Saturday noon I went to the well and looked on a while. Merlin
was still burning smoke-powders, and pawing the air, and muttering
gibberish as hard as ever, but looking pretty down-hearted, for
of course he had not started even a perspiration in that well yet.
Finally I said:
"How does the thing promise by this time, partner?"
"Behold, I am even now busied with trial of the powerfulest
enchantment known to the princes of the occult arts in the lands
of the East; an it fail me, naught can avail. Peace, until I finish."
He raised a smoke this time that darkened all the region, and must
have made matters uncomfortable for the hermits, for the wind
was their way, and it rolled down over their dens in a dense and
billowy fog. He poured out volumes of speech to match, and contorted
his body and sawed the air with his hands in a most extraordinary
way. At the end of twenty minutes he dropped down panting, and
about exhausted. Now arrived the abbot and several hundred monks
and nuns, and behind them a multitude of pilgrims and a couple of
acres of foundlings, all drawn by the prodigious smoke, and all
in a grand state of excitement. The abbot inquired anxiously for
results. Merlin said:
"If any labor of mortal might break the spell that binds these
waters, this which I have but just essayed had done it. It has
failed; whereby I do now know that that which I had feared is
a truth established; the sign of this failure is, that the most
potent spirit known to the magicians of the East, and whose name
none may utter and live, has laid his spell upon this well. The
mortal does not breathe, nor ever will, who can penetrate the secret
of that spell, and without that secret none can break it. The
water will flow no more forever, good Father. I have done what
man could. Suffer me to go."
Of course this threw the abbot into a good deal of a consternation.
He turned to me with the signs of it in his face, and said:
"Ye have heard him. Is it true?"
"Part of it is."
"Not all, then, not all! What part is true?"
"That that spirit with the Russian name has put his spell
upon the well."
"God's wownds, then are we ruined!"
"But not certainly? Ye mean, not certainly?"
"That is it."
"Wherefore, ye also mean that when he saith none can break the spell--"
"Yes, when he says that, he says what isn't necessarily true.
There are conditions under which an effort to break it may have
some chance--that is, some small, some trifling chance--of success."
"Oh, they are nothing difficult. Only these: I want the well
and the surroundings for the space of half a mile, entirely to
myself from sunset to-day until I remove the ban--and nobody
allowed to cross the ground but by my authority."
"Are these all?"
"And you have no fear to try?"
"Oh, none. One may fail, of course; and one may also succeed.
One can try, and I am ready to chance it. I have my conditions?"
"These and all others ye may name. I will issue commandment
to that effect."
"Wait," said Merlin, with an evil smile. "Ye wit that he that
would break this spell must know that spirit's name?"
"Yes, I know his name."
"And wit you also that to know it skills not of itself, but ye
must likewise pronounce it? Ha-ha! Knew ye that?"
"Yes, I knew that, too."
"You had that knowledge! Art a fool? Are ye minded to utter
that name and die?"
"Utter it? Why certainly. I would utter it if it was Welsh."
"Ye are even a dead man, then; and I go to tell Arthur."
"That's all right. Take your gripsack and get along. The thing
for _you_ to do is to go home and work the weather, John W. Merlin."
It was a home shot, and it made him wince; for he was the worst
weather-failure in the kingdom. Whenever he ordered up the
danger-signals along the coast there was a week's dead calm, sure,
and every time he prophesied fair weather it rained brickbats.
But I kept him in the weather bureau right along, to undermine
his reputation. However, that shot raised his bile, and instead
of starting home to report my death, he said he would remain
and enjoy it.
My two experts arrived in the evening, and pretty well fagged,
for they had traveled double tides. They had pack-mules along,
and had brought everything I needed--tools, pump, lead pipe,
Greek fire, sheaves of big rockets, roman candles, colored fire
sprays, electric apparatus, and a lot of sundries--everything
necessary for the stateliest kind of a miracle. They got their
supper and a nap, and about midnight we sallied out through a
solitude so wholly vacant and complete that it quite overpassed
the required conditions. We took possession of the well and its
surroundings. My boys were experts in all sorts of things, from
the stoning up of a well to the constructing of a mathematical
instrument. An hour before sunrise we had that leak mended in
ship-shape fashion, and the water began to rise. Then we stowed our
fireworks in the chapel, locked up the place, and went home to bed.
Before the noon mass was over, we were at the well again; for there
was a deal to do yet, and I was determined to spring the miracle
before midnight, for business reasons: for whereas a miracle
worked for the Church on a week-day is worth a good deal, it is
worth six times as much if you get it in on a Sunday. In nine hours
the water had risen to its customary level--that is to say, it was
within twenty-three feet of the top. We put in a little iron pump,
one of the first turned out by my works near the capital; we bored
into a stone reservoir which stood against the outer wall of the
well-chamber and inserted a section of lead pipe that was long
enough to reach to the door of the chapel and project beyond
the threshold, where the gushing water would be visible to the
two hundred and fifty acres of people I was intending should be
present on the flat plain in front of this little holy hillock at
the proper time.
We knocked the head out of an empty hogshead and hoisted this
hogshead to the flat roof of the chapel, where we clamped it down
fast, poured in gunpowder till it lay loosely an inch deep on the
bottom, then we stood up rockets in the hogshead as thick as they
could loosely stand, all the different breeds of rockets there are;
and they made a portly and imposing sheaf, I can tell you. We
grounded the wire of a pocket electrical battery in that powder,
we placed a whole magazine of Greek fire on each corner of the
roof--blue on one corner, green on another, red on another, and
purple on the last--and grounded a wire in each.
About two hundred yards off, in the flat, we built a pen of
scantlings, about four feet high, and laid planks on it, and so
made a platform. We covered it with swell tapestries borrowed
for the occasion, and topped it off with the abbot's own throne.
When you are going to do a miracle for an ignorant race, you want
to get in every detail that will count; you want to make all the
properties impressive to the public eye; you want to make matters
comfortable for your head guest; then you can turn yourself loose
and play your effects for all they are worth. I know the value of
these things, for I know human nature. You can't throw too much
style into a miracle. It costs trouble, and work, and sometimes
money; but it pays in the end. Well, we brought the wires to
the ground at the chapel, and then brought them under the ground
to the platform, and hid the batteries there. We put a rope fence
a hundred feet square around the platform to keep off the common
multitude, and that finished the work. My idea was, doors open
at 10:30, performance to begin at 11:25 sharp. I wished I could
charge admission, but of course that wouldn't answer. I instructed
my boys to be in the chapel as early as 10, before anybody was
around, and be ready to man the pumps at the proper time, and
make the fur fly. Then we went home to supper.
The news of the disaster to the well had traveled far by this time;
and now for two or three days a steady avalanche of people had
been pouring into the valley. The lower end of the valley was
become one huge camp; we should have a good house, no question
about that. Criers went the rounds early in the evening and
announced the coming attempt, which put every pulse up to fever
heat. They gave notice that the abbot and his official suite would
move in state and occupy the platform at 10:30, up to which time
all the region which was under my ban must be clear; the bells
would then cease from tolling, and this sign should be permission
to the multitudes to close in and take their places.
I was at the platform and all ready to do the honors when the
abbot's solemn procession hove in sight--which it did not do till
it was nearly to the rope fence, because it was a starless black
night and no torches permitted. With it came Merlin, and took
a front seat on the platform; he was as good as his word for once.
One could not see the multitudes banked together beyond the ban,
but they were there, just the same. The moment the bells stopped,
those banked masses broke and poured over the line like a vast
black wave, and for as much as a half hour it continued to flow,
and then it solidified itself, and you could have walked upon
a pavement of human heads to--well, miles.
We had a solemn stage-wait, now, for about twenty minutes--a thing
I had counted on for effect; it is always good to let your audience
have a chance to work up its expectancy. At length, out of the
silence a noble Latin chant--men's voices--broke and swelled up
and rolled away into the night, a majestic tide of melody. I had
put that up, too, and it was one of the best effects I ever invented.
When it was finished I stood up on the platform and extended my
hands abroad, for two minutes, with my face uplifted--that always
produces a dead hush--and then slowly pronounced this ghastly word
with a kind of awfulness which caused hundreds to tremble, and
many women to faint:
Just as I was moaning out the closing hunks of that word, I touched
off one of my electric connections and all that murky world of
people stood revealed in a hideous blue glare! It was immense--
that effect! Lots of people shrieked, women curled up and quit
in every direction, foundlings collapsed by platoons. The abbot
and the monks crossed themselves nimbly and their lips fluttered
with agitated prayers. Merlin held his grip, but he was astonished
clear down to his corns; he had never seen anything to begin
with that, before. Now was the time to pile in the effects. I lifted
my hands and groaned out this word--as it were in agony:
--and whirled on the purple glare! There they were, all going
at once, red, blue, green, purple!--four furious volcanoes pouring
vast clouds of radiant smoke aloft, and spreading a blinding
rainbowed noonday to the furthest confines of that valley. In
the distance one could see that fellow on the pillar standing rigid
against the background of sky, his seesaw stopped for the first
time in twenty years. I knew the boys were at the pump now and
ready. So I said to the abbot:
"The time is come, Father. I am about to pronounce the dread name
and command the spell to dissolve. You want to brace up, and take
hold of something." Then I shouted to the people: "Behold, in
another minute the spell will be broken, or no mortal can break it.
If it break, all will know it, for you will see the sacred water
gush from the chapel door!"
I stood a few moments, to let the hearers have a chance to spread
my announcement to those who couldn't hear, and so convey it
to the furthest ranks, then I made a grand exhibition of extra
posturing and gesturing, and shouted:
"Lo, I command the fell spirit that possesses the holy fountain
to now disgorge into the skies all the infernal fires that still
remain in him, and straightway dissolve his spell and flee hence
to the pit, there to lie bound a thousand years. By his own dread
name I command it--BGWJJILLIGKKK!"
Then I touched off the hogshead of rockets, and a vast fountain of
dazzling lances of fire vomited itself toward the zenith with a
hissing rush, and burst in mid-sky into a storm of flashing jewels!
One mighty groan of terror started up from the massed people--
then suddenly broke into a wild hosannah of joy--for there, fair
and plain in the uncanny glare, they saw the freed water leaping
forth! The old abbot could not speak a word, for tears and the
chokings in his throat; without utterance of any sort, he folded me
in his arms and mashed me. It was more eloquent than speech.
And harder to get over, too, in a country where there were really
no doctors that were worth a damaged nickel.
You should have seen those acres of people throw themselves down
in that water and kiss it; kiss it, and pet it, and fondle it, and
talk to it as if it were alive, and welcome it back with the dear
names they gave their darlings, just as if it had been a friend who
was long gone away and lost, and was come home again. Yes, it was
pretty to see, and made me think more of them than I had done before.
I sent Merlin home on a shutter. He had caved in and gone down
like a landslide when I pronounced that fearful name, and had
never come to since. He never had heard that name before,--neither
had I--but to him it was the right one. Any jumble would have
been the right one. He admitted, afterward, that that spirit's own
mother could not have pronounced that name better than I did.
He never could understand how I survived it, and I didn't tell
him. It is only young magicians that give away a secret like that.
Merlin spent three months working enchantments to try to find out
the deep trick of how to pronounce that name and outlive it.
But he didn't arrive.
When I started to the chapel, the populace uncovered and fell back
reverently to make a wide way for me, as if I had been some kind
of a superior being--and I was. I was aware of that. I took along
a night shift of monks, and taught them the mystery of the pump,
and set them to work, for it was plain that a good part of the
people out there were going to sit up with the water all night,
consequently it was but right that they should have all they wanted
of it. To those monks that pump was a good deal of a miracle
itself, and they were full of wonder over it; and of admiration,
too, of the exceeding effectiveness of its performance.
It was a great night, an immense night. There was reputation in it.
I could hardly get to sleep for glorying over it.