A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Part 4.
Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)
Produced by David Widger
A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT
(Samuel L. Clemens)
A ROYAL BANQUET
Madame, seeing me pacific and unresentful, no doubt judged that
I was deceived by her excuse; for her fright dissolved away, and
she was soon so importunate to have me give an exhibition and kill
somebody, that the thing grew to be embarrassing. However, to my
relief she was presently interrupted by the call to prayers. I will
say this much for the nobility: that, tyrannical, murderous,
rapacious, and morally rotten as they were, they were deeply and
enthusiastically religious. Nothing could divert them from the
regular and faithful performance of the pieties enjoined by the
Church. More than once I had seen a noble who had gotten his
enemy at a disadvantage, stop to pray before cutting his throat;
more than once I had seen a noble, after ambushing and despatching
his enemy, retire to the nearest wayside shrine and humbly give
thanks, without even waiting to rob the body. There was to be
nothing finer or sweeter in the life of even Benvenuto Cellini,
that rough-hewn saint, ten centuries later. All the nobles of
Britain, with their families, attended divine service morning and
night daily, in their private chapels, and even the worst of them
had family worship five or six times a day besides. The credit
of this belonged entirely to the Church. Although I was no friend
to that Catholic Church, I was obliged to admit this. And often,
in spite of me, I found myself saying, "What would this country
be without the Church?"
After prayers we had dinner in a great banqueting hall which was
lighted by hundreds of grease-jets, and everything was as fine and
lavish and rudely splendid as might become the royal degree of the
hosts. At the head of the hall, on a dais, was the table of the
king, queen, and their son, Prince Uwaine. Stretching down the hall
from this, was the general table, on the floor. At this, above
the salt, sat the visiting nobles and the grown members of their
families, of both sexes,--the resident Court, in effect--sixty-one
persons; below the salt sat minor officers of the household, with
their principal subordinates: altogether a hundred and eighteen
persons sitting, and about as many liveried servants standing
behind their chairs, or serving in one capacity or another. It was
a very fine show. In a gallery a band with cymbals, horns, harps,
and other horrors, opened the proceedings with what seemed to be
the crude first-draft or original agony of the wail known to later
centuries as "In the Sweet Bye and Bye." It was new, and ought
to have been rehearsed a little more. For some reason or other
the queen had the composer hanged, after dinner.
After this music, the priest who stood behind the royal table said
a noble long grace in ostensible Latin. Then the battalion of
waiters broke away from their posts, and darted, rushed, flew,
fetched and carried, and the mighty feeding began; no words
anywhere, but absorbing attention to business. The rows of chops
opened and shut in vast unison, and the sound of it was like to
the muffled burr of subterranean machinery.
The havoc continued an hour and a half, and unimaginable was the
destruction of substantials. Of the chief feature of the feast
--the huge wild boar that lay stretched out so portly and imposing
at the start--nothing was left but the semblance of a hoop-skirt;
and he was but the type and symbol of what had happened to all
the other dishes.
With the pastries and so on, the heavy drinking began--and the talk.
Gallon after gallon of wine and mead disappeared, and everybody
got comfortable, then happy, then sparklingly joyous--both sexes,
--and by and by pretty noisy. Men told anecdotes that were terrific
to hear, but nobody blushed; and when the nub was sprung, the
assemblage let go with a horse-laugh that shook the fortress.
Ladies answered back with historiettes that would almost have made
Queen Margaret of Navarre or even the great Elizabeth of England
hide behind a handkerchief, but nobody hid here, but only laughed
--howled, you may say. In pretty much all of these dreadful stories,
ecclesiastics were the hardy heroes, but that didn't worry the
chaplain any, he had his laugh with the rest; more than that, upon
invitation he roared out a song which was of as daring a sort as
any that was sung that night.
By midnight everybody was fagged out, and sore with laughing; and,
as a rule, drunk: some weepingly, some affectionately, some
hilariously, some quarrelsomely, some dead and under the table.
Of the ladies, the worst spectacle was a lovely young duchess, whose
wedding-eve this was; and indeed she was a spectacle, sure enough.
Just as she was she could have sat in advance for the portrait of the
young daughter of the Regent d'Orleans, at the famous dinner whence
she was carried, foul-mouthed, intoxicated, and helpless, to her bed,
in the lost and lamented days of the Ancient Regime.
Suddenly, even while the priest was lifting his hands, and all
conscious heads were bowed in reverent expectation of the coming
blessing, there appeared under the arch of the far-off door at
the bottom of the hall an old and bent and white-haired lady,
leaning upon a crutch-stick; and she lifted the stick and pointed it
toward the queen and cried out:
"The wrath and curse of God fall upon you, woman without pity,
who have slain mine innocent grandchild and made desolate this
old heart that had nor chick, nor friend nor stay nor comfort in
all this world but him!"
Everybody crossed himself in a grisly fright, for a curse was an
awful thing to those people; but the queen rose up majestic, with
the death-light in her eye, and flung back this ruthless command:
"Lay hands on her! To the stake with her!"
The guards left their posts to obey. It was a shame; it was a
cruel thing to see. What could be done? Sandy gave me a look;
I knew she had another inspiration. I said:
"Do what you choose."
She was up and facing toward the queen in a moment. She indicated
me, and said:
"Madame, _he_ saith this may not be. Recall the commandment, or he
will dissolve the castle and it shall vanish away like the instable
fabric of a dream!"
Confound it, what a crazy contract to pledge a person to! What if
But my consternation subsided there, and my panic passed off;
for the queen, all in a collapse, made no show of resistance but
gave a countermanding sign and sunk into her seat. When she reached
it she was sober. So were many of the others. The assemblage rose,
whiffed ceremony to the winds, and rushed for the door like a mob;
overturning chairs, smashing crockery, tugging, struggling,
shouldering, crowding--anything to get out before I should change
my mind and puff the castle into the measureless dim vacancies of
space. Well, well, well, they _were_ a superstitious lot. It is
all a body can do to conceive of it.
The poor queen was so scared and humbled that she was even afraid
to hang the composer without first consulting me. I was very sorry
for her--indeed, any one would have been, for she was really
suffering; so I was willing to do anything that was reasonable, and
had no desire to carry things to wanton extremities. I therefore
considered the matter thoughtfully, and ended by having the
musicians ordered into our presence to play that Sweet Bye and
Bye again, which they did. Then I saw that she was right, and
gave her permission to hang the whole band. This little relaxation
of sternness had a good effect upon the queen. A statesman gains
little by the arbitrary exercise of iron-clad authority upon all
occasions that offer, for this wounds the just pride of his
subordinates, and thus tends to undermine his strength. A little
concession, now and then, where it can do no harm, is the wiser policy.
Now that the queen was at ease in her mind once more, and measurably
happy, her wine naturally began to assert itself again, and it got
a little the start of her. I mean it set her music going--her silver
bell of a tongue. Dear me, she was a master talker. It would not
become me to suggest that it was pretty late and that I was a tired
man and very sleepy. I wished I had gone off to bed when I had
the chance. Now I must stick it out; there was no other way. So
she tinkled along and along, in the otherwise profound and ghostly
hush of the sleeping castle, until by and by there came, as if
from deep down under us, a far-away sound, as of a muffled shriek
--with an expression of agony about it that made my flesh crawl.
The queen stopped, and her eyes lighted with pleasure; she tilted
her graceful head as a bird does when it listens. The sound bored
its way up through the stillness again.
"What is it?" I said.
"It is truly a stubborn soul, and endureth long. It is many hours now."
"The rack. Come--ye shall see a blithe sight. An he yield not
his secret now, ye shall see him torn asunder."
What a silky smooth hellion she was; and so composed and serene,
when the cords all down my legs were hurting in sympathy with that
man's pain. Conducted by mailed guards bearing flaring torches,
we tramped along echoing corridors, and down stone stairways dank
and dripping, and smelling of mould and ages of imprisoned night
--a chill, uncanny journey and a long one, and not made the shorter
or the cheerier by the sorceress's talk, which was about this
sufferer and his crime. He had been accused by an anonymous
informer, of having killed a stag in the royal preserves. I said:
"Anonymous testimony isn't just the right thing, your Highness.
It were fairer to confront the accused with the accuser."
"I had not thought of that, it being but of small consequence.
But an I would, I could not, for that the accuser came masked by
night, and told the forester, and straightway got him hence again,
and so the forester knoweth him not."
"Then is this Unknown the only person who saw the stag killed?"
"Marry, _no_ man _saw_ the killing, but this Unknown saw this hardy
wretch near to the spot where the stag lay, and came with right
loyal zeal and betrayed him to the forester."
"So the Unknown was near the dead stag, too? Isn't it just possible
that he did the killing himself? His loyal zeal--in a mask--looks
just a shade suspicious. But what is your highness's idea for
racking the prisoner? Where is the profit?"
"He will not confess, else; and then were his soul lost. For his
crime his life is forfeited by the law--and of a surety will I see
that he payeth it!--but it were peril to my own soul to let him
die unconfessed and unabsolved. Nay, I were a fool to fling me
into hell for _his_ accommodation."
"But, your Highness, suppose he has nothing to confess?"
"As to that, we shall see, anon. An I rack him to death and he
confess not, it will peradventure show that he had indeed naught
to confess--ye will grant that that is sooth? Then shall I not be
damned for an unconfessed man that had naught to confess
--wherefore, I shall be safe."
It was the stubborn unreasoning of the time. It was useless to
argue with her. Arguments have no chance against petrified
training; they wear it as little as the waves wear a cliff. And
her training was everybody's. The brightest intellect in the land
would not have been able to see that her position was defective.
As we entered the rack-cell I caught a picture that will not go
from me; I wish it would. A native young giant of thirty or
thereabouts lay stretched upon the frame on his back, with his
wrists and ankles tied to ropes which led over windlasses at either
end. There was no color in him; his features were contorted and
set, and sweat-drops stood upon his forehead. A priest bent over
him on each side; the executioner stood by; guards were on duty;
smoking torches stood in sockets along the walls; in a corner
crouched a poor young creature, her face drawn with anguish,
a half-wild and hunted look in her eyes, and in her lap lay a little
child asleep. Just as we stepped across the threshold the
executioner gave his machine a slight turn, which wrung a cry
from both the prisoner and the woman; but I shouted, and the
executioner released the strain without waiting to see who spoke.
I could not let this horror go on; it would have killed me to
see it. I asked the queen to let me clear the place and speak
to the prisoner privately; and when she was going to object I spoke
in a low voice and said I did not want to make a scene before
her servants, but I must have my way; for I was King Arthur's
representative, and was speaking in his name. She saw she had
to yield. I asked her to indorse me to these people, and then
leave me. It was not pleasant for her, but she took the pill;
and even went further than I was meaning to require. I only wanted
the backing of her own authority; but she said:
"Ye will do in all things as this lord shall command. It is The Boss."
It was certainly a good word to conjure with: you could see it
by the squirming of these rats. The queen's guards fell into line,
and she and they marched away, with their torch-bearers, and woke
the echoes of the cavernous tunnels with the measured beat of their
retreating footfalls. I had the prisoner taken from the rack and
placed upon his bed, and medicaments applied to his hurts, and
wine given him to drink. The woman crept near and looked on,
eagerly, lovingly, but timorously,--like one who fears a repulse;
indeed, she tried furtively to touch the man's forehead, and jumped
back, the picture of fright, when I turned unconsciously toward
her. It was pitiful to see.
"Lord," I said, "stroke him, lass, if you want to. Do anything
you're a mind to; don't mind me."
Why, her eyes were as grateful as an animal's, when you do it
a kindness that it understands. The baby was out of her way and
she had her cheek against the man's in a minute and her hands
fondling his hair, and her happy tears running down. The man
revived and caressed his wife with his eyes, which was all he
could do. I judged I might clear the den, now, and I did; cleared
it of all but the family and myself. Then I said:
"Now, my friend, tell me your side of this matter; I know
the other side."
The man moved his head in sign of refusal. But the woman looked
pleased--as it seemed to me--pleased with my suggestion. I went on--
"You know of me?"
"Yes. All do, in Arthur's realms."
"If my reputation has come to you right and straight, you should
not be afraid to speak."
The woman broke in, eagerly:
"Ah, fair my lord, do thou persuade him! Thou canst an thou wilt.
Ah, he suffereth so; and it is for me--for _me_! And how can I bear it?
I would I might see him die--a sweet, swift death; oh, my Hugo,
I cannot bear this one!"
And she fell to sobbing and grovelling about my feet, and still
imploring. Imploring what? The man's death? I could not quite
get the bearings of the thing. But Hugo interrupted her and said:
"Peace! Ye wit not what ye ask. Shall I starve whom I love,
to win a gentle death? I wend thou knewest me better."
"Well," I said, "I can't quite make this out. It is a puzzle. Now--"
"Ah, dear my lord, an ye will but persuade him! Consider how
these his tortures wound me! Oh, and he will not speak!--whereas,
the healing, the solace that lie in a blessed swift death--"
"What _are_ you maundering about? He's going out from here a free
man and whole--he's not going to die."
The man's white face lit up, and the woman flung herself at me
in a most surprising explosion of joy, and cried out:
"He is saved!--for it is the king's word by the mouth of the king's
servant--Arthur, the king whose word is gold!"
"Well, then you do believe I can be trusted, after all. Why
didn't you before?"
"Who doubted? Not I, indeed; and not she."
"Well, why wouldn't you tell me your story, then?"
"Ye had made no promise; else had it been otherwise."
"I see, I see.... And yet I believe I don't quite see, after all.
You stood the torture and refused to confess; which shows plain
enough to even the dullest understanding that you had nothing
"I, my lord? How so? It was I that killed the deer!"
"You _did_? Oh, dear, this is the most mixed-up business that ever--"
"Dear lord, I begged him on my knees to confess, but--"
"You _did_! It gets thicker and thicker. What did you want him
to do that for?"
"Sith it would bring him a quick death and save him all this
"Well--yes, there is reason in that. But _he_ didn't want the
"He? Why, of a surety he _did_."
"Well, then, why in the world _didn't_ he confess?"
"Ah, sweet sir, and leave my wife and chick without bread and shelter?"
"Oh, heart of gold, now I see it! The bitter law takes the convicted
man's estate and beggars his widow and his orphans. They could
torture you to death, but without conviction or confession they
could not rob your wife and baby. You stood by them like a man;
and _you_--true wife and the woman that you are--you would have
bought him release from torture at cost to yourself of slow
starvation and death--well, it humbles a body to think what your
sex can do when it comes to self-sacrifice. I'll book you both
for my colony; you'll like it there; it's a Factory where I'm going
to turn groping and grubbing automata into _men_."
IN THE QUEEN'S DUNGEONS
Well, I arranged all that; and I had the man sent to his home.
I had a great desire to rack the executioner; not because he was
a good, painstaking and paingiving official,--for surely it was
not to his discredit that he performed his functions well--but to
pay him back for wantonly cuffing and otherwise distressing that
young woman. The priests told me about this, and were generously
hot to have him punished. Something of this disagreeable sort
was turning up every now and then. I mean, episodes that showed
that not all priests were frauds and self-seekers, but that many,
even the great majority, of these that were down on the ground
among the common people, were sincere and right-hearted, and
devoted to the alleviation of human troubles and sufferings.
Well, it was a thing which could not be helped, so I seldom fretted
about it, and never many minutes at a time; it has never been my
way to bother much about things which you can't cure. But I did
not like it, for it was just the sort of thing to keep people
reconciled to an Established Church. We _must_ have a religion
--it goes without saying--but my idea is, to have it cut up into
forty free sects, so that they will police each other, as had been
the case in the United States in my time. Concentration of power
in a political machine is bad; and and an Established Church is
only a political machine; it was invented for that; it is nursed,
cradled, preserved for that; it is an enemy to human liberty, and
does no good which it could not better do in a split-up and scattered
condition. That wasn't law; it wasn't gospel: it was only
an opinion--my opinion, and I was only a man, one man: so it wasn't
worth any more than the pope's--or any less, for that matter.
Well, I couldn't rack the executioner, neither would I overlook
the just complaint of the priests. The man must be punished
somehow or other, so I degraded him from his office and made him
leader of the band--the new one that was to be started. He begged
hard, and said he couldn't play--a plausible excuse, but too thin;
there wasn't a musician in the country that could.
The queen was a good deal outraged, next morning when she found
she was going to have neither Hugo's life nor his property. But
I told her she must bear this cross; that while by law and custom
she certainly was entitled to both the man's life and his property,
there were extenuating circumstances, and so in Arthur the king's
name I had pardoned him. The deer was ravaging the man's fields,
and he had killed it in sudden passion, and not for gain; and he
had carried it into the royal forest in the hope that that might make
detection of the misdoer impossible. Confound her, I couldn't
make her see that sudden passion is an extenuating circumstance
in the killing of venison--or of a person--so I gave it up and let
her sulk it out. I _did_ think I was going to make her see it by
remarking that her own sudden passion in the case of the page
modified that crime.
"Crime!" she exclaimed. "How thou talkest! Crime, forsooth!
Man, I am going to _pay_ for him!"
Oh, it was no use to waste sense on her. Training--training is
everything; training is all there is _to_ a person. We speak of
nature; it is folly; there is no such thing as nature; what we
call by that misleading name is merely heredity and training.
We have no thoughts of our own, no opinions of our own; they are
transmitted to us, trained into us. All that is original in us,
and therefore fairly creditable or discreditable to us, can be
covered up and hidden by the point of a cambric needle, all the
rest being atoms contributed by, and inherited from, a procession
of ancestors that stretches back a billion years to the Adam-clam
or grasshopper or monkey from whom our race has been so tediously
and ostentatiously and unprofitably developed. And as for me,
all that I think about in this plodding sad pilgrimage, this
pathetic drift between the eternities, is to look out and humbly
live a pure and high and blameless life, and save that one
microscopic atom in me that is truly _me_: the rest may land in
Sheol and welcome for all I care.
No, confound her, her intellect was good, she had brains enough,
but her training made her an ass--that is, from a many-centuries-later
point of view. To kill the page was no crime--it was her right;
and upon her right she stood, serenely and unconscious of offense.
She was a result of generations of training in the unexamined and
unassailed belief that the law which permitted her to kill a subject
when she chose was a perfectly right and righteous one.
Well, we must give even Satan his due. She deserved a compliment
for one thing; and I tried to pay it, but the words stuck in my
throat. She had a right to kill the boy, but she was in no wise
obliged to pay for him. That was law for some other people, but
not for her. She knew quite well that she was doing a large and
generous thing to pay for that lad, and that I ought in common
fairness to come out with something handsome about it, but I
couldn't--my mouth refused. I couldn't help seeing, in my fancy,
that poor old grandma with the broken heart, and that fair young
creature lying butchered, his little silken pomps and vanities
laced with his golden blood. How could she _pay_ for him! _Whom_
could she pay? And so, well knowing that this woman, trained
as she had been, deserved praise, even adulation, I was yet not
able to utter it, trained as I had been. The best I could do was
to fish up a compliment from outside, so to speak--and the pity
of it was, that it was true:
"Madame, your people will adore you for this."
Quite true, but I meant to hang her for it some day if I lived.
Some of those laws were too bad, altogether too bad. A master
might kill his slave for nothing--for mere spite, malice, or
to pass the time--just as we have seen that the crowned head could
do it with _his_ slave, that is to say, anybody. A gentleman could
kill a free commoner, and pay for him--cash or garden-truck.
A noble could kill a noble without expense, as far as the law was
concerned, but reprisals in kind were to be expected. _Any_body
could kill _some_body, except the commoner and the slave; these had
no privileges. If they killed, it was murder, and the law wouldn't
stand murder. It made short work of the experimenter--and of
his family, too, if he murdered somebody who belonged up among
the ornamental ranks. If a commoner gave a noble even so much
as a Damiens-scratch which didn't kill or even hurt, he got Damiens'
dose for it just the same; they pulled him to rags and tatters
with horses, and all the world came to see the show, and crack
jokes, and have a good time; and some of the performances of the
best people present were as tough, and as properly unprintable,
as any that have been printed by the pleasant Casanova in his
chapter about the dismemberment of Louis XV's poor awkward enemy.
I had had enough of this grisly place by this time, and wanted
to leave, but I couldn't, because I had something on my mind that
my conscience kept prodding me about, and wouldn't let me forget.
If I had the remaking of man, he wouldn't have any conscience.
It is one of the most disagreeable things connected with a person;
and although it certainly does a great deal of good, it cannot
be said to pay, in the long run; it would be much better to have
less good and more comfort. Still, this is only my opinion, and
I am only one man; others, with less experience, may think
differently. They have a right to their view. I only stand
to this: I have noticed my conscience for many years, and I know
it is more trouble and bother to me than anything else I started
with. I suppose that in the beginning I prized it, because we
prize anything that is ours; and yet how foolish it was to think so.
If we look at it in another way, we see how absurd it is: if I had
an anvil in me would I prize it? Of course not. And yet when you
come to think, there is no real difference between a conscience
and an anvil--I mean for comfort. I have noticed it a thousand
times. And you could dissolve an anvil with acids, when you
couldn't stand it any longer; but there isn't any way that you can
work off a conscience--at least so it will stay worked off; not
that I know of, anyway.
There was something I wanted to do before leaving, but it was
a disagreeable matter, and I hated to go at it. Well, it bothered
me all the morning. I could have mentioned it to the old king,
but what would be the use?--he was but an extinct volcano; he had
been active in his time, but his fire was out, this good while,
he was only a stately ash-pile now; gentle enough, and kindly
enough for my purpose, without doubt, but not usable. He was
nothing, this so-called king: the queen was the only power there.
And she was a Vesuvius. As a favor, she might consent to warm
a flock of sparrows for you, but then she might take that very
opportunity to turn herself loose and bury a city. However,
I reflected that as often as any other way, when you are expecting
the worst, you get something that is not so bad, after all.
So I braced up and placed my matter before her royal Highness.
I said I had been having a general jail-delivery at Camelot and
among neighboring castles, and with her permission I would like
to examine her collection, her bric-a-brac--that is to say, her
prisoners. She resisted; but I was expecting that. But she finally
consented. I was expecting that, too, but not so soon. That about
ended my discomfort. She called her guards and torches, and
we went down into the dungeons. These were down under the castle's
foundations, and mainly were small cells hollowed out of the living
rock. Some of these cells had no light at all. In one of them was
a woman, in foul rags, who sat on the ground, and would not answer
a question or speak a word, but only looked up at us once or twice,
through a cobweb of tangled hair, as if to see what casual thing
it might be that was disturbing with sound and light the meaningless
dull dream that was become her life; after that, she sat bowed,
with her dirt-caked fingers idly interlocked in her lap, and gave
no further sign. This poor rack of bones was a woman of middle
age, apparently; but only apparently; she had been there nine
years, and was eighteen when she entered. She was a commoner,
and had been sent here on her bridal night by Sir Breuse Sance Pite,
a neighboring lord whose vassal her father was, and to which said
lord she had refused what has since been called le droit du
seigneur, and, moreover, had opposed violence to violence and spilt
half a gill of his almost sacred blood. The young husband had
interfered at that point, believing the bride's life in danger,
and had flung the noble out into the midst of the humble and
trembling wedding guests, in the parlor, and left him there
astonished at this strange treatment, and implacably embittered
against both bride and groom. The said lord being cramped for
dungeon-room had asked the queen to accommodate his two criminals,
and here in her bastile they had been ever since; hither, indeed,
they had come before their crime was an hour old, and had never
seen each other since. Here they were, kenneled like toads in the
same rock; they had passed nine pitch dark years within fifty feet
of each other, yet neither knew whether the other was alive or not.
All the first years, their only question had been--asked with
beseechings and tears that might have moved stones, in time,
perhaps, but hearts are not stones: "Is he alive?" "Is she alive?"
But they had never got an answer; and at last that question was
not asked any more--or any other.
I wanted to see the man, after hearing all this. He was thirty-four
years old, and looked sixty. He sat upon a squared block of
stone, with his head bent down, his forearms resting on his knees,
his long hair hanging like a fringe before his face, and he was
muttering to himself. He raised his chin and looked us slowly
over, in a listless dull way, blinking with the distress of the
torchlight, then dropped his head and fell to muttering again
and took no further notice of us. There were some pathetically
suggestive dumb witnesses present. On his wrists and ankles were
cicatrices, old smooth scars, and fastened to the stone on which
he sat was a chain with manacles and fetters attached; but this
apparatus lay idle on the ground, and was thick with rust. Chains
cease to be needed after the spirit has gone out of a prisoner.
I could not rouse the man; so I said we would take him to her,
and see--to the bride who was the fairest thing in the earth to him,
once--roses, pearls, and dew made flesh, for him; a wonder-work,
the master-work of nature: with eyes like no other eyes, and voice
like no other voice, and a freshness, and lithe young grace, and
beauty, that belonged properly to the creatures of dreams--as he
thought--and to no other. The sight of her would set his stagnant
blood leaping; the sight of her--
But it was a disappointment. They sat together on the ground and
looked dimly wondering into each other's faces a while, with a
sort of weak animal curiosity; then forgot each other's presence,
and dropped their eyes, and you saw that they were away again and
wandering in some far land of dreams and shadows that we know
I had them taken out and sent to their friends. The queen did not
like it much. Not that she felt any personal interest in the matter,
but she thought it disrespectful to Sir Breuse Sance Pite. However,
I assured her that if he found he couldn't stand it I would fix him
so that he could.
I set forty-seven prisoners loose out of those awful rat-holes,
and left only one in captivity. He was a lord, and had killed
another lord, a sort of kinsman of the queen. That other lord
had ambushed him to assassinate him, but this fellow had got the
best of him and cut his throat. However, it was not for that that
I left him jailed, but for maliciously destroying the only public
well in one of his wretched villages. The queen was bound to hang
him for killing her kinsman, but I would not allow it: it was no
crime to kill an assassin. But I said I was willing to let her
hang him for destroying the well; so she concluded to put up with
that, as it was better than nothing.
Dear me, for what trifling offenses the most of those forty-seven
men and women were shut up there! Indeed, some were there for
no distinct offense at all, but only to gratify somebody's spite;
and not always the queen's by any means, but a friend's. The newest
prisoner's crime was a mere remark which he had made. He said
he believed that men were about all alike, and one man as good
as another, barring clothes. He said he believed that if you were
to strip the nation naked and send a stranger through the crowd, he
couldn't tell the king from a quack doctor, nor a duke from a hotel
clerk. Apparently here was a man whose brains had not been reduced
to an ineffectual mush by idiotic training. I set him loose and
sent him to the Factory.
Some of the cells carved in the living rock were just behind the
face of the precipice, and in each of these an arrow-slit had been
pierced outward to the daylight, and so the captive had a thin
ray from the blessed sun for his comfort. The case of one of
these poor fellows was particularly hard. From his dusky swallow's
hole high up in that vast wall of native rock he could peer out
through the arrow-slit and see his own home off yonder in the
valley; and for twenty-two years he had watched it, with heartache
and longing, through that crack. He could see the lights shine
there at night, and in the daytime he could see figures go in and
come out--his wife and children, some of them, no doubt, though
he could not make out at that distance. In the course of years
he noted festivities there, and tried to rejoice, and wondered
if they were weddings or what they might be. And he noted funerals;
and they wrung his heart. He could make out the coffin, but he
could not determine its size, and so could not tell whether it was
wife or child. He could see the procession form, with priests
and mourners, and move solemnly away, bearing the secret with
them. He had left behind him five children and a wife; and in
nineteen years he had seen five funerals issue, and none of them
humble enough in pomp to denote a servant. So he had lost five
of his treasures; there must still be one remaining--one now
infinitely, unspeakably precious,--but _which_ one? wife, or child?
That was the question that tortured him, by night and by day,
asleep and awake. Well, to have an interest, of some sort, and
half a ray of light, when you are in a dungeon, is a great support
to the body and preserver of the intellect. This man was in pretty
good condition yet. By the time he had finished telling me his
distressful tale, I was in the same state of mind that you would
have been in yourself, if you have got average human curiosity;
that is to say, I was as burning up as he was to find out which
member of the family it was that was left. So I took him over
home myself; and an amazing kind of a surprise party it was, too
--typhoons and cyclones of frantic joy, and whole Niagaras of happy
tears; and by George! we found the aforetime young matron graying
toward the imminent verge of her half century, and the babies all
men and women, and some of them married and experimenting familywise
themselves--for not a soul of the tribe was dead! Conceive of the
ingenious devilishness of that queen: she had a special hatred for
this prisoner, and she had _invented_ all those funerals herself,
to scorch his heart with; and the sublimest stroke of genius of
the whole thing was leaving the family-invoice a funeral _short_,
so as to let him wear his poor old soul out guessing.
But for me, he never would have got out. Morgan le Fay hated him
with her whole heart, and she never would have softened toward him.
And yet his crime was committed more in thoughtlessness than
deliberate depravity. He had said she had red hair. Well, she
had; but that was no way to speak of it. When red-headed people
are above a certain social grade their hair is auburn.
Consider it: among these forty-seven captives there were five
whose names, offenses, and dates of incarceration were no longer
known! One woman and four men--all bent, and wrinkled, and
mind-extinguished patriarchs. They themselves had long ago forgotten
these details; at any rate they had mere vague theories about them,
nothing definite and nothing that they repeated twice in the same
way. The succession of priests whose office it had been to pray
daily with the captives and remind them that God had put them
there, for some wise purpose or other, and teach them that patience,
humbleness, and submission to oppression was what He loved to see
in parties of a subordinate rank, had traditions about these poor
old human ruins, but nothing more. These traditions went but
little way, for they concerned the length of the incarceration only,
and not the names of the offenses. And even by the help of
tradition the only thing that could be proven was that none of
the five had seen daylight for thirty-five years: how much longer
this privation has lasted was not guessable. The king and the queen
knew nothing about these poor creatures, except that they were
heirlooms, assets inherited, along with the throne, from the former
firm. Nothing of their history had been transmitted with their
persons, and so the inheriting owners had considered them of no
value, and had felt no interest in them. I said to the queen:
"Then why in the world didn't you set them free?"
The question was a puzzler. She didn't know _why_ she hadn't, the
thing had never come up in her mind. So here she was, forecasting
the veritable history of future prisoners of the Castle d'If,
without knowing it. It seemed plain to me now, that with her
training, those inherited prisoners were merely property--nothing
more, nothing less. Well, when we inherit property, it does not
occur to us to throw it away, even when we do not value it.
When I brought my procession of human bats up into the open world
and the glare of the afternoon sun--previously blindfolding them,
in charity for eyes so long untortured by light--they were a
spectacle to look at. Skeletons, scarecrows, goblins, pathetic
frights, every one; legitimatest possible children of Monarchy
by the Grace of God and the Established Church. I muttered absently:
"I _wish_ I could photograph them!"
You have seen that kind of people who will never let on that they
don't know the meaning of a new big word. The more ignorant they
are, the more pitifully certain they are to pretend you haven't
shot over their heads. The queen was just one of that sort, and
was always making the stupidest blunders by reason of it. She
hesitated a moment; then her face brightened up with sudden
comprehension, and she said she would do it for me.
I thought to myself: She? why what can she know about photography?
But it was a poor time to be thinking. When I looked around, she
was moving on the procession with an axe!
Well, she certainly was a curious one, was Morgan le Fay. I have
seen a good many kinds of women in my time, but she laid over them
all for variety. And how sharply characteristic of her this episode
was. She had no more idea than a horse of how to photograph
a procession; but being in doubt, it was just like her to try
to do it with an axe.
KNIGHT-ERRANTRY AS A TRADE
Sandy and I were on the road again, next morning, bright and early.
It was so good to open up one's lungs and take in whole luscious
barrels-ful of the blessed God's untainted, dew-fashioned,
woodland-scented air once more, after suffocating body and mind for two
days and nights in the moral and physical stenches of that intolerable
old buzzard-roost! I mean, for me: of course the place was all
right and agreeable enough for Sandy, for she had been used to
high life all her days.
Poor girl, her jaws had had a wearisome rest now for a while,
and I was expecting to get the consequences. I was right; but she
had stood by me most helpfully in the castle, and had mightily
supported and reinforced me with gigantic foolishnesses which were
worth more for the occasion than wisdoms double their size; so
I thought she had earned a right to work her mill for a while,
if she wanted to, and I felt not a pang when she started it up:
"Now turn we unto Sir Marhaus that rode with the damsel of thirty
winter of age southward--"
"Are you going to see if you can work up another half-stretch on
the trail of the cowboys, Sandy?"
"Even so, fair my lord."
"Go ahead, then. I won't interrupt this time, if I can help it.
Begin over again; start fair, and shake out all your reefs, and
I will load my pipe and give good attention."
"Now turn we unto Sir Marhaus that rode with the damsel of thirty
winter of age southward. And so they came into a deep forest,
and by fortune they were nighted, and rode along in a deep way,
and at the last they came into a courtelage where abode the duke
of South Marches, and there they asked harbour. And on the morn
the duke sent unto Sir Marhaus, and bad him make him ready. And
so Sir Marhaus arose and armed him, and there was a mass sung
afore him, and he brake his fast, and so mounted on horseback in
the court of the castle, there they should do the battle. So there
was the duke already on horseback, clean armed, and his six sons
by him, and every each had a spear in his hand, and so they
encountered, whereas the duke and his two sons brake their spears
upon him, but Sir Marhaus held up his spear and touched none of
them. Then came the four sons by couples, and two of them brake
their spears, and so did the other two. And all this while
Sir Marhaus touched them not. Then Sir Marhaus ran to the duke,
and smote him with his spear that horse and man fell to the earth.
And so he served his sons. And then Sir Marhaus alight down, and
bad the duke yield him or else he would slay him. And then some
of his sons recovered, and would have set upon Sir Marhaus. Then
Sir Marhaus said to the duke, Cease thy sons, or else I will do
the uttermost to you all. When the duke saw he might not escape
the death, he cried to his sons, and charged them to yield them
to Sir Marhaus. And they kneeled all down and put the pommels
of their swords to the knight, and so he received them. And then
they holp up their father, and so by their common assent promised
unto Sir Marhaus never to be foes unto King Arthur, and thereupon
at Whitsuntide after, to come he and his sons, and put them in
the king's grace.*
[*Footnote: The story is borrowed, language and all, from the
"Even so standeth the history, fair Sir Boss. Now ye shall wit
that that very duke and his six sons are they whom but few days
past you also did overcome and send to Arthur's court!"
"Why, Sandy, you can't mean it!"
"An I speak not sooth, let it be the worse for me."
"Well, well, well,--now who would ever have thought it? One
whole duke and six dukelets; why, Sandy, it was an elegant haul.
Knight-errantry is a most chuckle-headed trade, and it is tedious
hard work, too, but I begin to see that there _is_ money in it,
after all, if you have luck. Not that I would ever engage in it
as a business, for I wouldn't. No sound and legitimate business
can be established on a basis of speculation. A successful whirl
in the knight-errantry line--now what is it when you blow away
the nonsense and come down to the cold facts? It's just a corner
in pork, that's all, and you can't make anything else out of it.
You're rich--yes,--suddenly rich--for about a day, maybe a week;
then somebody corners the market on _you_, and down goes your
bucket-shop; ain't that so, Sandy?"
"Whethersoever it be that my mind miscarrieth, bewraying simple
language in such sort that the words do seem to come endlong
"There's no use in beating about the bush and trying to get around
it that way, Sandy, it's _so_, just as I say. I _know_ it's so. And,
moreover, when you come right down to the bedrock, knight-errantry
is _worse_ than pork; for whatever happens, the pork's left, and
so somebody's benefited anyway; but when the market breaks, in a
knight-errantry whirl, and every knight in the pool passes in his
checks, what have you got for assets? Just a rubbish-pile of
battered corpses and a barrel or two of busted hardware. Can you
call _those_ assets? Give me pork, every time. Am I right?"
"Ah, peradventure my head being distraught by the manifold matters
whereunto the confusions of these but late adventured haps and
fortunings whereby not I alone nor you alone, but every each of us,
"No, it's not your head, Sandy. Your head's all right, as far as
it goes, but you don't know business; that's where the trouble
is. It unfits you to argue about business, and you're wrong
to be always trying. However, that aside, it was a good haul,
anyway, and will breed a handsome crop of reputation in Arthur's
court. And speaking of the cowboys, what a curious country this
is for women and men that never get old. Now there's Morgan le Fay,
as fresh and young as a Vassar pullet, to all appearances, and
here is this old duke of the South Marches still slashing away with
sword and lance at his time of life, after raising such a family
as he has raised. As I understand it, Sir Gawaine killed seven
of his sons, and still he had six left for Sir Marhaus and me to
take into camp. And then there was that damsel of sixty winter
of age still excursioning around in her frosty bloom--How old
are you, Sandy?"
It was the first time I ever struck a still place in her. The mill
had shut down for repairs, or something.
THE OGRE'S CASTLE
Between six and nine we made ten miles, which was plenty for a
horse carrying triple--man, woman, and armor; then we stopped
for a long nooning under some trees by a limpid brook.
Right so came by and by a knight riding; and as he drew near he
made dolorous moan, and by the words of it I perceived that he
was cursing and swearing; yet nevertheless was I glad of his
coming, for that I saw he bore a bulletin-board whereon in letters
all of shining gold was writ:
"USE PETERSON'S PROPHYLACTIC TOOTH-BRUSH--ALL THE GO."
I was glad of his coming, for even by this token I knew him for
knight of mine. It was Sir Madok de la Montaine, a burly great
fellow whose chief distinction was that he had come within an ace
of sending Sir Launcelot down over his horse-tail once. He was
never long in a stranger's presence without finding some pretext
or other to let out that great fact. But there was another fact
of nearly the same size, which he never pushed upon anybody unasked,
and yet never withheld when asked: that was, that the reason he
didn't quite succeed was, that he was interrupted and sent down
over horse-tail himself. This innocent vast lubber did not see
any particular difference between the two facts. I liked him,
for he was earnest in his work, and very valuable. And he was so
fine to look at, with his broad mailed shoulders, and the grand
leonine set of his plumed head, and his big shield with its quaint
device of a gauntleted hand clutching a prophylactic tooth-brush,
with motto: "Try Noyoudont." This was a tooth-wash that I was
He was aweary, he said, and indeed he looked it; but he would not
alight. He said he was after the stove-polish man; and with this
he broke out cursing and swearing anew. The bulletin-boarder
referred to was Sir Ossaise of Surluse, a brave knight, and of
considerable celebrity on account of his having tried conclusions
in a tournament once, with no less a Mogul than Sir Gaheris
himself--although not successfully. He was of a light and laughing
disposition, and to him nothing in this world was serious. It was
for this reason that I had chosen him to work up a stove-polish
sentiment. There were no stoves yet, and so there could be nothing
serious about stove-polish. All that the agent needed to do was
to deftly and by degrees prepare the public for the great change,
and have them established in predilections toward neatness against
the time when the stove should appear upon the stage.
Sir Madok was very bitter, and brake out anew with cursings. He
said he had cursed his soul to rags; and yet he would not get down
from his horse, neither would he take any rest, or listen to any
comfort, until he should have found Sir Ossaise and settled this
account. It appeared, by what I could piece together of the
unprofane fragments of his statement, that he had chanced upon
Sir Ossaise at dawn of the morning, and been told that if he would
make a short cut across the fields and swamps and broken hills and
glades, he could head off a company of travelers who would be rare
customers for prophylactics and tooth-wash. With characteristic
zeal Sir Madok had plunged away at once upon this quest, and after
three hours of awful crosslot riding had overhauled his game. And
behold, it was the five patriarchs that had been released from the
dungeons the evening before! Poor old creatures, it was all of
twenty years since any one of them had known what it was to be
equipped with any remaining snag or remnant of a tooth.
"Blank-blank-blank him," said Sir Madok, "an I do not stove-polish
him an I may find him, leave it to me; for never no knight that
hight Ossaise or aught else may do me this disservice and bide
on live, an I may find him, the which I have thereunto sworn a
great oath this day."
And with these words and others, he lightly took his spear and
gat him thence. In the middle of the afternoon we came upon one
of those very patriarchs ourselves, in the edge of a poor village.
He was basking in the love of relatives and friends whom he had not
seen for fifty years; and about him and caressing him were also
descendants of his own body whom he had never seen at all till now;
but to him these were all strangers, his memory was gone, his mind
was stagnant. It seemed incredible that a man could outlast half
a century shut up in a dark hole like a rat, but here were his old
wife and some old comrades to testify to it. They could remember
him as he was in the freshness and strength of his young manhood,
when he kissed his child and delivered it to its mother's hands
and went away into that long oblivion. The people at the castle
could not tell within half a generation the length of time the man
had been shut up there for his unrecorded and forgotten offense;
but this old wife knew; and so did her old child, who stood there
among her married sons and daughters trying to realize a father
who had been to her a name, a thought, a formless image, a tradition,
all her life, and now was suddenly concreted into actual flesh
and blood and set before her face.
It was a curious situation; yet it is not on that account that
I have made room for it here, but on account of a thing which
seemed to me still more curious. To wit, that this dreadful matter
brought from these downtrodden people no outburst of rage against
these oppressors. They had been heritors and subjects of cruelty
and outrage so long that nothing could have startled them but
a kindness. Yes, here was a curious revelation, indeed, of the
depth to which this people had been sunk in slavery. Their entire
being was reduced to a monotonous dead level of patience, resignation,
dumb uncomplaining acceptance of whatever might befall them in
this life. Their very imagination was dead. When you can say
that of a man, he has struck bottom, I reckon; there is no lower
deep for him.
I rather wished I had gone some other road. This was not the sort
of experience for a statesman to encounter who was planning out
a peaceful revolution in his mind. For it could not help bringing
up the unget-aroundable fact that, all gentle cant and philosophizing
to the contrary notwithstanding, no people in the world ever did
achieve their freedom by goody-goody talk and moral suasion:
it being immutable law that all revolutions that will succeed must
_begin_ in blood, whatever may answer afterward. If history teaches
anything, it teaches that. What this folk needed, then, was a
Reign of Terror and a guillotine, and I was the wrong man for them.
Two days later, toward noon, Sandy began to show signs of excitement
and feverish expectancy. She said we were approaching the ogre's
castle. I was surprised into an uncomfortable shock. The object
of our quest had gradually dropped out of my mind; this sudden
resurrection of it made it seem quite a real and startling thing
for a moment, and roused up in me a smart interest. Sandy's
excitement increased every moment; and so did mine, for that sort
of thing is catching. My heart got to thumping. You can't reason
with your heart; it has its own laws, and thumps about things which
the intellect scorns. Presently, when Sandy slid from the horse,
motioned me to stop, and went creeping stealthily, with her head
bent nearly to her knees, toward a row of bushes that bordered
a declivity, the thumpings grew stronger and quicker. And they
kept it up while she was gaining her ambush and getting her glimpse
over the declivity; and also while I was creeping to her side on
my knees. Her eyes were burning now, as she pointed with her
finger, and said in a panting whisper:
"The castle! The castle! Lo, where it looms!"
What a welcome disappointment I experienced! I said:
"Castle? It is nothing but a pigsty; a pigsty with a wattled
fence around it."
She looked surprised and distressed. The animation faded out of
her face; and during many moments she was lost in thought and
"It was not enchanted aforetime," she said in a musing fashion,
as if to herself. "And how strange is this marvel, and how awful
--that to the one perception it is enchanted and dight in a base
and shameful aspect; yet to the perception of the other it is not
enchanted, hath suffered no change, but stands firm and stately
still, girt with its moat and waving its banners in the blue air
from its towers. And God shield us, how it pricks the heart to
see again these gracious captives, and the sorrow deepened in their
sweet faces! We have tarried along, and are to blame."
I saw my cue. The castle was enchanted to _me_, not to her. It would
be wasted time to try to argue her out of her delusion, it couldn't
be done; I must just humor it. So I said:
"This is a common case--the enchanting of a thing to one eye and
leaving it in its proper form to another. You have heard of it
before, Sandy, though you haven't happened to experience it.
But no harm is done. In fact, it is lucky the way it is. If these
ladies were hogs to everybody and to themselves, it would be
necessary to break the enchantment, and that might be impossible
if one failed to find out the particular process of the enchantment.
And hazardous, too; for in attempting a disenchantment without the
true key, you are liable to err, and turn your hogs into dogs,
and the dogs into cats, the cats into rats, and so on, and end by
reducing your materials to nothing finally, or to an odorless gas
which you can't follow--which, of course, amounts to the same
thing. But here, by good luck, no one's eyes but mine are under
the enchantment, and so it is of no consequence to dissolve it.
These ladies remain ladies to you, and to themselves, and to
everybody else; and at the same time they will suffer in no way
from my delusion, for when I know that an ostensible hog is a
lady, that is enough for me, I know how to treat her."
"Thanks, oh, sweet my lord, thou talkest like an angel. And I know
that thou wilt deliver them, for that thou art minded to great
deeds and art as strong a knight of your hands and as brave to will
and to do, as any that is on live."
"I will not leave a princess in the sty, Sandy. Are those three
yonder that to my disordered eyes are starveling swine-herds--"
"The ogres, Are _they_ changed also? It is most wonderful. Now
am I fearful; for how canst thou strike with sure aim when five of
their nine cubits of stature are to thee invisible? Ah, go warily,
fair sir; this is a mightier emprise than I wend."
"You be easy, Sandy. All I need to know is, how _much_ of an ogre
is invisible; then I know how to locate his vitals. Don't you be
afraid, I will make short work of these bunco-steerers. Stay
where you are."
I left Sandy kneeling there, corpse-faced but plucky and hopeful,
and rode down to the pigsty, and struck up a trade with the
swine-herds. I won their gratitude by buying out all the hogs
at the lump sum of sixteen pennies, which was rather above latest
quotations. I was just in time; for the Church, the lord of the
manor, and the rest of the tax-gatherers would have been along
next day and swept off pretty much all the stock, leaving the
swine-herds very short of hogs and Sandy out of princesses. But
now the tax people could be paid in cash, and there would be
a stake left besides. One of the men had ten children; and he
said that last year when a priest came and of his ten pigs took
the fattest one for tithes, the wife burst out upon him, and offered
him a child and said:
"Thou beast without bowels of mercy, why leave me my child, yet
rob me of the wherewithal to feed it?"
How curious. The same thing had happened in the Wales of my day,
under this same old Established Church, which was supposed by many
to have changed its nature when it changed its disguise.
I sent the three men away, and then opened the sty gate and beckoned
Sandy to come--which she did; and not leisurely, but with the rush
of a prairie fire. And when I saw her fling herself upon those
hogs, with tears of joy running down her cheeks, and strain them
to her heart, and kiss them, and caress them, and call them
reverently by grand princely names, I was ashamed of her, ashamed
of the human race.
We had to drive those hogs home--ten miles; and no ladies were
ever more fickle-minded or contrary. They would stay in no road,
no path; they broke out through the brush on all sides, and flowed
away in all directions, over rocks, and hills, and the roughest
places they could find. And they must not be struck, or roughly
accosted; Sandy could not bear to see them treated in ways unbecoming
their rank. The troublesomest old sow of the lot had to be called
my Lady, and your Highness, like the rest. It is annoying and
difficult to scour around after hogs, in armor. There was one
small countess, with an iron ring in her snout and hardly any hair
on her back, that was the devil for perversity. She gave me a race
of an hour, over all sorts of country, and then we were right where
we had started from, having made not a rod of real progress.
I seized her at last by the tail, and brought her along squealing.
When I overtook Sandy she was horrified, and said it was in the
last degree indelicate to drag a countess by her train.
We got the hogs home just at dark--most of them. The princess
Nerovens de Morganore was missing, and two of her ladies in waiting:
namely, Miss Angela Bohun, and the Demoiselle Elaine Courtemains,
the former of these two being a young black sow with a white star
in her forehead, and the latter a brown one with thin legs and a
slight limp in the forward shank on the starboard side--a couple
of the tryingest blisters to drive that I ever saw. Also among
the missing were several mere baronesses--and I wanted them to
stay missing; but no, all that sausage-meat had to be found; so
servants were sent out with torches to scour the woods and hills
to that end.
Of course, the whole drove was housed in the house, and, great
guns!--well, I never saw anything like it. Nor ever heard anything
like it. And never smelt anything like it. It was like an
insurrection in a gasometer.
When I did get to bed at last I was unspeakably tired; the stretching
out, and the relaxing of the long-tense muscles, how luxurious,
how delicious! but that was as far as I could get--sleep was out of
the question for the present. The ripping and tearing and squealing
of the nobility up and down the halls and corridors was pandemonium
come again, and kept me broad awake. Being awake, my thoughts
were busy, of course; and mainly they busied themselves with Sandy's
curious delusion. Here she was, as sane a person as the kingdom
could produce; and yet, from my point of view she was acting like
a crazy woman. My land, the power of training! of influence!
of education! It can bring a body up to believe anything. I had
to put myself in Sandy's place to realize that she was not a
lunatic. Yes, and put her in mine, to demonstrate how easy it is
to seem a lunatic to a person who has not been taught as you have
been taught. If I had told Sandy I had seen a wagon, uninfluenced
by enchantment, spin along fifty miles an hour; had seen a man,
unequipped with magic powers, get into a basket and soar out of
sight among the clouds; and had listened, without any necromancer's
help, to the conversation of a person who was several hundred miles
away, Sandy would not merely have supposed me to be crazy, she
would have thought she knew it. Everybody around her believed in
enchantments; nobody had any doubts; to doubt that a castle could
be turned into a sty, and its occupants into hogs, would have been
the same as my doubting among Connecticut people the actuality
of the telephone and its wonders,--and in both cases would be
absolute proof of a diseased mind, an unsettled reason. Yes, Sandy
was sane; that must be admitted. If I also would be sane--to Sandy
--I must keep my superstitions about unenchanted and unmiraculous
locomotives, balloons, and telephones, to myself. Also, I believed
that the world was not flat, and hadn't pillars under it to support
it, nor a canopy over it to turn off a universe of water that
occupied all space above; but as I was the only person in the kingdom
afflicted with such impious and criminal opinions, I recognized
that it would be good wisdom to keep quiet about this matter, too,
if I did not wish to be suddenly shunned and forsaken by everybody
as a madman.
The next morning Sandy assembled the swine in the dining-room and
gave them their breakfast, waiting upon them personally and
manifesting in every way the deep reverence which the natives of
her island, ancient and modern, have always felt for rank, let its
outward casket and the mental and moral contents be what they may.
I could have eaten with the hogs if I had had birth approaching my
lofty official rank; but I hadn't, and so accepted the unavoidable
slight and made no complaint. Sandy and I had our breakfast at
the second table. The family were not at home. I said:
"How many are in the family, Sandy, and where do they keep themselves?"
"Which family, good my lord?"
"Why, this family; your own family."
"Sooth to say, I understand you not. I have no family."
"No family? Why, Sandy, isn't this your home?"
"Now how indeed might that be? I have no home."
"Well, then, whose house is this?"
"Ah, wit you well I would tell you an I knew myself."
"Come--you don't even know these people? Then who invited us here?"
"None invited us. We but came; that is all."
"Why, woman, this is a most extraordinary performance. The
effrontery of it is beyond admiration. We blandly march into
a man's house, and cram it full of the only really valuable nobility
the sun has yet discovered in the earth, and then it turns out
that we don't even know the man's name. How did you ever venture
to take this extravagant liberty? I supposed, of course, it was
your home. What will the man say?"
"What will he say? Forsooth what can he say but give thanks?"
"Thanks for what?"
Her face was filled with a puzzled surprise:
"Verily, thou troublest mine understanding with strange words.
Do ye dream that one of his estate is like to have the honor twice
in his life to entertain company such as we have brought to grace
his house withal?"
"Well, no--when you come to that. No, it's an even bet that this
is the first time he has had a treat like this."
"Then let him be thankful, and manifest the same by grateful speech
and due humility; he were a dog, else, and the heir and ancestor
To my mind, the situation was uncomfortable. It might become more so.
It might be a good idea to muster the hogs and move on. So I said:
"The day is wasting, Sandy. It is time to get the nobility together
and be moving."
"Wherefore, fair sir and Boss?"
"We want to take them to their home, don't we?"
"La, but list to him! They be of all the regions of the earth!
Each must hie to her own home; wend you we might do all these
journeys in one so brief life as He hath appointed that created
life, and thereto death likewise with help of Adam, who by sin
done through persuasion of his helpmeet, she being wrought upon
and bewrayed by the beguilements of the great enemy of man, that
serpent hight Satan, aforetime consecrated and set apart unto that
evil work by overmastering spite and envy begotten in his heart
through fell ambitions that did blight and mildew a nature erst
so white and pure whenso it hove with the shining multitudes
its brethren-born in glade and shade of that fair heaven wherein
all such as native be to that rich estate and--"
"Well, you know we haven't got time for this sort of thing. Don't
you see, we could distribute these people around the earth in less
time than it is going to take you to explain that we can't. We
mustn't talk now, we must act. You want to be careful; you mustn't
let your mill get the start of you that way, at a time like this.
To business now--and sharp's the word. Who is to take the
"Even their friends. These will come for them from the far parts
of the earth."
This was lightning from a clear sky, for unexpectedness; and the
relief of it was like pardon to a prisoner. She would remain to
deliver the goods, of course.
"Well, then, Sandy, as our enterprise is handsomely and successfully
ended, I will go home and report; and if ever another one--"
"I also am ready; I will go with thee."
This was recalling the pardon.
"How? You will go with me? Why should you?"
"Will I be traitor to my knight, dost think? That were dishonor.
I may not part from thee until in knightly encounter in the field
some overmatching champion shall fairly win and fairly wear me.
I were to blame an I thought that that might ever hap."
"Elected for the long term," I sighed to myself. "I may as well
make the best of it." So then I spoke up and said:
"All right; let us make a start."
While she was gone to cry her farewells over the pork, I gave that
whole peerage away to the servants. And I asked them to take
a duster and dust around a little where the nobilities had mainly
lodged and promenaded; but they considered that that would be
hardly worth while, and would moreover be a rather grave departure
from custom, and therefore likely to make talk. A departure from
custom--that settled it; it was a nation capable of committing any
crime but that. The servants said they would follow the fashion,
a fashion grown sacred through immemorial observance; they would
scatter fresh rushes in all the rooms and halls, and then the
evidence of the aristocratic visitation would be no longer visible.
It was a kind of satire on Nature: it was the scientific method,
the geologic method; it deposited the history of the family in
a stratified record; and the antiquary could dig through it and
tell by the remains of each period what changes of diet the family
had introduced successively for a hundred years.
The first thing we struck that day was a procession of pilgrims.
It was not going our way, but we joined it, nevertheless; for it
was hourly being borne in upon me now, that if I would govern
this country wisely, I must be posted in the details of its life,
and not at second hand, but by personal observation and scrutiny.
This company of pilgrims resembled Chaucer's in this: that it
had in it a sample of about all the upper occupations and professions
the country could show, and a corresponding variety of costume.
There were young men and old men, young women and old women,
lively folk and grave folk. They rode upon mules and horses, and
there was not a side-saddle in the party; for this specialty was
to remain unknown in England for nine hundred years yet.
It was a pleasant, friendly, sociable herd; pious, happy, merry and
full of unconscious coarsenesses and innocent indecencies. What
they regarded as the merry tale went the continual round and caused
no more embarrassment than it would have caused in the best English
society twelve centuries later. Practical jokes worthy of the
English wits of the first quarter of the far-off nineteenth century
were sprung here and there and yonder along the line, and compelled
the delightedest applause; and sometimes when a bright remark was
made at one end of the procession and started on its travels toward
the other, you could note its progress all the way by the sparkling
spray of laughter it threw off from its bows as it plowed along;
and also by the blushes of the mules in its wake.
Sandy knew the goal and purpose of this pilgrimage, and she posted
me. She said:
"They journey to the Valley of Holiness, for to be blessed of the
godly hermits and drink of the miraculous waters and be cleansed
"Where is this watering place?"
"It lieth a two-day journey hence, by the borders of the land that
hight the Cuckoo Kingdom."
"Tell me about it. Is it a celebrated place?"
"Oh, of a truth, yes. There be none more so. Of old time there
lived there an abbot and his monks. Belike were none in the world
more holy than these; for they gave themselves to study of pious
books, and spoke not the one to the other, or indeed to any, and
ate decayed herbs and naught thereto, and slept hard, and prayed
much, and washed never; also they wore the same garment until it
fell from their bodies through age and decay. Right so came they
to be known of all the world by reason of these holy austerities,
and visited by rich and poor, and reverenced."
"But always there was lack of water there. Whereas, upon a time,
the holy abbot prayed, and for answer a great stream of clear
water burst forth by miracle in a desert place. Now were the
fickle monks tempted of the Fiend, and they wrought with their
abbot unceasingly by beggings and beseechings that he would construct
a bath; and when he was become aweary and might not resist more,
he said have ye your will, then, and granted that they asked.
Now mark thou what 'tis to forsake the ways of purity the which
He loveth, and wanton with such as be worldly and an offense.
These monks did enter into the bath and come thence washed as
white as snow; and lo, in that moment His sign appeared, in
miraculous rebuke! for His insulted waters ceased to flow, and
utterly vanished away."
"They fared mildly, Sandy, considering how that kind of crime
is regarded in this country."
"Belike; but it was their first sin; and they had been of perfect
life for long, and differing in naught from the angels. Prayers,
tears, torturings of the flesh, all was vain to beguile that water
to flow again. Even processions; even burnt-offerings; even votive
candles to the Virgin, did fail every each of them; and all in
the land did marvel."
"How odd to find that even this industry has its financial panics,
and at times sees its assignats and greenbacks languish to zero,
and everything come to a standstill. Go on, Sandy."
"And so upon a time, after year and day, the good abbot made humble
surrender and destroyed the bath. And behold, His anger was in that
moment appeased, and the waters gushed richly forth again, and even
unto this day they have not ceased to flow in that generous measure."
"Then I take it nobody has washed since."
"He that would essay it could have his halter free; yes, and
swiftly would he need it, too."
"The community has prospered since?"
"Even from that very day. The fame of the miracle went abroad
into all lands. From every land came monks to join; they came
even as the fishes come, in shoals; and the monastery added building
to building, and yet others to these, and so spread wide its arms
and took them in. And nuns came, also; and more again, and yet
more; and built over against the monastery on the yon side of the
vale, and added building to building, until mighty was that nunnery.
And these were friendly unto those, and they joined their loving
labors together, and together they built a fair great foundling
asylum midway of the valley between."
"You spoke of some hermits, Sandy."
"These have gathered there from the ends of the earth. A hermit
thriveth best where there be multitudes of pilgrims. Ye shall not
find no hermit of no sort wanting. If any shall mention a hermit
of a kind he thinketh new and not to be found but in some far
strange land, let him but scratch among the holes and caves and
swamps that line that Valley of Holiness, and whatsoever be his
breed, it skills not, he shall find a sample of it there."
I closed up alongside of a burly fellow with a fat good-humored
face, purposing to make myself agreeable and pick up some further
crumbs of fact; but I had hardly more than scraped acquaintance
with him when he began eagerly and awkwardly to lead up, in the
immemorial way, to that same old anecdote--the one Sir Dinadan
told me, what time I got into trouble with Sir Sagramor and was
challenged of him on account of it. I excused myself and dropped
to the rear of the procession, sad at heart, willing to go hence
from this troubled life, this vale of tears, this brief day of
broken rest, of cloud and storm, of weary struggle and monotonous
defeat; and yet shrinking from the change, as remembering how long
eternity is, and how many have wended thither who know that anecdote.
Early in the afternoon we overtook another procession of pilgrims;
but in this one was no merriment, no jokes, no laughter, no playful
ways, nor any happy giddiness, whether of youth or age. Yet both
were here, both age and youth; gray old men and women, strong men
and women of middle age, young husbands, young wives, little boys
and girls, and three babies at the breast. Even the children were
smileless; there was not a face among all these half a hundred
people but was cast down, and bore that set expression of hopelessness
which is bred of long and hard trials and old acquaintance with
despair. They were slaves. Chains led from their fettered feet
and their manacled hands to a sole-leather belt about their waists;
and all except the children were also linked together in a file
six feet apart, by a single chain which led from collar to collar
all down the line. They were on foot, and had tramped three
hundred miles in eighteen days, upon the cheapest odds and ends
of food, and stingy rations of that. They had slept in these
chains every night, bundled together like swine. They had upon
their bodies some poor rags, but they could not be said to be
clothed. Their irons had chafed the skin from their ankles and
made sores which were ulcerated and wormy. Their naked feet were
torn, and none walked without a limp. Originally there had been a
hundred of these unfortunates, but about half had been sold on
the trip. The trader in charge of them rode a horse and carried
a whip with a short handle and a long heavy lash divided into
several knotted tails at the end. With this whip he cut the
shoulders of any that tottered from weariness and pain, and
straightened them up. He did not speak; the whip conveyed his
desire without that. None of these poor creatures looked up as
we rode along by; they showed no consciousness of our presence.
And they made no sound but one; that was the dull and awful clank
of their chains from end to end of the long file, as forty-three
burdened feet rose and fell in unison. The file moved in a cloud
of its own making.
All these faces were gray with a coating of dust. One has seen
the like of this coating upon furniture in unoccupied houses, and
has written his idle thought in it with his finger. I was reminded
of this when I noticed the faces of some of those women, young
mothers carrying babes that were near to death and freedom, how
a something in their hearts was written in the dust upon their
faces, plain to see, and lord, how plain to read! for it was the
track of tears. One of these young mothers was but a girl, and
it hurt me to the heart to read that writing, and reflect that it
was come up out of the breast of such a child, a breast that ought
not to know trouble yet, but only the gladness of the morning of
life; and no doubt--
She reeled just then, giddy with fatigue, and down came the lash
and flicked a flake of skin from her naked shoulder. It stung me
as if I had been hit instead. The master halted the file and
jumped from his horse. He stormed and swore at this girl, and
said she had made annoyance enough with her laziness, and as this
was the last chance he should have, he would settle the account now.
She dropped on her knees and put up her hands and began to beg,
and cry, and implore, in a passion of terror, but the master gave
no attention. He snatched the child from her, and then made the
men-slaves who were chained before and behind her throw her on
the ground and hold her there and expose her body; and then he
laid on with his lash like a madman till her back was flayed, she
shrieking and struggling the while piteously. One of the men who
was holding her turned away his face, and for this humanity he was
reviled and flogged.
All our pilgrims looked on and commented--on the expert way in
which the whip was handled. They were too much hardened by lifelong
everyday familiarity with slavery to notice that there was anything
else in the exhibition that invited comment. This was what slavery
could do, in the way of ossifying what one may call the superior
lobe of human feeling; for these pilgrims were kind-hearted people,
and they would not have allowed that man to treat a horse like that.
I wanted to stop the whole thing and set the slaves free, but that
would not do. I must not interfere too much and get myself a name
for riding over the country's laws and the citizen's rights
roughshod. If I lived and prospered I would be the death of
slavery, that I was resolved upon; but I would try to fix it so
that when I became its executioner it should be by command of
Just here was the wayside shop of a smith; and now arrived a landed
proprietor who had bought this girl a few miles back, deliverable
here where her irons could be taken off. They were removed; then
there was a squabble between the gentleman and the dealer as to
which should pay the blacksmith. The moment the girl was delivered
from her irons, she flung herself, all tears and frantic sobbings,
into the arms of the slave who had turned away his face when she
was whipped. He strained her to his breast, and smothered her
face and the child's with kisses, and washed them with the rain
of his tears. I suspected. I inquired. Yes, I was right; it was
husband and wife. They had to be torn apart by force; the girl
had to be dragged away, and she struggled and fought and shrieked
like one gone mad till a turn of the road hid her from sight; and
even after that, we could still make out the fading plaint of those
receding shrieks. And the husband and father, with his wife and
child gone, never to be seen by him again in life?--well, the look
of him one might not bear at all, and so I turned away; but I knew
I should never get his picture out of my mind again, and there
it is to this day, to wring my heartstrings whenever I think of it.
We put up at the inn in a village just at nightfall, and when
I rose next morning and looked abroad, I was ware where a knight
came riding in the golden glory of the new day, and recognized him
for knight of mine--Sir Ozana le Cure Hardy. He was in the
gentlemen's furnishing line, and his missionarying specialty was
plug hats. He was clothed all in steel, in the beautifulest armor
of the time--up to where his helmet ought to have been; but he
hadn't any helmet, he wore a shiny stove-pipe hat, and was ridiculous
a spectacle as one might want to see. It was another of my
surreptitious schemes for extinguishing knighthood by making it
grotesque and absurd. Sir Ozana's saddle was hung about with
leather hat boxes, and every time he overcame a wandering knight
he swore him into my service and fitted him with a plug and made
him wear it. I dressed and ran down to welcome Sir Ozana and
get his news.
"How is trade?" I asked.
"Ye will note that I have but these four left; yet were they sixteen
whenas I got me from Camelot."
"Why, you have certainly done nobly, Sir Ozana. Where have you
been foraging of late?"
"I am but now come from the Valley of Holiness, please you sir."
"I am pointed for that place myself. Is there anything stirring
in the monkery, more than common?"
"By the mass ye may not question it!.... Give him good feed,
boy, and stint it not, an thou valuest thy crown; so get ye lightly
to the stable and do even as I bid.... Sir, it is parlous news
I bring, and--be these pilgrims? Then ye may not do better, good
folk, than gather and hear the tale I have to tell, sith it
concerneth you, forasmuch as ye go to find that ye will not find,
and seek that ye will seek in vain, my life being hostage for my
word, and my word and message being these, namely: That a hap
has happened whereof the like has not been seen no more but once
this two hundred years, which was the first and last time that
that said misfortune strake the holy valley in that form by
commandment of the Most High whereto by reasons just and causes
thereunto contributing, wherein the matter--"
"The miraculous fount hath ceased to flow!" This shout burst from
twenty pilgrim mouths at once.
"Ye say well, good people. I was verging to it, even when ye spake."
"Has somebody been washing again?"
"Nay, it is suspected, but none believe it. It is thought to be
some other sin, but none wit what."
"How are they feeling about the calamity?"
"None may describe it in words. The fount is these nine days dry.
The prayers that did begin then, and the lamentations in sackcloth
and ashes, and the holy processions, none of these have ceased
nor night nor day; and so the monks and the nuns and the foundlings
be all exhausted, and do hang up prayers writ upon parchment,
sith that no strength is left in man to lift up voice. And at last
they sent for thee, Sir Boss, to try magic and enchantment; and
if you could not come, then was the messenger to fetch Merlin,
and he is there these three days now, and saith he will fetch that
water though he burst the globe and wreck its kingdoms to accomplish
it; and right bravely doth he work his magic and call upon his
hellions to hie them hither and help, but not a whiff of moisture
hath he started yet, even so much as might qualify as mist upon
a copper mirror an ye count not the barrel of sweat he sweateth
betwixt sun and sun over the dire labors of his task; and if ye--"
Breakfast was ready. As soon as it was over I showed to Sir Ozana
these words which I had written on the inside of his hat: "Chemical
Department, Laboratory extension, Section G. Pxxp. Send two of
first size, two of No. 3, and six of No. 4, together with the proper
complementary details--and two of my trained assistants." And I said:
"Now get you to Camelot as fast as you can fly, brave knight, and
show the writing to Clarence, and tell him to have these required
matters in the Valley of Holiness with all possible dispatch."
"I will well, Sir Boss," and he was off.
THE HOLY FOUNTAIN
The pilgrims were human beings. Otherwise they would have acted
differently. They had come a long and difficult journey, and now
when the journey was nearly finished, and they learned that the main
thing they had come for had ceased to exist, they didn't do as
horses or cats or angle-worms would probably have done--turn back
and get at something profitable--no, anxious as they had before
been to see the miraculous fountain, they were as much as forty
times as anxious now to see the place where it had used to be.
There is no accounting for human beings.
We made good time; and a couple of hours before sunset we stood
upon the high confines of the Valley of Holiness, and our eyes
swept it from end to end and noted its features. That is, its
large features. These were the three masses of buildings. They
were distant and isolated temporalities shrunken to toy constructions
in the lonely waste of what seemed a desert--and was. Such a scene
is always mournful, it is so impressively still, and looks so
steeped in death. But there was a sound here which interrupted
the stillness only to add to its mournfulness; this was the faint
far sound of tolling bells which floated fitfully to us on the
passing breeze, and so faintly, so softly, that we hardly knew
whether we heard it with our ears or with our spirits.
We reached the monastery before dark, and there the males were
given lodging, but the women were sent over to the nunnery. The
bells were close at hand now, and their solemn booming smote
upon the ear like a message of doom. A superstitious despair
possessed the heart of every monk and published itself in his
ghastly face. Everywhere, these black-robed, soft-sandaled,
tallow-visaged specters appeared, flitted about and disappeared,
noiseless as the creatures of a troubled dream, and as uncanny.
The old abbot's joy to see me was pathetic. Even to tears; but
he did the shedding himself. He said:
"Delay not, son, but get to thy saving work. An we bring not
the water back again, and soon, we are ruined, and the good work
of two hundred years must end. And see thou do it with enchantments
that be holy, for the Church will not endure that work in her cause
be done by devil's magic."
"When I work, Father, be sure there will be no devil's work
connected with it. I shall use no arts that come of the devil,
and no elements not created by the hand of God. But is Merlin
working strictly on pious lines?"
"Ah, he said he would, my son, he said he would, and took oath
to make his promise good."
"Well, in that case, let him proceed."
"But surely you will not sit idle by, but help?"
"It will not answer to mix methods, Father; neither would it be
professional courtesy. Two of a trade must not underbid each
other. We might as well cut rates and be done with it; it would
arrive at that in the end. Merlin has the contract; no other
magician can touch it till he throws it up."
"But I will take it from him; it is a terrible emergency and the
act is thereby justified. And if it were not so, who will give
law to the Church? The Church giveth law to all; and what she
wills to do, that she may do, hurt whom it may. I will take it
from him; you shall begin upon the moment."
"It may not be, Father. No doubt, as you say, where power is
supreme, one can do as one likes and suffer no injury; but we poor
magicians are not so situated. Merlin is a very good magician
in a small way, and has quite a neat provincial reputation. He
is struggling along, doing the best he can, and it would not be
etiquette for me to take his job until he himself abandons it."
The abbot's face lighted.
"Ah, that is simple. There are ways to persuade him to abandon it."
"No-no, Father, it skills not, as these people say. If he were
persuaded against his will, he would load that well with a malicious
enchantment which would balk me until I found out its secret.
It might take a month. I could set up a little enchantment of
mine which I call the telephone, and he could not find out its
secret in a hundred years. Yes, you perceive, he might block me
for a month. Would you like to risk a month in a dry time like this?"
"A month! The mere thought of it maketh me to shudder. Have it
thy way, my son. But my heart is heavy with this disappointment.
Leave me, and let me wear my spirit with weariness and waiting,
even as I have done these ten long days, counterfeiting thus
the thing that is called rest, the prone body making outward sign
of repose where inwardly is none."
Of course, it would have been best, all round, for Merlin to waive
etiquette and quit and call it half a day, since he would never be
able to start that water, for he was a true magician of the time;
which is to say, the big miracles, the ones that gave him his
reputation, always had the luck to be performed when nobody but
Merlin was present; he couldn't start this well with all this crowd
around to see; a crowd was as bad for a magician's miracle in
that day as it was for a spiritualist's miracle in mine; there was
sure to be some skeptic on hand to turn up the gas at the crucial
moment and spoil everything. But I did not want Merlin to retire
from the job until I was ready to take hold of it effectively
myself; and I could not do that until I got my things from Camelot,
and that would take two or three days.
My presence gave the monks hope, and cheered them up a good deal;
insomuch that they ate a square meal that night for the first time
in ten days. As soon as their stomachs had been properly reinforced
with food, their spirits began to rise fast; when the mead began to
go round they rose faster. By the time everybody was half-seas over,
the holy community was in good shape to make a night of it; so we
stayed by the board and put it through on that line. Matters got
to be very jolly. Good old questionable stories were told that made
the tears run down and cavernous mouths stand wide and the round
bellies shake with laughter; and questionable songs were bellowed out
in a mighty chorus that drowned the boom of the tolling bells.
At last I ventured a story myself; and vast was the success of it.
Not right off, of course, for the native of those islands does
not, as a rule, dissolve upon the early applications of a humorous
thing; but the fifth time I told it, they began to crack in places;
the eight time I told it, they began to crumble; at the twelfth
repetition they fell apart in chunks; and at the fifteenth they
disintegrated, and I got a broom and swept them up. This language
is figurative. Those islanders--well, they are slow pay at first,
in the matter of return for your investment of effort, but in the end
they make the pay of all other nations poor and small by contrast.
I was at the well next day betimes. Merlin was there, enchanting
away like a beaver, but not raising the moisture. He was not in
a pleasant humor; and every time I hinted that perhaps this contract
was a shade too hefty for a novice he unlimbered his tongue and
cursed like a bishop--French bishop of the Regency days, I mean.
Matters were about as I expected to find them. The "fountain" was
an ordinary well, it had been dug in the ordinary way, and stoned up
in the ordinary way. There was no miracle about it. Even the lie
that had created its reputation was not miraculous; I could have
told it myself, with one hand tied behind me. The well was in a
dark chamber which stood in the center of a cut-stone chapel, whose
walls were hung with pious pictures of a workmanship that would
have made a chromo feel good; pictures historically commemorative
of curative miracles which had been achieved by the waters when
nobody was looking. That is, nobody but angels; they are always
on deck when there is a miracle to the fore--so as to get put in
the picture, perhaps. Angels are as fond of that as a fire company;
look at the old masters.
The well-chamber was dimly lighted by lamps; the water was drawn
with a windlass and chain by monks, and poured into troughs which
delivered it into stone reservoirs outside in the chapel--when
there was water to draw, I mean--and none but monks could enter
the well-chamber. I entered it, for I had temporary authority
to do so, by courtesy of my professional brother and subordinate.
But he hadn't entered it himself. He did everything by incantations;
he never worked his intellect. If he had stepped in there and used
his eyes, instead of his disordered mind, he could have cured
the well by natural means, and then turned it into a miracle in
the customary way; but no, he was an old numskull, a magician who
believed in his own magic; and no magician can thrive who is
handicapped with a superstition like that.
I had an idea that the well had sprung a leak; that some of the
wall stones near the bottom had fallen and exposed fissures that
allowed the water to escape. I measured the chain--98 feet. Then
I called in a couple of monks, locked the door, took a candle, and
made them lower me in the bucket. When the chain was all paid out,
the candle confirmed my suspicion; a considerable section of the
wall was gone, exposing a good big fissure.
I almost regretted that my theory about the well's trouble was
correct, because I had another one that had a showy point or two
about it for a miracle. I remembered that in America, many
centuries later, when an oil well ceased to flow, they used to
blast it out with a dynamite torpedo. If I should find this well
dry and no explanation of it, I could astonish these people most
nobly by having a person of no especial value drop a dynamite
bomb into it. It was my idea to appoint Merlin. However, it was
plain that there was no occasion for the bomb. One cannot have
everything the way he would like it. A man has no business to
be depressed by a disappointment, anyway; he ought to make up his
mind to get even. That is what I did. I said to myself, I am in no
hurry, I can wait; that bomb will come good yet. And it did, too.
When I was above ground again, I turned out the monks, and let down
a fish-line; the well was a hundred and fifty feet deep, and there
was forty-one feet of water in it. I called in a monk and asked:
"How deep is the well?"
"That, sir, I wit not, having never been told."
"How does the water usually stand in it?"
"Near to the top, these two centuries, as the testimony goeth,
brought down to us through our predecessors."
It was true--as to recent times at least--for there was witness
to it, and better witness than a monk; only about twenty or thirty
feet of the chain showed wear and use, the rest of it was unworn
and rusty. What had happened when the well gave out that other
time? Without doubt some practical person had come along and
mended the leak, and then had come up and told the abbot he had
discovered by divination that if the sinful bath were destroyed
the well would flow again. The leak had befallen again now, and
these children would have prayed, and processioned, and tolled
their bells for heavenly succor till they all dried up and blew
away, and no innocent of them all would ever have thought to drop
a fish-line into the well or go down in it and find out what was
really the matter. Old habit of mind is one of the toughest things
to get away from in the world. It transmits itself like physical
form and feature; and for a man, in those days, to have had an idea
that his ancestors hadn't had, would have brought him under suspicion
of being illegitimate. I said to the monk:
"It is a difficult miracle to restore water in a dry well, but we
will try, if my brother Merlin fails. Brother Merlin is a very
passable artist, but only in the parlor-magic line, and he may
not succeed; in fact, is not likely to succeed. But that should
be nothing to his discredit; the man that can do _this_ kind of
miracle knows enough to keep hotel."
"Hotel? I mind not to have heard--"
"Of hotel? It's what you call hostel. The man that can do this
miracle can keep hostel. I can do this miracle; I shall do this
miracle; yet I do not try to conceal from you that it is a miracle
to tax the occult powers to the last strain."
"None knoweth that truth better than the brotherhood, indeed; for
it is of record that aforetime it was parlous difficult and took
a year. Natheless, God send you good success, and to that end
will we pray."
As a matter of business it was a good idea to get the notion around
that the thing was difficult. Many a small thing has been made
large by the right kind of advertising. That monk was filled up
with the difficulty of this enterprise; he would fill up the others.
In two days the solicitude would be booming.
On my way home at noon, I met Sandy. She had been sampling the
hermits. I said:
"I would like to do that myself. This is Wednesday. Is there
"A which, please you, sir?"
"Matinee. Do they keep open afternoons?"
"The hermits, of course."
"Yes, keep open. Isn't that plain enough? Do they knock off at noon?"
"Knock off?--yes, knock off. What is the matter with knock off?
I never saw such a dunderhead; can't you understand anything at all?
In plain terms, do they shut up shop, draw the game, bank the fires--"
"Shut up shop, draw--"
"There, never mind, let it go; you make me tired. You can't seem
to understand the simplest thing."
"I would I might please thee, sir, and it is to me dole and sorrow
that I fail, albeit sith I am but a simple damsel and taught of
none, being from the cradle unbaptized in those deep waters of
learning that do anoint with a sovereignty him that partaketh of
that most noble sacrament, investing him with reverend state to
the mental eye of the humble mortal who, by bar and lack of that
great consecration seeth in his own unlearned estate but a symbol
of that other sort of lack and loss which men do publish to the
pitying eye with sackcloth trappings whereon the ashes of grief
do lie bepowdered and bestrewn, and so, when such shall in the
darkness of his mind encounter these golden phrases of high mystery,
these shut-up-shops, and draw-the-game, and bank-the-fires, it is
but by the grace of God that he burst not for envy of the mind that
can beget, and tongue that can deliver so great and mellow-sounding
miracles of speech, and if there do ensue confusion in that humbler
mind, and failure to divine the meanings of these wonders, then
if so be this miscomprehension is not vain but sooth and true,
wit ye well it is the very substance of worshipful dear homage and
may not lightly be misprized, nor had been, an ye had noted this
complexion of mood and mind and understood that that I would
I could not, and that I could not I might not, nor yet nor might
_nor_ could, nor might-not nor could-not, might be by advantage
turned to the desired _would_, and so I pray you mercy of my fault,
and that ye will of your kindness and your charity forgive it, good
my master and most dear lord."
I couldn't make it all out--that is, the details--but I got the
general idea; and enough of it, too, to be ashamed. It was not
fair to spring those nineteenth century technicalities upon the
untutored infant of the sixth and then rail at her because she
couldn't get their drift; and when she was making the honest best
drive at it she could, too, and no fault of hers that she couldn't
fetch the home plate; and so I apologized. Then we meandered
pleasantly away toward the hermit holes in sociable converse
together, and better friends than ever.
I was gradually coming to have a mysterious and shuddery reverence
for this girl; nowadays whenever she pulled out from the station
and got her train fairly started on one of those horizonless
transcontinental sentences of hers, it was borne in upon me that
I was standing in the awful presence of the Mother of the German
Language. I was so impressed with this, that sometimes when she
began to empty one of these sentences on me I unconsciously took
the very attitude of reverence, and stood uncovered; and if words
had been water, I had been drowned, sure. She had exactly the
German way; whatever was in her mind to be delivered, whether a
mere remark, or a sermon, or a cyclopedia, or the history of a war,
she would get it into a single sentence or die. Whenever the literary
German dives into a sentence, that is the last you are going to see
of him till he emerges on the other side of his Atlantic with his
verb in his mouth.
We drifted from hermit to hermit all the afternoon. It was a most
strange menagerie. The chief emulation among them seemed to be,
to see which could manage to be the uncleanest and most prosperous
with vermin. Their manner and attitudes were the last expression
of complacent self-righteousness. It was one anchorite's pride
to lie naked in the mud and let the insects bite him and blister
him unmolested; it was another's to lean against a rock, all day
long, conspicuous to the admiration of the throng of pilgrims
and pray; it was another's to go naked and crawl around on all fours;
it was another's to drag about with him, year in and year out,
eighty pounds of iron; it was another's to never lie down when
he slept, but to stand among the thorn-bushes and snore when there
were pilgrims around to look; a woman, who had the white hair of
age, and no other apparel, was black from crown to heel with
forty-seven years of holy abstinence from water. Groups of gazing
pilgrims stood around all and every of these strange objects, lost
in reverent wonder, and envious of the fleckless sanctity which
these pious austerities had won for them from an exacting heaven.
By and by we went to see one of the supremely great ones. He was
a mighty celebrity; his fame had penetrated all Christendom; the
noble and the renowned journeyed from the remotest lands on the globe
to pay him reverence. His stand was in the center of the widest part
of the valley; and it took all that space to hold his crowds.
His stand was a pillar sixty feet high, with a broad platform on
the top of it. He was now doing what he had been doing every day
for twenty years up there--bowing his body ceaselessly and rapidly
almost to his feet. It was his way of praying. I timed him with a
stop watch, and he made 1,244 revolutions in 24 minutes and
46 seconds. It seemed a pity to have all this power going to waste.
It was one of the most useful motions in mechanics, the pedal
movement; so I made a note in my memorandum book, purposing some
day to apply a system of elastic cords to him and run a sewing
machine with it. I afterward carried out that scheme, and got
five years' good service out of him; in which time he turned out
upward of eighteen thousand first-rate tow-linen shirts, which
was ten a day. I worked him Sundays and all; he was going, Sundays,
the same as week days, and it was no use to waste the power.
These shirts cost me nothing but just the mere trifle for the
materials--I furnished those myself, it would not have been right
to make him do that--and they sold like smoke to pilgrims at a
dollar and a half apiece, which was the price of fifty cows or
a blooded race horse in Arthurdom. They were regarded as a perfect
protection against sin, and advertised as such by my knights
everywhere, with the paint-pot and stencil-plate; insomuch that
there was not a cliff or a bowlder or a dead wall in England but
you could read on it at a mile distance:
"Buy the only genuine St. Stylite; patronized by the Nobility.
Patent applied for."
There was more money in the business than one knew what to do with.
As it extended, I brought out a line of goods suitable for kings,
and a nobby thing for duchesses and that sort, with ruffles down
the forehatch and the running-gear clewed up with a featherstitch
to leeward and then hauled aft with a back-stay and triced up with
a half-turn in the standing rigging forward of the weather-gaskets.
Yes, it was a daisy.
But about that time I noticed that the motive power had taken to
standing on one leg, and I found that there was something the matter
with the other one; so I stocked the business and unloaded, taking
Sir Bors de Ganis into camp financially along with certain of his
friends; for the works stopped within a year, and the good saint
got him to his rest. But he had earned it. I can say that for him.
When I saw him that first time--however, his personal condition
will not quite bear description here. You can read it in the
Lives of the Saints.*
[*All the details concerning the hermits, in this chapter, are from
Lecky--but greatly modified. This book not being a history but
only a tale, the majority of the historian's frank details were too
strong for reproduction in it.--_Editor_]
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