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

A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court

Chapter IX


They were always having grand tournaments there at Camelot; and
very stirring and picturesque and ridiculous human bull-fights
they were, too, but just a little wearisome to the practical mind.
However, I was generally on hand--for two reasons: a man must
not hold himself aloof from the things which his friends and his
community have at heart if he would be liked--especially as
a statesman; and both as business man and statesman I wanted
to study the tournament and see if I couldn't invent an improvement
on it. That reminds me to remark, in passing, that the very first
official thing I did, in my administration--and it was on the very
first day of it, too--was to start a patent office; for I knew
that a country without a patent office and good patent laws was
just a crab, and couldn't travel any way but sideways or backways.

Things ran along, a tournament nearly every week; and now and then
the boys used to want me to take a hand--I mean Sir Launcelot and
the rest--but I said I would by and by; no hurry yet, and too much
government machinery to oil up and set to rights and start a-going.

We had one tournament which was continued from day to day during
more than a week, and as many as five hundred knights took part
in it, from first to last. They were weeks gathering. They came
on horseback from everywhere; from the very ends of the country,
and even from beyond the sea; and many brought ladies, and all
brought squires and troops of servants. It was a most gaudy and
gorgeous crowd, as to costumery, and very characteristic of the
country and the time, in the way of high animal spirits, innocent
indecencies of language, and happy-hearted indifference to morals.
It was fight or look on, all day and every day; and sing, gamble,
dance, carouse half the night every night. They had a most noble
good time. You never saw such people. Those banks of beautiful
ladies, shining in their barbaric splendors, would see a knight
sprawl from his horse in the lists with a lanceshaft the thickness
of your ankle clean through him and the blood spouting, and instead
of fainting they would clap their hands and crowd each other for a
better view; only sometimes one would dive into her handkerchief,
and look ostentatiously broken-hearted, and then you could lay
two to one that there was a scandal there somewhere and she was
afraid the public hadn't found it out.

The noise at night would have been annoying to me ordinarily, but
I didn't mind it in the present circumstances, because it kept me
from hearing the quacks detaching legs and arms from the day's
cripples. They ruined an uncommon good old cross-cut saw for me,
and broke the saw-buck, too, but I let it pass. And as for my
axe--well, I made up my mind that the next time I lent an axe
to a surgeon I would pick my century.

I not only watched this tournament from day to day, but detailed
an intelligent priest from my Department of Public Morals and
Agriculture, and ordered him to report it; for it was my purpose
by and by, when I should have gotten the people along far enough,
to start a newspaper. The first thing you want in a new country,
is a patent office; then work up your school system; and after that,
out with your paper. A newspaper has its faults, and plenty of them,
but no matter, it's hark from the tomb for a dead nation, and don't
you forget it. You can't resurrect a dead nation without it; there
isn't any way. So I wanted to sample things, and be finding out
what sort of reporter-material I might be able to rake together out
of the sixth century when I should come to need it.

Well, the priest did very well, considering. He got in all
the details, and that is a good thing in a local item: you see,
he had kept books for the undertaker-department of his church
when he was younger, and there, you know, the money's in the details;
the more details, the more swag: bearers, mutes, candles, prayers--
everything counts; and if the bereaved don't buy prayers enough
you mark up your candles with a forked pencil, and your bill
shows up all right. And he had a good knack at getting in the
complimentary thing here and there about a knight that was likely
to advertise--no, I mean a knight that had influence; and he also
had a neat gift of exaggeration, for in his time he had kept door
for a pious hermit who lived in a sty and worked miracles.

Of course this novice's report lacked whoop and crash and lurid
description, and therefore wanted the true ring; but its antique
wording was quaint and sweet and simple, and full of the fragrances
and flavors of the time, and these little merits made up in a measure
for its more important lacks. Here is an extract from it:

Then Sir Brian de les Isles and Grummore Grummorsum,
knights of the castle, encountered with Sir Aglovale and
Sir Tor, and Sir Tor smote down Sir Grummore Grummorsum
to the earth. Then came Sir Carados of the dolorous
tower, and Sir Turquine, knights of the castle, and
there encountered with them Sir Percivale de Galis
and Sir Lamorak de Galis, that were two brethren, and
there encountered Sir Percivale with Sir Carados, and
either brake their spears unto their hands, and then
Sir Turquine with Sir Lamorak, and either of them smote
down other, horse and all, to the earth, and either
parties rescued other and horsed them again. And Sir
Arnold, and Sir Gauter, knights of the castle,
encountered with Sir Brandiles and Sir Kay, and these
four knights encountered mightily, and brake their
spears to their hands. Then came Sir Pertolope from
the castle, and there encountered with him Sir Lionel,
and there Sir Pertolope the green knight smote down Sir
Lionel, brother to Sir Launcelot. All this was marked
by noble heralds, who bare him best, and their names.
Then Sir Bleobaris brake his spear upon Sir Gareth,
but of that stroke Sir Bleobaris fell to the earth.
When Sir Galihodin saw that, he bad Sir Gareth keep him,
and Sir Gareth smote him to the earth. Then Sir Galihud
gat a spear to avenge his brother, and in the same wise
Sir Gareth served him, and Sir Dinadan and his brother
La Cote Male Taile, and Sir Sagramore le Disirous, and
Sir Dodinas le Savage; all these he bare down with one
spear. When King Aswisance of Ireland saw Sir Gareth
fare so he marvelled what he might be, that one time
seemed green, and another time, at his again coming,
he seemed blue. And thus at every course that he rode
to and fro he changed his color, so that there might
neither king nor knight have ready cognizance of him.
Then Sir Agwisance the King of Ireland encountered
with Sir Gareth, and there Sir Gareth smote him from
his horse, saddle and all. And then came King Carados
of Scotland, and Sir Gareth smote him down horse and
man. And in the same wise he served King Uriens of the
land of Gore. And then there came in Six Bagdemagus,
and Sir Gareth smote him down horse and man to the
earth. And Bagdemagus's son Meliganus brake a spear
upon Sir Gareth mightily and knightly. And then Sir
Galahault the noble prince cried on high, Knight with
the many colors, well hast thou justed; now make thee
ready that I may just with thee. Sir Gareth heard him,
and he gat a great spear, and so they encountered
together, and there the prince brake his spear; but Sir
Gareth smote him upon the left side of the helm, that
he reeled here and there, and he had fallen down had not
his men recovered him. Truly, said King Arthur, that
knight with the many colors is a good knight. Wherefore
the king called unto him Sir Launcelot, and prayed him
to encounter with that knight. Sir, said Launcelot, I
may as well find in my heart for to forbear him at
this time, for he hath had travail enough this day, and
when a good knight doth so well upon some day, it is
no good knight's part to let him of his worship, and,
namely, when he seeth a knight hath done so great
labour; for peradventure, said Sir Launcelot, his
quarrel is here this day, and peradventure he is best
beloved with this lady of all that be here, for I see
well he paineth himself and enforceth him to do great
deeds, and therefore, said Sir Launcelot, as for me,
this day he shall have the honour; though it lay in my
power to put him from it, I would not.

There was an unpleasant little episode that day, which for reasons
of state I struck out of my priest's report. You will have noticed
that Garry was doing some great fighting in the engagement. When
I say Garry I mean Sir Gareth. Garry was my private pet name
for him; it suggests that I had a deep affection for him, and that
was the case. But it was a private pet name only, and never spoken
aloud to any one, much less to him; being a noble, he would not
have endured a familiarity like that from me. Well, to proceed:
I sat in the private box set apart for me as the king's minister.
While Sir Dinadan was waiting for his turn to enter the lists,
he came in there and sat down and began to talk; for he was always
making up to me, because I was a stranger and he liked to have
a fresh market for his jokes, the most of them having reached that
stage of wear where the teller has to do the laughing himself while
the other person looks sick. I had always responded to his efforts
as well as I could, and felt a very deep and real kindness for him,
too, for the reason that if by malice of fate he knew the one
particular anecdote which I had heard oftenest and had most hated
and most loathed all my life, he had at least spared it me. It was
one which I had heard attributed to every humorous person who
had ever stood on American soil, from Columbus down to Artemus Ward.
It was about a humorous lecturer who flooded an ignorant audience
with the killingest jokes for an hour and never got a laugh; and
then when he was leaving, some gray simpletons wrung him gratefully
by the hand and said it had been the funniest thing they had ever
heard, and "it was all they could do to keep from laughin' right
out in meetin'." That anecdote never saw the day that it was
worth the telling; and yet I had sat under the telling of it
hundreds and thousands and millions and billions of times, and
cried and cursed all the way through. Then who can hope to know
what my feelings were, to hear this armor-plated ass start in on
it again, in the murky twilight of tradition, before the dawn of
history, while even Lactantius might be referred to as "the late
Lactantius," and the Crusades wouldn't be born for five hundred
years yet? Just as he finished, the call-boy came; so, haw-hawing
like a demon, he went rattling and clanking out like a crate of
loose castings, and I knew nothing more. It was some minutes
before I came to, and then I opened my eyes just in time to see
Sir Gareth fetch him an awful welt, and I unconsciously out with
the prayer, "I hope to gracious he's killed!" But by ill-luck,
before I had got half through with the words, Sir Gareth crashed
into Sir Sagramor le Desirous and sent him thundering over his
horse's crupper, and Sir Sagramor caught my remark and thought
I meant it for _him_.

Well, whenever one of those people got a thing into his head,
there was no getting it out again. I knew that, so I saved my
breath, and offered no explanations. As soon as Sir Sagramor
got well, he notified me that there was a little account to settle
between us, and he named a day three or four years in the future;
place of settlement, the lists where the offense had been given.
I said I would be ready when he got back. You see, he was going
for the Holy Grail. The boys all took a flier at the Holy Grail
now and then. It was a several years' cruise. They always put in
the long absence snooping around, in the most conscientious way,
though none of them had any idea where the Holy Grail really was,
and I don't think any of them actually expected to find it, or
would have known what to do with it if he _had_ run across it.
You see, it was just the Northwest Passage of that day, as you may
say; that was all. Every year expeditions went out holy grailing,
and next year relief expeditions went out to hunt for _them_. There
was worlds of reputation in it, but no money. Why, they actually
wanted _me_ to put in! Well, I should smile.

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