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Mark Twain > A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court > Chapter XII

A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court

Chapter XII


SLOW TORTURE

Straight off, we were in the country. It was most lovely and
pleasant in those sylvan solitudes in the early cool morning
in the first freshness of autumn. From hilltops we saw fair
green valleys lying spread out below, with streams winding through
them, and island groves of trees here and there, and huge lonely
oaks scattered about and casting black blots of shade; and beyond
the valleys we saw the ranges of hills, blue with haze, stretching
away in billowy perspective to the horizon, with at wide intervals
a dim fleck of white or gray on a wave-summit, which we knew was
a castle. We crossed broad natural lawns sparkling with dew,
and we moved like spirits, the cushioned turf giving out no sound
of footfall; we dreamed along through glades in a mist of green
light that got its tint from the sun-drenched roof of leaves
overhead, and by our feet the clearest and coldest of runlets
went frisking and gossiping over its reefs and making a sort of
whispering music, comfortable to hear; and at times we left the
world behind and entered into the solemn great deeps and rich
gloom of the forest, where furtive wild things whisked and scurried
by and were gone before you could even get your eye on the place
where the noise was; and where only the earliest birds were turning
out and getting to business with a song here and a quarrel yonder
and a mysterious far-off hammering and drumming for worms on
a tree trunk away somewhere in the impenetrable remotenesses of
the woods. And by and by out we would swing again into the glare.

About the third or fourth or fifth time that we swung out into
the glare--it was along there somewhere, a couple of hours or so
after sun-up--it wasn't as pleasant as it had been. It was
beginning to get hot. This was quite noticeable. We had a very
long pull, after that, without any shade. Now it is curious how
progressively little frets grow and multiply after they once get
a start. Things which I didn't mind at all, at first, I began
to mind now--and more and more, too, all the time. The first
ten or fifteen times I wanted my handkerchief I didn't seem to care;
I got along, and said never mind, it isn't any matter, and dropped
it out of my mind. But now it was different; I wanted it all
the time; it was nag, nag, nag, right along, and no rest; I couldn't
get it out of my mind; and so at last I lost my temper and said
hang a man that would make a suit of armor without any pockets
in it. You see I had my handkerchief in my helmet; and some other
things; but it was that kind of a helmet that you can't take off
by yourself. That hadn't occurred to me when I put it there;
and in fact I didn't know it. I supposed it would be particularly
convenient there. And so now, the thought of its being there,
so handy and close by, and yet not get-at-able, made it all the
worse and the harder to bear. Yes, the thing that you can't get
is the thing that you want, mainly; every one has noticed that.
Well, it took my mind off from everything else; took it clear off,
and centered it in my helmet; and mile after mile, there it stayed,
imagining the handkerchief, picturing the handkerchief; and it
was bitter and aggravating to have the salt sweat keep trickling
down into my eyes, and I couldn't get at it. It seems like a little
thing, on paper, but it was not a little thing at all; it was
the most real kind of misery. I would not say it if it was not so.
I made up my mind that I would carry along a reticule next time,
let it look how it might, and people say what they would. Of course
these iron dudes of the Round Table would think it was scandalous,
and maybe raise Sheol about it, but as for me, give me comfort
first, and style afterwards. So we jogged along, and now and then
we struck a stretch of dust, and it would tumble up in clouds and
get into my nose and make me sneeze and cry; and of course I said
things I oughtn't to have said, I don't deny that. I am not
better than others.

We couldn't seem to meet anybody in this lonesome Britain, not
even an ogre; and, in the mood I was in then, it was well for
the ogre; that is, an ogre with a handkerchief. Most knights
would have thought of nothing but getting his armor; but so I got
his bandanna, he could keep his hardware, for all of me.

Meantime, it was getting hotter and hotter in there. You see,
the sun was beating down and warming up the iron more and more
all the time. Well, when you are hot, that way, every little thing
irritates you. When I trotted, I rattled like a crate of dishes,
and that annoyed me; and moreover I couldn't seem to stand that
shield slatting and banging, now about my breast, now around my
back; and if I dropped into a walk my joints creaked and screeched
in that wearisome way that a wheelbarrow does, and as we didn't
create any breeze at that gait, I was like to get fried in that
stove; and besides, the quieter you went the heavier the iron
settled down on you and the more and more tons you seemed to weigh
every minute. And you had to be always changing hands, and passing
your spear over to the other foot, it got so irksome for one hand
to hold it long at a time.

Well, you know, when you perspire that way, in rivers, there comes
a time when you--when you--well, when you itch. You are inside,
your hands are outside; so there you are; nothing but iron between.
It is not a light thing, let it sound as it may. First it is one
place; then another; then some more; and it goes on spreading and
spreading, and at last the territory is all occupied, and nobody
can imagine what you feel like, nor how unpleasant it is. And
when it had got to the worst, and it seemed to me that I could
not stand anything more, a fly got in through the bars and settled
on my nose, and the bars were stuck and wouldn't work, and I
couldn't get the visor up; and I could only shake my head, which
was baking hot by this time, and the fly--well, you know how a fly
acts when he has got a certainty--he only minded the shaking enough
to change from nose to lip, and lip to ear, and buzz and buzz
all around in there, and keep on lighting and biting, in a way
that a person, already so distressed as I was, simply could not
stand. So I gave in, and got Alisande to unship the helmet and
relieve me of it. Then she emptied the conveniences out of it
and fetched it full of water, and I drank and then stood up, and
she poured the rest down inside the armor. One cannot think how
refreshing it was. She continued to fetch and pour until I was
well soaked and thoroughly comfortable.

It was good to have a rest--and peace. But nothing is quite
perfect in this life, at any time. I had made a pipe a while back,
and also some pretty fair tobacco; not the real thing, but what
some of the Indians use: the inside bark of the willow, dried.
These comforts had been in the helmet, and now I had them again,
but no matches.

Gradually, as the time wore along, one annoying fact was borne in
upon my understanding--that we were weather-bound. An armed novice
cannot mount his horse without help and plenty of it. Sandy was
not enough; not enough for me, anyway. We had to wait until
somebody should come along. Waiting, in silence, would have been
agreeable enough, for I was full of matter for reflection, and
wanted to give it a chance to work. I wanted to try and think out
how it was that rational or even half-rational men could ever
have learned to wear armor, considering its inconveniences; and
how they had managed to keep up such a fashion for generations
when it was plain that what I had suffered to-day they had had
to suffer all the days of their lives. I wanted to think that out;
and moreover I wanted to think out some way to reform this evil
and persuade the people to let the foolish fashion die out; but
thinking was out of the question in the circumstances. You couldn't
think, where Sandy was.

She was a quite biddable creature and good-hearted, but she had
a flow of talk that was as steady as a mill, and made your head
sore like the drays and wagons in a city. If she had had a cork
she would have been a comfort. But you can't cork that kind;
they would die. Her clack was going all day, and you would think
something would surely happen to her works, by and by; but no,
they never got out of order; and she never had to slack up for
words. She could grind, and pump, and churn, and buzz by the week,
and never stop to oil up or blow out. And yet the result was just
nothing but wind. She never had any ideas, any more than a fog
has. She was a perfect blatherskite; I mean for jaw, jaw, jaw,
talk, talk, talk, jabber, jabber, jabber; but just as good as she
could be. I hadn't minded her mill that morning, on account of
having that hornets' nest of other troubles; but more than once
in the afternoon I had to say:

"Take a rest, child; the way you are using up all the domestic air,
the kingdom will have to go to importing it by to-morrow, and it's
a low enough treasury without that."

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