A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Part 9. eBook: Page2

Mark Twain (2004)


  CHAPTER XLII

  WAR!

  I found Clarence alone in his quarters, drowned in melancholy;and in place of the electric light, he had reinstituted the ancientrag-lamp, and sat there in a grisly twilight with all curtainsdrawn tight. He sprang up and rushed for me eagerly, saying:

  "Oh, it's worth a billion milrays to look upon a live person again!"

  He knew me as easily as if I hadn't been disguised at all. Whichfrightened me; one may easily believe that.

  "Quick, now, tell me the meaning of this fearful disaster," I said."How did it come about?"

  "Well, if there hadn't been any Queen Guenever, it wouldn't havecome so early; but it would have come, anyway. It would havecome on your own account by and by; by luck, it happened to comeon the queen's."

  "_And_ Sir Launcelot's?"

  "Just so."

  "Give me the details."

  "I reckon you will grant that during some years there has beenonly one pair of eyes in these kingdoms that has not been lookingsteadily askance at the queen and Sir Launcelot--"

  "Yes, King Arthur's."

  "--and only one heart that was without suspicion--"

  "Yes--the king's; a heart that isn't capable of thinking evilof a friend."

  "Well, the king might have gone on, still happy and unsuspecting,to the end of his days, but for one of your modern improvements--the stock-board. When you left, three miles of the London,Canterbury and Dover were ready for the rails, and also ready andripe for manipulation in the stock-market. It was wildcat, andeverybody knew it. The stock was for sale at a give-away. Whatdoes Sir Launcelot do, but--"

  "Yes, I know; he quietly picked up nearly all of it for a song;then he bought about twice as much more, deliverable upon call;and he was about to call when I left."

  "Very well, he did call. The boys couldn't deliver. Oh, he hadthem--and he just settled his grip and squeezed them. They werelaughing in their sleeves over their smartness in selling stockto him at 15 and 16 and along there that wasn't worth 10. Well,when they had laughed long enough on that side of their mouths,they rested-up that side by shifting the laugh to the other side.That was when they compromised with the Invincible at 283!"

  "Good land!"

  "He skinned them alive, and they deserved it--anyway, the wholekingdom rejoiced. Well, among the flayed were Sir Agravaine andSir Mordred, nephews to the king. End of the first act. Actsecond, scene first, an apartment in Carlisle castle, where thecourt had gone for a few days' hunting. Persons present, thewhole tribe of the king's nephews. Mordred and Agravaine proposeto call the guileless Arthur's attention to Guenever and SirLauncelot. Sir Gawaine, Sir Gareth, and Sir Gaheris will havenothing to do with it. A dispute ensues, with loud talk; in themidst of it enter the king. Mordred and Agravaine spring theirdevastating tale upon him. _Tableau_. A trap is laid for Launcelot,by the king's command, and Sir Launcelot walks into it. He madeit sufficiently uncomfortable for the ambushed witnesses--to wit,Mordred, Agravaine, and twelve knights of lesser rank, for hekilled every one of them but Mordred; but of course that couldn'tstraighten matters between Launcelot and the king, and didn't."

  "Oh, dear, only one thing could result--I see that. War, andthe knights of the realm divided into a king's party and aSir Launcelot's party."

  "Yes--that was the way of it. The king sent the queen to thestake, proposing to purify her with fire. Launcelot and hisknights rescued her, and in doing it slew certain good old friendsof yours and mine--in fact, some of the best we ever had; to wit,Sir Belias le Orgulous, Sir Segwarides, Sir Griflet le Fils de Dieu,Sir Brandiles, Sir Aglovale--"

  "Oh, you tear out my heartstrings."

  "--wait, I'm not done yet--Sir Tor, Sir Gauter, Sir Gillimer--"

  "The very best man in my subordinate nine. What a handy right-fielderhe was!"

  "--Sir Reynold's three brothers, Sir Damus, Sir Priamus, Sir Kaythe Stranger--"

  "My peerless short-stop! I've seen him catch a daisy-cutter inhis teeth. Come, I can't stand this!"

  "--Sir Driant, Sir Lambegus, Sir Herminde, Sir Pertilope,Sir Perimones, and--whom do you think?"

  "Rush! Go on."

  "Sir Gaheris, and Sir Gareth--both!"

  "Oh, incredible! Their love for Launcelot was indestructible."

  "Well, it was an accident. They were simply onlookers; they wereunarmed, and were merely there to witness the queen's punishment.Sir Launcelot smote down whoever came in the way of his blind fury,and he killed these without noticing who they were. Here is aninstantaneous photograph one of our boys got of the battle; it'sfor sale on every news-stand. There--the figures nearest the queenare Sir Launcelot with his sword up, and Sir Gareth gasping hislatest breath. You can catch the agony in the queen's face throughthe curling smoke. It's a rattling battle-picture."

  "Indeed, it is. We must take good care of it; its historical valueis incalculable. Go on."

  "Well, the rest of the tale is just war, pure and simple. Launcelotretreated to his town and castle of Joyous Gard, and gatheredthere a great following of knights. The king, with a great host,went there, and there was desperate fighting during several days,and, as a result, all the plain around was paved with corpsesand cast-iron. Then the Church patched up a peace between Arthurand Launcelot and the queen and everybody--everybody but Sir Gawaine.He was bitter about the slaying of his brothers, Gareth and Gaheris,and would not be appeased. He notified Launcelot to get himthence, and make swift preparation, and look to be soon attacked.So Launcelot sailed to his Duchy of Guienne with his following, andGawaine soon followed with an army, and he beguiled Arthur to gowith him. Arthur left the kingdom in Sir Mordred's hands untilyou should return--"

  "Ah--a king's customary wisdom!"

  "Yes. Sir Mordred set himself at once to work to make his kingshippermanent. He was going to marry Guenever, as a first move; butshe fled and shut herself up in the Tower of London. Mordredattacked; the Bishop of Canterbury dropped down on him with theInterdict. The king returned; Mordred fought him at Dover, atCanterbury, and again at Barham Down. Then there was talk of peaceand a composition. Terms, Mordred to have Cornwall and Kent duringArthur's life, and the whole kingdom afterward."

  "Well, upon my word! My dream of a republic to _be_ a dream, andso remain."

  "Yes. The two armies lay near Salisbury. Gawaine--Gawaine's headis at Dover Castle, he fell in the fight there--Gawaine appeared toArthur in a dream, at least his ghost did, and warned him torefrain from conflict for a month, let the delay cost what it might.But battle was precipitated by an accident. Arthur had givenorder that if a sword was raised during the consultation overthe proposed treaty with Mordred, sound the trumpet and fall on!for he had no confidence in Mordred. Mordred had given a similarorder to _his_ people. Well, by and by an adder bit a knight's heel;the knight forgot all about the order, and made a slash at theadder with his sword. Inside of half a minute those two prodigioushosts came together with a crash! They butchered away all day.Then the king--however, we have started something fresh sinceyou left--our paper has."

  "No? What is that?"

  "War correspondence!"

  "Why, that's good."

  "Yes, the paper was booming right along, for the Interdict madeno impression, got no grip, while the war lasted. I had warcorrespondents with both armies. I will finish that battle byreading you what one of the boys says:

  'Then the king looked about him, and then was he ware of all his host and of all his good knights were left no more on live but two knights, that was Sir Lucan de Butlere, and his brother Sir Bedivere: and they were full sore wounded. Jesu mercy, said the king, where are all my noble knights becomen? Alas that ever I should see this doleful day. For now, said Arthur, I am come to mine end. But would to God that I wist where were that traitor Sir Mordred, that hath caused all this mischief. Then was King Arthur ware where Sir Mordred leaned upon his sword among a great heap of dead men. Now give me my spear, said Arthur unto
Sir Lucan, for yonder I have espied the traitor that all this woe hath wrought. Sir, let him be, said Sir Lucan, for he is unhappy; and if ye pass this unhappy day, ye shall be right well revenged upon him. Good lord, remember ye of your night's dream, and what the spirit of Sir Gawaine told you this night, yet God of his great goodness hath preserved you hitherto. Therefore, for God's sake, my lord, leave off by this. For blessed be God ye have won the field: for here we be three on live, and with Sir Mordred is none on live. And if ye leave off now, this wicked day of destiny is past. Tide me death, betide me life, saith the king, now I see him yonder alone, he shall never escape mine hands, for at a better avail shall I never have him. God speed you well, said Sir Bedivere. Then the king gat his spear in both his hands, and ran toward Sir Mordred crying, Traitor, now is thy death day come. And when Sir Mordred heard Sir Arthur, he ran until him with his sword drawn in his hand. And then King Arthur smote Sir Mordred under the shield, with a foin of his spear throughout the body more than a fathom. And when Sir Mordred felt that he had his death's wound, he thrust himself, with the might that he had, up to the butt of King Arthur's spear. And right so he smote his father Arthur with his sword holden in both his hands, on the side of the head, that the sword pierced the helmet and the brain-pan, and therewithal Sir Mordred fell stark dead to the earth. And the noble Arthur fell in a swoon to the earth, and there he swooned oft-times--'"

  "That is a good piece of war correspondence, Clarence; you area first-rate newspaper man. Well--is the king all right? Didhe get well?"

  "Poor soul, no. He is dead."

  I was utterly stunned; it had not seemed to me that any woundcould be mortal to him.

  "And the queen, Clarence?"

  "She is a nun, in Almesbury."

  "What changes! and in such a short while. It is inconceivable.What next, I wonder?"

  "I can tell you what next."

  "Well?"

  "Stake our lives and stand by them!"

  "What do you mean by that?"

  "The Church is master now. The Interdict included you with Mordred;it is not to be removed while you remain alive. The clans aregathering. The Church has gathered all the knights that are leftalive, and as soon as you are discovered we shall have businesson our hands."

  "Stuff! With our deadly scientific war-material; with our hostsof trained--"

  "Save your breath--we haven't sixty faithful left!"

  "What are you saying? Our schools, our colleges, our vastworkshops, our--"

  "When those knights come, those establishments will empty themselvesand go over to the enemy. Did you think you had educated thesuperstition out of those people?"

  "I certainly did think it."

  "Well, then, you may unthink it. They stood every strain easily--until the Interdict. Since then, they merely put on a boldoutside--at heart they are quaking. Make up your mind to it--when the armies come, the mask will fall."

  "It's hard news. We are lost. They will turn our own scienceagainst us."

  "No they won't."

  "Why?"

  "Because I and a handful of the faithful have blocked that game.I'll tell you what I've done, and what moved me to it. Smart asyou are, the Church was smarter. It was the Church that sentyou cruising--through her servants, the doctors."

  "Clarence!"

  "It is the truth. I know it. Every officer of your ship wasthe Church's picked servant, and so was every man of the crew."

  "Oh, come!"

  "It is just as I tell you. I did not find out these things at once,but I found them out finally. Did you send me verbal information,by the commander of the ship, to the effect that upon his returnto you, with supplies, you were going to leave Cadiz--"

  "Cadiz! I haven't been at Cadiz at all!"

  "--going to leave Cadiz and cruise in distant seas indefinitely,for the health of your family? Did you send me that word?"

  "Of course not. I would have written, wouldn't I?"

  "Naturally. I was troubled and suspicious. When the commandersailed again I managed to ship a spy with him. I have neverheard of vessel or spy since. I gave myself two weeks to hearfrom you in. Then I resolved to send a ship to Cadiz. There wasa reason why I didn't."

  "What was that?"

  "Our navy had suddenly and mysteriously disappeared! Also, assuddenly and as mysteriously, the railway and telegraph andtelephone service ceased, the men all deserted, poles were cutdown, the Church laid a ban upon the electric light! I had to beup and doing--and straight off. Your life was safe--nobody inthese kingdoms but Merlin would venture to touch such a magicianas you without ten thousand men at his back--I had nothing tothink of but how to put preparations in the best trim against yourcoming. I felt safe myself--nobody would be anxious to toucha pet of yours. So this is what I did. From our various worksI selected all the men--boys I mean--whose faithfulness underwhatsoever pressure I could swear to, and I called them togethersecretly and gave them their instructions. There are fifty-two ofthem; none younger than fourteen, and none above seventeen years old."

  "Why did you select boys?"

  "Because all the others were born in an atmosphere of superstitionand reared in it. It is in their blood and bones. We imaginedwe had educated it out of them; they thought so, too; the Interdictwoke them up like a thunderclap! It revealed them to themselves,and it revealed them to me, too. With boys it was different. Suchas have been under our training from seven to ten years have hadno acquaintance with the Church's terrors, and it was among thesethat I found my fifty-two. As a next move, I paid a private visitto that old cave of Merlin's--not the small one--the big one--"

  "Yes, the one where we secretly established our first great electricplant when I was projecting a miracle."

  "Just so. And as that miracle hadn't become necessary then,I thought it might be a good idea to utilize the plant now. I'veprovisioned the cave for a siege--"

  "A good idea, a first-rate idea."

  "I think so. I placed four of my boys there as a guard--inside,and out of sight. Nobody was to be hurt--while outside; but anyattempt to enter--well, we said just let anybody try it! ThenI went out into the hills and uncovered and cut the secret wireswhich connected your bedroom with the wires that go to the dynamitedeposits under all our vast factories, mills, workshops, magazines,etc., and about midnight I and my boys turned out and connectedthat wire with the cave, and nobody but you and I suspects wherethe other end of it goes to. We laid it under ground, of course, andit was all finished in a couple of hours or so. We sha'n't haveto leave our fortress now when we want to blow up our civilization."

  "It was the right move--and the natural one; military necessity,in the changed condition of things. Well, what changes _have_ come!We expected to be besieged in the palace some time or other, but--however, go on."

  "Next, we built a wire fence."

  "Wire fence?"

  "Yes. You dropped the hint of it yourself, two or three years ago."

  "Oh, I remember--the time the Church tried her strength againstus the first time, and presently thought it wise to wait for ahopefuler season. Well, how have you arranged the fence?"

  "I start twelve immensely strong wires--naked, not insulated--from a big dynamo in the cave--dynamo with no brushes excepta positive and a negative one--"

  "Yes, that's right."

  "The wires go out from the cave and fence in a circle of levelground a hundred yards in diameter; they make twelve independentfences, ten feet apart--that is to say, twelve circles withincircles--and their ends come into the cave again."

  "Right; go on."

  "The fences are fastened to heavy oaken posts only three feet apart,and these posts are sunk five feet in the ground."

  "That is good and strong."

  "Yes. The wires have no ground-connection outside of the cave.They go out from the positive brush of the dynamo; there is aground-connection through the negative brush; the
other ends ofthe wire return to the cave, and each is grounded independently."

  "No, no, that won't do!"

  "Why?"

  "It's too expensive--uses up force for nothing. You don't wantany ground-connection except the one through the negative brush.The other end of every wire must be brought back into the caveand fastened independently, and _without_ any ground-connection.Now, then, observe the economy of it. A cavalry charge hurlsitself against the fence; you are using no power, you are spendingno money, for there is only one ground-connection till those horsescome against the wire; the moment they touch it they form aconnection with the negative brush _through the ground_, and dropdead. Don't you see?--you are using no energy until it is needed;your lightning is there, and ready, like the load in a gun; butit isn't costing you a cent till you touch it off. Oh, yes, thesingle ground-connection--"

  "Of course! I don't know how I overlooked that. It's not onlycheaper, but it's more effectual than the other way, for if wiresbreak or get tangled, no harm is done."

  "No, especially if we have a tell-tale in the cave and disconnectthe broken wire. Well, go on. The gatlings?"

  "Yes--that's arranged. In the center of the inner circle, on aspacious platform six feet high, I've grouped a battery of thirteengatling guns, and provided plenty of ammunition."

  "That's it. They command every approach, and when the Church'sknights arrive, there's going to be music. The brow of theprecipice over the cave--"

  "I've got a wire fence there, and a gatling. They won't drop anyrocks down on us."

  "Well, and the glass-cylinder dynamite torpedoes?"

  "That's attended to. It's the prettiest garden that was everplanted. It's a belt forty feet wide, and goes around the outerfence--distance between it and the fence one hundred yards--kind ofneutral ground that space is. There isn't a single square yardof that whole belt but is equipped with a torpedo. We laid themon the surface of the ground, and sprinkled a layer of sand overthem. It's an innocent looking garden, but you let a man startin to hoe it once, and you'll see."

  "You tested the torpedoes?"

  "Well, I was going to, but--"

  "But what? Why, it's an immense oversight not to apply a--"

  "Test? Yes, I know; but they're all right; I laid a few in thepublic road beyond our lines and they've been tested."

  "Oh, that alters the case. Who did it?"

  "A Church committee."

  "How kind!"

  "Yes. They came to command us to make submission. You see theydidn't really come to test the torpedoes; that was merely an incident."

  "Did the committee make a report?"

  "Yes, they made one. You could have heard it a mile."

  "Unanimous?"

  "That was the nature of it. After that I put up some signs, for theprotection of future committees, and we have had no intruders since."

  "Clarence, you've done a world of work, and done it perfectly."

  "We had plenty of time for it; there wasn't any occasion for hurry."

  We sat silent awhile, thinking. Then my mind was made up, andI said:

  "Yes, everything is ready; everything is shipshape, no detail iswanting. I know what to do now."

  "So do I; sit down and wait."

  "No, _sir_! rise up and _strike_!"

  "Do you mean it?"

  "Yes, indeed! The _de_fensive isn't in my line, and the _of_fensiveis. That is, when I hold a fair hand--two-thirds as good a handas the enemy. Oh, yes, we'll rise up and strike; that's our game."

  "A hundred to one you are right. When does the performance begin?"

  "_Now!_ We'll proclaim the Republic."

  "Well, that _will_ precipitate things, sure enough!"

  "It will make them buzz, I tell you! England will be a hornets'nest before noon to-morrow, if the Church's hand hasn't lost itscunning--and we know it hasn't. Now you write and I'll dictate thus:

  "PROCLAMATION

  ---

  "BE IT KNOWN UNTO ALL. Whereas the king having died and left no heir, it becomes my duty to continue the executive authority vested in me, until a government shall have been created and set in motion. The monarchy has lapsed, it no longer exists. By consequence, all political power has reverted to its original source, the people of the nation. With the monarchy, its several adjuncts died also; wherefore there is no longer a nobility, no longer a privileged class, no longer an Established Church; all men are become exactly equal; they are upon one common level, and religion is free. _A Republic is hereby proclaimed_, as being the natural estate of a nation when other authority has ceased. It is the duty of the British people to meet together immediately, and by their votes elect representatives and deliver into their hands the government."

  I signed it "The Boss," and dated it from Merlin's Cave.Clarence said--

  "Why, that tells where we are, and invites them to call right away."

  "That is the idea. We _strike_--by the Proclamation--then it'stheir innings. Now have the thing set up and printed and posted,right off; that is, give the order; then, if you've got a coupleof bicycles handy at the foot of the hill, ho for Merlin's Cave!"

  "I shall be ready in ten minutes. What a cyclone there is goingto be to-morrow when this piece of paper gets to work!... It's apleasant old palace, this is; I wonder if we shall ever again--but never mind about that."