A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT
The ungentle laws and customs touched upon in this tale are
historical, and the episodes which are used to illustrate them are
also historical. It is not pretended that these laws and
customs existed in England in the sixth century; no, it is only
pretended that inasmuch as they existed in the English and other
civilizations of far later times, it is safe to consider that it is
no libel upon the sixth century to suppose them to have been in
practice in that day also. One is quite justified in
inferring that whatever one of these laws or customs was lacking in
that remote time, its place was competently filled by a worse
The question as to whether there is such a thing as divine right
of kings is not settled in this book. It was found too
difficult. That the executive head of a nation should be a person
of lofty character and extraordinary ability, was manifest and
indisputable; that none but the Deity could select that head
unerringly, was also manifest and indisputable; that the Deity
ought to make that selection, then, was likewise manifest and
indisputable; consequently, that He does make it, as claimed, was
an unavoidable deduction. I mean, until the author of this book
encountered the Pompadour, and Lady Castlemaine, and some other
executive heads of that kind; these were found so difficult to work
into the scheme, that it was judged better to take the other tack
in this book (which must be issued this fall), and then go into
training and settle the question in another book. It is, of
course, a thing which ought to be settled, and I am not going to
have anything particular to do next winter anyway.
HARTFORD, July 21, 1889
A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT
A WORD OF EXPLANATION
It was in Warwick Castle that I came across the curious stranger
whom I am going to talk about. He attracted me by three
things: his candid simplicity, his marvelous familiarity with
ancient armor, and the restfulness of his company—for he did
all the talking. We fell together, as modest people will, in the
tail of the herd that was being shown through, and he at once began
to say things which interested me. As he talked along,
softly, pleasantly, flowingly, he seemed to drift away
imperceptibly out of this world and time, and into some remote era
and old forgotten country; and so he gradually wove such a spell
about me that I seemed to move among the specters and shadows and
dust and mold of a gray antiquity, holding speech with a relic of
it! Exactly as I would speak of my nearest personal friends
or enemies, or my most familiar neighbors, he spoke of Sir
Bedivere, Sir Bors de Ganis, Sir Launcelot of the Lake, Sir
Galahad, and all the other great names of the Table Round—and
how old, old, unspeakably old and faded and dry and musty and
ancient he came to look as he went on! Presently he turned to
me and said, just as one might speak of the weather, or any other
"You know about transmigration of souls; do you know about
transposition of epochs—and bodies?"
I said I had not heard of it. He was so little
interested—just as when people speak of the
weather—that he did not notice whether I made him any answer
or not. There was half a moment of silence, immediately interrupted
by the droning voice of the salaried cicerone:
"Ancient hauberk, date of the sixth century, time of King Arthur
and the Round Table; said to have belonged to the knight Sir
Sagramor le Desirous; observe the round hole through the chain-mail
in the left breast; can't be accounted for; supposed to have been
done with a bullet since invention of firearms—perhaps
maliciously by Cromwell's soldiers."
My acquaintance smiled—not a modern smile, but one that
must have gone out of general use many, many centuries
ago—and muttered apparently to himself:
"Wit ye well, I saw it done ." Then, after a pause,
added: "I did it myself."
By the time I had recovered from the electric surprise of this
remark, he was gone.
All that evening I sat by my fire at the Warwick Arms, steeped
in a dream of the olden time, while the rain beat upon the windows,
and the wind roared about the eaves and corners. From time to
time I dipped into old Sir Thomas Malory's enchanting book, and fed
at its rich feast of prodigies and adventures, breathed in the
fragrance of its obsolete names, and dreamed again. Midnight
being come at length, I read another tale, for a
nightcap—this which here follows, to wit:
HOW SIR LAUNCELOT SLEW TWO GIANTS,
AND MADE A CASTLE FREE
Anon withal came there upon him two great giants,
well armed, all save the heads, with two horrible
clubs in their hands. Sir Launcelot put his shield
afore him, and put the stroke away of the one
giant, and with his sword he clave his head asunder.
When his fellow saw that, he ran away as he were
wood [*demented], for fear of the horrible strokes,
and Sir Launcelot after him with all his might,
and smote him on the shoulder, and clave him to
the middle. Then Sir Launcelot went into the hall,
and there came afore him three score ladies and
damsels, and all kneeled unto him, and thanked
God and him of their deliverance. For, sir, said
they, the most part of us have been here this
seven year their prisoners, and we have worked all
manner of silk works for our meat, and we are all
great gentle-women born, and blessed be the time,
knight, that ever thou wert born; for thou hast
done the most worship that ever did knight in the
world, that will we bear record, and we all pray
you to tell us your name, that we may tell our
friends who delivered us out of prison. Fair
damsels, he said, my name is Sir Launcelot du
Lake. And so he departed from them and betaught
them unto God. And then he mounted upon his
horse, and rode into many strange and wild
countries, and through many waters and valleys,
and evil was he lodged. And at the last by
fortune him happened against a night to come to
a fair courtilage, and therein he found an old
gentle-woman that lodged him with a good-will,
and there he had good cheer for him and his horse.
And when time was, his host brought him into a
fair garret over the gate to his bed. There
Sir Launcelot unarmed him, and set his harness
by him, and went to bed, and anon he fell on
sleep. So, soon after there came one on
horseback, and knocked at the gate in great
haste. And when Sir Launcelot heard this he rose
up, and looked out at the window, and saw by the
moonlight three knights come riding after that
one man, and all three lashed on him at once
with swords, and that one knight turned on them
knightly again and defended him. Truly, said
Sir Launcelot, yonder one knight shall I help,
for it were shame for me to see three knights
on one, and if he be slain I am partner of his
death. And therewith he took his harness and
went out at a window by a sheet down to the four
knights, and then Sir Launcelot said on high,
Turn you knights unto me, and leave your
fighting with that knight. And then they all
three left Sir Kay, and turned unto Sir Launcelot,
and there began great battle, for they alight
all three, and strake many strokes at Sir
Launcelot, and assailed him on every side. Then
Sir Kay dressed him for to have holpen Sir
Launcelot. Nay, sir, said he, I will none of
your help, therefore as ye will have my help
let me alone with them. Sir Kay for the pleasure
of the knight suffered him for to do his will,
and so stood aside. And then anon within six
strokes Sir Launcelot had stricken them to the earth.
And then they all three cried, Sir Knight, we
yield us unto you as man of might matchless. As
to that, said Sir Launcelot, I will not take
your yielding unto me, but so that ye yield
you unto Sir Kay the seneschal, on that covenant
I will save your lives and else not. Fair knight,
said they, that were we loath to do; for as for
Sir Kay we chased him hither, and had overcome
him had ye not been; therefore, to yield us unto
him it were no reason. Well, as to that, said
Sir Launcelot, advise you well, for ye may
choose whether ye will die or live, for an ye be
yielden, it shall be unto Sir Kay. Fair knight,
then they said, in saving our lives we will do
as thou commandest us. Then shall ye, said Sir
Launcelot, on Whitsunday next coming go unto the
court of King Arthur, and there shall ye yield
you unto Queen Guenever, and put you all three
in her grace and mercy, and say that Sir Kay
sent you thither to be her prisoners. On the morn
Sir Launcelot arose early, and left Sir Kay
sleeping; and Sir Launcelot took Sir Kay's armor
and his shield and armed him, and so he went to
the stable and took his horse, and took his leave
of his host, and so he departed. Then soon after
arose Sir Kay and missed Sir Launcelot; and
then he espied that he had his armor and his
horse. Now by my faith I know well that he will
grieve some of the court of King Arthur; for on
him knights will be bold, and deem that it is I,
and that will beguile them; and because of his
armor and shield I am sure I shall ride in peace.
And then soon after departed Sir Kay, and
thanked his host.
As I laid the book down there was a knock at the door, and my
stranger came in. I gave him a pipe and a chair, and made him
welcome. I also comforted him with a hot Scotch whisky; gave
him another one; then still another—hoping always for his
story. After a fourth persuader, he drifted into it himself, in a
quite simple and natural way:
THE STRANGER'S HISTORY
I am an American. I was born and reared in Hartford, in
the State of Connecticut—anyway, just over the river, in the
country. So I am a Yankee of the Yankees—and practical;
yes, and nearly barren of sentiment, I suppose—or poetry, in
other words. My father was a blacksmith, my uncle was a horse
doctor, and I was both, along at first. Then I went over to
the great arms factory and learned my real trade; learned all there
was to it; learned to make everything: guns, revolvers,
cannon, boilers, engines, all sorts of labor-saving machinery.
Why, I could make anything a body wanted—anything in
the world, it didn't make any difference what; and if there wasn't
any quick new-fangled way to make a thing, I could invent
one—and do it as easy as rolling off a log. I became
head superintendent; had a couple of thousand men under me.
Well, a man like that is a man that is full of fight—that
goes without saying. With a couple of thousand rough men
under one, one has plenty of that sort of amusement. I had,
anyway. At last I met my match, and I got my dose. It
was during a misunderstanding conducted with crowbars with a fellow
we used to call Hercules. He laid me out with a crusher alongside
the head that made everything crack, and seemed to spring every
joint in my skull and made it overlap its neighbor. Then the
world went out in darkness, and I didn't feel anything more, and
didn't know anything at all—at least for a while.
When I came to again, I was sitting under an oak tree, on the
grass, with a whole beautiful and broad country landscape all to
myself—nearly. Not entirely; for there was a fellow on
a horse, looking down at me—a fellow fresh out of a
picture-book. He was in old-time iron armor from head to
heel, with a helmet on his head the shape of a nail-keg with slits
in it; and he had a shield, and a sword, and a prodigious spear;
and his horse had armor on, too, and a steel horn projecting from
his forehead, and gorgeous red and green silk trappings that hung
down all around him like a bedquilt, nearly to the ground.
"Fair sir, will ye just?" said this fellow.
"Will I which?"
"Will ye try a passage of arms for land or lady or
"What are you giving me?" I said. "Get along back to your
circus, or I'll report you."
Now what does this man do but fall back a couple of hundred
yards and then come rushing at me as hard as he could tear, with
his nail-keg bent down nearly to his horse's neck and his long
spear pointed straight ahead. I saw he meant business, so I
was up the tree when he arrived.
He allowed that I was his property, the captive of his spear.
There was argument on his side—and the bulk of the
advantage—so I judged it best to humor him. We fixed up
an agreement whereby I was to go with him and he was not to hurt
me. I came down, and we started away, I walking by the side
of his horse. We marched comfortably along, through glades and over
brooks which I could not remember to have seen before—which
puzzled me and made me wonder—and yet we did not come to any
circus or sign of a circus. So I gave up the idea of a
circus, and concluded he was from an asylum. But we never
came to an asylum—so I was up a stump, as you may say.
I asked him how far we were from Hartford. He said he had
never heard of the place; which I took to be a lie, but allowed it
to go at that. At the end of an hour we saw a far-away town
sleeping in a valley by a winding river; and beyond it on a hill, a
vast gray fortress, with towers and turrets, the first I had ever
seen out of a picture.
"Bridgeport?" said I, pointing.
"Camelot," said he.
My stranger had been showing signs of sleepiness. He
caught himself nodding, now, and smiled one of those pathetic,
obsolete smiles of his, and said:
"I find I can't go on; but come with me, I've got it all written
out, and you can read it if you like."
In his chamber, he said: "First, I kept a journal; then by
and by, after years, I took the journal and turned it into a book.
How long ago that was!"
He handed me his manuscript, and pointed out the place where I
"Begin here—I've already told you what goes before."
He was steeped in drowsiness by this time. As I went
out at his door I heard him murmur sleepily: "Give you good
den, fair sir."
I sat down by my fire and examined my treasure. The first
part of it—the great bulk of it—was parchment, and
yellow with age. I scanned a leaf particularly and saw that it was
a palimpsest. Under the old dim writing of the Yankee historian
appeared traces of a penmanship which was older and dimmer
still—Latin words and sentences: fragments from old
monkish legends, evidently. I turned to the place indicated by my
stranger and began to read—as follows.
THE TALE OF THE LOST LAND
"Camelot—Camelot," said I to myself. "I don't seem
to remember hearing of it before. Name of the asylum,
It was a soft, reposeful summer landscape, as lovely as a dream,
and as lonesome as Sunday. The air was full of the smell of
flowers, and the buzzing of insects, and the twittering of birds,
and there were no people, no wagons, there was no stir of life,
nothing going on. The road was mainly a winding path with
hoof-prints in it, and now and then a faint trace of wheels on
either side in the grass—wheels that apparently had a tire as
broad as one's hand.
Presently a fair slip of a girl, about ten years old, with a
cataract of golden hair streaming down over her shoulders, came
along. Around her head she wore a hoop of flame-red poppies. It was
as sweet an outfit as ever I saw, what there was of it. She
walked indolently along, with a mind at rest, its peace reflected
in her innocent face. The circus man paid no attention to
her; didn't even seem to see her. And she—she was no
more startled at his fantastic make-up than if she was used to his
like every day of her life. She was going by as indifferently
as she might have gone by a couple of cows; but when she happened
to notice me, then there was a change! Up went her
hands, and she was turned to stone; her mouth dropped open, her
eyes stared wide and timorously, she was the picture of astonished
curiosity touched with fear. And there she stood gazing, in a
sort of stupefied fascination, till we turned a corner of the wood
and were lost to her view. That she should be startled at me
instead of at the other man, was too many for me; I couldn't make
head or tail of it. And that she should seem to consider me a
spectacle, and totally overlook her own merits in that respect, was
another puzzling thing, and a display of magnanimity, too, that was
surprising in one so young. There was food for thought here.
I moved along as one in a dream.
As we approached the town, signs of life began to appear.
At intervals we passed a wretched cabin, with a thatched
roof, and about it small fields and garden patches in an
indifferent state of cultivation. There were people, too;
brawny men, with long, coarse, uncombed hair that hung down over
their faces and made them look like animals. They and the
women, as a rule, wore a coarse tow-linen robe that came well below
the knee, and a rude sort of sandal, and many wore an iron collar.
The small boys and girls were always naked; but nobody seemed
to know it. All of these people stared at me, talked about
me, ran into the huts and fetched out their families to gape at me;
but nobody ever noticed that other fellow, except to make him
humble salutation and get no response for their pains.
In the town were some substantial windowless houses of stone
scattered among a wilderness of thatched cabins; the streets were
mere crooked alleys, and unpaved; troops of dogs and nude children
played in the sun and made life and noise; hogs roamed and rooted
contentedly about, and one of them lay in a reeking wallow in the
middle of the main thoroughfare and suckled her family. Presently
there was a distant blare of military music; it came nearer, still
nearer, and soon a noble cavalcade wound into view, glorious with
plumed helmets and flashing mail and flaunting banners and rich
doublets and horse-cloths and gilded spearheads; and through the
muck and swine, and naked brats, and joyous dogs, and shabby huts,
it took its gallant way, and in its wake we followed.
Followed through one winding alley and then another,—and
climbing, always climbing—till at last we gained the breezy
height where the huge castle stood. There was an exchange of
bugle blasts; then a parley from the walls, where men-at-arms, in
hauberk and morion, marched back and forth with halberd at shoulder
under flapping banners with the rude figure of a dragon displayed
upon them; and then the great gates were flung open, the drawbridge
was lowered, and the head of the cavalcade swept forward under the
frowning arches; and we, following, soon found ourselves in a great
paved court, with towers and turrets stretching up into the blue
air on all the four sides; and all about us the dismount was going
on, and much greeting and ceremony, and running to and fro, and a
gay display of moving and intermingling colors, and an altogether
pleasant stir and noise and confusion.
He looked me over stupidly, and said:
"Marry, fair sir, me seemeth—"
"That will do," I said; "I reckon you are a patient."
I moved away, cogitating, and at the same time keeping an eye
out for any chance passenger in his right mind that might come
along and give me some light. I judged I had found one,
presently; so I drew him aside and said in his ear:
"If I could see the head keeper a minute—only just a
"Prithee do not let me."
"Let you what ?"
"Hinder me, then, if the word please thee better.
Then he went on to say he was an under-cook and could not
stop to gossip, though he would like it another time; for it would
comfort his very liver to know where I got my clothes. As he
started away he pointed and said yonder was one who was idle enough
for my purpose, and was seeking me besides, no doubt. This
was an airy slim boy in shrimp-colored tights that made him look
like a forked carrot, the rest of his gear was blue silk and dainty
laces and ruffles; and he had long yellow curls, and wore a plumed
pink satin cap tilted complacently over his ear. By his look,
he was good-natured; by his gait, he was satisfied with himself.
He was pretty enough to frame. He arrived, looked me
over with a smiling and impudent curiosity; said he had come for
me, and informed me that he was a page.
"Go 'long," I said; "you ain't more than a paragraph."
"513! You don't look it! Come, my boy, I am a
stranger and friendless; be honest and honorable with me. Are
you in your right mind?"
He said they were.
"And this isn't an asylum? I mean, it isn't a place where
they cure crazy people?"
He said it wasn't.
"Well, then," I said, "either I am a lunatic, or something just
as awful has happened. Now tell me, honest and true, where am
"IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT."
I waited a minute, to let that idea shudder its way home, and
"And according to your notions, what year is it now?"
"528—nineteenth of June."
I felt a mournful sinking at the heart, and muttered: "I
shall never see my friends again—never, never again.
They will not be born for more than thirteen hundred years
I seemed to believe the boy, I didn't know why.
Something in me seemed to believe him—my
consciousness, as you may say; but my reason didn't. My
reason straightway began to clamor; that was natural. I
didn't know how to go about satisfying it, because I knew that the
testimony of men wouldn't serve—my reason would say they were
lunatics, and throw out their evidence. But all of a sudden I
stumbled on the very thing, just by luck. I knew that the
only total eclipse of the sun in the first half of the sixth
century occurred on the 21st of June, A.D. 528, O.S., and began at
3 minutes after 12 noon. I also knew that no total eclipse of
the sun was due in what to me was the present
year—i.e., 1879. So, if I could keep my anxiety and curiosity
from eating the heart out of me for forty-eight hours, I should
then find out for certain whether this boy was telling me the truth
Wherefore, being a practical Connecticut man, I now shoved this
whole problem clear out of my mind till its appointed day and hour
should come, in order that I might turn all my attention to the
circumstances of the present moment, and be alert and ready to make
the most out of them that could be made. One thing at a time,
is my motto—and just play that thing for all it is worth,
even if it's only two pair and a jack. I made up my mind to
two things: if it was still the nineteenth century and I was among
lunatics and couldn't get away, I would presently boss that asylum
or know the reason why; and if, on the other hand, it was really
the sixth century, all right, I didn't want any softer thing:
I would boss the whole country inside of three months; for I
judged I would have the start of the best-educated man in the
kingdom by a matter of thirteen hundred years and upward. I'm
not a man to waste time after my mind's made up and there's work on
hand; so I said to the page:
"Now, Clarence, my boy—if that might happen to be your
name—I'll get you to post me up a little if you don't mind.
What is the name of that apparition that brought me
"My master and thine? That is the good knight and great
lord Sir Kay the Seneschal, foster brother to our liege the
"Very good; go on, tell me everything."
He made a long story of it; but the part that had immediate
interest for me was this: He said I was Sir Kay's prisoner,
and that in the due course of custom I would be flung into a
dungeon and left there on scant commons until my friends ransomed
me—unless I chanced to rot, first. I saw that the last
chance had the best show, but I didn't waste any bother about that;
time was too precious. The page said, further, that dinner
was about ended in the great hall by this time, and that as soon as
the sociability and the heavy drinking should begin, Sir Kay would
have me in and exhibit me before King Arthur and his illustrious
knights seated at the Table Round, and would brag about his exploit
in capturing me, and would probably exaggerate the facts a little,
but it wouldn't be good form for me to correct him, and not over
safe, either; and when I was done being exhibited, then ho for the
dungeon; but he, Clarence, would find a way to come and see me
every now and then, and cheer me up, and help me get word to my
Get word to my friends! I thanked him; I couldn't do less;
and about this time a lackey came to say I was wanted; so Clarence
led me in and took me off to one side and sat down by me.
Well, it was a curious kind of spectacle, and interesting. It
was an immense place, and rather naked—yes, and full of loud
contrasts. It was very, very lofty; so lofty that the banners
depending from the arched beams and girders away up there floated
in a sort of twilight; there was a stone-railed gallery at each
end, high up, with musicians in the one, and women, clothed in
stunning colors, in the other. The floor was of big stone
flags laid in black and white squares, rather battered by age and
use, and needing repair. As to ornament, there wasn't any, strictly
speaking; though on the walls hung some huge tapestries which were
probably taxed as works of art; battle-pieces, they were, with
horses shaped like those which children cut out of paper or create
in gingerbread; with men on them in scale armor whose scales are
represented by round holes—so that the man's coat looks as if
it had been done with a biscuit-punch. There was a fireplace
big enough to camp in; and its projecting sides and hood, of carved
and pillared stonework, had the look of a cathedral door.
Along the walls stood men-at-arms, in breastplate and morion,
with halberds for their only weapon—rigid as statues; and
that is what they looked like.
In the middle of this groined and vaulted public square was an
oaken table which they called the Table Round. It was as
large as a circus ring; and around it sat a great company of men
dressed in such various and splendid colors that it hurt one's eyes
to look at them. They wore their plumed hats, right along,
except that whenever one addressed himself directly to the king, he
lifted his hat a trifle just as he was beginning his remark.
Mainly they were drinking—from entire ox horns; but a few
were still munching bread or gnawing beef bones. There was
about an average of two dogs to one man; and these sat in expectant
attitudes till a spent bone was flung to them, and then they went
for it by brigades and divisions, with a rush, and there ensued a
fight which filled the prospect with a tumultuous chaos of plunging
heads and bodies and flashing tails, and the storm of howlings and
barkings deafened all speech for the time; but that was no matter,
for the dog-fight was always a bigger interest anyway; the men
rose, sometimes, to observe it the better and bet on it, and the
ladies and the musicians stretched themselves out over their
balusters with the same object; and all broke into delighted
ejaculations from time to time. In the end, the winning dog
stretched himself out comfortably with his bone between his paws,
and proceeded to growl over it, and gnaw it, and grease the floor
with it, just as fifty others were already doing; and the rest of
the court resumed their previous industries and entertainments.
As a rule, the speech and behavior of these people were gracious
and courtly; and I noticed that they were good and serious
listeners when anybody was telling anything—I mean in a
dog-fightless interval. And plainly, too, they were a
childlike and innocent lot; telling lies of the stateliest pattern
with a most gentle and winning naivety, and ready and willing to
listen to anybody else's lie, and believe it, too. It was
hard to associate them with anything cruel or dreadful; and yet
they dealt in tales of blood and suffering with a guileless relish
that made me almost forget to shudder.
I was not the only prisoner present. There were twenty or
more. Poor devils, many of them were maimed, hacked, carved, in a
frightful way; and their hair, their faces, their clothing, were
caked with black and stiffened drenchings of blood. They were
suffering sharp physical pain, of course; and weariness, and hunger
and thirst, no doubt; and at least none had given them the comfort
of a wash, or even the poor charity of a lotion for their wounds;
yet you never heard them utter a moan or a groan, or saw them show
any sign of restlessness, or any disposition to complain. The
thought was forced upon me: "The rascals—they
have served other people so in their day; it being their own turn,
now, they were not expecting any better treatment than this; so
their philosophical bearing is not an outcome of mental training,
intellectual fortitude, reasoning; it is mere animal training; they
are white Indians."
There was a fine manliness observable in almost every face; and
in some a certain loftiness and sweetness that rebuked your
belittling criticisms and stilled them. A most noble
benignity and purity reposed in the countenance of him they called
Sir Galahad, and likewise in the king's also; and there was majesty
and greatness in the giant frame and high bearing of Sir Launcelot
of the Lake.
There was presently an incident which centered the general
interest upon this Sir Launcelot. At a sign from a sort of
master of ceremonies, six or eight of the prisoners rose and came
forward in a body and knelt on the floor and lifted up their hands
toward the ladies' gallery and begged the grace of a word with the
queen. The most conspicuously situated lady in that massed
flower-bed of feminine show and finery inclined her head by way of
assent, and then the spokesman of the prisoners delivered himself
and his fellows into her hands for free pardon, ransom, captivity,
or death, as she in her good pleasure might elect; and this, as he
said, he was doing by command of Sir Kay the Seneschal, whose
prisoners they were, he having vanquished them by his single might
and prowess in sturdy conflict in the field.
Surprise and astonishment flashed from face to face all over the
house; the queen's gratified smile faded out at the name of Sir
Kay, and she looked disappointed; and the page whispered in my ear
with an accent and manner expressive of extravagant
"Sir Kay , forsooth! Oh, call me pet names,
dearest, call me a marine! In twice a thousand years shall
the unholy invention of man labor at odds to beget the fellow to
this majestic lie!"
Every eye was fastened with severe inquiry upon Sir Kay. But he
was equal to the occasion. He got up and played his hand like
a major—and took every trick. He said he would state
the case exactly according to the facts; he would tell the simple
straightforward tale, without comment of his own; "and then," said
he, "if ye find glory and honor due, ye will give it unto him who
is the mightiest man of his hands that ever bare shield or strake
with sword in the ranks of Christian battle—even him that
sitteth there!" and he pointed to Sir Launcelot. Ah, he
fetched them; it was a rattling good stroke. Then he went on
and told how Sir Launcelot, seeking adventures, some brief time
gone by, killed seven giants at one sweep of his sword, and set a
hundred and forty-two captive maidens free; and then went further,
still seeking adventures, and found him (Sir Kay) fighting a
desperate fight against nine foreign knights, and straightway took
the battle solely into his own hands, and conquered the nine; and
that night Sir Launcelot rose quietly, and dressed him in Sir Kay's
armor and took Sir Kay's horse and gat him away into distant lands,
and vanquished sixteen knights in one pitched battle and
thirty-four in another; and all these and the former nine he made
to swear that about Whitsuntide they would ride to Arthur's court
and yield them to Queen Guenever's hands as captives of Sir Kay the
Seneschal, spoil of his knightly prowess; and now here were these
half dozen, and the rest would be along as soon as they might be
healed of their desperate wounds.
Well, it was touching to see the queen blush and smile, and look
embarrassed and happy, and fling furtive glances at Sir Launcelot
that would have got him shot in Arkansas, to a dead certainty.
Everybody praised the valor and magnanimity of Sir Launcelot;
and as for me, I was perfectly amazed, that one man, all by
himself, should have been able to beat down and capture such
battalions of practiced fighters. I said as much to Clarence;
but this mocking featherhead only said:
"An Sir Kay had had time to get another skin of sour wine into
him, ye had seen the accompt doubled."
I looked at the boy in sorrow; and as I looked I saw the cloud
of a deep despondency settle upon his countenance. I followed
the direction of his eye, and saw that a very old and white-bearded
man, clothed in a flowing black gown, had risen and was standing at
the table upon unsteady legs, and feebly swaying his ancient head
and surveying the company with his watery and wandering eye. The
same suffering look that was in the page's face was observable in
all the faces around—the look of dumb creatures who know that
they must endure and make no moan.
"Marry, we shall have it again," sighed the boy; "that same old
weary tale that he hath told a thousand times in the same words,
and that he will tell till he dieth, every time he hath
gotten his barrel full and feeleth his exaggeration-mill a-working.
Would God I had died or I saw this day!"
"Who is it?"
"Merlin, the mighty liar and magician, perdition singe him for
the weariness he worketh with his one tale! But that men fear
him for that he hath the storms and the lightnings and all the
devils that be in hell at his beck and call, they would have dug
his entrails out these many years ago to get at that tale and
squelch it. He telleth it always in the third person, making
believe he is too modest to glorify himself—maledictions
light upon him, misfortune be his dole! Good friend, prithee
call me for evensong."
The boy nestled himself upon my shoulder and pretended to go to
sleep. The old man began his tale; and presently the lad was
asleep in reality; so also were the dogs, and the court, the
lackeys, and the files of men-at-arms. The droning voice
droned on; a soft snoring arose on all sides and supported it like
a deep and subdued accompaniment of wind instruments. Some
heads were bowed upon folded arms, some lay back with open mouths
that issued unconscious music; the flies buzzed and bit,
unmolested, the rats swarmed softly out from a hundred holes, and
pattered about, and made themselves at home everywhere; and one of
them sat up like a squirrel on the king's head and held a bit of
cheese in its hands and nibbled it, and dribbled the crumbs in the
king's face with naive and impudent irreverence. It was a
tranquil scene, and restful to the weary eye and the jaded
Now Sir Kay arose and began to fire up on his history-mill with
me for fuel. It was time for me to feel serious, and I did.
Sir Kay told how he had encountered me in a far land of
barbarians, who all wore the same ridiculous garb that I
did—a garb that was a work of enchantment, and intended to
make the wearer secure from hurt by human hands. However he
had nullified the force of the enchantment by prayer, and had
killed my thirteen knights in a three hours' battle, and taken me
prisoner, sparing my life in order that so strange a curiosity as I
was might be exhibited to the wonder and admiration of the king and
the court. He spoke of me all the time, in the blandest way,
as "this prodigious giant," and "this horrible sky-towering
monster," and "this tusked and taloned man-devouring ogre", and
everybody took in all this bosh in the naivest way, and never
smiled or seemed to notice that there was any discrepancy between
these watered statistics and me. He said that in trying to escape
from him I sprang into the top of a tree two hundred cubits high at
a single bound, but he dislodged me with a stone the size of a cow,
which "all-to brast" the most of my bones, and then swore me to
appear at Arthur's court for sentence. He ended by condemning
me to die at noon on the 21st; and was so little concerned about it
that he stopped to yawn before he named the date.
I was in a dismal state by this time; indeed, I was hardly
enough in my right mind to keep the run of a dispute that sprung up
as to how I had better be killed, the possibility of the killing
being doubted by some, because of the enchantment in my clothes.
And yet it was nothing but an ordinary suit of fifteen-dollar
slop-shops. Still, I was sane enough to notice this detail, to wit:
many of the terms used in the most matter-of-fact way by this
great assemblage of the first ladies and gentlemen in the land
would have made a Comanche blush.
They were so troubled about my enchanted clothes that they were
mightily relieved, at last, when old Merlin swept the difficulty
away for them with a common-sense hint. He asked them why
they were so dull—why didn't it occur to them to strip me.
In half a minute I was as naked as a pair of tongs! And
dear, dear, to think of it: I was the only embarrassed person
there. Everybody discussed me; and did it as unconcernedly as
if I had been a cabbage. Queen Guenever was as naively interested
as the rest, and said she had never seen anybody with legs just
like mine before. It was the only compliment I got—if
it was a compliment.
Finally I was carried off in one direction, and my perilous
clothes in another. I was shoved into a dark and narrow cell
in a dungeon, with some scant remnants for dinner, some moldy straw
for a bed, and no end of rats for company.
But just then I heard the harsh music of rusty chains and bolts,
a light flashed in my eyes, and that butterfly, Clarence, stood
before me! I gasped with surprise; my breath almost got away
"What!" I said, "you here yet? Go along with the rest of
the dream! scatter!"
But he only laughed, in his light-hearted way, and fell to
making fun of my sorry plight.
"All right," I said resignedly, "let the dream go on; I'm in no
"Prithee what dream?"
"What dream? Why, the dream that I am in Arthur's
court—a person who never existed; and that I am talking to
you, who are nothing but a work of the imagination."
"Oh, la, indeed! and is it a dream that you're to be burned
to-morrow? Ho-ho—answer me that!"
The shock that went through me was distressing. I now
began to reason that my situation was in the last degree serious,
dream or no dream; for I knew by past experience of the lifelike
intensity of dreams, that to be burned to death, even in a dream,
would be very far from being a jest, and was a thing to be avoided,
by any means, fair or foul, that I could contrive. So I said
"Ah, Clarence, good boy, only friend I've got,—for you
are my friend, aren't you?—don't fail me; help me to
devise some way of escaping from this place!"
"Now do but hear thyself! Escape? Why, man, the
corridors are in guard and keep of men-at-arms."
"No doubt, no doubt. But how many, Clarence? Not
many, I hope?"
"Full a score. One may not hope to escape." After a
pause—hesitatingly: "and there be other
"Other ones? What are they?"
"Well, they say—oh, but I daren't, indeed daren't!"
"Why, poor lad, what is the matter? Why do you blench?
Why do you tremble so?"
"Oh, in sooth, there is need! I do want to tell you,
"Come, come, be brave, be a man—speak out, there's a good
He hesitated, pulled one way by desire, the other way by fear;
then he stole to the door and peeped out, listening; and finally
crept close to me and put his mouth to my ear and told me his
fearful news in a whisper, and with all the cowering apprehension
of one who was venturing upon awful ground and speaking of things
whose very mention might be freighted with death.
"Merlin, in his malice, has woven a spell about this dungeon,
and there bides not the man in these kingdoms that would be
desperate enough to essay to cross its lines with you! Now
God pity me, I have told it! Ah, be kind to me, be merciful
to a poor boy who means thee well; for an thou betray me I am
I laughed the only really refreshing laugh I had had for some
time; and shouted:
"Merlin has wrought a spell! Merlin , forsooth!
That cheap old humbug, that maundering old ass? Bosh,
pure bosh, the silliest bosh in the world! Why, it does seem
to me that of all the childish, idiotic, chuckle-headed,
chicken-livered superstitions that ev—oh, damn Merlin!"
But Clarence had slumped to his knees before I had half
finished, and he was like to go out of his mind with fright.
"Oh, beware! These are awful words! Any moment these
walls may crumble upon us if you say such things. Oh call
them back before it is too late!"
"No—but for our blessed Lady's sake, do it no more."
"Well, I'll tell you why I laughed. Because I'm a magician
"Thou!" The boy recoiled a step, and caught his breath,
for the thing hit him rather sudden; but the aspect which he took
on was very, very respectful. I took quick note of that; it
indicated that a humbug didn't need to have a reputation in this
asylum; people stood ready to take him at his word, without that. I
"I've known Merlin seven hundred years, and he—"
"Don't interrupt me. He has died and come alive again
thirteen times, and traveled under a new name every time:
Smith, Jones, Robinson, Jackson, Peters, Haskins,
Merlin—a new alias every time he turns up. I knew him
in Egypt three hundred years ago; I knew him in India five hundred
years ago—he is always blethering around in my way,
everywhere I go; he makes me tired. He don't amount to
shucks, as a magician; knows some of the old common tricks, but has
never got beyond the rudiments, and never will. He is well enough
for the provinces—one-night stands and that sort of thing,
you know—but dear me, he oughtn't to set up for an
expert—anyway not where there's a real artist. Now look
here, Clarence, I am going to stand your friend, right along, and
in return you must be mine. I want you to do me a favor.
I want you to get word to the king that I am a magician
myself—and the Supreme Grand High-yu-Muck-amuck and head of
the tribe, at that; and I want him to be made to understand that I
am just quietly arranging a little calamity here that will make the
fur fly in these realms if Sir Kay's project is carried out and any
harm comes to me. Will you get that to the king for me?"
The poor boy was in such a state that he could hardly answer me.
It was pitiful to see a creature so terrified, so unnerved, so
demoralized. But he promised everything; and on my side he
made me promise over and over again that I would remain his friend,
and never turn against him or cast any enchantments upon him. Then
he worked his way out, staying himself with his hand along the
wall, like a sick person.
Presently this thought occurred to me: how heedless I have
been! When the boy gets calm, he will wonder why a great magician
like me should have begged a boy like him to help me get out of
this place; he will put this and that together, and will see that I
am a humbug.
I worried over that heedless blunder for an hour, and called
myself a great many hard names, meantime. But finally it
occurred to me all of a sudden that these animals didn't reason;
that they never put this and that together; that all their
talk showed that they didn't know a discrepancy when they saw it.
I was at rest, then.
But as soon as one is at rest, in this world, off he goes on
something else to worry about. It occurred to me that I had
made another blunder: I had sent the boy off to alarm his
betters with a threat—I intending to invent a calamity at my
leisure; now the people who are the readiest and eagerest and
willingest to swallow miracles are the very ones who are hungriest
to see you perform them; suppose I should be called on for a
sample? Suppose I should be asked to name my calamity?
Yes, I had made a blunder; I ought to have invented my
calamity first. "What shall I do? what can I say, to gain a
little time?" I was in trouble again; in the deepest kind of
"There's a footstep!—they're coming. If I had only
just a moment to think.... Good, I've got it. I'm all
You see, it was the eclipse. It came into my mind in the
nick of time, how Columbus, or Cortez, or one of those people,
played an eclipse as a saving trump once, on some savages, and I
saw my chance. I could play it myself, now, and it wouldn't
be any plagiarism, either, because I should get it in nearly a
thousand years ahead of those parties.
Clarence came in, subdued, distressed, and said:
named his brave calamity? Verily it is because he
cannot.' This thrust did in a most sudden sort close the
king's mouth, and he could offer naught to turn the argument; and
so, reluctant, and full loth to do you the discourtesy, he yet
prayeth you to consider his perplexed case, as noting how the
matter stands, and name the calamity—if so be you have
determined the nature of it and the time of its coming. Oh,
prithee delay not; to delay at such a time were to double and
treble the perils that already compass thee about. Oh, be
thou wise—name the calamity!"
I allowed silence to accumulate while I got my impressiveness
together, and then said:
"How long have I been shut up in this hole?"
"Ye were shut up when yesterday was well spent. It is 9 of
the morning now."
"No! Then I have slept well, sure enough. Nine in
the morning now! And yet it is the very complexion of
midnight, to a shade. This is the 20th, then?"
"And I am to be burned alive to-morrow." The boy
"At what hour?"
"At high noon."
"Now then, I will tell you what to say." I paused, and
stood over that cowering lad a whole minute in awful silence; then,
in a voice deep, measured, charged with doom, I began, and rose by
dramatically graded stages to my colossal climax, which I delivered
in as sublime and noble a way as ever I did such a thing in my
life: "Go back and tell the king that at that hour I will
smother the whole world in the dead blackness of midnight; I will
blot out the sun, and he shall never shine again; the fruits of the
earth shall rot for lack of light and warmth, and the peoples of
the earth shall famish and die, to the last man!"
I had to carry the boy out myself, he sunk into such a collapse.
I handed him over to the soldiers, and went back.
The door opened, and some men-at-arms appeared. The leader
"The stake is ready. Come!"
The stake! The strength went out of me, and I almost fell
down. It is hard to get one's breath at such a time, such lumps
come into one's throat, and such gaspings; but as soon as I could
speak, I said:
"But this is a mistake—the execution is to-morrow."
"Order changed; been set forward a day. Haste thee!"
I was lost. There was no help for me. I was dazed,
stupefied; I had no command over myself, I only wandered purposely
about, like one out of his mind; so the soldiers took hold of me,
and pulled me along with them, out of the cell and along the maze
of underground corridors, and finally into the fierce glare of
daylight and the upper world. As we stepped into the vast
enclosed court of the castle I got a shock; for the first thing I
saw was the stake, standing in the center, and near it the piled
fagots and a monk. On all four sides of the court the seated
multitudes rose rank above rank, forming sloping terraces that were
rich with color. The king and the queen sat in their thrones, the
most conspicuous figures there, of course.
To note all this, occupied but a second. The next second
Clarence had slipped from some place of concealment and was pouring
news into my ear, his eyes beaming with triumph and gladness.
"Tis through me the change was wrought! And main
hard have I worked to do it, too. But when I revealed to them
the calamity in store, and saw how mighty was the terror it did
engender, then saw I also that this was the time to strike!
Wherefore I diligently pretended, unto this and that and the
other one, that your power against the sun could not reach its full
until the morrow; and so if any would save the sun and the world,
you must be slain to-day, while your enchantments are but in the
weaving and lack potency. Odsbodikins, it was but a dull lie,
a most indifferent invention, but you should have seen them seize
it and swallow it, in the frenzy of their fright, as it were
salvation sent from heaven; and all the while was I laughing in my
sleeve the one moment, to see them so cheaply deceived, and
glorifying God the next, that He was content to let the meanest of
His creatures be His instrument to the saving of thy life. Ah
how happy has the matter sped! You will not need to do the
sun a real hurt—ah, forget not that, on your soul
forget it not! Only make a little darkness—only the
littlest little darkness, mind, and cease with that. It will
be sufficient. They will see that I spoke
falsely,—being ignorant, as they will fancy—and with
the falling of the first shadow of that darkness you shall see them
go mad with fear; and they will set you free and make you great!
Go to thy triumph, now! But remember—ah, good
friend, I implore thee remember my supplication, and do the blessed
sun no hurt. For my sake, thy true friend."
I choked out some words through my grief and misery; as much as
to say I would spare the sun; for which the lad's eyes paid me back
with such deep and loving gratitude that I had not the heart to
tell him his good-hearted foolishness had ruined me and sent me to
"I forbid it!"
The one was from Merlin, the other from the king. Merlin
started from his place—to apply the torch himself, I judged.
"Stay where you are. If any man moves—even the
king—before I give him leave, I will blast him with thunder,
I will consume him with lightnings!"
The multitude sank meekly into their seats, and I was just
expecting they would. Merlin hesitated a moment or two, and I
was on pins and needles during that little while. Then he sat
down, and I took a good breath; for I knew I was master of the
situation now. The king said:
"Be merciful, fair sir, and essay no further in this perilous
matter, lest disaster follow. It was reported to us that your
powers could not attain unto their full strength until the morrow;
"Your Majesty thinks the report may have been a lie? It
was a lie."
That made an immense effect; up went appealing hands everywhere,
and the king was assailed with a storm of supplications that I
might be bought off at any price, and the calamity stayed. The king
was eager to comply. He said:
"Name any terms, reverend sir, even to the halving of my
kingdom; but banish this calamity, spare the sun!"
My fortune was made. I would have taken him up in a
minute, but I couldn't stop an eclipse; the thing was out of the
question. So I asked time to consider. The king
"How long—ah, how long, good sir? Be merciful; look,
it groweth darker, moment by moment. Prithee how long?"
"Not long. Half an hour—maybe an hour."
There were a thousand pathetic protests, but I couldn't shorten
up any, for I couldn't remember how long a total eclipse lasts.
I was in a puzzled condition, anyway, and wanted to think.
Something was wrong about that eclipse, and the fact was very
unsettling. If this wasn't the one I was after, how was I to tell
whether this was the sixth century, or nothing but a dream?
Dear me, if I could only prove it was the latter! Here
was a glad new hope. If the boy was right about the date, and
this was surely the 20th, it wasn't the sixth century.
I reached for the monk's sleeve, in considerable excitement,
and asked him what day of the month it was.
Hang him, he said it was the twenty-first ! It made
me turn cold to hear him. I begged him not to make any
mistake about it; but he was sure; he knew it was the 21st.
So, that feather-headed boy had botched things again!
The time of the day was right for the eclipse; I had seen
that for myself, in the beginning, by the dial that was near by.
Yes, I was in King Arthur's court, and I might as well make
the most out of it I could.
The darkness was steadily growing, the people becoming more and
more distressed. I now said:
"I have reflected, Sir King. For a lesson, I will let this
darkness proceed, and spread night in the world; but whether I blot
out the sun for good, or restore it, shall rest with you.
These are the terms, to wit: You shall remain king over
all your dominions, and receive all the glories and honors that
belong to the kingship; but you shall appoint me your perpetual
minister and executive, and give me for my services one per cent of
such actual increase of revenue over and above its present amount
as I may succeed in creating for the state. If I can't live
on that, I sha'n't ask anybody to give me a lift. Is it
There was a prodigious roar of applause, and out of the midst of
it the king's voice rose, saying:
"Away with his bonds, and set him free! and do him homage, high
and low, rich and poor, for he is become the king's right hand, is
clothed with power and authority, and his seat is upon the highest
step of the throne! Now sweep away this creeping night, and
bring the light and cheer again, that all the world may bless
But I said:
"That a common man should be shamed before the world, is
nothing; but it were dishonor to the king if any that saw
his minister naked should not also see him delivered from his
shame. If I might ask that my clothes be brought
"They are not meet," the king broke in. "Fetch raiment of
another sort; clothe him like a prince!"
My idea worked. I wanted to keep things as they were till
the eclipse was total, otherwise they would be trying again to get
me to dismiss the darkness, and of course I couldn't do it.
Sending for the clothes gained some delay, but not enough.
So I had to make another excuse. I said it would be but
natural if the king should change his mind and repent to some
extent of what he had done under excitement; therefore I would let
the darkness grow a while, and if at the end of a reasonable time
the king had kept his mind the same, the darkness should be
dismissed. Neither the king nor anybody else was satisfied
with that arrangement, but I had to stick to my point.
There was no response, for a moment, in that deep darkness and
that graveyard hush. But when the silver rim of the sun
pushed itself out, a moment or two later, the assemblage broke
loose with a vast shout and came pouring down like a deluge to
smother me with blessings and gratitude; and Clarence was not the
last of the wash, to be sure.
There wasn't even a bell or a speaking-tube in the castle.
I had a great many servants, and those that were on duty
lolled in the anteroom; and when I wanted one of them I had to go
and call for him. There was no gas, there were no candles; a bronze
dish half full of boarding-house butter with a blazing rag floating
in it was the thing that produced what was regarded as light.
A lot of these hung along the walls and modified the dark,
just toned it down enough to make it dismal. If you went out
at night, your servants carried torches. There were no books,
pens, paper or ink, and no glass in the openings they believed to
be windows. It is a little thing—glass is—until it is
absent, then it becomes a big thing. But perhaps the worst of
all was, that there wasn't any sugar, coffee, tea, or tobacco.
I saw that I was just another Robinson Crusoe cast away on an
uninhabited island, with no society but some more or less tame
animals, and if I wanted to make life bearable I must do as he
did—invent, contrive, create, reorganize things; set brain
and hand to work, and keep them busy. Well, that was in my
One thing troubled me along at first—the immense interest
which people took in me. Apparently the whole nation wanted a
look at me. It soon transpired that the eclipse had scared
the British world almost to death; that while it lasted the whole
country, from one end to the other, was in a pitiable state of
panic, and the churches, hermitages, and monkeries overflowed with
praying and weeping poor creatures who thought the end of the world
was come. Then had followed the news that the producer of
this awful event was a stranger, a mighty magician at Arthur's
court; that he could have blown out the sun like a candle, and was
just going to do it when his mercy was purchased, and he then
dissolved his enchantments, and was now recognized and honored as
the man who had by his unaided might saved the globe from
destruction and its peoples from extinction. Now if you
consider that everybody believed that, and not only believed it,
but never even dreamed of doubting it, you will easily understand
that there was not a person in all Britain that would not have
walked fifty miles to get a sight of me. Of course I was all
the talk—all other subjects were dropped; even the king
became suddenly a person of minor interest and notoriety.
Within twenty-four hours the delegations began to arrive, and
from that time onward for a fortnight they kept coming. The
village was crowded, and all the countryside. I had to go out a
dozen times a day and show myself to these reverent and
"I can, fair sir, and I will. Doubt it not."
He drew an imaginary circle on the stones of the roof, and burnt
a pinch of powder in it, which sent up a small cloud of aromatic
smoke, whereat everybody fell back and began to cross themselves
and get uncomfortable. Then he began to mutter and make
passes in the air with his hands. He worked himself up slowly
and gradually into a sort of frenzy, and got to thrashing around
with his arms like the sails of a windmill. By this time the
storm had about reached us; the gusts of wind were flaring the
torches and making the shadows swash about, the first heavy drops
of rain were falling, the world abroad was black as pitch, the
lightning began to wink fitfully. Of course, my rod would be
loading itself now. In fact, things were imminent. So I
"You have had time enough. I have given you every
advantage, and not interfered. It is plain your magic is
weak. It is only fair that I begin now."
What a jump I had made! I couldn't keep from thinking
about it, and contemplating it, just as one does who has struck
oil. There was nothing back of me that could approach it,
unless it might be Joseph's case; and Joseph's only approached it,
it didn't equal it, quite. For it stands to reason that as
Joseph's splendid financial ingenuities advantaged nobody but the
king, the general public must have regarded him with a good deal of
disfavor, whereas I had done my entire public a kindness in sparing
the sun, and was popular by reason of it.
I was no shadow of a king; I was the substance; the king himself
was the shadow. My power was colossal; and it was not a mere
name, as such things have generally been, it was the genuine
article. I stood here, at the very spring and source of the
second great period of the world's history; and could see the
trickling stream of that history gather and deepen and broaden, and
roll its mighty tides down the far centuries; and I could note the
upspringing of adventurers like myself in the shelter of its long
array of thrones: De Montforts, Gavestons, Mortimers,
Villierses; the war-making, campaign-directing wantons of France,
and Charles the Second's scepter-wielding drabs; but nowhere in the
procession was my full-sized fellow visible. I was a Unique;
and glad to know that that fact could not be dislodged or
challenged for thirteen centuries and a half, for sure. Yes,
in power I was equal to the king. At the same time there was
another power that was a trifle stronger than both of us put
together. That was the Church. I do not wish to disguise that
fact. I couldn't, if I wanted to. But never mind about that,
now; it will show up, in its proper place, later on. It
didn't cause me any trouble in the beginning—at least any of
She said she hadn't.
"Well, I didn't expect you had, but I thought I would ask, to
make sure; it's the way I've been raised. Now you mustn't
take it unkindly if I remind you that as we don't know you, we must
go a little slow. You may be all right, of course, and we'll
hope that you are; but to take it for granted isn't business.
You understand that. I'm obliged to ask you a
few questions; just answer up fair and square, and don't be afraid.
Where do you live, when you are at home?"
"In the land of Moder, fair sir."
"Land of Moder. I don't remember hearing of it before.
"As to that, I know not if they be yet on live, sith it is many
years that I have lain shut up in the castle."
"Your name, please?"
"I hight the Demoiselle Alisande la Carteloise, an it please
"Do you know anybody here who can identify you?"
"That were not likely, fair lord, I being come hither now for
the first time."
"Have you brought any letters—any documents—any
proofs that you are trustworthy and truthful?"
"Of a surety, no; and wherefore should I? Have I not a
tongue, and cannot I say all that myself?"
"But your saying it, you know, and somebody else's saying
it, is different."
"Different? How might that be? I fear me I do not
"Don't understand ? Land of—why, you
see—you see—why, great Scott, can't you understand a
little thing like that? Can't you understand the difference
between your—why do you look so innocent and
"Yes, yes, I reckon that's about the size of it. Don't
mind my seeming excited; I'm not. Let us change the subject.
Now as to this castle, with forty-five princesses in it, and
three ogres at the head of it, tell me—where is this
"The castle , you understand; where is the castle?"
"Oh, as to that, it is great, and strong, and well beseen, and
lieth in a far country. Yes, it is many leagues."
"Ah, fair sir, it were woundily hard to tell, they are so many,
and do so lap the one upon the other, and being made all in the
same image and tincted with the same color, one may not know the
one league from its fellow, nor how to count them except they be
taken apart, and ye wit well it were God's work to do that, being
not within man's capacity; for ye will note—"
"Hold on, hold on, never mind about the distance;
whereabouts does the castle lie? What's the direction
"Ah, please you sir, it hath no direction from here; by reason
that the road lieth not straight, but turneth evermore; wherefore
the direction of its place abideth not, but is some time under the
one sky and anon under another, whereso if ye be minded that it is
in the east, and wend thitherward, ye shall observe that the way of
the road doth yet again turn upon itself by the space of half a
circle, and this marvel happing again and yet again and still
again, it will grieve you that you had thought by vanities of the
mind to thwart and bring to naught the will of Him that giveth not
a castle a direction from a place except it pleaseth Him, and if it
please Him not, will the rather that even all castles and all
directions thereunto vanish out of the earth, leaving the places
wherein they tarried desolate and vacant, so warning His creatures
that where He will He will, and where He will not He—"
"Oh, that's all right, that's all right, give us a rest; never
mind about the direction, hang the direction—I beg
pardon, I beg a thousand pardons, I am not well to-day; pay no
attention when I soliloquize, it is an old habit, an old, bad
habit, and hard to get rid of when one's digestion is all
disordered with eating food that was raised forever and ever before
he was born; good land! a man can't keep his functions regular on
spring chickens thirteen hundred years old. But
come—never mind about that; let's—have you got such a
thing as a map of that region about you? Now a good
"Is it peradventure that manner of thing which of late the
unbelievers have brought from over the great seas, which, being
boiled in oil, and an onion and salt added thereto,
"What, a map? What are you talking about? Don't you
know what a map is? There, there, never mind, don't explain,
I hate explanations; they fog a thing up so that you can't tell
anything about it. Run along, dear; good-day; show her the
Oh, well, it was reasonably plain, now, why these donkeys didn't
prospect these liars for details. It may be that this girl
had a fact in her somewhere, but I don't believe you could have
sluiced it out with a hydraulic; nor got it with the earlier forms
of blasting, even; it was a case for dynamite. Why, she was a
perfect ass; and yet the king and his knights had listened to her
as if she had been a leaf out of the gospel. It kind of sizes
up the whole party. And think of the simple ways of this
court: this wandering wench hadn't any more trouble to get
access to the king in his palace than she would have had to get
into the poorhouse in my day and country. In fact, he was
glad to see her, glad to hear her tale; with that adventure of hers
to offer, she was as welcome as a corpse is to a coroner.
Just as I was ending-up these reflections, Clarence came back. I
remarked upon the barren result of my efforts with the girl; hadn't
got hold of a single point that could help me to find the castle.
The youth looked a little surprised, or puzzled, or
something, and intimated that he had been wondering to himself what
I had wanted to ask the girl all those questions for.
"Why, great guns," I said, "don't I want to find the castle?
And how else would I go about it?"
"La, sweet your worship, one may lightly answer that, I ween.
She will go with thee. They always do. She will ride
"Ride with me? Nonsense!"
"But of a truth she will. She will ride with thee.
Thou shalt see."
"What? She browse around the hills and scour the woods
with me—alone—and I as good as engaged to be married?
Why, it's scandalous. Think how it would look."
My, the dear face that rose before me! The boy was eager
to know all about this tender matter. I swore him to secrecy
and then whispered her name—"Puss Flanagan." He looked
disappointed, and said he didn't remember the countess. How
natural it was for the little courtier to give her a rank. He
asked me where she lived.
"In East Har—" I came to myself and stopped, a little
confused; then I said, "Never mind, now; I'll tell you some
And might he see her? Would I let him see her some
It was but a little thing to promise—thirteen hundred
years or so—and he so eager; so I said Yes. But I
sighed; I couldn't help it. And yet there was no sense in
sighing, for she wasn't born yet. But that is the way we are
made: we don't reason, where we feel; we just feel.
My expedition was all the talk that day and that night, and the
boys were very good to me, and made much of me, and seemed to have
forgotten their vexation and disappointment, and come to be as
anxious for me to hive those ogres and set those ripe old virgins
loose as if it were themselves that had the contract. Well,
they were good children—but just children, that is
all. And they gave me no end of points about how to scout for
giants, and how to scoop them in; and they told me all sorts of
charms against enchantments, and gave me salves and other rubbish
to put on my wounds. But it never occurred to one of them to
reflect that if I was such a wonderful necromancer as I was
pretending to be, I ought not to need salves or instructions, or
charms against enchantments, and, least of all, arms and armor, on
a foray of any kind—even against fire-spouting dragons, and
devils hot from perdition, let alone such poor adversaries as these
I was after, these commonplace ogres of the back settlements.
I was to have an early breakfast, and start at dawn, for that
was the usual way; but I had the demon's own time with my armor,
and this delayed me a little. It is troublesome to get into,
and there is so much detail. First you wrap a layer or two of
blanket around your body, for a sort of cushion and to keep off the
cold iron; then you put on your sleeves and shirt of chain
mail—these are made of small steel links woven together, and
they form a fabric so flexible that if you toss your shirt onto the
floor, it slumps into a pile like a peck of wet fish-net; it is
very heavy and is nearly the uncomfortablest material in the world
for a night shirt, yet plenty used it for that—tax
collectors, and reformers, and one-horse kings with a defective
title, and those sorts of people; then you put on your
shoes—flat-boats roofed over with interleaving bands of
steel—and screw your clumsy spurs into the heels. Next
you buckle your greaves on your legs, and your cuisses on your
thighs; then come your backplate and your breastplate, and you
begin to feel crowded; then you hitch onto the breastplate the
half-petticoat of broad overlapping bands of steel which hangs down
in front but is scolloped out behind so you can sit down, and isn't
any real improvement on an inverted coal scuttle, either for looks
or for wear, or to wipe your hands on; next you belt on your sword;
then you put your stove-pipe joints onto your arms, your iron
gauntlets onto your hands, your iron rat-trap onto your head, with
a rag of steel web hitched onto it to hang over the back of your
neck—and there you are, snug as a candle in a candle-mould.
This is no time to dance. Well, a man that is packed away
like that is a nut that isn't worth the cracking, there is so
little of the meat, when you get down to it, by comparison with the
The boys helped me, or I never could have got in. Just as
we finished, Sir Bedivere happened in, and I saw that as like as
not I hadn't chosen the most convenient outfit for a long trip.
How stately he looked; and tall and broad and grand. He
had on his head a conical steel casque that only came down to his
ears, and for visor had only a narrow steel bar that extended down
to his upper lip and protected his nose; and all the rest of him,
from neck to heel, was flexible chain mail, trousers and all.
But pretty much all of him was hidden under his outside
garment, which of course was of chain mail, as I said, and hung
straight from his shoulders to his ankles; and from his middle to
the bottom, both before and behind, was divided, so that he could
ride and let the skirts hang down on each side. He was going
grailing, and it was just the outfit for it, too. I would
have given a good deal for that ulster, but it was too late now to
be fooling around. The sun was just up, the king and the
court were all on hand to see me off and wish me luck; so it
wouldn't be etiquette for me to tarry. You don't get on your horse
yourself; no, if you tried it you would get disappointed.
They carry you out, just as they carry a sun-struck man to
the drug store, and put you on, and help get you to rights, and fix
your feet in the stirrups; and all the while you do feel so strange
and stuffy and like somebody else—like somebody that has been
married on a sudden, or struck by lightning, or something like
that, and hasn't quite fetched around yet, and is sort of numb, and
can't just get his bearings. Then they stood up the mast they
called a spear, in its socket by my left foot, and I gripped it
with my hand; lastly they hung my shield around my neck, and I was
all complete and ready to up anchor and get to sea. Everybody
was as good to me as they could be, and a maid of honor gave me the
stirrup-cup her own self. There was nothing more to do now,
but for that damsel to get up behind me on a pillion, which she
did, and put an arm or so around me to hold on.
In my experience boys are the same in all ages. They don't
respect anything, they don't care for anything or anybody.
They say "Go up, baldhead" to the prophet going his
unoffending way in the gray of antiquity; they sass me in the holy
gloom of the Middle Ages; and I had seen them act the same way in
Buchanan's administration; I remember, because I was there and
helped. The prophet had his bears and settled with his boys;
and I wanted to get down and settle with mine, but it wouldn't
answer, because I couldn't have got up again. I hate a
country without a derrick.
These poor ostensible freemen who were sharing their breakfast
and their talk with me, were as full of humble reverence for their
king and Church and nobility as their worst enemy could desire.
There was something pitifully ludicrous about it. I asked
them if they supposed a nation of people ever existed, who, with a
free vote in every man's hand, would elect that a single family and
its descendants should reign over it forever, whether gifted or
boobies, to the exclusion of all other families—including the
voter's; and would also elect that a certain hundred families
should be raised to dizzy summits of rank, and clothed on with
offensive transmissible glories and privileges to the exclusion of
the rest of the nation's families—including his own
They all looked unhit, and said they didn't know; that they had
never thought about it before, and it hadn't ever occurred to them
that a nation could be so situated that every man could have
a say in the government. I said I had seen one—and that
it would last until it had an Established Church. Again they
were all unhit—at first. But presently one man looked
up and asked me to state that proposition again; and state it
slowly, so it could soak into his understanding. I did it;
and after a little he had the idea, and he brought his fist down
and said he didn't believe a nation where every man had a
vote would voluntarily get down in the mud and dirt in any such
way; and that to steal from a nation its will and preference must
be a crime and the first of all crimes. I said to myself:
"This one's a man. If I were backed by enough of his sort,
I would make a strike for the welfare of this country, and try to
prove myself its loyalest citizen by making a wholesome change in
its system of government."
You see my kind of loyalty was loyalty to one's country, not to
its institutions or its office-holders. The country is the
real thing, the substantial thing, the eternal thing; it is the
thing to watch over, and care for, and be loyal to; institutions
are extraneous, they are its mere clothing, and clothing can wear
out, become ragged, cease to be comfortable, cease to protect the
body from winter, disease, and death. To be loyal to rags, to
shout for rags, to worship rags, to die for rags—that is a
loyalty of unreason, it is pure animal; it belongs to monarchy, was
invented by monarchy; let monarchy keep it. I was from
Connecticut, whose Constitution declares "that all political power
is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on
their authority and instituted for their benefit; and that they
have at all times an undeniable and indefeasible right to
alter their form of government in such a manner as they may
So I did not talk blood and insurrection to that man there who
sat munching black bread with that abused and mistaught herd of
human sheep, but took him aside and talked matter of another sort
to him. After I had finished, I got him to lend me a little ink
from his veins; and with this and a sliver I wrote on a piece of
Put him in the Man-factory—
and gave it to him, and said:
"Take it to the palace at Camelot and give it into the hands of
Amyas le Poulet, whom I call Clarence, and he will understand."
"He is a priest, then," said the man, and some of the enthusiasm
went out of his face.
"How—a priest? Didn't I tell you that no chattel of
the Church, no bond-slave of pope or bishop can enter my
Man-Factory? Didn't I tell you that you couldn't enter
unless your religion, whatever it might be, was your own free
"Marry, it is so, and for that I was glad; wherefore it liked me
not, and bred in me a cold doubt, to hear of this priest being
"But he isn't a priest, I tell you."
The man looked far from satisfied. He said:
"He is not a priest, and yet can read?"
"He is not a priest and yet can read—yes, and write, too,
for that matter. I taught him myself." The man's face
cleared. "And it is the first thing that you yourself will be
taught in that Factory—"
"I? I would give blood out of my heart to know that art.
Why, I will be your slave, your—"
"No you won't, you won't be anybody's slave. Take your
family and go along. Your lord the bishop will confiscate
your small property, but no matter. Clarence will fix you all
I paid three pennies for my breakfast, and a most extravagant
price it was, too, seeing that one could have breakfasted a dozen
persons for that money; but I was feeling good by this time, and I
had always been a kind of spendthrift anyway; and then these people
had wanted to give me the food for nothing, scant as their
provision was, and so it was a grateful pleasure to emphasize my
appreciation and sincere thankfulness with a good big financial
lift where the money would do so much more good than it would in my
helmet, where, these pennies being made of iron and not stinted in
weight, my half-dollar's worth was a good deal of a burden to me.
I spent money rather too freely in those days, it is true;
but one reason for it was that I hadn't got the proportions of
things entirely adjusted, even yet, after so long a sojourn in
Britain—hadn't got along to where I was able to absolutely
realize that a penny in Arthur's land and a couple of dollars in
Connecticut were about one and the same thing: just twins, as
you may say, in purchasing power. If my start from Camelot
could have been delayed a very few days I could have paid these
people in beautiful new coins from our own mint, and that would
have pleased me; and them, too, not less. I had adopted the
American values exclusively. In a week or two now, cents,
nickels, dimes, quarters, and half-dollars, and also a trifle of
gold, would be trickling in thin but steady streams all through the
commercial veins of the kingdom, and I looked to see this new blood
freshen up its life.
The farmers were bound to throw in something, to sort of offset
my liberality, whether I would or no; so I let them give me a flint
and steel; and as soon as they had comfortably bestowed Sandy and
me on our horse, I lit my pipe. When the first blast of smoke
shot out through the bars of my helmet, all those people broke for
the woods, and Sandy went over backwards and struck the ground with
a dull thud. They thought I was one of those fire-belching
dragons they had heard so much about from knights and other
professional liars. I had infinite trouble to persuade those
people to venture back within explaining distance. Then I
told them that this was only a bit of enchantment which would work
harm to none but my enemies. And I promised, with my hand on
my heart, that if all who felt no enmity toward me would come
forward and pass before me they should see that only those who
remained behind would be struck dead. The procession moved
with a good deal of promptness. There were no casualties to report,
for nobody had curiosity enough to remain behind to see what would
"Well, then, what are they waiting for? Why don't they
leave? Nobody's hindering. Good land, I'm willing to let
bygones be bygones, I'm sure."
"Leave, is it? Oh, give thyself easement as to that.
They dream not of it, no, not they. They wait to yield
"Come—really, is that 'sooth'—as you people say?
If they want to, why don't they?"
"It would like them much; but an ye wot how dragons are
esteemed, ye would not hold them blamable. They fear to come."
"Well, then, suppose I go to them instead, and—"
"Ah, wit ye well they would not abide your coming. I will
And she did. She was a handy person to have along on a
raid. I would have considered this a doubtful errand, myself.
I presently saw the knights riding away, and Sandy coming
back. That was a relief. I judged she had somehow
failed to get the first innings—I mean in the conversation;
otherwise the interview wouldn't have been so short. But it
turned out that she had managed the business well; in fact,
admirably. She said that when she told those people I was The
Boss, it hit them where they lived: "smote them sore with
fear and dread" was her word; and then they were ready to put up
with anything she might require. So she swore them to appear
at Arthur's court within two days and yield them, with horse and
harness, and be my knights henceforth, and subject to my command.
How much better she managed that thing than I should have done it
myself! She was a daisy.
"Seven, please you, sir, and their squires."
"It is a good haul. Who are they? Where do they hang
"Where do they hang out?"
"Yes, where do they live?"
"Ah, I understood thee not. That will I tell eftsoons."
Then she said musingly, and softly, turning the words
daintily over her tongue: "Hang they out—hang they
out—where hang—where do they hang out; eh, right so;
where do they hang out. Of a truth the phrase hath a fair and
winsome grace, and is prettily worded withal. I will repeat
it anon and anon in mine idlesse, whereby I may peradventure learn
it. Where do they hang out. Even so! already it falleth
trippingly from my tongue, and forasmuch as—"
"Don't forget the cowboys, Sandy."
"Yes; the knights, you know: You were going to tell me
about them. A while back, you remember. Figuratively
speaking, game's called."
"Yes, yes, yes! Go to the bat. I mean, get to work
on your statistics, and don't burn so much kindling getting your
fire started. Tell me about the knights."
"I will well, and lightly will begin. So they two departed
and rode into a great forest. And—"
You see, I recognized my mistake at once. I had set her
works a-going; it was my own fault; she would be thirty days
getting down to those facts. And she generally began without
a preface and finished without a result. If you interrupted
her she would either go right along without noticing, or answer
with a couple of words, and go back and say the sentence over
again. So, interruptions only did harm; and yet I had to
interrupt, and interrupt pretty frequently, too, in order to save
my life; a person would die if he let her monotony drip on him
right along all day.
"Great Scott!" I said in my distress. She went right back
and began over again:
"So they two departed and rode into a great forest.
"Sir Gawaine and Sir Uwaine. And so they came to an abbey
of monks, and there were well lodged. So on the morn they
heard their masses in the abbey, and so they rode forth till they
came to a great forest; then was Sir Gawaine ware in a valley by a
turret, of twelve fair damsels, and two knights armed on great
horses, and the damsels went to and fro by a tree. And then
was Sir Gawaine ware how there hung a white shield on that tree,
and ever as the damsels came by it they spit upon it, and some
threw mire upon the shield—"
"Yes, but don't you ask me to explain; it's a new kind of a
girl; they don't have them here; one often speaks sharply to them
when they are not the least in fault, and he can't get over feeling
sorry for it and ashamed of himself in thirteen hundred years, it's
such shabby mean conduct and so unprovoked; the fact is, no
gentleman ever does it—though I—well, I myself, if I've
got to confess—"
"Never mind her; never mind her; I tell you I couldn't ever
explain her so you would understand."
"Even so be it, sith ye are so minded. Then Sir Gawaine
and Sir Uwaine went and saluted them, and asked them why they did
that despite to the shield. Sirs, said the damsels, we shall
tell you. There is a knight in this country that owneth this white
shield, and he is a passing good man of his hands, but he hateth
all ladies and gentlewomen, and therefore we do all this despite to
the shield. I will say you, said Sir Gawaine, it beseemeth
evil a good knight to despise all ladies and gentlewomen, and
peradventure though he hate you he hath some cause, and
peradventure he loveth in some other places ladies and gentlewomen,
and to be loved again, and he such a man of prowess as ye speak
"Man of prowess—yes, that is the man to please them,
Sandy. Man of brains—that is a thing they never think of.
Tom Sayers—John Heenan—John L.
Sullivan—pity but you could be here. You would have
your legs under the Round Table and a 'Sir' in front of your names
within the twenty-four hours; and you could bring about a new
distribution of the married princesses and duchesses of the Court
in another twenty-four. The fact is, it is just a sort of
polished-up court of Comanches, and there isn't a squaw in it who
doesn't stand ready at the dropping of a hat to desert to the buck
with the biggest string of scalps at his belt."
"—and he be such a man of prowess as ye speak of, said Sir
Gawaine. Now, what is his name? Sir, said they, his name is
Marhaus the king's son of Ireland."
"Son of the king of Ireland, you mean; the other form doesn't
mean anything. And look out and hold on tight, now, we must
jump this gully.... There, we are all right now. This
horse belongs in the circus; he is born before his time."
"On live. If you've got a fault in the world,
Sandy, it is that you are a shade too archaic. But it isn't
"—for I saw him once proved at a justs where many knights
were gathered, and that time there might no man withstand him.
Ah, said Sir Gawaine, damsels, methinketh ye are to blame,
for it is to suppose he that hung that shield there will not be
long therefrom, and then may those knights match him on horseback,
and that is more your worship than thus; for I will abide no longer
to see a knight's shield dishonored. And therewith Sir Uwaine
and Sir Gawaine departed a little from them, and then were they
ware where Sir Marhaus came riding on a great horse straight toward
them. And when the twelve damsels saw Sir Marhaus they fled
into the turret as they were wild, so that some of them fell by the
way. Then the one of the knights of the tower dressed his shield,
and said on high, Sir Marhaus defend thee. And so they ran
together that the knight brake his spear on Marhaus, and Sir
Marhaus smote him so hard that he brake his neck and the horse's
"Well, that is just the trouble about this state of things, it
ruins so many horses."
"That saw the other knight of the turret, and dressed him toward
Marhaus, and they went so eagerly together, that the knight of the
turret was soon smitten down, horse and man, stark dead—"
"Another horse gone; I tell you it is a custom that ought
to be broken up. I don't see how people with any feeling can
applaud and support it."
. . .
"So these two knights came together with great
I saw that I had been asleep and missed a chapter, but I didn't
say anything. I judged that the Irish knight was in trouble
with the visitors by this time, and this turned out to be the
"—that Sir Uwaine smote Sir Marhaus that his spear brast
in pieces on the shield, and Sir Marhaus smote him so sore that
horse and man he bare to the earth, and hurt Sir Uwaine on the left
"The truth is, Alisande, these archaics are a little too
simple; the vocabulary is too limited, and so, by consequence,
descriptions suffer in the matter of variety; they run too much to
level Saharas of fact, and not enough to picturesque detail; this
throws about them a certain air of the monotonous; in fact the
fights are all alike: a couple of people come together with
great random—random is a good word, and so is exegesis, for
that matter, and so is holocaust, and defalcation, and usufruct and
a hundred others, but land! a body ought to discriminate—they
come together with great random, and a spear is brast, and one
party brake his shield and the other one goes down, horse and man,
over his horse-tail and brake his neck, and then the next candidate
comes randoming in, and brast his spear, and the other man
brast his shield, and down he goes, horse and man, over his
horse-tail, and brake his neck, and then there's another
elected, and another and another and still another, till the
material is all used up; and when you come to figure up results,
you can't tell one fight from another, nor who whipped; and as a
picture , of living, raging, roaring battle, sho! why, it's
pale and noiseless—just ghosts scuffling in a fog. Dear me,
what would this barren vocabulary get out of the mightiest
spectacle?—the burning of Rome in Nero's time, for instance?
Why, it would merely say, 'Town burned down; no insurance; boy
brast a window, fireman brake his neck!' Why, that
ain't a picture!"
"I knew it would."
—"but Sir Marhaus's spear held; and therewith Sir Gawaine
and his horse rushed down to the earth—"
"Just so—and brake his back."
—"and lightly Sir Gawaine rose upon his feet and pulled
out his sword, and dressed him toward Sir Marhaus on foot, and
therewith either came unto other eagerly, and smote together with
their swords, that their shields flew in cantels, and they bruised
their helms and their hauberks, and wounded either other. But
Sir Gawaine, fro it passed nine of the clock, waxed by the space of
three hours ever stronger and stronger and thrice his might was
increased. All this espied Sir Marhaus, and had great wonder how
his might increased, and so they wounded other passing sore; and
then when it was come noon—"
The pelting sing-song of it carried me forward to scenes and
sounds of my boyhood days:
"N-e-e-ew Haven! ten minutes for refreshments—knductr'll
strike the gong-bell two minutes before train
leaves—passengers for the Shore-line please take seats in the
rear k'yar, this k'yar don't go no furder—ahh -pls,
aw -rnjz, b'nan ners, s-a-n-d'ches,
—"and waxed past noon and drew toward evensong. Sir
Gawaine's strength feebled and waxed passing faint, that unnethes
he might dure any longer, and Sir Marhaus was then bigger and
"Which strained his armor, of course; and yet little would one
of these people mind a small thing like that."
—"and so, Sir Knight, said Sir Marhaus, I have well felt
that ye are a passing good knight, and a marvelous man of might as
ever I felt any, while it lasteth, and our quarrels are not great,
and therefore it were a pity to do you hurt, for I feel you are
passing feeble. Ah, said Sir Gawaine, gentle knight, ye say
the word that I should say. And therewith they took off their
helms and either kissed other, and there they swore together either
to love other as brethren—"
But I lost the thread there, and dozed off to slumber, thinking
about what a pity it was that men with such superb
strength—strength enabling them to stand up cased in cruelly
burdensome iron and drenched with perspiration, and hack and batter
and bang each other for six hours on a stretch—should not
have been born at a time when they could put it to some useful
purpose. Take a jackass, for instance: a jackass has
that kind of strength, and puts it to a useful purpose, and is
valuable to this world because he is a jackass; but a nobleman is
not valuable because he is a jackass. It is a mixture that is
always ineffectual, and should never have been attempted in the
first place. And yet, once you start a mistake, the trouble
is done and you never know what is going to come of it.
When I came to myself again and began to listen, I perceived
that I had lost another chapter, and that Alisande had wandered a
long way off with her people.
"And so they rode and came into a deep valley full of stones,
and thereby they saw a fair stream of water; above thereby was the
head of the stream, a fair fountain, and three damsels sitting
thereby. In this country, said Sir Marhaus, came never knight since
it was christened, but he found strange adventures—"
"This is not good form, Alisande. Sir Marhaus the king's
son of Ireland talks like all the rest; you ought to give him a
brogue, or at least a characteristic expletive; by this means one
would recognize him as soon as he spoke, without his ever being
named. It is a common literary device with the great authors.
You should make him say, 'In this country, be jabers, came
never knight since it was christened, but he found strange
adventures, be jabers.' You see how much better that sounds."
—"came never knight but he found strange adventures, be
jabers. Of a truth it doth indeed, fair lord, albeit 'tis passing
hard to say, though peradventure that will not tarry but better
speed with usage. And then they rode to the damsels, and
either saluted other, and the eldest had a garland of gold about
her head, and she was threescore winter of age or more—"
"The damsel was?"
"Even so, dear lord—and her hair was white under the
"Celluloid teeth, nine dollars a set, as like as not—the
loose-fit kind, that go up and down like a portcullis when you eat,
and fall out when you laugh."
"The second damsel was of thirty winter of age, with a circlet
of gold about her head. The third damsel was but fifteen year
Billows of thought came rolling over my soul, and the voice
faded out of my hearing!
Fifteen! Break—my heart! oh, my lost darling!
Just her age who was so gentle, and lovely, and all the world
to me, and whom I shall never see again! How the thought of
her carries me back over wide seas of memory to a vague dim time, a
happy time, so many, many centuries hence, when I used to wake in
the soft summer mornings, out of sweet dreams of her, and say
"Hello, Central!" just to hear her dear voice come melting back to
me with a "Hello, Hank!" that was music of the spheres to my
enchanted ear. She got three dollars a week, but she was worth
I could not follow Alisande's further explanation of who our
captured knights were, now—I mean in case she should ever get
to explaining who they were. My interest was gone, my
thoughts were far away, and sad. By fitful glimpses of the
drifting tale, caught here and there and now and then, I merely
noted in a vague way that each of these three knights took one of
these three damsels up behind him on his horse, and one rode north,
another east, the other south, to seek adventures, and meet again
and lie, after year and day. Year and day—and without
baggage. It was of a piece with the general simplicity of the
The sun was now setting. It was about three in the
afternoon when Alisande had begun to tell me who the cowboys were;
so she had made pretty good progress with it—for her.
She would arrive some time or other, no doubt, but she was
not a person who could be hurried.
That was a little idea of my own, and had several wholesome
purposes in view toward the civilizing and uplifting of this
nation. In the first place, it was a furtive, underhand blow
at this nonsense of knight errantry, though nobody suspected that
but me. I had started a number of these people out—the
bravest knights I could get—each sandwiched between
bulletin-boards bearing one device or another, and I judged that by
and by when they got to be numerous enough they would begin to look
ridiculous; and then, even the steel-clad ass that hadn't
any board would himself begin to look ridiculous because he was out
of the fashion.
Secondly, these missionaries would gradually, and without
creating suspicion or exciting alarm, introduce a rudimentary
cleanliness among the nobility, and from them it would work down to
the people, if the priests could be kept quiet. This would
undermine the Church. I mean would be a step toward that.
Next, education—next, freedom—and then she would
begin to crumble. It being my conviction that any Established
Church is an established crime, an established slave-pen, I had no
scruples, but was willing to assail it in any way or with any
weapon that promised to hurt it. Why, in my own former
day—in remote centuries not yet stirring in the womb of
time—there were old Englishmen who imagined that they had
been born in a free country: a "free" country with the
Corporation Act and the Test still in force in it—timbers
propped against men's liberties and dishonored consciences to shore
up an Established Anachronism with.
La Cote was much depressed, for he had scored here the worst
failure of his campaign. He had not worked off a cake; yet he
had tried all the tricks of the trade, even to the washing of a
hermit; but the hermit died. This was, indeed, a bad failure,
for this animal would now be dubbed a martyr, and would take his
place among the saints of the Roman calendar. Thus made he
his moan, this poor Sir La Cote Male Taile, and sorrowed passing
sore. And so my heart bled for him, and I was moved to
comfort and stay him. Wherefore I said:
"Forbear to grieve, fair knight, for this is not a defeat.
We have brains, you and I; and for such as have brains there
are no defeats, but only victories. Observe how we will turn
this seeming disaster into an advertisement; an advertisement for
our soap; and the biggest one, to draw, that was ever thought of;
an advertisement that will transform that Mount Washington defeat
into a Matterhorn victory. We will put on your
bulletin-board, 'Patronized by the elect.' How does
that strike you?"
"Verily, it is wonderly bethought!"
"Well, a body is bound to admit that for just a modest little
one-line ad, it's a corker."
So the poor colporteur's griefs vanished away. He was a
brave fellow, and had done mighty feats of arms in his time.
His chief celebrity rested upon the events of an excursion
like this one of mine, which he had once made with a damsel named
Maledisant, who was as handy with her tongue as was Sandy, though
in a different way, for her tongue churned forth only railings and
insult, whereas Sandy's music was of a kindlier sort. I knew
his story well, and so I knew how to interpret the compassion that
was in his face when he bade me farewell. He supposed I was
having a bitter hard time of it.
I saw that she was a good housekeeper, for while she talked she
kept a corner of her eye on the servants to see that they made no
balks in handling the body and getting it out; when they came with
fresh clean towels, she sent back for the other kind; and when they
had finished wiping the floor and were going, she indicated a
crimson fleck the size of a tear which their duller eyes had
overlooked. It was plain to me that La Cote Male Taile had
failed to see the mistress of the house. Often, how louder
and clearer than any tongue, does dumb circumstantial evidence
Morgan le Fay rippled along as musically as ever.
Marvelous woman. And what a glance she had: when it
fell in reproof upon those servants, they shrunk and quailed as
timid people do when the lightning flashes out of a cloud. I
could have got the habit myself. It was the same with that
poor old Brer Uriens; he was always on the ragged edge of
apprehension; she could not even turn toward him but he winced.
In the midst of the talk I let drop a complimentary word about
King Arthur, forgetting for the moment how this woman hated her
brother. That one little compliment was enough. She
clouded up like storm; she called for her guards, and said:
"Hale me these varlets to the dungeons."
That struck cold on my ears, for her dungeons had a reputation.
Nothing occurred to me to say—or do. But not so with
Sandy. As the guard laid a hand upon me, she piped up with the
tranquilest confidence, and said:
"God's wounds, dost thou covet destruction, thou maniac?
It is The Boss!"
Now what a happy idea that was!—and so simple; yet it
would never have occurred to me. I was born modest; not all
over, but in spots; and this was one of the spots.
The effect upon madame was electrical. It cleared her
countenance and brought back her smiles and all her persuasive
graces and blandishments; but nevertheless she was not able to
entirely cover up with them the fact that she was in a ghastly
fright. She said:
"La, but do list to thine handmaid! as if one gifted with powers
like to mine might say the thing which I have said unto one who has
vanquished Merlin, and not be jesting. By mine enchantments I
foresaw your coming, and by them I knew you when you entered here.
I did but play this little jest with hope to surprise you
into some display of your art, as not doubting you would blast the
guards with occult fires, consuming them to ashes on the spot, a
marvel much beyond mine own ability, yet one which I have long been
childishly curious to see."
The guards were less curious, and got out as soon as they got
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
"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
"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 the queen—
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
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
"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?"
"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
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
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
"Well," I said, "I can't quite make this out. It is a
"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
"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 to confess—"
"I, my lord? How so? It was I that killed the
"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 quick death."
"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
"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 ."
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 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 nothing about.
I had them taken out and sent to their friends. The queen
did not like it much. Not that she felt any personal interest
in the 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.
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:
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.
"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
"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 and
"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
"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.
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 introducing.
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
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!"
She looked surprised and distressed. The animation faded
out of her face; and during many moments she was lost in thought
and silent. Then:
"It was not enchanted aforetime," she said in a musing fashion,
as if to herself. "And how strange is this 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
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
"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
"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
"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
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.
"Which family, good my lord?"
"Why, this family; your own family."
"Sooth to say, I understand you not. I have no
"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."
"What will he say? Forsooth what can he say but give
"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 of dogs."
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 aristocracy home?"
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"I will well, Sir Boss," and he was off.
"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
"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.
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
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
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
"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
"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 matinee?"
"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.
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
"Behold, I am even now busied with trial of the powerfulest
enchantment known to the princes of the occult arts in the lands of
the East; an it fail me, naught can avail. Peace, until I
He raised a smoke this time that darkened all the region, and
must have made matters uncomfortable for the hermits, for the wind
was their way, and it rolled down over their dens in a dense and
billowy fog. He poured out volumes of speech to match, and
contorted his body and sawed the air with his hands in a most
extraordinary way. At the end of twenty minutes he dropped
down panting, and about exhausted. Now arrived the abbot and
several hundred monks and nuns, and behind them a multitude of
pilgrims and a couple of acres of foundlings, all drawn by the
prodigious smoke, and all in a grand state of excitement. The
abbot inquired anxiously for results. Merlin said:
"If any labor of mortal might break the spell that binds these
waters, this which I have but just essayed had done it. It
has failed; whereby I do now know that that which I had feared is a
truth established; the sign of this failure is, that the most
potent spirit known to the magicians of the East, and whose name
none may utter and live, has laid his spell upon this well.
The mortal does not breathe, nor ever will, who can penetrate
the secret of that spell, and without that secret none can break
it. The water will flow no more forever, good Father. I
have done what man could. Suffer me to go."
Of course this threw the abbot into a good deal of a
consternation. He turned to me with the signs of it in his face,
"Ye have heard him. Is it true?"
"Part of it is."
"Not all, then, not all! What part is true?"
"That that spirit with the Russian name has put his spell upon
"God's wounds, then are we ruined!"
"But not certainly? Ye mean, not certainly?"
"That is it."
"Wherefore, ye also mean that when he saith none can break the
"Yes, when he says that, he says what isn't necessarily true.
There are conditions under which an effort to break it may have
some chance—that is, some small, some trifling
"Oh, they are nothing difficult. Only these: I want
the well and the surroundings for the space of half a mile,
entirely to myself from sunset to-day until I remove the
ban—and nobody allowed to cross the ground but by my
"Are these all?"
"And you have no fear to try?"
"Oh, none. One may fail, of course; and one may also
succeed. One can try, and I am ready to chance it. I have my
"These and all others ye may name. I will issue
commandment to that effect."
"Wait," said Merlin, with an evil smile. "Ye wit that he
that would break this spell must know that spirit's name?"
"Yes, I know his name."
"And wit you also that to know it skills not of itself, but ye
must likewise pronounce it? Ha-ha! Knew ye that?"
"Yes, I knew that, too."
"You had that knowledge! Art a fool? Are ye minded
to utter that name and die?"
"Utter it? Why certainly. I would utter it if it was
"Ye are even a dead man, then; and I go to tell Arthur."
"That's all right. Take your gripsack and get along.
The thing for you to do is to go home and work the
weather, John W. Merlin."
It was a home shot, and it made him wince; for he was the worst
weather-failure in the kingdom. Whenever he ordered up the
danger-signals along the coast there was a week's dead calm, sure,
and every time he prophesied fair weather it rained brickbats. But
I kept him in the weather bureau right along, to undermine his
reputation. However, that shot raised his bile, and instead
of starting home to report my death, he said he would remain and
My two experts arrived in the evening, and pretty well fagged,
for they had traveled double tides. They had pack-mules
along, and had brought everything I needed—tools, pump, lead
pipe, Greek fire, sheaves of big rockets, roman candles, colored
fire sprays, electric apparatus, and a lot of
sundries—everything necessary for the stateliest kind of a
miracle. They got their supper and a nap, and about midnight
we sallied out through a solitude so wholly vacant and complete
that it quite overpassed the required conditions. We took
possession of the well and its surroundings. My boys were
experts in all sorts of things, from the stoning up of a well to
the constructing of a mathematical instrument. An hour before
sunrise we had that leak mended in ship-shape fashion, and the
water began to rise. Then we stowed our fireworks in the
chapel, locked up the place, and went home to bed.
Before the noon mass was over, we were at the well again; for
there was a deal to do yet, and I was determined to spring the
miracle before midnight, for business reasons: for whereas a
miracle worked for the Church on a week-day is worth a good deal,
it is worth six times as much if you get it in on a Sunday.
In nine hours the water had risen to its customary
level—that is to say, it was within twenty-three feet of the
top. We put in a little iron pump, one of the first turned
out by my works near the capital; we bored into a stone reservoir
which stood against the outer wall of the well-chamber and inserted
a section of lead pipe that was long enough to reach to the door of
the chapel and project beyond the threshold, where the gushing
water would be visible to the two hundred and fifty acres of people
I was intending should be present on the flat plain in front of
this little holy hillock at the proper time.
We knocked the head out of an empty hogshead and hoisted this
hogshead to the flat roof of the chapel, where we clamped it down
fast, poured in gunpowder till it lay loosely an inch deep on the
bottom, then we stood up rockets in the hogshead as thick as they
could loosely stand, all the different breeds of rockets there are;
and they made a portly and imposing sheaf, I can tell you. We
grounded the wire of a pocket electrical battery in that powder, we
placed a whole magazine of Greek fire on each corner of the
roof—blue on one corner, green on another, red on another,
and purple on the last—and grounded a wire in each.
About two hundred yards off, in the flat, we built a pen of
scantlings, about four feet high, and laid planks on it, and so
made a platform. We covered it with swell tapestries borrowed
for the occasion, and topped it off with the abbot's own throne.
When you are going to do a miracle for an ignorant race, you want
to get in every detail that will count; you want to make all the
properties impressive to the public eye; you want to make matters
comfortable for your head guest; then you can turn yourself loose
and play your effects for all they are worth. I know the
value of these things, for I know human nature. You can't
throw too much style into a miracle. It costs trouble, and
work, and sometimes money; but it pays in the end. Well, we
brought the wires to the ground at the chapel, and then brought
them under the ground to the platform, and hid the batteries there.
We put a rope fence a hundred feet square around the platform
to keep off the common multitude, and that finished the work.
My idea was, doors open at 10:30, performance to begin at
11:25 sharp. I wished I could charge admission, but of course
that wouldn't answer. I instructed my boys to be in the
chapel as early as 10, before anybody was around, and be ready to
man the pumps at the proper time, and make the fur fly. Then
we went home to supper.
The news of the disaster to the well had traveled far by this
time; and now for two or three days a steady avalanche of people
had been pouring into the valley. The lower end of the valley
was become one huge camp; we should have a good house, no question
about that. Criers went the rounds early in the evening and
announced the coming attempt, which put every pulse up to fever
heat. They gave notice that the abbot and his official suite
would move in state and occupy the platform at 10:30, up to which
time all the region which was under my ban must be clear; the bells
would then cease from tolling, and this sign should be permission
to the multitudes to close in and take their places.
Just as I was moaning out the closing hunks of that word, I
touched off one of my electric connections and all that murky world
of people stood revealed in a hideous blue glare! It was
immense—that effect! Lots of people shrieked, women
curled up and quit in every direction, foundlings collapsed by
platoons. The abbot and the monks crossed themselves nimbly
and their lips fluttered with agitated prayers. Merlin held
his grip, but he was astonished clear down to his corns; he had
never seen anything to begin with that, before. Now was the
time to pile in the effects. I lifted my hands and groaned
out this word—as it were in agony:
—and turned on the red fire! You should have heard
that Atlantic of people moan and howl when that crimson hell joined
the blue! After sixty seconds I shouted:
—and lit up the green fire! After waiting only forty
seconds this time, I spread my arms abroad and thundered out the
devastating syllables of this word of words:
—and whirled on the purple glare! There they were,
all going at once, red, blue, green, purple!—four furious
volcanoes pouring vast clouds of radiant smoke aloft, and spreading
a blinding rainbowed noonday to the furthest confines of that
valley. In the distance one could see that fellow on the
pillar standing rigid against the background of sky, his seesaw
stopped for the first time in twenty years. I knew the boys
were at the pump now and ready. So I said to the abbot:
"The time is come, Father. I am about to pronounce the
dread name and command the spell to dissolve. You want to
brace up, and take hold of something." Then I shouted to the
people: "Behold, in another minute the spell will be broken,
or no mortal can break it. If it break, all will know it, for you
will see the sacred water gush from the chapel door!"
I stood a few moments, to let the hearers have a chance to
spread my announcement to those who couldn't hear, and so convey it
to the furthest ranks, then I made a grand exhibition of extra
posturing and gesturing, and shouted:
"Lo, I command the fell spirit that possesses the holy fountain
to now disgorge into the skies all the infernal fires that still
remain in him, and straightway dissolve his spell and flee hence to
the pit, there to lie bound a thousand years. By his own
dread name I command it—BGWJJILLIGKKK!"
Then I touched off the hogshead of rockets, and a vast fountain
of dazzling lances of fire vomited itself toward the zenith with a
hissing rush, and burst in mid-sky into a storm of flashing jewels!
One mighty groan of terror started up from the massed
people—then suddenly broke into a wild hosannah of
joy—for there, fair and plain in the uncanny glare, they saw
the freed water leaping forth! The old abbot could not speak
a word, for tears and the chokings in his throat; without utterance
of any sort, he folded me in his arms and mashed me. It was
more eloquent than speech. And harder to get over, too, in a
country where there were really no doctors that were worth a
You should have seen those acres of people throw themselves down
in that water and kiss it; kiss it, and pet it, and fondle it, and
talk to it as if it were alive, and welcome it back with the dear
names they gave their darlings, just as if it had been a friend who
was long gone away and lost, and was come home again. Yes, it
was pretty to see, and made me think more of them than I had done
I sent Merlin home on a shutter. He had caved in and gone
down like a landslide when I pronounced that fearful name, and had
never come to since. He never had heard that name
before,—neither had I—but to him it was the right one.
Any jumble would have been the right one. He admitted,
afterward, that that spirit's own mother could not have pronounced
that name better than I did. He never could understand how I
survived it, and I didn't tell him. It is only young
magicians that give away a secret like that. Merlin spent three
months working enchantments to try to find out the deep trick of
how to pronounce that name and outlive it. But he didn't
When I started to the chapel, the populace uncovered and fell
back reverently to make a wide way for me, as if I had been some
kind of a superior being—and I was. I was aware of
that. I took along a night shift of monks, and taught them
the mystery of the pump, and set them to work, for it was plain
that a good part of the people out there were going to sit up with
the water all night, consequently it was but right that they should
have all they wanted of it. To those monks that pump was a
good deal of a miracle itself, and they were full of wonder over
it; and of admiration, too, of the exceeding effectiveness of its
It was a great night, an immense night. There was
reputation in it. I could hardly get to sleep for glorying over
He shuddered at the thought—the thought of the peril of it
to the well—but he said with feeling:
"One needs not to ask that of a poor body who has not known that
blessed refreshment sith that he was a boy. Would God I might
wash me! but it may not be, fair sir, tempt me not; it is
And then he sighed in such a sorrowful way that I was resolved
he should have at least one layer of his real estate removed, if it
sized up my whole influence and bankrupted the pile. So I
went to the abbot and asked for a permit for this Brother. He
blenched at the idea—I don't mean that you could see him
blench, for of course you couldn't see it without you scraped him,
and I didn't care enough about it to scrape him, but I knew the
blench was there, just the same, and within a book-cover's
thickness of the surface, too—blenched, and trembled.
"Ah, son, ask aught else thou wilt, and it is thine, and freely
granted out of a grateful heart—but this, oh, this!
Would you drive away the blessed water again?"
"No, Father, I will not drive it away. I have mysterious
knowledge which teaches me that there was an error that other time
when it was thought the institution of the bath banished the
fountain." A large interest began to show up in the old man's face.
"My knowledge informs me that the bath was innocent of that
misfortune, which was caused by quite another sort of sin."
"These are brave words—but—but right welcome, if
they be true."
"They are true, indeed. Let me build the bath again,
Father. Let me build it again, and the fountain shall flow
"You promise this?—you promise it? Say the
word—say you promise it!"
"I do promise it."
"Then will I have the first bath myself! Go—get ye
to your work. Tarry not, tarry not, but go."
I and my boys were at work, straight off. The ruins of the
old bath were there yet in the basement of the monastery, not a
stone missing. They had been left just so, all these
lifetimes, and avoided with a pious fear, as things accursed.
In two days we had it all done and the water in—a
spacious pool of clear pure water that a body could swim in.
It was running water, too. It came in, and went out, through
the ancient pipes. The old abbot kept his word, and was the
first to try it. He went down black and shaky, leaving the
whole black community above troubled and worried and full of
bodings; but he came back white and joyful, and the game was made!
another triumph scored.
It was a good campaign that we made in that Valley of Holiness,
and I was very well satisfied, and ready to move on now, but I
struck a disappointment. I caught a heavy cold, and it
started up an old lurking rheumatism of mine. Of course the
rheumatism hunted up my weakest place and located itself there.
This was the place where the abbot put his arms about me and
mashed me, what time he was moved to testify his gratitude to me
with an embrace.
When at last I got out, I was a shadow. But everybody was
full of attentions and kindnesses, and these brought cheer back
into my life, and were the right medicine to help a convalescent
swiftly up toward health and strength again; so I gained fast.
Now what a radical reversal of things this was; what a jumbling
together of extravagant incongruities; what a fantastic conjunction
of opposites and irreconcilables—the home of the bogus
miracle become the home of a real one, the den of a mediaeval
hermit turned into a telephone office!
The telephone clerk stepped into the light, and I recognized one
of my young fellows. I said:
"How long has this office been established here, Ulfius?"
"But since midnight, fair Sir Boss, an it please you. We
saw many lights in the valley, and so judged it well to make a
station, for that where so many lights be needs must they indicate
a town of goodly size."
"Quite right. It isn't a town in the customary sense, but
it's a good stand, anyway. Do you know where you are?"
"Of that I have had no time to make inquiry; for whenas my
comradeship moved hence upon their labors, leaving me in charge, I
got me to needed rest, purposing to inquire when I waked, and
report the place's name to Camelot for record."
"Well, this is the Valley of Holiness."
It didn't take; I mean, he didn't start at the name, as I had
supposed he would. He merely said:
"I will so report it."
"Why, the surrounding regions are filled with the noise of late
wonders that have happened here! You didn't hear of
"Ah, ye will remember we move by night, and avoid speech with
all. We learn naught but that we get by the telephone from
"Why they know all about this thing. Haven't they
told you anything about the great miracle of the restoration of a
"Oh, that ? Indeed yes. But the name of
this valley doth woundily differ from the name of
that one; indeed to differ wider were not pos—"
"What was that name, then?"
"The Valley of Hellishness."
"That explains it. Confound a telephone, anyway.
It is the very demon for conveying similarities of sound that
are miracles of divergence from similarity of sense. But no
matter, you know the name of the place now. Call up
He did it, and had Clarence sent for. It was good to hear
my boy's voice again. It was like being home. After
some affectionate interchanges, and some account of my late
illness, I said:
"What is new?"
"The king and queen and many of the court do start even in this
hour, to go to your valley to pay pious homage to the waters ye
have restored, and cleanse themselves of sin, and see the place
where the infernal spirit spouted true hell-flames to the
clouds—an ye listen sharply ye may hear me wink and hear me
likewise smile a smile, sith 'twas I that made selection of those
flames from out our stock and sent them by your order."
"Does the king know the way to this place?"
"The king?—no, nor to any other in his realms, mayhap; but
the lads that holp you with your miracle will be his guide and lead
the way, and appoint the places for rests at noons and sleeps at
"This will bring them here—when?"
"Mid-afternoon, or later, the third day."
"Anything else in the way of news?"
"The king hath begun the raising of the standing army ye
suggested to him; one regiment is complete and officered."
"The mischief! I wanted a main hand in that myself.
There is only one body of men in the kingdom that are fitted
to officer a regular army."
"Yes—and now ye will marvel to know there's not so much as
one West Pointer in that regiment."
"What are you talking about? Are you in earnest?"
"It is truly as I have said."
"Indeed, I know naught of the method. I but know
this—these officers be all of noble family, and are
born—what is it you call it?—chuckleheads."
"There's something wrong, Clarence."
"Comfort yourself, then; for two candidates for a lieutenancy do
travel hence with the king—young nobles both—and if you
but wait where you are you will hear them questioned."
"That is news to the purpose. I will get one West Pointer
in, anyway. Mount a man and send him to that school with a
message; let him kill horses, if necessary, but he must be there
before sunset to-night and say—"
"There is no need. I have laid a ground wire to the
school. Prithee let me connect you with it."
It sounded good! In this atmosphere of telephones and
lightning communication with distant regions, I was breathing the
breath of life again after long suffocation. I realized,
then, what a creepy, dull, inanimate horror this land had been to
me all these years, and how I had been in such a stifled condition
of mind as to have grown used to it almost beyond the power to
I gave my order to the superintendent of the Academy personally.
I also asked him to bring me some paper and a fountain pen and a
box or so of safety matches. I was getting tired of doing
without these conveniences. I could have them now, as I
wasn't going to wear armor any more at present, and therefore could
get at my pockets.
When I got back to the monastery, I found a thing of interest
going on. The abbot and his monks were assembled in the great
hall, observing with childish wonder and faith the performances of
a new magician, a fresh arrival. His dress was the extreme of
the fantastic; as showy and foolish as the sort of thing an Indian
medicine-man wears. He was mowing, and mumbling, and
gesticulating, and drawing mystical figures in the air and on the
floor,—the regular thing, you know. He was a celebrity
from Asia—so he said, and that was enough. That sort of
evidence was as good as gold, and passed current everywhere.
How easy and cheap it was to be a great magician on this
fellow's terms. His specialty was to tell you what any
individual on the face of the globe was doing at the moment; and
what he had done at any time in the past, and what he would do at
any time in the future. He asked if any would like to know
what the Emperor of the East was doing now? The sparkling
eyes and the delighted rubbing of hands made eloquent
answer—this reverend crowd would like to know what
that monarch was at, just as this moment. The fraud went
through some more mummery, and then made grave announcement:
"The high and mighty Emperor of the East doth at this moment put
money in the palm of a holy begging friar—one, two, three
pieces, and they be all of silver."
A buzz of admiring exclamations broke out, all around:
"It is marvelous!" "Wonderful!" "What study, what
labor, to have acquired a so amazing power as this!"
Would they like to know what the Supreme Lord of Inde was doing?
Yes. He told them what the Supreme Lord of Inde was doing.
Then he told them what the Sultan of Egypt was at; also what
the King of the Remote Seas was about. And so on and so on;
and with each new marvel the astonishment at his accuracy rose
higher and higher. They thought he must surely strike an uncertain
place some time; but no, he never had to hesitate, he always knew,
and always with unerring precision. I saw that if this thing
went on I should lose my supremacy, this fellow would capture my
following, I should be left out in the cold. I must put a cog
in his wheel, and do it right away, too. I said:
"If I might ask, I should very greatly like to know what a
certain person is doing."
"Speak, and freely. I will tell you."
"It will be difficult—perhaps impossible."
"My art knoweth not that word. The more difficult it is,
the more certainly will I reveal it to you."
You see, I was working up the interest. It was getting
pretty high, too; you could see that by the craning necks all
around, and the half-suspended breathing. So now I climaxed
"If you make no mistake—if you tell me truly what I want
to know—I will give you two hundred silver pennies."
"The fortune is mine! I will tell you what you would
"Then tell me what I am doing with my right hand."
"Ah-h!" There was a general gasp of surprise. It had
not occurred to anybody in the crowd—that simple trick of
inquiring about somebody who wasn't ten thousand miles away.
The magician was hit hard; it was an emergency that had never
happened in his experience before, and it corked him; he didn't
know how to meet it. He looked stunned, confused; he couldn't
say a word. "Come," I said, "what are you waiting for?
Is it possible you can answer up, right off, and tell what
anybody on the other side of the earth is doing, and yet can't tell
what a person is doing who isn't three yards from you?
Persons behind me know what I am doing with my right
hand—they will indorse you if you tell correctly." He
was still dumb. "Very well, I'll tell you why you don't speak
up and tell; it is because you don't know. You a
magician! Good friends, this tramp is a mere fraud and
This distressed the monks and terrified them. They were
not used to hearing these awful beings called names, and they did
not know what might be the consequence. There was a dead
silence now; superstitious bodings were in every mind. The
magician began to pull his wits together, and when he presently
smiled an easy, nonchalant smile, it spread a mighty relief around;
for it indicated that his mood was not destructive. He
"It hath struck me speechless, the frivolity of this person's
speech. Let all know, if perchance there be any who know it
not, that enchanters of my degree deign not to concern themselves
with the doings of any but kings, princes, emperors, them that be
born in the purple and them only. Had ye asked me what Arthur
the great king is doing, it were another matter, and I had told ye;
but the doings of a subject interest me not."
"Oh, I misunderstood you. I thought you said 'anybody,'
and so I supposed 'anybody' included—well, anybody; that is,
"It doth—anybody that is of lofty birth; and the better if
he be royal."
"That, it meseemeth, might well be," said the abbot, who saw his
opportunity to smooth things and avert disaster, "for it were not
likely that so wonderful a gift as this would be conferred for the
revelation of the concerns of lesser beings than such as be born
near to the summits of greatness. Our Arthur the
"Would you know of him?" broke in the enchanter.
"Most gladly, yea, and gratefully."
Everybody was full of awe and interest again right away, the
incorrigible idiots. They watched the incantations
absorbingly, and looked at me with a "There, now, what can you say
to that?" air, when the announcement came:
"The king is weary with the chase, and lieth in his palace these
two hours sleeping a dreamless sleep."
"God's benison upon him!" said the abbot, and crossed himself;
"may that sleep be to the refreshment of his body and his
"And so it might be, if he were sleeping," I said, "but the king
is not sleeping, the king rides."
Here was trouble again—a conflict of authority.
Nobody knew which of us to believe; I still had some
reputation left. The magician's scorn was stirred, and he
"Lo, I have seen many wonderful soothsayers and prophets and
magicians in my life days, but none before that could sit idle and
see to the heart of things with never an incantation to help."
"You have lived in the woods, and lost much by it. I use
incantations myself, as this good brotherhood are aware—but
only on occasions of moment."
When it comes to sarcasming, I reckon I know how to keep my end
up. That jab made this fellow squirm. The abbot inquired
after the queen and the court, and got this information:
"They be all on sleep, being overcome by fatigue, like as to the
"That is merely another lie. Half of them are about their
amusements, the queen and the other half are not sleeping, they
ride. Now perhaps you can spread yourself a little, and tell
us where the king and queen and all that are this moment riding
with them are going?"
"They sleep now, as I said; but on the morrow they will ride,
for they go a journey toward the sea."
"And where will they be the day after to-morrow at vespers?"
"Far to the north of Camelot, and half their journey will be
"That is another lie, by the space of a hundred and fifty miles.
Their journey will not be merely half done, it will be all done,
and they will be here , in this valley."
That was a noble shot! It set the abbot and the
monks in a whirl of excitement, and it rocked the enchanter to his
base. I followed the thing right up:
"If the king does not arrive, I will have myself ridden on a
rail: if he does I will ride you on a rail instead."
Next day I went up to the telephone office and found that the
king had passed through two towns that were on the line. I
spotted his progress on the succeeding day in the same way. I
kept these matters to myself. The third day's reports showed
that if he kept up his gait he would arrive by four in the
afternoon. There was still no sign anywhere of interest in
his coming; there seemed to be no preparations making to receive
him in state; a strange thing, truly. Only one thing could
explain this: that other magician had been cutting under me,
sure. This was true. I asked a friend of mine, a monk,
about it, and he said, yes, the magician had tried some further
enchantments and found out that the court had concluded to make no
journey at all, but stay at home. Think of that!
Observe how much a reputation was worth in such a country.
These people had seen me do the very showiest bit of magic in
history, and the only one within their memory that had a positive
value, and yet here they were, ready to take up with an adventurer
who could offer no evidence of his powers but his mere unproven
A COMPETITIVE EXAMINATION
wasn't capable of it—wasn't as able to govern itself
as some self-appointed specialists were or would be to govern it.
The master minds of all nations, in all ages, have sprung in
affluent multitude from the mass of the nation, and from the mass
of the nation only—not from its privileged classes; and so,
no matter what the nation's intellectual grade was; whether high or
low, the bulk of its ability was in the long ranks of its nameless
and its poor, and so it never saw the day that it had not the
material in abundance whereby to govern itself. Which is to assert
an always self-proven fact: that even the best governed and
most free and most enlightened monarchy is still behind the best
condition attainable by its people; and that the same is true of
kindred governments of lower grades, all the way down to the
King Arthur had hurried up the army business altogether beyond
my calculations. I had not supposed he would move in the
matter while I was away; and so I had not mapped out a scheme for
determining the merits of officers; I had only remarked that it
would be wise to submit every candidate to a sharp and searching
examination; and privately I meant to put together a list of
military qualifications that nobody could answer to but my West
Pointers. That ought to have been attended to before I left;
for the king was so taken with the idea of a standing army that he
couldn't wait but must get about it at once, and get up as good a
scheme of examination as he could invent out of his own head.
I was impatient to see what this was; and to show, too, how much
more admirable was the one which I should display to the Examining
Board. I intimated this, gently, to the king, and it fired
his curiosity. When the Board was assembled, I followed him
in; and behind us came the candidates. One of these
candidates was a bright young West Pointer of mine, and with him
were a couple of my West Point professors.
When I saw the Board, I did not know whether to cry or to laugh.
The head of it was the officer known to later centuries as Norroy
King-at-Arms! The two other members were chiefs of bureaus in
his department; and all three were priests, of course; all
officials who had to know how to read and write were priests.
My candidate was called first, out of courtesy to me, and the
head of the Board opened on him with official solemnity:
"Webster—Webster. H'm—I—my memory
faileth to recall the name. Condition?"
"Weaver!—God keep us!"
The king was staggered, from his summit to his foundations; one
clerk fainted, and the others came near it. The chairman
pulled himself together, and said indignantly:
"It is sufficient. Get you hence."
But I appealed to the king. I begged that my candidate
might be examined. The king was willing, but the Board, who
were all well-born folk, implored the king to spare them the
indignity of examining the weaver's son. I knew they didn't
know enough to examine him anyway, so I joined my prayers to theirs
and the king turned the duty over to my professors. I had had
a blackboard prepared, and it was put up now, and the circus began.
It was beautiful to hear the lad lay out the science of war,
and wallow in details of battle and siege, of supply,
transportation, mining and countermining, grand tactics, big
strategy and little strategy, signal service, infantry, cavalry,
artillery, and all about siege guns, field guns, gatling guns,
rifled guns, smooth bores, musket practice, revolver
practice—and not a solitary word of it all could these
catfish make head or tail of, you understand—and it was
handsome to see him chalk off mathematical nightmares on the
blackboard that would stump the angels themselves, and do it like
nothing, too—all about eclipses, and comets, and solstices,
and constellations, and mean time, and sidereal time, and dinner
time, and bedtime, and every other imaginable thing above the
clouds or under them that you could harry or bullyrag an enemy with
and make him wish he hadn't come—and when the boy made his
military salute and stood aside at last, I was proud enough to hug
him, and all those other people were so dazed they looked partly
petrified, partly drunk, and wholly caught out and snowed under.
I judged that the cake was ours, and by a large majority.
Education is a great thing. This was the same youth who
had come to West Point so ignorant that when I asked him, "If a
general officer should have a horse shot under him on the field of
battle, what ought he to do?" answered up naively and said:
"Get up and brush himself."
One of the young nobles was called up now. I thought I
would question him a little myself. I said:
"Can your lordship read?"
His face flushed indignantly, and he fired this at me:
"Takest me for a clerk? I trow I am not of a blood
"Answer the question!"
He crowded his wrath down and made out to answer "No."
"Can you write?"
He wanted to resent this, too, but I said:
"You will confine yourself to the questions, and make no
comments. You are not here to air your blood or your graces, and
nothing of the sort will be permitted. Can you write?"
"Do you know the multiplication table?"
"I wit not what ye refer to."
"How much is 9 times 6?"
"It is a mystery that is hidden from me by reason that the
emergency requiring the fathoming of it hath not in my life-days
occurred, and so, not having no need to know this thing, I abide
barren of the knowledge."
"If A trade a barrel of onions to B, worth 2 pence the bushel,
in exchange for a sheep worth 4 pence and a dog worth a penny, and
C kill the dog before delivery, because bitten by the same, who
mistook him for D, what sum is still due to A from B, and which
party pays for the dog, C or D, and who gets the money? If A, is
the penny sufficient, or may he claim consequential damages in the
form of additional money to represent the possible profit which
might have inured from the dog, and classifiable as earned
increment, that is to say, usufruct?"
"Verily, in the all-wise and unknowable providence of God, who
moveth in mysterious ways his wonders to perform, have I never
heard the fellow to this question for confusion of the mind and
congestion of the ducts of thought. Wherefore I beseech you
let the dog and the onions and these people of the strange and
godless names work out their several salvations from their piteous
and wonderful difficulties without help of mine, for indeed their
trouble is sufficient as it is, whereas an I tried to help I should
but damage their cause the more and yet mayhap not live myself to
see the desolation wrought."
"What do you know of the laws of attraction and
"If there be such, mayhap his grace the king did promulgate them
whilst that I lay sick about the beginning of the year and thereby
failed to hear his proclamation."
"What do you know of the science of optics?"
"I know of governors of places, and seneschals of castles, and
sheriffs of counties, and many like small offices and titles of
honor, but him you call the Science of Optics I have not heard of
before; peradventure it is a new dignity."
"Yes, in this country."
"Pertipole, son of Sir Pertipole, Baron of Barley Mash."
"Also Sir Pertipole, Baron of Barley Mash."
"The same name and title."
"We had none, worshipful sir, the line failing before it had
reached so far back."
"It mattereth not. It is a good four generations, and
fulfilleth the requirements of the rule."
"Fulfills what rule?" I asked.
"The rule requiring four generations of nobility or else the
candidate is not eligible."
"Even so; neither lieutenant nor any other officer may be
commissioned without that qualification."
"Oh, come, this is an astonishing thing. What good is such
a qualification as that?"
"What good? It is a hardy question, fair sir and Boss,
since it doth go far to impugn the wisdom of even our holy Mother
"For that she hath established the self-same rule regarding
saints. By her law none may be canonized until he hath lain
dead four generations."
"I see, I see—it is the same thing. It is wonderful.
In the one case a man lies dead-alive four
generations—mummified in ignorance and sloth—and that
qualifies him to command live people, and take their weal and woe
into his impotent hands; and in the other case, a man lies bedded
with death and worms four generations, and that qualifies him for
office in the celestial camp. Does the king's grace approve
of this strange law?"
The king said:
"Why, truly I see naught about it that is strange. All
places of honor and of profit do belong, by natural right, to them
that be of noble blood, and so these dignities in the army are
their property and would be so without this or any rule. The
rule is but to mark a limit. Its purpose is to keep out too
recent blood, which would bring into contempt these offices, and
men of lofty lineage would turn their backs and scorn to take them.
I were to blame an I permitted this calamity.
You can permit it an you are minded so to do, for you
have the delegated authority, but that the king should do it were a
most strange madness and not comprehensible to any."
"I yield. Proceed, sir Chief of the Herald's College."
The chairman resumed as follows:
"By what illustrious achievement for the honor of the Throne and
State did the founder of your great line lift himself to the sacred
dignity of the British nobility?"
"He built a brewery."
"Sire, the Board finds this candidate perfect in all the
requirements and qualifications for military command, and doth hold
his case open for decision after due examination of his
The competitor came forward and proved exactly four generations
of nobility himself. So there was a tie in military
qualifications that far.
He stood aside a moment, and Sir Pertipole was questioned
"Of what condition was the wife of the founder of your
"She came of the highest landed gentry, yet she was not noble;
she was gracious and pure and charitable, of a blameless life and
character, insomuch that in these regards was she peer of the best
lady in the land."
"That will do. Stand down." He called up the
competing lordling again, and asked: "What was the rank and
condition of the great-grandmother who conferred British nobility
upon your great house?"
"She was a king's leman and did climb to that splendid eminence
by her own unholpen merit from the sewer where she was born."
"Ah, this, indeed, is true nobility, this is the right and
perfect intermixture. The lieutenancy is yours, fair lord.
Hold it not in contempt; it is the humble step which will
lead to grandeurs more worthy of the splendor of an origin like to
I was down in the bottomless pit of humiliation. I had
promised myself an easy and zenith-scouring triumph, and this was
I was almost ashamed to look my poor disappointed cadet in the
face. I told him to go home and be patient, this wasn't the
I had a private audience with the king, and made a proposition.
I said it was quite right to officer that regiment with nobilities,
and he couldn't have done a wiser thing. It would also be a
good idea to add five hundred officers to it; in fact, add as many
officers as there were nobles and relatives of nobles in the
country, even if there should finally be five times as many
officers as privates in it; and thus make it the crack regiment,
the envied regiment, the King's Own regiment, and entitled to fight
on its own hook and in its own way, and go whither it would and
come when it pleased, in time of war, and be utterly swell and
independent. This would make that regiment the heart's desire of
all the nobility, and they would all be satisfied and happy.
Then we would make up the rest of the standing army out of
commonplace materials, and officer it with nobodies, as was
proper—nobodies selected on a basis of mere
efficiency—and we would make this regiment toe the line,
allow it no aristocratic freedom from restraint, and force it to do
all the work and persistent hammering, to the end that whenever the
King's Own was tired and wanted to go off for a change and rummage
around amongst ogres and have a good time, it could go without
uneasiness, knowing that matters were in safe hands behind it, and
business going to be continued at the old stand, same as usual.
The king was charmed with the idea.
When I noticed that, it gave me a valuable notion. I
thought I saw my way out of an old and stubborn difficulty at last.
You see, the royalties of the Pendragon stock were a
long-lived race and very fruitful. Whenever a child was born
to any of these—and it was pretty often—there was wild
joy in the nation's mouth, and piteous sorrow in the nation's
heart. The joy was questionable, but the grief was honest.
Because the event meant another call for a Royal Grant.
Long was the list of these royalties, and they were a heavy
and steadily increasing burden upon the treasury and a menace to
the crown. Yet Arthur could not believe this latter fact, and
he would not listen to any of my various projects for substituting
something in the place of the royal grants. If I could have
persuaded him to now and then provide a support for one of these
outlying scions from his own pocket, I could have made a grand
to-do over it, and it would have had a good effect with the nation;
but no, he wouldn't hear of such a thing. He had something
like a religious passion for royal grant; he seemed to look upon it
as a sort of sacred swag, and one could not irritate him in any way
so quickly and so surely as by an attack upon that venerable
institution. If I ventured to cautiously hint that there was
not another respectable family in England that would humble itself
to hold out the hat—however, that is as far as I ever got; he
always cut me short there, and peremptorily, too.
But I believed I saw my chance at last. I would form this
crack regiment out of officers alone—not a single private.
Half of it should consist of nobles, who should fill all the
places up to Major-General, and serve gratis and pay their own
expenses; and they would be glad to do this when they should learn
that the rest of the regiment would consist exclusively of princes
of the blood. These princes of the blood should range in rank from
Lieutenant-General up to Field Marshal, and be gorgeously salaried
and equipped and fed by the state. Moreover—and this
was the master stroke—it should be decreed that these
princely grandees should be always addressed by a stunningly gaudy
and awe-compelling title (which I would presently invent), and they
and they only in all England should be so addressed. Finally,
all princes of the blood should have free choice; join that
regiment, get that great title, and renounce the royal grant, or
stay out and receive a grant. Neatest touch of all:
unborn but imminent princes of the blood could be born
into the regiment, and start fair, with good wages and a permanent
situation, upon due notice from the parents.
All the boys would join, I was sure of that; so, all existing
grants would be relinquished; that the newly born would always join
was equally certain. Within sixty days that quaint and
bizarre anomaly, the Royal Grant, would cease to be a living fact,
and take its place among the curiosities of the past.
Of course, I changed the Subject. Yes, Guenever was
beautiful, it is true, but take her all around she was pretty
slack. I never meddled in these matters, they weren't my
affair, but I did hate to see the way things were going on, and I
don't mind saying that much. Many's the time she had asked
me, "Sir Boss, hast seen Sir Launcelot about?" but if ever she went
fretting around for the king I didn't happen to be around at the
Weekly Hosannah and Literary Volcano!—latest
irruption—only two cents—all about the big miracle in
the Valley of Holiness!" One greater than kings had
arrived—the newsboy. But I was the only person in all
that throng who knew the meaning of this mighty birth, and what
this imperial magician was come into the world to do.
I dropped a nickel out of the window and got my paper; the
Adam-newsboy of the world went around the corner to get my change;
is around the corner yet. It was delicious to see a newspaper
again, yet I was conscious of a secret shock when my eye fell upon
the first batch of display head-lines. I had lived in a
clammy atmosphere of reverence, respect, deference, so long that
they sent a quivery little cold wave through me:
"A thousand! Verily a mighty work—a year's work for
"No—merely a day's work for a man and a boy."
They crossed themselves, and whiffed out a protective prayer or
"Ah-h—a miracle, a wonder! Dark work of
I let it go at that. Then I read in a low voice, to as
many as could crowd their shaven heads within hearing distance,
part of the account of the miracle of the restoration of the well,
and was accompanied by astonished and reverent ejaculations all
through: "Ah-h-h!" "How true!" "Amazing, amazing!"
"These be the very haps as they happened, in marvelous
exactness!" And might they take this strange thing in their
hands, and feel of it and examine it?—they would be very
careful. Yes. So they took it, handling it as
cautiously and devoutly as if it had been some holy thing come from
some supernatural region; and gently felt of its texture, caressed
its pleasant smooth surface with lingering touch, and scanned the
mysterious characters with fascinated eyes. These grouped
bent heads, these charmed faces, these speaking eyes—how
beautiful to me! For was not this my darling, and was not all
this mute wonder and interest and homage a most eloquent tribute
and unforced compliment to it? I knew, then, how a mother
feels when women, whether strangers or friends, take her new baby,
and close themselves about it with one eager impulse, and bend
their heads over it in a tranced adoration that makes all the rest
of the universe vanish out of their consciousness and be as if it
were not, for that time. I knew how she feels, and that there
is no other satisfied ambition, whether of king, conqueror, or
poet, that ever reaches half-way to that serene far summit or
yields half so divine a contentment.
During all the rest of the seance my paper traveled from group
to group all up and down and about that huge hall, and my happy eye
was upon it always, and I sat motionless, steeped in satisfaction,
drunk with enjoyment. Yes, this was heaven; I was tasting it
once, if I might never taste it more.
"Is that a marvel? Let them come."
"But my liege! You must not be seen sitting.
Rise!—and stand in humble posture while they pass.
You are a peasant, you know."
"True—I had forgot it, so lost was I in planning of a huge
war with Gaul"—he was up by this time, but a farm could have
got up quicker, if there was any kind of a boom in real
estate—"and right-so a thought came randoming overthwart this
majestic dream the which—"
"A humbler attitude, my lord the king—and quick!
Duck your head!—more!—still more!—droop
He did his honest best, but lord, it was no great things.
He looked as humble as the leaning tower at Pisa. It is
the most you could say of it. Indeed, it was such a
thundering poor success that it raised wondering scowls all along
the line, and a gorgeous flunkey at the tail end of it raised his
whip; but I jumped in time and was under it when it fell; and under
cover of the volley of coarse laughter which followed, I spoke up
sharply and warned the king to take no notice. He mastered
himself for the moment, but it was a sore tax; he wanted to eat up
the procession. I said:
"It would end our adventures at the very start; and we, being
without weapons, could do nothing with that armed gang. If we
are going to succeed in our emprise, we must not only look the
peasant but act the peasant."
"It is wisdom; none can gainsay it. Let us go on, Sir
Boss. I will take note and learn, and do the best I may."
He kept his word. He did the best he could, but I've seen
better. If you have ever seen an active, heedless, enterprising
child going diligently out of one mischief and into another all day
long, and an anxious mother at its heels all the while, and just
saving it by a hair from drowning itself or breaking its neck with
each new experiment, you've seen the king and me.
If I could have foreseen what the thing was going to be like, I
should have said, No, if anybody wants to make his living
exhibiting a king as a peasant, let him take the layout; I can do
better with a menagerie, and last longer. And yet, during the
first three days I never allowed him to enter a hut or other
dwelling. If he could pass muster anywhere during his early
novitiate it would be in small inns and on the road; so to these
places we confined ourselves. Yes, he certainly did the best
he could, but what of that? He didn't improve a bit that I
He was always frightening me, always breaking out with fresh
astonishers, in new and unexpected places. Toward evening on
the second day, what does he do but blandly fetch out a dirk from
inside his robe!
"Great guns, my liege, where did you get that?"
"From a smuggler at the inn, yester eve."
"What in the world possessed you to buy it?"
"We have escaped divers dangers by wit—thy wit—but I
have bethought me that it were but prudence if I bore a weapon,
too. Thine might fail thee in some pinch."
"But people of our condition are not allowed to carry arms.
What would a lord say—yes, or any other person of
whatever condition—if he caught an upstart peasant with a
dagger on his person?"
It was a lucky thing for us that nobody came along just then. I
persuaded him to throw the dirk away; and it was as easy as
persuading a child to give up some bright fresh new way of killing
itself. We walked along, silent and thinking. Finally
the king said:
"When ye know that I meditate a thing inconvenient, or that hath
a peril in it, why do you not warn me to cease from that
The king stopped dead in his tracks, and stared at me.
"I believed thou wert greater than Merlin; and truly in magic
thou art. But prophecy is greater than magic. Merlin is
I saw I had made a blunder. I must get back my lost
ground. After a deep reflection and careful planning, I said:
"Sire, I have been misunderstood. I will explain.
There are two kinds of prophecy. One is the gift to
foretell things that are but a little way off, the other is the
gift to foretell things that are whole ages and centuries away.
Which is the mightier gift, do you think?"
"Oh, the last, most surely!"
"True. Does Merlin possess it?"
"Partly, yes. He foretold mysteries about my birth and
future kingship that were twenty years away."
"Has he ever gone beyond that?"
"He would not claim more, I think."
"It is probably his limit. All prophets have their limit.
The limit of some of the great prophets has been a hundred
"These are few, I ween."
"There have been two still greater ones, whose limit was four
hundred and six hundred years, and one whose limit compassed even
seven hundred and twenty."
"Gramercy, it is marvelous!"
"But what are these in comparison with me? They are
"What? Canst thou truly look beyond even so vast a stretch
of time as—"
"Seven hundred years? My liege, as clear as the vision of
an eagle does my prophetic eye penetrate and lay bare the future of
this world for nearly thirteen centuries and a half!"
My land, you should have seen the king's eyes spread slowly
open, and lift the earth's entire atmosphere as much as an inch!
That settled Brer Merlin. One never had any occasion to
prove his facts, with these people; all he had to do was to state
them. It never occurred to anybody to doubt the
"Now, then," I continued, "I could work both kinds of
prophecy—the long and the short—if I chose to take the
trouble to keep in practice; but I seldom exercise any but the long
kind, because the other is beneath my dignity. It is properer
to Merlin's sort—stump-tail prophets, as we call them in the
profession. Of course, I whet up now and then and flirt out a
minor prophecy, but not often—hardly ever, in fact. You
will remember that there was great talk, when you reached the
Valley of Holiness, about my having prophesied your coming and the
very hour of your arrival, two or three days beforehand."
"Indeed, yes, I mind it now."
"Well, I could have done it as much as forty times easier, and
piled on a thousand times more detail into the bargain, if it had
been five hundred years away instead of two or three days."
"How amazing that it should be so!"
"Yes, a genuine expert can always foretell a thing that is five
hundred years away easier than he can a thing that's only five
hundred seconds off."
"And yet in reason it should clearly be the other way; it should
be five hundred times as easy to foretell the last as the first,
for, indeed, it is so close by that one uninspired might almost see
it. In truth, the law of prophecy doth contradict the
likelihoods, most strangely making the difficult easy, and the easy
It was a wise head. A peasant's cap was no safe disguise
for it; you could know it for a king's under a diving-bell, if you
could hear it work its intellect.
I had a new trade now, and plenty of business in it. The
king was as hungry to find out everything that was going to happen
during the next thirteen centuries as if he were expecting to live
in them. From that time out, I prophesied myself bald-headed
trying to supply the demand. I have done some indiscreet
things in my day, but this thing of playing myself for a prophet
was the worst. Still, it had its ameliorations. A
prophet doesn't have to have any brains. They are good to
have, of course, for the ordinary exigencies of life, but they are
no use in professional work. It is the restfulest vocation
there is. When the spirit of prophecy comes upon you, you
merely cake your intellect and lay it off in a cool place for a
rest, and unship your jaw and leave it alone; it will work itself:
the result is prophecy.
Every day a knight-errant or so came along, and the sight of
them fired the king's martial spirit every time. He would
have forgotten himself, sure, and said something to them in a style
a suspicious shade or so above his ostensible degree, and so I
always got him well out of the road in time. Then he would
stand and look with all his eyes; and a proud light would flash
from them, and his nostrils would inflate like a war-horse's, and I
knew he was longing for a brush with them. But about noon of
the third day I had stopped in the road to take a precaution which
had been suggested by the whip-stroke that had fallen to my share
two days before; a precaution which I had afterward decided to
leave untaken, I was so loath to institute it; but now I had just
had a fresh reminder: while striding heedlessly along, with
jaw spread and intellect at rest, for I was prophesying, I stubbed
my toe and fell sprawling. I was so pale I couldn't think for
a moment; then I got softly and carefully up and unstrapped my
knapsack. I had that dynamite bomb in it, done up in wool in a box.
It was a good thing to have along; the time would come when I
could do a valuable miracle with it, maybe, but it was a nervous
thing to have about me, and I didn't like to ask the king to carry
it. Yet I must either throw it away or think up some safe way to
get along with its society. I got it out and slipped it into
my scrip, and just then here came a couple of knights. The
king stood, stately as a statue, gazing toward them—had
forgotten himself again, of course—and before I could get a
word of warning out, it was time for him to skip, and well that he
did it, too. He supposed they would turn aside. Turn
aside to avoid trampling peasant dirt under foot? When had he
ever turned aside himself—or ever had the chance to do it, if
a peasant saw him or any other noble knight in time to judiciously
save him the trouble? The knights paid no attention to the
king at all; it was his place to look out himself, and if he hadn't
skipped he would have been placidly ridden down, and laughed at
The king was in a flaming fury, and launched out his challenge
and epithets with a most royal vigor. The knights were some
little distance by now. They halted, greatly surprised, and
turned in their saddles and looked back, as if wondering if it
might be worth while to bother with such scum as we. Then
they wheeled and started for us. Not a moment must be lost.
I started for them . I passed them at a rattling gait,
and as I went by I flung out a hair-lifting soul-scorching
thirteen-jointed insult which made the king's effort poor and cheap
by comparison. I got it out of the nineteenth century where
they know how. They had such headway that they were nearly to
the king before they could check up; then, frantic with rage, they
stood up their horses on their hind hoofs and whirled them around,
and the next moment here they came, breast to breast. I was
seventy yards off, then, and scrambling up a great bowlder at the
roadside. When they were within thirty yards of me they let
their long lances droop to a level, depressed their mailed heads,
and so, with their horse-hair plumes streaming straight out behind,
most gallant to see, this lightning express came tearing for me!
When they were within fifteen yards, I sent that bomb with a
sure aim, and it struck the ground just under the horses'
But! There is a great big something wanting, I don't
quite know what it is. Please walk thirty yards, so that I
can get a perspective on the thing.... Now, then—your
head's right, speed's right, shoulders right, eyes right, chin
right, gait, carriage, general style right—everything's
right! And yet the fact remains, the aggregate's wrong.
The account don't balance. Do it again, please....
Now I think I begin to see what it is. Yes, I've
struck it. You see, the genuine spiritlessness is wanting;
that's what's the trouble. It's all
amateur—mechanical details all right, almost to a
hair; everything about the delusion perfect, except that it don't
"What, then, must one do, to prevail?"
"Let me think... I can't seem to quite get at it. In fact,
there isn't anything that can right the matter but practice.
This is a good place for it: roots and stony ground to
break up your stately gait, a region not liable to interruption,
only one field and one hut in sight, and they so far away that
nobody could see us from there. It will be well to move a
little off the road and put in the whole day drilling you,
After the drill had gone on a little while, I said:
"Now, sire, imagine that we are at the door of the hut yonder,
and the family are before us. Proceed, please—accost
the head of the house."
The king unconsciously straightened up like a monument, and
said, with frozen austerity:
"Varlet, bring a seat; and serve to me what cheer ye have."
"Ah, your grace, that is not well done."
"In what lacketh it?"
"These people do not call each other varlets."
"Nay, is that true?"
"Yes; only those above them call them so."
"Then must I try again. I will call him villein."
"No-no; for he may be a freeman."
"Ah—so. Then peradventure I should call him
"That would answer, your grace, but it would be still better if
you said friend, or brother."
"Brother!—to dirt like that?"
"Ah, but we are pretending to be dirt like that,
"It is even true. I will say it. Brother, bring a
seat, and thereto what cheer ye have, withal. Now 'tis
"Not quite, not wholly right. You have asked for one, not
us—for one, not both; food for one, a seat for
you have a seat also—and sit?"
"If I did not sit, the man would perceive that we were only
pretending to be equals—and playing the deception pretty
"It is well and truly said! How wonderful is truth, come
it in whatsoever unexpected form it may! Yes, he must bring
out seats and food for both, and in serving us present not ewer and
napkin with more show of respect to the one than to the other."
"And there is even yet a detail that needs correcting. He
must bring nothing outside; we will go in—in among the dirt,
and possibly other repulsive things,—and take the food with
the household, and after the fashion of the house, and all on equal
terms, except the man be of the serf class; and finally, there will
be no ewer and no napkin, whether he be serf or free. Please
walk again, my liege. There—it is better—it is
the best yet; but not perfect. The shoulders have known no
ignobler burden than iron mail, and they will not stoop."
He was complete now with that knapsack on, and looked as little
like a king as any man I had ever seen. But it was an
obstinate pair of shoulders; they could not seem to learn the trick
of stooping with any sort of deceptive naturalness. The drill
went on, I prompting and correcting:
"Now, make believe you are in debt, and eaten up by relentless
creditors; you are out of work—which is horse-shoeing, let us
say—and can get none; and your wife is sick, your children
are crying because they are hungry—"
And so on, and so on. I drilled him as representing in
turn all sorts of people out of luck and suffering dire privations
and misfortunes. But lord, it was only just words,
words—they meant nothing in the world to him, I might just as
well have whistled. Words realize nothing, vivify nothing to you,
unless you have suffered in your own person the thing which the
words try to describe. There are wise people who talk ever so
knowingly and complacently about "the working classes," and satisfy
themselves that a day's hard intellectual work is very much harder
than a day's hard manual toil, and is righteously entitled to much
bigger pay. Why, they really think that, you know, because
they know all about the one, but haven't tried the other. But
I know all about both; and so far as I am concerned, there isn't
money enough in the universe to hire me to swing a pickaxe thirty
days, but I will do the hardest kind of intellectual work for just
as near nothing as you can cipher it down—and I will be
Intellectual "work" is misnamed; it is a pleasure, a
dissipation, and is its own highest reward. The poorest paid
architect, engineer, general, author, sculptor, painter, lecturer,
advocate, legislator, actor, preacher, singer is constructively in
heaven when he is at work; and as for the musician with the
fiddle-bow in his hand who sits in the midst of a great orchestra
with the ebbing and flowing tides of divine sound washing over
him—why, certainly, he is at work, if you wish to call it
that, but lord, it's a sarcasm just the same. The law of work
does seem utterly unfair—but there it is, and nothing can
change it: the higher the pay in enjoyment the worker gets
out of it, the higher shall be his pay in cash, also. And
it's also the very law of those transparent swindles, transmissible
nobility and kingship.
"I have not come to take anything, poor woman."
"You are not a priest?"
"Nor come not from the lord of the manor?"
"No, I am a stranger."
"Oh, then, for the fear of God, who visits with misery and death
such as be harmless, tarry not here, but fly! This place is
under his curse—and his Church's."
"Let me come in and help you—you are sick and in
I was better used to the dim light now. I could see her
hollow eyes fixed upon me. I could see how emaciated she
"I tell you the place is under the Church's ban. Save
yourself—and go, before some straggler see thee here, and
"Give yourself no trouble about me; I don't care anything for
the Church's curse. Let me help you."
"Now all good spirits—if there be any such—bless
thee for that word. Would God I had a sup of water!—but
hold, hold, forget I said it, and fly; for there is that here that
even he that feareth not the Church must fear: this disease
whereof we die. Leave us, thou brave, good stranger, and take with
thee such whole and sincere blessing as them that be accursed can
But before this I had picked up a wooden bowl and was rushing
past the king on my way to the brook. It was ten yards away.
When I got back and entered, the king was within, and was opening
the shutter that closed the window-hole, to let in air and light.
The place was full of a foul stench. I put the bowl to the
woman's lips, and as she gripped it with her eager talons the
shutter came open and a strong light flooded her face.
I sprang to the king, and said in his ear:
"Out of the door on the instant, sire! the woman is dying of
that disease that wasted the skirts of Camelot two years ago."
He did not budge.
"Of a truth I shall remain—and likewise help."
I whispered again:
"King, it must not be. You must go."
"Ye mean well, and ye speak not unwisely. But it were
shame that a king should know fear, and shame that belted knight
should withhold his hand where be such as need succor. Peace,
I will not go. It is you who must go. The Church's ban
is not upon me, but it forbiddeth you to be here, and she will deal
with you with a heavy hand an word come to her of your
It was a desperate place for him to be in, and might cost him
his life, but it was no use to argue with him. If he
considered his knightly honor at stake here, that was the end of
argument; he would stay, and nothing could prevent it; I was aware
of that. And so I dropped the subject. The woman spoke:
"Fair sir, of your kindness will ye climb the ladder there, and
bring me news of what ye find? Be not afraid to report, for
times can come when even a mother's heart is past
breaking—being already broke."
"Abide," said the king, "and give the woman to eat. I will
go." And he put down the knapsack.
I turned to start, but the king had already started. He
halted, and looked down upon a man who lay in a dim light, and had
not noticed us thus far, or spoken.
"Is it your husband?" the king asked.
"Is he asleep?"
"God be thanked for that one charity, yes—these three
hours. Where shall I pay to the full, my gratitude! for my heart is
bursting with it for that sleep he sleepeth now."
"We will be careful. We will not wake him."
"Ah, no, that ye will not, for he is dead."
"Yes, what triumph it is to know it! None can harm him,
none insult him more. He is in heaven now, and happy; or if
not there, he bides in hell and is content; for in that place he
will find neither abbot nor yet bishop. We were boy and girl
together; we were man and wife these five and twenty years, and
never separated till this day. Think how long that is to love
and suffer together. This morning was he out of his mind, and in
his fancy we were boy and girl again and wandering in the happy
fields; and so in that innocent glad converse wandered he far and
farther, still lightly gossiping, and entered into those other
fields we know not of, and was shut away from mortal sight.
And so there was no parting, for in his fancy I went with
him; he knew not but I went with him, my hand in his—my young
soft hand, not this withered claw. Ah, yes, to go, and know
it not; to separate and know it not; how could one go
peace—fuller than that? It was his reward for a cruel
life patiently borne."
There was a slight noise from the direction of the dim corner
where the ladder was. It was the king descending. I
could see that he was bearing something in one arm, and assisting
himself with the other. He came forward into the light; upon
his breast lay a slender girl of fifteen. She was but half
conscious; she was dying of smallpox. Here was heroism at its
last and loftiest possibility, its utmost summit; this was
challenging death in the open field unarmed, with all the odds
against the challenger, no reward set upon the contest, and no
admiring world in silks and cloth of gold to gaze and applaud; and
yet the king's bearing was as serenely brave as it had always been
in those cheaper contests where knight meets knight in equal fight
and clothed in protecting steel. He was great now; sublimely
great. The rude statues of his ancestors in his palace should
have an addition—I would see to that; and it would not be a
mailed king killing a giant or a dragon, like the rest, it would be
a king in commoner's garb bearing death in his arms that a peasant
mother might look her last upon her child and be comforted.
"She lieth at peace," interrupted the king, in a subdued
"I would not change it. How rich is this day in happiness!
Ah, my Annis, thou shalt join thy sister soon—thou'rt
on thy way, and these be merciful friends that will not
And so she fell to murmuring and cooing over the girl again, and
softly stroking her face and hair, and kissing her and calling her
by endearing names; but there was scarcely sign of response now in
the glazing eyes. I saw tears well from the king's eyes, and
trickle down his face. The woman noticed them, too, and
"Ah, I know that sign: thou'st a wife at home, poor soul,
and you and she have gone hungry to bed, many's the time, that the
little ones might have your crust; you know what poverty is, and
the daily insults of your betters, and the heavy hand of the Church
and the king."
The king winced under this accidental home-shot, but kept still;
he was learning his part; and he was playing it well, too, for a
pretty dull beginner. I struck up a diversion. I
offered the woman food and liquor, but she refused both. She
would allow nothing to come between her and the release of death.
Then I slipped away and brought the dead child from aloft,
and laid it by her. This broke her down again, and there was
another scene that was full of heartbreak. By and by I made
another diversion, and beguiled her to sketch her story.
"Ye know it well yourselves, having suffered it—for truly
none of our condition in Britain escape it. It is the old,
weary tale. We fought and struggled and succeeded; meaning by
success, that we lived and did not die; more than that is not to be
claimed. No troubles came that we could not outlive, till
this year brought them; then came they all at once, as one might
say, and overwhelmed us. Years ago the lord of the manor
planted certain fruit trees on our farm; in the best part of it,
too—a grievous wrong and shame—"
"But it was his right," interrupted the king.
"None denieth that, indeed; an the law mean anything, what is
the lord's is his, and what is mine is his also. Our farm was
ours by lease, therefore 'twas likewise his, to do with it as he
would. Some little time ago, three of those trees were found
hewn down. Our three grown sons ran frightened to report the
crime. Well, in his lordship's dungeon there they lie, who saith
there shall they lie and rot till they confess. They have
naught to confess, being innocent, wherefore there will they remain
until they die.
She gave a sharp quick glance at her eldest daughter, then cried
out, "Oh, my darling!" and feebly gathered the stiffening form to
her sheltering arms. She had recognized the death-rattle.
"Mayhap it is but a beast and not a man at all."
"True. But man or beast, it will be wise to stay here a
minute and let it get by and out of the way."
"Hark! It cometh hither."
True again. The step was coming toward us—straight
toward the hut. It must be a beast, then, and we might as well have
saved our trepidation. I was going to step out, but the king
laid his hand upon my arm. There was a moment of silence,
then we heard a soft knock on the cabin door. It made me
shiver. Presently the knock was repeated, and then we heard
these words in a guarded voice:
"Mother! Father! Open—we have got free, and we
bring news to pale your cheeks but glad your hearts; and we may not
tarry, but must fly! And—but they answer not.
I drew the king toward the other end of the hut and
"Come—now we can get to the road."
The king hesitated, was going to demur; but just then we heard
the door give way, and knew that those desolate men were in the
presence of their dead.
"Come, my liege! in a moment they will strike a light, and then
will follow that which it would break your heart to hear."
He did not hesitate this time. The moment we were in the
road I ran; and after a moment he threw dignity aside and followed.
I did not want to think of what was happening in the hut—I
couldn't bear it; I wanted to drive it out of my mind; so I struck
into the first subject that lay under that one in my mind:
"I have had the disease those people died of, and so have
nothing to fear; but if you have not had it also—"
He broke in upon me to say he was in trouble, and it was his
conscience that was troubling him:
"These young men have got free, they say—but how ?
It is not likely that their lord hath set them free."
"Oh, no, I make no doubt they escaped."
"That is my trouble; I have a fear that this is so, and your
suspicion doth confirm it, you having the same fear."
"I should not call it by that name though. I do suspect
that they escaped, but if they did, I am not sorry, certainly."
"I am not sorry, I think—but—"
"What is it? What is there for one to be troubled
"If they did escape, then are we bound in duty to lay
hands upon them and deliver them again to their lord; for it is not
seemly that one of his quality should suffer a so insolent and
high-handed outrage from persons of their base degree."
There it was again. He could see only one side of it.
He was born so, educated so, his veins were full of ancestral
blood that was rotten with this sort of unconscious brutality,
brought down by inheritance from a long procession of hearts that
had each done its share toward poisoning the stream. To
imprison these men without proof, and starve their kindred, was no
harm, for they were merely peasants and subject to the will and
pleasure of their lord, no matter what fearful form it might take;
but for these men to break out of unjust captivity was insult and
outrage, and a thing not to be countenanced by any conscientious
person who knew his duty to his sacred caste.
I worked more than half an hour before I got him to change the
subject—and even then an outside matter did it for me.
This was a something which caught our eyes as we struck the
summit of a small hill—a red glow, a good way off.
"That's a fire," said I.
Fires interested me considerably, because I was getting a good
deal of an insurance business started, and was also training some
horses and building some steam fire-engines, with an eye to a paid
fire department by and by. The priests opposed both my fire
and life insurance, on the ground that it was an insolent attempt
to hinder the decrees of God; and if you pointed out that they did
not hinder the decrees in the least, but only modified the hard
consequences of them if you took out policies and had luck, they
retorted that that was gambling against the decrees of God, and was
just as bad. So they managed to damage those industries more
or less, but I got even on my accident business. As a rule, a
knight is a lummux, and some times even a labrick, and hence open
to pretty poor arguments when they come glibly from a
superstition-monger, but even he could see the practical
side of a thing once in a while; and so of late you couldn't clean
up a tournament and pile the result without finding one of my
accident-tickets in every helmet.
"But me no buts, but even leave him as he is. And for yet
another reason. When the lightning cometh again—there,
Two others hanging, within fifty yards of us!
"It is not weather meet for doing useless courtesies unto dead
folk. They are past thanking you. Come—it is
unprofitable to tarry here."
There was reason in what he said, so we moved on. Within
the next mile we counted six more hanging forms by the blaze of the
lightning, and altogether it was a grisly excursion. That
murmur was a murmur no longer, it was a roar; a roar of men's
voices. A man came flying by now, dimly through the darkness,
and other men chasing him. They disappeared. Presently
another case of the kind occurred, and then another and another.
Then a sudden turn of the road brought us in sight of that
fire—it was a large manor-house, and little or nothing was
left of it—and everywhere men were flying and other men
raging after them in pursuit.
I warned the king that this was not a safe place for strangers.
We would better get away from the light, until matters should
improve. We stepped back a little, and hid in the edge of the
wood. From this hiding-place we saw both men and women hunted
by the mob. The fearful work went on until nearly dawn.
Then, the fire being out and the storm spent, the voices and
flying footsteps presently ceased, and darkness and stillness
We ventured out, and hurried cautiously away; and although we
were worn out and sleepy, we kept on until we had put this place
some miles behind us. Then we asked hospitality at the hut of
a charcoal burner, and got what was to be had. A woman was up
and about, but the man was still asleep, on a straw shake-down, on
the clay floor. The woman seemed uneasy until I explained that we
were travelers and had lost our way and been wandering in the woods
all night. She became talkative, then, and asked if we had heard of
the terrible goings-on at the manor-house of Abblasoure. Yes,
we had heard of them, but what we wanted now was rest and sleep.
The king broke in:
"Sell us the house and take yourselves away, for we be perilous
company, being late come from people that died of the Spotted
It was good of him, but unnecessary. One of the commonest
decorations of the nation was the waffle-iron face. I had
early noticed that the woman and her husband were both so
decorated. She made us entirely welcome, and had no fears;
and plainly she was immensely impressed by the king's proposition;
for, of course, it was a good deal of an event in her life to run
across a person of the king's humble appearance who was ready to
buy a man's house for the sake of a night's lodging. It gave
her a large respect for us, and she strained the lean possibilities
of her hovel to the utmost to make us comfortable.
We slept till far into the afternoon, and then got up hungry
enough to make cotter fare quite palatable to the king, the more
particularly as it was scant in quantity. And also in
variety; it consisted solely of onions, salt, and the national
black bread made out of horse-feed. The woman told us about
the affair of the evening before. At ten or eleven at night,
when everybody was in bed, the manor-house burst into flames.
The country-side swarmed to the rescue, and the family were
saved, with one exception, the master. He did not appear.
Everybody was frantic over this loss, and two brave yeomen
sacrificed their lives in ransacking the burning house seeking that
valuable personage. But after a while he was found—what
was left of him—which was his corpse. It was in a copse
three hundred yards away, bound, gagged, stabbed in a dozen
Who had done this? Suspicion fell upon a humble family in
the neighborhood who had been lately treated with peculiar
harshness by the baron; and from these people the suspicion easily
extended itself to their relatives and familiars. A suspicion
was enough; my lord's liveried retainers proclaimed an instant
crusade against these people, and were promptly joined by the
community in general. The woman's husband had been active with the
mob, and had not returned home until nearly dawn. He was gone
now to find out what the general result had been. While we
were still talking he came back from his quest. His report
was revolting enough. Eighteen persons hanged or butchered,
and two yeomen and thirteen prisoners lost in the fire.
"And how many prisoners were there altogether in the
"Then every one of them was lost?"
"But the people arrived in time to save the family; how is it
they could save none of the prisoners?"
The man looked puzzled, and said:
"Would one unlock the vaults at such a time? Marry, some
would have escaped."
"Then you mean that nobody did unlock them?"
"None went near them, either to lock or unlock. It
standeth to reason that the bolts were fast; wherefore it was only
needful to establish a watch, so that if any broke the bonds he
might not escape, but be taken. None were taken."
"Natheless, three did escape," said the king, "and ye will do
well to publish it and set justice upon their track, for these
murthered the baron and fired the house."
I was just expecting he would come out with that. For a
moment the man and his wife showed an eager interest in this news
and an impatience to go out and spread it; then a sudden something
else betrayed itself in their faces, and they began to ask
questions. I answered the questions myself, and narrowly watched
the effects produced. I was soon satisfied that the knowledge
of who these three prisoners were had somehow changed the
atmosphere; that our hosts' continued eagerness to go and spread
the news was now only pretended and not real. The king did
not notice the change, and I was glad of that. I worked the
conversation around toward other details of the night's
proceedings, and noted that these people were relieved to have it
take that direction.
The painful thing observable about all this business was the
alacrity with which this oppressed community had turned their cruel
hands against their own class in the interest of the common
oppressor. This man and woman seemed to feel that in a
quarrel between a person of their own class and his lord, it was
the natural and proper and rightful thing for that poor devil's
whole caste to side with the master and fight his battle for him,
without ever stopping to inquire into the rights or wrongs of the
matter. This man had been out helping to hang his neighbors,
and had done his work with zeal, and yet was aware that there was
nothing against them but a mere suspicion, with nothing back of it
describable as evidence, still neither he nor his wife seemed to
see anything horrible about it.
This was depressing—to a man with the dream of a republic
in his head. It reminded me of a time thirteen centuries
away, when the "poor whites" of our South who were always despised
and frequently insulted by the slave-lords around them, and who
owed their base condition simply to the presence of slavery in
their midst, were yet pusillanimously ready to side with the
slave-lords in all political moves for the upholding and
perpetuating of slavery, and did also finally shoulder their
muskets and pour out their lives in an effort to prevent the
destruction of that very institution which degraded them. And
there was only one redeeming feature connected with that pitiful
piece of history; and that was, that secretly the "poor white" did
detest the slave-lord, and did feel his own shame. That
feeling was not brought to the surface, but the fact that it was
there and could have been brought out, under favoring
circumstances, was something—in fact, it was enough; for it
showed that a man is at bottom a man, after all, even if it doesn't
show on the outside.
Well, as it turned out, this charcoal burner was just the twin
of the Southern "poor white" of the far future. The king
presently showed impatience, and said:
"An ye prattle here all the day, justice will miscarry.
Think ye the criminals will abide in their father's house?
They are fleeing, they are not waiting. You should look
to it that a party of horse be set upon their track."
The woman paled slightly, but quite perceptibly, and the man
looked flustered and irresolute. I said:
"Come, friend, I will walk a little way with you, and explain
which direction I think they would try to take. If they were
merely resisters of the gabelle or some kindred absurdity I would
try to protect them from capture; but when men murder a person of
high degree and likewise burn his house, that is another
The last remark was for the king—to quiet him. On
the road the man pulled his resolution together, and began the
march with a steady gait, but there was no eagerness in it.
By and by I said:
"What relation were these men to you—cousins?"
He turned as white as his layer of charcoal would let him, and
"Ah, my God, how know ye that?"
"I didn't know it; it was a chance guess."
"Poor lads, they are lost. And good lads they were,
"Were you actually going yonder to tell on them?"
He didn't quite know how to take that; but he said,
"Then I think you are a damned scoundrel!"
It made him as glad as if I had called him an angel.
"Say the good words again, brother! for surely ye mean that ye
would not betray me an I failed of my duty."
"Duty? There is no duty in the matter, except the duty to
keep still and let those men get away. They've done a
He looked pleased; pleased, and touched with apprehension at the
same time. He looked up and down the road to see that no one
was coming, and then said in a cautious voice:
"From what land come you, brother, that you speak such perilous
words, and seem not to be afraid?"
"They are not perilous words when spoken to one of my own caste,
I take it. You would not tell anybody I said them?"
"I? I would be drawn asunder by wild horses first."
"Well, then, let me say my say. I have no fears of your
repeating it. I think devil's work has been done last night
upon those innocent poor people. That old baron got only what
he deserved. If I had my way, all his kind should have the same
Fear and depression vanished from the man's manner, and
gratefulness and a brave animation took their place:
"Even though you be a spy, and your words a trap for my undoing,
yet are they such refreshment that to hear them again and others
like to them, I would go to the gallows happy, as having had one
good feast at least in a starved life. And I will say my say
now, and ye may report it if ye be so minded. I helped to
hang my neighbors for that it were peril to my own life to show
lack of zeal in the master's cause; the others helped for none
other reason. All rejoice to-day that he is dead, but all do go
about seemingly sorrowing, and shedding the hypocrite's tear, for
in that lies safety. I have said the words, I have said the
words! the only ones that have ever tasted good in my mouth, and
the reward of that taste is sufficient. Lead on, an ye will,
be it even to the scaffold, for I am ready."
His face cleared, and he said with spirit:
"But not all of it, not all of it. Ye cannot well bear a
burden like to this alone."
I stopped him, and said:
"Now let's understand each other on the spot, old friend.
I am only a farm bailiff, it is true; but I am not poor,
nevertheless. I have been very fortunate this year—you would
be astonished to know how I have thriven. I tell you the
honest truth when I say I could squander away as many as a dozen
feasts like this and never care that for the expense!" and I
snapped my fingers. I could see myself rise a foot at a time
in Marco's estimation, and when I fetched out those last words I
was become a very tower for style and altitude. "So you see,
you must let me have my way. You can't contribute a cent to
this orgy, that's settled ."
"It's grand and good of you—"
"No, it isn't. You've opened your house to Jones and me in
the most generous way; Jones was remarking upon it to-day, just
before you came back from the village; for although he wouldn't be
likely to say such a thing to you—because Jones isn't a
talker, and is diffident in society—he has a good heart and a
grateful, and knows how to appreciate it when he is well treated;
yes, you and your wife have been very hospitable toward
"But it is something; the best a man has, freely given,
is always something, and is as good as a prince can do, and ranks
right along beside it—for even a prince can but do his best.
And so we'll shop around and get up this layout now, and
don't you worry about the expense. I'm one of the worst
spendthrifts that ever was born. Why, do you know, sometimes
in a single week I spend—but never mind about
that—you'd never believe it anyway."
And so we went gadding along, dropping in here and there,
pricing things, and gossiping with the shopkeepers about the riot,
and now and then running across pathetic reminders of it, in the
persons of shunned and tearful and houseless remnants of families
whose homes had been taken from them and their parents butchered or
hanged. The raiment of Marco and his wife was of coarse tow-linen
and linsey-woolsey respectively, and resembled township maps, it
being made up pretty exclusively of patches which had been added,
township by township, in the course of five or six years, until
hardly a hand's-breadth of the original garments was surviving and
present. Now I wanted to fit these people out with new suits, on
account of that swell company, and I didn't know just how to get at
it—with delicacy, until at last it struck me that as I had
already been liberal in inventing wordy gratitude for the king, it
would be just the thing to back it up with evidence of a
substantial sort; so I said:
"And Marco, there's another thing which you must
permit—out of kindness for Jones—because you wouldn't
want to offend him. He was very anxious to testify his appreciation
in some way, but he is so diffident he couldn't venture it himself,
and so he begged me to buy some little things and give them to you
and Dame Phyllis and let him pay for them without your ever knowing
they came from him—you know how a delicate person feels about
that sort of thing—and so I said I would, and we would keep
mum. Well, his idea was, a new outfit of clothes for you
"Oh, it is wastefulness! It may not be, brother, it may
not be. Consider the vastness of the sum—"
"Hang the vastness of the sum! Try to keep quiet for a
moment, and see how it would seem; a body can't get in a word
edgeways, you talk so much. You ought to cure that, Marco; it
isn't good form, you know, and it will grow on you if you don't
check it. Yes, we'll step in here now and price this man's
stuff—and don't forget to remember to not let on to Jones
that you know he had anything to do with it. You can't think
how curiously sensitive and proud he is. He's a
farmer—pretty fairly well-to-do farmer—and I'm his
bailiff; but—the imagination of that man! Why,
sometimes when he forgets himself and gets to blowing off, you'd
think he was one of the swells of the earth; and you might listen
to him a hundred years and never take him for a
farmer—especially if he talked agriculture. He
thinks he's a Sheol of a farmer; thinks he's old Grayback
from Wayback; but between you and me privately he don't know as
much about farming as he does about running a kingdom—still,
whatever he talks about, you want to drop your underjaw and listen,
the same as if you had never heard such incredible wisdom in all
your life before, and were afraid you might die before you got
enough of it. That will please Jones."
It tickled Marco to the marrow to hear about such an odd
character; but it also prepared him for accidents; and in my
experience when you travel with a king who is letting on to be
something else and can't remember it more than about half the time,
you can't take too many precautions.
This was the best store we had come across yet; it had
everything in it, in small quantities, from anvils and drygoods all
the way down to fish and pinchbeck jewelry. I concluded I
would bunch my whole invoice right here, and not go pricing around
any more. So I got rid of Marco, by sending him off to invite the
mason and the wheelwright, which left the field free to me.
For I never care to do a thing in a quiet way; it's got to be
theatrical or I don't take any interest in it. I showed up
money enough, in a careless way, to corral the shopkeeper's
respect, and then I wrote down a list of the things I wanted, and
handed it to him to see if he could read it. He could, and
was proud to show that he could. He said he had been educated by a
priest, and could both read and write. He ran it through, and
remarked with satisfaction that it was a pretty heavy bill.
Well, and so it was, for a little concern like that. I
was not only providing a swell dinner, but some odds and ends of
extras. I ordered that the things be carted out and delivered
at the dwelling of Marco, the son of Marco, by Saturday evening,
and send me the bill at dinner-time Sunday. He said I could depend
upon his promptness and exactitude, it was the rule of the house.
He also observed that he would throw in a couple of
miller-guns for the Marcos gratis—that everybody was using
them now. He had a mighty opinion of that clever device.
"And please fill them up to the middle mark, too; and add that
to the bill."
He would, with pleasure. He filled them, and I took them
with me. I couldn't venture to tell him that the miller-gun
was a little invention of my own, and that I had officially ordered
that every shopkeeper in the kingdom keep them on hand and sell
them at government price—which was the merest trifle, and the
shopkeeper got that, not the government. We furnished them
The king had hardly missed us when we got back at nightfall.
He had early dropped again into his dream of a grand invasion
of Gaul with the whole strength of his kingdom at his back, and the
afternoon had slipped away without his ever coming to himself
"I remember me of that day!" the wheelwright sang out, with
"And I likewise!" cried the mason. "I would not believe
they were thine own; in faith I could not."
"Nor other!" shouted Dowley, with sparkling eyes. "I was
like to lose my character, the neighbors wending I had mayhap been
stealing. It was a great day, a great day; one forgetteth not
days like that."
Yes, and his master was a fine man, and prosperous, and always
had a great feast of meat twice in the year, and with it white
bread, true wheaten bread; in fact, lived like a lord, so to speak.
And in time Dowley succeeded to the business and married the
"And now consider what is come to pass," said he, impressively.
"Two times in every month there is fresh meat upon my table." He
made a pause here, to let that fact sink home, then
added—"and eight times salt meat."
"It is even true," said the wheelwright, with bated breath.
"I know it of mine own knowledge," said the mason, in the same
"On my table appeareth white bread every Sunday in the year,"
added the master smith, with solemnity. "I leave it to your
own consciences, friends, if this is not also true?"
"By my head, yes," cried the mason.
"I can testify it—and I do," said the wheelwright.
"And as to furniture, ye shall say yourselves what mine
equipment is." He waved his hand in fine gesture of granting
frank and unhampered freedom of speech, and added: "Speak as
ye are moved; speak as ye would speak; an I were not here."
"Ye have five stools, and of the sweetest workmanship at that,
albeit your family is but three," said the wheelwright, with deep
"And six wooden goblets, and six platters of wood and two of
pewter to eat and drink from withal," said the mason, impressively.
"And I say it as knowing God is my judge, and we tarry not
here alway, but must answer at the last day for the things said in
the body, be they false or be they sooth."
"Now ye know what manner of man I am, brother Jones," said the
smith, with a fine and friendly condescension, "and doubtless ye
would look to find me a man jealous of his due of respect and but
sparing of outgo to strangers till their rating and quality be
assured, but trouble yourself not, as concerning that; wit ye well
ye shall find me a man that regardeth not these matters but is
willing to receive any he as his fellow and equal that carrieth a
right heart in his body, be his worldly estate howsoever modest.
And in token of it, here is my hand; and I say with my own mouth we
are equals—equals"—and he smiled around on the company
with the satisfaction of a god who is doing the handsome and
gracious thing and is quite well aware of it.
The king took the hand with a poorly disguised reluctance, and
let go of it as willingly as a lady lets go of a fish; all of which
had a good effect, for it was mistaken for an embarrassment natural
to one who was being called upon by greatness.
The dame brought out the table now, and set it under the tree.
It caused a visible stir of surprise, it being brand new and a
sumptuous article of deal. But the surprise rose higher still
when the dame, with a body oozing easy indifference at every pore,
but eyes that gave it all away by absolutely flaming with vanity,
slowly unfolded an actual simon-pure tablecloth and spread it. That
was a notch above even the blacksmith's domestic grandeurs, and it
hit him hard; you could see it. But Marco was in Paradise;
you could see that, too. Then the dame brought two fine new
stools—whew! that was a sensation; it was visible in the eyes
of every guest. Then she brought two more—as calmly as
she could. Sensation again—with awed murmurs. Again she
brought two—walking on air, she was so proud. The
guests were petrified, and the mason muttered:
"There is that about earthly pomps which doth ever move to
As the dame turned away, Marco couldn't help slapping on the
climax while the thing was hot; so he said with what was meant for
a languid composure but was a poor imitation of it:
"These suffice; leave the rest."
So there were more yet! It was a fine effect. I
couldn't have played the hand better myself.
From this out, the madam piled up the surprises with a rush that
fired the general astonishment up to a hundred and fifty in the
shade, and at the same time paralyzed expression of it down to
gasped "Oh's" and "Ah's," and mute upliftings of hands and eyes.
She fetched crockery—new, and plenty of it; new wooden
goblets and other table furniture; and beer, fish, chicken, a
goose, eggs, roast beef, roast mutton, a ham, a small roast pig,
and a wealth of genuine white wheaten bread. Take it by and
large, that spread laid everything far and away in the shade that
ever that crowd had seen before. And while they sat there
just simply stupefied with wonder and awe, I sort of waved my hand
as if by accident, and the storekeeper's son emerged from space and
said he had come to collect.
"That's all right," I said, indifferently. "What is the
amount? give us the items."
Then he read off this bill, while those three amazed men
listened, and serene waves of satisfaction rolled over my soul and
alternate waves of terror and admiration surged over Marco's:
"All, fair sir, save that certain matters of light moment are
placed together under a head hight sundries. If it would like
you, I will sepa—"
"It is of no consequence," I said, accompanying the words with a
gesture of the most utter indifference; "give me the grand total,
The clerk leaned against the tree to stay himself, and said:
"Thirty-nine thousand one hundred and fifty milrays!"
The wheelwright fell off his stool, the others grabbed the table
to save themselves, and there was a deep and general ejaculation
"God be with us in the day of disaster!"
The clerk hastened to say:
"My father chargeth me to say he cannot honorably require you to
pay it all at this time, and therefore only prayeth you—"
I paid no more heed than if it were the idle breeze, but, with
an air of indifference amounting almost to weariness, got out my
money and tossed four dollars on to the table. Ah, you should
have seen them stare!
The clerk was astonished and charmed. He asked me to
retain one of the dollars as security, until he could go to town
"What, and fetch back nine cents? Nonsense! Take the
whole. Keep the change."
There was an amazed murmur to this effect:
"Verily this being is made of money! He throweth it
away even as if it were dirt."
The blacksmith was a crushed man.
The clerk took his money and reeled away drunk with fortune.
I said to Marco and his wife:
"Good folk, here is a little trifle for you"—handing the
miller-guns as if it were a matter of no consequence, though each
of them contained fifteen cents in solid cash; and while the poor
creatures went to pieces with astonishment and gratitude, I turned
to the others and said as calmly as one would ask the time of
"Well, if we are all ready, I judge the dinner is. Come,
Ah, well, it was immense; yes, it was a daisy. I don't
know that I ever put a situation together better, or got happier
spectacular effects out of the materials available. The
blacksmith—well, he was simply mashed. Land! I wouldn't
have felt what that man was feeling, for anything in the world.
Here he had been blowing and bragging about his grand
meat-feast twice a year, and his fresh meat twice a month, and his
salt meat twice a week, and his white bread every Sunday the year
round—all for a family of three; the entire cost for the year
not above 69.2.6 (sixty-nine cents, two mills and six milrays), and
all of a sudden here comes along a man who slashes out nearly four
dollars on a single blow-out; and not only that, but acts as if it
made him tired to handle such small sums. Yes, Dowley was a
good deal wilted, and shrunk-up and collapsed; he had the aspect of
a bladder-balloon that's been stepped on by a cow.
"In your country, brother, what is the wage of a master bailiff,
master hind, carter, shepherd, swineherd?"
"Twenty-five milrays a day; that is to say, a quarter of a
The smith's face beamed with joy. He said:
"With us they are allowed the double of it! And what may a
mechanic get—carpenter, dauber, mason, painter, blacksmith,
wheelwright, and the like?"
"On the average, fifty milrays; half a cent a day."
And his face shone upon the company like a sunburst. But I
didn't scare at all. I rigged up my pile-driver, and allowed
myself fifteen minutes to drive him into the earth—drive him
all in—drive him in till not even the curve of his
skull should show above ground. Here is the way I started in
on him. I asked:
"What do you pay a pound for salt?"
"A hundred milrays."
"We pay forty. What do you pay for beef and
mutton—when you buy it?" That was a neat hit; it made
the color come.
"It varieth somewhat, but not much; one may say seventy-five
milrays the pound."
"We pay thirty-three. What do you pay for
"Fifty milrays the dozen."
"We pay twenty. What do you pay for beer?"
"It costeth us eight and one-half milrays the pint."
"We get it for four; twenty-five bottles for a cent. What do you
pay for wheat?"
"At the rate of nine hundred milrays the bushel."
"We pay four hundred. What do you pay for a man's
"We pay six. What do you pay for a stuff gown for the wife
of the laborer or the mechanic?"
"We pay eight cents, four mills."
"Well, observe the difference: you pay eight cents and
four mills, we pay only four cents." I prepared now to sock
it to him. I said: "Look here, dear friend, what's become
of your high wages you were bragging so about a few minutes
ago? "—and I looked around on the company with placid
satisfaction, for I had slipped up on him gradually and tied him
hand and foot, you see, without his ever noticing that he was being
tied at all. "What's become of those noble high wages of
yours?—I seem to have knocked the stuffing all out of them,
it appears to me."
But if you will believe me, he merely looked surprised, that is
all! he didn't grasp the situation at all, didn't know he had
walked into a trap, didn't discover that he was in a trap.
I could have shot him, from sheer vexation. With cloudy
eye and a struggling intellect he fetched this out:
"Marry, I seem not to understand. It is proved that
our wages be double thine; how then may it be that thou'st knocked
therefrom the stuffing?—an miscall not the wonderly word,
this being the first time under grace and providence of God it hath
been granted me to hear it."
Well, I was stunned; partly with this unlooked-for stupidity on
his part, and partly because his fellows so manifestly sided with
him and were of his mind—if you might call it mind. My
position was simple enough, plain enough; how could it ever be
simplified more? However, I must try:
"Why, look here, brother Dowley, don't you see? Your wages
are merely higher than ours in name , not in fact
"Hear him! They are the double—ye have
confessed it yourself."
"Yes-yes, I don't deny that at all. But that's got nothing
to do with it; the amount of the wages in mere coins, with
meaningless names attached to them to know them by, has got nothing
to do with it. The thing is, how much can you buy with
your wages?—that's the idea. While it is true that with
you a good mechanic is allowed about three dollars and a half a
year, and with us only about a dollar and seventy-five—"
"There—ye're confessing it again, ye're confessing it
"Confound it, I've never denied it, I tell you! What I say
is this. With us half a dollar buys more than a
dollar buys with you—and THEREFORE it stands to reason
and the commonest kind of common-sense, that our wages are
higher than yours."
He looked dazed, and said, despairingly:
"Verily, I cannot make it out. Ye've just said ours are
the higher, and with the same breath ye take it back."
"Oh, great Scott, isn't it possible to get such a simple thing
through your head? Now look here—let me illustrate.
We pay four cents for a woman's stuff gown, you pay 8.4.0,
which is four mills more than double . What do you
allow a laboring woman who works on a farm?"
"Two mills a day."
"Very good; we allow but half as much; we pay her only a tenth
of a cent a day; and—"
"Again ye're conf—"
"Wait! Now, you see, the thing is very simple; this time
you'll understand it. For instance, it takes your woman 42
days to earn her gown, at 2 mills a day—7 weeks' work; but
ours earns hers in forty days—two days short of 7
weeks. Your woman has a gown, and her whole seven weeks wages
are gone; ours has a gown, and two days' wages left, to buy
something else with. There—now you understand
He looked—well, he merely looked dubious, it's the most I
can say; so did the others. I waited—to let the thing
work. Dowley spoke at last—and betrayed the fact that
he actually hadn't gotten away from his rooted and grounded
superstitions yet. He said, with a trifle of hesitancy:
"But—but—ye cannot fail to grant that two mills a
day is better than one."
Shucks! Well, of course, I hated to give it up. So I
chanced another flyer:
"Let us suppose a case. Suppose one of your journeymen
goes out and buys the following articles:
"1 pound of salt; 1 dozen eggs;
1 dozen pints of beer; 1 bushel
of wheat; 1 tow-linen suit; 5
pounds of beef; 5 pounds of mutton.
"The lot will cost him 32 cents. It takes him 32 working
days to earn the money—5 weeks and 2 days. Let him come
to us and work 32 days at half the wages; he can buy all
those things for a shade under 14 1/2 cents; they will cost him a
shade under 29 days' work, and he will have about half a week's
wages over. Carry it through the year; he would save nearly a
week's wages every two months, your man nothing; thus saving
five or six weeks' wages in a year, your man not a cent.
Now I reckon you understand that 'high wages' and 'low
wages' are phrases that don't mean anything in the world until you
find out which of them will buy the most!"
It was a crusher.
Well, I was smarting under a sense of defeat. Undeserved
defeat, but what of that? That didn't soften the smart any.
And to think of the circumstances! the first statesman of the
age, the capablest man, the best-informed man in the entire world,
the loftiest uncrowned head that had moved through the clouds of
any political firmament for centuries, sitting here apparently
defeated in argument by an ignorant country blacksmith! And I
could see that those others were sorry for me—which made me
blush till I could smell my whiskers scorching. Put yourself
in my place; feel as mean as I did, as ashamed as I
felt—wouldn't you have struck below the belt to get
even? Yes, you would; it is simply human nature. Well, that
is what I did. I am not trying to justify it; I'm only saying
that I was mad, and anybody would have done it.
Well, when I make up my mind to hit a man, I don't plan out a
love-tap; no, that isn't my way; as long as I'm going to hit him at
all, I'm going to hit him a lifter. And I don't jump at him
all of a sudden, and risk making a blundering half-way business of
it; no, I get away off yonder to one side, and work up on him
gradually, so that he never suspects that I'm going to hit him at
all; and by and by, all in a flash, he's flat on his back, and he
can't tell for the life of him how it all happened. That is
the way I went for brother Dowley. I started to talking lazy
and comfortable, as if I was just talking to pass the time; and the
oldest man in the world couldn't have taken the bearings of my
starting place and guessed where I was going to fetch up:
"Boys, there's a good many curious things about law, and custom,
and usage, and all that sort of thing, when you come to look at it;
yes, and about the drift and progress of human opinion and
movement, too. There are written laws—they perish; but
there are also unwritten laws—they are eternal.
Take the unwritten law of wages: it says they've got to
advance, little by little, straight through the centuries.
And notice how it works. We know what wages are now,
here and there and yonder; we strike an average, and say that's the
wages of to-day. We know what the wages were a hundred years
ago, and what they were two hundred years ago; that's as far back
as we can get, but it suffices to give us the law of progress, the
measure and rate of the periodical augmentation; and so, without a
document to help us, we can come pretty close to determining what
the wages were three and four and five hundred years ago. Good, so
far. Do we stop there? No. We stop looking
backward; we face around and apply the law to the future. My
friends, I can tell you what people's wages are going to be at any
date in the future you want to know, for hundreds and hundreds of
"What, goodman, what!"
"Yes. In seven hundred years wages will have risen to six
times what they are now, here in your region, and farm hands will
be allowed 3 cents a day, and mechanics 6."
"I would't I might die now and live then!" interrupted Smug, the
wheelwright, with a fine avaricious glow in his eye.
"And that isn't all; they'll get their board besides—such
as it is: it won't bloat them. Two hundred and fifty years
later—pay attention now—a mechanic's wages will
be—mind you, this is law, not guesswork; a mechanic's wages
will then be twenty cents a day!"
There was a general gasp of awed astonishment, Dickon the mason
murmured, with raised eyes and hands:
"More than three weeks' pay for one day's work!"
"Riches!—of a truth, yes, riches!" muttered Marco, his
breath coming quick and short, with excitement.
"Wages will keep on rising, little by little, little by little,
as steadily as a tree grows, and at the end of three hundred and
forty years more there'll be at least one country where the
mechanic's average wage will be two hundred cents a
It knocked them absolutely dumb! Not a man of them could
get his breath for upwards of two minutes. Then the
coal-burner said prayerfully:
"Might I but live to see it!"
"It is the income of an earl!" said Smug.
"An earl, say ye?" said Dowley; "ye could say more than that and
speak no lie; there's no earl in the realm of Bagdemagus that hath
an income like to that. Income of an earl—mf! it's the
income of an angel!"
"Now, then, that is what is going to happen as regards wages. In
that remote day, that man will earn, with one week's work,
that bill of goods which it takes you upwards of fifty weeks
to earn now. Some other pretty surprising things are going to
happen, too. Brother Dowley, who is it that determines, every
spring, what the particular wage of each kind of mechanic, laborer,
and servant shall be for that year?"
"Sometimes the courts, sometimes the town council; but most of
all, the magistrate. Ye may say, in general terms, it is the
magistrate that fixes the wages."
"Doesn't ask any of those poor devils to help him fix
their wages for them, does he?"
"Hm! That were an idea! The master that's to
pay him the money is the one that's rightly concerned in that
matter, ye will notice."
"Yes—but I thought the other man might have some little
trifle at stake in it, too; and even his wife and children, poor
creatures. The masters are these: nobles, rich men, the
prosperous generally. These few, who do no work, determine what pay
the vast hive shall have who do work. You see?
They're a 'combine'—a trade union, to coin a new
phrase—who band themselves together to force their lowly
brother to take what they choose to give. Thirteen hundred
years hence—so says the unwritten law—the 'combine'
will be the other way, and then how these fine people's posterity
will fume and fret and grit their teeth over the insolent tyranny
of trade unions! Yes, indeed! the magistrate will tranquilly
arrange the wages from now clear away down into the nineteenth
century; and then all of a sudden the wage-earner will consider
that a couple of thousand years or so is enough of this one-sided
sort of thing; and he will rise up and take a hand in fixing his
wages himself. Ah, he will have a long and bitter account of wrong
and humiliation to settle."
"Do ye believe—"
"That he actually will help to fix his own wages? Yes,
indeed. And he will be strong and able, then."
"Brave times, brave times, of a truth!" sneered the prosperous
"It's true. Moreover, a magistrate won't be able to force
a man to work for a master a whole year on a stretch whether the
man wants to or not."
"Will there be no law or sense in that day?"
"Both of them, Dowley. In that day a man will be his own
property, not the property of magistrate and master. And he
can leave town whenever he wants to, if the wages don't suit
him!—and they can't put him in the pillory for it."
"Perdition catch such an age!" shouted Dowley, in strong
indignation. "An age of dogs, an age barren of reverence for
superiors and respect for authority! The pillory—"
"Oh, wait, brother; say no good word for that institution.
I think the pillory ought to be abolished."
"A most strange idea. Why?"
"Well, I'll tell you why. Is a man ever put in the pillory
for a capital crime?"
"Is it right to condemn a man to a slight punishment for a small
offense and then kill him?"
There was no answer. I had scored my first point!
For the first time, the smith wasn't up and ready. The
company noticed it. Good effect.
"You don't answer, brother. You were about to glorify the
pillory a while ago, and shed some pity on a future age that isn't
going to use it. I think the pillory ought to be abolished.
What usually happens when a poor fellow is put in the pillory
for some little offense that didn't amount to anything in the
world? The mob try to have some fun with him, don't
"They begin by clodding him; and they laugh themselves to pieces
to see him try to dodge one clod and get hit with another?"
"Then they throw dead cats at him, don't they?"
"Well, then, suppose he has a few personal enemies in that mob
and here and there a man or a woman with a secret grudge against
him—and suppose especially that he is unpopular in the
community, for his pride, or his prosperity, or one thing or
another—stones and bricks take the place of clods and cats
presently, don't they?"
"There is no doubt of it."
"As a rule he is crippled for life, isn't he?—jaws broken,
teeth smashed out?—or legs mutilated, gangrened, presently
cut off?—or an eye knocked out, maybe both eyes?"
"It is true, God knoweth it."
"And if he is unpopular he can depend on dying , right
there in the stocks, can't he?"
"He surely can! One may not deny it."
"I take it none of you are unpopular—by reason of
pride or insolence, or conspicuous prosperity, or any of those
things that excite envy and malice among the base scum of a
village? You wouldn't think it much of a risk to take
a chance in the stocks?"
Dowley winced, visibly. I judged he was hit. But he
didn't betray it by any spoken word. As for the others, they
spoke out plainly, and with strong feeling. They said they
had seen enough of the stocks to know what a man's chance in them
was, and they would never consent to enter them if they could
compromise on a quick death by hanging.
"Well, to change the subject—for I think I've established
my point that the stocks ought to be abolished. I think some
of our laws are pretty unfair. For instance, if I do a thing
which ought to deliver me to the stocks, and you know I did it and
yet keep still and don't report me, you will get the stocks
if anybody informs on you."
"Ah, but that would serve you but right," said Dowley, "for you
must inform. So saith the law."
The others coincided.
"Well, all right, let it go, since you vote me down. But
there's one thing which certainly isn't fair. The magistrate
fixes a mechanic's wage at one cent a day, for instance. The
law says that if any master shall venture, even under utmost press
of business, to pay anything over that cent a day, even for
a single day, he shall be both fined and pilloried for it; and
whoever knows he did it and doesn't inform, they also shall be
fined and pilloried. Now it seems to me unfair, Dowley, and a
deadly peril to all of us, that because you thoughtlessly
confessed, a while ago, that within a week you have paid a cent and
Oh, I tell you it was a smasher! You ought to have
seen them to go to pieces, the whole gang. I had just slipped
up on poor smiling and complacent Dowley so nice and easy and
softly, that he never suspected anything was going to happen till
the blow came crashing down and knocked him all to rags.
The king joined us, about this time, mightily refreshed by his
nap, and feeling good. Anything could make me nervous now, I
was so uneasy—for our lives were in danger; and so it worried
me to detect a complacent something in the king's eye which seemed
to indicate that he had been loading himself up for a performance
of some kind or other; confound it, why must he go and choose such
a time as this?
I was right. He began, straight off, in the most
innocently artful, and transparent, and lubberly way, to lead up to
the subject of agriculture. The cold sweat broke out all over
me. I wanted to whisper in his ear, "Man, we are in awful danger!
every moment is worth a principality till we get back these men's
confidence; don't waste any of this golden time." But
of course I couldn't do it. Whisper to him? It would
look as if we were conspiring. So I had to sit there and look
calm and pleasant while the king stood over that dynamite mine and
mooned along about his damned onions and things. At first the
tumult of my own thoughts, summoned by the danger-signal and
swarming to the rescue from every quarter of my skull, kept up such
a hurrah and confusion and fifing and drumming that I couldn't take
in a word; but presently when my mob of gathering plans began to
crystallize and fall into position and form line of battle, a sort
of order and quiet ensued and I caught the boom of the king's
batteries, as if out of remote distance:
"—were not the best way, methinks, albeit it is not to be
denied that authorities differ as concerning this point, some
contending that the onion is but an unwholesome berry when stricken
early from the tree—"
The audience showed signs of life, and sought each other's eyes
in a surprised and troubled way.
"—whileas others do yet maintain, with much show of
reason, that this is not of necessity the case, instancing that
plums and other like cereals do be always dug in the unripe
The audience exhibited distinct distress; yes, and also
"—yet are they clearly wholesome, the more especially when
one doth assuage the asperities of their nature by admixture of the
tranquilizing juice of the wayward cabbage—"
The wild light of terror began to glow in these men's eyes, and
one of them muttered, "These be errors, every one—God hath
surely smitten the mind of this farmer." I was in miserable
apprehension; I sat upon thorns.
"—and further instancing the known truth that in the case
of animals, the young, which may be called the green fruit of the
creature, is the better, all confessing that when a goat is ripe,
his fur doth heat and sore engame his flesh, the which defect,
taken in connection with his several rancid habits, and fulsome
appetites, and godless attitudes of mind, and bilious quality of
They rose and went for him! With a fierce shout, "The one
would betray us, the other is mad! Kill them! Kill
them!" they flung themselves upon us. What joy flamed up in
the king's eye! He might be lame in agriculture, but this
kind of thing was just in his line. He had been fasting long,
he was hungry for a fight. He hit the blacksmith a crack under the
jaw that lifted him clear off his feet and stretched him flat on
his back. "St. George for Britain!" and he downed the
wheelwright. The mason was big, but I laid him out like
nothing. The three gathered themselves up and came again;
went down again; came again; and kept on repeating this, with
native British pluck, until they were battered to jelly, reeling
with exhaustion, and so blind that they couldn't tell us from each
other; and yet they kept right on, hammering away with what might
was left in them. Hammering each other—for we stepped
aside and looked on while they rolled, and struggled, and gouged,
and pounded, and bit, with the strict and wordless attention to
business of so many bulldogs. We looked on without
apprehension, for they were fast getting past ability to go for
help against us, and the arena was far enough from the public road
to be safe from intrusion.
We started down, and got nearly to the lowest limb, when we
seemed to hear the hunt returning. We stopped to listen.
"Yes," said I, "they're baffled, they've given it up, they're on
their way home. We will climb back to our roost again, and
let them go by."
So we climbed back. The king listened a moment and
"They still search—I wit the sign. We did best to
He was right. He knew more about hunting than I did.
The noise approached steadily, but not with a rush. The
"They reason that we were advantaged by no parlous start of
them, and being on foot are as yet no mighty way from where we took
"Yes, sire, that is about it, I am afraid, though I was hoping
"Marry, that we will do!"
I was obliged to admire my cuteness in foreseeing this very
thing and swapping trees to beat it. But, don't you know,
there are some things that can beat smartness and foresight?
Awkwardness and stupidity can. The best swordsman in
the world doesn't need to fear the second best swordsman in the
world; no, the person for him to be afraid of is some ignorant
antagonist who has never had a sword in his hand before; he doesn't
do the thing he ought to do, and so the expert isn't prepared for
him; he does the thing he ought not to do; and often it catches the
expert out and ends him on the spot. Well, how could I, with
all my gifts, make any valuable preparation against a near-sighted,
cross-eyed, pudding-headed clown who would aim himself at the wrong
tree and hit the right one? And that is what he did. He
went for the wrong tree, which was, of course, the right one by
mistake, and up he started.
Matters were serious now. We remained still, and awaited
developments. The peasant toiled his difficult way up. The
king raised himself up and stood; he made a leg ready, and when the
comer's head arrived in reach of it there was a dull thud, and down
went the man floundering to the ground. There was a wild
outbreak of anger below, and the mob swarmed in from all around,
and there we were treed, and prisoners. Another man started
up; the bridging bough was detected, and a volunteer started up the
tree that furnished the bridge. The king ordered me to play
Horatius and keep the bridge. For a while the enemy came
thick and fast; but no matter, the head man of each procession
always got a buffet that dislodged him as soon as he came in reach.
The king's spirits rose, his joy was limitless. He said
that if nothing occurred to mar the prospect we should have a
beautiful night, for on this line of tactics we could hold the tree
against the whole country-side.
However, the mob soon came to that conclusion themselves;
wherefore they called off the assault and began to debate other
plans. They had no weapons, but there were plenty of stones, and
stones might answer. We had no objections. A stone
might possibly penetrate to us once in a while, but it wasn't very
likely; we were well protected by boughs and foliage, and were not
visible from any good aiming point. If they would but waste
half an hour in stone-throwing, the dark would come to our help.
We were feeling very well satisfied. We could smile;
But we didn't; which was just as well, for we should have been
interrupted. Before the stones had been raging through the
leaves and bouncing from the boughs fifteen minutes, we began to
notice a smell. A couple of sniffs of it was enough of an
explanation—it was smoke! Our game was up at last.
We recognized that. When smoke invites you, you have to
come. They raised their pile of dry brush and damp weeds
higher and higher, and when they saw the thick cloud begin to roll
up and smother the tree, they broke out in a storm of joy-clamors.
I got enough breath to say:
"Proceed, my liege; after you is manners."
The king gasped:
"Follow me down, and then back thyself against one side of the
trunk, and leave me the other. Then will we fight. Let
each pile his dead according to his own fashion and taste."
Then he descended, barking and coughing, and I followed. I
struck the ground an instant after him; we sprang to our appointed
places, and began to give and take with all our might. The
powwow and racket were prodigious; it was a tempest of riot and
confusion and thick-falling blows. Suddenly some horsemen
tore into the midst of the crowd, and a voice shouted:
"Hold—or ye are dead men!"
How good it sounded! The owner of the voice bore all the
marks of a gentleman: picturesque and costly raiment, the
aspect of command, a hard countenance, with complexion and features
marred by dissipation. The mob fell humbly back, like so many
spaniels. The gentleman inspected us critically, then said
sharply to the peasants:
"What are ye doing to these people?"
"They be madmen, worshipful sir, that have come wandering we
know not whence, and—"
"Ye know not whence? Do ye pretend ye know them not?"
"Most honored sir, we speak but the truth. They are
strangers and unknown to any in this region; and they be the most
violent and bloodthirsty madmen that ever—"
"Peace! Ye know not what ye say. They are not mad.
Who are ye? And whence are ye? Explain."
"We are but peaceful strangers, sir," I said, "and traveling
upon our own concerns. We are from a far country, and
unacquainted here. We have purposed no harm; and yet but for
your brave interference and protection these people would have
killed us. As you have divined, sir, we are not mad; neither are we
violent or bloodthirsty."
The gentleman turned to his retinue and said calmly: "Lash
me these animals to their kennels!"
The mob vanished in an instant; and after them plunged the
horsemen, laying about them with their whips and pitilessly riding
down such as were witless enough to keep the road instead of taking
to the bush. The shrieks and supplications presently died
away in the distance, and soon the horsemen began to straggle back.
Meantime the gentleman had been questioning us more closely,
but had dug no particulars out of us. We were lavish of
recognition of the service he was doing us, but we revealed nothing
more than that we were friendless strangers from a far country.
When the escort were all returned, the gentleman said to one
of his servants:
"Bring the led-horses and mount these people."
"Yes, my lord."
We were placed toward the rear, among the servants. We
traveled pretty fast, and finally drew rein some time after dark at
a roadside inn some ten or twelve miles from the scene of our
troubles. My lord went immediately to his room, after
ordering his supper, and we saw no more of him. At dawn in
the morning we breakfasted and made ready to start.
My lord's chief attendant sauntered forward at that moment with
indolent grace, and said:
"Ye have said ye should continue upon this road, which is our
direction likewise; wherefore my lord, the earl Grip, hath given
commandment that ye retain the horses and ride, and that certain of
us ride with ye a twenty mile to a fair town that hight Cambenet,
whenso ye shall be out of peril."
I was boiling. I had forgotten I was a plebeian, I was
remembering I was a man. Cost what it might, I would mount
that rostrum and—
Click! the king and I were handcuffed together! Our
companions, those servants, had done it; my lord Grip stood looking
on. The king burst out in a fury, and said:
"What meaneth this ill-mannered jest?"
My lord merely said to his head miscreant, coolly:
"Put up the slaves and sell them!"
Slaves! The word had a new sound—and how
unspeakably awful! The king lifted his manacles and brought
them down with a deadly force; but my lord was out of the way when
they arrived. A dozen of the rascal's servants sprang
forward, and in a moment we were helpless, with our hands bound
behind us. We so loudly and so earnestly proclaimed ourselves
freemen, that we got the interested attention of that
liberty-mouthing orator and his patriotic crowd, and they gathered
about us and assumed a very determined attitude. The orator
"If, indeed, ye are freemen, ye have nought to fear—the
God-given liberties of Britain are about ye for your shield and
shelter! (Applause.) Ye shall soon see. Bring forth your
"Proof that ye are freemen."
Ah—I remembered! I came to myself; I said nothing.
But the king stormed out:
"Thou'rt insane, man. It were better, and more in reason,
that this thief and scoundrel here prove that we are not
You see, he knew his own laws just as other people so often know
the laws; by words, not by effects. They take a
meaning , and get to be very vivid, when you come to apply
them to yourself.
All hands shook their heads and looked disappointed; some turned
away, no longer interested. The orator said—and this
time in the tones of business, not of sentiment:
"An ye do not know your country's laws, it were time ye learned
them. Ye are strangers to us; ye will not deny that. Ye may
be freemen, we do not deny that; but also ye may be slaves.
The law is clear: it doth not require the claimant to
prove ye are slaves, it requireth you to prove ye are not."
"Dear sir, give us only time to send to Astolat; or give us only
time to send to the Valley of Holiness—"
"Peace, good man, these are extraordinary requests, and you may
not hope to have them granted. It would cost much time, and
would unwarrantably inconvenience your master—"
"Master , idiot!" stormed the king. "I have no
master, I myself am the m—"
"Silence, for God's sake!"
I got the words out in time to stop the king. We were in
trouble enough already; it could not help us any to give these
people the notion that we were lunatics.
There is no use in stringing out the details. The earl put
us up and sold us at auction. This same infernal law had
existed in our own South in my own time, more than thirteen hundred
years later, and under it hundreds of freemen who could not prove
that they were freemen had been sold into lifelong slavery without
the circumstance making any particular impression upon me; but the
minute law and the auction block came into my personal experience,
a thing which had been merely improper before became suddenly
hellish. Well, that's the way we are made.
Yes, we were sold at auction, like swine. In a big town
and an active market we should have brought a good price; but this
place was utterly stagnant and so we sold at a figure which makes
me ashamed, every time I think of it. The King of England
brought seven dollars, and his prime minister nine; whereas the
king was easily worth twelve dollars and I as easily worth fifteen.
But that is the way things always go; if you force a sale on
a dull market, I don't care what the property is, you are going to
make a poor business of it, and you can make up your mind to it.
If the earl had had wit enough to—
However, there is no occasion for my working my sympathies up on
his account. Let him go, for the present; I took his number,
so to speak.
"Here's a two-dollar-and-a-half chump with a thirty-dollar
style. Pity but style was marketable."
At last this sort of remark produced an evil result. Our
owner was a practical person and he perceived that this defect must
be mended if he hoped to find a purchaser for the king. So he
went to work to take the style out of his sacred majesty. I
could have given the man some valuable advice, but I didn't; you
mustn't volunteer advice to a slave-driver unless you want to
damage the cause you are arguing for. I had found it a
sufficiently difficult job to reduce the king's style to a
peasant's style, even when he was a willing and anxious pupil; now
then, to undertake to reduce the king's style to a slave's
style—and by force—go to! it was a stately contract.
Never mind the details—it will save me trouble to let
you imagine them. I will only remark that at the end of a
week there was plenty of evidence that lash and club and fist had
done their work well; the king's body was a sight to see—and
to weep over; but his spirit?—why, it wasn't even phased.
Even that dull clod of a slave-driver was able to see that
there can be such a thing as a slave who will remain a man till he
dies; whose bones you can break, but whose manhood you can't.
This man found that from his first effort down to his latest,
he couldn't ever come within reach of the king, but the king was
ready to plunge for him, and did it. So he gave up at last,
and left the king in possession of his style unimpaired. The fact
is, the king was a good deal more than a king, he was a man; and
when a man is a man, you can't knock it out of him.
"A little while ago this young thing, this child of eighteen
years, was as happy a wife and mother as any in England; and her
lips were blithe with song, which is the native speech of glad and
innocent hearts. Her young husband was as happy as she; for
he was doing his whole duty, he worked early and late at his
handicraft, his bread was honest bread well and fairly earned, he
was prospering, he was furnishing shelter and sustenance to his
family, he was adding his mite to the wealth of the nation.
By consent of a treacherous law, instant destruction fell
upon this holy home and swept it away! That young husband was
waylaid and impressed, and sent to sea. The wife knew nothing
of it. She sought him everywhere, she moved the hardest
hearts with the supplications of her tears, the broken eloquence of
her despair. Weeks dragged by, she watching, waiting, hoping,
her mind going slowly to wreck under the burden of her misery.
Little by little all her small possessions went for food.
When she could no longer pay her rent, they turned her out of
doors. She begged, while she had strength; when she was
starving at last, and her milk failing, she stole a piece of linen
cloth of the value of a fourth part of a cent, thinking to sell it
and save her child. But she was seen by the owner of the
cloth. She was put in jail and brought to trial. The man
testified to the facts. A plea was made for her, and her
sorrowful story was told in her behalf. She spoke, too, by
permission, and said she did steal the cloth, but that her mind was
so disordered of late by trouble that when she was overborne with
hunger all acts, criminal or other, swam meaningless through her
brain and she knew nothing rightly, except that she was so hungry!
For a moment all were touched, and there was disposition to
deal mercifully with her, seeing that she was so young and
friendless, and her case so piteous, and the law that robbed her of
her support to blame as being the first and only cause of her
transgression; but the prosecuting officer replied that whereas
these things were all true, and most pitiful as well, still there
was much small theft in these days, and mistimed mercy here would
be a danger to property—oh, my God, is there no property in
ruined homes, and orphaned babes, and broken hearts that British
law holds precious!—and so he must require sentence.
"When the judge put on his black cap, the owner of the stolen
linen rose trembling up, his lip quivering, his face as gray as
ashes; and when the awful words came, he cried out, 'Oh, poor
child, poor child, I did not know it was death!' and fell as a tree
falls. When they lifted him up his reason was gone; before
the sun was set, he had taken his own life. A kindly man; a
man whose heart was right, at bottom; add his murder to this that
is to be now done here; and charge them both where they
belong—to the rulers and the bitter laws of Britain.
The time is come, my child; let me pray over thee—not
for thee, dear abused poor heart and innocent, but for them
that be guilty of thy ruin and death, who need it more."
After his prayer they put the noose around the young girl's
neck, and they had great trouble to adjust the knot under her ear,
because she was devouring the baby all the time, wildly kissing it,
and snatching it to her face and her breast, and drenching it with
tears, and half moaning, half shrieking all the while, and the baby
crowing, and laughing, and kicking its feet with delight over what
it took for romp and play. Even the hangman couldn't stand
it, but turned away. When all was ready the priest gently
pulled and tugged and forced the child out of the mother's arms,
and stepped quickly out of her reach; but she clasped her hands,
and made a wild spring toward him, with a shriek; but the
rope—and the under-sheriff—held her short. Then
she went on her knees and stretched out her hands and cried:
"One more kiss—oh, my God, one more, one more,—it is
the dying that begs it!"
She got it; she almost smothered the little thing. And
when they got it away again, she cried out:
"Oh, my child, my darling, it will die! It has no home, it
has no father, no friend, no mother—"
"It has them all!" said that good priest. "All these will
I be to it till I die."
You should have seen her face then! Gratitude? Lord,
what do you want with words to express that? Words are only
painted fire; a look is the fire itself. She gave that look,
and carried it away to the treasury of heaven, where all things
that are divine belong.
The king couldn't get his breath, he was in such a fury.
He began to choke and gag, and meantime the master and the
gentleman moved away discussing.
"An ye will keep the offer open—"
"'Tis open till the morrow at this hour."
"Then I will answer you at that time," said the gentleman, and
disappeared, the master following him.
I had a time of it to cool the king down, but I managed it. I
whispered in his ear, to this effect:
"Your grace will go for nothing, but after another
fashion. And so shall I. To-night we shall both be
"Ah! How is that?"
"With this thing which I have stolen, I will unlock these locks
and cast off these chains to-night. When he comes about
nine-thirty to inspect us for the night, we will seize him, gag
him, batter him, and early in the morning we will march out of this
town, proprietors of this caravan of slaves."
That was as far as I went, but the king was charmed and
satisfied. That evening we waited patiently for our fellow-slaves
to get to sleep and signify it by the usual sign, for you must not
take many chances on those poor fellows if you can avoid it.
It is best to keep your own secrets. No doubt they
fidgeted only about as usual, but it didn't seem so to me. It
seemed to me that they were going to be forever getting down to
their regular snoring. As the time dragged on I got nervously
afraid we shouldn't have enough of it left for our needs; so I made
several premature attempts, and merely delayed things by it; for I
couldn't seem to touch a padlock, there in the dark, without
starting a rattle out of it which interrupted somebody's sleep and
made him turn over and wake some more of the gang.
But finally I did get my last iron off, and was a free man once
more. I took a good breath of relief, and reached for the
king's irons. Too late! in comes the master, with a light in
one hand and his heavy walking-staff in the other. I snuggled
close among the wallow of snorers, to conceal as nearly as possible
that I was naked of irons; and I kept a sharp lookout and prepared
to spring for my man the moment he should bend over me.
Of course, it was the thing to do, and I was up and out in a
moment. But, dear me, there were no lamps in those days, and
it was a dark night. But I glimpsed a dim figure a few steps
away. I darted for it, threw myself upon it, and then there
was a state of things and lively! We fought and scuffled and
struggled, and drew a crowd in no time. They took an immense
interest in the fight and encouraged us all they could, and, in
fact, couldn't have been pleasanter or more cordial if it had been
their own fight. Then a tremendous row broke out behind us,
and as much as half of our audience left us, with a rush, to invest
some sympathy in that. Lanterns began to swing in all
directions; it was the watch gathering from far and near.
Presently a halberd fell across my back, as a reminder, and I
knew what it meant. I was in custody. So was my adversary.
We were marched off toward prison, one on each side of the
watchman. Here was disaster, here was a fine scheme gone to
sudden destruction! I tried to imagine what would happen when
the master should discover that it was I who had been fighting him;
and what would happen if they jailed us together in the general
apartment for brawlers and petty law-breakers, as was the custom;
and what might—
Just then my antagonist turned his face around in my direction,
the freckled light from the watchman's tin lantern fell on it, and,
by George, he was the wrong man!
Then the court begged my pardon, and hoped I would not fail to
tell his lordship it was in no wise the court's fault that this
high-handed thing had happened. I said I would make it all
right, and so took my leave. Took it just in time, too; he
was starting to ask me why I didn't fetch out these facts the
moment I was arrested. I said I would if I had thought of
it—which was true—but that I was so battered by that
man that all my wit was knocked out of me—and so forth and so
on, and got myself away, still mumbling.
"Yes. How did it begin?"
"There was no witness but the slaves. They said the slave
that was most valuable got free of his bonds and escaped in some
strange way—by magic arts 'twas thought, by reason that he
had no key, and the locks were neither broke nor in any wise
injured. When the master discovered his loss, he was mad with
despair, and threw himself upon his people with his heavy stick,
who resisted and brake his back and in other and divers ways did
give him hurts that brought him swiftly to his end."
"This is dreadful. It will go hard with the slaves, no
doubt, upon the trial."
"Marry, the trial is over."
"Would they be a week, think you—and the matter so simple?
They were not the half of a quarter of an hour at it."
"Why, I don't see how they could determine which were the guilty
ones in so short a time."
"Which ones? Indeed, they considered not
particulars like to that. They condemned them in a body. Wit
ye not the law?—which men say the Romans left behind them
here when they went—that if one slave killeth his master all
the slaves of that man must die for it."
"True. I had forgotten. And when will these
"Belike within a four and twenty hours; albeit some say they
will wait a pair of days more, if peradventure they may find the
missing one meantime."
The missing one! It made me feel uncomfortable.
"Is it likely they will find him?"
"Before the day is spent—yes. They seek him
everywhere. They stand at the gates of the town, with certain
of the slaves who will discover him to them if he cometh, and none
can pass out but he will be first examined."
"Might one see the place where the rest are confined?"
"The outside of it—yes. The inside of it—but
ye will not want to see that."
"This doth amaze me! How should such as you know aught of
such matters as—"
"Call Camelot! I am a desperate man. Call Camelot,
or get away from the instrument and I will do it myself."
"Yes—certainly. Stop gabbling. Call the
He made the call.
"Now, then, call Clarence."
"Clarence who ?"
"Never mind Clarence who. Say you want Clarence; you'll
get an answer."
He did so. We waited five nerve-straining
minutes—ten minutes—how long it did seem!—and
then came a click that was as familiar to me as a human voice; for
Clarence had been my own pupil.
"Now, my lad, vacate! They would have known my
touch, maybe, and so your call was surest; but I'm all right
He vacated the place and cocked his ear to listen—but it
didn't win. I used a cipher. I didn't waste any time in
sociabilities with Clarence, but squared away for business,
"The king is here and in danger. We were captured and
brought here as slaves. We should not be able to prove our
identity—and the fact is, I am not in a position to try.
Send a telegram for the palace here which will carry
conviction with it."
His answer came straight back:
"They don't know anything about the telegraph; they haven't had
any experience yet, the line to London is so new. Better not
venture that. They might hang you. Think up something
Might hang us! Little he knew how closely he was crowding
the facts. I couldn't think up anything for the moment.
Then an idea struck me, and I started it along:
"Send five hundred picked knights with Launcelot in the lead;
and send them on the jump. Let them enter by the southwest
gate, and look out for the man with a white cloth around his right
The answer was prompt:
"They shall start in half an hour."
"All right, Clarence; now tell this lad here that I'm a friend
of yours and a dead-head; and that he must be discreet and say
nothing about this visit of mine."
The instrument began to talk to the youth and I hurried away. I
fell to ciphering. In half an hour it would be nine o'clock.
Knights and horses in heavy armor couldn't travel very fast. These
would make the best time they could, and now that the ground was in
good condition, and no snow or mud, they would probably make a
seven-mile gait; they would have to change horses a couple of
times; they would arrive about six, or a little after; it would
still be plenty light enough; they would see the white cloth which
I should tie around my right arm, and I would take command.
We would surround that prison and have the king out in no
time. It would be showy and picturesque enough, all things
considered, though I would have preferred noonday, on account of
the more theatrical aspect the thing would have.
Now, then, in order to increase the strings to my bow, I thought
I would look up some of those people whom I had formerly
recognized, and make myself known. That would help us out of
our scrape, without the knights. But I must proceed
cautiously, for it was a risky business. I must get into
sumptuous raiment, and it wouldn't do to run and jump into it.
No, I must work up to it by degrees, buying suit after suit
of clothes, in shops wide apart, and getting a little finer article
with each change, until I should finally reach silk and velvet, and
be ready for my project. So I started.
But the scheme fell through like scat! The first corner I
turned, I came plump upon one of our slaves, snooping around with a
watchman. I coughed at the moment, and he gave me a sudden look
that bit right into my marrow. I judge he thought he had
heard that cough before. I turned immediately into a shop and
worked along down the counter, pricing things and watching out of
the corner of my eye. Those people had stopped, and were
talking together and looking in at the door. I made up my
mind to get out the back way, if there was a back way, and I asked
the shopwoman if I could step out there and look for the escaped
slave, who was believed to be in hiding back there somewhere, and
said I was an officer in disguise, and my pard was yonder at the
door with one of the murderers in charge, and would she be good
enough to step there and tell him he needn't wait, but had better
go at once to the further end of the back alley and be ready to
head him off when I rousted him out.
cause of our hanging?
"Go to" was their way of saying "I should smile!" or "I like
that!" Queer talkers, those people.
Well, there was a sort of bastard justice in his view of the
case, and so I dropped the matter. When you can't cure a
disaster by argument, what is the use to argue? It isn't my
way. So I only said:
"You're not going to be hanged. None of us are."
Both men laughed, and the slave said:
"Ye have not ranked as a fool—before. You might
better keep your reputation, seeing the strain would not be for
"It will stand it, I reckon. Before to-morrow we shall be
out of prison, and free to go where we will, besides."
The witty officer lifted at his left ear with his thumb, made a
rasping noise in his throat, and said:
"Out of prison—yes—ye say true. And free
likewise to go where ye will, so ye wander not out of his grace the
Devil's sultry realm."
I kept my temper, and said, indifferently:
"Now I suppose you really think we are going to hang within a
day or two."
"I thought it not many minutes ago, for so the thing was decided
"Ah, then you've changed your mind, is that it?"
"Even that. I only thought , then; I know ,
I felt sarcastical, so I said:
"Oh, sapient servant of the law, condescend to tell us, then,
what you know ."
"That ye will all be hanged to-day , at mid-afternoon!
Oho! that shot hit home! Lean upon me."
The fact is I did need to lean upon somebody. My knights
couldn't arrive in time. They would be as much as three hours
too late. Nothing in the world could save the King of England; nor
me, which was more important. More important, not merely to
me, but to the nation—the only nation on earth standing ready
to blossom into civilization. I was sick. I said no
more, there wasn't anything to say. I knew what the man
meant; that if the missing slave was found, the postponement would
be revoked, the execution take place to-day. Well, the
missing slave was found.
But it went for nothing. He put on all his majesty and sat
under this rain of contempt and insult unmoved. He certainly
was great in his way. Absently, I had taken off my white
bandage and wound it about my right arm. When the crowd
noticed this, they began upon me. They said:
"Doubtless this sailor-man is his minister—observe his
costly badge of office!"
I let them go on until they got tired, and then I said:
"Yes, I am his minister, The Boss; and to-morrow you will hear
that from Camelot which—"
I got no further. They drowned me out with joyous
derision. But presently there was silence; for the sheriffs
of London, in their official robes, with their subordinates, began
to make a stir which indicated that business was about to begin.
In the hush which followed, our crime was recited, the death
warrant read, then everybody uncovered while a priest uttered a
Then a slave was blindfolded; the hangman unslung his rope.
There lay the smooth road below us, we upon one side of it,
the banked multitude wailing its other side—a good clear
road, and kept free by the police—how good it would be to see
my five hundred horsemen come tearing down it! But no, it was
out of the possibilities. I followed its receding thread out into
the distance—not a horseman on it, or sign of one.
I always use that high style when I'm climaxing an effect.
Well, it was noble to see Launcelot and the boys swarm up
onto that scaffold and heave sheriffs and such overboard. And
it was fine to see that astonished multitude go down on their knees
and beg their lives of the king they had just been deriding and
insulting. And as he stood apart there, receiving this homage in
rags, I thought to myself, well, really there is something
peculiarly grand about the gait and bearing of a king, after
I was immensely satisfied. Take the whole situation all
around, it was one of the gaudiest effects I ever instigated.
And presently up comes Clarence, his own self! and winks, and
says, very modernly:
"Good deal of a surprise, wasn't it? I knew you'd like it.
I've had the boys practicing this long time, privately; and
just hungry for a chance to show off."
But the king checked her and made her understand, with a polite
phrase or two, that this was none of her business. The bugles
rang again; and we separated and rode to the ends of the lists, and
took position. Now old Merlin stepped into view and cast a
dainty web of gossamer threads over Sir Sagramor which turned him
into Hamlet's ghost; the king made a sign, the bugles blew, Sir
Sagramor laid his great lance in rest, and the next moment here he
came thundering down the course with his veil flying out behind,
and I went whistling through the air like an arrow to meet
him—cocking my ear the while, as if noting the invisible
knight's position and progress by hearing, not sight. A
chorus of encouraging shouts burst out for him, and one brave voice
flung out a heartening word for me—said:
"Go it, slim Jim!"
It was an even bet that Clarence had procured that favor for
me—and furnished the language, too. When that
formidable lance-point was within a yard and a half of my breast I
twitched my horse aside without an effort, and the big knight swept
by, scoring a blank. I got plenty of applause that time. We
turned, braced up, and down we came again. Another blank for
the knight, a roar of applause for me. This same thing was
repeated once more; and it fetched such a whirlwind of applause
that Sir Sagramor lost his temper, and at once changed his tactics
and set himself the task of chasing me down. Why, he hadn't
any show in the world at that; it was a game of tag, with all the
advantage on my side; I whirled out of his path with ease whenever
I chose, and once I slapped him on the back as I went to the rear.
Finally I took the chase into my own hands; and after that,
turn, or twist, or do what he would, he was never able to get
behind me again; he found himself always in front at the end of his
maneuver. So he gave up that business and retired to his end
of the lists. His temper was clear gone now, and he forgot
himself and flung an insult at me which disposed of mine. I
slipped my lasso from the horn of my saddle, and grasped the coil
in my right hand. This time you should have seen him
come!—it was a business trip, sure; by his gait there was
blood in his eye. I was sitting my horse at ease, and
swinging the great loop of my lasso in wide circles about my head;
the moment he was under way, I started for him; when the space
between us had narrowed to forty feet, I sent the snaky spirals of
the rope a-cleaving through the air, then darted aside and faced
about and brought my trained animal to a halt with all his feet
braced under him for a surge. The next moment the rope sprang
taut and yanked Sir Sagramor out of the saddle! Great Scott,
but there was a sensation!
I wondered where they got the word, but there was no time to
cipher on philological matters, because the whole knight-errantry
hive was just humming now, and my prospect for trade couldn't have
been better. The moment my lasso was released and Sir
Sagramor had been assisted to his tent, I hauled in the slack, took
my station and began to swing my loop around my head again. I
was sure to have use for it as soon as they could elect a successor
for Sir Sagramor, and that couldn't take long where there were so
many hungry candidates. Indeed, they elected one straight
off—Sir Hervis de Revel.
Bzz ! Here he came, like a house afire; I dodged:
he passed like a flash, with my horse-hair coils settling
around his neck; a second or so later, fst ! his saddle was
I got another encore; and another, and another, and still
another. When I had snaked five men out, things began to look
serious to the ironclads, and they stopped and consulted together.
As a result, they decided that it was time to waive etiquette
and send their greatest and best against me. To the
astonishment of that little world, I lassoed Sir Lamorak de Galis,
and after him Sir Galahad. So you see there was simply
nothing to be done now, but play their right bower—bring out
the superbest of the superb, the mightiest of the mighty, the great
Sir Launcelot himself!
A proud moment for me? I should think so. Yonder was
Arthur, King of Britain; yonder was Guenever; yes, and whole tribes
of little provincial kings and kinglets; and in the tented camp
yonder, renowned knights from many lands; and likewise the
selectest body known to chivalry, the Knights of the Table Round,
the most illustrious in Christendom; and biggest fact of all, the
very sun of their shining system was yonder couching his lance, the
focal point of forty thousand adoring eyes; and all by myself, here
was I laying for him. Across my mind flitted the dear image
of a certain hello-girl of West Hartford, and I wished she could
see me now. In that moment, down came the Invincible, with
the rush of a whirlwind—the courtly world rose to its feet
and bent forward—the fateful coils went circling through the
air, and before you could wink I was towing Sir Launcelot across
the field on his back, and kissing my hand to the storm of waving
kerchiefs and the thunder-crash of applause that greeted me!
Said I to myself, as I coiled my lariat and hung it on my
saddle-horn, and sat there drunk with glory, "The victory is
perfect—no other will venture against
me—knight-errantry is dead." Now imagine my
astonishment—and everybody else's, too—to hear the
peculiar bugle-call which announces that another competitor is
about to enter the lists! There was a mystery here; I
couldn't account for this thing. Next, I noticed Merlin
gliding away from me; and then I noticed that my lasso was gone!
The old sleight-of-hand expert had stolen it, sure, and
slipped it under his robe.
The bugle blew again. I looked, and down came Sagramor
riding again, with his dust brushed off and his veil nicely
re-arranged. I trotted up to meet him, and pretended to find him by
the sound of his horse's hoofs. He said:
"Thou'rt quick of ear, but it will not save thee from this!" and
he touched the hilt of his great sword. "An ye are not able
to see it, because of the influence of the veil, know that it is no
cumbrous lance, but a sword—and I ween ye will not be able to
His visor was up; there was death in his smile. I should
never be able to dodge his sword, that was plain. Somebody
was going to die this time. If he got the drop on me, I could
name the corpse. We rode forward together, and saluted the
royalties. This time the king was disturbed. He said:
"Where is thy strange weapon?"
"It is stolen, sire."
"Hast another at hand?"
"No, sire, I brought only the one."
Then Merlin mixed in:
"He brought but the one because there was but the one to bring.
There exists none other but that one. It belongeth to the
king of the Demons of the Sea. This man is a pretender, and
ignorant, else he had known that that weapon can be used in but
eight bouts only, and then it vanisheth away to its home under the
"And I will lend!" said Sir Launcelot, limping up. "He is
as brave a knight of his hands as any that be on live, and he shall
He put his hand on his sword to draw it, but Sir Sagramor
"Stay, it may not be. He shall fight with his own weapons;
it was his privilege to choose them and bring them. If he has
erred, on his head be it."
"Knight!" said the king. "Thou'rt overwrought with
passion; it disorders thy mind. Wouldst kill a naked
"An he do it, he shall answer it to me," said Sir Launcelot.
"I will answer it to any he that desireth!" retorted Sir
Merlin broke in, rubbing his hands and smiling his lowdownest
smile of malicious gratification:
"'Tis well said, right well said! And 'tis enough of
parleying, let my lord the king deliver the battle signal."
The king had to yield. The bugle made proclamation, and we
turned apart and rode to our stations. There we stood, a
hundred yards apart, facing each other, rigid and motionless, like
horsed statues. And so we remained, in a soundless hush, as much as
a full minute, everybody gazing, nobody stirring. It seemed
as if the king could not take heart to give the signal. But
at last he lifted his hand, the clear note of the bugle followed,
Sir Sagramor's long blade described a flashing curve in the air,
and it was superb to see him come. I sat still. On he
came. I did not move. People got so excited that they
shouted to me:
"Fly, fly! Save thyself! This is murther!"
I never budged so much as an inch till that thundering
apparition had got within fifteen paces of me; then I snatched a
dragoon revolver out of my holster, there was a flash and a roar,
and the revolver was back in the holster before anybody could tell
what had happened.
Here was a riderless horse plunging by, and yonder lay Sir
Sagramor, stone dead.
The people that ran to him were stricken dumb to find that the
life was actually gone out of the man and no reason for it visible,
no hurt upon his body, nothing like a wound. There was a hole
through the breast of his chain-mail, but they attached no
importance to a little thing like that; and as a bullet wound there
produces but little blood, none came in sight because of the
clothing and swaddlings under the armor. The body was dragged
over to let the king and the swells look down upon it. They
were stupefied with astonishment naturally. I was requested
to come and explain the miracle. But I remained in my tracks,
like a statue, and said:
"If it is a command, I will come, but my lord the king knows
that I am where the laws of combat require me to remain while any
desire to come against me."
I waited. Nobody challenged. Then I said:
"If there are any who doubt that this field is well and fairly
won, I do not wait for them to challenge me, I challenge them."
"It is a gallant offer," said the king, "and well beseems you.
Whom will you name first?"
"I name none, I challenge all! Here I stand, and dare the
chivalry of England to come against me—not by individuals,
but in mass!"
"What!" shouted a score of knights.
"You have heard the challenge. Take it, or I proclaim you
recreant knights and vanquished, every one!"
It was a "bluff" you know. At such a time it is sound
judgment to put on a bold face and play your hand for a hundred
times what it is worth; forty-nine times out of fifty nobody dares
to "call," and you rake in the chips. But just this
once—well, things looked squally! In just no time, five
hundred knights were scrambling into their saddles, and before you
could wink a widely scattering drove were under way and clattering
down upon me. I snatched both revolvers from the holsters and
began to measure distances and calculate chances.
I renewed my challenge, engraved it on brass, posted it up where
any priest could read it to them, and also kept it standing in the
advertising columns of the paper.
I not only renewed it, but added to its proportions. I
said, name the day, and I would take fifty assistants and stand up
against the massed chivalry of the whole earth and destroy
I was not bluffing this time. I meant what I said; I could
do what I promised. There wasn't any way to misunderstand the
language of that challenge. Even the dullest of the chivalry
perceived that this was a plain case of "put up, or shut up."
They were wise and did the latter. In all the next
three years they gave me no trouble worth mentioning.
There was hardly a knight in all the land who wasn't in some
useful employment. They were going from end to end of the
country in all manner of useful missionary capacities; their
penchant for wandering, and their experience in it, made them
altogether the most effective spreaders of civilization we had.
They went clothed in steel and equipped with sword and lance
and battle-axe, and if they couldn't persuade a person to try a
sewing-machine on the installment plan, or a melodeon, or a
barbed-wire fence, or a prohibition journal, or any of the other
thousand and one things they canvassed for, they removed him and
I was very happy. Things were working steadily toward a
secretly longed-for point. You see, I had two schemes in my
head which were the vastest of all my projects. The one was
to overthrow the Catholic Church and set up the Protestant faith on
its ruins—not as an Established Church, but a
go-as-you-please one; and the other project was to get a decree
issued by and by, commanding that upon Arthur's death unlimited
suffrage should be introduced, and given to men and women
alike—at any rate to all men, wise or unwise, and to all
mothers who at middle age should be found to know nearly as much as
their sons at twenty-one. Arthur was good for thirty years
yet, he being about my own age—that is to say,
forty—and I believed that in that time I could easily have
the active part of the population of that day ready and eager for
an event which should be the first of its kind in the history of
the world—a rounded and complete governmental revolution
without bloodshed. The result to be a republic. Well, I
may as well confess, though I do feel ashamed when I think of it: I
was beginning to have a base hankering to be its first president
myself. Yes, there was more or less human nature in me; I
found that out.
Clarence was with me as concerned the revolution, but in a
modified way. His idea was a republic, without privileged
orders, but with a hereditary royal family at the head of it
instead of an elective chief magistrate. He believed that no
nation that had ever known the joy of worshiping a royal family
could ever be robbed of it and not fade away and die of melancholy.
I urged that kings were dangerous. He said, then have
cats. He was sure that a royal family of cats would answer
every purpose. They would be as useful as any other royal
family, they would know as much, they would have the same virtues
and the same treacheries, the same disposition to get up shindies
with other royal cats, they would be laughably vain and absurd and
never know it, they would be wholly inexpensive; finally, they
would have as sound a divine right as any other royal house, and
"Tom VII, or Tom XI, or Tom XIV by the grace of God King," would
sound as well as it would when applied to the ordinary royal tomcat
with tights on. "And as a rule," said he, in his neat modern
English, "the character of these cats would be considerably above
the character of the average king, and this would be an immense
moral advantage to the nation, for the reason that a nation always
models its morals after its monarch's. The worship of royalty
being founded in unreason, these graceful and harmless cats would
easily become as sacred as any other royalties, and indeed more so,
because it would presently be noticed that they hanged nobody,
beheaded nobody, imprisoned nobody, inflicted no cruelties or
injustices of any sort, and so must be worthy of a deeper love and
reverence than the customary human king, and would certainly get
it. The eyes of the whole harried world would soon be fixed
upon this humane and gentle system, and royal butchers would
presently begin to disappear; their subjects would fill the
vacancies with catlings from our own royal house; we should become
a factory; we should supply the thrones of the world; within forty
years all Europe would be governed by cats, and we should furnish
the cats. The reign of universal peace would begin then, to
end no more forever....
Hang him, I supposed he was in earnest, and was beginning to be
persuaded by him, until he exploded that cat-howl and startled me
almost out of my clothes. But he never could be in earnest.
He didn't know what it was. He had pictured a distinct
and perfectly rational and feasible improvement upon constitutional
monarchy, but he was too feather-headed to know it, or care
anything about it, either. I was going to give him a
scolding, but Sandy came flying in at that moment, wild with
terror, and so choked with sobs that for a minute she could not get
her voice. I ran and took her in my arms, and lavished
caresses upon her and said, beseechingly:
"Speak, darling, speak! What is it?"
Her head fell limp upon my bosom, and she gasped, almost
"Quick!" I shouted to Clarence; "telephone the king's homeopath
In two minutes I was kneeling by the child's crib, and Sandy was
dispatching servants here, there, and everywhere, all over the
palace. I took in the situation almost at a
glance—membranous croup! I bent down and whispered:
"Wake up, sweetheart! Hello-Central."
She opened her soft eyes languidly, and made out to say:
That was a comfort. She was far from dead yet. I
sent for preparations of sulphur, I rousted out the croup-kettle
myself; for I don't sit down and wait for doctors when Sandy or the
child is sick. I knew how to nurse both of them, and had had
experience. This little chap had lived in my arms a good part of
its small life, and often I could soothe away its troubles and get
it to laugh through the tear-dews on its eye-lashes when even its
Sir Launcelot, in his richest armor, came striding along the
great hall now on his way to the stock-board; he was president of
the stock-board, and occupied the Siege Perilous, which he had
bought of Sir Galahad; for the stock-board consisted of the Knights
of the Round Table, and they used the Round Table for business
purposes now. Seats at it were worth—well, you would
never believe the figure, so it is no use to state it. Sir
Launcelot was a bear, and he had put up a corner in one of the new
lines, and was just getting ready to squeeze the shorts to-day; but
what of that? He was the same old Launcelot, and when he
glanced in as he was passing the door and found out that his pet
was sick, that was enough for him; bulls and bears might fight it
out their own way for all him, he would come right in here and
stand by little Hello-Central for all he was worth. And that
was what he did. He shied his helmet into the corner, and in
half a minute he had a new wick in the alcohol lamp and was firing
up on the croup-kettle. By this time Sandy had built a
blanket canopy over the crib, and everything was ready.
But I didn't know it, all the same. I hadn't an idea in
the world; but it would have been cruel to confess it and spoil her
pretty game; so I never let on, but said:
"Yes, I know, sweetheart—how dear and good it is of you,
too! But I want to hear these lips of yours, which are also mine,
utter it first—then its music will be perfect."
Pleased to the marrow, she murmured:
The parting—ah, yes, that was hard. As I was
devouring the child with last kisses, it brisked up and jabbered
out its vocabulary!—the first time in more than two weeks,
and it made fools of us for joy. The darling
mispronunciations of childhood!—dear me, there's no music
that can touch it; and how one grieves when it wastes away and
dissolves into correctness, knowing it will never visit his
bereaved ear again. Well, how good it was to be able to carry
that gracious memory away with me!
I approached England the next morning, with the wide highway of
salt water all to myself. There were ships in the harbor, at
Dover, but they were naked as to sails, and there was no sign of
life about them. It was Sunday; yet at Canterbury the streets
were empty; strangest of all, there was not even a priest in sight,
and no stroke of a bell fell upon my ear. The mournfulness of
death was everywhere. I couldn't understand it. At
last, in the further edge of that town I saw a small funeral
procession—just a family and a few friends following a
coffin—no priest; a funeral without bell, book, or candle;
there was a church there close at hand, but they passed it by
weeping, and did not enter it; I glanced up at the belfry, and
there hung the bell, shrouded in black, and its tongue tied back.
Now I knew! Now I understood the stupendous calamity
that had overtaken England. Invasion? Invasion is a
triviality to it. It was the INTERDICT!
I asked no questions; I didn't need to ask any. The Church
had struck; the thing for me to do was to get into a disguise, and
go warily. One of my servants gave me a suit of clothes, and
when we were safe beyond the town I put them on, and from that time
I traveled alone; I could not risk the embarrassment of
He knew me as easily as if I hadn't been disguised at all.
Which frightened me; one may easily believe that.
"Quick, now, tell me the meaning of this fearful disaster," I
said. "How did it come about?"
"Well, if there hadn't been any Queen Guenever, it wouldn't have
come so early; but it would have come, anyway. It would have
come on your own account by and by; by luck, it happened to come on
"And Sir Launcelot's?"
"Give me the details."
"I reckon you will grant that during some years there has been
only one pair of eyes in these kingdoms that has not been looking
steadily askance at the queen and Sir Launcelot—"
"Yes, King Arthur's."
"—and only one heart that was without
"Yes—the king's; a heart that isn't capable of thinking
evil of a friend."
"Well, the king might have gone on, still happy and
unsuspecting, to the end of his days, but for one of your modern
improvements—the stock-board. When you left, three
miles of the London, Canterbury and Dover were ready for the rails,
and also ready and ripe for manipulation in the stock-market.
It was wildcat, and everybody knew it. The stock was
for sale at a give-away. What does Sir Launcelot do,
"Yes, I know; he quietly picked up nearly all of it for a song;
then he bought about twice as much more, deliverable upon call; and
he was about to call when I left."
"Very well, he did call. The boys couldn't deliver.
Oh, he had them—and he just settled his grip and
squeezed them. They were laughing in their sleeves over their
smartness in selling stock to him at 15 and 16 and along there that
wasn't worth 10. Well, when they had laughed long enough on
that side of their mouths, they rested-up that side by shifting the
laugh to the other side. That was when they compromised with the
Invincible at 283!"
Tableau . A trap is laid for Launcelot, by the
king's command, and Sir Launcelot walks into it. He made it
sufficiently uncomfortable for the ambushed witnesses—to wit,
Mordred, Agravaine, and twelve knights of lesser rank, for he
killed every one of them but Mordred; but of course that couldn't
straighten matters between Launcelot and the king, and didn't."
"Oh, dear, only one thing could result—I see that.
War, and the knights of the realm divided into a king's party
and a Sir Launcelot's party."
"Yes—that was the way of it. The king sent the queen
to the stake, proposing to purify her with fire. Launcelot
and his knights rescued her, and in doing it slew certain good old
friends of yours and mine—in fact, some of the best we ever
had; to wit, Sir Belias le Orgulous, Sir Segwarides, Sir Griflet le
Fils de Dieu, Sir Brandiles, Sir Aglovale—"
"Oh, you tear out my heartstrings."
"—wait, I'm not done yet—Sir Tor, Sir Gauter, Sir
"The very best man in my subordinate nine. What a handy
right-fielder he was!"
"—Sir Reynold's three brothers, Sir Damus, Sir Priamus,
Sir Kay the Stranger—"
"My peerless short-stop! I've seen him catch a
daisy-cutter in his teeth. Come, I can't stand this!"
"—Sir Driant, Sir Lambegus, Sir Herminde, Sir Pertilope,
Sir Perimones, and—whom do you think?"
"Rush! Go on."
"Sir Gaheris, and Sir Gareth—both!"
"Oh, incredible! Their love for Launcelot was
"Well, it was an accident. They were simply onlookers;
they were unarmed, and were merely there to witness the queen's
punishment. Sir Launcelot smote down whoever came in the way of his
blind fury, and he killed these without noticing who they were.
Here is an instantaneous photograph one of our boys got of
the battle; it's for sale on every news-stand.
There—the figures nearest the queen are Sir Launcelot
with his sword up, and Sir Gareth gasping his latest breath.
You can catch the agony in the queen's face through the
curling smoke. It's a rattling battle-picture."
"Indeed, it is. We must take good care of it; its
historical value is incalculable. Go on."
"Ah—a king's customary wisdom!"
"Yes. Sir Mordred set himself at once to work to make his
kingship permanent. He was going to marry Guenever, as a
first move; but she fled and shut herself up in the Tower of
London. Mordred attacked; the Bishop of Canterbury dropped
down on him with the Interdict. The king returned; Mordred
fought him at Dover, at Canterbury, and again at Barham Down.
Then there was talk of peace and a composition. Terms,
Mordred to have Cornwall and Kent during Arthur's life, and the
whole kingdom afterward."
"Well, upon my word! My dream of a republic to be a
dream, and so remain."
"Yes. The two armies lay near Salisbury.
Gawaine—Gawaine's head is at Dover Castle, he fell in
the fight there—Gawaine appeared to Arthur in a dream, at
least his ghost did, and warned him to refrain from conflict for a
month, let the delay cost what it might. But battle was
precipitated by an accident. Arthur had given order that if a
sword was raised during the consultation over the proposed treaty
with Mordred, sound the trumpet and fall on! for he had no
confidence in Mordred. Mordred had given a similar order to
his people. Well, by and by an adder bit a knight's
heel; the knight forgot all about the order, and made a slash at
the adder with his sword. Inside of half a minute those two
prodigious hosts came together with a crash! They butchered
away all day. Then the king—however, we have started
something fresh since you left—our paper has."
"No? What is that?"
"Why, that's good."
"Yes, the paper was booming right along, for the Interdict made
no impression, got no grip, while the war lasted. I had war
correspondents with both armies. I will finish that battle by
reading you what one of the boys says:
'Then the king looked about him, and then was he
ware of all his host and of all his good knights
were left no more on live but two knights, that
was Sir Lucan de Butlere, and his brother Sir
Bedivere: and they were full sore wounded. Jesu
mercy, said the king, where are all my noble
knights becomen? Alas that ever I should see this
doleful day. For now, said Arthur, I am come to
mine end. But would to God that I wist where were
that traitor Sir Mordred, that hath caused all
this mischief. Then was King Arthur ware where Sir
Mordred leaned upon his sword among a great heap
of dead men. Now give me my spear, said Arthur
unto Sir Lucan, for yonder I have espied the
traitor that all this woe hath wrought. Sir, let
him be, said Sir Lucan, for he is unhappy; and if
ye pass this unhappy day, ye shall be right well
revenged upon him. Good lord, remember ye of your
night's dream, and what the spirit of Sir Gawaine
told you this night, yet God of his great goodness
hath preserved you hitherto. Therefore, for God's
sake, my lord, leave off by this. For blessed be
God ye have won the field: for here we be three
on live, and with Sir Mordred is none on live.
And if ye leave off now, this wicked day of
destiny is past. Tide me death, betide me life,
saith the king, now I see him yonder alone, he
shall never escape mine hands, for at a better
avail shall I never have him. God speed you well,
said Sir Bedivere. Then the king gat his spear
in both his hands, and ran toward Sir Mordred
crying, Traitor, now is thy death day come. And
when Sir Mordred heard Sir Arthur, he ran until
him with his sword drawn in his hand. And then
King Arthur smote Sir Mordred under the shield,
with a foin of his spear throughout the body more
than a fathom. And when Sir Mordred felt that he
had his death's wound, he thrust himself, with
the might that he had, up to the butt of King
Arthur's spear. And right so he smote his father
Arthur with his sword holden in both his hands,
on the side of the head, that the sword pierced
the helmet and the brain-pan, and therewithal
Sir Mordred fell stark dead to the earth. And
the noble Arthur fell in a swoon to the earth,
and there he swooned oft-times—'"
"Poor soul, no. He is dead."
I was utterly stunned; it had not seemed to me that any wound
could be mortal to him.
"And the queen, Clarence?"
"She is a nun, in Almesbury."
"What changes! and in such a short while. It is
inconceivable. What next, I wonder?"
"I can tell you what next."
"Stake our lives and stand by them!"
"What do you mean by that?"
"Stuff! With our deadly scientific war-material; with our
hosts of trained—"
"Save your breath—we haven't sixty faithful left!"
"What are you saying? Our schools, our colleges, our vast
"When those knights come, those establishments will empty
themselves and go over to the enemy. Did you think you had
educated the superstition out of those people?"
"I certainly did think it."
"Well, then, you may unthink it. They stood every strain
easily—until the Interdict. Since then, they merely put
on a bold outside—at heart they are quaking. Make up
your mind to it—when the armies come, the mask will
"It's hard news. We are lost. They will turn our own
science against us."
"No they won't."
"Because I and a handful of the faithful have blocked that game.
I'll tell you what I've done, and what moved me to it. Smart
as you are, the Church was smarter. It was the Church that
sent you cruising—through her servants, the doctors."
"It is the truth. I know it. Every officer of your
ship was the Church's picked servant, and so was every man of the
"It is just as I tell you. I did not find out these things
at once, but I found them out finally. Did you send me verbal
information, by the commander of the ship, to the effect that upon
his return to you, with supplies, you were going to leave
"Cadiz! I haven't been at Cadiz at all!"
"—going to leave Cadiz and cruise in distant seas
indefinitely, for the health of your family? Did you send me
"Of course not. I would have written, wouldn't I?"
"Naturally. I was troubled and suspicious. When the
commander sailed again I managed to ship a spy with him. I
have never heard of vessel or spy since. I gave myself two
weeks to hear from you in. Then I resolved to send a ship to
Cadiz. There was a reason why I didn't."
"What was that?"
"Our navy had suddenly and mysteriously disappeared! Also,
as suddenly and as mysteriously, the railway and telegraph and
telephone service ceased, the men all deserted, poles were cut
down, the Church laid a ban upon the electric light! I had to
be up and doing—and straight off. Your life was
safe—nobody in these kingdoms but Merlin would venture to
touch such a magician as you without ten thousand men at his
back—I had nothing to think of but how to put preparations in
the best trim against your coming. I felt safe
myself—nobody would be anxious to touch a pet of yours.
So this is what I did. From our various works I
selected all the men—boys I mean—whose faithfulness
under whatsoever pressure I could swear to, and I called them
together secretly and gave them their instructions. There are
fifty-two of them; none younger than fourteen, and none above
seventeen years old."
"Why did you select boys?"
"Because all the others were born in an atmosphere of
superstition and reared in it. It is in their blood and
bones. We imagined we had educated it out of them; they
thought so, too; the Interdict woke them up like a thunderclap!
It revealed them to themselves, and it revealed them to me,
too. With boys it was different. Such as have been
under our training from seven to ten years have had no acquaintance
with the Church's terrors, and it was among these that I found my
fifty-two. As a next move, I paid a private visit to that old
cave of Merlin's—not the small one—the big
"Yes, the one where we secretly established our first great
electric plant when I was projecting a miracle."
"Just so. And as that miracle hadn't become necessary
then, I thought it might be a good idea to utilize the plant now.
I've provisioned the cave for a siege—"
"A good idea, a first-rate idea."
"I think so. I placed four of my boys there as a
guard—inside, and out of sight. Nobody was to be
hurt—while outside; but any attempt to enter—well, we
said just let anybody try it! Then I went out into the hills
and uncovered and cut the secret wires which connected your bedroom
with the wires that go to the dynamite deposits under all our vast
factories, mills, workshops, magazines, etc., and about midnight I
and my boys turned out and connected that wire with the cave, and
nobody but you and I suspects where the other end of it goes to.
We laid it under ground, of course, and it was all finished
in a couple of hours or so. We sha'n't have to leave our
fortress now when we want to blow up our civilization."
"It was the right move—and the natural one; military
necessity, in the changed condition of things. Well, what
changes have come! We expected to be besieged in the palace
some time or other, but—however, go on."
"Next, we built a wire fence."
"Yes. You dropped the hint of it yourself, two or three
"Oh, I remember—the time the Church tried her strength
against us the first time, and presently thought it wise to wait
for a hopefuler season. Well, how have you arranged the
"I start twelve immensely strong wires—naked, not
insulated—from a big dynamo in the cave—dynamo with no
brushes except a positive and a negative one—"
"Yes, that's right."
"The wires go out from the cave and fence in a circle of level
ground a hundred yards in diameter; they make twelve independent
fences, ten feet apart—that is to say, twelve circles within
circles—and their ends come into the cave again."
"Right; go on."
"The fences are fastened to heavy oaken posts only three feet
apart, and these posts are sunk five feet in the ground."
"That is good and strong."
"Yes. The wires have no ground-connection outside of the
cave. They go out from the positive brush of the dynamo; there is a
ground-connection through the negative brush; the other ends of the
wire return to the cave, and each is grounded independently."
"No, no, that won't do!"
"It's too expensive—uses up force for nothing. You
don't want any ground-connection except the one through the
negative brush. The other end of every wire must be brought back
into the cave and fastened independently, and without any
ground-connection. Now, then, observe the economy of it. A
cavalry charge hurls itself against the fence; you are using no
power, you are spending no money, for there is only one
ground-connection till those horses come against the wire; the
moment they touch it they form a connection with the negative brush
through the ground , and drop dead. Don't you
see?—you are using no energy until it is needed; your
lightning is there, and ready, like the load in a gun; but it isn't
costing you a cent till you touch it off. Oh, yes, the single
"Of course! I don't know how I overlooked that. It's
not only cheaper, but it's more effectual than the other way, for
if wires break or get tangled, no harm is done."
"No, especially if we have a tell-tale in the cave and
disconnect the broken wire. Well, go on. The
"Yes—that's arranged. In the center of the inner
circle, on a spacious platform six feet high, I've grouped a
battery of thirteen gatling guns, and provided plenty of
"That's it. They command every approach, and when the
Church's knights arrive, there's going to be music. The brow
of the precipice over the cave—"
"I've got a wire fence there, and a gatling. They won't
drop any rocks down on us."
"Well, and the glass-cylinder dynamite torpedoes?"
"That's attended to. It's the prettiest garden that was
ever planted. It's a belt forty feet wide, and goes around
the outer fence—distance between it and the fence one hundred
yards—kind of neutral ground that space is. There isn't
a single square yard of that whole belt but is equipped with a
torpedo. We laid them on the surface of the ground, and
sprinkled a layer of sand over them. It's an innocent looking
garden, but you let a man start in to hoe it once, and you'll
"You tested the torpedoes?"
"Well, I was going to, but—"
"But what? Why, it's an immense oversight not to apply
"Test? Yes, I know; but they're all right; I laid a few in
the public road beyond our lines and they've been tested."
"Oh, that alters the case. Who did it?"
"A Church committee."
"Yes. They came to command us to make submission.
You see they didn't really come to test the torpedoes; that
was merely an incident."
"Did the committee make a report?"
"Yes, they made one. You could have heard it a mile."
"That was the nature of it. After that I put up some
signs, for the protection of future committees, and we have had no
"Clarence, you've done a world of work, and done it
"We had plenty of time for it; there wasn't any occasion for
We sat silent awhile, thinking. Then my mind was made up,
and I said:
"Yes, everything is ready; everything is shipshape, no detail is
wanting. I know what to do now."
"So do I; sit down and wait."
"No, sir ! rise up and strike !"
"Do you mean it?"
"Yes, indeed! The de fensive isn't in my line, and
the of fensive is. That is, when I hold a fair
hand—two-thirds as good a hand as the enemy. Oh, yes,
we'll rise up and strike; that's our game."
"A hundred to one you are right. When does the performance
"Now! We'll proclaim the Republic."
"Well, that will precipitate things, sure enough!"
"It will make them buzz, I tell you! England will be a
hornets' nest before noon to-morrow, if the Church's hand hasn't
lost its cunning—and we know it hasn't. Now you write
and I'll dictate thus:
"BE IT KNOWN UNTO ALL. Whereas the king having died
and left no heir, it becomes my duty to continue the
executive authority vested in me, until a government
shall have been created and set in motion. The
monarchy has lapsed, it no longer exists. By
consequence, all political power has reverted to its
original source, the people of the nation. With the
monarchy, its several adjuncts died also; wherefore
there is no longer a nobility, no longer a privileged
class, no longer an Established Church; all men are
become exactly equal; they are upon one common
level, and religion is free. A Republic is hereby
proclaimed , as being the natural estate of a nation
when other authority has ceased. It is the duty of
the British people to meet together immediately,
and by their votes elect representatives and deliver
into their hands the government."
I signed it "The Boss," and dated it from Merlin's Cave.
"Why, that tells where we are, and invites them to call right
"That is the idea. We strike—by the
Proclamation—then it's their innings. Now have the
thing set up and printed and posted, right off; that is, give the
order; then, if you've got a couple of bicycles handy at the foot
of the hill, ho for Merlin's Cave!"
"I shall be ready in ten minutes. What a cyclone there is
going to be to-morrow when this piece of paper gets to work!...
It's a pleasant old palace, this is; I wonder if we shall
ever again—but never mind about that."
telling at what moment—therefore, vacate at once."
These people knew me, and had confidence in my word.
They would clear out without waiting to part their hair, and
I could take my own time about dating the explosion. You
couldn't hire one of them to go back during the century, if the
explosion was still impending.
I had spies out every night, of course, to get news. Every
report made things look more and more impressive. The hosts
were gathering, gathering; down all the roads and paths of England
the knights were riding, and priests rode with them, to hearten
these original Crusaders, this being the Church's war. All
the nobilities, big and little, were on their way, and all the
gentry. This was all as was expected. We should thin
out this sort of folk to such a degree that the people would have
nothing to do but just step to the front with their republic
Ah, what a donkey I was! Toward the end of the week I
began to get this large and disenchanting fact through my head:
that the mass of the nation had swung their caps and shouted
for the republic for about one day, and there an end! The
Church, the nobles, and the gentry then turned one grand,
all-disapproving frown upon them and shriveled them into sheep!
From that moment the sheep had begun to gather to the
fold—that is to say, the camps—and offer their
valueless lives and their valuable wool to the "righteous cause."
Why, even the very men who had lately been slaves were in the
"righteous cause," and glorifying it, praying for it, sentimentally
slabbering over it, just like all the other commoners. Imagine such
human muck as this; conceive of this folly!
Yes, it was now "Death to the Republic!" everywhere—not a
dissenting voice. All England was marching against us!
Truly, this was more than I had bargained for.
I watched my fifty-two boys narrowly; watched their faces, their
walk, their unconscious attitudes: for all these are a
language—a language given us purposely that it may betray us
in times of emergency, when we have secrets which we want to keep.
I knew that that thought would keep saying itself over and
over again in their minds and hearts, All England is marching
against us! and ever more strenuously imploring attention with
each repetition, ever more sharply realizing itself to their
imaginations, until even in their sleep they would find no rest
from it, but hear the vague and flitting creatures of the dreams
say, All England—ALL ENGLAND!—is marching
against you! I knew all this would happen; I knew that
ultimately the pressure would become so great that it would compel
utterance; therefore, I must be ready with an answer at that
time—an answer well chosen and tranquilizing.
I was right. The time came. They HAD to speak.
Poor lads, it was pitiful to see, they were so pale, so worn,
so troubled. At first their spokesman could hardly find voice
or words; but he presently got both. This is what he
said—and he put it in the neat modern English taught him in
"We have tried to forget what we are—English boys!
We have tried to put reason before sentiment, duty before
love; our minds approve, but our hearts reproach us. While
apparently it was only the nobility, only the gentry, only the
twenty-five or thirty thousand knights left alive out of the late
wars, we were of one mind, and undisturbed by any troubling doubt;
each and every one of these fifty-two lads who stand here before
you, said, 'They have chosen—it is their affair.' But
think!—the matter is altered—All England is marching
against us ! Oh, sir,
consider!—reflect!—these people are our people, they
are bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh, we love them—do not
ask us to destroy our nation!"
Well, it shows the value of looking ahead, and being ready for a
thing when it happens. If I hadn't foreseen this thing and
been fixed, that boy would have had me!—I couldn't have said
a word. But I was fixed. I said:
"My boys, your hearts are in the right place, you have thought
the worthy thought, you have done the worthy thing. You are
English boys, you will remain English boys, and you will keep that
name unsmirched. Give yourselves no further concern, let your
minds be at peace. Consider this: while all England is
marching against us, who is in the van? Who, by the commonest
rules of war, will march in the front? Answer me."
"The mounted host of mailed knights."
"True. They are thirty thousand strong. Acres deep
they will march. Now, observe: none but they will ever
strike the sand-belt! Then there will be an episode!
Immediately after, the civilian multitude in the rear will
retire, to meet business engagements elsewhere. None but nobles and
gentry are knights, and none but these will remain to dance
to our music after that episode. It is absolutely true that
we shall have to fight nobody but these thirty thousand knights.
Now speak, and it shall be as you decide. Shall we
avoid the battle, retire from the field?"
The shout was unanimous and hearty.
"Are you—are you—well, afraid of these thirty
That joke brought out a good laugh, the boys' troubles vanished
away, and they went gaily to their posts. Ah, they were a
darling fifty-two! As pretty as girls, too.
I was ready for the enemy now. Let the approaching big day
come along—it would find us on deck.
The big day arrived on time. At dawn the sentry on watch
in the corral came into the cave and reported a moving black mass
under the horizon, and a faint sound which he thought to be
military music. Breakfast was just ready; we sat down and ate
This over, I made the boys a little speech, and then sent out a
detail to man the battery, with Clarence in command of it.
The sun rose presently and sent its unobstructed splendors over
the land, and we saw a prodigious host moving slowly toward us,
with the steady drift and aligned front of a wave of the sea.
Nearer and nearer it came, and more and more sublimely imposing
became its aspect; yes, all England was there, apparently.
Soon we could see the innumerable banners fluttering, and
then the sun struck the sea of armor and set it all aflash.
Yes, it was a fine sight; I hadn't ever seen anything to beat
I picketed the great embankments thrown up around our lines by
the dynamite explosion—merely a lookout of a couple of boys
to announce the enemy when he should appear again.
Next, I sent an engineer and forty men to a point just beyond
our lines on the south, to turn a mountain brook that was there,
and bring it within our lines and under our command, arranging it
in such a way that I could make instant use of it in an emergency.
The forty men were divided into two shifts of twenty each, and were
to relieve each other every two hours. In ten hours the work
It was nightfall now, and I withdrew my pickets. The one
who had had the northern outlook reported a camp in sight, but
visible with the glass only. He also reported that a few
knights had been feeling their way toward us, and had driven some
cattle across our lines, but that the knights themselves had not
come very near. That was what I had been expecting. They were
feeling us, you see; they wanted to know if we were going to play
that red terror on them again. They would grow bolder in the
night, perhaps. I believed I knew what project they would attempt,
because it was plainly the thing I would attempt myself if I were
in their places and as ignorant as they were. I mentioned it
"I think you are right," said he; "it is the obvious thing for
them to try."
"Well, then," I said, "if they do it they are doomed."
"They won't have the slightest show in the world."
"Of course they won't."
"It's dreadful, Clarence. It seems an awful pity."
The thing disturbed me so that I couldn't get any peace of mind
for thinking of it and worrying over it. So, at last, to
quiet my conscience, I framed this message to the knights:
TO THE HONORABLE THE COMMANDER OF THE INSURGENT
CHIVALRY OF ENGLAND: YOU fight in vain. We know
your strength—if one may call it by that name.
We know that at the utmost you cannot bring
against us above five and twenty thousand knights.
Therefore, you have no chance—none whatever.
Reflect: we are well equipped, well fortified, we
number 54. Fifty-four what? Men? No, MINDS—the
capablest in the world; a force against which
mere animal might may no more hope to prevail than
may the idle waves of the sea hope to prevail
against the granite barriers of England. Be advised.
We offer you your lives; for the sake of your
families, do not reject the gift. We offer you
this chance, and it is the last: throw down your
arms; surrender unconditionally to the Republic,
and all will be forgiven.
(Signed) THE BOSS.
I read it to Clarence, and said I proposed to send it by a flag
of truce. He laughed the sarcastic laugh he was born with,
"Somehow it seems impossible for you to ever fully realize what
these nobilities are. Now let us save a little time and
trouble. Consider me the commander of the knights yonder.
Now, then, you are the flag of truce; approach and deliver me
your message, and I will give you your answer."
I humored the idea. I came forward under an imaginary
guard of the enemy's soldiers, produced my paper, and read it
through. For answer, Clarence struck the paper out of my hand,
pursed up a scornful lip and said with lofty disdain:
"Dismember me this animal, and return him in a basket to the
base-born knave who sent him; other answer have I none!"
How empty is theory in presence of fact! And this was just
fact, and nothing else. It was the thing that would have
happened, there was no getting around that. I tore up the
paper and granted my mistimed sentimentalities a permanent
Then, to business. I tested the electric signals from the
gatling platform to the cave, and made sure that they were all
right; I tested and retested those which commanded the
fences—these were signals whereby I could break and renew the
electric current in each fence independently of the others at will.
I placed the brook-connection under the guard and authority
of three of my best boys, who would alternate in two-hour watches
all night and promptly obey my signal, if I should have occasion to
give it—three revolver-shots in quick succession.
Sentry-duty was discarded for the night, and the corral left
empty of life; I ordered that quiet be maintained in the cave, and
the electric lights turned down to a glimmer.
"I've already done it, Clarence. Did you ever know me to
"No, you are a good heart. I want to go and—"
"Be a reception committee? I will go, too."
We crossed the corral and lay down together between the two
inside fences. Even the dim light of the cave had disordered
our eyesight somewhat, but the focus straightway began to regulate
itself and soon it was adjusted for present circumstances. We
had had to feel our way before, but we could make out to see the
fence posts now. We started a whispered conversation, but suddenly
Clarence broke off and said:
"What is that?"
"What is what?"
"That thing yonder."
"There beyond you a little piece—dark something—a
dull shape of some kind—against the second fence."
I gazed and he gazed. I said:
"Could it be a man, Clarence?"
"No, I think not. If you notice, it looks a lit—why,
it is a man!—leaning on the fence."
"I certainly believe it is; let us go and see."
These early birds came scattering along after each other, about
one every five minutes in our vicinity, during half an hour. They
brought no armor of offense but their swords; as a rule, they
carried the sword ready in the hand, and put it forward and found
the wires with it. We would now and then see a blue spark
when the knight that caused it was so far away as to be invisible
to us; but we knew what had happened, all the same; poor fellow, he
had touched a charged wire with his sword and been electrocuted. We
had brief intervals of grim stillness, interrupted with piteous
regularity by the clash made by the falling of an iron-clad; and
this sort of thing was going on, right along, and was very creepy
there in the dark and lonesomeness.
We concluded to make a tour between the inner fences. We
elected to walk upright, for convenience's sake; we argued that if
discerned, we should be taken for friends rather than enemies, and
in any case we should be out of reach of swords, and these gentry
did not seem to have any spears along. Well, it was a curious
trip. Everywhere dead men were lying outside the second
fence—not plainly visible, but still visible; and we counted
fifteen of those pathetic statues—dead knights standing with
their hands on the upper wire.
One thing seemed to be sufficiently demonstrated: our
current was so tremendous that it killed before the victim could
cry out. Pretty soon we detected a muffled and heavy sound, and
next moment we guessed what it was. It was a surprise in
force coming! whispered Clarence to go and wake the army, and
notify it to wait in silence in the cave for further orders.
He was soon back, and we stood by the inner fence and watched
the silent lightning do its awful work upon that swarming host.
One could make out but little of detail; but he could note
that a black mass was piling itself up beyond the second fence.
That swelling bulk was dead men! Our camp was enclosed
with a solid wall of the dead—a bulwark, a breastwork, of
corpses, you may say. One terrible thing about this thing was
the absence of human voices; there were no cheers, no war cries;
being intent upon a surprise, these men moved as noiselessly as
they could; and always when the front rank was near enough to their
goal to make it proper for them to begin to get a shout ready, of
course they struck the fatal line and went down without
I sent a current through the third fence now; and almost
immediately through the fourth and fifth, so quickly were the gaps
filled up. I believed the time was come now for my climax; I
believed that that whole army was in our trap. Anyway, it was
high time to find out. So I touched a button and set fifty
electric suns aflame on the top of our precipice.
Land, what a sight! We were enclosed in three walls of
dead men! All the other fences were pretty nearly filled with the
living, who were stealthily working their way forward through the
wires. The sudden glare paralyzed this host, petrified them, you
may say, with astonishment; there was just one instant for me to
utilize their immobility in, and I didn't lose the chance.
You see, in another instant they would have recovered their
faculties, then they'd have burst into a cheer and made a rush, and
my wires would have gone down before it; but that lost instant lost
them their opportunity forever; while even that slight fragment of
time was still unspent, I shot the current through all the fences
and struck the whole host dead in their tracks! There
was a groan you could hear ! It voiced the death-pang
of eleven thousand men. It swelled out on the night with awful
A glance showed that the rest of the enemy—perhaps ten
thousand strong—were between us and the encircling ditch, and
pressing forward to the assault. Consequently we had them
all! and had them past help. Time for the last act of
the tragedy. I fired the three appointed revolver
"Turn on the water!"
There was a sudden rush and roar, and in a minute the mountain
brook was raging through the big ditch and creating a river a
hundred feet wide and twenty-five deep.
"Stand to your guns, men! Open fire!"
The thirteen gatlings began to vomit death into the fated ten
thousand. They halted, they stood their ground a moment
against that withering deluge of fire, then they broke, faced about
and swept toward the ditch like chaff before a gale. A full
fourth part of their force never reached the top of the lofty
embankment; the three-fourths reached it and plunged over—to
death by drowning.
Within ten short minutes after we had opened fire, armed
resistance was totally annihilated, the campaign was ended, we
fifty-four were masters of England. Twenty-five thousand men
lay dead around us.
She halted, and said with an accent of malicious
"Ye were conquerors; ye are conquered! These others are
perishing—you also. Ye shall all die in this
place—every one—except him . He sleepeth
now—and shall sleep thirteen centuries. I am
Then such a delirium of silly laughter overtook him that he
reeled about like a drunken man, and presently fetched up against
one of our wires. His mouth is spread open yet; apparently he
is still laughing. I suppose the face will retain that
petrified laugh until the corpse turns to dust.
The Boss has never stirred—sleeps like a stone. If
he does not wake to-day we shall understand what kind of a sleep it
is, and his body will then be borne to a place in one of the remote
recesses of the cave where none will ever find it to desecrate it.
As for the rest of us—well, it is agreed that if any
one of us ever escapes alive from this place, he will write the
fact here, and loyally hide this Manuscript with The Boss, our dear
good chief, whose property it is, be he alive or dead.
we are happy again, isn't
it so, Sandy? You are so dim, so vague, you are but a mist, a
cloud, but you are here , and that is blessedness
sufficient; and I have your hand; don't take it away—it is
for only a little while, I shall not require it long.... Was
that the child?... Hello-Central!... she doesn't answer.
Asleep, perhaps? Bring her when she wakes, and let me
touch her hands, her face, her hair, and tell her good-bye....
Sandy! Yes, you are there. I lost myself a
moment, and I thought you were gone.... Have I been sick
long? It must be so; it seems months to me. And such
dreams! such strange and awful dreams, Sandy! Dreams that
were as real as reality—delirium, of course, but so
real! Why, I thought the king was dead, I thought you were in
Gaul and couldn't get home, I thought there was a revolution; in
the fantastic frenzy of these dreams, I thought that Clarence and I
and a handful of my cadets fought and exterminated the whole
chivalry of England! But even that was not the strangest. I
seemed to be a creature out of a remote unborn age, centuries
hence, and even that was as real as the rest! Yes, I
seemed to have flown back out of that age into this of ours, and
then forward to it again, and was set down, a stranger and forlorn
in that strange England, with an abyss of thirteen centuries
yawning between me and you! between me and my home and my friends!
between me and all that is dear to me, all that could make life
worth the living! It was awful—awfuler than you can
ever imagine, Sandy. Ah, watch by me, Sandy—stay by me
every moment—don't let me go out of my mind again;
death is nothing, let it come, but not with those dreams, not with
the torture of those hideous dreams—I cannot endure
that again.... Sandy?..."
He lay muttering incoherently some little time; then for a time
he lay silent, and apparently sinking away toward death.
Presently his fingers began to pick busily at the coverlet,
and by that sign I knew that his end was at hand with the first
suggestion of the death-rattle in his throat he started up
slightly, and seemed to listen: then he said:
"A bugle?... It is the king! The drawbridge, there!
Man the battlements!—turn out the—"
He was getting up his last "effect"; but he never finished
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