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

A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court

Chapter XX


THE OGRE'S CASTLE

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:

    "USE PETERSON'S PROPHYLACTIC TOOTH-BRUSH--ALL THE GO."

I was glad of his coming, for even by this token I knew him for
knight of mine. It was Sir Madok de la Montaine, a burly great
fellow whose chief distinction was that he had come within an ace
of sending Sir Launcelot down over his horse-tail once. He was
never long in a stranger's presence without finding some pretext
or other to let out that great fact. But there was another fact
of nearly the same size, which he never pushed upon anybody unasked,
and yet never withheld when asked: that was, that the reason he
didn't quite succeed was, that he was interrupted and sent down
over horse-tail himself. This innocent vast lubber did not see
any particular difference between the two facts. I liked him,
for he was earnest in his work, and very valuable. And he was so
fine to look at, with his broad mailed shoulders, and the grand
leonine set of his plumed head, and his big shield with its quaint
device of a gauntleted hand clutching a prophylactic tooth-brush,
with motto: "Try Noyoudont." This was a tooth-wash that I was
introducing.

He was aweary, he said, and indeed he looked it; but he would not
alight. He said he was after the stove-polish man; and with this
he broke out cursing and swearing anew. The bulletin-boarder
referred to was Sir Ossaise of Surluse, a brave knight, and of
considerable celebrity on account of his having tried conclusions
in a tournament once, with no less a Mogul than Sir Gaheris
himself--although not successfully. He was of a light and laughing
disposition, and to him nothing in this world was serious. It was
for this reason that I had chosen him to work up a stove-polish
sentiment. There were no stoves yet, and so there could be nothing
serious about stove-polish. All that the agent needed to do was
to deftly and by degrees prepare the public for the great change,
and have them established in predilections toward neatness against
the time when the stove should appear upon the stage.

Sir Madok was very bitter, and brake out anew with cursings. He
said he had cursed his soul to rags; and yet he would not get down
from his horse, neither would he take any rest, or listen to any
comfort, until he should have found Sir Ossaise and settled this
account. It appeared, by what I could piece together of the
unprofane fragments of his statement, that he had chanced upon
Sir Ossaise at dawn of the morning, and been told that if he would
make a short cut across the fields and swamps and broken hills and
glades, he could head off a company of travelers who would be rare
customers for prophylactics and tooth-wash. With characteristic
zeal Sir Madok had plunged away at once upon this quest, and after
three hours of awful crosslot riding had overhauled his game. And
behold, it was the five patriarchs that had been released from the
dungeons the evening before! Poor old creatures, it was all of
twenty years since any one of them had known what it was to be
equipped with any remaining snag or remnant of a tooth.

"Blank-blank-blank him," said Sir Madok, "an I do not stove-polish
him an I may find him, leave it to me; for never no knight that
hight Ossaise or aught else may do me this disservice and bide
on live, an I may find him, the which I have thereunto sworn a
great oath this day."

And with these words and others, he lightly took his spear and
gat him thence. In the middle of the afternoon we came upon one
of those very patriarchs ourselves, in the edge of a poor village.
He was basking in the love of relatives and friends whom he had not
seen for fifty years; and about him and caressing him were also
descendants of his own body whom he had never seen at all till now;
but to him these were all strangers, his memory was gone, his mind
was stagnant. It seemed incredible that a man could outlast half
a century shut up in a dark hole like a rat, but here were his old
wife and some old comrades to testify to it. They could remember
him as he was in the freshness and strength of his young manhood,
when he kissed his child and delivered it to its mother's hands
and went away into that long oblivion. The people at the castle
could not tell within half a generation the length of time the man
had been shut up there for his unrecorded and forgotten offense;
but this old wife knew; and so did her old child, who stood there
among her married sons and daughters trying to realize a father
who had been to her a name, a thought, a formless image, a tradition,
all her life, and now was suddenly concreted into actual flesh
and blood and set before her 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
castle. I was surprised into an uncomfortable shock. The object
of our quest had gradually dropped out of my mind; this sudden
resurrection of it made it seem quite a real and startling thing
for a moment, and roused up in me a smart interest. Sandy's
excitement increased every moment; and so did mine, for that sort
of thing is catching. My heart got to thumping. You can't reason
with your heart; it has its own laws, and thumps about things which
the intellect scorns. Presently, when Sandy slid from the horse,
motioned me to stop, and went creeping stealthily, with her head
bent nearly to her knees, toward a row of bushes that bordered
a declivity, the thumpings grew stronger and quicker. And they
kept it up while she was gaining her ambush and getting her glimpse
over the declivity; and also while I was creeping to her side on
my knees. Her eyes were burning now, as she pointed with her
finger, and said in a panting whisper:

"The castle! The castle! Lo, where it looms!"

What a welcome disappointment I experienced! I said:

"Castle? 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 live."

"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
swine-herds. I won their gratitude by buying out all the hogs
at the lump sum of sixteen pennies, which was rather above latest
quotations. I was just in time; for the Church, the lord of the
manor, and the rest of the tax-gatherers would have been along
next day and swept off pretty much all the stock, leaving the
swine-herds very short of hogs and Sandy out of princesses. But
now the tax people could be paid in cash, and there would be
a stake left besides. One of the men had ten children; and he
said that last year when a priest came and of his ten pigs took
the fattest one for tithes, the wife burst out upon him, and offered
him a child and said:

"Thou beast without bowels of mercy, why leave me my child, yet
rob me of the wherewithal to feed it?"

How curious. The same thing had happened in the Wales of my day,
under this same old Established Church, which was supposed by many
to have changed its nature when it changed its disguise.

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.

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