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

A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court

Chapter XXIV


A RIVAL MAGICIAN

My influence in the Valley of Holiness was something prodigious
now. It seemed worth while to try to turn it to some valuable
account. The thought came to me the next morning, and was suggested
by my seeing one of my knights who was in the soap line come
riding in. According to history, the monks of this place two
centuries before had been worldly minded enough to want to wash.
It might be that there was a leaven of this unrighteousness still
remaining. So I sounded a Brother:

"Wouldn't you like a bath?"

He shuddered at the thought--the thought of the peril of it to
the well--but he said with feeling:

"One needs not to ask that of a poor body who has not known that
blessed refreshment sith that he was a boy. Would God I might
wash me! but it may not be, fair sir, tempt me not; it is forbidden."

And then he sighed in such a sorrowful way that I was resolved
he should have at least one layer of his real estate removed,
if it sized up my whole influence and bankrupted the pile. So I
went to the abbot and asked for a permit for this Brother. He
blenched at the idea--I don't mean that you could see him blench,
for of course you couldn't see it without you scraped him, and
I didn't care enough about it to scrape him, but I knew the blench
was there, just the same, and within a book-cover's thickness of
the surface, too--blenched, and trembled. He said:

"Ah, son, ask aught else thou wilt, and it is thine, and freely
granted out of a grateful heart--but this, oh, this! Would you
drive away the blessed water again?"

"No, Father, I will not drive it away. I have mysterious knowledge
which teaches me that there was an error that other time when
it was thought the institution of the bath banished the fountain."
A large interest began to show up in the old man's face. "My
knowledge informs me that the bath was innocent of that misfortune,
which was caused by quite another sort of sin."

"These are brave words--but--but right welcome, if they be true."

"They are true, indeed. Let me build the bath again, Father.
Let me build it again, and the fountain shall flow forever."

"You promise this?--you promise it? Say the word--say you promise it!"

"I do promise it."

"Then will I have the first bath myself! Go--get ye to your work.
Tarry not, tarry not, but go."

I and my boys were at work, straight off. The ruins of the old
bath were there yet in the basement of the monastery, not a stone
missing. They had been left just so, all these lifetimes, and
avoided with a pious fear, as things accursed. In two days we
had it all done and the water in--a spacious pool of clear pure
water that a body could swim in. It was running water, too.
It came in, and went out, through the ancient pipes. The old abbot
kept his word, and was the first to try it. He went down black
and shaky, leaving the whole black community above troubled and
worried and full of bodings; but he came back white and joyful,
and the game was made! another triumph scored.

It was a good campaign that we made in that Valley of Holiness,
and I was very well satisfied, and ready to move on now, but
I struck a disappointment. I caught a heavy cold, and it started
up an old lurking rheumatism of mine. Of course the rheumatism
hunted up my weakest place and located itself there. This was
the place where the abbot put his arms about me and mashed me, what
time he was moved to testify his gratitude to me with an embrace.

When at last I got out, I was a shadow. But everybody was full
of attentions and kindnesses, and these brought cheer back into
my life, and were the right medicine to help a convalescent swiftly
up toward health and strength again; so I gained fast.

Sandy was worn out with nursing; so I made up my mind to turn out
and go a cruise alone, leaving her at the nunnery to rest up.
My idea was to disguise myself as a freeman of peasant degree
and wander through the country a week or two on foot. This would
give me a chance to eat and lodge with the lowliest and poorest
class of free citizens on equal terms. There was no other way
to inform myself perfectly of their everyday life and the operation
of the laws upon it. If I went among them as a gentleman, there
would be restraints and conventionalities which would shut me out
from their private joys and troubles, and I should get no further
than the outside shell.

One morning I was out on a long walk to get up muscle for my trip,
and had climbed the ridge which bordered the northern extremity
of the valley, when I came upon an artificial opening in the face
of a low precipice, and recognized it by its location as a hermitage
which had often been pointed out to me from a distance as the den
of a hermit of high renown for dirt and austerity. I knew he had
lately been offered a situation in the Great Sahara, where lions
and sandflies made the hermit-life peculiarly attractive and
difficult, and had gone to Africa to take possession, so I thought
I would look in and see how the atmosphere of this den agreed
with its reputation.

My surprise was great: the place was newly swept and scoured.
Then there was another surprise. Back in the gloom of the cavern
I heard the clink of a little bell, and then this exclamation:

"Hello Central! Is this you, Camelot?--Behold, thou mayst glad
thy heart an thou hast faith to believe the wonderful when that
it cometh in unexpected guise and maketh itself manifest in
impossible places--here standeth in the flesh his mightiness
The Boss, and with thine own ears shall ye hear him speak!"

Now what a radical reversal of things this was; what a jumbling
together of extravagant incongruities; what a fantastic conjunction
of opposites and irreconcilables--the home of the bogus miracle
become the home of a real one, the den of a mediaeval hermit turned
into a telephone office!

The telephone clerk stepped into the light, and I recognized one
of my young fellows. I said:

"How long has this office been established here, Ulfius?"

"But since midnight, fair Sir Boss, an it please you. We saw many
lights in the valley, and so judged it well to make a station,
for that where so many lights be needs must they indicate a town
of goodly size."

"Quite right. It isn't a town in the customary sense, but it's
a good stand, anyway. Do you know where you are?"

"Of that I have had no time to make inquiry; for whenas my
comradeship moved hence upon their labors, leaving me in charge,
I got me to needed rest, purposing to inquire when I waked, and
report the place's name to Camelot for record."

"Well, this is the Valley of Holiness."

It didn't take; I mean, he didn't start at the name, as I had
supposed he would. He merely said:

"I will so report it."

"Why, the surrounding regions are filled with the noise of late
wonders that have happened here! You didn't hear of them?"

"Ah, ye will remember we move by night, and avoid speech with all.
We learn naught but that we get by the telephone from Camelot."

"Why _they_ know all about this thing. Haven't they told you anything
about the great miracle of the restoration of a holy fountain?"

"Oh, _that_? Indeed yes. But the name of _this_ valley doth woundily
differ from the name of _that_ one; indeed to differ wider were not pos--"

"What was that name, then?"

"The Valley of Hellishness."

"_That_ explains it. Confound a telephone, anyway. It is the very
demon for conveying similarities of sound that are miracles of
divergence from similarity of sense. But no matter, you know
the name of the place now. Call up Camelot."

He did it, and had Clarence sent for. It was good to hear my boy's
voice again. It was like being home. After some affectionate
interchanges, and some account of my late illness, I said:

"What is new?"

"The king and queen and many of the court do start even in this
hour, to go to your valley to pay pious homage to the waters ye
have restored, and cleanse themselves of sin, and see the place
where the infernal spirit spouted true hell-flames to the clouds--
an ye listen sharply ye may hear me wink and hear me likewise
smile a smile, sith 'twas I that made selection of those flames
from out our stock and sent them by your order."

"Does the king know the way to this place?"

"The king?--no, nor to any other in his realms, mayhap; but the lads
that holp you with your miracle will be his guide and lead the way,
and appoint the places for rests at noons and sleeps at night."

"This will bring them here--when?"

"Mid-afternoon, or later, the third day."

"Anything else in the way of news?"

"The king hath begun the raising of the standing army ye suggested
to him; one regiment is complete and officered."

"The mischief! I wanted a main hand in that myself. There is
only one body of men in the kingdom that are fitted to officer
a regular army."

"Yes--and now ye will marvel to know there's not so much as one
West Pointer in that regiment."

"What are you talking about? Are you in earnest?"

"It is truly as I have said."

"Why, this makes me uneasy. Who were chosen, and what was the
method? Competitive examination?"

"Indeed, I know naught of the method. I but know this--these
officers be all of noble family, and are born--what is it you
call it?--chuckleheads."

"There's something wrong, Clarence."

"Comfort yourself, then; for two candidates for a lieutenancy do
travel hence with the king--young nobles both--and if you but wait
where you are you will hear them questioned."

"That is news to the purpose. I will get one West Pointer in,
anyway. Mount a man and send him to that school with a message;
let him kill horses, if necessary, but he must be there before
sunset to-night and say--"

"There is no need. I have laid a ground wire to the school.
Prithee let me connect you with it."

It sounded good! In this atmosphere of telephones and lightning
communication with distant regions, I was breathing the breath
of life again after long suffocation. I realized, then, what a
creepy, dull, inanimate horror this land had been to me all these
years, and how I had been in such a stifled condition of mind as
to have grown used to it almost beyond the power to notice it.

I gave my order to the superintendent of the Academy personally.
I also asked him to bring me some paper and a fountain pen and
a box or so of safety matches. I was getting tired of doing
without these conveniences. I could have them now, as I wasn't
going to wear armor any more at present, and therefore could get
at my pockets.

When I got back to the monastery, I found a thing of interest
going on. The abbot and his monks were assembled in the great
hall, observing with childish wonder and faith the performances
of a new magician, a fresh arrival. His dress was the extreme of
the fantastic; as showy and foolish as the sort of thing an Indian
medicine-man wears. He was mowing, and mumbling, and gesticulating,
and drawing mystical figures in the air and on the floor,--the
regular thing, you know. He was a celebrity from Asia--so he
said, and that was enough. That sort of evidence was as good
as gold, and passed current everywhere.

How easy and cheap it was to be a great magician on this fellow's
terms. His specialty was to tell you what any individual on the
face of the globe was doing at the moment; and what he had done
at any time in the past, and what he would do at any time in the
future. He asked if any would like to know what the Emperor of
the East was doing now? The sparkling eyes and the delighted rubbing
of hands made eloquent answer--this reverend crowd _would_ like to
know what that monarch was at, just as this moment. The fraud
went through some more mummery, and then made grave announcement:

"The high and mighty Emperor of the East doth at this moment put
money in the palm of a holy begging friar--one, two, three pieces,
and they be all of silver."

A buzz of admiring exclamations broke out, all around:

"It is marvelous!" "Wonderful!" "What study, what labor, to have
acquired a so amazing power as this!"

Would they like to know what the Supreme Lord of Inde was doing?
Yes. He told them what the Supreme Lord of Inde was doing. Then
he told them what the Sultan of Egypt was at; also what the King
of the Remote Seas was about. And so on and so on; and with each
new marvel the astonishment at his accuracy rose higher and higher.
They thought he must surely strike an uncertain place some time;
but no, he never had to hesitate, he always knew, and always with
unerring precision. I saw that if this thing went on I should lose
my supremacy, this fellow would capture my following, I should
be left out in the cold. I must put a cog in his wheel, and do it
right away, too. I said:

"If I might ask, I should very greatly like to know what a certain
person is doing."

"Speak, and freely. I will tell you."

"It will be difficult--perhaps impossible."

"My art knoweth not that word. The more difficult it is, the more
certainly will I reveal it to you."

You see, I was working up the interest. It was getting pretty
high, too; you could see that by the craning necks all around,
and the half-suspended breathing. So now I climaxed it:

"If you make no mistake--if you tell me truly what I want to
know--I will give you two hundred silver pennies."

"The fortune is mine! I will tell you what you would know."

"Then tell me what I am doing with my right hand."

"Ah-h!" There was a general gasp of surprise. It had not occurred
to anybody in the crowd--that simple trick of inquiring about
somebody who wasn't ten thousand miles away. The magician was
hit hard; it was an emergency that had never happened in his
experience before, and it corked him; he didn't know how to meet
it. He looked stunned, confused; he couldn't say a word. "Come,"
I said, "what are you waiting for? Is it possible you can answer up,
right off, and tell what anybody on the other side of the earth is
doing, and yet can't tell what a person is doing who isn't three
yards from you? Persons behind me know what I am doing with my
right hand--they will indorse you if you tell correctly." He was
still dumb. "Very well, I'll tell you why you don't speak up and
tell; it is because you don't know. _You_ a magician! Good friends,
this tramp is a mere fraud and liar."

This distressed the monks and terrified them. They were not used
to hearing these awful beings called names, and they did not know
what might be the consequence. There was a dead silence now;
superstitious bodings were in every mind. The magician began to
pull his wits together, and when he presently smiled an easy,
nonchalant smile, it spread a mighty relief around; for it indicated
that his mood was not destructive. He said:

"It hath struck me speechless, the frivolity of this person's
speech. Let all know, if perchance there be any who know it not,
that enchanters of my degree deign not to concern themselves with
the doings of any but kings, princes, emperors, them that be born
in the purple and them only. Had ye asked me what Arthur the great
king is doing, it were another matter, and I had told ye; but the
doings of a subject interest me not."

"Oh, I misunderstood you. I thought you said 'anybody,' and so
I supposed 'anybody' included--well, anybody; that is, everybody."

"It doth--anybody that is of lofty birth; and the better if
he be royal."

"That, it meseemeth, might well be," said the abbot, who saw his
opportunity to smooth things and avert disaster, "for it were not
likely that so wonderful a gift as this would be conferred for
the revelation of the concerns of lesser beings than such as be
born near to the summits of greatness. Our Arthur the king--"

"Would you know of him?" broke in the enchanter.

"Most gladly, yea, and gratefully."

Everybody was full of awe and interest again right away, the
incorrigible idiots. They watched the incantations absorbingly,
and looked at me with a "There, now, what can you say to that?"
air, when the announcement came:

"The king is weary with the chase, and lieth in his palace these
two hours sleeping a dreamless sleep."

"God's benison upon him!" said the abbot, and crossed himself;
"may that sleep be to the refreshment of his body and his soul."

"And so it might be, if he were sleeping," I said, "but the king
is not sleeping, the king rides."

Here was trouble again--a conflict of authority. Nobody knew which
of us to believe; I still had some reputation left. The magician's
scorn was stirred, and he said:

"Lo, I have seen many wonderful soothsayers and prophets and
magicians in my life days, but none before that could sit idle and
see to the heart of things with never an incantation to help."

"You have lived in the woods, and lost much by it. I use incantations
myself, as this good brotherhood are aware--but only on occasions
of moment."

When it comes to sarcasming, I reckon I know how to keep my end up.
That jab made this fellow squirm. The abbot inquired after the
queen and the court, and got this information:

"They be all on sleep, being overcome by fatigue, like as to the king."

I said:

"That is merely another lie. Half of them are about their amusements,
the queen and the other half are not sleeping, they ride. Now
perhaps you can spread yourself a little, and tell us where the king
and queen and all that are this moment riding with them are going?"

"They sleep now, as I said; but on the morrow they will ride,
for they go a journey toward the sea."

"And where will they be the day after to-morrow at vespers?"

"Far to the north of Camelot, and half their journey will be done."

"That is another lie, by the space of a hundred and fifty miles.
Their journey will not be merely half done, it will be all done,
and they will be _here_, in this valley."

_That_ was a noble shot! It set the abbot and the monks in a whirl
of excitement, and it rocked the enchanter to his base. I followed
the thing right up:

"If the king does not arrive, I will have myself ridden on a rail:
if he does I will ride you on a rail instead."

Next day I went up to the telephone office and found that the king
had passed through two towns that were on the line. I spotted
his progress on the succeeding day in the same way. I kept these
matters to myself. The third day's reports showed that if he
kept up his gait he would arrive by four in the afternoon. There
was still no sign anywhere of interest in his coming; there seemed
to be no preparations making to receive him in state; a strange
thing, truly. Only one thing could explain this: that other
magician had been cutting under me, sure. This was true. I asked
a friend of mine, a monk, about it, and he said, yes, the magician
had tried some further enchantments and found out that the court
had concluded to make no journey at all, but stay at home. Think
of that! Observe how much a reputation was worth in such a country.
These people had seen me do the very showiest bit of magic in
history, and the only one within their memory that had a positive
value, and yet here they were, ready to take up with an adventurer
who could offer no evidence of his powers but his mere unproven word.

However, it was not good politics to let the king come without
any fuss and feathers at all, so I went down and drummed up a
procession of pilgrims and smoked out a batch of hermits and
started them out at two o'clock to meet him. And that was the
sort of state he arrived in. The abbot was helpless with rage
and humiliation when I brought him out on a balcony and showed
him the head of the state marching in and never a monk on hand to
offer him welcome, and no stir of life or clang of joy-bell to glad
his spirit. He took one look and then flew to rouse out his forces.
The next minute the bells were dinning furiously, and the various
buildings were vomiting monks and nuns, who went swarming in a
rush toward the coming procession; and with them went that magician--
and he was on a rail, too, by the abbot's order; and his reputation
was in the mud, and mine was in the sky again. Yes, a man can
keep his trademark current in such a country, but he can't sit
around and do it; he has got to be on deck and attending to business
right along.


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