a procession; but being in doubtit was just like her to try to do it with an axe.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XIX - KNIGHT-ERRANTRY AS A TRADE

 

SANDY and I were on the road againnext morningbright and early. It was so good to open up one's lungs and take in whole luscious barrels-ful of the blessed God's untainteddew-fashionedwoodlandscented air once moreafter suffocating body and mind for two days and nights in the moral and physical stenches of that intolerable old buzzard-roost! meanfor me: of course the place was all right and agreeable enough for Sandyfor she had been used to high life all her days.

Poor girlher jaws had had a wearisome rest now for a whileand I was expecting to get the consequences. I was right; but she had stood by me most helpfully in the castleand had mightily supported and reinforced me with gigantic foolishnesses which were worth more for the occasion than wisdoms double their size; so I thought she had earned a right to work her mill for a whileif she wanted toand I felt not a pang when she started it up:

"Now turn we unto Sir Marhaus that rode with the damsel of thirty winter of age southward --"

"Are you going to see if you can work up another half-stretch on the trail of the cowboysSandy?"

"Even sofair my lord."

"Go aheadthen. I won't interrupt this timeif I can help it. Begin over again; start fairand shake out all your reefsand I will load my pipe and give good attention."

"Now turn we unto Sir Marhaus that rode with the damsel of thirty winter of age southward. And so they came into a deep forestand by fortune they were nightedand rode along in a deep wayand at the last they came into a courtelage where abode the duke of South Marchesand there they asked harbour. And on the morn the duke sent unto Sir Marhausand bad him make him ready. And so Sir Marhaus arose and armed himand there was a mass sung afore himand he brake his fastand so mounted on horseback in the court of the castlethere they should do the battle. So there was the duke already on horsebackclean armedand his six sons by himand every each had a spear in his handand so they encounteredwhereas the duke and his two sons brake their spears upon himbut Sir Marhaus held up his spear and touched none of them. Then came the four sons by couplesand two of them brake their spearsand so did the other two. And all this while Sir Marhaus touched them not. Then Sir Marhaus ran to the dukeand smote him with his spear that horse and man fell to the earth. And so he served his sons. And then Sir Marhaus alight downand bad the duke yield him or else he would slay him. And then some of his sons recoveredand would have set upon Sir Marhaus. Then Sir Marhaus said to the dukeCease thy sonsor else I will do the uttermost to you all. When the duke saw he might not escape the deathhe cried to his sonsand charged them to yield them to Sir Marhaus. And they kneeled all down and put the pommels of their swords to the knightand so he received them. And then they holp up their fatherand so by their common assent promised unto Sir Marhaus never to be foes unto King Arthurand thereupon at Whitsuntide afterto come he and his sonsand put them in the king's grace. *

[* Footnote: The story is borrowedlanguage and allfrom the Morte d'Arthur. --M.T.]

"Even so standeth the historyfair Sir Boss. Now ye shall wit that that very duke and his six sons are they whom but few days past you also did overcome and send to Arthur's court!"

"WhySandyyou can't mean it!"

"An I speak not soothlet it be the worse for me."

"Wellwellwell-- now who would ever have thought it? One whole duke and six dukelets; whySandyit was an elegant haul. Knight-errantry is a most chuckle-headed tradeand it is tedious hard worktoobut I begin to see that there IS money in itafter allif you have luck. Not that I would ever engage in it as a businessfor I wouldn't. No sound and legitimate business can be established on a basis of speculation. A successful whirl in the knight-errantry line -- now what is it when you blow away the nonsense and come down to the cold facts? It's just a corner in porkthat's alland you can't make anything else out of it. You're rich -- yes-- suddenly rich -- for about a daymaybe a week; then somebody corners the market on YOUand down goes your bucketshop; ain't that soSandy?"

"Whethersoever it be that my mind miscarriethbewraying simple language in such sort that the words do seem to come endlong and overthwart --"

"There's no use in beating about the bush and trying to get around it that waySandyit's SOjust as I say. I KNOW it's so. Andmoreoverwhen you come right down to the bedrockknight-errantry is WORSE than pork; for whatever happensthe pork's leftand so somebody's benefited anyway; but when the market breaksin a knight-errantry whirland every knight in the pool passes in his checkswhat have you got for assets? Just a rubbish-pile of battered corpses and a barrel or two of busted hardware. Can you call THOSE assets? Give me porkevery time. Am I right?"

"Ahperadventure my head being distraught by the manifold matters whereunto the confusions of these but late adventured haps and fortunings whereby not I alone nor you alonebut every each of usmeseemeth --"

"Noit's not your headSandy. Your head's all rightas far as it goesbut you don't know business; that's where the trouble is. It unfits you to argue about businessand you're wrong to be always trying. Howeverthat asideit was a good haulanywayand will breed a handsome crop of reputation in Arthur's court. And speaking of the cowboyswhat a curious country this is for women and men that never get old. Now there's Morgan le Fayas fresh and young as a Vassar pulletto all appearancesand here is this old duke of the South Marches still slashing away with sword and lance at his time of lifeafter raising such a family as he has raised. As I understand itSir Gawaine killed seven of his sonsand still he had six left for Sir Marhaus and me to take into camp. And then there was that damsel of sixty winter of age still excursioning around in her frosty bloom -- How old are youSandy?"

It was the first time I ever struck a still place in her. The mill had shut down for repairsor something.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XX - THE OGRE'S CASTLE

 

BETWEEN six and nine we made ten mileswhich was plenty for a horse carrying triple -- manwomanand armor; then we stopped for a long nooning under some trees by a limpid brook.

Right so came by and by a knight riding; and as he drew near he made dolorous moanand by the words of it I perceived that he was cursing and swearing; yet nevertheless was I glad of his comingfor that I saw he bore a bulletin-board whereon in letters all of shining gold was writ:

"USE PETERSON S PROPHYLACTIC TOOTH-BRUSH-- ALL THE GO."

I was glad of his comingfor even by this token I knew him for knight of mine. It was Sir Madok de la Montainea burly great fellow whose chief distinction was that he had come within an ace of sending Sir Launcelot down over his horse-tail once. He was never long in a stranger's presence without finding some pretext or other to let out that great fact. But there was another fact of nearly the same sizewhich he never pushed upon anybody unaskedand yet never withheld when asked: that wasthat the reason he didn't quite succeed wasthat he was interrupted and sent down over horse-tail himself. This innocent vast lubber did not see any particular difference between the two facts. I liked himfor he was earnest in his workand very valuable. And he was so fine to look atwith his broad mailed shouldersand the grand leonine set of his plumed headand his big shield with its quaint device of a gauntleted hand clutching a prophylactic tooth-brushwith motto: "Try Noyoudont." This was a tooth-wash that I was introducing.

He was awearyhe saidand indeed he looked it; but he would not alight. He said he was after the stove-polish man; and with this he broke out cursing and swearing anew. The bulletin-boarder referred to was Sir Ossaise of Surlusea brave knightand of considerable celebrity on account of his having tried conclusions in a tournament oncewith no less a Mogul that Sir Gaheris himself -- although not successfully. He was of a light and laughing dispositionand to him nothing in this world was serious. It was for this reason that I had chosen him to work up a stove-polish sentiment. There were no stoves yetand so there could be nothing serious about stove-polish. All that the agent needed to do was to deftly and by degrees prepare the public for the great changeand have them established in predilections toward neatness against the time when the stove should appear upon the stage.

Sir Madok was very bitterand brake out anew with cursings. He said he had cursed his soul to rags; and yet he would not get down from his horseneither would he take any restor listen to any comfortuntil he should have found Sir Ossaise and settled this account. It appearedby what I could piece together of the unprofane fragments of his statementthat he had chanced upon Sir Ossaise at dawn of the morningand been told that if he would make a short cut across the fields and swamps and broken hills and gladeshe could head off a company of travelers who would be rare customers for prophylactics and tooth-wash. With characteristic zeal Sir Madok had plunged away at once upon this questand after three hours of awful crosslot riding had overhauled his game. And beholdit was the five patriarchs that had been released from the dungeons the evening before! Poor old creaturesit was all of twenty years since any one of them had known what it was to be equipped with any remaining snag or remnant of a tooth.

"Blank-blank-blank him said Sir Madok, an I do not stove-polish him an I may find himleave it to me; for never no knight that hight Ossaise or aught else may do me this disservice and bide on livean I may find himthe which I have thereunto sworn a great oath this day."

And with these words and othershe lightly took his spear and gat him thence. In the middle of the afternoon we came upon one of those very patriarchs ourselvesin the edge of a poor village. He was basking in the love of relatives and friends whom he had not seen for fifty years; and about him and caressing him were also descendants of his own body whom he had never seen at all till now; but to him these were all strangershis memory was gonehis mind was stagnant. It seemed incredible that a man could outlast half a century shut up in a dark hole like a ratbut here were his old wife and some old comrades to testify to it. They could remember him as he was in the freshness and strength of his young manhoodwhen he kissed his child and delivered it to its mother's hands and went away into that long oblivion. The people at the castle could not tell within half a generation the length of time the man had been shut up there for his unrecorded and forgotten offense; but this old wife knew; and so did her old childwho stood there among her married sons and daughters trying to realize a father who had been to her a namea thoughta formless imagea traditionall her lifeand now was suddenly concreted into actual flesh and blood and set before her face.

It was a curious situation; yet it is not on that account that I have made room for it herebut on account of a thing which seemed to me still more curious. To witthat this dreadful matter brought from these downtrodden people no outburst of rage against these oppressors. They had been heritors and subjects of cruelty and outrage so long that nothing could have startled them but a kindness. Yeshere was a curious revelationindeedof the depth to which this people had been sunk in slavery. Their entire being was reduced to a monotonous dead level of patienceresignationdumb uncomplaining acceptance of whatever might befall them in this life. Their very imagination was dead. When you can say that of a manhe has struck bottomI reckon; there is no lower deep for him.

I rather wished I had gone some other road. This was not the sort of experience for a statesman to encounter who was planning out a peaceful revolution in his mind. For it could not help bringing up the unget-aroundable fact thatall gentle cant and philosophizing to the contrary notwithstandingno people in the world ever did achieve their freedom by goody- goody talk and moral suasion: it being immutable law that all revolutions that will succeed must BEGIN in bloodwhatever may answer afterward. If history teaches anythingit teaches that. What this folk neededthenwas a Reign of Terror and a guillotineand I was the wrong man for them.

Two days latertoward noonSandy began to show signs of excitement and feverish expectancy. She said we were approaching the ogre's castle. I was surprised into an uncomfortable shock. The object of our quest had gradually dropped out of my mind; this sudden resurrection of it made it seem quite a real and startling thing for a momentand roused up in me a smart interest. Sandy's excitement increased every moment; and so did minefor that sort of thing is catching. My heart got to thumping. You can't reason with your heart; it has its own lawsand thumps about things which the intellect scorns. Presentlywhen Sandy slid from the horsemotioned me to stopand went creeping stealthilywith her head bent nearly to her kneestoward a row of bushes that bordered a declivitythe thumpings grew stronger and quicker. And they kept it up while she was gaining her ambush and getting her glimpse over the declivity; and also while I was creeping to her side on my knees. Her eyes were burning nowas she pointed with her fingerand said in a panting whisper:

"The castle! The castle! Lowhere it looms!"

What a welcome disappointment I experienced! I said:

"Castle? It is nothing but a pigsty; a pigsty with a wattled fence around it."

She looked surprised and distressed. The animation faded out of her face; and during many moments she was lost in thought and silent. Then:

"It was not enchanted aforetime she said in a musing fashion, as if to herself. And how strange is this marveland how awful -- that to the one perception it is enchanted and dight in a base and shameful aspect; yet to the perception of the other it is not enchantedhath suffered no changebut stands firm and stately stillgirt with its moat and waving its banners in the blue air from its towers. And God shield ushow it pricks the heart to see again these gracious captivesand the sorrow deepened in their sweet faces! We have tarried alongand are to blame."

I saw my cue. The castle was enchanted to MEnot to her. It would be wasted time to try to argue her out of her delusionit couldn't be done; I must just humor it. So I said:

"This is a common case -- the enchanting of a thing to one eye and leaving it in its proper form to another. You have heard of it beforeSandythough you haven't happened to experience it. But no harm is done. In factit is lucky the way it is. If these ladies were hogs to everybody and to themselvesit would be necessary to break the enchantmentand that might be impossible if one failed to find out the particular process of the enchantment. And hazardoustoo; for in attempting a disenchantment without the true keyyou are liable to errand turn your hogs into dogsand the dogs into catsthe cats into ratsand so onand end by reducing your materials to nothing finallyor to an odorless gas which you can't follow -- whichof courseamounts to the same thing. But hereby good luckno one's eyes but mine are under the enchantmentand so it is of no consequence to dissolve it. These ladies remain ladies to youand to themselvesand to everybody else; and at the same time they will suffer in no way from my delusionfor when I know that an ostensible hog is a ladythat is enough for meI know how to treat her."

"Thanksohsweet my lordthou talkest like an angel. And I know that thou wilt deliver themfor that thou art minded to great deeds and art as strong a knight of your hands and as brave to will and to doas any that is on live."

"I will not leave a princess in the stySandy. Are those three yonder that to my disordered eyes are starveling swine-herds --"

"The ogresAre THEY changed also? It is most wonderful. Now am I fearful; for how canst thou strike with sure aim when five of their nine cubits of stature are to thee invisible? Ahgo warilyfair sir; this is a mightier emprise than I wend."

"You be easySandy. All I need to know ishow MUCH of an ogre is invisible; then I know how to locate his vitals. Don't you be afraidI will make short work of these bunco-steerers. Stay where you are."

I left Sandy kneeling therecorpse-faced but plucky and hopefuland rode down to the pigstyand struck up a trade with the swine-herds. I won their gratitude by buying out all the hogs at the lump sum of sixteen pennieswhich was rather above latest quotations. I was just in time; for the Churchthe lord of the manorand the rest of the tax-gatherers would have been along next day and swept off pretty much all the stockleaving the swine-herds very short of hogs and Sandy out of princesses. But now the tax people could be paid in cashand there would be a stake left besides. One of the men had ten children; and he said that last year when a priest came and of his ten pigs took the fattest one for tithesthe wife burst out upon himand offered him a child and said:

"Thou beast without bowels of mercywhy leave me my childyet rob me of the wherewithal to feed it?"

How curious. The same thing had happened in the Wales of my dayunder this same old Established Churchwhich was supposed by many to have changed its nature when it changed its disguise.

I sent the three men awayand then opened the sty gate and beckoned Sandy to come -- which she did; and not leisurelybut with the rush of a prairie fire. And when I saw her fling herself upon those hogswith tears of joy running down her cheeksand strain them to her heartand kiss themand caress themand call them reverently by grand princely namesI was ashamed of herashamed of the human race.

We had to drive those hogs home -- ten miles; and no ladies were ever more fickle-minded or contrary. They would stay in no roadno path; they broke out through the brush on all sidesand flowed away in all directionsover rocksand hillsand the roughest places they could find. And they must not be struckor roughly accosted; Sandy could not bear to see them treated in ways unbecoming their rank. The troublesomest old sow of the lot had to be called my Ladyand your Highnesslike the rest. It is annoying and difficult to scour around after hogsin armor. There was one small countesswith an iron ring in her snout and hardly any hair on her backthat was the devil for perversity. She gave me a race of an hourover all sorts of countryand then we were right where we had started fromhaving made not a rod of real progress. I seized her at last by the tailand brought her along squealing. When I overtook Sandy she was horrifiedand said it was in the last degree indelicate to drag a countess by her train.

We got the hogs home just at dark -- most of them. The princess Nerovens de Morganore was missingand two of her ladies in waiting: namelyMiss Angela Bohunand the Demoiselle Elaine Courtemainsthe former of these two being a young black sow with a white star in her foreheadand the latter a brown one with thin legs and a slight limp in the forward shank on the starboard side -- a couple of the tryingest blisters to drive that I ever saw. Also among the missing were several mere baronesses -- and I wanted them to stay missing; but noall that sausage-meat had to be found; so servants were sent out with torches to scour the woods and hills to that end.

Of coursethe whole drove was housed in the houseandgreat guns! -- wellI never saw anything like it. Nor ever heard anything like it. And never smelt anything like it. It was like an insurrection in a gasometer.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XXI - THE PILGRIMS

 

WHEN I did get to bed at last I was unspeakably tired; the stretching outand the relaxing of the long-tense muscleshow luxurioushow delicious! but that was as far as I could get -- sleep was out of the question for the present. The ripping and tearing and squealing of the nobility up and down the halls and corridors was pandemonium come againand kept me broad awake. Being awakemy thoughts were busyof course; and mainly they busied themselves with Sandy's curious delusion. Here she wasas sane a person as the kingdom could produce; and yetfrom my point of view she was acting like a crazy woman. My landthe power of training! of influence! of education! It can bring a body up to believe anything. I had to put myself in Sandy's place to realize that she was not a lunatic. Yesand put her in mineto demonstrate how easy it is to seem a lunatic to a person who has not been taught as you have been taught. If I had told Sandy I had seen a wagonuninfluenced by enchantmentspin along fifty miles an hour; had seen a manunequipped with magic powersget into a basket and soar out of sight among the clouds; and had listenedwithout any necromancer's helpto the conversation of a person who was several hundred miles awaySandy would not merely have supposed me to be crazyshe would have thought she knew it. Everybody around her believed in enchantments; nobody had any doubts; to doubt that a castle could be turned into a styand its occupants into hogswould have been the same as my doubting among Connecticut people the actuality of the telephone and its wonders-- and in both cases would be absolute proof of a diseased mindan unsettled reason. YesSandy was sane; that must be admitted. If I also would be sane -- to Sandy -- I must keep my superstitions about unenchanted and unmiraculous locomotivesballoonsand telephonesto myself. AlsoI believed that the world was not flatand hadn't pillars under it to support itnor a canopy over it to turn off a universe of water that occupied all space above; but as I was the only person in the kingdom afflicted with such impious and criminal opinionsI recognized that it would be good wisdom to keep quiet about this mattertooif I did not wish to be suddenly shunned and forsaken by everybody as a madman.

The next morning Sandy assembled the swine in the dining-room and gave them their breakfastwaiting upon them personally and manifesting in every way the deep reverence which the natives of her islandancient and modernhave always felt for ranklet its outward casket and the mental and moral contents be what they may. I could have eaten with the hogs if I had had birth approaching my lofty official rank; but I hadn'tand so accepted the unavoidable slight and made no complaint. Sandy and I had our breakfast at the second table. The family were not at home. I said:

"How many are in the familySandyand where do they keep themselves?"

"Family?"

"Yes."

"Which familygood my lord?"

"Whythis family; your own family."

"Sooth to sayI understand you not. I have no family."

"No family? WhySandyisn't this your home?"

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

"Wellthenwhose house is this?"

"Ahwit you well I would tell you an I knew myself."

"Come -- you don't even know these people? Then who invited us here?"

"None invited us. We but came; that is all."

"Whywomanthis is a most extraordinary performance. The effrontery of it is beyond admiration. We blandly march into a man's houseand cram it full of the only really valuable nobility the sun has yet discovered in the earthand then it turns out that we don't even know the man's name. How did you ever venture to take this extravagant liberty? I supposedof courseit was your home. What will the man say?"

"What will he say? Forsooth what can he say but give thanks?"

"Thanks for what?"

Her face was filled with a puzzled surprise:

"Verilythou troublest mine understanding with strange words. Do ye dream that one of his estate is like to have the honor twice in his life to entertain company such as we have brought to grace his house withal?"

"Wellno -- when you come to that. Noit's an even bet that this is the first time he has had a treat like this."

"Then let him be thankfuland manifest the same by grateful speech and due humility; he were a dogelseand the heir and ancestor of dogs."

To my mindthe situation was uncomfortable. It might become more so. It might be a good idea to muster the hogs and move on. So I said:

"The day is wastingSandy. It is time to get the nobility together and be moving."

"Whereforefair sir and Boss?"

"We want to take them to their homedon't we?"

"Labut list to him! They be of all the regions of the earth! Each must hie to her own home; wend you we might do all these journeys in one so brief life as He hath appointed that created lifeand thereto death likewise with help of Adamwho by sin done through persuasion of his helpmeetshe being wrought upon and bewrayed by the beguilements of the great enemy of manthat serpent hight Satanaforetime consecrated and set apart unto that evil work by overmastering spite and envy begotten in his heart through fell ambitions that did blight and mildew a nature erst so white and pure whenso it hove with the shining multitudes its brethren-born in glade and shade of that fair heaven wherein all such as native be to that rich estate and --"

"Great Scott!"

"My lord?"

"Wellyou know we haven't got time for this sort of thing. Don't you seewe could distribute these people around the earth in less time than it is going to take you to explain that we can't. We mustn't talk nowwe must act. You want to be careful; you mustn't let your mill get the start of you that wayat a time like this. To business now -- and sharp's the word. Who is to take the aristocracy home?"

"Even their friends. These will come for them from the far parts of the earth."

This was lightning from a clear skyfor unexpectedness; and the relief of it was like pardon to a prisoner. She would remain to deliver the goodsof course.

"WellthenSandyas our enterprise is handsomely and successfully endedI will go home and report; and if ever another one --"

"I also am ready; I will go with thee."

This was recalling the pardon.

"How? You will go with me? Why should you?"

"Will I be traitor to my knightdost think? That were dishonor. I may not part from thee until in knightly encounter in the field some overmatching champion shall fairly win and fairly wear me. I were to blame an I thought that that might ever hap."

"Elected for the long term I sighed to myself. I may as well make the best of it." So then I spoke up and said:

"All right; let us make a start."

While she was gone to cry her farewells over the porkI gave that whole peerage away to the servants. And I asked them to take a duster and dust around a little where the nobilities had mainly lodged and promenaded; but they considered that that would be hardly worth whileand would moreover be a rather grave departure from customand therefore likely to make talk. A departure from custom -- that settled it; it was a nation capable of committing any crime but that. The servants said they would follow the fashiona fashion grown sacred through immemorial observance; they would scatter fresh rushes in all the rooms and hallsand then the evidence of the aristocratic visitation would be no longer visible. It was a kind of satire on Nature: it was the scientific methodthe geologic method; it deposited the history of the family in a stratified record; and the antiquary could dig through it and tell by the remains of each period what changes of diet the family had introduced successively for a hundred years.

The first thing we struck that day was a procession of pilgrims. It was not going our waybut we joined itnevertheless; for it was hourly being borne in upon me nowthat if I would govern this country wiselyI must be posted in the details of its lifeand not at second handbut by personal observation and scrutiny.

This company of pilgrims resembled Chaucer's in this: that it had in it a sample of about all the upper occupations and professions the country could showand a corresponding variety of costume. There were young men and old menyoung women and old womenlively folk and grave folk. They rode upon mules and horsesand there was not a side-saddle in the party; for this specialty was to remain unknown in England for nine hundred years yet.

It was a pleasantfriendlysociable herd; pioushappymerry and full of unconscious coarsenesses and innocent indecencies. What they regarded as the merry tale went the continual round and caused no more embarrassment than it would have caused in the best English society twelve centuries later. Practical jokes worthy of the English wits of the first quarter of the far-off nineteenth century were sprung here and there and yonder along the lineand compelled the delightedest applause; and sometimes when a bright remark was made at one end of the procession and started on its travels toward the otheryou could note its progress all the way by the sparkling spray of laughter it threw off from its bows as it plowed along; and also by the blushes of the mules in its wake.

Sandy knew the goal and purpose of this pilgrimageand she posted me. She said:

"They journey to the Valley of Holinessfor to be blessed of the godly hermits and drink of the miraculous waters and be cleased from sin."

"Where is this watering place?"

"It lieth a two-day journey henceby the borders of the land that hight the Cuckoo Kingdom."

"Tell me about it. Is it a celebrated place?"

"Ohof a truthyes. There be none more so. Of old time there lived there an abbot and his monks. Belike were none in the world more holy than these; for they gave themselves to study of pious booksand spoke not the one to the otheror indeed to anyand ate decayed herbs and naught theretoand slept hardand prayed muchand washed never; also they wore the same garment until it fell from their bodies through age and decay. Right so came they to be known of all the world by reason of these holy austeritiesand visited by rich and poorand reverenced."

"Proceed."

"But always there was lack of water there. Whereasupon a timethe holy abbot prayedand for answer a great stream of clear water burst forth by miracle in a desert place. Now were the fickle monks tempted of the Fiendand they wrought with their abbot unceasingly by beggings and beseechings that he would construct a bath; and when he was become aweary and might not resist morehe said have ye your willthenand granted that they asked. Now mark thou what 'tis to forsake the ways of purity the which He lovethand wanton with such as be worldly and an offense. These monks did enter into the bath and come thence washed as white as snow; and loin that moment His sign appearedin miraculous rebuke! for His insulted waters ceased to flowand utterly vanished away."

"They fared mildlySandyconsidering how that kind of crime is regarded in this country."

"Belike; but it was their first sin; and they had been of perfect life for longand differing in naught from the angels. Prayerstearstorturings of the fleshall was vain to beguile that water to flow again. Even processions; even burnt-offerings; even votive candles to the Virgindid fail every each of them; and all in the land did marvel."

"How odd to find that even this industry has its financial panicsand at times sees its assignats and greenbacks languish to zeroand everything come to a standstill. Go onSandy."

"And so upon a timeafter year and daythe good abbot made humble surrender and destroyed the bath. And beholdHis anger was in that moment appeasedand the waters gushed richly forth againand even unto this day they have not ceased to flow in that generous measure."

"Then I take it nobody has washed since."

"He that would essay it could have his halter free; yesand swiftly would he need ittoo."

"The community has prospered since?"

"Even from that very day. The fame of the miracle went abroad into all lands. From every land came monks to join; they came even as the fishes comein shoals; and the monastery added building to buildingand yet others to theseand so spread wide its arms and took them in. And nuns camealso; and more againand yet more; and built over against the monastery on the yon side of the valeand added building to buildinguntil mighty was that nunnery. And these were friendly unto thoseand they joined their loving labors togetherand together they built a fair great foundling asylum midway of the valley between."

"You spoke of some hermitsSandy."

"These have gathered there from the ends of the earth. A hermit thriveth best where there be multitudes of pilgrims. Ye shall not find no hermit of no sort wanting. If any shall mention a hermit of a kind he thinketh new and not to be found but in some far strange landlet him but scratch among the holes and caves and swamps that line that Valley of Holinessand whatsoever be his breedit skills nothe shall find a sample of it there."

I closed up alongside of a burly fellow with a fat good-humored facepurposing to make myself agreeable and pick up some further crumbs of fact; but I had hardly more than scraped acquaintance with him when he began eagerly and awkwardly to lead upin the immemorial wayto that same old anecdote -- the one Sir Dinadan told mewhat time I got into trouble with Sir Sagramor and was challenged of him on account of it. I excused myself and dropped to the rear of the processionsad at heartwilling to go hence from this troubled lifethis vale of tearsthis brief day of broken restof cloud and stormof weary struggle and monotonous defeat; and yet shrinking from the changeas remembering how long eternity isand how many have wended thither who know that anecdote.

Early in the afternoon we overtook another procession of pilgrims; but in this one was no merrimentno jokesno laughterno playful waysnor any happy giddinesswhether of youth or age. Yet both were hereboth age and youth; gray old men and womenstrong men and women of middle ageyoung husbandsyoung wiveslittle boys and girlsand three babies at the breast. Even the children were smileless; there was not a face among all these half a hundred people but was cast downand bore that set expression of hopelessness which is bred of long and hard trials and old acquaintance with despair. They were slaves. Chains led from their fettered feet and their manacled hands to a sole-leather belt about their waists; and all except the children were also linked together in a file six feet apartby a single chain which led from collar to collar all down the line. They were on footand had tramped three hundred miles in eighteen daysupon the cheapest odds and ends of foodand stingy rations of that. They had slept in these chains every nightbundled together like swine. They had upon their bodies some poor ragsbut they could not be said to be clothed. Their irons had chafed the skin from their ankles and made sores which were ulcerated and wormy. Their naked feet were tornand none walked without a limp. Originally there had been a hundred of these unfortunatesbut about half had been sold on the trip. The trader in charge of them rode a horse and carried a whip with a short handle and a long heavy lash divided into several knotted tails at the end. With this whip he cut the shoulders of any that tottered from weariness and painand straightened them up. He did not speak; the whip conveyed his desire without that. None of these poor creatures looked up as we rode along by; they showed no consciousness of our presence. And they made no sound but one; that was the dull and awful clank of their chains from end to end of the long fileas forty-three burdened feet rose and fell in unison. The file moved in a cloud of its own making.

All these faces were gray with a coating of dust. One has seen the like of this coating upon furniture in unoccupied housesand has written his idle thought in it with his finger. I was reminded of this when I noticed the faces of some of those womenyoung mothers carrying babes that were near to death and freedomhow a something in their hearts was written in the dust upon their facesplain to seeand lordhow plain to read! for it was the track of tears. One of these young mothers was but a girland it hurt me to the heart to read that writingand reflect that it was come up out of the breast of such a childa breast that ought not to know trouble yetbut only the gladness of the morning of life; and no doubt --

She reeled just thengiddy with fatigueand down came the lash and flicked a flake of skin from her naked shoulder. It stung me as if I had been hit instead. The master halted the file and jumped from his horse. He stormed and swore at this girland said she had made annoyance enough with her lazinessand as this was the last chance he should havehe would settle the account now. She dropped on her knees and put up her hands and began to begand cryand implorein a passion of terrorbut the master gave no attention. He snatched the child from herand then made the men-slaves who were chained before and behind her throw her on the ground and hold her there and expose her body; and then he laid on with his lash like a madman till her back was flayedshe shrieking and struggling the while piteously. One of the men who was holding her turned away his faceand for this humanity he was reviled and flogged.

All our pilgrims looked on and commented -- on the expert way in which the whip was handled. They were too much hardened by lifelong everyday familiarity with slavery to notice that there was anything else in the exhibition that invited comment. This was what slavery could doin the way of ossifying what one may call the superior lobe of human feeling; for these pilgrims were kind-hearted peopleand they would not have allowed that man to treat a horse like that.

I wanted to stop the whole thing and set the slaves freebut that would not do. I must not interfere too much and get myself a name for riding over the country's laws and the citizen's rights roughshod. If I lived and prospered I would be the death of slaverythat I was resolved upon; but I would try to fix it so that when I became its executioner it should be by command of the nation.

Just here was the wayside shop of a smith; and now arrived a landed proprietor who had bought this girl a few miles backdeliverable here where her irons could be taken off. They were removed; then there was a squabble between the gentleman and the dealer as to which should pay the blacksmith. The moment the girl was delivered from her ironsshe flung herselfall tears and frantic sobbingsinto the arms of the slave who had turned away his face when she was whipped. He strained her to his breastand smothered her face and the child's with kissesand washed them with the rain of his tears. I suspected. I inquired. YesI was right; it was husband and wife. They had to be torn apart by force; the girl had to be dragged awayand she struggled and fought and shrieked like one gone mad till a turn of the road hid her from sight; and even after thatwe could still make out the fading plaint of those receding shrieks. And the husband and fatherwith his wife and child gonenever to be seen by him again in life? -- wellthe look of him one might not bear at alland so I turned away; but I knew I should never get his picture out of my mind againand there it is to this dayto wring my heartstrings whenever I think of it.

We put up at the inn in a village just at nightfalland when I rose next morning and looked abroadI was ware where a knight came riding in the golden glory of the new dayand recognized him for knight of mine -- Sir Ozana le Cure Hardy. He was in the gentlemen's furnishing lineand his missionarying specialty was plug hats. He was clothed all in steelin the beautifulest armor of the time -- up to where his helmet ought to have been; but he hadn't any helmethe wore a shiny stove-pipe hatand was ridiculous a spectacle as one might want to see. It was another of my surreptitious schemes for extinguishing knighthood by making it grotesque and absurd. Sir Ozana's saddle was hung about with leather hat boxesand every time he overcame a wandering knight he swore him into my service and fitted him with a plug and made him wear it. I dressed and ran down to welcome Sir Ozana and get his news.

"How is trade?" I asked.

"Ye will note that I have but these four left; yet were they sixteen whenas I got me from Camelot."

"Whyyou have certainly done noblySir Ozana. Where have you been foraging of late?"

"I am but now come from the Valley of Holinessplease you sir."

"I am pointed for that place myself. Is there anything stirring in the monkerymore than common?"

"By the mass ye may not question it!.... Give him good feedboyand stint it notan thou valuest thy crown; so get ye lightly to the stable and do even as I bid...... Sirit is parlous news I bringand -- be these pilgrims? Then ye may not do bettergood folkthan gather and hear the tale I have to tellsith it concerneth youforasmuch as ye go to find that ye will not findand seek that ye will seek in vainmy life being hostage for my wordand my word and message being thesenamely: That a hap has happened whereof the like has not been seen no more but once this two hundred yearswhich was the first and last time that that said misfortune strake the holy valley in that form by commandment of the Most High whereto by reasons just and causes thereunto contributingwherein the matter --"

"The miraculous fount hath ceased to flow!" This shout burst from twenty pilgrim mouths at once.

"Ye say wellgood people. I was verging to iteven when ye spake. "

"Has somebody been washing again?"

"Nayit is suspectedbut none believe it. It is thought to be some other sinbut none wit what."

"How are they feeling about the calamity?"

"None may describe it in words. The fount is these nine days dry. The prayers that did begin thenand the lamentations in sackcloth and ashesand the holy processionsnone of these have ceased nor night nor day; and so the monks and the nuns and the foundlings be all exhaustedand do hang up prayers writ upon parchmentsith that no strength is left in man to lift up voice. And at last they sent for theeSir Bossto try magic and enchantment; and if you could not comethen was the messenger to fetch Merlinand he is there these three days nowand saith he will fetch that water though he burst the globe and wreck its kingdoms to accomplish it; and right bravely doth he work his magic and call upon his hellions to hie them hither and helpbut not a whiff of moisture hath he started yeteven so much as might qualify as mist upon a copper mirror an ye count not the barrel of sweat he sweateth betwixt sun and sun over the dire labors of his task; and if ye --"

Breakfast was ready. As soon as it was over I showed to Sir Ozana these words which I had written on the inside of his hat: Chemical DepartmentLaboratory extensionSection G. Pxxp. Send two of first sizetwo of No. 3and six of No. 4together with the proper complementary details -- and two of my trained assistants." And I said:

"Now get you to Camelot as fast as you can flybrave knightand show the writing to Clarenceand tell him to have these required matters in the Valley of Holiness with all possible dispatch."

"I will wellSir Boss and he was off.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XXII - THE HOLY FOUNTAIN

 

THE pilgrims were human beings. Otherwise they would have acted differently. They had come a long and difficult journeyand now when the journey was nearly finishedand they learned that the main thing they had come for had ceased to existthey didn't do as horses or cats or angle-worms would probably have done -- turn back and get at something profitable -- noanxious as they had before been to see the miraculous fountainthey were as much as forty times as anxious now to see the place where it had used to be. There is no accounting for human beings.

We made good time; and a couple of hours before sunset we stood upon the high confines of the Valley of Holinessand our eyes swept it from end to end and noted its features. That isits large features. These were the three masses of buildings. They were distant and isolated temporalities shrunken to toy constructions in the lonely waste of what seemed a desert -- and was. Such a scene is always mournfulit is so impressively stilland looks so steeped in death. But there was a sound here which interrupted the stillness only to add to its mournfulness; this was the faint far sound of tolling bells which floated fitfully to us on the passing breezeand so faintlyso softlythat we hardly knew whether we heard it with our ears or with our spirits.

We reached the monastery before darkand there the males were given lodgingbut the women were sent over to the nunnery. The bells were close at hand nowand their solemn booming smote upon the ear like a message of doom. A superstitious despair possessed the heart of every monk and published itself in his ghastly face. Everywherethese black-robedsoft-sandaledtallow-visaged specters appearedflitted about and disappearednoiseless as the creatures of a troubled dreamand as uncanny.

The old abbot's joy to see me was pathetic. Even to tears; but he did the shedding himself. He said:

"Delay notsonbut get to thy saving work. An we bring not the water back againand soonwe are ruinedand the good work of two hundred years must end. And see thou do it with enchantments that be holyfor the Church will not endure that work in her cause be done by devil's magic."

"When I workFatherbe sure there will be no devil's work connected with it. I shall use no arts that come of the deviland no elements not created by the hand of God. But is Merlin working strictly on pious lines?"

"Ahhe said he wouldmy sonhe said he wouldand took oath to make his promise good."

"Wellin that caselet him proceed."

"But surely you will not sit idle bybut help?"

"It will not answer to mix methodsFather; neither would it be professional courtesy. Two of a trade must not underbid each other. We might as well cut rates and be done with it; it would arrive at that in the end. Merlin has the contract; no other magician can touch it till he throws it up."

"But I will take it from him; it is a terrible emergency and the act is thereby justified. And if it were not sowho will give law to the Church? The Church giveth law to all; and what she wills to dothat she may dohurt whom it may. I will take it from him; you shall begin upon the moment."

"It may not beFather. No doubtas you saywhere power is supremeone can do as one likes and suffer no injury; but we poor magicians are not so situated. Merlin is a very good magician in a small wayand has quite a neat provincial reputation. He is struggling alongdoing the best he canand it would not be etiquette for me to take his job until he himself abandons it."

The abbot's face lighted.

"Ahthat is simple. There are ways to persuade him to abandon it."

"No-noFatherit skills notas these people say. If he were persuaded against his willhe would load that well with a malicious enchantment which would balk me until I found out its secret. It might take a month. I could set up a little enchantment of mine which I call the telephoneand he could not find out its secret in a hundred years. Yesyou perceivehe might block me for a month. Would you like to risk a month in a dry time like this?"

"A month! The mere thought of it maketh me to shudder. Have it thy waymy son. But my heart is heavy with this disappointment. Leave meand let me wear my spirit with weariness and waitingeven as I have done these ten long dayscounterfeiting thus the thing that is called restthe prone body making outward sign of repose where inwardly is none."

Of courseit would have been bestall roundfor Merlin to waive etiquette and quit and call it half a daysince he would never be able to start that waterfor he was a true magician of the time; which is to saythe big miraclesthe ones that gave him his reputationalways had the luck to be performed when nobody but Merlin was present; he couldn't start this well with all this crowd around to see; a crowd was as bad for a magician's miracle in that day as it was for a spiritualist's miracle in mine; there was sure to be some skeptic on hand to turn up the gas at the crucial moment and spoil everything. But I did not want Merlin to retire from the job until I was ready to take hold of it effectively myself; and I could not do that until I got my things from Camelotand that would take two or three days.

My presence gave the monks hopeand cheered them up a good deal; in so much that they ate a square meal that night for the first time in ten days. As soon as their stomachs had been properly reinforced with foodtheir spirits began to rise fast; when the mead began to go round they rose faster. By the time everybody was half-seas overthe holy community was in good shape to make a night of it; so we stayed by the board and put it through on that line. Matters got to be very jolly. Good old questionable stories were told that made the tears run down and cavernous mouths stand wide and the round bellies shake with laughter; and questionable songs were bellowed out in a mighty chorus that drowned the boom of the tolling bells.

At last I ventured a story myself; and vast was the success of it. Not right offof coursefor the native of those islands does notas a ruledissolve upon the early applications of a humorous thing; but the fifth time I told itthey began to crack in places; the eight time I told itthey began to crumble; at the twelfth repetition they fell apart in chunks; and at the fifteenth they disintegratedand I got a broom and swept them up. This language is figurative. Those islanders -- wellthey are slow pay at firstin the matter of return for your investment of effortbut in the end they make the pay of all other nations poor and small by contrast.

I was at the well next day betimes. Merlin was thereenchanting away like a beaverbut not raising the moisture. He was not in a pleasant humor; and every time I hinted that perhaps this contract was a shade too hefty for a novice he unlimbered his tongue and cursed like a bishop -- French bishop of the Regency daysI mean.

Matters were about as I expected to find them. The "fountain" was an ordinary wellit had been dug in the ordinary wayand stoned up in the ordinary way. There was no miracle about it. Even the lie that had created its reputation was not miraculous; I could have told it myselfwith one hand tied behind me. The well was in a dark chamber which stood in the center of a cut-stone chapelwhose walls were hung with pious pictures of a workmanship that would have made a chromo feel good; pictures historically commemorative of curative miracles which had been achieved by the waters when nobody was looking. That isnobody but angels; they are always on deck when there is a miracle to the fore -- so as to get put in the pictureperhaps. Angels are as fond of that as a fire company; look at the old masters.

The well-chamber was dimly lighted by lamps; the water was drawn with a windlass and chain by monksand poured into troughs which delivered it into stone reservoirs outside in the chapel -- when there was water to drawI mean -- and none but monks could enter the well-chamber. I entered itfor I had temporary authority to do soby courtesy of my professional brother and subordinate. But he hadn't entered it himself. He did everything by incantations; he never worked his intellect. If he had stepped in there and used his eyesinstead of his disordered mindhe could have cured the well by natural meansand then turned it into a miracle in the customary way; but nohe was an old numskulla magician who believed in his own magic; and no magician can thrive who is handicapped with a superstition like that.

I had an idea that the well had sprung a leak; that some of the wall stones near the bottom had fallen and exposed fissures that allowed the water to escape. I measured the chain -- 98 feet. Then I called in couple of monkslocked the doortook a candleand made them lower me in the bucket. When the chain was all paid outthe candle confirmed my suspicion; a considerable section of the wall was goneexposing a good big fissure.

I almost regretted that my theory about the well's trouble was correctbecause I had another one that had a showy point or two about it for a miracle. I remembered that in Americamany centuries laterwhen an oil well ceased to flowthey used to blast it out with a dynamite torpedo. If I should find this well dry and no explanation of itI could astonish these people most nobly by having a person of no especial value drop a dynamite bomb into it. It was my idea to appoint Merlin. Howeverit was plain that there was no occasion for the bomb. One cannot have everything the way he would like it. A man has no business to be depressed by a disappointmentanyway; he ought to make up his mind to get even. That is what I did. I said to myselfI am in no hurryI can wait; that bomb will come good yet. And it didtoo.

When I was above ground againI turned out the monksand let down a fish-line; the well was a hundred and fifty feet deepand there was forty-one feet of water in it I I called in a monk and asked:

"How deep is the well?"

"ThatsirI wit nothaving never been told."

"How does the water usually stand in it?"

"Near to the topthese two centuriesas the testimony goethbrought down to us through our predecessors."

It was true -- as to recent times at least -- for there was witness to itand better witness than a monk; only about twenty or thirty feet of the chain showed wear and usethe rest of it was unworn and rusty. What had happened when the well gave out that other time? Without doubt some practical person had come along and mended the leakand then had come up and told the abbot he had discovered by divination that if the sinful bath were destroyed the well would flow again. The leak had befallen again nowand these children would have prayedand processionedand tolled their bells for heavenly succor till they all dried up and blew awayand no innocent of them all would ever have thought to drop a fish-line into the well or go down in it and find out what was really the matter. Old habit of mind is one of the toughest things to get away from in the world. It transmits itself like physical form and feature; and for a manin those daysto have had an idea that his ancestors hadn't hadwould have brought him under suspicion of being illegitimate. I said to the monk:

"It is a difficult miracle to restore water in a dry wellbut we will tryif my brother Merlin fails. Brother Merlin is a very passable artistbut only in the parlor-magic lineand he may not succeed; in factis not likely to succeed. But that should be nothing to his discredit; the man that can do THIS kind of miracle knows enough to keep hotel."

"Hotel? I mind not to have heard --"

"Of hotel? It's what you call hostel. The man that can do this miracle can keep hostel. I can do this miracle; I shall do this miracle; yet I do not try to conceal from you that it is a miracle to tax the occult powers to the last strain."

"None knoweth that truth better than the brotherhoodindeed; for it is of record that aforetime it was parlous difficult and took a year. NathelessGod send you good successand to that end will we pray."

As a matter of business it was a good idea to get the notion around that the thing was difficult. Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising. That monk was filled up with the difficulty of this enterprise; he would fill up the others. In two days the solicitude would be booming.

On my way home at noonI met Sandy. She had been sampling the hermits. I said:

"I would like to do that myself. This is Wednesday. Is there a matinee?"

"A whichplease yousir?"

"Matinee. Do they keep open afternoons?"

"Who?"

"The hermitsof course."

"Keep open?"

"Yeskeep open. Isn't that plain enough? Do they knock off at noon?"

"Knock off?"

"Knock off? -- yesknock off. What is the matter with knock off? I never saw such a dunderhead; can't you understand anything at all? In plain termsdo they shut up shopdraw the gamebank the fires --"

"Shut up shopdraw --"

"Therenever mindlet it go; you make me tired. You can't seem to understand the simplest thing."

I would I might please theesirand it is to me dole and sorrow that I failalbeit sith I am but a simple damsel and taught of nonebeing from the cradle unbaptized in those deep waters of learning that do anoint with a sovereignty him that partaketh of that most noble sacramentinvesting him with reverend state to the mental eye of the humble mortal whoby bar and lack of that great consecration seeth in his own unlearned estate but a symbol of that other sort of lack and loss which men do publish to the pitying eye with sackcloth trappings whereon the ashes of grief do lie bepowdered and bestrewnand sowhen such shall in the darkness of his mind encounter these golden phrases of high mysterythese shut-up-shopsand draw-the-gameand bank-the-firesit is but by the grace of God that he burst not for envy of the mind that can begetand tongue that can deliver so great and mellow-sounding miracles of speechand if there do ensue confusion in that humbler mindand failure to divine the meanings of these wondersthen if so be this miscomprehension is not vain but sooth and truewit ye well it is the very substance of worshipful dear homage and may not lightly be misprizednor had beenan ye had noted this complexion of mood and mind and understood that that I would I could notand that I could not I might notnor yet nor might NOR couldnor might-not nor could-notmight be by advantage turned to the desired WOULDand so I pray you mercy of my faultand that ye will of your kindness and your charity forgive itgood my master and most dear lord."

I couldn't make it all out -- that isthe details -- but I got the general idea; and enough of ittooto be ashamed. It was not fair to spring those nineteenth century technicalities upon the untutored infant of the sixth and then rail at her because she couldn't get their drift; and when she was making the honest best drive at it she couldtooand no fault of hers that she couldn't fetch the home plate; and so I apologized. Then we meandered pleasantly away toward the hermit holes in sociable converse togetherand better friends than ever.

I was gradually coming to have a mysterious and shuddery reverence for this girl; nowadays whenever she pulled out from the station and got her train fairly started on one of those horizonless transcontinental sentences of hersit was borne in upon me that I was standing in the awful presence of the Mother of the German Language. I was so impressed with thisthat sometimes when she began to empty one of these sentences on me I unconsciously took the very attitude of reverenceand stood uncovered; and if words had been waterI had been drownedsure. She had exactly the German way; whatever was in her mind to be deliveredwhether a mere remarkor a sermonor a cyclopediaor the history of a warshe would get it into a single sentence or die. Whenever the literary German dives into a sentencethat is the last you are going to see of him till he emerges on the other side of his Atlantic with his verb in his mouth.

We drifted from hermit to hermit all the afternoon. It was a most strange menagerie. The chief emulation among them seemed to beto see which could manage to be the uncleanest and most prosperous with vermin. Their manner and attitudes were the last expression of complacent self-righteousness. It was one anchorite's pride to lie naked in the mud and let the insects bite him and blister him unmolested; it was another's to lean against a rockall day longconspicuous to the admiration of the throng of pilgrims and pray; it was another's to go naked and crawl around on all fours; it was another's to drag about with himyear in and year outeighty pounds of iron; it was another's to never lie down when he sleptbut to stand among the thorn-bushes and snore when there were pilgrims around to look; a womanwho had the white hair of ageand no other apparelwas black from crown to heel with forty-seven years of holy abstinence from water. Groups of gazing pilgrims stood around all and every of these strange objectslost in reverent wonderand envious of the fleckless sanctity which these pious austerities had won for them from an exacting heaven.

By and by we went to see one of the supremely great ones. He was a mighty celebrity; his fame had penetrated all Christendom; the noble and the renowned journeyed from the remotest lands on the globe to pay him reverence. His stand was in the center of the widest part of the valley; and it took all that space to hold his crowds.

His stand was a pillar sixty feet highwith a broad platform on the top of it. He was now doing what he had been doing every day for twenty years up there -- bowing his body ceaselessly and rapidly almost to his feet. It was his way of praying. I timed him with a stop watchand he made 1244 revolutions in 24 minutes and 46 seconds. It seemed a pity to have all this power going to waste. It was one of the most useful motions in mechanicsthe pedal movement; so I made a note in my memorandum bookpurposing some day to apply a system of elastic cords to him and run a sewing machine with it. I afterward carried out that schemeand got five years' good service out of him; in which time he turned out upward of eighteen thousand first-rate tow-linen shirtswhich was ten a day. I worked him Sundays and all; he was goingSundaysthe same as week daysand it was no use to waste the power. These shirts cost me nothing but just the mere trifle for the materials -- I furnished those myselfit would not have been right to make him do that -- and they sold like smoke to pilgrims at a dollar and a half apiecewhich was the price of fifty cows or a blooded race horse in Arthurdom. They were regarded as a perfect protection against sinand advertised as such by my knights everywherewith the paint-pot and stencil-plate; insomuch that there was not a cliff or a bowlder or a dead wall in England but you could read on it at a mile distance:

"Buy the only genuine St. Stylite; patronized by the Nobility. Patent applied for."

There was more money in the business than one knew what to do with. As it extendedI brought out a line of goods suitable for kingsand a nobby thing for duchesses and that sortwith ruffles down the forehatch and the running-gear clewed up with a feather- stitch to leeward and then hauled aft with a back-stay and triced up with a half-turn in the standing rigging forward of the weather-gaskets. Yesit was a daisy.

But about that time I noticed that the motive power had taken to standing on one legand I found that there was something the matter with the other one; so I stocked the business and unloadedtaking Sir Bors de Ganis into camp financially along with certain of his friends; for the works stopped within a yearand the good saint got him to his rest. But he had earned it. I can say that for him.

When I saw him that first time -- howeverhis personal condition will not quite bear description here. You can read it in the Lives of the Saints. *

[* All the details concerning the hermitsin this chapterare from Lecky -- but greatly modified. This book not being a history but only a talethe majority of the historian's frank details were too strong for reproduction in it. - EDITOR]

 

 

 

CHAPTER XXIII - RESTORATION OF THE FOUNTAIN

 

SATURDAY noon I went to the well and looked on a while. Merlin was still burning smoke-powdersand pawing the airand muttering gibberish as hard as everbut looking pretty down-heartedfor of course he had not started even a perspiration in that well yet. Finally I said:

"How does the thing promise by this timepartner?"

"BeholdI am even now busied with trial of the powerfulest enchantment known to the princes of the occult arts in the lands of the East; an it fail menaught can avail. Peaceuntil I finish."

He raised a smoke this time that darkened all the regionand must have made matters uncomfortable for the hermitsfor the wind was their wayand it rolled down over their dens in a dense and billowy fog. He poured out volumes of speech to matchand contorted his body and sawed the air with his hands in a most extraordinary way. At the end of twenty minutes he dropped down pantingand about exhausted. Now arrived the abbot and several hundred monks and nunsand behind them a multitude of pilgrims and a couple of acres of foundlingsall drawn by the prodigious smokeand all in a grand state of excitement. The abbot inquired anxiously for results. Merlin said:

"If any labor of mortal might break the spell that binds these watersthis which I have but just essayed had done it. It has failed; whereby I do now know that that which I had feared is a truth established; the sign of this failure isthat the most potent spirit known to the magicians of the Eastand whose name none may utter and livehas laid his spell upon this well. The mortal does not breathenor ever willwho can penetrate the secret of that spelland without that secret none can break it. The water will flow no more forevergood Father. I have done what man could. Suffer me to go."

Of course this threw the abbot into a good deal of a consternation. He turned to me with the signs of it in his faceand said:

"Ye have heard him. Is it true?"

"Part of it is."

"Not allthennot all! What part is true?"

"That that spirit with the Russian name has put his spell upon the well."

"God's wowndsthen are we ruined!"

"Possibly."

"But not certainly? Ye meannot certainly?"

"That is it."

"Whereforeye also mean that when he saith none can break the spell --"

"Yeswhen he says thathe says what isn't necessarily true. There are conditions under which an effort to break it may have some chance -- that issome smallsome trifling chance -- of success."

"The conditions --"

"Ohthey are nothing difficult. Only these: I want the well and the surroundings for the space of half a mileentirely to myself from sunset to-day until I remove the ban -- and nobody allowed to cross the ground but by my authority."

"Are these all?"

"Yes."

"And you have no fear to try?"

"Ohnone. One may failof course; and one may also succeed. One can tryand I am ready to chance it. I have my conditions?"

"These and all others ye may name. I will issue commandment to that effect."

"Wait said Merlin, with an evil smile. Ye wit that he that would break this spell must know that spirit's name?"

"YesI know his name."

"And wit you also that to know it skills not of itselfbut ye must likewise pronounce it? Ha-ha! Knew ye that?"

"YesI knew thattoo."

"You had that knowledge! Art a fool? Are ye minded to utter that name and die?"

"Utter it? Why certainly. I would utter it if it was Welsh."

"Ye are even a dead manthen; and I go to tell Arthur."

"That's all right. Take your gripsack and get along. The thing for YOU to do is to go home and work the weatherJohn W. Merlin."

It was a home shotand it made him wince; for he was the worst weather-failure in the kingdom. Whenever he ordered up the danger-signals along the coast there was a week's dead calmsureand every time he prophesied fair weather it rained brickbats. But I kept him in the weather bureau right alongto undermine his reputation. Howeverthat shot raised his bileand instead of starting home to report my deathhe said he would remain and enjoy it.

My two experts arrived in the eveningand pretty well faggedfor they had traveled double tides. They had pack-mules alongand had brought everything I needed -- toolspumplead pipeGreek firesheaves of big rocketsroman candlescolored fire sprayselectric apparatusand a lot of sundries -- everything necessary for the stateliest kind of a miracle. They got their supper and a napand about midnight we sallied out through a solitude so wholly vacant and complete that it quite overpassed the required conditions. We took possession of the well and its surroundings. My boys were experts in all sorts of thingsfrom the stoning up of a well to the constructing of a mathematical instrument. An hour before sunrise we had that leak mended in ship-shape fashionand the water began to rise. Then we stowed our fireworks in the chapellocked up the placeand went home to bed.

Before the noon mass was overwe were at the well again; for there was a deal to do yetand I was determined to spring the miracle before midnightfor business reasons: for whereas a miracle worked for the Church on a week-day is worth a good dealit is worth six times as much if you get it in on a Sunday. In nine hours the water had risen to its customary level -- that is to sayit was within twenty-three feet of the top. We put in a little iron pumpone of the first turned out by my works near the capital; we bored into a stone reservoir which stood against the outer wall of the well-chamber and inserted a section of lead pipe that was long enough to reach to the door of the chapel and project beyond the thresholdwhere the gushing water would be visible to the two hundred and fifty acres of people I was intending should be present on the flat plain in front of this little holy hillock at the proper time.

We knocked the head out of an empty hogshead and hoisted this hogshead to the flat roof of the chapelwhere we clamped it down fastpoured in gunpowder till it lay loosely an inch deep on the bottomthen we stood up rockets in the hogshead as thick as they could loosely standall the different breeds of rockets there are; and they made a portly and imposing sheafI can tell you. We grounded the wire of a pocket electrical battery in that powderwe placed a whole magazine of Greek fire on each corner of the roof -- blue on one cornergreen on anotherred on anotherand purple on the last -- and grounded a wire in each.

About two hundred yards offin the flatwe built a pen of scantlingsabout four feet highand laid planks on itand so made a platform. We covered it with swell tapestries borrowed for the occasionand topped it off with the abbot's own throne. When you are going to do a miracle for an ignorant raceyou want to get in every detail that will count; you want to make all the properties impressive to the public eye; you want to make matters comfortable for your head guest; then you can turn yourself loose and play your effects for all they are worth. I know the value of these thingsfor I know human nature. You can't throw too much style into a miracle. It costs troubleand workand sometimes money; but it pays in the end. Wellwe brought the wires to the ground at the chapeland then brought them under the ground to the platformand hid the batteries there. We put a rope fence a hundred feet square around the platform to keep off the common multitudeand that finished the work. My idea wasdoors open at 10:30performance to begin at 11:25 sharp. I wished I could charge admissionbut of course that wouldn't answer. I instructed my boys to be in the chapel as early as 10before anybody was aroundand be ready to man the pumps at the proper timeand make the fur fly. Then we went home to supper.

The news of the disaster to the well had traveled far by this time; and now for two or three days a steady avalanche of people had been pouring into the valley. The lower end of the valley was become one huge camp; we should have a good houseno question about that. Criers went the rounds early in the evening and announced the coming attemptwhich put every pulse up to fever heat. They gave notice that the abbot and his official suite would move in state and occupy the platform at 10:30up to which time all the region which was under my ban must be clear; the bells would then cease from tollingand this sign should be permission to the multitudes to close in and take their places.

I was at the platform and all ready to do the honors when the abbot's solemn procession hove in sight -- which it did not do till it was nearly to the rope fencebecause it was a starless black night and no torches permitted. With it came Merlinand took a front seat on the platform; he was as good as his word for once. One could not see the multitudes banked together beyond the banbut they were therejust the same. The moment the bells stoppedthose banked masses broke and poured over the line like a vast black waveand for as much as a half hour it continued to flowand then it solidified itselfand you could have walked upon a pavement of human heads to -- wellmiles.

We had a solemn stage-waitnowfor about twenty minutes -- a thing I had counted on for effect; it is always good to let your audience have a chance to work up its expectancy. At lengthout of the silence a noble Latin chant -- men's voices -- broke and swelled up and rolled away into the nighta majestic tide of melody. I had put that uptooand it was one of the best effects I ever invented. When it was finished I stood up on the platform and extended my hands abroadfor two minuteswith my face uplifted -- that always produces a dead hush -- and then slowly pronounced this ghastly word with a kind of awfulness which caused hundreds to trembleand many women to faint:

"Constantinopolitanischerdudelsackspfeifen machersgesellschafft!"

Just as I was moaning out the closing hunks of that wordI touched off one of my electric connections and all that murky world of people stood revealed in a hideous blue glare! It was immense -- that effect! Lots of people shriekedwomen curled up and quit in every directionfoundlings collapsed by platoons. The abbot and the monks crossed themselves nimbly and their lips fluttered with agitated prayers. Merlin held his gripbut he was astonished clear down to his corns; he had never seen anything to begin with thatbefore. Now was the time to pile in the effects. I lifted my hands and groaned out this word -- as it were in agony:

"Nihilistendynamittheaterkaestchensspreng ungsattentaetsversuchungen!"

-- and turned on the red fire! You should have heard that Atlantic of people moan and howl when that crimson hell joined the blue! After sixty seconds I shouted:

"Transvaaltruppentropentransporttrampelthier treibertrauungsthraenentragoedie!"

-- and lit up the green fire! After waiting only forty seconds this timeI spread my arms abroad and thundered out the devastating syllables of this word of words:

"Mekkamuselmannenmassenmenchenmoerdermohrenmutter marmormonumentenmacher!"

-- and whirled on the purple glare! There they wereall going at onceredbluegreenpurple! -- four furious volcanoes pouring vast clouds of radiant smoke aloftand spreading a blinding rainbowed noonday to the furthest confines of that valley. In the distance one could see that fellow on the pillar standing rigid against the background of skyhis seesaw stopped for the first time in twenty years. I knew the boys were at the pump now and ready. So I said to the abbot:

"The time is comeFather. I am about to pronounce the dread name and command the spell to dissolve. You want to brace upand take hold of something." Then I shouted to the people: "Beholdin another minute the spell will be brokenor no mortal can break it. If it breakall will know itfor you will see the sacred water gush from the chapel door!"

I stood a few momentsto let the hearers have a chance to spread my announcement to those who couldn't hearand so convey it to the furthest ranksthen I made a grand exhibition of extra posturing and gesturingand shouted:

"LoI command the fell spirit that possesses the holy fountain to now disgorge into the skies all the infernal fires that still remain in himand straightway dissolve his spell and flee hence to the pitthere to lie bound a thousand years. By his own dread name I command it -- BGWJJILLIGKKK!"

Then I touched off the hogshead of rocketsand a vast fountain of dazzling lances of fire vomited itself toward the zenith with a hissing rushand burst in mid-sky into a storm of flashing jewels! One mighty groan of terror started up from the massed people -- then suddenly broke into a wild hosannah of joy -- for therefair and plain in the uncanny glarethey saw the freed water leaping forth! The old abbot could not speak a wordfor tears and the chokings in his throat; without utterance of any sorthe folded me in his arms and mashed me. It was more eloquent than speech. And harder to get overtooin a country where there were really no doctors that were worth a damaged nickel.

You should have seen those acres of people throw themselves down in that water and kiss it; kiss itand pet itand fondle itand talk to it as if it were aliveand welcome it back with the dear names they gave their darlingsjust as if it had been a friend who was long gone away and lostand was come home again. Yesit was pretty to seeand made me think more of them than I had done before.

I sent Merlin home on a shutter. He had caved in and gone down like a landslide when I pronounced that fearful nameand had never come to since. He never had heard that name before-- neither had I -- but to him it was the right one. Any jumble would have been the right one. He admittedafterwardthat that spirit's own mother could not have pronounced that name better than I did. He never could understand how I survived itand I didn't tell him. It is only young magicians that give away a secret like that. Merlin spent three months working enchantments to try to find out the deep trick of how to pronounce that name and outlive it. But he didn't arrive.

When I started to the chapelthe populace uncovered and fell back reverently to make a wide way for meas if I had been some kind of a superior being -- and I was. I was aware of that. I took along a night shift of monksand taught them the mystery of the pumpand set them to workfor it was plain that a good part of the people out there were going to sit up with the water all nightconsequently it was but right that they should have all they wanted of it. To those monks that pump was a good deal of a miracle itselfand they were full of wonder over it; and of admirationtooof the exceeding effectiveness of its performance.

It was a great nightan immense night. There was reputation in it. I could hardly get to sleep for glorying over it.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XXIV - A RIVAL MAGICIAN

 

MY influence in the Valley of Holiness was something prodigious now. It seemed worth while to try to turn it to some valuable account. The thought came to me the next morningand was suggested by my seeing one of my knights who was in the soap line come riding in. According to historythe monks of this place two centuries before had been worldly minded enough to want to wash. It might be that there was a leaven of this unrighteousness still remaining. So I sounded a Brother:

"Wouldn't you like a bath?"

He shuddered at the thought -- the thought of the peril of it to the well -- but he said with feeling:

"One needs not to ask that of a poor body who has not known that blessed refreshment sith that he was a boy. Would God I might wash me! but it may not befair sirtempt me not; it is forbidden."

And then he sighed in such a sorrowful way that I was resolved he should have at least one layer of his real estate removedif it sized up my whole influence and bankrupted the pile. So I went to the abbot and asked for a permit for this Brother. He blenched at the idea -- I don't mean that you could see him blenchfor of course you couldn't see it without you scraped himand I didn't care enough about it to scrape himbut I knew the blench was therejust the sameand within a book-cover's thickness of the surfacetoo -- blenchedand trembled. He said:

"Ahsonask aught else thou wiltand it is thineand freely granted out of a grateful heart -- but thisohthis! Would you drive away the blessed water again?"

"NoFatherI will not drive it away. I have mysterious knowledge which teaches me that there was an error that other time when it was thought the institution of the bath banished the fountain." A large interest began to show up in the old man's face. "My knowledge informs me that the bath was innocent of that misfortunewhich was caused by quite another sort of sin."

"These are brave words -- but -- but right welcomeif they be true."

"They are trueindeed. Let me build the bath againFather. Let me build it againand the fountain shall flow forever."

"You promise this? -- you promise it? Say the word -- say you promise it!"

"I do promise it."

"Then will I have the first bath myself! Go -- get ye to your work. Tarry nottarry notbut go."

I and my boys were at workstraight off. The ruins of the old bath were there yet in the basement of the monasterynot a stone missing. They had been left just soall these lifetimesand avoided with a pious fearas things accursed. In two days we had it all done and the water in -- a spacious pool of clear pure water that a body could swim in. It was running watertoo. It came inand went outthrough the ancient pipes. The old abbot kept his wordand was the first to try it. He went down black and shakyleaving the whole black community above troubled and worried and full of bodings; but he came back white and joyfuland the game was made! another triumph scored.

It was a good campaign that we made in that Valley of Holinessand I was very well satisfiedand ready to move on nowbut I struck a disappointment. I caught a heavy coldand it started up an old lurking rheumatism of mine. Of course the rheumatism hunted up my weakest place and located itself there. This was the place where the abbot put his arms about me and mashed mewhat time he was moved to testify his gratitude to me with an embrace.

When at last I got outI was a shadow. But everybody was full of attentions and kindnessesand these brought cheer back into my lifeand were the right medicine to help a convalescent swiftly up toward health and strength again; so I gained fast.

Sandy was worn out with nursing; so I made up my mind to turn out and go a cruise aloneleaving her at the nunnery to rest up. My idea was to disguise myself as a freeman of peasant degree and wander through the country a week or two on foot. This would give me a chance to eat and lodge with the lowliest and poorest class of free citizens on equal terms. There was no other way to inform myself perfectly of their everyday life and the operation of the laws upon it. If I went among them as a gentlemanthere would be restraints and conventionalities which would shut me out from their private joys and troublesand I should get no further than the outside shell.

One morning I was out on a long walk to get up muscle for my tripand had climbed the ridge which bordered the northern extremity of the valleywhen I came upon an artificial opening in the face of a low precipiceand recognized it by its location as a hermitage which had often been pointed out to me from a distance as the den of a hermit of high renown for dirt and austerity. I knew he had lately been offered a situation in the Great Saharawhere lions and sandflies made the hermit-life peculiarly attractive and difficultand had gone to Africa to take possessionso I thought I would look in and see how the atmosphere of this den agreed with its reputation.

My surprise was great: the place was newly swept and scoured. Then there was another surprise. Back in the gloom of the cavern I heard the clink of a little belland then this exclamation:

"Hello Central! Is this youCamelot? -- Beholdthou mayst glad thy heart an thou hast faith to believe the wonderful when that it cometh in unexpected guise and maketh itself manifest in impossible places -- here standeth in the flesh his mightiness The Bossand with thine own ears shall ye hear him speak!"

Now what a radical reversal of things this was; what a jumbling together of extravagant incongruities; what a fantastic conjunction of opposites and irreconcilables -- the home of the bogus miracle become the home of a real onethe den of a mediaeval hermit turned into a telephone office!

The telephone clerk stepped into the lightand I recognized one of my young fellows. I said:

"How long has this office been established hereUlfius?"

"But since midnightfair Sir Bossan it please you. We saw many lights in the valleyand so judged it well to make a stationfor that where so many lights be needs must they indicate a town of goodly size."

"Quite right. It isn't a town in the customary sensebut it's a good standanyway. Do you know where you are?"

"Of that I have had no time to make inquiry; for whenas my comradeship moved hence upon their laborsleaving me in chargeI got me to needed restpurposing to inquire when I wakedand report the place's name to Camelot for record."

"Wellthis is the Valley of Holiness."

It didn't take; I meanhe didn't start at the nameas I had supposed he would. He merely said:

"I will so report it."

"Whythe surrounding regions are filled with the noise of late wonders that have happened here! You didn't hear of them?"

"Ahye will remember we move by nightand avoid speech with all. We learn naught but that we get by the telephone from Camelot."

"Why THEY know all about this thing. Haven't they told you anything about the great miracle of the restoration of a holy fountain?"

"OhTHAT? Indeed yes. But the name of THIS valley doth woundily differ from the name of THAT one; indeed to differ wider were not pos --"

"What was that namethen?"

"The Valley of Hellishness."

"THAT explains it. Confound a telephoneanyway. It is the very demon for conveying similarities of sound that are miracles of divergence from similarity of sense. But no matteryou know the name of the place now. Call up Camelot."

He did itand had Clarence sent for. It was good to hear my boy's voice again. It was like being home. After some affectionate interchangesand some account of my late illnessI said:

"What is new?"

"The king and queen and many of the court do start even in this hourto go to your valley to pay pious homage to the waters ye have restoredand cleanse themselves of sinand see the place where the infernal spirit spouted true hell-flames to the clouds -- an ye listen sharply ye may hear me wink and hear me likewise smile a smilesith 'twas I that made selection of those flames from out our stock and sent them by your order."

"Does the king know the way to this place?"

"The king? -- nonor to any other in his realmsmayhap; but the lads that holp you with your miracle will be his guide and lead the wayand appoint the places for rests at noons and sleeps at night."

"This will bring them here -- when?"

"Mid-afternoonor laterthe third day."

"Anything else in the way of news?"

"The king hath begun the raising of the standing army ye suggested to him; one regiment is complete and officered."

"The mischief! I wanted a main hand in that myself. There is only one body of men in the kingdom that are fitted to officer a regular army."

"Yes -- and now ye will marvel to know there's not so much as one West Pointer in that regiment."

"What are you talking about? Are you in earnest?"

"It is truly as I have said."

"Whythis makes me uneasy. Who were chosenand what was the method? Competitive examination?"

"IndeedI know naught of the method. I but know this -- these officers be all of noble familyand are born -- what is it you call it? -- chuckleheads."

"There's something wrongClarence. "

"Comfort yourselfthen; for two candidates for a lieutenancy do travel hence with the king -- young nobles both -- and if you but wait where you are you will hear them questioned."

"That is news to the purpose. I will get one West Pointer inanyway. Mount a man and send him to that school with a message; let him kill horsesif necessarybut he must be there before sunset to-night and say -- "

"There is no need. I have laid a ground wire to the school. Prithee let me connect you with it."

It sounded good! In this atmosphere of telephones and lightning communication with distant regionsI was breathing the breath of life again after long suffocation. I realizedthenwhat a creepydullinanimate horror this land had been to me all these yearsand how I had been in such a stifled condition of mind as to have grown used to it almost beyond the power to notice it.

I gave my order to the superintendent of the Academy personally. I also asked him to bring me some paper and a fountain pen and a box or so of safety matches. I was getting tired of doing without these conveniences. I could have them nowas I wasn't going to wear armor any more at presentand therefore could get at my pockets.

When I got back to the monasteryI found a thing of interest going on. The abbot and his monks were assembled in the great hallobserving with childish wonder and faith the performances of a new magiciana fresh arrival. His dress was the extreme of the fantastic; as showy and foolish as the sort of thing an Indian medicine-man wears. He was mowingand mumblingand gesticulatingand drawing mystical figures in the air and on the floor-- the regular thingyou know. He was a celebrity from Asia -- so he saidand that was enough. That sort of evidence was as good as goldand passed current everywhere.

How easy and cheap it was to be a great magician on this fellow's terms. His specialty was to tell you what any individual on the face of the globe was doing at the moment; and what he had done at any time in the pastand what he would do at any time in the future. He asked if any would like to know what the Emperor of the East was doing now? The sparkling eyes and the delighted rubbing of hands made eloquent answer -- this reverend crowd WOULD like to know what that monarch was atjust as this moment. The fraud went through some more mummeryand then made grave announcement:

"The high and mighty Emperor of the East doth at this moment put money in the palm of a holy begging friar -- onetwothree piecesand they be all of silver."

A buzz of admiring exclamations broke outall around:

"It is marvelous!" "Wonderful!" "What studywhat laborto have acquired a so amazing power as this!"

Would they like to know what the Supreme Lord of Inde was doing? Yes. He told them what the Supreme Lord of Inde was doing. Then he told them what the Sultan of Egypt was at; also what the King of the Remote Seas was about. And so on and so on; and with each new marvel the astonishment at his accuracy rose higher and higher. They thought he must surely strike an uncertain place some time; but nohe never had to hesitatehe always knewand always with unerring precision. I saw that if this thing went on I should lose my supremacythis fellow would capture my followingI should be left out in the cold. I must put a cog in his wheeland do it right awaytoo. I said:

"If I might askI should very greatly like to know what a certain person is doing."

"Speakand freely. I will tell you."

"It will be difficult -- perhaps impossible."

"My art knoweth not that word. The more difficult it isthe more certainly will I reveal it to you."

You seeI was working up the interest. It was getting pretty hightoo; you could see that by the craning necks all aroundand the half-suspended breathing. So now I climaxed it:

"If you make no mistake -- if you tell me truly what I want to know -- I will give you two hundred silver pennies."

"The fortune is mine! I will tell you what you would know."

"Then tell me what I am doing with my right hand."

"Ah-h!" There was a general gasp of surprise. It had not occurred to anybody in the crowd -- that simple trick of inquiring about somebody who wasn't ten thousand miles away. The magician was hit hard; it was an emergency that had never happened in his experience beforeand it corked him; he didn't know how to meet it. He looked stunnedconfused; he couldn't say a word. "Come I said, what are you waiting for? Is it possible you can answer upright offand tell what anybody on the other side of the earth is doingand yet can't tell what a person is doing who isn't three yards from you? Persons behind me know what I am doing with my right hand -- they will indorse you if you tell correctly." He was still dumb. "Very wellI'll tell you why you don't speak up and tell; it is because you don't know. YOU a magician! Good friendsthis tramp is a mere fraud and liar."

This distressed the monks and terrified them. They were not used to hearing these awful beings called namesand they did not know what might be the consequence. There was a dead silence now; superstitious bodings were in every mind. The magician began to pull his wits togetherand when he presently smiled an easynonchalant smileit spread a mighty relief around; for it indicated that his mood was not destructive. He said:

"It hath struck me speechlessthe frivolity of this person's speech. Let all knowif perchance there be any who know it notthat enchanters of my degree deign not to concern themselves with the doings of any but kingsprincesemperorsthem that be born in the purple and them only. Had ye asked me what Arthur the great king is doingit were another matterand I had told ye; but the doings of a subject interest me not."

"OhI misunderstood you. I thought you said 'anybody' and so I supposed 'anybody' included -- wellanybody; that iseverybody."

"It doth -- anybody that is of lofty birth; and the better if he be royal."

"Thatit meseemethmight well be said the abbot, who saw his opportunity to smooth things and avert disaster, for it were not likely that so wonderful a gift as this would be conferred for the revelation of the concerns of lesser beings than such as be born near to the summits of greatness. Our Arthur the king --"

"Would you know of him?" broke in the enchanter.

"Most gladlyyeaand gratefully."

Everybody was full of awe and interest again right awaythe incorrigible idiots. They watched the incantations absorbinglyand looked at me with a "Therenowwhat can you say to that?" airwhen the announcement came:

"The king is weary with the chaseand lieth in his palace these two hours sleeping a dreamless sleep."

"God's benison upon him!" said the abbotand crossed himself; "may that sleep be to the refreshment of his body and his soul."

"And so it might beif he were sleeping I said, but the king is not sleepingthe king rides."

Here was trouble again -- a conflict of authority. Nobody knew which of us to believe; I still had some reputation left. The magician's scorn was stirredand he said:

"LoI have seen many wonderful soothsayers and prophets and magicians in my life daysbut none before that could sit idle and see to the heart of things with never an incantation to help."

"You have lived in the woodsand lost much by it. I use incantations myselfas this good brotherhood are aware -- but only on occasions of moment."

When it comes to sarcasmingI reckon I know how to keep my end up. That jab made this fellow squirm. The abbot inquired after the queen and the courtand got this information:

"They be all on sleepbeing overcome by fatiguelike as to the king."

I said:

"That is merely another lie. Half of them are about their amusementsthe queen and the other half are not sleepingthey ride. Now perhaps you can spread yourself a littleand tell us where the king and queen and all that are this moment riding with them are going?"

"They sleep nowas I said; but on the morrow they will ridefor they go a journey toward the sea."

"And where will they be the day after to-morrow at vespers?"

"Far to the north of Camelotand half their journey will be done."

"That is another lieby the space of a hundred and fifty miles. Their journey will not be merely half doneit will be all doneand they will be HEREin this valley."

THAT was a noble shot! It set the abbot and the monks in a whirl of excitementand it rocked the enchanter to his base. I followed the thing right up:

"If the king does not arriveI will have myself ridden on a rail: if he does I will ride you on a rail instead."

Next day I went up to the telephone office and found that the king had passed through two towns that were on the line. I spotted his progress on the succeeding day in the same way. I kept these matters to myself. The third day's reports showed that if he kept up his gait he would arrive by four in the afternoon. There was still no sign anywhere of interest in his coming; there seemed to be no preparations making to receive him in state; a strange thingtruly. Only one thing could explain this: that other magician had been cutting under mesure. This was true. I asked a friend of minea monkabout itand he saidyesthe magician had tried some further enchantments and found out that the court had concluded to make no journey at allbut stay at home. Think of that! Observe how much a reputation was worth in such a country. These people had seen me do the very showiest bit of magic in historyand the only one within their memory that had a positive valueand yet here they wereready to take up with an adventurer who could offer no evidence of his powers but his mere unproven word.

Howeverit was not good politics to let the king come without any fuss and feathers at allso I went down and drummed up a procession of pilgrims and smoked out a batch of hermits and started them out at two o'clock to meet him. And that was the sort of state he arrived in. The abbot was helpless with rage and humiliation when I brought him out on a balcony and showed him the head of the state marching in and never a monk on hand to offer him welcomeand no stir of life or clang of joy-bell to glad his spirit. He took one look and then flew to rouse out his forces. The next minute the bells were dinning furiouslyand the various buildings were vomiting monks and nunswho went swarming in a rush toward the coming procession; and with them went that magician -- and he was on a railtooby the abbot's order; and his reputation was in the mudand mine was in the sky again. Yesa man can keep his trademark current in such a countrybut he can't sit around and do it; he has got to be on deck and attending to business right along.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XXV - A COMPETITIVE EXAMINATION

 

WHEN the king traveled for change of airor made a progressor visited a distant noble whom he wished to bankrupt with the cost of his keeppart of the administration moved with him. It was a fashion of the time. The Commission charged with the examination of candidates for posts in the army came with the king to the Valleywhereas they could have transacted their business just as well at home. And although this expedition was strictly a holiday excursion for the kinghe kept some of his business functions going just the same. He touched for the evilas usual; he held court in the gate at sunrise and tried casesfor he was himself Chief Justice of the King's Bench.

He shone very well in this latter office. He was a wise and humane judgeand he clearly did his honest best and fairest-- according to his lights. That is a large reservation. His lights -- I mean his rearing -- often colored his decisions. Whenever there was a dispute between a noble or gentleman and a person of lower degreethe king's leanings and sympathies were for the former class alwayswhether he suspected it or not. It was impossible that this should be otherwise. The blunting effects of slavery upon the slaveholder's moral perceptions are known and concededthe world over; and a privileged classan aristocracyis but a band of slaveholders under another name. This has a harsh soundand yet should not be offensive to any -- even to the noble himself -- unless the fact itself be an offense: for the statement simply formulates a fact. The repulsive feature of slavery is the THINGnot its name. One needs but to hear an aristocrat speak of the classes that are below him to recognize -- and in but indifferently modified measure -- the very air and tone of the actual slaveholder; and behind these are the slaveholder's spiritthe slaveholder's blunted feeling. They are the result of the same cause in both cases: the possessor's old and inbred custom of regarding himself as a superior being. The king's judgments wrought frequent injusticesbut it was merely the fault of his traininghis natural and unalterable sympathies. He was as unfitted for a judgeship as would be the average mother for the position of milkdistributor to starving children in famine-time; her own children would fare a shade better than the rest.

One very curious case came before the king. A young girlan orphanwho had a considerable estatemarried a fine young fellow who had nothing. The girl's property was within a seigniory held by the Church. The bishop of the diocesean arrogant scion of the great nobilityclaimed the girl's estate on the ground that she had married privatelyand thus had cheated the Church out of one of its rights as lord of the seigniory -- the one heretofore referred to as le droit du seigneur. The penalty of refusal or avoidance was confiscation. The girl's defense wasthat the lordship of the seigniory was vested in the bishopand the particular right here involved was not transferablebut must be exercised by the lord himself or stand vacated; and that an older lawof the Church itselfstrictly barred the bishop from exercising it. It was a very odd caseindeed.

It reminded me of something I had read in my youth about the ingenious way in which the aldermen of London raised the money that built the Mansion House. A person who had not taken the Sacrament according to the Anglican rite could not stand as a candidate for sheriff of London. Thus Dissenters were ineligible; they could not run if askedthey could not serve if elected. The aldermenwho without any question were Yankees in disguisehit upon this neat device: they passed a by-law imposing a fine of L400 upon any one who should refuse to be a candidate for sheriffand a fine of L600 upon any person whoafter being elected sheriffrefused to serve. Then they went to work and elected a lot of Dissentersone after anotherand kept it up until they had collected L15000 in fines; and there stands the stately Mansion House to this dayto keep the blushing citizen in mind of a long past and lamented day when a band of Yankees slipped into London and played games of the sort that has given their race a unique and shady reputation among all truly good and holy peoples that be in the earth.

The girl's case seemed strong to me; the bishop's case was just as strong. I did not see how the king was going to get out of this hole. But he got out. I append his decision:

"Truly I find small difficulty herethe matter being even a child's affair for simpleness. An the young bride had conveyed noticeas in duty boundto her feudal lord and proper master and protector the bishopshe had suffered no lossfor the said bishop could have got a dispensation making himfor temporary conveniencyeligible to the exercise of his said rightand thus would she have kept all she had. Whereasfailing in her first dutyshe hath by that failure failed in all; for whosoclinging to a ropesevereth it above his handsmust fall; it being no defense to claim that the rest of the rope is soundneither any deliverance from his perilas he shall find. Pardythe woman's case is rotten at the source. It is the decree of the court that she forfeit to the said lord bishop all her goodseven to the last farthing that she doth possessand be thereto mulcted in the costs. Next!"

Here was a tragic end to a beautiful honeymoon not yet three months old. Poor young creatures! They had lived these three months lapped to the lips in worldly comforts. These clothes and trinkets they were wearing were as fine and dainty as the shrewdest stretch of the sumptuary laws allowed to people of their degree; and in these pretty clothesshe crying on his shoulderand he trying to comfort her with hopeful words set to the music of despairthey went from the judgment seat out into the world homelessbedlessbreadless; whythe very beggars by the roadsides were not so poor as they.

Wellthe king was out of the hole; and on terms satisfactory to the Church and the rest of the aristocracyno doubt. Men write many fine and plausible arguments in support of monarchybut the fact remains that where every man in a State has a votebrutal laws are impossible. Arthur's people were of course poor material for a republicbecause they had been debased so long by monarchy; and yet even they would have been intelligent enough to make short work of that law which the king had just been administering if it had been submitted to their full and free vote. There is a phrase which has grown so common in the world's mouth that it has come to seem to have sense and meaning -- the sense and meaning implied when it is used; that is the phrase which refers to this or that or the other nation as possibly being "capable of selfgovernment"; and the implied sense of it isthat there has been a nation somewheresome time or other which WASN'T capable of it -- wasn't as able to govern itself as some self-appointed specialists were or would be to govern it. The master minds of all nationsin all ageshave sprung in affluent multitude from the mass of the nationand from the mass of the nation only -- not from its privileged classes; and sono matter what the nation's intellectual grade was; whether high or lowthe bulk of its ability was in the long ranks of its nameless and its poorand so it never saw the day that it had not the material in abundance whereby to govern itself. Which is to assert an always self-proven fact: that even the best governed and most free and most enlightened monarchy is still behind the best condition attainable by its people; and that the same is true of kindred governments of lower gradesall the way down to the lowest.

King Arthur had hurried up the army business altogether beyond my calculations. I had not supposed he would move in the matter while I was away; and so I had not mapped out a scheme for determining the merits of officers; I had only remarked that it would be wise to submit every candidate to a sharp and searching examination; and privately I meant to put together a list of military qualifications that nobody could answer to but my West Pointers. That ought to have been attended to before I left; for the king was so taken with the idea of a standing army that he couldn't wait but must get about it at onceand get up as good a scheme of examination as he could invent out of his own head.

I was impatient to see what this was; and to showtoohow much more admirable was the one which I should display to the Examining Board. I intimated thisgentlyto the kingand it fired his curiosity When the Board was assembledI followed him in; and behind us came the candidates. One of these candidates was a bright young West Pointer of mineand with him were a couple of my West Point professors.

When I saw the BoardI did not know whether to cry or to laugh. The head of it was the officer known to later centuries as Norroy King-at-Arms! The two other members were chiefs of bureaus in his department; and all three were priestsof course; all officials who had to know how to read and write were priests.

My candidate was called firstout of courtesy to meand the head of the Board opened on him with official solemnity:

"Name?"

"Mal-ease."

"Son of?"

"Webster."

"Webster -- Webster. H'm -- I -- my memory faileth to recall the name. Condition?"

"Weaver."

"Weaver! -- God keep us!"

The king was staggeredfrom his summit to his foundations; one clerk faintedand the others came near it. The chairman pulled himself togetherand said indignantly:

"It is sufficient. Get you hence."

But I appealed to the king. I begged that my candidate might be examined. The king was willingbut the Boardwho were all well-born folkimplored the king to spare them the indignity of examining the weaver's son. I knew they didn't know enough to examine him anywayso I joined my prayers to theirs and the king turned the duty over to my professors. I had had a blackboard preparedand it was put up nowand the circus began. It was beautiful to hear the lad lay out the science of warand wallow in details of battle and siegeof supplytransportationmining and countermininggrand tacticsbig strategy and little strategysignal serviceinfantrycavalryartilleryand all about siege gunsfield gunsgatling gunsrifled gunssmooth boresmusket practicerevolver practice -- and not a solitary word of it all could these catfish make head or tail ofyou understand -- and it was handsome to see him chalk off mathematical nightmares on the blackboard that would stump the angels themselvesand do it like nothingtoo -- all about eclipsesand cometsand solsticesand constellationsand mean timeand sidereal timeand dinner timeand bedtimeand every other imaginable thing above the clouds or under them that you could harry or bullyrag an enemy with and make him wish he hadn't come -- and when the boy made his military salute and stood aside at lastI was proud enough to hug himand all those other people were so dazed they looked partly petrifiedpartly drunkand wholly caught out and snowed under. I judged that the cake was oursand by a large majority.

Education is a great thing. This was the same youth who had come to West Point so ignorant that when I asked himIf a general officer should have a horse shot under him on the field of battle, what ought he to do?answered up naively and said:

"Get up and brush himself."

One of the young nobles was called up now. I thought I would question him a little myself. I said:

"Can your lordship read?"

His face flushed indignantlyand he fired this at me:

"Takest me for a clerk? I trow I am not of a blood that --"

"Answer the question!"

He crowded his wrath down and made out to answer "No."

"Can you write?"

He wanted to resent thistoobut I said:

"You will confine yourself to the questionsand make no comments. You are not here to air your blood or your gracesand nothing of the sort will be permitted. Can you write?"

"No."

"Do you know the multiplication table?"

"I wit not what ye refer to."

"How much is 9 times 6?"

"It is a mystery that is hidden from me by reason that the emergency requiring the fathoming of it hath not in my life-days occurredand sonot having no need to know this thingI abide barren of the knowledge."

"If A trade a barrel of onions to Bworth 2 pence the bushelin exchange for a sheep worth 4 pence and a dog worth a pennyand C kill the dog before deliverybecause bitten by the samewho mistook him for Dwhat sum is still due to A from Band which party pays for the dogC or Dand who gets the money? If Ais the penny sufficientor may he claim consequential damages in the form of additional money to represent the possible profit which might have inured from the dogand classifiable as earned incrementthat is to sayusufruct?"

"Verilyin the all-wise and unknowable providence of Godwho moveth in mysterious ways his wonders to performhave I never heard the fellow to this question for confusion of the mind and congestion of the ducts of thought. Wherefore I beseech you let the dog and the onions and these people of the strange and godless names work out their several salvations from their piteous and wonderful difficulties without help of minefor indeed their trouble is sufficient as it iswhereas an I tried to help I should but damage their cause the more and yet mayhap not live myself to see the desolation wrought."

"What do you know of the laws of attraction and gravitation?"

"If there be suchmayhap his grace the king did promulgate them whilst that I lay sick about the beginning of the year and thereby failed to hear his proclamation."

"What do you know of the science of optics?"

"I know of governors of placesand seneschals of castlesand sheriffs of countiesand many like small offices and titles of honorbut him you call the Science of Optics I have not heard of before; peradventure it is a new dignity."

"Yesin this country."

Try to conceive of this mollusk gravely applying for an official positionof any kind under the sun! Whyhe had all the earmarks of a typewriter copyistif you leave out the disposition to contribute uninvited emendations of your grammar and punctuation. It was unaccountable that he didn't attempt a little help of that sort out of his majestic supply of incapacity for the job. But that didn't prove that he hadn't material in him for the dispositionit only proved that he wasn't a typewriter copyist yet. After nagging him a little moreI let the professors loose on him and they turned him inside outon the line of scientific warand found him emptyof course. He knew somewhat about the warfare of the time -- bushwhacking around for ogresand bull-fights in the tournament ringand such things -- but otherwise he was empty and useless. Then we took the other young noble in handand he was the first one's twinfor ignorance and incapacity. I delivered them into the hands of the chairman of the Board with the comfortable consciousness that their cake was dough. They were examined in the previous order of precedence.

"Nameso please you?"

"Pertipoleson of Sir PertipoleBaron of Barley Mash."

"Grandfather?"

"Also Sir PertipoleBaron of Barley Mash."

"Great-grandfather?"

"The same name and title."

"Great-great-grandfather?"

"We had noneworshipful sirthe line failing before it had reached so far back."

"It mattereth not. It is a good four generationsand fulfilleth the requirements of the rule."

"Fulfills what rule?" I asked.

"The rule requiring four generations of nobility or else the candidate is not eligible."

"A man not eligible for a lieutenancy in the army unless he can prove four generations of noble descent?"

"Even so; neither lieutenant nor any other officer may be commissioned without that qualification."

"Ohcomethis is an astonishing thing. What good is such a qualification as that?"

"What good? It is a hardy questionfair sir and Bosssince it doth go far to impugn the wisdom of even our holy Mother Church herself."

"As how?"

"For that she hath established the self-same rule regarding saints. By her law none may be canonized until he hath lain dead four generations."

"I seeI see -- it is the same thing. It is wonderful. In the one case a man lies dead-alive four generations -- mummified in ignorance and sloth -- and that qualifies him to command live peopleand take their weal and woe into his impotent hands; and in the other casea man lies bedded with death and worms four generationsand that qualifies him for office in the celestial camp. Does the king's grace approve of this strange law?"

The king said:

"Whytruly I see naught about it that is strange. All places of honor and of profit do belongby natural rightto them that be of noble bloodand so these dignities in the army are their property and would be so without this or any rule. The rule is but to mark a limit. Its purpose is to keep out too recent bloodwhich would bring into contempt these officesand men of lofty lineage would turn their backs and scorn to take them. I were to blame an I permitted this calamity. YOU can permit it an you are minded so to dofor you have the delegated authoritybut that the king should do it were a most strange madness and not comprehensible to any."

"I yield. Proceedsir Chief of the Herald's College. "

The chairman resumed as follows:

"By what illustrious achievement for the honor of the Throne and State did the founder of your great line lift himself to the sacred dignity of the British nobility?"

"He built a brewery."

"Sirethe Board finds this candidate perfect in all the requirements and qualifications for military commandand doth hold his case open for decision after due examination of his competitor."

The competitor came forward and proved exactly four generations of nobility himself. So there was a tie in military qualifications that far.

He stood aside a momentand Sir Pertipole was questioned further:

"Of what condition was the wife of the founder of your line?"

"She came of the highest landed gentryyet she was not noble; she was gracious and pure and charitableof a blameless life and characterinsomuch that in these regards was she peer of the best lady in the land."

"That will do. Stand down." He called up the competing lordling againand asked: "What was the rank and condition of the great-grandmother who conferred British nobility upon your great house?"

"She was a king's leman and did climb to that splendid eminence by her own unholpen merit from the sewer where she was born."

"Ahthisindeedis true nobilitythis is the right and perfect intermixture. The lieutenancy is yoursfair lord. Hold it not in contempt; it is the humble step which will lead to grandeurs more worthy of the splendor of an origin like to thine."

I was down in the bottomless pit of humiliation. I had promised myself an easy and zenith-scouring triumphand this was the outcome!

I was almost ashamed to look my poor disappointed cadet in the face. I told him to go home and be patientthis wasn't the end.

I had a private audience with the kingand made a proposition. I said it was quite right to officer that regiment with nobilitiesand he couldn't have done a wiser thing. It would also be a good idea to add five hundred officers to it; in factadd as many officers as there were nobles and relatives of nobles in the countryeven if there should finally be five times as many officers as privates in it; and thus make it the crack regimentthe envied regimentthe King's Own regimentand entitled to fight on its own hook and in its own wayand go whither it would and come when it pleasedin time of warand be utterly swell and independent. This would make that regiment the heart's desire of all the nobilityand they would all be satisfied and happy. Then we would make up the rest of the standing army out of commonplace materialsand officer it with nobodiesas was proper -- nobodies selected on a basis of mere efficiency -- and we would make this regiment toe the lineallow it no aristocratic freedom from restraintand force it to do all the work and persistent hammeringto the end that whenever the King's Own was tired and wanted to go off for a change and rummage around amongst ogres and have a good timeit could go without uneasinessknowing that matters were in safe hands behind itand business going to be continued at the old standsame as usual. The king was charmed with the idea.

When I noticed thatit gave me a valuable notion. I thought I saw my way out of an old and stubborn difficulty at last. You seethe royalties of the Pendragon stock were a long-lived race and very fruitful. Whenever a child was born to any of these -- and it was pretty often -- there was wild joy in the nation's mouthand piteous sorrow in the nation's heart. The joy was questionablebut the grief was honest. Because the event meant another call for a Royal Grant. Long was the list of these royaltiesand they were a heavy and steadily increasing burden upon the treasury and a menace to the crown. Yet Arthur could not believe this latter factand he would not listen to any of my various projects for substituting something in the place of the royal grants. If I could have persuaded him to now and then provide a support for one of these outlying scions from his own pocketI could have made a grand to-do over itand it would have had a good effect with the nation; but nohe wouldn't hear of such a thing. He had something like a religious passion for royal grant; he seemed to look upon it as a sort of sacred swagand one could not irritate him in any way so quickly and so surely as by an attack upon that venerable institution. If I ventured to cautiously hint that there was not another respectable family in England that would humble itself to hold out the hat -- howeverthat is as far as I ever got; he always cut me short thereand peremptorilytoo.

But I believed I saw my chance at last. I would form this crack regiment out of officers alone -- not a single private. Half of it should consist of nobleswho should fill all the places up to Major-Generaland serve gratis and pay their own expenses; and they would be glad to do this when they should learn that the rest of the regiment would consist exclusively of princes of the blood. These princes of the blood should range in rank from Lieutenant-General up to Field Marshaland be gorgeously salaried and equipped and fed by the state. Moreover -- and this was the master stroke -- it should be decreed that these princely grandees should be always addressed by a stunningly gaudy and awe-compelling title (which I would presently invent)and they and they only in all England should be so addressed. Finallyall princes of the blood should have free choice; join that regimentget that great titleand renounce the royal grantor stay out and receive a grant. Neatest touch of all: unborn but imminent princes of the blood could be BORN into the regimentand start fairwith good wages and a permanent situationupon due notice from the parents.

All the boys would joinI was sure of that; soall existing grants would be relinquished; that the newly born would always join was equally certain. Within sixty days that quaint and bizarre anomalythe Royal Grantwould cease to be a living factand take its place among the curiosities of the past.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XXVI - THE FIRST NEWSPAPER

 

WHEN I told the king I was going out disguised as a petty freeman to scour the country and familiarize myself with the humbler life of the peoplehe was all afire with the novelty of the thing in a minuteand was bound to take a chance in the adventure himself -- nothing should stop him -- he would drop everything and go along -- it was the prettiest idea he had run across for many a day. He wanted to glide out the back way and start at once; but I showed him that that wouldn't answer. You seehe was billed for the king's-evil -- to touch for itI mean -- and it wouldn't be right to disappoint the house and it wouldn't make a delay worth consideringanywayit was only a one-night stand. And I thought he ought to tell the queen he was going away. He clouded up at that and looked sad. I was sorry I had spokenespecially when he said mournfully:

"Thou forgettest that Launcelot is here; and where Launcelot isshe noteth not the going forth of the kingnor what day he returneth."

Of courseI changed the Subject. YesGuenever was beautifulit is truebut take her all around she was pretty slack. I never meddled in these mattersthey weren't my affairbut I did hate to see the way things were going onand I don't mind saying that much. Many's the time she had asked meSir Boss, hast seen Sir Launcelot about?but if ever she went fretting around for the king I didn't happen to be around at the time.

There was a very good lay-out for the king's-evil business -- very tidy and creditable. The king sat under a canopy of state; about him were clustered a large body of the clergy in full canonicals. Conspicuousboth for location and personal outfitstood Marinela hermit of the quack-doctor speciesto introduce the sick. All abroad over the spacious floorand clear down to the doorsin a thick jumblelay or sat the scrofulousunder a strong light. It was as good as a tableau; in factit had all the look of being gotten up for thatthough it wasn't. There were eight hundred sick people present. The work was slow; it lacked the interest of novelty for mebecause I had seen the ceremonies before; the thing soon became tediousbut the proprieties required me to stick it out. The doctor was there for the reason that in all such crowds there were many people who only imagined something was the matter with themand many who were consciously sound but wanted the immortal honor of fleshly contact with a kingand yet others who pretended to illness in order to get the piece of coin that went with the touch. Up to this time this coin had been a wee little gold piece worth about a third of a dollar. When you consider how much that amount of money would buyin that age and countryand how usual it was to be scrofulouswhen not deadyou would understand that the annual king's-evil appropriation was just the River and Harbor bill of that government for the grip it took on the treasury and the chance it afforded for skinning the surplus. So I had privately concluded to touch the treasury itself for the king's-evil. I covered sixsevenths of the appropriation into the treasury a week before starting from Camelot on my adventuresand ordered that the other seventh be inflated into five- cent nickels and delivered into the hands of the head clerk of the King's Evil Department; a nickel to take the place of each gold coinyou seeand do its work for it. It might strain the nickel somebut I judged it could stand it. As a ruleI do not approve of watering stockbut I considered it square enough in this casefor it was just a giftanyway. Of courseyou can water a gift as much as you want to; and I generally do. The old gold and silver coins of the country were of ancient and unknown originas a rulebut some of them were Roman; they were ill-shapenand seldom rounder than a moon that is a week past the full; they were hammerednot mintedand they were so worn with use that the devices upon them were as illegible as blistersand looked like them. I judged that a sharpbright new nickelwith a first-rate likeness of the king on one side of it and Guenever on the otherand a blooming pious mottowould take the tuck out of scrofula as handy as a nobler coin and please the scrofulous fancy more; and I was right. This batch was the first it was tried onand it worked to a charm. The saving in expense was a notable economy. You will see that by these figures: We touched a trifle over 700 of the 800 patients; at former ratesthis would have cost the government about $240; at the new rate we pulled through for about $35thus saving upward of $200 at one swoop. To appreciate the full magnitude of this strokeconsider these other figures: the annual expenses of a national government amount to the equivalent of a contribution of three days' average wages of every individual of the populationcounting every individual as if he were a man. If you take a nation of 60000000where average wages are $2 per daythree days' wages taken from each individual will provide $360000000 and pay the government's expenses. In my dayin my own countrythis money was collected from impostsand the citizen imagined that the foreign importer paid itand it made him comfortable to think so; whereasin factit was paid by the American peopleand was so equally and exactly distributed among them that the annual cost to the 100-millionaire and the annual cost to the sucking child of the day-laborer was precisely the same -- each paid $6. Nothing could be equaler than thatI reckon. WellScotland and Ireland were tributary to Arthurand the united populations of the British Islands amounted to something less than 1OOOOOO. A mechanic's average wage was 3 cents a daywhen he paid his own keep. By this rule the national government's expenses were $90000 a yearor about $250 a day. Thusby the substitution of nickels for gold on a king's-evil dayI not only injured no onedissatisfied no onebut pleased all concerned and saved four-fifths of that day's national expense into the bargain -- a saving which would have been the equivalent of $800000 in my day in America. In making this substitution I had drawn upon the wisdom of a very remote source -- the wisdom of my boyhood -- for the true statesman does not despise any wisdomhowsoever lowly may be its origin: in my boyhood I had always saved my pennies and contributed buttons to the foreign missionary cause. The buttons would answer the ignorant savage as well as the cointhe coin would answer me better than the buttons; all hands were happy and nobody hurt.

Marinel took the patients as they came. He examined the candidate; if he couldn't qualify he was warned off; if he could he was passed along to the king. A priest pronounced the wordsThey shall lay their hands on the sick, and they shall recover.Then the king stroked the ulcerswhile the reading continued; finallythe patient graduated and got his nickel -- the king hanging it around his neck himself -- and was dismissed. Would you think that that would cure? It certainly did. Any mummery will cure if the patient's faith is strong in it. Up by Astolat there was a chapel where the Virgin had once appeared to a girl who used to herd geese around there -- the girl said so herself -- and they built the chapel upon that spot and hung a picture in it representing the occurrence -- a picture which you would think it dangerous for a sick person to approach; whereason the contrarythousands of the lame and the sick came and prayed before it every year and went away whole and sound; and even the well could look upon it and live. Of coursewhen I was told these things I did not believe them; but when I went there and saw them I had to succumb. I saw the cures effected myself; and they were real cures and not questionable. I saw cripples whom I had seen around Camelot for years on crutchesarrive and pray before that pictureand put down their crutches and walk off without a limp. There were piles of crutches there which had been left by such people as a testimony.

In other places people operated on a patient's mindwithout saying a word to himand cured him. In othersexperts assembled patients in a room and prayed over themand appealed to their faithand those patients went away cured. Wherever you find a king who can't cure the king's-evil you can be sure that the most valuable superstition that supports his throne -- the subject's belief in the divine appointment of his sovereign -- has passed away. In my youth the monarchs of England had ceased to touch for the evilbut there was no occasion for this diffidence: they could have cured it forty-nine times in fifty.

Wellwhen the priest had been droning for three hoursand the good king polishing the evidencesand the sick were still pressing forward as plenty as everI got to feeling intolerably bored. I was sitting by an open window not far from the canopy of state. For the five hundredth time a patient stood forward to have his repulsivenesses stroked; again those words were being droned out: "they shall lay their hands on the sick" -- when outside there rang clear as a clarion a note that enchanted my soul and tumbled thirteen worthless centuries about my ears: "Camelot WEEKLY HOSANNAH AND LITERARY VOLCANO! -- latest irruption -- only two cents -- all about the big miracle in the Valley of Holiness!" One greater than kings had arrived -- the newsboy. But I was the only person in all that throng who knew the meaning of this mighty birthand what this imperial magician was come into the world to do.

I dropped a nickel out of the window and got my paper; the Adam-newsboy of the world went around the corner to get my change; is around the corner yet. It was delicious to see a newspaper againyet I was conscious of a secret shock when my eye fell upon the first batch of display head-lines. I had lived in a clammy atmosphere of reverencerespectdeferenceso long that they sent a quivery little cold wave through me:

HIGH TIMES IN THE VALLEY

OF HOLINESS!

----

THE WATER-WORKS CORKED!

----

BRER MERLIN WORKS HIS ARTSBUT GETS LEFT?

----

But the Boss scores on his first Innings!

----

The Miraculous Well Uncorked amid awful outbursts of

INFERNAL FIRE AND SMOKE ATHUNDER!

----

THE BUZZARD-ROOST ASTONISHED!

----

UNPARALLELED REJOIBINGS!

-- and so onand so on. Yesit was too loud. Once I could have enjoyed it and seen nothing out of the way about itbut now its note was discordant. It was good Arkansas journalismbut this was not Arkansas. Moreoverthe next to the last line was calculated to give offense to the hermitsand perhaps lose us their advertising. Indeedthere was too lightsome a tone of flippancy all through the paper. It was plain I had undergone a considerable change without noticing it. I found myself unpleasantly affected by pert little irreverencies which would have seemed but proper and airy graces of speech at an earlier period of my life. There was an abundance of the following breed of itemsand they discomforted me:

LOCAL SMOKE AND CINDERS.

Sir Launcelot met up with old King Agrivance of Ireland unexpectedly last weok over on the moor south of Sir Balmoral le Merveilleuse's hog dasture. The widow has been notified.

Expedition No. 3 will start adout the first of mext month on a search f8r Sir Sagramour le Desirous. It is in com and of the renowned Knight of the Red Lawnsassissted by Sir Persant of Indewho is compete9t. intelligentcourte ousand in every way a brickand fur ther assisted by Sir Palamides the Sara cenwho is no huckleberry hinself. This is no pic-nicthese boys mean busine&s.

The readers of the Hosannah will re gret to learn that the hadndsome and popular Sir Charolais of Gaulwho dur ing his four weeks' stay at the Bull and Halibutthis cityhas won every heart by his polished manners and elegant cPnversationwill pUll out to-day for home. Give us another callCharley!

The bdsiness end of the funeral of the late Sir Dalliance the duke's son of Cornwallkilled in an encounter with the Giant of the Knotted Bludgeon last Tuesday on the borders of the Plain of Enchantment was in the hands of the ever affable and efficient Mumbleprince of un3ertakersthen whom there exists none by whom it were a more satisfying pleasure to have the last sad offices performed. Give him a trial.

The cordial thanks of the Hosannah office are duefrom editor down to devilto the ever courteous and thought ful Lord High Stew d of the Palace's Third Assistant V t for several sau ceTs of ice crEam a quality calculated to make the ey of the recipients hu mid with grt ude; and it done it. When this administration wants to chalk up a desirable name for early promotionthe Hosannah would like a chance to sudgest.

The Demoiselle Irene Dewlapof South Astolatis visiting her unclethe popular host of the Cattlemen's Board ing HouseLiver Lanethis city.

Young Barker the bellows-mender is hoMe againand looks much improved by his vacation round-up among the out lying smithies. See his ad.

Of course it was good enough journalism for a beginning; I knew that quite welland yet it was somehow disappointing. The "Court Circular" pleased me better; indeedits simple and dignified respectfulness was a distinct refreshment to me after all those disgraceful familiarities. But even it could have been improved. Do what one maythere is no getting an air of variety into a court circularI acknowledge that. There is a profound monotonousness about its facts that baffles and defeats one's sincerest efforts to make them sparkle and enthuse. The best way to manage -- in factthe only sensible way -- is to disguise repetitiousness of fact under variety of form: skin your fact each time and lay on a new cuticle of words. It deceives the eye; you think it is a new fact; it gives you the idea that the court is carrying on like everything; this excites youand you drain the whole columnwith a good appetiteand perhaps never notice that it's a barrel of soup made out of a single bean. Clarence's way was goodit was simpleit was dignifiedit was direct and business-like; all I say isit was not the best way:

COURT CIRCULAR.

On Mondaythe king rode in the park.
On Tuesdaythe king rode in the park.
On Wendesdaythe king rode in the park.
On Thursdaythe king rode in the park.
On Fridaythe king rode in the park.
On Saturdaythe king rode in the park.
On Sundaythe king rode in the park.

Howevertake the paper by and largeI was vastly pleased with it. Little crudities of a mechanical sort were observable here and therebut there were not enough of them to amount to anythingand it was good enough Arkansas proof-readinganyhowand better than was needed in Arthur's day and realm. As a rulethe grammar was leaky and the construction more or less lame; but I did not much mind these things. They are common defects of my ownand one mustn't criticise other people on grounds where he can't stand perpendicular himself.

I was hungry enough for literature to want to take down the whole paper at this one mealbut I got only a few bitesand then had to postponebecause the monks around me besieged me so with eager questions: What is this curious thing? What is it for? Is it a handkerchief? -- saddle blanket? -- part of a shirt? What is it made of? How thin it isand how dainty and frail; and how it rattles. Will it weardo you thinkand won't the rain injure it? Is it writing that appears on itor is it only ornamentation? They suspected it was writingbecause those among them who knew how to read Latin and had a smattering of Greekrecognized some of the lettersbut they could make nothing out of the result as a whole. I put my information in the simplest form I could:

"It is a public journal; I will explain what that isanother time. It is not clothit is made of paper; some time I will explain what paper is. The lines on it are reading matter; and not written by handbut printed; by and by I will explain what printing is. A thousand of these sheets have been madeall exactly like thisin every minute detail -- they can't be told apart." Then they all broke out with exclamations of surprise and admiration:

"A thousand! Verily a mighty work -- a year's work for many men."

"No -- merely a day's work for a man and a boy."

They crossed themselvesand whiffed out a protective prayer or two.

"Ah-h -- a miraclea wonder! Dark work of enchantment."

I let it go at that. Then I read in a low voiceto as many as could crowd their shaven heads within hearing distancepart of the account of the miracle of the restoration of the welland was accompanied by astonished and reverent ejaculations all through: "Ah-h-h!" "How true!" "Amazingamazing!" "These be the very haps as they happenedin marvelous exactness!" And might they take this strange thing in their handsand feel of it and examine it? -- they would be very careful. Yes. So they took ithandling it as cautiously and devoutly as if it had been some holy thing come from some supernatural region; and gently felt of its texturecaressed its pleasant smooth surface with lingering touchand scanned the mysterious characters with fascinated eyes. These grouped bent headsthese charmed facesthese speaking eyes -- how beautiful to me! For was not this my darlingand was not all this mute wonder and interest and homage a most eloquent tribute and unforced compliment to it? I knewthenhow a mother feels when womenwhether strangers or friendstake her new babyand close themselves about it with one eager impulseand bend their heads over it in a tranced adoration that makes all the rest of the universe vanish out of their consciousness and be as if it were notfor that time. I knew how she feelsand that there is no other satisfied ambitionwhether of kingconqueroror poetthat ever reaches half-way to that serene far summit or yields half so divine a contentment.

During all the rest of the seance my paper traveled from group to group all up and down and about that huge halland my happy eye was upon it alwaysand I sat motionlesssteeped in satisfactiondrunk with enjoyment. Yesthis was heaven; I was tasting it onceif I might never taste it more.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XXVII - THE YANKEE AND THE KING TRAVEL INCOGNITO

 

ABOUT bedtime I took the king to my private quarters to cut his hair and help him get the hang of the lowly raiment he was to wear. The high classes wore their hair banged across the forehead but hanging to the shoulders the rest of the way aroundwhereas the lowest ranks of commoners were banged fore and aft both; the slaves were banglessand allowed their hair free growth. So I inverted a bowl over his head and cut away all the locks that hung below it. I also trimmed his whiskers and mustache until they were only about a half-inch long; and tried to do it inartisticallyand succeeded. It was a villainous disfigurement. When he got his lubberly sandals onand his long robe of coarse brown linen clothwhich hung straight from his neck to his ankle-boneshe was no longer the comeliest man in his kingdombut one of the unhandsomest and most commonplace and unattractive. We were dressed and barbered alikeand could pass for small farmersor farm bailiffsor shepherdsor carters; yesor for village artisansif we choseour costume being in effect universal among the poorbecause of its strength and cheapness. I don't mean that it was really cheap to a very poor personbut I do mean that it was the cheapest material there was for male attire -- manufactured materialyou understand.

We slipped away an hour before dawnand by broad sun-up had made eight or ten milesand were in the midst of a sparsely settled country. I had a pretty heavy knapsack; it was laden with provisions -- provisions for the king to taper down ontill he could take to the coarse fare of the country without damage.

I found a comfortable seat for the king by the roadsideand then gave him a morsel or two to stay his stomach with. Then I said I would find some water for himand strolled away. Part of my project was to get out of sight and sit down and rest a little myself. It had always been my custom to stand when in his presence; even at the council boardexcept upon those rare occasions when the sitting was a very long oneextending over hours; then I had a trifling little backless thing which was like a reversed culvert and was as comfortable as the toothache. I didn't want to break him in suddenlybut do it by degrees. We should have to sit together now when in companyor people would notice; but it would not be good politics for me to be playing equality with him when there was no necessity for it.

I found the water some three hundred yards awayand had been resting about twenty minuteswhen I heard voices. That is all rightI thought -- peasants going to work; nobody else likely to be stirring this early. But the next moment these comers jingled into sight around a turn of the road -- smartly clad people of qualitywith luggage-mules and servants in their train! I was off like a shotthrough the bushesby the shortest cut. For a while it did seem that these people would pass the king before I could get to him; but desperation gives you wingsyou knowand I canted my body forwardinflated my breastand held my breath and flew. I arrived. And in plenty good enough timetoo.

"Pardonmy kingbut it's no time for ceremony -- jump! Jump to your feet -- some quality are coming!"

"Is that a marvel? Let them come."

"But my liege! You must not be seen sitting. Rise! -- and stand in humble posture while they pass. You are a peasantyou know."

"True -- I had forgot itso lost was I in planning of a huge war with Gaul" -- he was up by this timebut a farm could have got up quickerif there was any kind of a boom in real estate -- "and right-so a thought came randoming overthwart this majestic dream the which --"

"A humbler attitudemy lord the king -- and quick! Duck your head! -- more! -- still more! -- droop it!"

He did his honest bestbut lordit was no great things. He looked as humble as the leaning tower at Pisa. It is the most you could say of it. Indeedit was such a thundering poor success that it raised wondering scowls all along the lineand a gorgeous flunkey at the tail end of it raised his whip; but I jumped in time and was under it when it fell; and under cover of the volley of coarse laughter which followedI spoke up sharply and warned the king to take no notice. He mastered himself for the momentbut it was a sore tax; he wanted to eat up the procession. I said:

"It would end our adventures at the very start; and webeing without weaponscould do nothing with that armed gang. If we are going to succeed in our emprisewe must not only look the peasant but act the peasant."

"It is wisdom; none can gainsay it. Let us go onSir Boss. I will take note and learnand do the best I may."

He kept his word. He did the best he couldbut I've seen better. If you have ever seen an activeheedlessenterprising child going diligently out of one mischief and into another all day longand an anxious mother at its heels all the whileand just saving it by a hair from drowning itself or breaking its neck with each new experimentyou've seen the king and me.

If I could have foreseen what the thing was going to be likeI should have saidNoif anybody wants to make his living exhibiting a king as a peasantlet him take the layout; I can do better with a menagerieand last longer. And yetduring the first three days I never allowed him to enter a hut or other dwelling. If he could pass muster anywhere during his early novitiate it would be in small inns and on the road; so to these places we confined ourselves. Yeshe certainly did the best he couldbut what of that? He didn't improve a bit that I could see.

He was always frightening mealways breaking out with fresh astonishersin new and unexpected places. Toward evening on the second daywhat does he do but blandly fetch out a dirk from inside his robe!

"Great gunsmy liegewhere did you get that?"

"From a smuggler at the innyester eve."

"What in the world possessed you to buy it?"

"We have escaped divers dangers by wit -- thy wit -- but I have bethought me that it were but prudence if I bore a weapontoo. Thine might fail thee in some pinch."

"But people of our condition are not allowed to carry arms. What would a lord say -- yesor any other person of whatever condition -- if he caught an upstart peasant with a dagger on his person?"

It was a lucky thing for us that nobody came along just then. I persuaded him to throw the dirk away; and it was as easy as persuading a child to give up some bright fresh new way of killing itself. We walked alongsilent and thinking. Finally the king said:

"When ye know that I meditate a thing inconvenientor that hath a peril in itwhy do you not warn me to cease from that project?"

It was a startling questionand a puzzler. I didn't quite know how to take hold of itor what to sayand soof courseI ended by saying the natural thing:

"Butsirehow can I know what your thoughts are?"

The king stopped dead in his tracksand stared at me.

"I believed thou wert greater than Merlin; and truly in magic thou art. But prophecy is greater than magic. Merlin is a prophet."

I saw I had made a blunder. I must get back my lost ground. After a deep reflection and careful planningI said:

"SireI have been misunderstood. I will explain. There are two kinds of prophecy. One is the gift to foretell things that are but a little way offthe other is the gift to foretell things that are whole ages and centuries away. Which is the mightier giftdo you think?"

"Ohthe lastmost surely!"

"True. Does Merlin possess it?"

"Partlyyes. He foretold mysteries about my birth and future kingship that were twenty years away."

"Has he ever gone beyond that?"

"He would not claim moreI think."

"It is probably his limit. All prophets have their limit. The limit of some of the great prophets has been a hundred years."

"These are fewI ween."

"There have been two still greater oneswhose limit was four hundred and six hundred yearsand one whose limit compassed even seven hundred and twenty."

"Gramercyit is marvelous!"

"But what are these in comparison with me? They are nothing."

"What? Canst thou truly look beyond even so vast a stretch of time as --"

"Seven hundred years? My liegeas clear as the vision of an eagle does my prophetic eye penetrate and lay bare the future of this world for nearly thirteen centuries and a half!"

My landyou should have seen the king's eyes spread slowly openand lift the earth's entire atmosphere as much as an inch! That settled Brer Merlin. One never had any occasion to prove his factswith these people; all he had to do was to state them. It never occurred to anybody to doubt the statement.

"Nowthen I continued, I COULD work both kinds of prophecy -- the long and the short -- if I chose to take the trouble to keep in practice; but I seldom exercise any but the long kindbecause the other is beneath my dignity. It is properer to Merlin's sort -- stump-tail prophetsas we call them in the profession. Of courseI whet up now and then and flirt out a minor prophecybut not often -- hardly everin fact. You will remember that there was great talkwhen you reached the Valley of Holinessabout my having prophesied your coming and the very hour of your arrivaltwo or three days beforehand."

"IndeedyesI mind it now."

"WellI could have done it as much as forty times easierand piled on a thousand times more detail into the bargainif it had been five hundred years away instead of two or three days."

"How amazing that it should be so!"

"Yesa genuine expert can always foretell a thing that is five hundred years away easier than he can a thing that's only five hundred seconds off."

"And yet in reason it should clearly be the other way; it should be five hundred times as easy to foretell the last as the firstforindeedit is so close by that one uninspired might almost see it. In truththe law of prophecy doth contradict the likelihoodsmost strangely making the difficult easyand the easy difficult."

It was a wise head. A peasant's cap was no safe disguise for it; you could know it for a king's under a diving-bellif you could hear it work its intellect.

I had a new trade nowand plenty of business in it. The king was as hungry to find out everything that was going to happen during the next thirteen centuries as if he were expecting to live in them. From that time outI prophesied myself bald-headed trying to supply the demand. I have done some indiscreet things in my daybut this thing of playing myself for a prophet was the worst. Stillit had its ameliorations. A prophet doesn't have to have any brains. They are good to haveof coursefor the ordinary exigencies of lifebut they are no use in professional work. It is the restfulest vocation there is. When the spirit of prophecy comes upon youyou merely cake your intellect and lay it off in a cool place for a restand unship your jaw and leave it alone; it will work itself: the result is prophecy.

Every day a knight-errant or so came alongand the sight of them fired the king's martial spirit every time. He would have forgotten himselfsureand said something to them in a style a suspicious shade or so above his ostensible degreeand so I always got him well out of the road in time. Then he would stand and look with all his eyes; and a proud light would flash from themand his nostrils would inflate like a war-horse'sand I knew he was longing for a brush with them. But about noon of the third day I had stopped in the road to take a precaution which had been suggested by the whip-stroke that had fallen to my share two days before; a precaution which I had afterward decided to leave untakenI was so loath to institute it; but now I had just had a fresh reminder: while striding heedlessly alongwith jaw spread and intellect at restfor I was prophesyingI stubbed my toe and fell sprawling. I was so pale I couldn't think for a moment; then I got softly and carefully up and unstrapped my knapsack. I had that dynamite bomb in itdone up in wool in a box. It was a good thing to have along; the time would come when I could do a valuable miracle with itmaybebut it was a nervous thing to have about meand I didn't like to ask the king to carry it. Yet I must either throw it away or think up some safe way to get along with its society. I got it out and slipped it into my scripand just then here came a couple of knights. The king stoodstately as a statuegazing toward them -- had forgotten himself againof course -- and before I could get a word of warning outit was time for him to skipand well that he did ittoo. He supposed they would turn aside. Turn aside to avoid trampling peasant dirt under foot? When had he ever turned aside himself -- or ever had the chance to do itif a peasant saw him or any other noble knight in time to judiciously save him the trouble? The knights paid no attention to the king at all; it was his place to look out himselfand if he hadn't skipped he would have been placidly ridden downand laughed at besides.

The king was in a flaming furyand launched out his challenge and epithets with a most royal vigor. The knights were some little distance by now. They haltedgreatly surprisedand turned in their saddles and looked backas if wondering if it might be worth while to bother with such scum as we. Then they wheeled and started for us. Not a moment must be lost. I started for THEM. I passed them at a rattling gaitand as I went by I flung out a hair-lifting soulscorching thirteen-jointed insult which made the king's effort poor and cheap by comparison. I got it out of the nineteenth century where they know how. They had such headway that they were nearly to the king before they could check up; thenfrantic with ragethey stood up their horses on their hind hoofs and whirled them aroundand the next moment here they camebreast to breast. I was seventy yards offthenand scrambling up a great bowlder at the roadside. When they were within thirty yards of me they let their long lances droop to a leveldepressed their mailed headsand sowith their horse-hair plumes streaming straight out behindmost gallant to seethis lightning express came tearing for me! When they were within fifteen yardsI sent that bomb with a sure aimand it struck the ground just under the horses' noses.

Yesit was a neat thingvery neat and pretty to see. It resembled a steamboat explosion on the Mississippi; and during the next fifteen minutes we stood under a steady drizzle of microscopic fragments of knights and hardware and horse-flesh. I say wefor the king joined the audienceof courseas soon as he had got his breath again. There was a hole there which would afford steady work for all the people in that region for some years to come -- in trying to explain itI mean; as for filling it upthat service would be comparatively promptand would fall to the lot of a select few -- peasants of that seignory; and they wouldn't get anything for iteither.

But I explained it to the king myself. I said it was done with a dynamite bombThis information did him no damagebecause it left him as intelligent as he was before. Howeverit was a noble miraclein his eyesand was another settler for Merlin. I thought it well enough to explain that this was a miracle of so rare a sort that it couldn't be done except when the atmospheric conditions were just right. Otherwise he would be encoring it every time we had a good subjectand that would be inconvenientbecause I hadn't any more bombs along.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XXVIII - DRILLING THE KING

 

ON the morning of the fourth daywhen it was just sunriseand we had been tramping an hour in the chill dawnI came to a resolution: the king MUST be drilled; things could not go on sohe must be taken in hand and deliberately and conscientiously drilledor we couldn't ever venture to enter a dwelling; the very cats would know this masquerader for a humbug and no peasant. So I called a halt and said:

"Sireas between clothes and countenanceyou are all rightthere is no discrepancy; but as between your clothes and your bearingyou are all wrongthere is a most noticeable discrepancy. Your soldierly strideyour lordly port -- these will not do. You stand too straightyour looks are too hightoo confident. The cares of a kingdom do not stoop the shouldersthey do not droop the chinthey do not depress the high level of the eye-glancethey do not put doubt and fear in the heart and hang out the signs of them in slouching body and unsure step. It is the sordid cares of the lowly born that do these things. You must learn the trick; you must imitate the trademarks of povertymiseryoppressioninsultand the other several and common inhumanities that sap the manliness out of a man and make him a loyal and proper and approved subject and a satisfaction to his mastersor the very infants will know you for better than your disguiseand we shall go to pieces at the first hut we stop at. Pray try to walk like this."

The king took careful noteand then tried an imitation.

"Pretty fair -- pretty fair. Chin a little lowerplease -- therevery good. Eyes too high; pray don't look at the horizonlook at the groundten steps in front of you. Ah -- that is betterthat is very good. Waitplease; you betray too much vigortoo much decision; you want more of a shamble. Look at meplease -- this is what I mean......Now you are getting it; that is the idea -- at leastit sort of approaches it......Yesthat is pretty fair. BUT! There is a great big something wantingI don't quite know what it is. Please walk thirty yardsso that I can get a perspective on the thing......Nowthen -- your head's rightspeed's rightshoulders righteyes rightchin rightgaitcarriagegeneral style right -- everything's right! And yet the fact remainsthe aggregate's wrong. The account don't balance. Do it againplease......NOW I think I begin to see what it is. YesI've struck it. You seethe genuine spiritlessness is wanting; that's what's the trouble. It's all AMATUEUR -- mechanical details all rightalmost to a hair; everything about the delusion perfectexcept that it don't delude."

"Whatthenmust one doto prevail?"

"Let me think......I can't seem to quite get at it. In factthere isn't anything that can right the matter but practice. This is a good place for it: roots and stony ground to break up your stately gaita region not liable to interruptiononly one field and one hut in sightand they so far away that nobody could see us from there. It will be well to move a little off the road and put in the whole day drilling yousire."

After the drill had gone on a little whileI said:

"Nowsireimagine that we are at the door of the hut yonderand the family are before us. Proceedplease -- accost the head of the house."

The king unconsciously straightened up like a monumentand saidwith frozen austerity:

"Varletbring a seat; and serve to me what cheer ye have."

"Ahyour gracethat is not well done."

"In what lacketh it?"

"These people do not call EACH OTHER varlets."

"Nayis that true?"

"Yes; only those above them call them so."

"Then must I try again. I will call him villein."

"No-no; for he may be a freeman."

"Ah -- so. Then peradventure I should call him goodman."

"That would answeryour gracebut it would be still better if you said friendor brother."

"Brother! -- to dirt like that?"

"Ahbut WE are pretending to be dirt like thattoo."

"It is even true. I will say it. Brotherbring a seatand thereto what cheer ye havewithal. Now 'tis right."

"Not quitenot wholly right. You have asked for onenot US -- for onenot both; food for onea seat for one."

The king looked puzzled -- he wasn't a very heavy weightintellectually. His head was an hour-glass; it could stow an ideabut it had to do it a grain at a timenot the whole idea at once.

"Would YOU have a seat also -- and sit?"

"If I did not sitthe man would perceive that we were only pretending to be equals -- and playing the deception pretty poorlytoo."

"It is well and truly said! How wonderful is truthcome it in whatsoever unexpected form it may! Yeshe must bring out seats and food for bothand in serving us present not ewer and napkin with more show of respect to the one than to the other."

"And there is even yet a detail that needs correcting. He must bring nothing outside; we will go in -- in among the dirtand possibly other repulsive things-- and take the food with the householdand after the fashion of the houseand all on equal termsexcept the man be of the serf class; and finallythere will be no ewer and no napkinwhether he be serf or free. Please walk againmy liege. There -- it is better -- it is the best yet; but not perfect. The shoulders have known no ignobler burden than iron mailand they will not stoop."

"Give methenthe bag. I will learn the spirit that goeth with burdens that have not honor. It is the spirit that stoopeth the shouldersI weenand not the weight; for armor is heavyyet it is a proud burdenand a man standeth straight in it......Naybut me no butsoffer me no objections. I will have the thing. Strap it upon my back."

He was complete now with that knapsack onand looked as little like a king as any man I had ever seen. But it was an obstinate pair of shoulders; they could not seem to learn the trick of stooping with any sort of deceptive naturalness. The drill went onI prompting and correcting:

"Nowmake believe you are in debtand eaten up by relentless creditors; you are out of work -- which is horse-shoeinglet us say -- and can get none; and your wife is sickyour children are crying because they are hungry --"

And so onand so on. I drilled him as representing in turn all sorts of people out of luck and suffering dire privations and misfortunes. But lordit was only just wordswords -- they meant nothing in the world to himI might just as well have whistled. Words realize nothingvivify nothing to youunless you have suffered in your own person the thing which the words try to describe. There are wise people who talk ever so knowingly and complacently about "the working classes and satisfy themselves that a day's hard intellectual work is very much harder than a day's hard manual toil, and is righteously entitled to much bigger pay. Why, they really think that, you know, because they know all about the one, but haven't tried the other. But I know all about both; and so far as I am concerned, there isn't money enough in the universe to hire me to swing a pickaxe thirty days, but I will do the hardest kind of intellectual work for just as near nothing as you can cipher it down -- and I will be satisfied, too.

Intellectual work" is misnamed; it is a pleasurea dissipationand is its own highest reward. The poorest paid architectengineergeneralauthorsculptorpainterlectureradvocatelegislatoractorpreachersinger is constructively in heaven when he is at work; and as for the musician with the fiddle-bow in his hand who sits in the midst of a great orchestra with the ebbing and flowing tides of divine sound washing over him -- whycertainlyhe is at workif you wish to call it thatbut lordit's a sarcasm just the same. The law of work does seem utterly unfair -- but there it isand nothing can change it: the higher the pay in enjoyment the worker gets out of itthe higher shall be his pay in cashalso. And it's also the very law of those transparent swindlestransmissible nobility and kingship.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XXIX - THE SMALLPOX HUT

 

WHEN we arrived at that hut at mid-afternoonwe saw no signs of life about it. The field near by had been denuded of its crop some time beforeand had a skinned lookso exhaustively had it been harvested and gleaned. Fencesshedseverything had a ruined lookand were eloquent of poverty. No animal was around anywhereno living thing in sight. The stillness was awfulit was like the stillness of death. The cabin was a one-story onewhose thatch was black with ageand ragged from lack of repair.

The door stood a trifle ajar. We approached it stealthily -- on tiptoe and at half-breath -- for that is the way one's feeling makes him doat such a time. The king knocked. We waited. No answer. Knocked again. No answer. I pushed the door softly open and looked in. I made out some dim formsand a woman started up from the ground and stared at meas one does who is wakened from sleep. Presently she found her voice:

"Have mercy!" she pleaded. "All is takennothing is left."

"I have not come to take anythingpoor woman."

"You are not a priest?"

"No."

"Nor come not from the lord of the manor?"

"NoI am a stranger."

"Ohthenfor the fear of Godwho visits with misery and death such as be harmlesstarry not herebut fly! This place is under his curse -- and his Church's."

"Let me come in and help you -- you are sick and in trouble."

I was better used to the dim light now. I could see her hollow eyes fixed upon me. I could see how emaciated she was.

"I tell you the place is under the Church's ban. Save yourself -- and gobefore some straggler see thee hereand report it."

"Give yourself no trouble about me; I don't care anything for the Church's curse. Let me help you."

"Now all good spirits -- if there be any such -- bless thee for that word. Would God I had a sup of water! -- but holdholdforget I said itand fly; for there is that here that even he that feareth not the Church must fear: this disease whereof we die. Leave usthou bravegood strangerand take with thee such whole and sincere blessing as them that be accursed can give."

But before this I had picked up a wooden bowl and was rushing past the king on my way to the brook. It was ten yards away. When I got back and enteredthe king was withinand was opening the shutter that closed the window-holeto let in air and light. The place was full of a foul stench. I put the bowl to the woman's lipsand as she gripped it with her eager talons the shutter came open and a strong light flooded her face. Smallpox!

I sprang to the kingand said in his ear:

"Out of the door on the instantsire! the woman is dying of that disease that wasted the skirts of Camelot two years ago."

He did not budge.

"Of a truth I shall remain -- and likewise help."

I whispered again:

"Kingit must not be. You must go."

"Ye mean welland ye speak not unwisely. But it were shame that a king should know fearand shame that belted knight should withhold his hand where be such as need succor. PeaceI will not go. It is you who must go. The Church's ban is not upon mebut it forbiddeth you to be hereand she will deal with you with a heavy hand an word come to her of your trespass."

It was a desperate place for him to be inand might cost him his lifebut it was no use to argue with him. If he considered his knightly honor at stake herethat was the end of argument; he would stayand nothing could prevent it; I was aware of that. And so I dropped the subject. The woman spoke:

"Fair sirof your kindness will ye climb the ladder thereand bring me news of what ye find? Be not afraid to reportfor times can come when even a mother's heart is past breaking -- being already broke."

"Abide said the king, and give the woman to eat. I will go." And he put down the knapsack.

I turned to startbut the king had already started. He haltedand looked down upon a man who lay in a dim lightand had not noticed us thus faror spoken.

"Is it your husband?" the king asked.

"Yes."

"Is he asleep?"

"God be thanked for that one charityyes -- these three hours. Where shall I pay to the fullmy gratitude! for my heart is bursting with it for that sleep he sleepeth now."

I said:

"We will be careful. We will not wake him."

"Ahnothat ye will notfor he is dead."

"Dead?"

"Yeswhat triumph it is to know it! None can harm himnone insult him more. He is in heaven nowand happy; or if not therehe bides in hell and is content; for in that place he will find neither abbot nor yet bishop. We were boy and girl together; we were man and wife these five and twenty yearsand never separated till this day. Think how long that is to love and suffer together. This morning was he out of his mindand in his fancy we were boy and girl again and wandering in the happy fields; and so in that innocent glad converse wandered he far and fartherstill lightly gossipingand entered into those other fields we know not ofand was shut away from mortal sight. And so there was no partingfor in his fancy I went with him; he knew not but I went with himmy hand in his -- my young soft handnot this withered claw. Ahyesto goand know it not; to separate and know it not; how could one go peace -- fuller than that? It was his reward for a cruel life patiently borne."

There was a slight noise from the direction of the dim corner where the ladder was. It was the king descending. I could see that he was bearing something in one armand assisting himself with the other. He came forward into the light; upon his breast lay a slender girl of fifteen. She was but half conscious; she was dying of smallpox. Here was heroism at its last and loftiest possibilityits utmost summit; this was challenging death in the open field unarmedwith all the odds against the challengerno reward set upon the contestand no admiring world in silks and cloth of gold to gaze and applaud; and yet the king's bearing was as serenely brave as it had always been in those cheaper contests where knight meets knight in equal fight and clothed in protecting steel. He was great now; sublimely great. The rude statues of his ancestors in his palace should have an addition -- I would see to that; and it would not be a mailed king killing a giant or a dragonlike the restit would be a king in commoner's garb bearing death in his arms that a peasant mother might look her last upon her child and be comforted.

He laid the girl down by her motherwho poured out endearments and caresses from an overflowing heartand one could detect a flickering faint light of response in the child's eyesbut that was all. The mother hung over herkissing herpetting herand imploring her to speakbut the lips only moved and no sound came. I snatched my liquor flask from my knapsackbut the woman forbade meand said:

"No -- she does not suffer; it is better so. It might bring her back to life. None that be so good and kind as ye are would do her that cruel hurt. For look you -- what is left to live for? Her brothers are goneher father is goneher mother goeththe Church's curse is upon herand none may shelter or befriend her even though she lay perishing in the road. She is desolate. I have not asked yougood heartif her sister be still on livehere overhead; I had no need; ye had gone backelseand not left the poor thing forsaken --"

"She lieth at peace interrupted the king, in a subdued voice.

I would not change it. How rich is this day in happiness! Ahmy Annisthou shalt join thy sister soon -- thou'rt on thy wayand these be merciful friends that will not hinder."

And so she fell to murmuring and cooing over the girl againand softly stroking her face and hairand kissing her and calling her by endearing names; but there was scarcely sign of response now in the glazing eyes. I saw tears well from the king's eyesand trickle down his face. The woman noticed themtooand said:

"AhI know that sign: thou'st a wife at homepoor souland you and she have gone hungry to bedmany's the timethat the little ones might have your crust; you know what poverty isand the daily insults of your bettersand the heavy hand of the Church and the king."

The king winced under this accidental home-shotbut kept still; he was learning his part; and he was playing it welltoofor a pretty dull beginner. I struck up a diversion. I offered the woman food and liquorbut she refused both. She would allow nothing to come between her and the release of death. Then I slipped away and brought the dead child from aloftand laid it by her. This broke her down againand there was another scene that was full of heartbreak. By and by I made another diversionand beguiled her to sketch her story.

"Ye know it well yourselveshaving suffered it -- for truly none of our condition in Britain escape it. It is the oldweary tale. We fought and struggled and succeeded; meaning by successthat we lived and did not die; more than that is not to be claimed. No troubles came that we could not outlivetill this year brought them; then came they all at onceas one might sayand overwhelmed us. Years ago the lord of the manor planted certain fruit trees on our farm; in the best part of ittoo -- a grievous wrong and shame --"

"But it was his right interrupted the king.

None denieth thatindeed; an the law mean anythingwhat is the lord's is hisand what is mine is his also. Our farm was ours by leasetherefore 'twas likewise histo do with it as he would. Some little time agothree of those trees were found hewn down. Our three grown sons ran frightened to report the crime. Wellin his lordship's dungeon there they liewho saith there shall they lie and rot till they confess. They have naught to confessbeing innocentwherefore there will they remain until they die. Ye know that right wellI ween. Think how this left us; a mana woman and two childrento gather a crop that was planted by so much greater forceyesand protect it night and day from pigeons and prowling animals that be sacred and must not be hurt by any of our sort. When my lord's crop was nearly ready for the harvestso also was ours; when his bell rang to call us to his fields to harvest his crop for nothinghe would not allow that I and my two girls should count for our three captive sonsbut for only two of them; sofor the lacking one were we daily fined. All this time our own crop was perishing through neglect; and so both the priest and his lordship fined us because their shares of it were suffering through damage. In the end the fines ate up our crop -- and they took it all; they took it all and made us harvest it for themwithout pay or foodand we starving. Then the worst came when Ibeing out of my mind with hunger and loss of my boysand grief to see my husband and my little maids in rags and misery and despairuttered a deep blasphemy -- oh! a thousand of them! -- against the Church and the Church's ways. It was ten days ago. I had fallen sick with this diseaseand it was to the priest I said the wordsfor he was come to chide me for lack of due humility under the chastening hand of God. He carried my trespass to his betters; I was stubborn; whereforepresently upon my head and upon all heads that were dear to mefell the curse of Rome.

"Since that day we are avoidedshunned with horror. None has come near this hut to know whether we live or not. The rest of us were taken down. Then I roused me and got upas wife and mother will. It was little they could have eaten in any case; it was less than little they had to eat. But there was waterand I gave them that. How they craved it! and how they blessed it! But the end came yesterday; my strength broke down. Yesterday was the last time I ever saw my husband and this youngest child alive. I have lain here all these hours -- these agesye may say -- listeninglistening for any sound up there that --"

She gave a sharp quick glance at her eldest daughterthen cried outOh, my darling!and feebly gathered the stiffening form to her sheltering arms. She had recognized the death-rattle.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XXX - THE TRAGEDY OF THE MANOR-HOUSE

 

AT midnight all was overand we sat in the presence of four corpses. We covered them with such rags as we could findand started awayfastening the door behind us. Their home must be these people's gravefor they could not have Christian burialor be admitted to consecrated ground. They were as dogswild beastslepersand no soul that valued its hope of eternal life would throw it away by meddling in any sort with these rebuked and smitten outcasts.

We had not moved four steps when I caught a sound as of footsteps upon gravel. My heart flew to my throat. We must not be seen coming from that house. I plucked at the king's robe and we drew back and took shelter behind the corner of the cabin.

"Now we are safe I said, but it was a close call -- so to speak. If the night had been lighter he might have seen usno doubthe seemed to be so near."

"Mayhap it is but a beast and not a man at all."

"True. But man or beastit will be wise to stay here a minute and let it get by and out of the way."

"Hark! It cometh hither."

True again. The step was coming toward us -- straight toward the hut. It must be a beastthenand we might as well have saved our trepidation. I was going to step outbut the king laid his hand upon my arm. There was a moment of silencethen we heard a soft knock on the cabin door. It made me shiver. Presently the knock was repeatedand then we heard these words in a guarded voice:

"Mother! Father! Open -- we have got freeand we bring news to pale your cheeks but glad your hearts; and we may not tarrybut must fly! And -- but they answer not. Mother! father! --"

I drew the king toward the other end of the hut and whispered:

"Come -- now we can get to the road."

The king hesitatedwas going to demur; but just then we heard the door give wayand knew that those desolate men were in the presence of their dead.

"Comemy liege! in a moment they will strike a lightand then will follow that which it would break your heart to hear."

He did not hesitate this time. The moment we were in the road I ran; and after a moment he threw dignity aside and followed. I did not want to think of what was happening in the hut -- I couldn't bear it; I wanted to drive it out of my mind; so I struck into the first subject that lay under that one in my mind:

"I have had the disease those people died ofand so have nothing to fear; but if you have not had it also --"

He broke in upon me to say he was in troubleand it was his conscience that was troubling him:

"These young men have got freethey say -- but HOW? It is not likely that their lord hath set them free."

"OhnoI make no doubt they escaped."

"That is my trouble; I have a fear that this is soand your suspicion doth confirm ityou having the same fear.

"I should not call it by that name though. I do suspect that they escapedbut if they didI am not sorrycertainly."

"I am not sorryI THINK -- but --"

"What is it? What is there for one to be troubled about?"

"IF they did escapethen are we bound in duty to lay hands upon them and deliver them again to their lord; for it is not seemly that one of his quality should suffer a so insolent and high-handed outrage from persons of their base degree."

There it was again. He could see only one side of it. He was born soeducated sohis veins were full of ancestral blood that was rotten with this sort of unconscious brutalitybrought down by inheritance from a long procession of hearts that had each done its share toward poisoning the stream. To imprison these men without proofand starve their kindredwas no harmfor they were merely peasants and subject to the will and pleasure of their lordno matter what fearful form it might take; but for these men to break out of unjust captivity was insult and outrageand a thing not to be countenanced by any conscientious person who knew his duty to his sacred caste.

I worked more than half an hour before I got him to change the subject -- and even then an outside matter did it for me. This was a something which caught our eyes as we struck the summit of a small hill -- a red glowa good way off.

"That's a fire said I.

Fires interested me considerably, because I was getting a good deal of an insurance business started, and was also training some horses and building some steam fire-engines, with an eye to a paid fire department by and by. The priests opposed both my fire and life insurance, on the ground that it was an insolent attempt to hinder the decrees of God; and if you pointed out that they did not hinder the decrees in the least, but only modified the hard consequences of them if you took out policies and had luck, they retorted that that was gambling against the decrees of God, and was just as bad. So they managed to damage those industries more or less, but I got even on my Accident business. As a rule, a knight is a lummox, and some times even a labrick, and hence open to pretty poor arguments when they come glibly from a superstition-monger, but even HE could see the practical side of a thing once in a while; and so of late you couldn't clean up a tournament and pile the result without finding one of my accident-tickets in every helmet.

We stood there awhile, in the thick darkness and stillness, looking toward the red blur in the distance, and trying to make out the meaning of a far-away murmur that rose and fell fitfully on the night. Sometimes it swelled up and for a moment seemed less remote; but when we were hopefully expecting it to betray its cause and nature, it dulled and sank again, carrying its mystery with it. We started down the hill in its direction, and the winding road plunged us at once into almost solid darkness -- darkness that was packed and crammed in between two tall forest walls. We groped along down for half a mile, perhaps, that murmur growing more and more distinct all the time. the coming storm threatening more and more, with now and then a little shiver of wind, a faint show of lightning, and dull grumblings of distant thunder. I was in the lead. I ran against something -- a soft heavy something which gave, slightly, to the impulse of my weight; at the same moment the lightning glared out, and within a foot of my face was the writhing face of a man who was hanging from the limb of a tree! That is, it seemed to be writhing, but it was not. It was a grewsome sight. Straightway there was an earsplitting explosion of thunder, and the bottom of heaven fell out; the rain poured down in a deluge. No matter, we must try to cut this man down, on the chance that there might be life in him yet, mustn't we? The lightning came quick and sharp now, and the place was alternately noonday and midnight. One moment the man would be hanging before me in an intense light, and the next he was blotted out again in the darkness. I told the king we must cut him down. The king at once objected.

If he hanged himselfhe was willing to lose him property to his lord; so let him be. If others hanged himbelike they had the right -- let him hang."

"But --"

"But me no butsbut even leave him as he is. And for yet another reason. When the lightning cometh again -- therelook abroad."

Two others hangingwithin fifty yards of us!

"It is not weather meet for doing useless courtesies unto dead folk. They are past thanking you. Come -- it is unprofitable to tarry here."

There was reason in what he saidso we moved on. Within the next mile we counted six more hanging forms by the blaze of the lightningand altogether it was a grisly excursion. That murmur was a murmur no longerit was a roar; a roar of men's voices. A man came flying by nowdimly through the darknessand other men chasing him. They disappeared. Presently another case of the kind occurredand then another and another. Then a sudden turn of the road brought us in sight of that fire -- it was a large manorhouseand little or nothing was left of it -- and everywhere men were flying and other men raging after them in pursuit.

I warned the king that this was not a safe place for strangers. We would better get away from the lightuntil matters should improve. We stepped back a littleand hid in the edge of the wood. From this hiding-place we saw both men and women hunted by the mob. The fearful work went on until nearly dawn. Thenthe fire being out and the storm spentthe voices and flying footsteps presently ceasedand darkness and stillness reigned again.

We ventured outand hurried cautiously away; and although we were worn out and sleepywe kept on until we had put this place some miles behind us. Then we asked hospitality at the hut of a charcoal burnerand got what was to be had. A woman was up and aboutbut the man was still asleepon a straw shake-downon the clay floor. The woman seemed uneasy until I explained that we were travelers and had lost our way and been wandering in the woods all night. She became talkativethenand asked if we had heard of the terrible goings-on at the manor-house of Abblasoure. Yeswe had heard of thembut what we wanted now was rest and sleep. The king broke in:

"Sell us the house and take yourselves awayfor we be perilous companybeing late come from people that died of the Spotted Death."

It was good of himbut unnecessary. One of the commonest decorations of the nation was the waffle- iron face. I had early noticed that the woman and her husband were both so decorated. She made us entirely welcomeand had no fears; and plainly she was immensely impressed by the king's proposition; forof courseit was a good deal of an event in her life to run across a person of the king's humble appearance who was ready to buy a man's house for the sake of a night's lodging. It gave her a large respect for usand she strained the lean possibilities of her hovel to the utmost to make us comfortable.

We slept till far into the afternoonand then got up hungry enough to make cotter fare quite palatable to the kingthe more particularly as it was scant in quantity. And also in variety; it consisted solely of onionssaltand the national black bread made out of horsefeed. The woman told us about the affair of the evening before. At ten or eleven at nightwhen everybody was in bedthe manor-house burst into flames. The country-side swarmed to the rescueand the family were savedwith one exceptionthe master. He did not appear. Everybody was frantic over this lossand two brave yeomen sacrificed their lives in ransacking the burning house seeking that valuable personage. But after a while he was found -- what was left of him -- which was his corpse. It was in a copse three hundred yards awayboundgaggedstabbed in a dozen places.

Who had done this? Suspicion fell upon a humble family in the neighborhood who had been lately treated with peculiar harshness by the baron; and from these people the suspicion easily extended itself to their relatives and familiars. A suspicion was enough; my lord's liveried retainers proclaimed an instant crusade against these peopleand were promptly joined by the community in general. The woman's husband had been active with the moband had not returned home until nearly dawn. He was gone now to find out what the general result had been. While we were still talking he came back from his quest. His report was revolting enough. Eighteen persons hanged or butcheredand two yeomen and thirteen prisoners lost in the fire.

"And how many prisoners were there altogether in the vaults?"

"Thirteen."

"Then every one of them was lost?"

"Yesall."

"But the people arrived in time to save the family; how is it they could save none of the prisoners?"

The man looked puzzledand said:

"Would one unlock the vaults at such a time? Marrysome would have escaped."

"Then you mean that nobody DID unlock them?"

"None went near themeither to lock or unlock. It standeth to reason that the bolts were fast; wherefore it was only needful to establish a watchso that if any broke the bonds he might not escapebut be taken. None were taken."

"Nathelessthree did escape said the king, and ye will do well to publish it and set justice upon their trackfor these murthered the baron and fired the house."

I was just expecting he would come out with that. For a moment the man and his wife showed an eager interest in this news and an impatience to go out and spread it; then a sudden something else betrayed itself in their facesand they began to ask questions. I answered the questions myselfand narrowly watched the effects produced. I was soon satisfied that the knowledge of who these three prisoners were had somehow changed the atmosphere; that our hosts' continued eagerness to go and spread the news was now only pretended and not real. The king did not notice the changeand I was glad of that. I worked the conversation around toward other details of the night's proceedingsand noted that these people were relieved to have it take that direction.

The painful thing observable about all this business was the alacrity with which this oppressed community had turned their cruel hands against their own class in the interest of the common oppressor. This man and woman seemed to feel that in a quarrel between a person of their own class and his lordit was the natural and proper and rightful thing for that poor devil's whole caste to side with the master and fight his battle for himwithout ever stopping to inquire into the rights or wrongs of the matter. This man had been out helping to hang his neighborsand had done his work with zealand yet was aware that there was nothing against them but a mere suspicionwith nothing back of it describable as evidencestill neither he nor his wife seemed to see anything horrible about it.

This was depressing -- to a man with the dream of a republic in his head. It reminded me of a time thirteen centuries awaywhen the "poor whites" of our South who were always despised and frequently insulted by the slave-lords around themand who owed their base condition simply to the presence of slavery in their midstwere yet pusillanimously ready to side with the slave-lords in all political moves for the upholding and perpetuating of slaveryand did also finally shoulder their muskets and pour out their lives in an effort to prevent the destruction of that very institution which degraded them. And there was only one redeeming feature connected with that pitiful piece of history; and that wasthat secretly the "poor white" did detest the slave-lordand did feel his own shame. That feeling was not brought to the surfacebut the fact that it was there and could have been brought outunder favoring circumstanceswas something -- in factit was enough; for it showed that a man is at bottom a manafter alleven if it doesn't show on the outside.

Wellas it turned outthis charcoal burner was just the twin of the Southern "poor white" of the far future. The king presently showed impatienceand said:

"An ye prattle here all the dayjustice will miscarry. Think ye the criminals will abide in their father's house? They are fleeingthey are not waiting. You should look to it that a party of horse be set upon their track."

The woman paled slightlybut quite perceptiblyand the man looked flustered and irresolute. I said:

"ComefriendI will walk a little way with youand explain which direction I think they would try to take. If they were merely resisters of the gabelle or some kindred absurdity I would try to protect them from capture; but when men murder a person of high degree and likewise burn his housethat is another matter."

The last remark was for the king -- to quiet him. On the road the man pulled his resolution togetherand began the march with a steady gaitbut there was no eagerness in it. By and by I said:

"What relation were these men to you -- cousins?"

He turned as white as his layer of charcoal would let himand stoppedtrembling.

"Ahmy Godhow know ye that?"

"I didn't know it; it was a chance guess."

"Poor ladsthey are lost. And good lads they weretoo."

"Were you actually going yonder to tell on them?"

He didn't quite know how to take that; but he saidhesitatingly:

"Ye-s."

"Then I think you are a damned scoundrel!"

It made him as glad as if I had called him an angel.

"Say the good words againbrother! for surely ye mean that ye would not betray me an I failed of my duty."

"Duty? There is no duty in the matterexcept the duty to keep still and let those men get away. They've done a righteous deed."

He looked pleased; pleasedand touched with apprehension at the same time. He looked up and down the road to see that no one was comingand then said in a cautious voice:

"From what land come youbrotherthat you speak such perilous wordsand seem not to be afraid?"

"They are not perilous words when spoken to one of my own casteI take it. You would not tell anybody I said them?"

"I? I would be drawn asunder by wild horses first."

"Wellthenlet me say my say. I have no fears of your repeating it. I think devil's work has been done last night upon those innocent poor people. That old baron got only what he deserved. If I had my way. all his kind should have the same luck."

Fear and depression vanished from the man's mannerand gratefulness and a brave animation took their place:

"Even though you be a spyand your words a trap for my undoingyet are they such refreshment that to hear them again and others like to themI would go to the gallows happyas having had one good feast at least in a starved life. And I will say my say nowand ye may report it if ye be so minded. I helped to hang my neighbors for that it were peril to my own life to show lack of zeal in the master's cause; the others helped for none other reason. All rejoice today that he is deadbut all do go about seemingly sorrowingand shedding the hypocrite's tearfor in that lies safety. I have said the wordsI have said the words! the only ones that have ever tasted good in my mouthand the reward of that taste is sufficient. Lead onan ye willbe it even to the scaffoldfor I am ready."

There it wasyou see. A man is a manat bottom. Whole ages of abuse and oppression cannot crush the manhood clear out of him. Whoever thinks it a mistake is himself mistaken. Yesthere is plenty good enough material for a republic in the most degraded people that ever existed -- even the Russians; plenty of manhood in them -- even in the Germans -- if one could but force it out of its timid and suspicious privacyto overthrow and trample in the mud any throne that ever was set up and any nobility that ever supported it. We should see certain things yetlet us hope and believe. Firsta modified monarchytill Arthur's days were donethen the destruction of the thronenobility abolishedevery member of it bound out to some useful tradeuniversal suffrage institutedand the whole government placed in the hands of the men and women of the nation there to remain. Yesthere was no occasion to give up my dream yet a while.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XXXI - MARCO

 

WE strolled along in a sufficiently indolent fashion nowand talked. We must dispose of about the amount of time it ought to take to go to the little hamlet of Abblasoure and put justice on the track of those murderers and get back home again. And meantime I had an auxiliary interest which had never paled yetnever lost its novelty for me since I had been in Arthur's kingdom: the behavior -- born of nice and exact subdivisions of caste -- of chance passers-by toward each other. Toward the shaven monk who trudged along with his cowl tilted back and the sweat washing down his fat jowlsthe coal-burner was deeply reverent; to the gentleman he was abject; with the small farmer and the free mechanic he was cordial and gossipy; and when a slave passed by with a countenance respectfully loweredthis chap's nose was in the air -- he couldn't even see him. Wellthere are times when one would like to hang the whole human race and finish the farce.

Presently we struck an incident. A small mob of half-naked boys and girls came tearing out of the woodsscared and shrieking. The eldest among them were not more than twelve or fourteen years old. They implored helpbut they were so beside themselves that we couldn't make out what the matter was. Howeverwe plunged into the woodthey skurrying in the leadand the trouble was quickly revealed: they had hanged a little fellow with a bark ropeand he was kicking and strugglingin the process of choking to death. We rescued himand fetched him around. It was some more human nature; the admiring little folk imitating their elders; they were playing moband had achieved a success which promised to be a good deal more serious than they had bargained for.

It was not a dull excursion for me. I managed to put in the time very well. I made various acquaintanceshipsand in my quality of stranger was able to ask as many questions as I wanted to. A thing which naturally interested meas a statesmanwas the matter of wages. I picked up what I could under that head during the afternoon. A man who hasn't had much experienceand doesn't thinkis apt to measure a nation's prosperity or lack of prosperity by the mere size of the prevailing wages; if the wages be highthe nation is prosperous; if lowit isn't. Which is an error. It isn't what sum you getit's how much you can buy with itthat's the important thing; and it's that that tells whether your wages are high in fact or only high in name. I could remember how it was in the time of our great civil war in the nineteenth century. In the North a carpenter got three dollars a daygold valuation; in the South he got fifty -- payable in Confederate shinplasters worth a dollar a bushel. In the North a suit of overalls cost three dollars -- a day's wages; in the South it cost seventyfive -- which was two days' wages. Other things were in proportion. Consequentlywages were twice as high in the North as they were in the Southbecause the one wage had that much more purchasing power than the other had.

YesI made various acquaintances in the hamlet and a thing that gratified me a good deal was to find our new coins in circulation -- lots of milrayslots of millslots of centsa good many nickelsand some silver; all this among the artisans and commonalty generally; yesand even some gold -- but that was at the bankthat is to saythe goldsmith's. I dropped in there while Marcothe son of Marcowas haggling with a shopkeeper over a quarter of a pound of saltand asked for change for a twenty-dollar gold piece. They furnished it -- that isafter they had chewed the pieceand rung it on the counterand tried acid on itand asked me where I got itand who I wasand where I was fromand where I was going toand when I expected to get thereand perhaps a couple of hundred more questions; and when they got agroundI went right on and furnished them a lot of information voluntarily; told them I owned a dogand his name was Watchand my first wife was a Free Will Baptistand her grandfather was a Prohibitionistand I used to know a man who had two thumbs on each hand and a wart on the inside of his upper lipand died in the hope of a glorious resurrectionand so onand so onand so ontill even that hungry village questioner began to look satisfiedand also a shade put out; but he had to respect a man of my financial strengthand so he didn't give me any lipbut I noticed he took it out of his underlingswhich was a perfectly natural thing to do. Yesthey changed my twentybut I judged it strained the bank a littlewhich was a thing to be expectedfor it was the same as walking into a paltry village store in the nineteenth century and requiring the boss of it to change a two thousand-dollar bill for you all of a sudden. He could do itmaybe; but at the same time he would wonder how a small farmer happened to be carrying so much money around in his pocket; which was probably this goldsmith's thoughttoo; for he followed me to the door and stood there gazing after me with reverent admiration.

Our new money was not only handsomely circulatingbut its language was already glibly in use; that is to saypeople had dropped the names of the former moneysand spoke of things as being worth so many dollars or cents or mills or milrays now. It was very gratifying. We were progressingthat was sure.

I got to know several master mechanicsbut about the most interesting fellow among them was the blacksmithDowley. He was a live man and a brisk talkerand had two journeymen and three apprenticesand was doing a raging business. In facthe was getting richhand over fistand was vastly respected. Marco was very proud of having such a man for a friend. He had taken me there ostensibly to let me see the big establishment which bought so much of his charcoalbut really to let me see what easy and almost familiar terms he was on with this great man. Dowley and I fraternized at once; I had had just such picked mensplendid fellowsunder me in the Colt Arms Factory. I was bound to see more of himso I invited him to come out to Marco's Sundayand dine with us. Marco was appalledand held his breath; and when the grandee acceptedhe was so grateful that he almost forgot to be astonished at the condescension.

Marco's joy was exuberant -- but only for a moment; then he grew thoughtfulthen sad; and when he heard me tell Dowley I should have Dickonthe boss masonand Smugthe boss wheelwrightout theretoothe coal-dust on his face turned to chalkand he lost his grip. But I knew what was the matter with him; it was the expense. He saw ruin before him; he judged that his financial days were numbered. Howeveron our way to invite the othersI said:

"You must allow me to have these friends come; and you must also allow me to pay the costs."

His face clearedand he said with spirit:

"But not all of itnot all of it. Ye cannot well bear a burden like to this alone."

I stopped himand said:

"Now let's understand each other on the spotold friend. I am only a farm bailiffit is true; but I am not poornevertheless. I have been very fortunate this year -- you would be astonished to know how I have thriven. I tell you the honest truth when I say I could squander away as many as a dozen feasts like this and never care THAT for the expense!" and I snapped my fingers. I could see myself rise a foot at a time in Marco's estimationand when I fetched out those last words I was become a very tower for style and altitude. "So you seeyou must let me have my way. You can't contribute a cent to this orgythat's SETTLED."

"It's grand and good of you --"

"Noit isn't. You've opened your house to Jones and me in the most generous way; Jones was remarking upon it to-dayjust before you came back from the village; for although he wouldn't be likely to say such a thing to you -- because Jones isn't a talkerand is diffident in society -- he has a good heart and a gratefuland knows how to appreciate it when he is well treated; yesyou and your wife have been very hospitable toward us --"

"Ahbrother'tis nothing -- SUCH hospitality!"

"But it IS something; the best a man hasfreely givenis always somethingand is as good as a prince can doand ranks right along beside it -- for even a prince can but do his best. And so we'll shop around and get up this layout nowand don't you worry about the expense. I'm one of the worst spendthrifts that ever was born. Whydo you knowsometimes in a single week I spend -- but never mind about that -- you'd never believe it anyway."

And so we went gadding alongdropping in here and therepricing thingsand gossiping with the shopkeepers about the riotand now and then running across pathetic reminders of itin the persons of shunned and tearful and houseless remnants of families whose homes had been taken from them and their parents butchered or hanged. The raiment of Marco and his wife was of coarse tow-linen and linsey-woolsey respectivelyand resembled township mapsit being made up pretty exclusively of patches which had been addedtownship by townshipin the course of five or six yearsuntil hardly a hand's-breadth of the original garments was surviving and present. Now I wanted to fit these people out with new suitson account of that swell companyand I didn't know just how to get at it -- with delicacyuntil at last it struck me that as I had already been liberal in inventing wordy gratitude for the kingit would be just the thing to back it up with evidence of a substantial sort; so I said:

"And Marcothere's another thing which you must permit -- out of kindness for Jones -- because you wouldn't want to offend him. He was very anxious to testify his appreciation in some waybut he is so diffident he couldn't venture it himselfand so he begged me to buy some little things and give them to you and Dame Phyllis and let him pay for them without your ever knowing they came from him -- you know how a delicate person feels about that sort of thing -- and so I said I wouldand we would keep mum. Wellhis idea wasa new outfit of clothes for you both --"

"Ohit is wastefulness! It may not bebrotherit may not be. Consider the vastness of the sum --"

"Hang the vastness of the sum! Try to keep quiet for a momentand see how it would seem; a body can't get in a word edgewaysyou talk so much. You ought to cure thatMarco; it isn't good formyou knowand it will grow on you if you don't check it. Yeswe'll step in here now and price this man's stuff -- and don't forget to remember to not let on to Jones that you know he had anything to do with it. You can't think how curiously sensitive and proud he is. He's a farmer -- pretty fairly well-to-do farmer -- an I'm his bailiff; BUT -- the imagination of that man! Whysometimes when he forgets himself and gets to blowing offyou'd think he was one of the swells of the earth; and you might listen to him a hundred years and never take him for a farmer -- especially if he talked agriculture. He THINKS he's a Sheol of a farmer; thinks he's old Grayback from Wayback; but between you and me privately he don't know as much about farming as he does about running a kingdom -- stillwhatever he talks aboutyou want to drop your underjaw and listenthe same as if you had never heard such incredible wisdom in all your life beforeand were afraid you might die before you got enough of it. That will please Jones."

It tickled Marco to the marrow to hear about such an odd character; but it also prepared him for accidents; and in my experience when you travel with a king who is letting on to be something else and can't remember it more than about half the timeyou can't take too many precautions.

This was the best store we had come across yet; it had everything in itin small quantitiesfrom anvils and drygoods all the way down to fish and pinchbeck jewelry. I concluded I would bunch my whole invoice right hereand not go pricing around any more. So I got rid of Marcoby sending him off to invite the mason and the wheelwrightwhich left the field free to me. For I never care to do a thing in a quiet way; it's got to be theatrical or I don't take any interest in it. I showed up money enoughin a careless wayto corral the shopkeeper's respectand then I wrote down a list of the things I wantedand handed it to him to see if he could read it. He couldand was proud to show that he could. He said he had been educated by a priestand could both read and write. He ran it throughand remarked with satisfaction that it was a pretty heavy bill. Welland so it wasfor a little concern like that. I was not only providing a swell dinnerbut some odds and ends of extras. I ordered that the things be carted out and delivered at the dwelling of Marcothe son of Marcoby Saturday eveningand send me the bill at dinner-time Sunday. He said I could depend upon his promptness and exactitudeit was the rule of the house. He also observed that he would throw in a couple of miller-guns for the Marcos gratis -- that everybody was using them now. He had a mighty opinion of that clever device. I said:

"And please fill them up to the middle marktoo; and add that to the bill."

He wouldwith pleasure. He filled themand I took them with me. I couldn't venture to tell him that the miller-gun was a little invention of my ownand that I had officially ordered that every shopkeeper in the kingdom keep them on hand and sell them at government price -- which was the merest trifleand the shopkeeper got thatnot the government. We furnished them for nothing.

The king had hardly missed us when we got back at nightfall. He had early dropped again into his dream of a grand invasion of Gaul with the whole strength of his kingdom at his backand the afternoon had slipped away without his ever coming to himself again.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XXXII - DOWLEY'S HUMILIATION

 

WELLwhen that cargo arrived toward sunsetSaturday afternoonI had my hands full to keep the Marcos from fainting. They were sure Jones and I were ruined past helpand they blamed themselves as accessories to this bankruptcy. You seein addition to the dinner-materialswhich called for a sufficiently round sumI had bought a lot of extras for the future comfort of the family: for instancea big lot of wheata delicacy as rare to the tables of their class as was ice-cream to a hermit's; also a sizeable deal dinner-table; also two entire pounds of saltwhich was another piece of extravagance in those people's eyes; also crockerystoolsthe clothesa small cask of beerand so on. I instructed the Marcos to keep quiet about this sumptuousnessso as to give me a chance to surprise the guests and show off a little. Concerning the new clothesthe simple couple were like children; they were up and downall nightto see if it wasn't nearly daylightso that they could put them onand they were into them at last as much as an hour before dawn was due. Then their pleasure -- not to say delirium -- was so fresh and novel and inspiring that the sight of it paid me well for the interruptions which my sleep had suffered. The king had slept just as usual -- like the dead. The Marcos could not thank him for their clothesthat being forbidden; but they tried every way they could think of to make him see how grateful they were. Which all went for nothing: he didn't notice any change.

It turned out to be one of those rich and rare fall days which is just a June day toned down to a degree where it is heaven to be out of doors. Toward noon the guests arrivedand we assembled under a great tree and were soon as sociable as old acquaintances. Even the king's reserve melted a littlethough it was some little trouble to him to adjust himself to the name of Jones along at first. I had asked him to try to not forget that he was a farmer; but I had also considered it prudent to ask him to let the thing stand at thatand not elaborate it any. Because he was just the kind of person you could depend on to spoil a little thing like that if you didn't warn himhis tongue was so handyand his spirit so willingand his information so uncertain.

Dowley was in fine featherand I early got him startedand then adroitly worked him around onto his own history for a text and himself for a heroand then it was good to sit there and hear him hum. Self-made manyou know. They know how to talk. They do deserve more credit than any other breed of menyesthat is true; and they are among the very first to find it outtoo. He told how he had begun life an orphan lad without money and without friends able to help him; how he had lived as the slaves of the meanest master lived; how his day's work was from sixteen to eighteen hours longand yielded him only enough black bread to keep him in a half-fed condition; how his faithful endeavors finally attracted the attention of a good blacksmithwho came near knocking him dead with kindness by suddenly offeringwhen he was totally unpreparedto take him as his bound apprentice for nine years and give him board and clothes and teach him the trade -- or "mystery" as Dowley called it. That was his first great risehis first gorgeous stroke of fortune; and you saw that he couldn't yet speak of it without a sort of eloquent wonder and delight that such a gilded promotion should have fallen to the lot of a common human being. He got no new clothing during his apprenticeshipbut on his graduation day his master tricked him out in spang-new tow-linens and made him feel unspeakably rich and fine.

"I remember me of that day!" the wheelwright sang outwith enthusiasm.

"And I likewise!" cried the mason. "I would not believe they were thine own; in faith I could not."

"Nor other!" shouted Dowleywith sparkling eyes. "I was like to lose my characterthe neighbors wending I had mayhap been stealing. It was a great daya great day; one forgetteth not days like that."

Yesand his master was a fine manand prosperousand always had a great feast of meat twice in the yearand with it white breadtrue wheaten bread; in factlived like a lordso to speak. And in time Dowley succeeded to the business and married the daughter.

"And now consider what is come to pass said he, impressively. Two times in every month there is fresh meat upon my table." He made a pause hereto let that fact sink homethen added -- "and eight times salt meat."

"It is even true said the wheelwright, with bated breath.

I know it of mine own knowledge said the mason, in the same reverent fashion.

On my table appeareth white bread every Sunday in the year added the master smith, with solemnity. I leave it to your own consciencesfriendsif this is not also true?"

"By my headyes cried the mason.

I can testify it -- and I do said the wheelwright.

And as to furnitureye shall say yourselves what mine equipment is. " He waved his hand in fine gesture of granting frank and unhampered freedom of speechand added: "Speak as ye are moved; speak as ye would speak; an I were not here."

"Ye have five stoolsand of the sweetest workmanship at thatalbeit your family is but three said the wheelwright, with deep respect.

And six wooden gobletsand six platters of wood and two of pewter to cat and drink from withal said the mason, impressively. And I say it as knowing God is my judgeand we tarry not here alwaybut must answer at the last day for the things said in the bodybe they false or be they sooth."

"Now ye know what manner of man I ambrother Jones said the smith, with a fine and friendly condescension, and doubtless ye would look to find me a man jealous of his due of respect and but sparing of outgo to strangers till their rating and quality be assuredbut trouble yourself notas concerning that; wit ye well ye shall find me a man that regardeth not these matters but is willing to receive any he as his fellow and equal that carrieth a right heart in his bodybe his worldly estate howsoever modest. And in token of ithere is my hand; and I say with my own mouth we are equals -- equals "-- and he smiled around on the company with the satisfaction of a god who is doing the handsome and gracious thing and is quite well aware of it.

The king took the hand with a poorly disguised reluctanceand let go of it as willingly as a lady lets go of a fish; all of which had a good effectfor it was mistaken for an embarrassment natural to one who was being called upon by greatness.

The dame brought out the table nowand set it under the tree. It caused a visible stir of surpriseit being brand new and a sumptuous article of deal. But the surprise rose higher still when the damewith a body oozing easy indifference at every porebut eyes that gave it all away by absolutely flaming with vanityslowly unfolded an actual simon-pure tablecloth and spread it. That was a notch above even the blacksmith's domestic grandeursand it hit him hard; you could see it. But Marco was in Paradise; you could see thattoo. Then the dame brought two fine new stools -- whew! that was a sensation; it was visible in the eyes of every guest. Then she brought two more -- as calmly as she could. Sensation again -- with awed murmurs. Again she brought two -- walking on airshe was so proud. The guests were petrifiedand the mason muttered:

"There is that about earthly pomps which doth ever move to reverence."

As the dame turned awayMarco couldn't help slapping on the climax while the thing was hot; so he said with what was meant for a languid composure but was a poor imitation of it:

"These suffice; leave the rest."

So there were more yet! It was a fine effect. I couldn't have played the hand better myself.

From this outthe madam piled up the surprises with a rush that fired the general astonishment up to a hundred and fifty in the shadeand at the same time paralyzed expression of it down to gasped "Oh's" and "Ah's and mute upliftings of hands and eyes. She fetched crockery -- new, and plenty of it; new wooden goblets and other table furniture; and beer, fish, chicken, a goose, eggs, roast beef, roast mutton, a ham, a small roast pig, and a wealth of genuine white wheaten bread. Take it by and large, that spread laid everything far and away in the shade that ever that crowd had seen before. And while they sat there just simply stupefied with wonder and awe, I sort of waved my hand as if by accident, and the storekeeper's son emerged from space and said he had come to collect.

That's all right I said, indifferently. What is the amount? give us the items."

Then he read off this billwhile those three amazed men listenedand serene waves of satisfaction rolled over my soul and alternate waves of terror and admiration surged over Marco's:

2 pounds salt ............................. 200
8 dozen pints beerin the wood ......... 800
3 bushels wheat ......................... 2700
2 pounds fish ............................. 100
3 hens ................................... 400
1 goose ................................... 400
3 dozen eggs ............................. 150
1 roast of beef ........................... 450
1 roast of mutton ......................... 400
1 ham ..................................... 800
1 sucking pig ............................. 500
2 crockery dinner sets ................. 6000
2 men's suits and underwear ............. 2800
1 stuff and 1 linsey-woolsey gown
..and underwear ......................... 1600
8 wooden goblets ......................... 800
Various table furniture .................10000
1 deal table ........................... 3000
8 stools ............................... 4000
2 miller gunsloaded ................... 3000

He ceased. There was a pale and awful silence. Not a limb stirred. Not a nostril betrayed the passage of breath.

"Is that all?" I askedin a voice of the most perfect calmness.

"Allfair sirsave that certain matters of light moment are placed together under a head hight sundries. If it would like youI will sepa --"

"It is of no consequence I said, accompanying the words with a gesture of the most utter indifference; give me the grand totalplease."

The clerk leaned against the tree to stay himselfand said:

"Thirty-nine thousand one hundred and fifty milrays!"

The wheelwright fell off his stoolthe others grabbed the table to save themselvesand there was a deep and general ejaculation of:

"God be with us in the day of disaster!"

The clerk hastened to say:

"My father chargeth me to say he cannot honorably require you to pay it all at this timeand therefore only prayeth you --"

I paid no more heed than if it were the idle breezebutwith an air of indifference amounting almost to wearinessgot out my money and tossed four dollars on to the table. Ahyou should have seen them stare!

The clerk was astonished and charmed. He asked me to retain one of the dollars as securityuntil he could go to town and -- I interrupted:

"Whatand fetch back nine cents? Nonsense! Take the whole. Keep the change."

There was an amazed murmur to this effect:

"Verily this being is MADE of money! He throweth it away even as if it were dirt."

The blacksmith was a crushed man.

The clerk took his money and reeled away drunk with fortune. I said to Marco and his wife:

"Good folkhere is a little trifle for you" -- handing the miller-guns as if it were a matter of no consequencethough each of them contained fifteen cents in solid cash; and while the poor creatures went to pieces with astonishment and gratitudeI turned to the others and said as calmly as one would ask the time of day:

"Wellif we are all readyI judge the dinner is. Comefall to."

Ahwellit was immense; yesit was a daisy. I don't know that I ever put a situation together betteror got happier spectacular effects out of the materials available. The blacksmith -- wellhe was simply mashed. Land! I wouldn't have felt what that man was feelingfor anything in the world. Here he had been blowing and bragging about his grand meat-feast twice a yearand his fresh meat twice a monthand his salt meat twice a weekand his white bread every Sunday the year round -- all for a family of three; the entire cost for the year not above 69.2.6 (sixty-nine centstwo mills and six milrays)and all of a sudden here comes along a man who slashes out nearly four dollars on a single blow-out; and not only thatbut acts as if it made him tired to handle such small sums. YesDowley was a good deal wiltedand shrunk-up and collapsed; he had the aspect of a bladder-balloon that's been stepped on by a cow.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XXXIII - SIXTH CENTURY POLITICAL ECONOMY

 

HOWEVERI made a dead set at himand before the first third of the dinner was reachedI had him happy again. It was easy to do -- in a country of ranks and castes. You seein a country where they have ranks and castesa man isn't ever a manhe is only part of a manhe can't ever get his full growth. You prove your superiority over him in stationor rankor fortuneand that's the end of it -- he knuckles down. You can't insult him after that. NoI don't mean quite that; of course you CAN insult himI only mean it's difficult; and sounless you've got a lot of useless time on your hands it doesn't pay to try. I had the smith's reverence nowbecause I was apparently immensely prosperous and rich; I could have had his adoration if I had had some little gimcrack title of nobility. And not only hisbut any commoner's in the landthough he were the mightiest production of all the agesin intellectworthand characterand I bankrupt in all three. This was to remain soas long as England should exist in the earth. With the spirit of prophecy upon meI could look into the future and see her erect statues and monuments to her unspeakable Georges and other royal and noble clothes-horsesand leave unhonored the creators of this world -- after God -- GutenburgWattArkwrightWhitneyMorseStephensonBell.

The king got his cargo aboardand thenthe talk not turning upon battleconquestor iron-clad duelhe dulled down to drowsiness and went off to take a nap. Mrs. Marco cleared the tableplaced the beer keg handyand went away to eat her dinner of leavings in humble privacyand the rest of us soon drifted into matters near and dear to the hearts of our sort -- business and wagesof course. At a first glancethings appeared to be exceeding prosperous in this little tributary kingdom -- whose lord was King Bagdemagus -- as compared with the state of things in my own region. They had the "protection" system in full force herewhereas we were working along down toward free-tradeby easy stagesand were now about half way. Before longDowley and I were doing all the talkingthe others hungrily listening. Dowley warmed to his worksnuffed an advantage in the airand began to put questions which he considered pretty awkward ones for meand they did have something of that look:

"In your countrybrotherwhat is the wage of a master bailiffmaster hindcartershepherdswineherd?"

"Twenty-five milrays a day; that is to saya quarter of a cent.

The smith's face beamed with joy. He said:

"With us they are allowed the double of it! And what may a mechanic get -- carpenterdaubermasonpainterblacksmithwheelwrightand the like?"

"On the averagefifty milrays; half a cent a day."

"Ho-ho! With us they are allowed a hundred! With us any good mechanic is allowed a cent a day! I count out the tailorbut not the others -- they are all allowed a cent a dayand in driving times they get more -- yesup to a hundred and ten and even fifteen milrays a day. I've paid a hundred and fifteen myselfwithin the week. 'Rah for protection -- to Sheol with free-trade!"

And his face shone upon the company like a sunburst. But I didn't scare at all. I rigged up my pile-driverand allowed myself fifteen minutes to drive him into the earth -- drive him ALL in -- drive him in till not even the curve of his skull should show above ground. Here is the way I started in on him. I asked:

"What do you pay a pound for salt?"

"A hundred milrays."

"We pay forty. What do you pay for beef and mutton -- when you buy it?" That was a neat hit; it made the color come.

"It varieth somewhatbut not much; one may say 75 milrays the pound."

"WE pay 33. What do you pay for eggs?"

"Fifty milrays the dozen."

"We pay 20. What do you pay for beer?"

"It costeth us 8 1/2 milrays the pint."

"We get it for 4; 25 bottles for a cent. What do you pay for wheat?"

"At the rate of 900 milrays the bushel."

"We pay 400. What do you pay for a man's towlinen suit?"

"Thirteen cents."

"We pay 6. What do you pay for a stuff gown for the wife of the laborer or the mechanic?"

"We pay 8.4.0."

"Wellobserve the difference: you pay eight cents and four millswe pay only four cents." I prepared now to sock it to him. l said: "Look heredear friendWHAT'S BECOME OF YOUR HIGH WAGES YOU WERE BRAGGING SO ABOUT A FEW MINUTES AGO?" -- and I looked around on the company with placid satisfactionfor I had slipped up on him gradually and tied him hand and footyou seewithout his ever noticing that he was being tied at all. "What's become of those noble high wages of yours? -- I seem to have knocked the stuffing all out of themit appears to me."

But if you will believe mehe merely looked surprisedthat is all! he didn't grasp the situation at alldidn't know he had walked into a trapdidn't discover that he was IN a trap. I could have shot himfrom sheer vexation. With cloudy eye and a struggling intellect he fetched this out:

"MarryI seem not to understand. It is PROVED that our wages be double thine; how then may it be that thou'st knocked therefrom the stuffing? -- an miscall not the wonderly wordthis being the first time under grace and providence of God it hath been granted me to hear it."

WellI was stunned; partly with this unlooked-for stupidity on his partand partly because his fellows so manifestly sided with him and were of his mind -- if you might call it mind. My position was simple enoughplain enough; how could it ever be simplified more? HoweverI must try:

"Whylook herebrother Dowleydon't you see? Your wages are merely higher than ours in NAMEnot in FACT."

"Hear him! They are the DOUBLE -- ye have confessed it yourself."

"Yes-yesI don't deny that at all. But that's got nothing to do with it; the AMOUNT of the wages in mere coinswith meaningless names attached to them to know them byhas got nothing to do with it. The thing ishow much can you BUY with your wages? -- that's the idea. While it is true that with you a good mechanic is allowed about three dollars and a half a yearand with us only about a dollar and seventy-five --"

"There -- ye're confessing it againye're confessing it again!"

"Confound itI've never denied itI tell you! What I say is this. With us HALF a dollar buys more than a DOLLAR buys with you -- and THEREFORE it stands to reason and the commonest kind of common-sensethat our wages are HIGHER than yours."

He looked dazedand saiddespairingly:

"VerilyI cannot make it out. Ye've just said ours are the higherand with the same breath ye take it back."

"Ohgreat Scottisn't it possible to get such a simple thing through your head? Now look here -- let me illustrate. We pay four cents for a woman's stuff gownyou pay 8.4.0which is four mills more than DOUBLE. What do you allow a laboring woman who works on a farm?"

"Two mills a day."

"Very good; we allow but half as much; we pay her only a tenth of a cent a day; and --"

"Again ye're conf --"

"Wait! Nowyou seethe thing is very simple; this time you'll understand it. For instanceit takes your woman 42 days to earn her gownat 2 mills a day -- 7 weeks' work; but ours earns hers in forty days -- two days SHORT of 7 weeks. Your woman has a gownand her whole seven weeks wages are gone; ours has a gownand two days' wages leftto buy something else with. There -- NOW you understand it!"

He looked -- wellhe merely looked dubiousit's the most I can say; so did the others. I waited -- to let the thing work. Dowley spoke at last -- and betrayed the fact that he actually hadn't gotten away from his rooted and grounded superstitions yet. He saidwith a trifle of hesitancy:

"But -- but -- ye cannot fail to grant that two mills a day is better than one."

Shucks! Wellof courseI hated to give it up. So I chanced another flyer:

"Let us suppose a case. Suppose one of your journeymen goes out and buys the following articles:

"1 pound of salt;
1 dozen eggs;
1 dozen pints of beer;
1 bushel of wheat;
1 tow-linen suit;
5 pounds of beef;
5 pounds of mutton.

"The lot will cost him 32 cents. It takes him 32 working days to earn the money -- 5 weeks and 2 days. Let him come to us and work 32 days at HALF the wages; he can buy all those things for a shade under 14 1/2 cents; they will cost him a shade under 29 days' workand he will have about half a week's wages over. Carry it through the year; he would save nearly a week's wages every two monthsYOUR man nothing; thus saving five or six weeks' wages in a yearyour man not a cent. NOW I reckon you understand that 'high wages' and 'low wages' are phrases that don't mean anything in the world until you find out which of them will BUY the most!"

It was a crusher.

Butalas! it didn't crush. NoI had to give it up. What those people valued was HIGH WAGES; it didn't seem to be a matter of any consequence to them whether the high wages would buy anything or not. They stood for "protection and swore by it, which was reasonable enough, because interested parties had gulled them into the notion that it was protection which had created their high wages. I proved to them that in a quarter of a century their wages had advanced but 30 per cent., while the cost of living had gone up 100; and that with us, in a shorter time, wages had advanced 40 per cent. while the cost of living had gone steadily down. But it didn't do any good. Nothing could unseat their strange beliefs.

Well, I was smarting under a sense of defeat. Undeserved defeat, but what of that? That didn't soften the smart any. And to think of the circumstances! the first statesman of the age, the capablest man, the best-informed man in the entire world, the loftiest uncrowned head that had moved through the clouds of any political firmament for centuries, sitting here apparently defeated in argument by an ignorant country blacksmith! And I could see that those others were sorry for me -- which made me blush till I could smell my whiskers scorching. Put yourself in my place; feel as mean as I did, as ashamed as I felt -- wouldn't YOU have struck below the belt to get even? Yes, you would; it is simply human nature. Well, that is what I did. I am not trying to justify it; I'm only saying that I was mad, and ANYBODY would have done it.

Well, when I make up my mind to hit a man, I don't plan out a love-tap; no, that isn't my way; as long as I'm going to hit him at all, I'm going to hit him a lifter. And I don't jump at him all of a sudden, and risk making a blundering half-way business of it; no, I get away off yonder to one side, and work up on him gradually, so that he never suspects that I'm going to hit him at all; and by and by, all in a flash, he's flat on his back, and he can't tell for the life of him how it all happened. That is the way I went for brother Dowley. I started to talking lazy and comfortable, as if I was just talking to pass the time; and the oldest man in the world couldn't have taken the bearings of my starting place and guessed where I was going to fetch up:

Boysthere's a good many curious things about lawand customand usageand all that sort of thingwhen you come to look at it; yesand about the drift and progress of human opinion and movementtoo. There are written laws -- they perish; but there are also unwritten laws -- THEY are eternal. Take the unwritten law of wages: it says they've got to advancelittle by littlestraight through the centuries. And notice how it works. We know what wages are nowhere and there and yonder; we strike an averageand say that's the wages of to-day. We know what the wages were a hundred years agoand what they were two hundred years ago; that's as far back as we can getbut it suffices to give us the law of progressthe measure and rate of the periodical augmentation; and sowithout a document to help uswe can come pretty close to determining what the wages were three and four and five hundred years ago. Goodso far. Do we stop there? No. We stop looking backward; we face around and apply the law to the future. My friendsI can tell you what people's wages are going to be at any date in the future you want to knowfor hundreds and hundreds of years."

"Whatgoodmanwhat!"

"Yes. In seven hundred years wages will have risen to six times what they are nowhere in your regionand farm hands will be allowed 3 cents a dayand mechanics 6."

"I would't I might die now and live then!" interrupted Smugthe wheelwrightwith a fine avaricious glow in his eye.

"And that isn't all; they'll get their board besides -- such as it is: it won't bloat them. Two hundred and fifty years later -- pay attention now -- a mechanic's wages will be -- mind youthis is lawnot guesswork; a mechanic's wages will then be TWENTY cents a day!"

There was a general gasp of awed astonishmentDickon the mason murmuredwith raised eyes and hands:

"More than three weeks' pay for one day's work!"

"Riches! -- of a truthyesriches!" muttered Marcohis breath coming quick and shortwith excitement.

"Wages will keep on risinglittle by littlelittle by littleas steadily as a tree growsand at the end of three hundred and forty years more there'll be at least ONE country where the mechanic's average wage will be TWO HUNDRED cents a day!"

It knocked them absolutely dumb! Not a man of them could get his breath for upwards of two minutes. Then the coal-burner said prayerfully:

"Might I but live to see it!"

"It is the income of an earl!" said Smug.

"An earlsay ye?" said Dowley; "ye could say more than that and speak no lie; there's no earl in the realm of Bagdemagus that hath an income like to that. Income of an earl -- mf! it's the income of an angel!"

"Nowthenthat is what is going to happen as regards wages. In that remote daythat man will earnwith ONE week's workthat bill of goods which it takes you upwards of FIFTY weeks to earn now. Some other pretty surprising things are going to happentoo. Brother Dowleywho is it that determinesevery springwhat the particular wage of each kind of mechaniclaborerand servant shall be for that year?"

"Sometimes the courtssometimes the town council; but most of allthe magistrate. Ye may sayin general termsit is the magistrate that fixes the wages."

"Doesn't ask any of those poor devils to HELP him fix their wages for themdoes he?"

"Hm! That WERE an idea! The master that's to pay him the money is the one that's rightly concerned in that matterye will notice "

"Yes -- but I thought the other man might have some little trifle at stake in ittoo; and even his wife and childrenpoor creatures. The masters are these: noblesrich menthe prosperous generally. These fewwho do no workdetermine what pay the vast hive shall have who DO work. You see? They're a 'combine' -- a trade unionto coin a new phrase -- who band themselves together to force their lowly brother to take what they choose to give. Thirteen hundred years hence -- so says the unwritten law -- the 'combine' will be the other wayand then how these fine people's posterity will fume and fret and grit their teeth over the insolent tyranny of trade unions! Yesindeed! the magistrate will tranquilly arrange the wages from now clear away down into the nineteenth century; and then all of a sudden the wage-earner will consider that a couple of thousand years or so is enough of this one-sided sort of thing; and he will rise up and take a hand in fixing his wages himself. Ahhe will have a long and bitter account of wrong and humiliation to settle."

"Do ye believe -- "

"That he actually will help to fix his own wages? Yesindeed. And he will be strong and ablethen."

"Brave timesbrave timesof a truth!" sneered the prosperous smith.

"Oh-- and there's another detail. In that daya master may hire a man for only just one dayor one weekor one month at a timeif he wants to."

"What?"

"It's true. Moreovera magistrate won't be able to force a man to work for a master a whole year on a stretch whether the man wants to or not."

"Will there be NO law or sense in that day?"

"Both of themDowley. In that day a man will be his own propertynot the property of magistrate and master. And he can leave town whenever he wants toif the wages don't suit him! -- and they can't put him in the pillory for it."

"Perdition catch such an age!" shouted Dowleyin strong indignation. "An age of dogsan age barren of reverence for superiors and respect for authority! The pillory --"

"Ohwaitbrother; say no good word for that institution. I think the pillory ought to be abolished."

"A most strange idea. Why?"

"WellI'll tell you why. Is a man ever put in the pillory for a capital crime?"

"No."

"Is it right to condemn a man to a slight punishment for a small offense and then kill him?"

There was no answer. I had scored my first point! For the first timethe smith wasn't up and ready. The company noticed it. Good effect.

"You don't answerbrother. You were about to glorify the pillory a while agoand shed some pity on a future age that isn't going to use it. I think the pillory ought to be abolished. What usually happens when a poor fellow is put in the pillory for some little offense that didn't amount to anything in the world? The mob try to have some fun with himdon't they?"

"Yes."

"They begin by clodding him; and they laugh themselves to pieces to see him try to dodge one clod and get hit with another?"

"Yes."

"Then they throw dead cats at himdon't they?"

"Yes."

"Wellthensuppose he has a few personal enemies in that mob and here and there a man or a woman with a secret grudge against him -- and suppose especially that he is unpopular in the communityfor his prideor his prosperityor one thing or another -- stones and bricks take the place of clods and cats presentlydon't they?"

"There is no doubt of it."

"As a rule he is crippled for lifeisn't he? -- jaws brokenteeth smashed out? -- or legs mutilatedgangrenedpresently cut off? -- or an eye knocked outmaybe both eyes?"

"It is trueGod knoweth it."

"And if he is unpopular he can depend on DYINGright there in the stockscan't he?"

"He surely can! One may not deny it."

"I take it none of YOU are unpopular -- by reason of pride or insolenceor conspicuous prosperityor any of those things that excite envy and malice among the base scum of a village? YOU wouldn't think it much of a risk to take a chance in the stocks?"

Dowley wincedvisibly. I judged he was hit. But he didn't betray it by any spoken word. As for the othersthey spoke out plainlyand with strong feeling. They said they had seen enough of the stocks to know what a man's chance in them wasand they would never consent to enter them if they could compromise on a quick death by hanging.

"Wellto change the subject -- for I think I've established my point that the stocks ought to be abolished. I think some of our laws are pretty unfair. For instanceif I do a thing which ought to deliver me to the stocksand you know I did it and yet keep still and don't report meYOU will get the stocks if anybody informs on you."

"Ahbut that would serve you but right said Dowley, for you MUST inform. So saith the law."

The others coincided.

"Wellall rightlet it gosince you vote me down. But there's one thing which certainly isn't fair. The magistrate fixes a mechanic's wage at 1 cent a dayfor instance. The law says that if any master shall ventureeven under utmost press of businessto pay anything OVER that cent a dayeven for a single dayhe shall be both fined and pilloried for it; and whoever knows he did it and doesn't informthey also shall be fined and pilloried. Now it seems to me unfairDowleyand a deadly peril to all of usthat because you thoughtlessly confesseda while agothat within a week you have paid a cent and fifteen mil --"

OhI tell YOU it was a smasher! You ought to have seen them to go to piecesthe whole gang. I had just slipped up on poor smiling and complacent Dowley so nice and easy and softlythat he never suspected anything was going to happen till the blow came crashing down and knocked him all to rags.

A fine effect. In factas fine as any I ever producedwith so little time to work it up in.

But I saw in a moment that I had overdone the thing a little. I was expecting to scare thembut I wasn't expecting to scare them to death. They were mighty near itthough. You see they had been a whole lifetime learning to appreciate the pillory; and to have that thing staring them in the faceand every one of them distinctly at the mercy of mea strangerif I chose to go and report -- wellit was awfuland they couldn't seem to recover from the shockthey couldn't seem to pull themselves together. Paleshakydumbpitiful? Whythey weren't any better than so many dead men. It was very uncomfortable. Of courseI thought they would appeal to me to keep mumand then we would shake handsand take a drink all roundand laugh it offand there an end. But no; you see I was an unknown personamong a cruelly oppressed and suspicious peoplea people always accustomed to having advantage taken of their helplessnessand never expecting just or kind treatment from any but their own families and very closest intimates. Appeal to ME to be gentleto be fairto be generous? Of coursethey wanted tobut they couldn't dare.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XXXIV - THE YANKEE AND THE KING SOLD AS SLAVES

 

WELLwhat had I better do? Nothing in a hurrysure. I must get up a diversion; anything to employ me while I could thinkand while these poor fellows could have a chance to come to life again. There sat Marcopetrified in the act of trying to get the hang of his miller-gun -- turned to stonejust in the attitude he was in when my pile-driver fellthe toy still gripped in his unconscious fingers. So I took it from him and proposed to explain its mystery. Mystery! a simple little thing like that; and yet it was mysterious enoughfor that race and that age.

I never saw such an awkward peoplewith machinery; you seethey were totally unused to it. The miller-gun was a little double-barreled tube of toughened glasswith a neat little trick of a spring to itwhich upon pressure would let a shot escape. But the shot wouldn't hurt anybodyit would only drop into your hand. In the gun were two sizes -- wee mustardseed shotand another sort that were several times larger. They were money. The mustard-seed shot represented milraysthe larger ones mills. So the gun was a purse; and very handytoo; you could pay out money in the dark with itwith accuracy; and you could carry it in your mouth; or in your vest pocketif you had one. I made them of several sizes -- one size so large that it would carry the equivalent of a dollar. Using shot for money was a good thing for the government; the metal cost nothingand the money couldn't be counterfeitedfor I was the only person in the kingdom who knew how to manage a shot tower. "Paying the shot" soon came to be a common phrase. Yesand I knew it would still be passing men's lipsaway down in the nineteenth centuryyet none would suspect how and when it originated.

The king joined usabout this timemightily refreshed by his napand feeling good. Anything could make me nervous nowI was so uneasy -- for our lives were in danger; and so it worried me to detect a complacent something in the king's eye which seemed to indicate that he had been loading himself up for a performance of some kind or other; confound itwhy must he go and choose such a time as this?

I was right. He beganstraight offin the most innocently artfuland transparentand lubberly wayto lead up to the subject of agriculture. The cold sweat broke out all over me. I wanted to whisper in his earMan, we are in awful danger! every moment is worth a principality till we get back these men's confidence; DON'T waste any of this golden time.But of course I couldn't do it. Whisper to him? It would look as if we were conspiring. So I had to sit there and look calm and pleasant while the king stood over that dynamite mine and mooned along about his damned onions and things. At first the tumult of my own thoughtssummoned by the danger-signal and swarming to the rescue from every quarter of my skullkept up such a hurrah and confusion and fifing and drumming that I couldn't take in a word; but presently when my mob of gathering plans began to crystallize and fall into position and form line of battlea sort of order and quiet ensued and I caught the boom of the king's batteriesas if out of remote distance:

"-- were not the best waymethinksalbeit it is not to be denied that authorities differ as concerning this pointsome contending that the onion is but an unwholesome berry when stricken early from the tree --"

The audience showed signs of lifeand sought each other's eyes in a surprised and troubled way.

"-- whileas others do yet maintainwith much show of reasonthat this is not of necessity the caseinstancing that plums and other like cereals do be always dug in the unripe state --"

The audience exhibited distinct distress; yesand also fear.

"-- yet are they clearly wholesomethe more especially when one doth assuage the asperities of their nature by admixture of the tranquilizing juice of the wayward cabbage --"

The wild light of terror began to glow in these men's eyesand one of them mutteredThese be errors, every one -- God hath surely smitten the mind of this farmer.I was in miserable apprehension; I sat upon thorns.

"-- and further instancing the known truth that in the case of animalsthe youngwhich may be called the green fruit of the creatureis the betterall confessing that when a goat is ripehis fur doth heat and sore engame his fleshthe which defecttaken in connection with his several rancid habitsand fulsome appetitesand godless attitudes of mindand bilious quality of morals --"

They rose and went for him! With a fierce shoutThe one would betray us, the other is mad! Kill them! Kill them!they flung themselves upon us. What joy flamed up in the king's eye! He might be lame in agriculturebut this kind of thing was just in his line. He had been fasting longhe was hungry for a fight. He hit the blacksmith a crack under the jaw that lifted him clear off his feet and stretched him flat on his back. "St. George for Britain!" and he downed the wheelwright. The mason was bigbut I laid him out like nothing. The three gathered themselves up and came again; went down again; came again; and kept on repeating thiswith native British pluckuntil they were battered to jellyreeling with exhaustionand so blind that they couldn't tell us from each other; and yet they kept right onhammering away with what might was left in them. Hammering each other -- for we stepped aside and looked on while they rolledand struggledand gougedand poundedand bitwith the strict and wordless attention to business of so many bulldogs. We looked on without apprehensionfor they were fast getting past ability to go for help against usand the arena was far enough from the public road to be safe from intrusion.

Wellwhile they were gradually playing outit suddenly occurred to me to wonder what had become of Marco. I looked around; he was nowhere to be seen. Ohbut this was ominous! I pulled the king's sleeveand we glided away and rushed for the hut. No Marco thereno Phyllis there! They had gone to the road for helpsure. I told the king to give his heels wingsand I would explain later. We made good time across the open groundand as we darted into the shelter of the wood I glanced back and saw a mob of excited peasants swarm into viewwith Marco and his wife at their head. They were making a world of noisebut that couldn't hurt anybody; the wood was denseand as soon as we were well into its depths we would take to a tree and let them whistle. Ahbut then came another sound -- dogs! Yesthat was quite another matter. It magnified our contract -- we must find running water.

We tore along at a good gaitand soon left the sounds far behind and modified to a murmur. We struck a stream and darted into it. We waded swiftly down itin the dim forest lightfor as much as three hundred yardsand then came across an oak with a great bough sticking out over the water. We climbed up on this boughand began to work our way along it to the body of the tree; now we began to hear those sounds more plainly; so the mob had struck our trail. For a while the sounds approached pretty fast. And then for another while they didn't. No doubt the dogs had found the place where we had entered the streamand were now waltzing up and down the shores trying to pick up the trail again.

When we were snugly lodged in the tree and curtained with foliagethe king was satisfiedbut I was doubtful. I believed we could crawl along a branch and get into the next treeand I judged it worth while to try. We tried itand made a success of itthough the king slippedat the junctionand came near failing to connect. We got comfortable lodgment and satisfactory concealment among the foliageand then we had nothing to do but listen to the hunt.

Presently we heard it coming -- and coming on the jumptoo; yesand down both sides of the stream. Louder -- louder -- next minute it swelled swiftly up into a roar of shoutingsbarkingstramplingsand swept by like a cyclone.

"I was afraid that the overhanging branch would suggest something to them said I, but I don't mind the disappointment. Comemy liegeit were well that we make good use of our time. We've flanked them. Dark is coming onpresently. If we can cross the stream and get a good startand borrow a couple of horses from somebody's pasture to use for a few hourswe shall be safe enough."

We started downand got nearly to the lowest limbwhen we seemed to hear the hunt returning. We stopped to listen.

"Yes said I, they're baffledthey've given it upthey're on their way home. We will climb back to our roost againand let them go by."

So we climbed back. The king listened a moment and said:

"They still search -- I wit the sign. We did best to abide."

He was right. He knew more about hunting than I did. The noise approached steadilybut not with a rush. The king said:

"They reason that we were advantaged by no parlous start of themand being on foot are as yet no mighty way from where we took the water."

"Yessirethat is about itI am afraidthough I was hoping better things."

The noise drew nearer and nearerand soon the van was drifting under uson both sides of the water. A voice called a halt from the other bankand said:

"An they were so mindedthey could get to yon tree by this branch that overhangsand yet not touch ground. Ye will do well to send a man up it."

"Marrythat we will do!"

I was obliged to admire my cuteness in foreseeing this very thing and swapping trees to beat it. Butdon't you knowthere are some things that can beat smartness and foresight? Awkwardness and stupidity can. The best swordsman in the world doesn't need to fear the second best swordsman in the world; nothe person for him to be afraid of is some ignorant antagonist who has never had a sword in his hand before; he doesn't do the thing he ought to doand so the expert isn't prepared for him; he does the thing he ought not to do; and often it catches the expert out and ends him on the spot. Wellhow could Iwith all my giftsmake any valuable preparation against a near-sightedcross-eyedpudding-headed clown who would aim himself at the wrong tree and hit the right one? And that is what he did. He went for the wrong treewhich wasof coursethe right one by mistakeand up he started.

Matters were serious now. We remained stilland awaited developments. The peasant toiled his difficult way up. The king raised himself up and stood; he made a leg readyand when the comer's head arrived in reach of it there was a dull thudand down went the man floundering to the ground. There was a wild outbreak of anger belowand the mob swarmed in from all aroundand there we were treedand prisoners. Another man started up; the bridging bough was detectedand a volunteer started up the tree that furnished the bridge. The king ordered me to play Horatius and keep the bridge. For a while the enemy came thick and fast; but no matterthe head man of each procession always got a buffet that dislodged him as soon as he came in reach. The king's spirits rosehis joy was limitless. He said that if nothing occurred to mar the prospect we should have a beautiful nightfor on this line of tactics we could hold the tree against the whole country-side.

Howeverthe mob soon came to that conclusion themselves; wherefore they called off the assault and began to debate other plans. They had no weaponsbut there were plenty of stonesand stones might answer. We had no objections. A stone might possibly penetrate to us once in a whilebut it wasn't very likely; we were well protected by boughs and foliageand were not visible from any good aiming point. If they would but waste half an hour in stonethrowingthe dark would come to our help. We were feeling very well satisfied. We could smile; almost laugh.

But we didn't; which was just as wellfor we should have been interrupted. Before the stones had been raging through the leaves and bouncing from the boughs fifteen minuteswe began to notice a smell. A couple of sniffs of it was enough of an explanation -- it was smoke! Our game was up at last. We recognized that. When smoke invites youyou have to come. They raised their pile of dry brush and damp weeds higher and higherand when they saw the thick cloud begin to roll up and smother the treethey broke out in a storm of joy-clamors. I got enough breath to say:

"Proceedmy liege; after you is manners."

The king gasped:

"Follow me downand then back thyself against one side of the trunkand leave me the other. Then will we fight. Let each pile his dead according to his own fashion and taste."

Then he descendedbarking and coughingand I followed. I struck the ground an instant after him; we sprang to our appointed placesand began to give and take with all our might. The powwow and racket were prodigious; it was a tempest of riot and confusion and thick-falling blows. Suddenly some horsemen tore into the midst of the crowdand a voice shouted:

"Hold -- or ye are dead men!"

How good it sounded! The owner of the voice bore all the marks of a gentleman: picturesque and costly raimentthe aspect of commanda hard countenancewith complexion and features marred by dissipation. The mob fell humbly backlike so many spaniels. The gentleman inspected us criticallythen said sharply to the peasants:

"What are ye doing to these people?"

"They be madmenworshipful sirthat have come wandering we know not whenceand --"

"Ye know not whence? Do ye pretend ye know them not?"

"Most honored sirwe speak but the truth. They are strangers and unknown to any in this region; and they be the most violent and bloodthirsty madmen that ever --"

"Peace! Ye know not what ye say. They are not mad. Who are ye? And whence are ye? Explain."

"We are but peaceful strangerssir I said, and traveling upon our own concerns. We are from a far countryand unacquainted here. We have purposed no harm; and yet but for your brave interference and protection these people would have killed us. As you have divinedsirwe are not mad; neither are we violent or bloodthirsty."

The gentleman turned to his retinue and said calmly: "Lash me these animals to their kennels!"

The mob vanished in an instant; and after them plunged the horsemenlaying about them with their whips and pitilessly riding down such as were witless enough to keep the road instead of taking to the bush. The shrieks and supplications presently died away in the distanceand soon the horsemen began to straggle back. Meantime the gentleman had been questioning us more closelybut had dug no particulars out of us. We were lavish of recognition of the service he was doing usbut we revealed nothing more than that we were friendless strangers from a far country. When the escort were all returnedthe gentleman said to one of his servants:

"Bring the led-horses and mount these people."

"Yesmy lord."

We were placed toward the rearamong the servants. We traveled pretty fastand finally drew rein some time after dark at a roadside inn some ten or twelve miles from the scene of our troubles. My lord went immediately to his roomafter ordering his supperand we saw no more of him. At dawn in the morning we breakfasted and made ready to start.

My lord's chief attendant sauntered forward at that moment with indolent graceand said:

"Ye have said ye should continue upon this roadwhich is our direction likewise; wherefore my lordthe earl Griphath given commandment that ye retain the horses and rideand that certain of us ride with ye a twenty mile to a fair town that hight Cambenetwhen so ye shall be out of peril."

We could do nothing less than express our thanks and accept the offer. We jogged alongsix in the partyat a moderate and comfortable gaitand in conversation learned that my lord Grip was a very great personage in his own regionwhich lay a day's journey beyond Cambenet. We loitered to such a degree that it was near the middle of the forenoon when we entered the market square of the town. We dismountedand left our thanks once more for my lordand then approached a crowd assembled in the center of the squareto see what might be the object of interest. It was the remnant of that old peregrinating band of slaves! So they had been dragging their chains aboutall this weary time. That poor husband was goneand also many others; and some few purchases had been added to the gang. The king was not interestedand wanted to move alongbut I was absorbedand full of pity. I could not take my eyes away from these worn and wasted wrecks of humanity. There they satgrounded upon the groundsilentuncomplainingwith bowed headsa pathetic sight. And by hideous contrasta redundant orator was making a speech to another gathering not thirty steps awayin fulsome laudation of "our glorious British liberties!"

I was boiling. I had forgotten I was a plebeianI was remembering I was a man. Cost what it mightI would mount that rostrum and --

Click! the king and I were handcuffed together! Our companionsthose servantshad done it; my lord Grip stood looking on. The king burst out in a furyand said:

"What meaneth this ill-mannered jest?"

My lord merely said to his head miscreantcoolly:

"Put up the slaves and sell them!"

SLAVES! The word had a new sound -- and how unspeakably awful! The king lifted his manacles and brought them down with a deadly force; but my lord was out of the way when they arrived. A dozen of the rascal's servants sprang forwardand in a moment we were helplesswith our hands bound behind us. We so loudly and so earnestly proclaimed ourselves freementhat we got the interested attention of that liberty-mouthing orator and his patriotic crowdand they gathered about us and assumed a very determined attitude. The orator said:

"Ifindeedye are freemenye have nought to fear -- the God-given liberties of Britain are about ye for your shield and shelter! (Applause.) Ye shall soon see. Bring forth your proofs."

"What proofs?"

"Proof that ye are freemen."

Ah -- I remembered! I came to myself; I said nothing. But the king stormed out:

"Thou'rt insaneman. It were betterand more in reasonthat this thief and scoundrel here prove that we are NOT freemen."

You seehe knew his own laws just as other people so often know the laws; by wordsnot by effects. They take a MEANINGand get to be very vividwhen you come to apply them to yourself.

All hands shook their heads and looked disappointed; some turned awayno longer interested. The orator said -- and this time in the tones of businessnot of sentiment:

"An ye do not know your country's lawsit were time ye learned them. Ye are strangers to us; ye will not deny that. Ye may be freemenwe do not deny that; but also ye may be slaves. The law is clear: it doth not require the claimant to prove ye are slavesit requireth you to prove ye are not."

I said:

"Dear sirgive us only time to send to Astolat; or give us only time to send to the Valley of Holiness --"

"Peacegood manthese are extraordinary requestsand you may not hope to have them granted. It would cost much timeand would unwarrantably inconvenience your master --"

"MASTERidiot!" stormed the king. "I have no masterI myself am the m--"

"Silencefor God's sake!"

I got the words out in time to stop the king. We were in trouble enough already; it could not help us any to give these people the notion that we were lunatics.

There is no use in stringing out the details. The earl put us up and sold us at auction. This same infernal law had existed in our own South in my own timemore than thirteen hundred years laterand 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 experiencea thing which had been merely improper before became suddenly hellish. Wellthat's the way we are made.

Yeswe were sold at auctionlike 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 ashamedevery time I think of it. The King of England brought seven dollarsand 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 marketI don't care what the property isyou are going to make a poor business of itand you can make up your mind to it. If the earl had had wit enough to --

Howeverthere is no occasion for my working my sympathies up on his account. Let him gofor the present; I took his numberso to speak.

The slave-dealer bought us bothand hitched us onto that long chain of hisand 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 ministermarching manacled and fettered and yokedin a slave convoycould move by all manner of idle men and womenand under windows where sat the sweet and the lovelyand yet never attract a curious eyenever provoke a single remark. Deardearit only shows that there is nothing diviner about a king than there is about a trampafter all. He is just a cheap and hollow artificiality when you don't know he is a king. But reveal his qualityand dear me it takes your very breath away to look at him. I reckon we are all fools. Born sono doubt.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XXXV - A PITIFUL INCIDENT

 

IT'S a world of surprises. The king brooded; this was natural. What would he brood aboutshould you say? Whyabout the prodigious nature of his fallof 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. NoI take my oath that the thing that graveled him mostto start withwas not thisbut the price he had fetched! He couldn't seem to get over that seven dollars. Wellit stunned me sowhen I first found it outthat 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 itI saw I was mistaken; it WAS natural. For this reason: a king is a mere artificialityand so a king's feelingslike the impulses of an automatic dollare mere artificialities; but as a manhe is a realityand his feelingsas a manare realnot phantoms. It shames the average man to be valued below his own estimate of his worthand the king certainly wasn't anything more than an average manif he was up that high.

Confound himhe wearied me with arguments to show that in anything like a fair market he would have fetched twenty-five dollarssure -- a thing which was plainly nonsenseand full or the baldest conceit; I wasn't worth it myself. But it was tender ground for me to argue on. In factI had to simply shirk argument and do the diplomatic instead. I had to throw conscience asideand brazenly concede that he ought to have brought twenty-five dollars; whereas I was quite well aware that in all the agesthe world had never seen a king that was worth half the moneyand during the next thirteen centuries wouldn't see one that was worth the fourth of it. Yeshe tired me. If he began to talk about the crops; or about the recent weather; or about the condition of politics; or about dogsor catsor moralsor theology -- no matter what -- I sighedfor 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 crowdhe would give me a look which said plainly: "if that thing could be tried over again nowwith this kind of folkyou would see a different result." Wellwhen he was first soldit 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 diefor every dayat one place or anotherpossible purchasers looked us overandas often as any other waytheir 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 advicebut 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 styleeven when he was a willing and anxious pupil; now thento 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? -- whyit 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 breakbut whose manhood you can't. This man found that from his first effort down to his latesthe couldn't ever come within reach of the kingbut the king was ready to plunge for himand did it. So he gave up at lastand left the king in possession of his style unimpaired. The fact isthe king was a good deal more than a kinghe was a man; and when a man is a manyou can't knock it out of him.

We had a rough time for a monthtramping to and fro in the earthand suffering. And what Englishman was the most interested in the slavery question by that time? His grace the king! Yes; from being the most indifferenthe 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 beforebut it was music this time; I shouldn't ever wish to hear pleasanterthough the profanity was not goodbeing awkwardly put togetherand with the crash-word almost in the middle instead of at the endwhereof courseit ought to have been.

I was ready and willing to get free now; I hadn't wanted to get free any sooner. NoI cannot quite say that. I had wanted tobut I had not been willing to take desperate chancesand had always dissuaded the king from them. But now -- ahit was a new atmosphere! Liberty would be worth any cost that might be put upon it now. I set about a planand was straightway charmed with it. It would require timeyesand patiencetooa great deal of both. One could invent quicker waysand 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 monthsbut no matterI 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 fogthe driving snow was so thick. You couldn't see a thingand we were soon lost. The slave-driver lashed us desperatelyfor he saw ruin before himbut his lashings only made matters worsefor 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 midnightthen ceased. By this time two of our feebler men and three of our women were deadand others past moving and threatened with death. Our master was nearly beside himself. He stirred up the livingand made us standjumpslap ourselvesto restore our circulationand he helped as well as he could with his whip.

Now came a diversion. We heard shrieks and yellsand soon a woman came running and crying; and seeing our groupshe flung herself into our midst and begged for protection. A mob of people came tearing after hersome with torchesand they said she was a witch who had caused several cows to die by a strange diseaseand 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 humanshe was so battered and bloody. The mob wanted to burn her.

Wellnowwhat do you suppose our master did? When we closed around this poor creature to shelter herhe saw his chance. He saidburn her hereor 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 brutewith a heart solely for businesslashed 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 everafter thatfor many days togetherhe 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 itand on the coffin sat a comely young girl of about eighteen suckling a babywhich she squeezed to her breast in a passion of love every little whileand 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 herhappy and contentkneading her breast with its dimpled fat handwhich she patted and fondled right over her breaking heart.

Men and womenboys and girlstrotted along beside or after the carthootingshouting profane and ribald remarkssinging snatches of foul songskippingdancing -- a very holiday of hellionsa sickening sight. We had struck a suburb of Londonoutside the wallsand 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 attendanceand he helped the girl climb upand said comforting words to herand made the under-sheriff provide a stool for her. Then he stood there by her on the gallowsand for a moment looked down upon the mass of upturned faces at his feetthen out over the solid pavement of heads that stretched away on every side occupying the vacancies far and nearand 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 saidexcept 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 grieveand be resignedand pray for the soul of him who falls unfairly by the arm of the lawand 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 thingthis child of eighteen yearswas as happy a wife and mother as any in England; and her lips were blithe with songwhich is the native speech of glad and innocent hearts. Her young husband was as happy as she; for he was doing his whole dutyhe worked early and late at his handicrafthis bread was honest bread well and fairly earnedhe was prosperinghe was furnishing shelter and sustenance to his familyhe was adding his mite to the wealth of the nation. By consent of a treacherous lawinstant destruction fell upon this holy home and swept it away! That young husband was waylaid and impressedand sent to sea. The wife knew nothing of it. She sought him everywhereshe moved the hardest hearts with the supplications of her tearsthe broken eloquence of her despair. Weeks dragged byshe watchingwaitinghopingher 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 rentthey turned her out of doors. She beggedwhile she had strength; when she was starving at lastand her milk failingshe stole a piece of linen cloth of the value of a fourth part of a centthinking 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 herand her sorrowful story was told in her behalf. She spoketooby permissionand said she did steal the clothbut that her mind was so disordered of late by trouble that when she was overborne with hunger all actscriminal or otherswam meaningless through her brain and she knew nothing rightlyexcept that she was so hungry! For a moment all were touchedand there was disposition to deal mercifully with herseeing that she was so young and friendlessand her case so piteousand 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 trueand most pitiful as wellstill there was much small theft in these daysand mistimed mercy here would be a danger to property -- ohmy Godis there no property in ruined homesand orphaned babesand broken hearts that British law holds precious! -- and so he must require sentence.

"When the judge put on his black capthe owner of the stolen linen rose trembling uphis lip quiveringhis face as gray as ashes; and when the awful words camehe cried out'Ohpoor childpoor childI 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 sethe had taken his own life. A kindly man; a man whose heart was rightat 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 comemy child; let me pray over thee -- not FOR theedear abused poor heart and innocentbut for them that be guilty of thy ruin and deathwho need it more."

After his prayer they put the noose around the young girl's neckand they had great trouble to adjust the knot under her earbecause she was devouring the baby all the timewildly kissing itand snatching it to her face and her breastand drenching it with tearsand half moaninghalf shrieking all the whileand the baby crowingand laughingand kicking its feet with delight over what it took for romp and play. Even the hangman couldn't stand itbut turned away. When all was ready the priest gently pulled and tugged and forced the child out of the mother's armsand stepped quickly out of her reach; but she clasped her handsand made a wild spring toward himwith 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 -- ohmy Godone moreone more-- it is the dying that begs it!"

She got it; she almost smothered the little thing. And when they got it away againshe cried out:

"Ohmy childmy darlingit will die! It has no homeit has no fatherno friendno 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? Lordwhat do you want with words to express that? Words are only painted fire; a look is the fire itself. She gave that lookand carried it away to the treasury of heavenwhere all things that are divine belong.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XXXVI - AN ENCOUNTER IN THE DARK

 

LONDON -- to a slave -- was a sufficiently interesting place. It was merely a great big village; and mainly mud and thatch. The streets were muddycrookedunpaved. The populace was an ever flocking and drifting swarm of ragsand splendorsof nodding plumes and shining armor. The king had a palace there; he saw the outside of it. It made him sigh; yesand swear a littlein a poor juvenile sixth century way. We saw knights and grandees whom we knewbut they didn't know us in our rags and dirt and raw welts and bruisesand wouldn't have recognized us if we had hailed themnor stopped to answereitherit being unlawful to speak with slaves on a chain. Sandy passed within ten yards of me on a mule -- hunting for meI imagined. But the thing which clean broke my heart was something which happened in front of our old barrack in a squarewhile 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! StillI 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 thingone daywhich gave me a great uplift. It was a wire stretching from housetop to housetop. Telegraph or telephonesure. I did very much wish I had a little piece of it. It was just what I neededin order to carry out my project of escape. My idea was to get loose some nightalong with the kingthen gag and bind our masterchange clothes with himbatter him into the aspect of a strangerhitch him to the slave-chainassume possession of the propertymarch to Camelotand --

But you get my idea; you see what a stunning dramatic surprise I would wind up with at the palace. It was all feasibleif 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 fastenedwhenever I might choose. But I never had any luck; no such thing ever happened to fall in my way. Howevermy chance came at last. A gentleman who had come twice before to dicker for mewithout resultor indeed any approach to a resultcame again. I was far from expecting ever to belong to himfor the price asked for me from the time I was first enslaved was exorbitantand always provoked either anger or derisionyet my master stuck stubbornly to it -- twenty-two dollars. He wouldn't bate a cent. The king was greatly admiredbecause of his grand physiquebut his kingly style was against himand he wasn't salable; nobody wanted that kind of a slave. I considered myself safe from parting from him because of my extravagant price. NoI was not expecting to ever belong to this gentleman whom I have spoken ofbut he had something which I expected would belong to me eventuallyif he would but visit us often enough. It was a steel thing with a long pin to itwith which his long cloth outside garment was fastened together in front. There were three of them. He had disappointed me twicebecause 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 threeand when he missed it he thought he had lost it on the way.

I had a chance to be glad about a minutethen straightway a chance to be sad again. For when the purchase was about to failas usualthe 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 oneand I'll throw the other one in."

The king couldn't get his breathhe was in such a fury. He began to choke and gagand meantime the master and the gentleman moved away discussing.

"An ye will keep the offer open --"

"'Tis open till the morrow at this hour."

"Then I will answer you at that time said the gentleman, and disappeared, the master following him.

I had a time of it to cool the king down, but I managed it. I whispered in his ear, to this effect:

Your grace WILL go for nothingbut after another fashion. And so shall I. To-night we shall both be free."

"Ah! How is that?"

"With this thing which I have stolenI will unlock these locks and cast off these chains to-night. When he comes about nine-thirty to inspect us for the nightwe will seize himgag himbatter himand early in the morning we will march out of this townproprietors of this caravan of slaves."

That was as far as I wentbut 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 signfor 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 usualbut 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 attemptsand merely delayed things by it; for I couldn't seem to touch a padlockthere in the darkwithout 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 offand was a free man once more. I took a good breath of reliefand reached for the king's irons. Too late! in comes the masterwith a light in one hand and his heavy walking- staff in the other. I snuggled close among the wallow of snorersto 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 stoppedgazed absently toward our dusky mass a minuteevidently thinking about something else; then set down his lightmoved musingly toward the doorand before a body could imagine what he was going to dohe was out of the door and had closed it behind him.

"Quick!" said the king. "Fetch him back!"

Of courseit was the thing to doand I was up and out in a moment. Butdear methere were no lamps in those daysand it was a dark night. But I glimpsed a dim figure a few steps away. I darted for itthrew myself upon itand then there was a state of things and lively! We fought and scuffled and struggledand drew a crowd in no time. They took an immense interest in the fight and encouraged us all they couldandin factcouldn't have been pleasanter or more cordial if it had been their own fight. Then a tremendous row broke out behind usand as much as half of our audience left uswith a rushto 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 backas a reminderand I knew what it meant. I was in custody. So was my adversary. We were marched off toward prisonone on each side of the watchman. Here was disasterhere 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-breakersas was the custom; and what might --

Just then my antagonist turned his face around in my directionthe freckled light from the watchman's tin lantern fell on itandby Georgehe was the wrong man!

 

 

 

CHAPTER XXXVII - AN AWFUL PREDICAMENT

 

SLEEP? It was impossible. It would naturally have been impossible in that noisome cavern of a jailwith its mangy crowd of drunkenquarrelsomeand song-singing rapscallions. But the thing that made sleep all the more a thing not to be dreamed ofwas 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 nightbut the morning got around at last. I made a full and frank explanation to the court. I said I was a slavethe property of the great Earl Gripwho had arrived just after dark at the Tabard inn in the village on the other side of the waterand had stopped there over nightby compulsionhe 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 darkI ran against this common person herewho seized me by the throat and began to pummel mealthough I told him my errandand implored himfor 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 --

"Silencesirrah!" 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 pardonand 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 rightand so took my leave. Took it just in timetoo; 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 onand got myself awaystill mumbling. I didn't wait for breakfast. No grass grew under my feet. I was soon at the slave quarters. Empty -- everybody gone! That iseverybody 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 doorand workmenassisted by the policewere 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 Iand got his account of the matter.

"There were sixteen slaves here. They rose against their master in the nightand 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 thoughtby reason that he had no keyand the locks were neither broke nor in any wise injured. When the master discovered his losshe was mad with despairand threw himself upon his people with his heavy stickwho 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 slavesno doubtupon the trial."

"Marrythe trial is over."

"Over!"

"Would they be a weekthink you -- and the matter so simple? They were not the half of a quarter of an hour at it."

"WhyI don't see how they could determine which were the guilty ones in so short a time."

"WHICH ones? Indeedthey 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 moreif peradventure they may find the missing one meantime."

The missing one! It made me feel uncomfortable.

"Is it likely they will find him?"

"Before the day is spent -- yes. They seek him everywhere. They stand at the gates of the townwith certain of the slaves who will discover him to them if he comethand 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 toup a back streetI got a rough rig suitable for a common seaman who might be going on a cold voyageand bound up my face with a liberal bandagesaying 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 wirefound 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 fellowand he was going to make a noise; but I said:

"Save your wind; if you open your mouth you are deadsure. Tackle your instrument. Livelynow! Call Camelot."

"This doth amaze me! How should such as you know aught of such matters as --"

"Call Camelot! I am a desperate man. Call Camelotor get away from the instrument and I will do it myself."

"What -- you?"

"Yes -- certainly. Stop gabbling. Call the palace."

He made the call.

"Nowthencall Clarence."

"Clarence WHO?"

"Never mind Clarence who. Say you want Clarence; you'll get an answer."

He did so. We waited five nerve-straining minutes -- ten minutes -- how long it did seem! -- and then came a click that was as familiar to me as a human voice; for Clarence had been my own pupil.

"Nowmy ladvacate! They would have known MY touchmaybeand 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 Clarencebut squared away for businessstraight-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 isI 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 yetthe 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 meand 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 gateand 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 rightClarence; 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 couldand now that the ground was in good conditionand no snow or mudthey would probably make a seven-mile gait; they would have to change horses a couple of times; they would arrive about sixor a little after; it would still be plenty light enough; they would see the white cloth which I should tie around my right armand I would take command. We would surround that prison and have the king out in no time. It would be showy and picturesque enoughall things consideredthough I would have preferred noondayon account of the more theatrical aspect the thing would have.

Nowthenin order to increase the strings to my bowI thought I would look up some of those people whom I had formerly recognizedand make myself known. That would help us out of our scrapewithout the knights. But I must proceed cautiouslyfor it was a risky business. I must get into sumptuous raimentand it wouldn't do to run and jump into it. NoI must work up to it by degreesbuying suit after suit of clothesin shops wide apartand getting a little finer article with each changeuntil I should finally reach silk and velvetand be ready for my project. So I started.

But the scheme fell through like scat! The first corner I turnedI came plump upon one of our slavessnooping around with a watchman. I coughed at the momentand 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 counterpricing things and watching out of the corner of my eye. Those people had stoppedand were talking together and looking in at the door. I made up my mind to get out the back wayif there was a back wayand I asked the shopwoman if I could step out there and look for the escaped slavewho was believed to be in hiding back there somewhereand said I was an officer in disguiseand my pard was yonder at the door with one of the murderers in chargeand would she be good enough to step there and tell him he needn't waitbut 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 murderersand she started on the errand at once. I slipped out the back waylocked the door behind meput the key in my pocket and started offchuckling to myself and comfortable.

WellI had gone and spoiled it againmade another mistake. A double onein fact. There were plenty of ways to get rid of that officer by some simple and plausible devicebut noI must pick out a picturesque one; it is the crying defect of my character. And thenI had ordered my procedure upon what the officerbeing humanwould NATURALLY do; whereas when you are least expecting ita 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 doin this casewas to follow straight on my heels; he would find a stout oaken doorsecurely lockedbetween him and me; before he could break it downI 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 thingthe officer took me at my wordand followed my instructions. And soas I came trotting out of that cul de sacfull of satisfaction with my own clevernesshe turned the corner and I walked right into his handcuffs. If I had known it was a cul de sac -- howeverthere isn't any excusing a blunder like thatlet it go. Charge it up to profit and loss.

Of courseI was indignantand swore I had just come ashore from a long voyageand all that sort of thing -- just to seeyou knowif 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 wideand said:

"Whatwouldst have me let theeof all menescape and not hang with uswhen 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 talkersthose people.

Wellthere was a sort of bastard justice in his view of the caseand so I dropped the matter. When you can't cure a disaster by argumentwhat 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 laughedand the slave said:

"Ye have not ranked as a fool -- before. You might better keep your reputationseeing the strain would not be for long."

"It will stand itI reckon. Before to-morrow we shall be out of prisonand free to go where we willbesides."

The witty officer lifted at his left ear with his thumbmade a rasping noise in his throatand said:

"Out of prison -- yes -- ye say true. And free likewise to go where ye willso ye wander not out of his grace the Devil's sultry realm."

I kept my temperand saidindifferently:

"Now I suppose you really think we are going to hang within a day or two."

"I thought it not many minutes agofor so the thing was decided and proclaimed."

"Ahthen you've changed your mindis that it?"

"Even that. I only THOUGHTthen; I KNOWnow."

I felt sarcasticalso I said:

"Ohsapient servant of the lawcondescend to tell usthenwhat you KNOW."

"That ye will all be hanged TO-DAYat 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 mewhich was more important. More importantnot merely to mebut to the nation -- the only nation on earth standing ready to blossom into civilization. I was sick. I said no morethere wasn't anything to say. I knew what the man meant; that if the missing slave was foundthe postponement would be revokedthe execution take place to-day. Wellthe missing slave was found.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XXXVIII - SIR LAUNCELOT AND KNIGHTS TO THE RESCUE

 

NEARING four in the afternoon. The scene was just outside the walls of London. A coolcomfortablesuperb daywith a brilliant sun; the kind of day to make one want to livenot 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 thoughtlook at it how you might. There we saton our tall scaffoldthe 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 gentryand these were there in full forcewith 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 upin his fantastic ragswith face bruised out of all recognitionand proclaimed himself ArthurKing of Britainand 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 dignityand he locked himself up in silence. thenalthough the crowd begged him to go onand tried to provoke him to it by catcallsjeersand 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. AbsentlyI had taken off my white bandage and wound it about my right arm. When the crowd noticed thisthey 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 tiredand then I said:

"YesI am his ministerThe 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 Londonin their official robeswith their subordinatesbegan to make a stir which indicated that business was about to begin. In the hush which followedour crime was recitedthe death warrant readthen everybody uncovered while a priest uttered a prayer.

Then a slave was blindfolded; the hangman unslung his rope. There lay the smooth road below uswe upon one side of itthe banked multitude wailing its other side -- a good clear roadand kept free by the police -- how good it would be to see my five hundred horsemen come tearing down it! But noit was out of the possibilities. I followed its receding thread out into the distance -- not a horseman on itor sign of one.

There was a jerkand the slave hung dangling; dangling and hideously squirmingfor his limbs were not tied.

A second rope was unslungin 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 momentand when I turned back I missed the king! They were blindfolding him! I was paralyzed; I couldn't moveI was chokingmy tongue was petrified. They finished blindfolding himthey led him under the rope. I couldn't shake off that clinging impotence. But when I saw them put the noose around his neckthen 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 camea-tilting! -- five hundred mailed and belted knights on bicycles!

The grandest sight that ever was seen. Lordhow the plumes streamedhow 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 bandageand shouted:

"On your kneesevery rascal of youand salute the king! Who fails shall sup in hell to-night!"

I always use that high style when I'm climaxing an effect. Wellit 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 therereceiving this homage in ragsI thought to myselfwellreally there is something peculiarly grand about the gait and bearing of a kingafter all.

I was immensely satisfied. Take the whole situation all aroundit was one of the gaudiest effects I ever instigated.

And presently up comes Clarencehis own self! and winksand saysvery modernly:

"Good deal of a surprisewasn't it? I knew you'd like it. I've had the boys practicing this long timeprivately; and just hungry for a chance to show off."

 

 

 

CHAPTER XXXIX - THE YANKEE'S FIGHT WITH THE KNIGHTS

 

HOME againat Camelot. A morning or two later I found the paperdamp from the pressby my plate at the breakfast table. I turned to the advertising columnsknowing 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 Kni8htSIR SAGRAMOR LE DESIROUS naving condescended to meet the King's MinisterHank Mor ganthe which is surnamed The Bossfor satisfgction of offence anciently giventhese 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 outrancesith the said offence was of a deadly sortadmitting of no comPosition.

DE PAR LE ROI

Clarence's editorial reference to this affair was to this effect:

It will be observedby a gl7nce at our advertising columnsthat 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 centsreserved seatsh 5; pro ceeds to go to the hospital fund The royal pair and all the Court will be pres ent. With these exceptionsand the press and the clergythe 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 Bosseverybody knows and likes Sir Sag.; comelet us give the lads a good send off. ReMemberthe proceeds go to a great and free charityand one whose broad begevolence stretches out its help ing handwarm with the blood of a lov ing heartto all that sufferregardless of racecreedcondition or color--the only charity yet established in the earth which has no politico-religious stop cock on its compassionbut says Here flows the streamlet ALL come and drink! Turn outall hands! fetch along your dou3hnuts and your gum-drops and have a good time. Pie for sale on the groundsand 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 lawwhidh allow each combatant to use any weapon he may pre fer. You may want to make a note of that.

Up to the day setthere 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 matterit was not because Sir Sagramor had found the Holy Grailfor he had notbut had failed; it was not because the second (official) personage in the kingdom was one of the duellists; noall 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 menso to speakbut a duel between two mighty magicians; a duel not of muscle but of mindnot 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 playcontrasted with this mysterious and awful battle of the gods. Yesall the world knew it was going to be in reality a duel between Merlin and mea measuring of his magic powers against mine. It was known that Merlin had been busy whole days and nights togetherimbuing Sir Sagramor's arms and armor with supernal powers of offense and defenseand 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 Sagramorso weaponed and protecteda thousand knights could accomplish nothing; against him no known enchantments could prevail. These facts were sure; regarding them there was no doubtno reason for doubt. There was but one question: might there be still other enchantmentsUNKNOWN to Merlinwhich could render Sir Sagramor's veil transparent to meand 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 hereand the world was rightbut it was not the one they had in their minds. Noa far vaster one was upon the cast of this die: THE LIFE OF KNIGHT-ERRANTRY. I was a championit was truebut not the champion of the frivolous black artsI 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 werethere were no vacant spaces in them outside of the listsat ten o'clock on the morning of the 16th. The mammoth grand-stand was clothed in flagsstreamersand rich tapestriesand packed with several acres of small-fry tributary kingstheir suitesand the British aristocracy; with our own royal gang in the chief placeand each and every individual a flashing prism of gaudy silks and velvets -- wellI 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 listswith a stiffstanding sentinel at every door and a shining shield hanging by him for challengewas another fine sight. You seeevery knight was there who had any ambition or any caste feeling; for my feeling toward their order was not much of a secretand so here was their chance. If I won my fight with Sir Sagramorothers 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 meand another for my servants. At the appointed hour the king made a signand the heraldsin their tabardsappeared and made proclamationnaming the combatants and stating the cause of quarrel. There was a pausethen a ringing bugle-blastwhich was the signal for us to come forth. All the multitude caught their breathand an eager curiosity flashed into every face.

Out from his tent rode great Sir Sagramoran imposing tower of ironstately and rigidhis huge spear standing upright in its socket and grasped in his strong handhis grand horse's face and breast cased in steelhis body clothed in rich trappings that almost dragged the ground -- oha most noble picture. A great shout went upof welcome and admiration.

And then out I came. But I didn't get any shout. There was a wondering and eloquent silence for a momentthen a great wave of laughter began to sweep along that human seabut a warning bugle-blast cut its career short. I was in the simplest and comfortablest of gymnast costumes -- flesh-colored tights from neck to heelwith blue silk puffings about my loinsand bareheaded. My horse was not above medium sizebut he was alertslender-limbedmuscled with watchspringsand just a greyhound to go. He was a beautyglossy as silkand naked as he was when he was bornexcept for bridle and ranger-saddle.

The iron tower and the gorgeous bedquilt came cumbrously but gracefully pirouetting down the listsand we tripped lightly up to meet them. We halted; the tower salutedI responded; then we wheeled and rode side by side to the grand-stand and faced our king and queento whom we made obeisance. The queen exclaimed:

"AlackSir Bosswilt fight nakedand without lance or sword or --"

But the king checked her and made her understandwith a polite phrase or twothat this was none of her business. The bugles rang again; and we separated and rode to the ends of the listsand 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 signthe bugles blewSir Sagramor laid his great lance in restand the next moment here he came thundering down the course with his veil flying out behindand I went whistling through the air like an arrow to meet him -- cocking my ear the whileas if noting the invisible knight's position and progress by hearingnot sight. A chorus of encouraging shouts burst out for himand one brave voice flung out a heartening word for me -- said:

"Go itslim Jim!"

It was an even bet that Clarence had procured that favor for me -- and furnished the languagetoo. When that formidable lance-point was within a yard and a half of my breast I twitched my horse aside without an effortand the big knight swept byscoring a blank. I got plenty of applause that time. We turnedbraced upand down we came again. Another blank for the knighta 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 temperand at once changed his tactics and set himself the task of chasing me down. Whyhe hadn't any show in the world at that; it was a game of tagwith all the advantage on my side; I whirled out of his path with ease whenever I choseand once I slapped him on the back as I went to the rear. Finally I took the chase into my own hands; and after thatturnor twistor do what he wouldhe 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 nowand he forgot himself and flung an insult at me which disposed of mine. I slipped my lasso from the horn of my saddleand grasped the coil in my right hand. This time you should have seen him come! -- it was a business tripsure; by his gait there was blood in his eye. I was sitting my horse at easeand swinging the great loop of my lasso in wide circles about my head; the moment he was under wayI started for him; when the space between us had narrowed to forty feetI sent the snaky spirals of the rope a-cleaving through the airthen 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 Scottbut there was a sensation!

Unquestionablythe popular thing in this world is novelty. These people had never seen anything of that cowboy business beforeand it carried them clear off their feet with delight. From all around and everywherethe shout went up:

"Encore! encore!"

I wondered where they got the wordbut there was no time to cipher on philological mattersbecause the whole knight-errantry hive was just humming nowand my prospect for trade couldn't have been better. The moment my lasso was released and Sir Sagramor had been assisted to his tentI hauled in the slacktook 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 Sagramorand that couldn't take long where there were so many hungry candidates. Indeedthey elected one straight off -- Sir Hervis de Revel.

BZZ! Here he camelike a house afire; I dodged: he passed like a flashwith my horse-hair coils settling around his neck; a second or so laterFST! his saddle was empty.

I got another encore; and anotherand anotherand still another. When I had snaked five men outthings began to look serious to the ironcladsand they stopped and consulted together. As a resultthey decided that it was time to waive etiquette and send their greatest and best against me. To the astonishment of that little worldI lassoed Sir Lamorak de Galisand after him Sir Galahad. So you see there was simply nothing to be done nowbut play their right bower -- bring out the superbest of the superbthe mightiest of the mightythe great Sir Launcelot himself!

A proud moment for me? I should think so. Yonder was ArthurKing of Britain; yonder was Guenever; yesand whole tribes of little provincial kings and kinglets; and in the tented camp yonderrenowned knights from many lands; and likewise the selectest body known to chivalrythe Knights of the Table Roundthe most illustrious in Christendom; and biggest fact of allthe very sun of their shining system was yonder couching his lancethe focal point of forty thousand adoring eyes; and all by myselfhere was I laying for him. Across my mind flitted the dear image of a certain hello-girl of West Hartfordand I wished she could see me now. In that momentdown came the Invinciblewith the rush of a whirlwind -- the courtly world rose to its feet and bent forward -- the fateful coils went circling through the airand before you could wink I was towing Sir Launcelot across the field on his backand kissing my hand to the storm of waving kerchiefs and the thunder-crash of applause that greeted me!

Said I to myselfas I coiled my lariat and hung it on my saddle-hornand sat there drunk with gloryThe victory is perfect -- no other will venture against me -- knight-errantry is dead.Now imagine my astonishment -- and everybody else'stoo -- 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. NextI noticed Merlin gliding away from me; and then I noticed that my lasso was gone! The old sleight-of-hand expert had stolen itsureand slipped it under his robe.

The bugle blew again. I lookedand down came Sagramor riding againwith his dust brushed off and is veil nicely re-arranged. I trotted up to meet himand pretended to find him by the sound of his horse's hoofs. He said:

"Thou'rt quick of earbut it will not save thee from this!" and he touched the hilt of his great sword . "An ye are not able to see itbecause of the influence of the veilknow that it is no cumbrous lancebut 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 swordthat was plain. Somebody was going to die this time. If he got the drop on meI could name the corpse. We rode forward togetherand saluted the royalties. This time the king was disturbed. He said:

"Where is thy strange weapon?"

"It is stolensire."

"Hast another at hand?"

"NosireI 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 pretenderand ignorantelse he had known that that weapon can be used in but eight bouts onlyand then it vanisheth away to its home under the sea."

"Then is he weaponless said the king. Sir Sagramoreye will grant him leave to borrow."

"And I will lend!" said Sir Launcelotlimping up. "He is as brave a knight of his hands as any that be on liveand he shall have mine."

He put his hand on his sword to draw itbut Sir Sagramor said:

"Stayit may not be. He shall fight with his own weapons; it was his privilege to choose them and bring them. If he has erredon 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 ithe shall answer it to me said Sir Launcelot.

I will answer it to any he that desireth!" retorted Sir Sagramor hotly.

Merlin broke inrubbing his hands and smiling his lowdownest smile of malicious gratification:

"'Tis well saidright well said! And 'tis enough of parleyinglet my lord the king deliver the battle signal."

The king had to yield. The bugle made proclamationand we turned apart and rode to our stations. There we stooda hundred yards apartfacing each otherrigid and motionlesslike horsed statues. And so we remainedin a soundless hushas much as a full minuteeverybody gazingnobody stirring. It seemed as if the king could not take heart to give the signal. But at last he lifted his handthe clear note of the bugle followedSir Sagramor's long blade described a flashing curve in the airand 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:

"Flyfly! Save thyself! This is murther!"

I never budged so much as an inch till that thunderng apparition had got within fifteen paces of me; then I snatched a dragoon revolver out of my holsterthere was a flash and a roarand the revolver was back in the holster before anybody could tell what had happened.

Here was a riderless horse plunging byand yonder lay Sir Sagramorstone dead.

The people that ran to him were stricken dumb to find that the life was actually gone out of the man and no reason for it visibleno hurt upon his bodynothing like a wound. There was a hole through the breast of his chain-mailbut they attached no importance to a little thing like that; and as a bullet wound there produces but little bloodnone 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 trackslike a statueand said:

"If it is a commandI will comebut 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 wonI do not wait for them to challenge meI challenge them."

"It is a gallant offer said the king, and well beseems you. Whom will you name first?"

"I name noneI challenge all! Here I standand dare the chivalry of England to come against me -- not by individualsbut in mass!"

"What!" shouted a score of knights.

"You have heard the challenge. Take itor I proclaim you recreant knights and vanquishedevery one!"

It was a "bluff" you know. At such a time it is sound judgment to put on a bold face and play your hand for a hundred times what it is worth; forty-nine times out of fifty nobody dares to "call and you rake in the chips. But just this once -- well, things looked squally! In just no time, five hundred knights were scrambling into their saddles, and before you could wink a widely scattering drove were under way and clattering down upon me. I snatched both revolvers from the holsters and began to measure distances and calculate chances.

Bang! One saddle empty. Bang! another one. Bang -- bang, and I bagged two. Well, it was nip and tuck with us, and I knew it. If I spent the eleventh shot without convincing these people, the twelfth man would kill me, sure. And so I never did feel so happy as I did when my ninth downed its man and I detected the wavering in the crowd which is premonitory of panic. An instant lost now could knock out my last chance. But I didn't lose it. I raised both revolvers and pointed them -- the halted host stood their ground just about one good square moment, then broke and fled.

The day was mine. Knight-errantry was a doomed institution. The march of civilization was begun. How did I feel? Ah, you never could imagine it.

And Brer Merlin? His stock was flat again. Somehow, every time the magic of fol-de-rol tried conclusions with the magic of science, the magic of fol-de-rol got left.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XL - THREE YEARS LATER

 

WHEN I broke the back of knight-errantry that timeI no longer felt obliged to work in secret. Sothe very next day I exposed my hidden schoolsmy minesand my vast system of clandestine factories and workshops to an astonished world. That is to sayI exposed the nineteenth century to the inspection of the sixth.

Wellit is always a good plan to follow up an advantage promptly. The knights were temporarily downbut if I would keep them so I must just simply paralyze them -- nothing short of that would answer. You seeI was "bluffing" that last time in the field; it would be natural for them to work around to that conclusionif I gave them a chance. So I must not give them time; and I didn't.

I renewed my challengeengraved it on brassposted it up where any priest could read it to themand also kept it standing in the advertising columns of the paper.

I not only renewed itbut added to its proportions. I saidname the dayand 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 upor 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 countryand strangely altered. Schools everywhereand several colleges; a number of pretty good newspapers. Even authorship was taking a start; Sir Dinadan the Humorist was first in the fieldwith a volume of gray-headed jokes which I had been familiar with during thirteen centuries. If he had left out that old rancid one about the lecturer I wouldn't have said anything; but I couldn't stand that one. I suppressed the book and hanged the author.

Slavery was dead and gone; all men were equal before the law; taxation had been equalized. The telegraphthe telephonethe phonographthe typewriterthe sewing-machineand 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 Thameswe had steam warshipsand the beginnings of a steam commercial marine; I was getting ready to send out an expedition to discover America.

We were building several lines of railwayand 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 nobilityand make them useful and keep them out of mischief. The plan worked very wellthe 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 menevery onebut they had two defects which I couldn't cureand so had to wink at: they wouldn't lay aside their armorand 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 wanderingand their experience in itmade them altogether the most effective spreaders of civilization we had. They went clothed in steel and equipped with sword and lance and battle-axeand if they couldn't persuade a person to try a sewing-machine on the installment planor a melodeonor a barbed-wire fenceor a prohibition journalor any of the other thousand and one things they canvassed forthey removed him and passed on.

I was very happy. Things were working steadily toward a secretly longed-for point. You seeI 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 Churchbut a go-as-you-please one; and the other project was to get a decree issued by and bycommanding that upon Arthur's death unlimited suffrage should be introducedand given to men and women alike -- at any rate to all menwise or unwiseand 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 yethe being about my own age -- that is to sayforty -- 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. WellI may as well confessthough I do feel ashamed when I think of it: I was beginning to have a base hankering to be its first president myself. Yesthere was more or less human nature in me; I found that out.

Clarence was with me as concerned the revolutionbut in a modified way. His idea was a republicwithout privileged ordersbut 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 saidthen have cats. He was sure that a royal family of cats would answer every purpose. They would be as useful as any other royal familythey would know as muchthey would have the same virtues and the same treacheriesthe same disposition to get up shindies with other royal catsthey would be laughably vain and absurd and never know itthey would be wholly inexpensive; finallythey would have as sound a divine right as any other royal houseand "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 kingand this would be an immense moral advantage to the nationfor the reason that a nation always models its morals after its monarch's. The worship of royalty being founded in unreasonthese graceful and harmless cats would easily become as sacred as any other royaltiesand indeed more sobecause it would presently be noticed that they hanged nobodybeheaded nobodyimprisoned nobodyinflicted no cruelties or injustices of any sortand so must be worthy of a deeper love and reverence than the customary human kingand would certainly get it. The eyes of the whole harried world would soon be fixed upon this humane and gentle systemand 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 catsand we should furnish the cats. The reign of universal peace would begin thento end no more forever...... Me-e-e-yow-ow-ow-ow -- fzt! -- wow!"

Hang himI supposed he was in earnestand was beginning to be persuaded by himuntil 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 monarchybut he was too feather-headed to know itor care anything about iteither. I was going to give him a scoldingbut Sandy came flying in at that momentwild with terrorand so choked with sobs that for a minute she could not get her voice. I ran and took her in my armsand lavished caresses upon her and saidbeseechingly:

"Speakdarlingspeak! What is it?"

Her head fell limp upon my bosomand she gaspedalmost inaudibly:

"HELLO-CENTRAL!"

"Quick!" I shouted to Clarence; "telephone the king's homeopath to come!"

In two minutes I was kneeling by the child's criband Sandy was dispatching servants herethereand everywhereall over the palace. I took in the situation almost at a glance -- membranous croup! I bent down and whispered:

"Wake upsweetheart! Hello-Central"

She opened her soft eyes languidlyand made out to say:

"Papa."

That was a comfort. She was far from dead yet. I sent for preparations of sulphurI 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 themand had had experience. This little chap had lived in my arms a good part of its small lifeand often I could soothe away its troubles and get it to laugh through the tear-dews on its eyelashes when even its mother couldn't.

Sir Launcelotin his richest armorcame striding along the great hall now on his way to the stockboard; he was president of the stock-boardand occupied the Siege Perilouswhich he had bought of Sir Galahad; for the stock-board consisted of the Knights of the Round Tableand they used the Round Table for business purposes now. Seats at it were worth -- wellyou would never believe the figureso it is no use to state it. Sir Launcelot was a bearand he had put up a corner in one of the new linesand was just getting ready to squeeze the shorts to-day; but what of that? He was the same old Launcelotand when he glanced in as he was passing the door and found out that his pet was sickthat was enough for him; bulls and bears might fight it out their own way for all himhe 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 cornerand 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 criband everything was ready.

Sir Launcelot got up steamhe and I loaded up the kettle with unslaked lime and carbolic acidwith a touch of lactic acid added theretothen filled the thing up with water and inserted the steam-spout under the canopy. Everything was ship-shape nowand 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 usand told us to smoke as much as we pleasedit couldn't get under the canopyand she was used to smokebeing the first lady in the land who had ever seen a cloud blown. Wellthere 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 mana lovely manand was just intended to make a wife and children happy. Butof course Guenever -- howeverit's no use to cry over what's done and can't be helped.

Wellhe stood watch-and-watch with meright straight throughfor three days and nightstill the child was out of danger; then he took her up in his great arms and kissed herwith his plumes falling about her golden headthen laid her softly in Sandy's lap again and took his stately way down the vast hallbetween the ranks of admiring men-at-arms and menialsand so disappeared. And no instinct warned me that I should never look upon him again in this world! Lordwhat a world of heart-break it is.

The doctors said we must take the child awayif we would coax her back to health and strength again. And she must have sea-air. So we took a man-of- warand a suite of two hundred and sixty personsand went cruising aboutand after a fortnight of this we stepped ashore on the French coastand 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 hospitalitiesand we were glad to accept. If he had had as many conveniences as he lackedwe should have been plenty comfortable enough; even as it waswe made out very wellin his queer old castleby the help of comforts and luxuries from the ship.

At the end of a month I sent the vessel home for fresh suppliesand for news. We expected her back in three or four days. She would bring mealong with other newsthe 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 chivalrykeep those bucks entertained and out of mischiefand at the same time preserve the best thing in themwhich was their hardy spirit of emulation. I had had a choice band of them in private training for some timeand the date was now arriving for their first public effort.

This experiment was baseball. In order to give the thing vogue from the startand place it out of the reach of criticismI chose my nines by ranknot capacity. There wasn't a knight in either team who wasn't a sceptered sovereign. As for material of this sortthere was a glut of it always around Arthur. You couldn't throw a brick in any direction and not cripple a king. Of courseI 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 otherbut that was the most they would do. Soone of the teams wore chain-mail ulstersand the other wore platearmor made of my new Bessemer steel. Their practice in the field was the most fantastic thing I ever saw. Being ball-proofthey never skipped out of the waybut stood still and took the result; when a Bessemer was at the bat and a ball hit himit would bound a hundred and fifty yards sometimes. And when a man was runningand threw himself on his stomach to slide to his baseit was like an iron-clad coming into port. At first I appointed men of no rank to act as umpiresbut 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 batand his friends toted him home on a shutter. When it was noticed that no umpire ever survived a gameumpiring got to be unpopular. So I was obliged to appoint somebody whose rank and lofty position under the government would protect him.

Here are the names of the nines:

BESSEMERS...................ULSTERS

KING ARTHUR.................EMPEROR LUCIUS.
KING LOT OF LOTHIAN.........KING LOGRIS.
KING OF NORTHGALIS..........KING MARHALT OF IRELAND.
KING MARSIL.................KING MORGANORE.
KING OF LITTLE BRITAIN......KING MARK OF CORNWALL.
KING LABOR..................KING NENTRES OF GARLOT.
KING PELLAM OF LISTENGESE...KING MELIODAS OF LIONES.
KING BAGDEMAGUS.............KING OF THE LAKE.
KING TOLLEME LA FEINTES.....THE SOWDAN OF SYRIA.

Umpire -- CLARENCE.

The first public game would certainly draw fifty thousand people; and for solid fun would be worth going around the world to see. Everything would be favorable; it was balmy and beautiful spring weather nowand Nature was all tailored out in her new clothes.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XLI - THE INTERDICT

 

HOWEVERmy attention was suddenly snatched from such matters; our child began to lose ground againand we had to go to sitting up with herher case became so serious. We couldn't bear to allow anybody to help in this serviceso we two stood watch-and-watchday in and day out. AhSandywhat a right heart she hadhow simpleand genuineand good she was! She was a flawless wife and mother; and yet I had married her for no other particular reasonsexcept 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 Londonand had straightway resumed her old place at my side in the placidest way and as of right. I was a New Englanderand in my opinion this sort of partnership would compromise hersooner or later. She couldn't see howbut I cut argument short and we had a wedding.

Now I didn't know I was drawing a prizeyet 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 sortas compared with the friendship of man and wifewhere the best impulses and highest ideals of both are the same? There is no place for comparison between the two friendships; the one is earthlythe other divine.

In my dreamsalong at firstI still wandered thirteen centuries awayand 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 childconceiving it to be the name of some lost darling of mine. It touched me to tearsand it also nearly knocked me off my feettoowhen she smiled up in my face for an earned rewardand played her quaint and pretty surprise upon me:

"The name of one who was dear to thee is here preservedhere made holyand the music of it will abide alway in our ears. Now thou'lt kiss meas knowing the name I have given the child."

But I didn't know itall 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 onbut said:

"YesI knowsweetheart -- how dear and good it is of youtoo! But I want to hear these lips of yourswhich are also mineutter it first -- then its music will be perfect."

Pleased to the marrowshe murmured:

"HELLO-CENTRAL!"

I didn't laugh -- I am always thankful for that -- but the strain ruptured every cartilage in meand 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 surprisedand 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 formalityin perpetual honor and remembrance of my lost friend and her small namesake. This was not true. But it answered.

Wellduring two weeks and a half we watched by the criband 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 yourselfif 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.

Whywe 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 goneand 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? Vanishedevery one! Not a sailfrom verge to vergenot a smoke-bank -- just a dead and empty solitudein place of all that brisk and breezy life.

I went swiftly backsaying 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 -- ahyesthat was hard. As I was devouring the child with last kissesit brisked up and jabbered out its vocabulary! -- the first time in more than two weeksand it made fools of us for joy. The darling mispronunciations of childhood! -- dear methere's no music that can touch it; and how one grieves when it wastes away and dissolves into correctnessknowing it will never visit his bereaved ear again. Wellhow good it was to be able to carry that gracious memory away with me!

I approached England the next morningwith the wide highway of salt water all to myself. There were ships in the harborat Doverbut they were naked as to sailsand there was no sign of life about them. It was Sunday; yet at Canterbury the streets were empty; strangest of allthere was not even a priest in sightand no stroke of a bell fell upon my ear. The mournfulness of death was everywhere. I couldn't understand it. At lastin 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 bellbookor candle; there was a church there close at handbut they passed it by weepingand did not enter it; I glanced up at the belfryand there hung the bellshrouded in blackand 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 disguiseand go warily. One of my servants gave me a suit of clothesand when we were safe beyond the town I put them onand 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 laughor go in groupsor even in couples; they moved aimlessly abouteach man by himselfwith his head downand woe and terror at his heart. The Tower showed recent war-scars. Verilymuch had been happening.

Of courseI meant to take the train for Camelot. Train! Whythe 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 electriclighted town in the kingdom and the most like a recumbent sun of anything you ever sawit was become simply a blot -- a blot upon darkness -- that is to sayit was darker and solider than the rest of the darknessand 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 nowand 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 hilltopnot a spark visible about it. The drawbridge was downthe great gate stood wideI entered without challengemy own heels making the only sound I heard -- and it was sepulchral enoughin those huge vacant courts.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XLII - WAR!

 

I FOUND Clarence alone in his quartersdrowned in melancholy; and in place of the electric lighthe had reinstituted the ancient rag-lampand sat there in a grisly twilight with all curtains drawn tight. He sprang up and rushed for me eagerlysaying:

"Ohit'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.

"Quicknowtell me the meaning of this fearful disaster I said. How did it come about?"

"Wellif there hadn't been any Queen Gueneverit wouldn't have come so early; but it would have comeanyway. It would have come on your own account by and by; by luckit happened to come on the queen's."

"AND Sir Launcelot's?"

"Just so."

"Give me the details."

"I reckon you will grant that during some years there has been only one pair of eyes in these kingdoms that has not been looking steadily askance at the queen and Sir Launcelot --"

"YesKing 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."

"Wellthe king might have gone onstill happy and unsuspectingto the end of his daysbut for one of your modern improvements -- the stock-board. When you leftthree miles of the LondonCanterbury and Dover were ready for the railsand also ready and ripe for manipulation in the stock-market. It was wildcatand everybody knew it. The stock was for sale at a give-away. What does Sir Launcelot dobut --"

"YesI know; he quietly picked up nearly all of it for a song; then he bought about twice as much moredeliverable upon call; and he was about to call when I left."

"Very wellhe did call. The boys couldn't deliver. Ohhe 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. Wellwhen they had laughed long enough on that side of their mouthsthey rested-up that side by shifting the laugh to the other side. That was when they compromised with the Invincible at 283!"

"Good land!"

"He skinned them aliveand they deserved it -- anywaythe whole kingdom rejoiced. Wellamong the flayed were Sir Agravaine and Sir Mordrednephews to the king. End of the first act. Act secondscene firstan apartment in Carlisle castlewhere the court had gone for a few days' hunting. Persons presentthe whole tribe of the king's nephews. Mordred and Agravaine propose to call the guileless Arthur's attention to Guenever and Sir Launcelot. Sir GawaineSir Garethand Sir Gaheris will have nothing to do with it. A dispute ensueswith 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 Launcelotby the king's commandand Sir Launcelot walks into it. He made it sufficiently uncomfortable for the ambushed witnesses -- to witMordredAgravaineand twelve knights of lesser rankfor he killed every one of them but Mordred; but of course that couldn't straighten matters between Launcelot and the kingand didn't."

"Ohdearonly one thing could result -- I see that. Warand 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 stakeproposing to purify her with fire. Launcelot and his knights rescued herand in doing it slew certain good old friends of yours and mine -- in factsome of the best we ever had; to witSir Belias le OrgulousSir SegwaridesSir Griflet le Fils de DieuSir BrandilesSir Aglovale --"

"Ohyou tear out my heartstrings."

"-- waitI'm not done yet -- Sir TorSir GauterSir Gillimer --"

"The very best man in my subordinate nine. What a handy right-fielder he was!"

"-- Sir Reynold's three brothersSir DamusSir PriamusSir Kay the Stranger --"

"My peerless short-stop! I've seen him catch a daisy-cutter in his teeth. ComeI can't stand this!"

"-- Sir DriantSir LambegusSir HermindeSir PertilopeSir Perimonesand -- whom do you think?"

"Rush! Go on."

"Sir Gaherisand Sir Gareth -- both!"

"Ohincredible! Their love for Launcelot was indestructible."

"Wellit was an accident. They were simply on- lookers; they were unarmedand were merely there to witness the queen's punishment. Sir Launcelot smote down whoever came in the way of his blind furyand 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 upand 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."

"Indeedit is. We must take good care of it; its historical value is incalculable. Go on."

"Wellthe rest of the tale is just warpure and simple. Launcelot retreated to his town and castle of Joyous Gardand gathered there a great following of knights. The kingwith a great hostwent thereand there was desperate fighting during several daysandas a resultall 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 brothersGareth and Gaherisand would not be appeased. He notified Launcelot to get him thenceand make swift preparationand look to be soon attacked. So Launcelot sailed to his Duchy of Guienne with his followingand Gawaine soon followed with an armyand 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 Gueneveras 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 Doverat Canterburyand again at Barham Down. Then there was talk of peace and a composition. TermsMordred to have Cornwall and Kent during Arthur's lifeand the whole kingdom afterward."

"Wellupon my word! My dream of a republic to BE a dreamand so remain."

"Yes. The two armies lay near Salisbury. Gawaine -- Gawaine's head is at Dover Castlehe fell in the fight there -- Gawaine appeared to Arthur in a dreamat least his ghost didand warned him to refrain from conflict for a monthlet 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 Mordredsound the trumpet and fall on! for he had no confidence in Mordred. Mordred had given a similar order to HIS people. Wellby and by an adder bit a knight's heel; the knight forgot all about the orderand 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 -- howeverwe have started something fresh since you left -- our paper has."

"No? What is that?"

"War correspondence!"

"Whythat's good."

"Yesthe paper was booming right alongfor the Interdict made no impressiongot no gripwhile 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 himand then was he ware of all his host and of all his good knights were left no more on live but two knightsthat was Sir Lucan de Butlereand his brother Sir Bedivere: and they were full sore wounded. Jesu mercysaid the kingwhere are all my noble knights becomen? Alas that ever I should see this doleful day. For nowsaid ArthurI am come to mine end. But would to God that I wist where were that traitor Sir Mordredthat 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 spearsaid Arthur unto Sir Lucanfor yonder I have espied the traitor that all this woe hath wrought. Sirlet him besaid Sir Lucanfor he is unhappy; and if ye pass this unhappy dayye shall be right well revenged upon him. Good lordremember ye of your night's dreamand what the spirit of Sir Gawaine told you this nightyet God of his great goodness hath preserved you hitherto. Thereforefor God's sakemy lordleave off by this. For blessed be God ye have won the field: for here we be three on liveand with Sir Mordred is none on live. And if ye leave off nowthis wicked day of destiny is past. Tide me deathbetide me lifesaith the kingnow I see him yonder alonehe shall never escape mine handsfor at a better avail shall I never have him. God speed you wellsaid Sir Bedivere. Then the king gat his spear in both his handsand ran toward Sir Mordred cryingTraitornow is thy death day come. And when Sir Mordred heard Sir Arthurhe ran until him with his sword drawn in his hand. And then King Arthur smote Sir Mordred under the shieldwith a foin of his spear throughout the body more than a fathom. And when Sir Mordred felt that he had his death's woundhe thrust himselfwith the might that he hadup to the butt of King Arthur's spear. And right so he smote his father Arthur with his sword holden in both his handson the side of the headthat the sword pierced the helmet and the brain-panand therewithal Sir Mordred fell stark dead to the earth. And the noble Arthur fell in a swoon to the earthand there he swooned oft-times

"That is a good piece of war correspondenceClarence; you are a first-rate newspaper man. Well -- is the king all right?" Did he get well?"

"Poor soulno. He is dead."

I was utterly stunned; it had not seemed to me that any wound could be mortal to him.

"And the queenClarence?"

"She is a nunin Almesbury."

"What changes! and in such a short while. It is inconceivable. What nextI wonder?"

"I can tell you what next."

"Well?"

"Stake our lives and stand by them!"

"What do you mean by that?"

"The Church is master now. The Interdict included you with Mordred; it is not to be removed while you remain alive. The clans are gathering. The Church has gathered all the knights that are left aliveand as soon as you are discovered we shall have business on our hands."

"Stuff! With our deadly scientific war-material; with our hosts of trained --"

"Save your breath -- we haven't sixty faithful left!"

"What are you saying? Our schoolsour collegesour vast workshopsour --"

"When those knights comethose 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."

"Wellthenyou may unthink it. They stood every strain easily -- until the Interdict. Since thenthey merely put on a bold outside -- at heart they are quaking. Make up your mind to it -- when the armies comethe mask will fall."

"It's hard news. We are lost. They will turn our own science against us."

"No they won't."

"Why?"

"Because I and a handful of the faithful have blocked that game. I'll tell you what I've doneand what moved me to it. Smart as you arethe Church was smarter. It was the Church that sent you cruising -- through her servantsthe doctors."

"Clarence!"

"It is the truth. I know it. Every officer of your ship was the Church's picked servantand so was every man of the crew."

"Ohcome!"

"It is just as I tell you. I did not find out these things at oncebut I found them out finally. Did you send me verbal informationby the commander of the shipto the effect that upon his return to youwith suppliesyou were going to leave Cadiz --"

"Cadiz! I haven't been at Cadiz at all!"

"-- going to leave Cadiz and cruise in distant seas indefinitelyfor the health of your family? Did you send me that word?"

"Of course not. I would have writtenwouldn't I?"

"Naturally. I was troubled and suspicious. When the commander sailed again I managed to ship a spy with him. I have never heard of vessel or spy since. I gave myself two weeks to hear from you in. Then I resolved to send a ship to Cadiz. There was a reason why I didn't."

"What was that?"

"Our navy had suddenly and mysteriously disappeared! Alsoas suddenly and as mysteriouslythe railway and telegraph and telephone service ceasedthe men all desertedpoles were cut downthe Church laid a ban upon the electric light! I had to be up and doing -- and straight off. Your life was safe -- nobody in these kingdoms but Merlin would venture to touch such a magician as you without ten thousand men at his back -- I had nothing to think of but how to put preparations in the best trim against your coming. I felt safe myself -- nobody would be anxious to touch a pet of yours. So this is what I did. From our various works I selected all the men -- boys I mean -- whose faithfulness under whatsoever pressure I could swear toand I called them together secretly and gave them their instructions. There are fifty-two of them; none younger than fourteenand none above seventeen years old."

"Why did you select boys?"

"Because all the others were born in an atmosphere of superstition and reared in it. It is in their blood and bones. We imagined we had educated it out of them; they thought sotoo; the Interdict woke them up like a thunderclap! It revealed them to themselvesand it revealed them to metoo. With boys it was different. Such as have been under our training from seven to ten years have had no acquaintance with the Church's terrorsand it was among these that I found my fifty-two. As a next moveI paid a private visit to that old cave of Merlin's -- not the small one -- the big one --"

"Yesthe one where we secretly established our first great electric plant when I was projecting a miracle."

"Just so. And as that miracle hadn't become necessary thenI thought it might be a good idea to utilize the plant now. I've provisioned the cave for a siege --"

"A good ideaa first-rate idea."

"I think so. I placed four of my boys there as a guard -- insideand out of sight. Nobody was to be hurt -- while outside; but any attempt to enter -- wellwe said just let anybody try it! Then I went out into the hills and uncovered and cut the secret wires which connected your bedroom with the wires that go to the dynamite deposits under all our vast factoriesmillsworkshopsmagazinesetc.and about midnight I and my boys turned out and connected that wire with the caveand nobody but you and I suspects where the other end of it goes to. We laid it under groundof courseand it was all finished in a couple of hours or so. We sha'n't have to leave our fortress now when we want to blow up our civilization."

"It was the right move -- and the natural one; military necessityin the changed condition of things. Wellwhat changes HAVE come! We expected to be besieged in the palace some time or otherbut -- howevergo on."

"Nextwe built a wire fence."

"Wire fence?"

"Yes. You dropped the hint of it yourselftwo or three years ago."

"OhI remember -- the time the Church tried her strength against us the first timeand presently thought it wise to wait for a hopefuler season. Wellhow have you arranged the fence?"

"I start twelve immensely strong wires -- nakednot insulated -- from a big dynamo in the cave -- dynamo with no brushes except a positive and a negative one --"

"Yesthat's right."

"The wires go out from the cave and fence in a circle of level ground a hundred yards in diameter; they make twelve independent fencesten feet apart -- that is to saytwelve circles within circles -- and their ends come into the cave again."

"Right; go on."

"The fences are fastened to heavy oaken posts only three feet apartand these posts are sunk five feet in the ground."

"That is good and strong."

"Yes. The wires have no ground-connection outside of the cave. They go out from the positive brush of the dynamo; there is a ground-connection through the negative brush; the other ends of the wire return to the caveand each is grounded independently."

"Nonothat won't do!"

"Why?"

"It's too expensive -- uses up force for nothing. You don't want any ground-connection except the one through the negative brush. The other end of every wire must be brought back into the cave and fastened independentlyand WITHOUT any ground-connection. Nowthenobserve the economy of it. A cavalry charge hurls itself against the fence; you are using no poweryou are spending no moneyfor there is only one ground-connection till those horses come against the wire; the moment they touch it they form a connection with the negative brush THROUGH THE GROUNDand drop dead. Don't you see? -- you are using no energy until it is needed; your lightning is thereand readylike the load in a gun; but it isn't costing you a cent till you touch it off. Ohyesthe single ground-connection --"

"Of course! I don't know how I overlooked that. It's not only cheaperbut it's more effectual than the other wayfor if wires break or get tangledno harm is done.

"Noespecially if we have a tell-tale in the cave and disconnect the broken wire. Wellgo on. The gatlings?"

"Yes -- that's arranged. In the center of the inner circleon a spacious platform six feet highI've grouped a battery of thirteen gatling gunsand provided plenty of ammunition."

"That's it. They command every approachand when the Church's knights arrivethere's going to be music. The brow of the precipice over the cave --"

"I've got a wire fence thereand a gatling. They won't drop any rocks down on us."

"Welland the glass-cylinder dynamite torpedoes?"

"That's attended to. It's the prettiest garden that was ever planted. It's a belt forty feet wideand goes around the outer fence -- distance between it and the fence one hundred yards -- kind of neutral ground that space is. There isn't a single square yard of that whole belt but is equipped with a torpedo. We laid them on the surface of the groundand sprinkled a layer of sand over them. It's an innocent looking gardenbut you let a man start in to hoe it onceand you'll see."

"You tested the torpedoes?"

"WellI was going tobut --"

"But what? Whyit's an immense oversight not to apply a --"

"Test? YesI know; but they're all right; I laid a few in the public road beyond our lines and they've been tested."

"Ohthat alters the case. Who did it?"

"A Church committee."

"How kind!"

"Yes. They came to command us to make submission . You see they didn't really come to test the torpedoes; that was merely an incident."

"Did the committee make a report?"

"Yesthey made one. You could have heard it a mile."

"Unanimous?"

"That was the nature of it. After that I put up some signsfor the protection of future committeesand we have had no intruders since."

"Clarenceyou've done a world of workand done it perfectly."

"We had plenty of time for it; there wasn't any occasion for hurry."

We sat silent awhilethinking. Then my mind was made upand I said:

"Yeseverything is ready; everything is shipshapeno detail is wanting. I know what to do now."

"So do I; sit down and wait."

"NoSIR! rise up and STRIKE!"

"Do you mean it?"

"Yesindeed! The DEfensive isn't in my lineand the OFfensive is. That iswhen I hold a fair hand -- two-thirds as good a hand as the enemy. Ohyeswe'll rise up and strike; that's our game."

" A hundred to one you are right. When does the performance begin?"

"NOW! We'll proclaim the Republic."

"Wellthat WILL precipitate thingssure enough!"

"It will make them buzzI tell you! England will be a hornets' nest before noon to-morrowif the Church's hand hasn't lost its cunning -- and we know it hasn't. Now you write and I'll dictate thus:

"PROCLAMATION

---

"BE IT KNOWN UNTO ALL. Whereas the king having died and left no heirit becomes my duty to continue the executive authority vested in meuntil a government shall have been created and set in motion. The monarchy has lapsedit no longer exists. By consequenceall political power has reverted to its original sourcethe people of the nation. With the monarchyits several adjuncts died also; wherefore there is no longer a nobilityno longer a privileged classno longer an Established Church; all men are become exactly equal; they are upon one common leveland religion is free. A REPUBLIC IS HEREBY PROCLAIMEDas being the natural estate of a nation when other authority has ceased. It is the duty of the British people to meet together immediatelyand by their votes elect representatives and deliver into their hands the government."

I signed it "The Boss and dated it from Merlin's Cave. Clarence said --

Whythat tells where we areand invites them to call right away."

"That is the idea. We STRIKE -- by the Proclamation -- then it's their innings. Now have the thing set up and printed and postedright off; that isgive the order; thenif you've got a couple of bicycles handy at the foot of the hillho for Merlin's Cave!"

"I shall be ready in ten minutes. What a cyclone there is going to be to-morrow when this piece of paper gets to work!...... It's a pleasant old palacethis is; I wonder if we shall ever again -- but never mind about that."

 

 

 

CHAPTER XLIII - THE BATTLE OF THE SAND BELT

 

IN Merlin's Cave -- Clarence and I and fifty-two freshbrightwell-educatedclean-minded young British boys. At dawn I sent an order to the factories and to all our great works to stop operations and remove all life to a safe distanceas everything was going to be blown up by secret minesAND NO TELLING AT WHAT MOMENT -- THEREFORE, VACATE AT ONCE.These people knew meand had confidence in my word. They would clear out without waiting to part their hairand I could take my own time about dating the explosion. You couldn't hire one of them to go back during the centuryif the explosion was still impending.

We had a week of waiting. It was not dull for mebecause I was writing all the time. During the first three daysI finished turning my old diary into this narrative form; it only required a chapter or so to bring it down to date. The rest of the week I took up in writing letters to my wife. It was always my habit to write to Sandy every daywhenever we were separateand now I kept up the habit for love of itand of herthough I couldn't do anything with the lettersof courseafter I had written them. But it put in the timeyou seeand was almost like talking; it was almost as if I was sayingSandy, if you and Hello-Central were here in the cave, instead of only your photographs, what good times we could have!And thenyou knowI could imagine the baby goo- gooing something out in replywith its fists in its mouth and itself stretched across its mother's lap on its backand she a-laughing and admiring and worshipingand now and then tickling under the baby's chin to set it cacklingand then maybe throwing in a word of answer to me herself -- and so on and so on -- welldon't you knowI could sit there in the cave with my penand keep it upthat wayby the hour with them. Whyit was almost like having us all together again.

I had spies out every nightof courseto get news. Every report made things look more and more impressive. The hosts were gatheringgathering; down all the roads and paths of England the knights were ridingand priests rode with themto hearten these original Crusadersthis being the Church's war. All the nobilitiesbig and littlewere on their wayand all the gentry. This was all as was expected. We should thin out this sort of folk to such a degree that the people would have nothing to do but just step to the front with their republic and --

Ahwhat a donkey I was! Toward the end of the week I began to get this large and disenchanting fact through my head: that the mass of the nation had swung their caps and shouted for the republic for about one dayand there an end! The Churchthe noblesand the gentry then turned one grandalldisapproving frown upon them and shriveled them into sheep! From that moment the sheep had begun to gather to the fold -- that is to saythe camps -- and offer their valueless lives and their valuable wool to the "righteous cause." Whyeven the very men who had lately been slaves were in the "righteous cause and glorifying it, praying for it, sentimentally slabbering over it, just like all the other commoners. Imagine such human muck as this; conceive of this folly!

Yes, it was now Death to the Republic!" everywhere -- not a dissenting voice. All England was marching against us! Trulythis was more than I had bargained for.

I watched my fifty-two boys narrowly; watched their facestheir walktheir unconscious attitudes: for all these are a language -- a language given us purposely that it may betray us in times of emergencywhen we have secrets which we want to keep. I knew that that thought would keep saying itself over and over again in their minds and heartsALL ENGLAND IS MARCHING AGAINST US! and ever more strenuously imploring attention with each repetitionever more sharply realizing itself to their imaginationsuntil even in their sleep they would find no rest from itbut hear the vague and flitting creatures of the dreams sayALL ENGLAND -- ALL ENGLAND! -- IS MARCHING AGAINST YOU! I knew all this would happen; I knew that ultimately the pressure would become so great that it would compel utterance; thereforeI must be ready with an answer at that time -- an answer well chosen and tranquilizing.

I was right. The time came. They HAD to speak. Poor ladsit was pitiful to seethey were so paleso wornso troubled. At first their spokesman could hardly find voice or words; but he presently got both. This is what he said -- and he put it in the neat modern English taught him in my schools:

"We have tried to forget what we are -- English boys! We have tried to put reason before sentimentduty before love; our minds approvebut our hearts reproach us. While apparently it was only the nobilityonly the gentryonly the twenty-five or thirty thousand knights left alive out of the late warswe were of one mindand undisturbed by any troubling doubt; each and every one of these fifty-two lads who stand here before yousaid'They have chosen -- it is their affair.' But think! -- the matter is altered -- ALL ENGLAND IS MARCHING AGAINST US! Ohsirconsider! -- reflect! -- these people are our peoplethey are bone of our boneflesh of our fleshwe love them -- do not ask us to destroy our nation!"

Wellit shows the value of looking aheadand being ready for a thing when it happens. If I hadn't foreseen this thing and been fixedthat boy would have had me! -- I couldn't have said a word. But I was fixed. I said:

"My boysyour hearts are in the right placeyou have thought the worthy thoughtyou have done the worthy thing. You are English boysyou will remain English boysand you will keep that name unsmirched. Give yourselves no further concernlet your minds be at peace. Consider this: while all England is marching against uswho is in the van? Whoby the commonest rules of warwill march in the front? Answer me."

"The mounted host of mailed knights."

"True. They are 30000 strong. Acres deep they will march. Nowobserve: none but THEY will ever strike the sand-belt! Then there will be an episode! Immediately afterthe civilian multitude in the rear will retireto meet business engagements elsewhere. None but nobles and gentry are knightsand NONE BUT THESE will remain to dance to our music after that episode. It is absolutely true that we shall have to fight nobody but these thirty thousand knights. Now speakand it shall be as you decide. Shall we avoid the battleretire from the field?"

"NO!!!"

The shout was unanimous and hearty.

"Are you -- are you -- wellafraid of these thirty thousand knights?"

That joke brought out a good laughthe boys' troubles vanished awayand they went gaily to their posts. Ahthey were a darling fifty-two! As pretty as girlstoo.

I was ready for the enemy now. Let the approaching big day come along -- it would find us on deck.

The big day arrived on time. At dawn the sentry on watch in the corral came into the cave and reported a moving black mass under the horizonand a faint sound which he thought to be military music. Breakfast was just ready; we sat down and ate it.

This overI made the boys a little speechand then sent out a detail to man the batterywith Clarence in command of it.

The sun rose presently and sent its unobstructed splendors over the landand we saw a prodigious host moving slowly toward uswith the steady drift and aligned front of a wave of the sea. Nearer and nearer it cameand more and more sublimely imposing became its aspect; yesall England was thereapparently. Soon we could see the innumerable banners flutteringand then the sun struck the sea of armor and set it all aflash. Yesit was a fine sight; I hadn't ever seen anything to beat it.

At last we could make out details. All the front ranksno telling how many acres deepwere horsemen -- plumed knights in armor. Suddenly we heard the blare of trumpets; the slow walk burst into a gallopand then -- wellit was wonderful to see! Down swept that vast horse-shoe wave -- it approached the sand-belt -- my breath stood still; nearernearer -- the strip of green turf beyond the yellow belt grew narrow -- narrower still -- became a mere ribbon in front of the horses -- then disappeared under their hoofs. Great Scott! Whythe whole front of that host shot into the sky with a thunder-crashand became a whirling tempest of rags and fragments; and along the ground lay a thick wall of smoke that hid what was left of the multitude from our sight.

Time for the second step in the plan of campaign! I touched a buttonand shook the bones of England loose from her spine!

In that explosion all our noble civilization-factories went up in the air and disappeared from the earth. It was a pitybut it was necessary. We could not afford to let the enemy turn our own weapons against us.

Now ensued one of the dullest quarter-hours I had ever endured. We waited in a silent solitude enclosed by our circles of wireand by a circle of heavy smoke outside of these. We couldn't see over the wall of smokeand we couldn't see through it. But at last it began to shred away lazilyand by the end of another quarter-hour the land was clear and our curiosity was enabled to satisfy itself. No living creature was in sight! We now perceived that additions had been made to our defenses. The dynamite had dug a ditch more than a hundred feet wideall around usand cast up an embankment some twenty-five feet high on both borders of it. As to destruction of lifeit was amazing. Moreoverit was beyond estimate. Of coursewe could not COUNT the deadbecause they did not exist as individualsbut merely as homogeneous protoplasmwith alloys of iron and buttons.

No life was in sightbut necessarily there must have been some wounded in the rear rankswho were carried off the field under cover of the wall of smoke; there would be sickness among the others -- there always isafter an episode like that. But there would be no reinforcements; this was the last stand of the chivalry of England; it was all that was left of the orderafter the recent annihilating wars. So I felt quite safe in believing that the utmost force that could for the future be brought against us would be but small; that isof knights. I therefore issued a congratulatory proclamation to my army in these words:

SOLDIERSCHAMPIONS OF HUMAN LIBERTY AND EQUALITY: Your General congratulates you! In the pride of his strength and the vanity of his renownan arrogant enemy came against you. You were ready. The conflict was brief; on your sideglorious. This mighty victoryhaving been achieved utterly without lossstands without example in history. So long as the planets shall continue to move in their orbitsthe BATTLE OF THE SAND-BELT will not perish out of the memories of men.

THE BOSS.

I read it welland the applause I got was very gratifying to me. I then wound up with these remarks:

"The war with the English nationas a nationis at an end. The nation has retired from the field and the war. Before it can be persuaded to returnwar will have ceased. This campaign is the only one that is going to be fought. It will be brief -- the briefest in history. Also the most destructive to lifeconsidered from the standpoint of proportion of casualties to numbers engaged. We are done with the nation; henceforth we deal only with the knights. English knights can be killedbut they cannot be conquered. We know what is before us. While one of these men remains aliveour task is not finishedthe war is not ended. We will kill them all." [Loud and long continued applause.]

I picketed the great embankments thrown up around our lines by the dynamite explosion -- merely a lookout of a couple of boys to announce the enemy when he should appear again.

NextI sent an engineer and forty men to a point just beyond our lines on the southto turn a mountain brook that was thereand bring it within our lines and under our commandarranging it in such a way that I could make instant use of it in an emergency. The forty men were divided into two shifts of twenty eachand were to relieve each other every two hours. In ten hours the work was accomplished.

It was nightfall nowand I withdrew my pickets. The one who had had the northern outlook reported a camp in sightbut visible with the glass only. He also reported that a few knights had been feeling their way toward usand had driven some cattle across our linesbut that the knights themselves had not come very near. That was what I had been expecting. They were feeling usyou see; they wanted to know if we were going to play that red terror on them again. They would grow bolder in the nightperhaps. I believed I knew what project they would attemptbecause it was plainly the thing I would attempt myself if I were in their places and as ignorant as they were. I mentioned it to Clarence.

"I think you are right said he; it is the obvious thing for them to try."

"Wellthen I said, if they do it they are doomed.

"Certainly."

They won't have the slightest show in the world."

"Of course they won't."

"It's dreadfulClarence. It seems an awful pity."

The thing disturbed me so that I couldn't get any peace of mind.for thinking of it and worrying over it. Soat lastto quiet my conscienceI framed this message to the knights:

TO THE HONORABLE THE COMMANDER OF THE INSURGENT CHIVALRY OF ENGLAND: YOU fight in vain. We know your strength -- if one may call it by that name. We know that at the utmost you cannot bring against us above five and twenty thousand knights. Thereforeyou have no chance -- none whatever. Reflect: we are well equippedwell fortifiedwe number 54. Fifty-four what? Men? NoMINDS -- the capablest in the world; a force against which mere animal might may no more hope to prevail than may the idle waves of the sea hope to prevail against the granite barriers of England. Be advised. We offer you your lives; for the sake of your familiesdo not reject the gift. We offer you this chanceand it is the last: throw down your arms; surrender unconditionally to the Republicand all will be forgiven.

(Signed) THE BOSS.

I read it to Clarenceand said I proposed to send it by a flag of truce. He laughed the sarcastic laugh he was born withand said:

"Somehow it seems impossible for you to ever fully realize what these nobilities are. Now let us save a little time and trouble. Consider me the commander of the knights yonder. Nowthenyou are the flag of truce; approach and deliver me your messageand I will give you your answer."

I humored the idea. I came forward under an imaginary guard of the enemy's soldiersproduced my paperand read it through. For answerClarence struck the paper out of my handpursed up a scornful lip and said with lofty disdain:

"Dismember me this animaland return him in a basket to the base-born knave who sent him; other answer have I none!"

How empty is theory in presence of fact! And this was just factand nothing else. It was the thing that would have happenedthere was no getting around that. I tore up the paper and granted my mistimed sentimentalities a permanent rest.

Thento business. I tested the electric signals from the gatling platform to the caveand made sure that they were all right; I tested and retested those which commanded the fences -- these were signals whereby I could break and renew the electric current in each fence independently of the others at will. I placed the brook-connection under the guard and authority of three of my best boyswho would alternate in two- hour watches all night and promptly obey my signalif I should have occasion to give it -- three revolver- shots in quick succession. Sentry-duty was discarded for the nightand the corral left empty of life; I ordered that quiet be maintained in the caveand the electric lights turned down to a glimmer.

As soon as it was good and darkI shut off the current from all the fencesand then groped my way out to the embankment bordering our side of the great dynamite ditch. I crept to the top of it and lay there on the slant of the muck to watch. But it was too dark to see anything. As for soundsthere were none. The stillness was deathlike. Truethere were the usual night-sounds of the country -- the whir of nightbirdsthe buzzing of insectsthe barking of distant dogsthe mellow lowing of far-off kine -- but these didn't seem to break the stillnessthey only intensified itand added a grewsome melancholy to it into the bargain.

I presently gave up lookingthe night shut down so blackbut I kept my ears strained to catch the least suspicious soundfor I judged I had only to waitand I shouldn't be disappointed. HoweverI had to wait a long time. At last I caught what you may call in distinct glimpses of sound dulled metallic sound. I pricked up my earsthenand held my breathfor this was the sort of thing I had been waiting for. This sound thickenedand approached -- from toward the north. PresentlyI heard it at my own level -- the ridge-top of the opposite embankmenta hundred feet or more away. Then I seemed to see a row of black dots appear along that ridge -- human heads? I couldn't tell; it mightn't be anything at all; you can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus. Howeverthe question was soon settled. I heard that metallic noise descending into the great ditch. It augmented fastit spread all alongand it unmistakably furnished me this fact: an armed host was taking up its quarters in the ditch. Yesthese people were arranging a little surprise party for us. We could expect entertainment about dawnpossibly earlier.

I groped my way back to the corral now; I had seen enough. I went to the platform and signaled to turn the current on to the two inner fences. Then I went into the caveand found everything satisfactory there -- nobody awake but the working-watch. I woke Clarence and told him the great ditch was filling up with menand that I believed all the knights were coming for us in a body. It was my notion that as soon as dawn approached we could expect the ditch's ambuscaded thousands to swarm up over the embankment and make an assaultand be followed immediately by the rest of their army.

Clarence said:

"They will be wanting to send a scout or two in the dark to make preliminary observations. Why not take the lightning off the outer fencesand give them a chance?"

"I've already done itClarence. Did you ever know me to be inhospitable?"

"Noyou are a good heart. I want to go and --"

"Be a reception committee? I will gotoo."

We crossed the corral and lay down together between the two inside fences. Even the dim light of the cave had disordered our eyesight somewhatbut the focus straightway began to regulate itself and soon it was adjusted for present circumstances. We had had to feel our way beforebut we could make out to see the fence posts now. We started a whispered conversationbut suddenly Clarence broke off and said:

"What is that?"

"What is what?"

"That thing yonder."

"What thing -- where?"

"There beyond you a little piece -- dark something -- a dull shape of some kind -- against the second fence."

I gazed and he gazed. I said:

"Could it be a manClarence?"

"NoI think not. If you noticeit looks a lit -- whyit IS a man! -- leaning on the fence."

"I certainly believe it is; let us go and see."

We crept along on our hands and knees until we were pretty closeand then looked up. Yesit was a man -- a dim great figure in armorstanding erectwith both hands on the upper wire -- andof coursethere was a smell of burning flesh. Poor fellowdead as a door-nailand never knew what hurt him. He stood there like a statue -- no motion about himexcept that his plumes swished about a little in the night wind. We rose up and looked in through the bars of his visorbut couldn't make out whether we knew him or not -- features too dim and shadowed.

We heard muffled sounds approachingand we sank down to the ground where we were. We made out another knight vaguely; he was coming very stealthilyand feeling his way. He was near enough now for us to see him put out a handfind an upper wirethen bend and step under it and over the lower one. Now he arrived at the first knight -- and started slightly when he discovered him. He stood a moment -- no doubt wondering why the other one didn't move on; then he saidin a low voiceWhy dreamest thou here, good Sir Mar --then he laid his hand on the corpse's shoulder -- and just uttered a little soft moan and sunk down dead. Killed by a dead manyou see -- killed by a dead friendin fact. There was something awful about it.

These early birds came scattering along after each otherabout one every five minutes in our vicinityduring half an hour. They brought no armor of offense but their swords; as a rulethey carried the sword ready in the handand put it forward and found the wires with it. We would now and then see a blue spark when the knight that caused it was so far away as to be invisible to us; but we knew what had happenedall the same; poor fellowhe had touched a charged wire with his sword and been elected. We had brief intervals of grim stillnessinterrupted with piteous regularity by the clash made by the falling of an iron-clad; and this sort of thing was going onright alongand was very creepy there in the dark and lonesomeness.

We concluded to make a tour between the inner fences. We elected to walk uprightfor convenience's sake; we argued that if discernedwe should be taken for friends rather than enemiesand in any case we should be out of reach of swordsand these gentry did not seem to have any spears along. Wellit was a curious trip. Everywhere dead men were lying outside the second fence -- not plainly visiblebut still visible; and we counted fifteen of those pathetic statues -- dead knights standing with their hands on the upper wire.

One thing seemed to be sufficiently demonstrated: our current was so tremendous that it killed before the victim could cry out. Pretty soon we detected a muffled and heavy soundand next moment we guessed what it was. It was a surprise in force coming! whispered Clarence to go and wake the armyand notify it to wait in silence in the cave for further orders. He was soon backand we stood by the inner fence and watched the silent lightning do its awful work upon that swarming host. One could make out but little of detail; but he could note that a black mass was piling itself up beyond the second fence. That swelling bulk was dead men! Our camp was enclosed with a solid wall of the dead -- a bulwarka breastworkof corpsesyou may say. One terrible thing about this thing was the absence of human voices; there were no cheersno war cries; being intent upon a surprisethese men moved as noiselessly as they could; and always when the front rank was near enough to their goal to make it proper for them to begin to get a shout readyof course they struck the fatal line and went down without testifying.

I sent a current through the third fence now; and almost immediately through the fourth and fifthso quickly were the gaps filled up. I believed the time was come now for my climax; I believed that that whole army was in our trap. Anywayit was high time to find out. So I touched a button and set fifty electric suns aflame on the top of our precipice.

Landwhat a sight! We were enclosed in three walls of dead men! All the other fences were pretty nearly filled with the livingwho were stealthily working their way forward through the wires. The sudden glare paralyzed this hostpetrified themyou may saywith astonishment; there was just one instant for me to utilize their immobility inand I didn't lose the chance. You seein another instant they would have recovered their facultiesthen they'd have burst into a cheer and made a rushand my wires would have gone down before it; but that lost instant lost them their opportunity forever; while even that slight fragment of time was still unspentI shot the current through all the fences and struck the whole host dead in their tracks! THERE was a groan you could HEAR! It voiced the death-pang of eleven thousand men. It swelled out on the night with awful pathos.

A glance showed that the rest of the enemy -- perhaps ten thousand strong -- were between us and the encircling ditchand pressing forward to the assault. Consequently we had them ALL! and had them past help. Time for the last act of the tragedy. I fired the three appointed revolver shots -- which meant:

"Turn on the water!"

There was a sudden rush and roarand in a minute the mountain brook was raging through the big ditch and creating a river a hundred feet wide and twentyfive deep.

"Stand to your gunsmen! Open fire!"

The thirteen gatlings began to vomit death into the fated ten thousand. They haltedthey stood their ground a moment against that withering deluge of firethen they brokefaced about and swept toward the ditch like chaff before a gale. A full fourth part of their force never reached the top of the lofty embankment; the three-fourths reached it and plunged over -- to death by drowning.

Within ten short minutes after we had opened firearmed resistance was totally annihilatedthe campaign was endedwe fifty-four were masters of England. Twenty-five thousand men lay dead around us.

But how treacherous is fortune! In a little while -- say an hour -- happened a thingby my own faultwhich -- but I have no heart to write that. Let the record end here.

 

 

 

CHAPTER XLIV - A POSTSCRIPT BY CLARENCE

 

ICLARENCEmust write it for him. He proposed that we two go out and see if any help could be accorded the wounded. I was strenuous against the project. I said that if there were manywe could do but little for them; and it would not be wise for us to trust ourselves among themanyway. But he could seldom be turned from a purpose once formed; so we shut off the electric current from the fencestook an escort alongclimbed over the enclosing ramparts of dead knightsand moved out upon the field. The first wounded mall who appealed for help was sitting with his back against a dead comrade. When The Boss bent over him and spoke to himthe man recognized him and stabbed him. That knight was Sir Meliagraunceas I found out by tearing off his helmet. He will not ask for help any more.

We carried The Boss to the cave and gave his woundwhich was not very seriousthe best care we could. In this service we had the help of Merlinthough we did not know it. He was disguised as a womanand appeared to be a simple old peasant goodwife. In this disguisewith brown-stained face and smooth shavenhe had appeared a few days after The Boss was hurt and offered to cook for ussaying her people had gone off to join certain new camps which the enemy were formingand that she was starving. The Boss had been getting along very welland had amused himself with finishing up his record.

We were glad to have this womanfor we were short handed. We were in a trapyou see -- a trap of our own making. If we stayed where we wereour dead would kill us; if we moved out of our defenseswe should no longer be invincible. We had conquered; in turn we were conquered. The Boss recognized this; we all recognized it. If we could go to one of those new camps and patch up some kind of terms with the enemy -- yesbut The Boss could not goand neither could Ifor I was among the first that were made sick by the poisonous air bred by those dead thousands. Others were taken downand still others. To-morrow --

TO-MORROW. It is here. And with it the end. About midnight I awokeand saw that hag making curious passes in the air about The Boss's head and faceand wondered what it meant. Everybody but the dynamo-watch lay steeped in sleep; there was no sound. The woman ceased from her mysterious fooleryand started tip-toeing toward the door. I called out:

"Stop! What have you been doing?"

She haltedand said with an accent of malicious satisfaction:

"Ye were conquerors; ye are conquered! These others are perishing -- you also. Ye shall all die in this place -- every one -- except HIM. He sleepeth now -- and shall sleep thirteen centuries. I am Merlin!"

Then such a delirium of silly laughter overtook him that he reeled about like a drunken manand presently fetched up against one of our wires. His mouth is spread open yet; apparently he is still laughing. I suppose the face will retain that petrified laugh until the corpse turns to dust.

The Boss has never stirred -- sleeps like a stone. If he does not wake to-day we shall understand what kind of a sleep it isand his body will then be borne to a place in one of the remote recesses of the cave where none will ever find it to desecrate it. As for the rest of us -- wellit is agreed that if any one of us ever escapes alive from this placehe will write the fact hereand loyally hide this Manuscript with The Bossour dear good chiefwhose property it isbe he alive or dead.

 

 

 

THE END OF THE MANUSCRIPT

FINAL P.S. BY M.T.

 

THE dawn was come when I laid the Manuscript aside. The rain had almost ceasedthe world was gray and sadthe exhausted storm was sighing and sobbing itself to rest. I went to the stranger's roomand listened at his doorwhich was slightly ajar. I could hear his voiceand so I knocked. There was no answerbut I still heard the voice. I peeped in. The man lay on his back in bedtalking brokenly but with spiritand punctuating with his armswhich he thrashed aboutrestlesslyas sick people do in delirium. I slipped in softly and bent over him. His mutterings and ejaculations went on. I spoke -- merely a wordto call his attention. His glassy eyes and his ashy face were alight in an instant with pleasuregratitudegladnesswelcome:

"OhSandyyou are come at last -- how I have longed for you! Sit by me -- do not leave me -- never leave me againSandynever again. Where is your hand? -- give it medearlet me hold it -- there -- now all is wellall is peaceand I am happy again -- WE are happy againisn't it soSandy? You are so dimso vagueyou are but a mista cloudbut you are HEREand that is blessedness sufficient; and I have your hand; don't take it away -- it is for only a little whileI shall not require it long...... Was that the child?...... Hello-Central!...... she doesn't answer. Asleepperhaps? Bring her when she wakesand let me touch her handsher faceher hairand tell her good-bye...... Sandy! Yesyou are there. I lost myself a momentand I thought you were gone...... Have I been sick long? It must be so; it seems months to me. And such dreams! such strange and awful dreamsSandy! Dreams that were as real as reality -- deliriumof coursebut SO real! WhyI thought the king was deadI thought you were in Gaul and couldn't get homeI thought there was a revolution; in the fantastic frenzy of these dreamsI thought that Clarence and I and a handful of my cadets fought and exterminated the whole chivalry of England! But even that was not the strangest. I seemed to be a creature out of a remote unborn agecenturies henceand even THAT was as real as the rest! YesI seemed to have flown back out of that age into this of oursand then forward to it againand was set downa stranger and forlorn in that strange Englandwith an abyss of thirteen centuries yawning between me and you! between me and my home and my friends! between me and all that is dear to meall that could make life worth the living! It was awful -- awfuler than you can ever imagineSandy. Ahwatch by meSandy -- stay by me every moment -- DON'T let me go out of my mind again; death is nothinglet it comebut not with those dreamsnot with the torture of those hideous dreams -- I cannot endure THAT again...... Sandy?......"

He lay muttering incoherently some little time; then for a time he lay silentand apparently sinking away toward death. Presently his fingers began to pick busily at the coverletand by that sign I knew that his end was at hand with the first suggestion of the death-rattle in his throat he started up slightlyand seemed to listen: then he said:

"A bugle?...... It is the king! The drawbridgethere! Man the battlements! -- turn out the --"

He was getting up his last "effect"; but he never finished it.




Google





Google