A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Part 6., p.1Mark Twain
Produced by David Widger
A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT
MARK TWAIN (Samuel L. Clemens)
THE YANKEE AND THE KING TRAVEL INCOGNITO
About bedtime I took the king to my private quarters to cut hishair and help him get the hang of the lowly raiment he was to wear.The high classes wore their hair banged across the forehead buthanging to the shoulders the rest of the way around, whereas thelowest ranks of commoners were banged fore and aft both; the slaveswere bangless, and allowed their hair free growth. So I inverteda bowl over his head and cut away all the locks that hung below it.I also trimmed his whiskers and mustache until they were onlyabout a half-inch long; and tried to do it inartistically, andsucceeded. It was a villainous disfigurement. When he got hislubberly sandals on, and his long robe of coarse brown linen cloth,which hung straight from his neck to his ankle-bones, he was nolonger the comeliest man in his kingdom, but one of the unhandsomestand most commonplace and unattractive. We were dressed and barberedalike, and could pass for small farmers, or farm bailiffs, orshepherds, or carters; yes, or for village artisans, if we chose,our costume being in effect universal among the poor, because ofits strength and cheapness. I don't mean that it was really cheapto a very poor person, but I do mean that it was the cheapestmaterial there was for male attire--manufactured material, youunderstand.
We slipped away an hour before dawn, and by broad sun-up had madeeight or ten miles, and were in the midst of a sparsely settledcountry. I had a pretty heavy knapsack; it was laden withprovisions--provisions for the king to taper down on, till hecould take to the coarse fare of the country without damage.
I found a comfortable seat for the king by the roadside, and thengave him a morsel or two to stay his stomach with. Then I saidI would find some water for him, and strolled away. Part of myproject was to get out of sight and sit down and rest a littlemyself. It had always been my custom to stand when in his presence;even at the council board, except upon those rare occasions whenthe sitting was a very long one, extending over hours; then I hada trifling little backless thing which was like a reversed culvertand was as comfortable as the toothache. I didn't want to breakhim in suddenly, but do it by degrees. We should have to sittogether now when in company, or people would notice; but it wouldnot be good politics for me to be playing equality with him whenthere was no necessity for it.
I found the water some three hundred yards away, and had beenresting about twenty minutes, when I heard voices. That is allright, I thought--peasants going to work; nobody else likely to bestirring this early. But the next moment these comers jingled intosight around a turn of the road--smartly clad people of quality,with luggage-mules and servants in their train! I was off likea shot, through the bushes, by the shortest cut. For a while itdid seem that these people would pass the king before I couldget to him; but desperation gives you wings, you know, and I cantedmy body forward, inflated my breast, and held my breath and flew.I arrived. And in plenty good enough time, too.
"Pardon, my king, but it's no time for ceremony--jump! Jump toyour feet--some quality are coming!"
"Is that a marvel? Let them come."
"But my liege! You must not be seen sitting. Rise!--and stand inhumble posture while they pass. You are a peasant, you know."
"True--I had forgot it, so lost was I in planning of a huge warwith Gaul"--he was up by this time, but a farm could have got upquicker, if there was any kind of a boom in real estate--"andright-so a thought came randoming overthwart this majestic dreamthe which--"
"A humbler attitude, my lord the king--and quick! Duck your head!--more!--still more!--droop it!"
He did his honest best, but lord, it was no great things. He lookedas humble as the leaning tower at Pisa. It is the most you couldsay of it. Indeed, it was such a thundering poor success thatit raised wondering scowls all along the line, and a gorgeousflunkey at the tail end of it raised his whip; but I jumped intime and was under it when it fell; and under cover of the volleyof coarse laughter which followed, I spoke up sharply and warnedthe king to take no notice. He mastered himself for the moment,but it was a sore tax; he wanted to eat up the procession. I said:
"It would end our adventures at the very start; and we, beingwithout weapons, could do nothing with that armed gang. If weare going to succeed in our emprise, we must not only look thepeasant but act the peasant."
"It is wisdom; none can gainsay it. Let us go on, Sir Boss.I will take note and learn, and do the best I may."
He kept his word. He did the best he could, but I've seen better.If you have ever seen an active, heedless, enterprising childgoing diligently out of one mischief and into another all daylong, and an anxious mother at its heels all the while, and justsaving it by a hair from drowning itself or breaking its neck witheach new experiment, you've seen the king and me.
If I could have foreseen what the thing was going to be like,I should have said, No, if anybody wants to make his livingexhibiting a king as a peasant, let him take the layout; I cando better with a menagerie, and last longer. And yet, duringthe first three days I never allowed him to enter a hut or otherdwelling. If he could pass muster anywhere during his earlynovitiate it would be in small inns and on the road; so to theseplaces we confined ourselves. Yes, he certainly did the best hecould, but what of that? He didn't improve a bit that I could see.
He was always frightening me, always breaking out with freshastonishers, in new and unexpected places. Toward evening onthe second day, what does he do but blandly fetch out a dirkfrom inside his robe!
"Great guns, my liege, where did you get that?"
"From a smuggler at the inn, yester eve."
"What in the world possessed you to buy it?"
"We have escaped divers dangers by wit--thy wit--but I havebethought me that it were but prudence if I bore a weapon, too.Thine might fail thee in some pinch."
"But people of our condition are not allowed to carry arms. Whatwould a lord say--yes, or any other person of whatever condition--if he caught an upstart peasant with a dagger on his person?"
It was a lucky thing for us that nobody came along just then.I persuaded him to throw the dirk away; and it was as easy aspersuading a child to give up some bright fresh new way of killingitself. We walked along, silent and thinking. Finally the king said:
"When ye know that I meditate a thing inconvenient, or that hatha peril in it, why do you not warn me to cease from that project?"
It was a startling question, and a puzzler. I didn't quite knowhow to take hold of it, or what to say, and so, of course, I endedby saying the natural thing:
"But, sire, how can I know what your thoughts are?"
The king stopped dead in his tracks, and stared at me.
"I believed thou wert greater than Merlin; and truly in magicthou art. But prophecy is greater than magic. Merlin is a prophet."
I saw I had made a blunder. I must get back my lost ground.After a deep reflection and careful planning, I said:
"Sire, I have been misunderstood. I will explain. There are twokinds of prophecy. One is the gift to foretell things that are buta little way off, the other is the gift to foretell things thatare whole ages and centuries away. Which is the mightier gift,do you think?"
"Oh, the last, most surely!"
"True. Does Merlin possess it?"
"Partly, yes. He foretold mysteries about my birth and futurekingship that were twenty years away."
"Has he ever gone beyond that?"
"He would not claim more, I think."
"It is probably his limit. All prophets have their limit. The limitof some of the great prophets has been a hundred years."
"These are few, I ween."
"There have been two still greater ones, whose limit was fourhundred and six hundred years, and one whose limit compassedeven seven hundred and twenty."
"Gramercy, it is marvelous!"
"But what are these in comparison with me? They are nothing."
"What? Canst thou truly look beyond even so vast a stretchof time as--"
"Seven hundred years? My liege, as clear as the vision of an eagledoes my prophetic eye penetrate and lay bare the future of thisworld for nearly thirteen centuries and a half!"
My land, you should have seen the king's eyes spread slowly open,and lift the earth's entire atmosphere as much as an inch! Thatsettled Brer Merlin. One never had any occasion to prove hisfacts, with these people; all he had to do was to state them. Itnever occurred to anybody to doubt the statement.
"Now, then," I continued, "I _could_ work both kinds of prophecy--the long and the short--if I chose to take the trouble to keepin practice; but I seldom exercise any but the long kind, becausethe other is beneath my dignity. It is properer to Merlin's sort--stump-tail prophets, as we call them in the profession. Of course,I whet up now and then and flirt out a minor prophecy, but notoften--hardly ever, in fact. You will remember that there wasgreat talk, when you reached the Valley of Holiness, about myhaving prophesied your coming and the very hour of your arrival,two or three days beforehand."
"Indeed, yes, I mind it now."
"Well, I could have done it as much as forty times easier, andpiled on a thousand times more detail into the bargain, if it hadbeen five hundred years away instead of two or three days."
"How amazing that it should be so!"
"Yes, a genuine expert can always foretell a thing that is fivehundred years away easier than he can a thing that's only fivehundred seconds off."
"And yet in reason it should clearly be the other way; it shouldbe five hundred times as easy to foretell the last as the first,for, indeed, it is so close by that one uninspired might almostsee it. In truth, the law of prophecy doth contradict the likelihoods,most strangely making the difficult easy, and the easy difficult."
It was a wise head. A peasant's cap was no safe disguise for it;you could know it for a king's under a diving-bell, if you couldhear it work its intellect.
I had a new trade now, and plenty of business in it. The kingwas as hungry to find out everything that was going to happenduring the next thirteen centuries as if he were expecting to livein them. From that time out, I prophesied myself bald-headedtrying to supply the demand. I have done some indiscreet things inmy day, but this thing of playing myself for a prophet was theworst. Still, it had its ameliorations. A prophet doesn't haveto have any brains. They are good to have, of course, for theordinary exigencies of life, but they are no use in professionalwork. It is the restfulest vocation there is. When the spirit ofprophecy comes upon you, you merely cake your intellect and lay itoff in a cool place for a rest, and unship your jaw and leave italone; it will work itself: the result is prophecy.
Every day a knight-errant or so came along, and the sight of themfired the king's martial spirit every time. He would have forgottenhimself, sure, and said something to them in a style a suspiciousshade or so above his ostensible degree, and so I always got himwell out of the road in time. Then he would stand and look withall his eyes; and a proud light would flash from them, and hisnostrils would inflate like a war-horse's, and I knew he waslonging for a brush with them. But about noon of the third dayI had stopped in the road to take a precaution which had beensuggested by the whip-stroke that had fallen to my share two daysbefore; a precaution which I had afterward decided to leave untaken,I was so loath to institute it; but now I had just had a freshreminder: while striding heedlessly along, with jaw spread andintellect at rest, for I was prophesying, I stubbed my toe andfell sprawling. I was so pale I couldn't think for a moment;then I got softly and carefully up and unstrapped my knapsack.I had that dynamite bomb in it, done up in wool in a box. It wasa good thing to have along; the time would come when I could doa valuable miracle with it, maybe, but it was a nervous thingto have about me, and I didn't like to ask the king to carry it.Yet I must either throw it away or think up some safe way to getalong with its society. I got it out and slipped it into my scrip,and just then here came a couple of knights. The king stood,stately as a statue, gazing toward them--had forgotten himself again,of course--and before I could get a word of warning out, it wastime for him to skip, and well that he did it, too. He supposedthey would turn aside. Turn aside to avoid trampling peasant dirtunder foot? When had he ever turned aside himself--or ever hadthe chance to do it, if a peasant saw him or any other noble knightin time to judiciously save him the trouble? The knights paidno attention to the king at all; it was his place to look outhimself, and if he hadn't skipped he would have been placidlyridden down, and laughed at besides.
The king was in a flaming fury, and launched out his challengeand epithets with a most royal vigor. The knights were some littledistance by now. They halted, greatly surprised, and turned intheir saddles and looked back, as if wondering if it might be worthwhile to bother with such scum as we. Then they wheeled andstarted for us. Not a moment must be lost. I started for _them_.I passed them at a rattling gait, and as I went by I flung out ahair-lifting soul-scorching thirteen-jointed insult which madethe king's effort poor and cheap by comparison. I got it out ofthe nineteenth century where they know how. They had such headwaythat they were nearly to the king before they could check up;then, frantic with rage, they stood up their horses on their hindhoofs and whirled them around, and the next moment here they came,breast to breast. I was seventy yards off, then, and scrambling upa great bowlder at the roadside. When they were within thirtyyards of me they let their long lances droop to a level, depressedtheir mailed heads, and so, with their horse-hair plumes streamingstraight out behind, most gallant to see, this lightning expresscame tearing for me! When they were within fifteen yards, I sentthat bomb with a sure aim, and it struck the ground just underthe horses' noses.
Yes, it was a neat thing, very neat and pretty to see. It resembleda steamboat explosion on the Mississippi; and during the nextfifteen minutes we stood under a steady drizzle of microscopicfragments of knights and hardware and horse-flesh. I say we,for the king joined the audience, of course, as soon as he had gothis breath again. There was a hole there which would afford steadywork for all the people in that region for some years to come--in trying to explain it, I mean; as for filling it up, that servicewould be comparatively prompt, and would fall to the lot of aselect few--peasants of that seignory; and they wouldn't getanything for it, either.
But I explained it to the king myself. I said it was done with adynamite bomb. This information did him no damage, because itleft him as intelligent as he was before. However, it was a noblemiracle, in his eyes, and was another settler for Merlin. I thoughtit well enough to explain that this was a miracle of so rare a sortthat it couldn't be done except when the atmospheric conditionswere just right. Otherwise he would be encoring it every time wehad a good subject, and that would be inconvenient, because Ihadn't any more bombs along.
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