Inasmuch as I was now the second personage in the Kingdom, as far
as political power and authority were concerned, much was made
of me. My raiment was of silks and velvets and cloth of gold,
and by consequence was very showy, also uncomfortable. But habit
would soon reconcile me to my clothes; I was aware of that. I was
given the choicest suite of apartments in the castle, after
the king's. They were aglow with loud-colored silken hangings,
but the stone floors had nothing but rushes on them for a carpet,
and they were misfit rushes at that, being not all of one breed.
As for conveniences, properly speaking, there weren't any. I mean
_little_ conveniences; it is the little conveniences that make
the real comfort of life. The big oaken chairs, graced with rude
carvings, were well enough, but that was the stopping place.
There was no soap, no matches, no looking-glass--except a metal
one, about as powerful as a pail of water. And not a chromo.
I had been used to chromos for years, and I saw now that without
my suspecting it a passion for art had got worked into the fabric
of my being, and was become a part of me. It made me homesick
to look around over this proud and gaudy but heartless barrenness
and remember that in our house in East Hartford, all unpretending
as it was, you couldn't go into a room but you would find an
insurance-chromo, or at least a three-color God-Bless-Our-Home
over the door; and in the parlor we had nine. But here, even in
my grand room of state, there wasn't anything in the nature of
a picture except a thing the size of a bedquilt, which was either
woven or knitted (it had darned places in it), and nothing in it
was the right color or the right shape; and as for proportions,
even Raphael himself couldn't have botched them more formidably,
after all his practice on those nightmares they call his "celebrated
Hampton Court cartoons." Raphael was a bird. We had several
of his chromos; one was his "Miraculous Draught of Fishes," where
he puts in a miracle of his own--puts three men into a canoe which
wouldn't have held a dog without upsetting. I always admired
to study R.'s art, it was so fresh and unconventional.
There wasn't even a bell or a speaking-tube in the castle. I had
a great many servants, and those that were on duty lolled in the
anteroom; and when I wanted one of them I had to go and call for him.
There was no gas, there were no candles; a bronze dish half full
of boarding-house butter with a blazing rag floating in it was
the thing that produced what was regarded as light. A lot of
these hung along the walls and modified the dark, just toned it
down enough to make it dismal. If you went out at night, your
servants carried torches. There were no books, pens, paper or
ink, and no glass in the openings they believed to be windows.
It is a little thing--glass is--until it is absent, then it becomes
a big thing. But perhaps the worst of all was, that there wasn't
any sugar, coffee, tea, or tobacco. I saw that I was just another
Robinson Crusoe cast away on an uninhabited island, with no society
but some more or less tame animals, and if I wanted to make life
bearable I must do as he did--invent, contrive, create, reorganize
things; set brain and hand to work, and keep them busy. Well,
that was in my line.
One thing troubled me along at first--the immense interest which
people took in me. Apparently the whole nation wanted a look
at me. It soon transpired that the eclipse had scared the British
world almost to death; that while it lasted the whole country,
from one end to the other, was in a pitiable state of panic, and
the churches, hermitages, and monkeries overflowed with praying
and weeping poor creatures who thought the end of the world was
come. Then had followed the news that the producer of this awful
event was a stranger, a mighty magician at Arthur's court; that he
could have blown out the sun like a candle, and was just going
to do it when his mercy was purchased, and he then dissolved
his enchantments, and was now recognized and honored as the man
who had by his unaided might saved the globe from destruction and
its peoples from extinction. Now if you consider that everybody
believed that, and not only believed it, but never even dreamed
of doubting it, you will easily understand that there was not
a person in all Britain that would not have walked fifty miles
to get a sight of me. Of course I was all the talk--all other
subjects were dropped; even the king became suddenly a person of
minor interest and notoriety. Within twenty-four hours the
delegations began to arrive, and from that time onward for a fortnight
they kept coming. The village was crowded, and all the countryside.
I had to go out a dozen times a day and show myself to these
reverent and awe-stricken multitudes. It came to be a great burden,
as to time and trouble, but of course it was at the same time
compensatingly agreeable to be so celebrated and such a center
of homage. It turned Brer Merlin green with envy and spite, which
was a great satisfaction to me. But there was one thing I couldn't
understand--nobody had asked for an autograph. I spoke to Clarence
about it. By George! I had to explain to him what it was. Then
he said nobody in the country could read or write but a few dozen
priests. Land! think of that.
There was another thing that troubled me a little. Those multitudes
presently began to agitate for another miracle. That was natural.
To be able to carry back to their far homes the boast that they
had seen the man who could command the sun, riding in the heavens,
and be obeyed, would make them great in the eyes of their neighbors,
and envied by them all; but to be able to also say they had seen
him work a miracle themselves--why, people would come a distance
to see _them_. The pressure got to be pretty strong. There was
going to be an eclipse of the moon, and I knew the date and hour,
but it was too far away. Two years. I would have given a good
deal for license to hurry it up and use it now when there was
a big market for it. It seemed a great pity to have it wasted so,
and come lagging along at a time when a body wouldn't have any
use for it, as like as not. If it had been booked for only a month
away, I could have sold it short; but, as matters stood, I couldn't
seem to cipher out any way to make it do me any good, so I gave up
trying. Next, Clarence found that old Merlin was making himself
busy on the sly among those people. He was spreading a report that
I was a humbug, and that the reason I didn't accommodate the people
with a miracle was because I couldn't. I saw that I must do
something. I presently thought out a plan.
By my authority as executive I threw Merlin into prison--the same
cell I had occupied myself. Then I gave public notice by herald
and trumpet that I should be busy with affairs of state for
a fortnight, but about the end of that time I would take a moment's
leisure and blow up Merlin's stone tower by fires from heaven;
in the meantime, whoso listened to evil reports about me, let him
beware. Furthermore, I would perform but this one miracle at
this time, and no more; if it failed to satisfy and any murmured,
I would turn the murmurers into horses, and make them useful.
I took Clarence into my confidence, to a certain degree, and we
went to work privately. I told him that this was a sort of miracle
that required a trifle of preparation, and that it would be sudden
death to ever talk about these preparations to anybody. That made
his mouth safe enough. Clandestinely we made a few bushels of
first-rate blasting powder, and I superintended my armorers while
they constructed a lightning-rod and some wires. This old stone
tower was very massive--and rather ruinous, too, for it was Roman,
and four hundred years old. Yes, and handsome, after a rude
fashion, and clothed with ivy from base to summit, as with a shirt
of scale mail. It stood on a lonely eminence, in good view from
the castle, and about half a mile away.
Working by night, we stowed the powder in the tower--dug stones
out, on the inside, and buried the powder in the walls themselves,
which were fifteen feet thick at the base. We put in a peck
at a time, in a dozen places. We could have blown up the Tower
of London with these charges. When the thirteenth night was come
we put up our lightning-rod, bedded it in one of the batches of
powder, and ran wires from it to the other batches. Everybody
had shunned that locality from the day of my proclamation, but
on the morning of the fourteenth I thought best to warn the people,
through the heralds, to keep clear away--a quarter of a mile away.
Then added, by command, that at some time during the twenty-four
hours I would consummate the miracle, but would first give a brief
notice; by flags on the castle towers if in the daytime, by
torch-baskets in the same places if at night.
Thunder-showers had been tolerably frequent of late, and I was
not much afraid of a failure; still, I shouldn't have cared for
a delay of a day or two; I should have explained that I was busy
with affairs of state yet, and the people must wait.
Of course, we had a blazing sunny day--almost the first one without
a cloud for three weeks; things always happen so. I kept secluded,
and watched the weather. Clarence dropped in from time to time
and said the public excitement was growing and growing all the
time, and the whole country filling up with human masses as far
as one could see from the battlements. At last the wind sprang up
and a cloud appeared--in the right quarter, too, and just at
nightfall. For a little while I watched that distant cloud spread
and blacken, then I judged it was time for me to appear. I ordered
the torch-baskets to be lit, and Merlin liberated and sent to me.
A quarter of an hour later I ascended the parapet and there found
the king and the court assembled and gazing off in the darkness
toward Merlin's Tower. Already the darkness was so heavy that
one could not see far; these people and the old turrets, being
partly in deep shadow and partly in the red glow from the great
torch-baskets overhead, made a good deal of a picture.
Merlin arrived in a gloomy mood. I said:
"You wanted to burn me alive when I had not done you any harm,
and latterly you have been trying to injure my professional
reputation. Therefore I am going to call down fire and blow up
your tower, but it is only fair to give you a chance; now if you
think you can break my enchantments and ward off the fires, step
to the bat, it's your innings."
"I can, fair sir, and I will. Doubt it not."
He drew an imaginary circle on the stones of the roof, and burnt
a pinch of powder in it, which sent up a small cloud of aromatic
smoke, whereat everybody fell back and began to cross themselves
and get uncomfortable. Then he began to mutter and make passes
in the air with his hands. He worked himself up slowly and
gradually into a sort of frenzy, and got to thrashing around with
his arms like the sails of a windmill. By this time the storm had
about reached us; the gusts of wind were flaring the torches and
making the shadows swash about, the first heavy drops of rain
were falling, the world abroad was black as pitch, the lightning
began to wink fitfully. Of course, my rod would be loading itself
now. In fact, things were imminent. So I said:
"You have had time enough. I have given you every advantage,
and not interfered. It is plain your magic is weak. It is only
fair that I begin now."
I made about three passes in the air, and then there was an awful
crash and that old tower leaped into the sky in chunks, along
with a vast volcanic fountain of fire that turned night to noonday,
and showed a thousand acres of human beings groveling on the ground
in a general collapse of consternation. Well, it rained mortar and
masonry the rest of the week. This was the report; but probably
the facts would have modified it.
It was an effective miracle. The great bothersome temporary
population vanished. There were a good many thousand tracks
in the mud the next morning, but they were all outward bound.
If I had advertised another miracle I couldn't have raised an
audience with a sheriff.
Merlin's stock was flat. The king wanted to stop his wages; he
even wanted to banish him, but I interfered. I said he would be
useful to work the weather, and attend to small matters like that,
and I would give him a lift now and then when his poor little
parlor-magic soured on him. There wasn't a rag of his tower left,
but I had the government rebuild it for him, and advised him
to take boarders; but he was too high-toned for that. And as for
being grateful, he never even said thank you. He was a rather
hard lot, take him how you might; but then you couldn't fairly
expect a man to be sweet that had been set back so.