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

A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court

Chapter XXXIX


THE YANKEE'S FIGHT WITH THE KNIGHTS

Home again, at Camelot. A morning or two later I found the paper,
damp from the press, by my plate at the breakfast table. I turned
to the advertising columns, knowing I should find something of
personal interest to me there. It was this:

             DE PAR LE ROI.

Know that the great lord and illus-
trious Kni8ht, SIR SAGRAMOR LE
DESIROUS naving condescended to
meet the King's Minister, Hank Mor-
    gan, the which is surnamed The Boss,
for satisfgction of offence anciently given,
these wilL engage in the lists by
Camelot about the fourth hour of the
morning of the sixteenth day of this
next succeeding month. The battle
will be a l outrance, sith the said offence
was of a deadly sort, admitting of no
comPosition.

             DE PAR LE ROI


Clarence's editorial reference to this affair was to this effect:

It will be observed, by a gl7nce at our
advertising columns, that the commu-
nity is to be favored with a treat of un-
usual interest in the tournament line.
The n ames of the artists are warrant of
good enterTemment. The box-office
will be open at noon of the 13th; ad-
mission 3 cents, reserved seatsh 5; pro-
ceeds to go to the hospital fund The
royal pair and all the Court will be pres-
ent. With these exceptions, and the
press and the clergy, the free list is strict-
ly susPended. Parties are hereby warn-
ed against buying tickets of speculators;
they will not be good at the door.
Everybody knows and likes The Boss,
everybody knows and likes Sir Sag.;
come, let us give the lads a good send-
off. ReMember, the proceeds go to a
great and free charity, and one whose
broad begevolence stretches out its help-
ing hand, warm with the blood of a lov-
ing heart, to all that suffer, regardless of
race, creed, condition or color--the
only charity yet established in the earth
which has no politico-religious stop-
cock on its compassion, but says Here
flows the stream, let ALL come and
drink! Turn out, all hands! fetch along
your dou3hnuts and your gum-drops
and have a good time. Pie for sale on
the grounds, and rocks to crack it with;
and ciRcus-lemonade--three drops of
lime juice to a barrel of water.
N.B. This is the first tournament
under the new law, whidh allow each
combatant to use any weapon he may pre-
fer. You may want to make a note of that.

Up to the day set, there was no talk in all Britain of anything
but this combat. All other topics sank into insignificance and
passed out of men's thoughts and interest. It was not because
a tournament was a great matter, it was not because Sir Sagramor
had found the Holy Grail, for he had not, but had failed; it was
not because the second (official) personage in the kingdom was
one of the duellists; no, all these features were commonplace.
Yet there was abundant reason for the extraordinary interest which
this coming fight was creating. It was born of the fact that all
the nation knew that this was not to be a duel between mere men,
so to speak, but a duel between two mighty magicians; a duel not
of muscle but of mind, not of human skill but of superhuman art
and craft; a final struggle for supremacy between the two master
enchanters of the age. It was realized that the most prodigious
achievements of the most renowned knights could not be worthy
of comparison with a spectacle like this; they could be but child's
play, contrasted with this mysterious and awful battle of the gods.
Yes, all the world knew it was going to be in reality a duel
between Merlin and me, a measuring of his magic powers against
mine. It was known that Merlin had been busy whole days and nights
together, imbuing Sir Sagramor's arms and armor with supernal
powers of offense and defense, and that he had procured for him
from the spirits of the air a fleecy veil which would render the
wearer invisible to his antagonist while still visible to other
men. Against Sir Sagramor, so weaponed and protected, a thousand
knights could accomplish nothing; against him no known enchantments
could prevail. These facts were sure; regarding them there was
no doubt, no reason for doubt. There was but one question: might
there be still other enchantments, _unknown_ to Merlin, which could
render Sir Sagramor's veil transparent to me, and make his enchanted
mail vulnerable to my weapons? This was the one thing to be
decided in the lists. Until then the world must remain in suspense.

So the world thought there was a vast matter at stake here, and
the world was right, but it was not the one they had in their
minds. No, a far vaster one was upon the cast of this die:
_the life of knight-errantry_. I was a champion, it was true, but
not the champion of the frivolous black arts, I was the champion
of hard unsentimental common-sense and reason. I was entering
the lists to either destroy knight-errantry or be its victim.

Vast as the show-grounds were, there were no vacant spaces in them
outside of the lists, at ten o'clock on the morning of the 16th.
The mammoth grand-stand was clothed in flags, streamers, and rich
tapestries, and packed with several acres of small-fry tributary
kings, their suites, and the British aristocracy; with our own
royal gang in the chief place, and each and every individual
a flashing prism of gaudy silks and velvets--well, I never saw
anything to begin with it but a fight between an Upper Mississippi
sunset and the aurora borealis. The huge camp of beflagged and
gay-colored tents at one end of the lists, with a stiff-standing
sentinel at every door and a shining shield hanging by him for
challenge, was another fine sight. You see, every knight was
there who had any ambition or any caste feeling; for my feeling
toward their order was not much of a secret, and so here was their
chance. If I won my fight with Sir Sagramor, others would have
the right to call me out as long as I might be willing to respond.

Down at our end there were but two tents; one for me, and another
for my servants. At the appointed hour the king made a sign, and
the heralds, in their tabards, appeared and made proclamation,
naming the combatants and stating the cause of quarrel. There
was a pause, then a ringing bugle-blast, which was the signal for
us to come forth. All the multitude caught their breath, and
an eager curiosity flashed into every face.

Out from his tent rode great Sir Sagramor, an imposing tower
of iron, stately and rigid, his huge spear standing upright in its
socket and grasped in his strong hand, his grand horse's face and
breast cased in steel, his body clothed in rich trappings that
almost dragged the ground--oh, a most noble picture. A great
shout went up, of welcome and admiration.

And then out I came. But I didn't get any shout. There was
a wondering and eloquent silence for a moment, then a great wave
of laughter began to sweep along that human sea, but a warning
bugle-blast cut its career short. I was in the simplest and
comfortablest of gymnast costumes--flesh-colored tights from neck
to heel, with blue silk puffings about my loins, and bareheaded.
My horse was not above medium size, but he was alert, slender-limbed,
muscled with watchsprings, and just a greyhound to go. He was
a beauty, glossy as silk, and naked as he was when he was born,
except for bridle and ranger-saddle.

The iron tower and the gorgeous bedquilt came cumbrously but
gracefully pirouetting down the lists, and we tripped lightly up
to meet them. We halted; the tower saluted, I responded; then
we wheeled and rode side by side to the grand-stand and faced
our king and queen, to whom we made obeisance. The queen exclaimed:

"Alack, Sir Boss, wilt fight naked, and without lance or sword or--"

But the king checked her and made her understand, with a polite
phrase or two, that this was none of her business. The bugles
rang again; and we separated and rode to the ends of the lists,
and took position. Now old Merlin stepped into view and cast
a dainty web of gossamer threads over Sir Sagramor which turned
him into Hamlet's ghost; the king made a sign, the bugles blew,
Sir Sagramor laid his great lance in rest, and the next moment here
he came thundering down the course with his veil flying out behind,
and I went whistling through the air like an arrow to meet him--
cocking my ear the while, as if noting the invisible knight's
position and progress by hearing, not sight. A chorus of encouraging
shouts burst out for him, and one brave voice flung out a heartening
word for me--said:

"Go it, slim Jim!"

It was an even bet that Clarence had procured that favor for me--
and furnished the language, too. When that formidable lance-point
was within a yard and a half of my breast I twitched my horse aside
without an effort, and the big knight swept by, scoring a blank.
I got plenty of applause that time. We turned, braced up, and
down we came again. Another blank for the knight, a roar of
applause for me. This same thing was repeated once more; and
it fetched such a whirlwind of applause that Sir Sagramor lost his
temper, and at once changed his tactics and set himself the task
of chasing me down. Why, he hadn't any show in the world at that;
it was a game of tag, with all the advantage on my side; I whirled
out of his path with ease whenever I chose, and once I slapped him
on the back as I went to the rear. Finally I took the chase into
my own hands; and after that, turn, or twist, or do what he would,
he was never able to get behind me again; he found himself always
in front at the end of his maneuver. So he gave up that business
and retired to his end of the lists. His temper was clear gone now,
and he forgot himself and flung an insult at me which disposed
of mine. I slipped my lasso from the horn of my saddle, and
grasped the coil in my right hand. This time you should have seen
him come!--it was a business trip, sure; by his gait there was
blood in his eye. I was sitting my horse at ease, and swinging
the great loop of my lasso in wide circles about my head; the
moment he was under way, I started for him; when the space between
us had narrowed to forty feet, I sent the snaky spirals of the rope
a-cleaving through the air, then darted aside and faced about and
brought my trained animal to a halt with all his feet braced under
him for a surge. The next moment the rope sprang taut and yanked
Sir Sagramor out of the saddle! Great Scott, but there was
a sensation!

Unquestionably, the popular thing in this world is novelty. These
people had never seen anything of that cowboy business before,
and it carried them clear off their feet with delight. From all
around and everywhere, the shout went up:

"Encore! encore!"

I wondered where they got the word, but there was no time to cipher
on philological matters, because the whole knight-errantry hive
was just humming now, and my prospect for trade couldn't have
been better. The moment my lasso was released and Sir Sagramor
had been assisted to his tent, I hauled in the slack, took my
station and began to swing my loop around my head again. I was
sure to have use for it as soon as they could elect a successor
for Sir Sagramor, and that couldn't take long where there were
so many hungry candidates. Indeed, they elected one straight off--
Sir Hervis de Revel.

_Bzz_! Here he came, like a house afire; I dodged: he passed like
a flash, with my horse-hair coils settling around his neck;
a second or so later, _fst_! his saddle was empty.

I got another encore; and another, and another, and still another.
When I had snaked five men out, things began to look serious to
the ironclads, and they stopped and consulted together. As a
result, they decided that it was time to waive etiquette and send
their greatest and best against me. To the astonishment of that
little world, I lassoed Sir Lamorak de Galis, and after him
Sir Galahad. So you see there was simply nothing to be done now,
but play their right bower--bring out the superbest of the superb,
the mightiest of the mighty, the great Sir Launcelot himself!

A proud moment for me? I should think so. Yonder was Arthur,
King of Britain; yonder was Guenever; yes, and whole tribes of
little provincial kings and kinglets; and in the tented camp yonder,
renowned knights from many lands; and likewise the selectest body
known to chivalry, the Knights of the Table Round, the most
illustrious in Christendom; and biggest fact of all, the very sun
of their shining system was yonder couching his lance, the focal
point of forty thousand adoring eyes; and all by myself, here was
I laying for him. Across my mind flitted the dear image of a
certain hello-girl of West Hartford, and I wished she could see
me now. In that moment, down came the Invincible, with the rush
of a whirlwind--the courtly world rose to its feet and bent forward--
the fateful coils went circling through the air, and before you
could wink I was towing Sir Launcelot across the field on his
back, and kissing my hand to the storm of waving kerchiefs and
the thunder-crash of applause that greeted me!

Said I to myself, as I coiled my lariat and hung it on my saddle-horn,
and sat there drunk with glory, "The victory is perfect--no other
will venture against me--knight-errantry is dead." Now imagine my
astonishment--and everybody else's, too--to hear the peculiar
bugle-call which announces that another competitor is about to
enter the lists! There was a mystery here; I couldn't account for
this thing. Next, I noticed Merlin gliding away from me; and then
I noticed that my lasso was gone! The old sleight-of-hand expert
had stolen it, sure, and slipped it under his robe.

The bugle blew again. I looked, and down came Sagramor riding
again, with his dust brushed off and his veil nicely re-arranged.
I trotted up to meet him, and pretended to find him by the sound
of his horse's hoofs. He said:

"Thou'rt quick of ear, but it will not save thee from this!" and
he touched the hilt of his great sword. "An ye are not able to see
it, because of the influence of the veil, know that it is no cumbrous
lance, but a sword--and I ween ye will not be able to avoid it."

His visor was up; there was death in his smile. I should never
be able to dodge his sword, that was plain. Somebody was going
to die this time. If he got the drop on me, I could name the
corpse. We rode forward together, and saluted the royalties.
This time the king was disturbed. He said:

"Where is thy strange weapon?"

"It is stolen, sire."

"Hast another at hand?"

"No, sire, I brought only the one."

Then Merlin mixed in:

"He brought but the one because there was but the one to bring.
There exists none other but that one. It belongeth to the king
of the Demons of the Sea. This man is a pretender, and ignorant,
else he had known that that weapon can be used in but eight bouts
only, and then it vanisheth away to its home under the sea."

"Then is he weaponless," said the king. "Sir Sagramore, ye will
grant him leave to borrow."

"And I will lend!" said Sir Launcelot, limping up. "He is as
brave a knight of his hands as any that be on live, and he shall
have mine."

He put his hand on his sword to draw it, but Sir Sagramor said:

"Stay, it may not be. He shall fight with his own weapons; it
was his privilege to choose them and bring them. If he has erred,
on his head be it."

"Knight!" said the king. "Thou'rt overwrought with passion; it
disorders thy mind. Wouldst kill a naked man?"

"An he do it, he shall answer it to me," said Sir Launcelot.

"I will answer it to any he that desireth!" retorted Sir Sagramor hotly.

Merlin broke in, rubbing his hands and smiling his lowdownest
smile of malicious gratification:

"'Tis well said, right well said! And 'tis enough of parleying,
let my lord the king deliver the battle signal."

The king had to yield. The bugle made proclamation, and we turned
apart and rode to our stations. There we stood, a hundred yards
apart, facing each other, rigid and motionless, like horsed statues.
And so we remained, in a soundless hush, as much as a full minute,
everybody gazing, nobody stirring. It seemed as if the king could
not take heart to give the signal. But at last he lifted his hand,
the clear note of the bugle followed, Sir Sagramor's long blade
described a flashing curve in the air, and it was superb to see him
come. I sat still. On he came. I did not move. People got so
excited that they shouted to me:

"Fly, fly! Save thyself! This is murther!"

I never budged so much as an inch till that thundering apparition
had got within fifteen paces of me; then I snatched a dragoon
revolver out of my holster, there was a flash and a roar, and
the revolver was back in the holster before anybody could tell
what had happened.

Here was a riderless horse plunging by, and yonder lay Sir Sagramor,
stone dead.

The people that ran to him were stricken dumb to find that the life
was actually gone out of the man and no reason for it visible,
no hurt upon his body, nothing like a wound. There was a hole
through the breast of his chain-mail, but they attached no importance
to a little thing like that; and as a bullet wound there produces
but little blood, none came in sight because of the clothing and
swaddlings under the armor. The body was dragged over to let
the king and the swells look down upon it. They were stupefied
with astonishment naturally. I was requested to come and explain
the miracle. But I remained in my tracks, like a statue, and said:

"If it is a command, I will come, but my lord the king knows that
I am where the laws of combat require me to remain while any desire
to come against me."

I waited. Nobody challenged. Then I said:

"If there are any who doubt that this field is well and fairly won,
I do not wait for them to challenge me, I challenge them."

"It is a gallant offer," said the king, "and well beseems you.
Whom will you name first?"

"I name none, I challenge all! Here I stand, and dare the chivalry
of England to come against me--not by individuals, but in mass!"

"What!" shouted a score of knights.

"You have heard the challenge. Take it, or I proclaim you recreant
knights and vanquished, every one!"

It was a "bluff" you know. At such a time it is sound judgment
to put on a bold face and play your hand for a hundred times what
it is worth; forty-nine times out of fifty nobody dares to "call,"
and you rake in the chips. But just this once--well, things looked
squally! In just no time, five hundred knights were scrambling
into their saddles, and before you could wink a widely scattering
drove were under way and clattering down upon me. I snatched
both revolvers from the holsters and began to measure distances
and calculate chances.

Bang! One saddle empty. Bang! another one. Bang--bang, and
I bagged two. Well, it was nip and tuck with us, and I knew it.
If I spent the eleventh shot without convincing these people,
the twelfth man would kill me, sure. And so I never did feel
so happy as I did when my ninth downed its man and I detected
the wavering in the crowd which is premonitory of panic. An instant
lost now could knock out my last chance. But I didn't lose it.
I raised both revolvers and pointed them--the halted host stood
their ground just about one good square moment, then broke and fled.

The day was mine. Knight-errantry was a doomed institution. The
march of civilization was begun. How did I feel? Ah, you never
could imagine it.

And Brer Merlin? His stock was flat again. Somehow, every time
the magic of fol-de-rol tried conclusions with the magic of science,
the magic of fol-de-rol got left.


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