Part 4 - A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court Audiobook by Mark Twain (Chs 17-22)

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