The Round Table soon heard of the challenge, and of course it was
a good deal discussed, for such things interested the boys.
The king thought I ought now to set forth in quest of adventures,
so that I might gain renown and be the more worthy to meet
Sir Sagramor when the several years should have rolled away.
I excused myself for the present; I said it would take me three
or four years yet to get things well fixed up and going smoothly;
then I should be ready; all the chances were that at the end of
that time Sir Sagramor would still be out grailing, so no valuable
time would be lost by the postponement; I should then have been
in office six or seven years, and I believed my system and machinery
would be so well developed that I could take a holiday without
its working any harm.
I was pretty well satisfied with what I had already accomplished.
In various quiet nooks and corners I had the beginnings of all
sorts of industries under way--nuclei of future vast factories,
the iron and steel missionaries of my future civilization. In these
were gathered together the brightest young minds I could find,
and I kept agents out raking the country for more, all the time.
I was training a crowd of ignorant folk into experts--experts
in every sort of handiwork and scientific calling. These nurseries
of mine went smoothly and privately along undisturbed in their
obscure country retreats, for nobody was allowed to come into their
precincts without a special permit--for I was afraid of the Church.
I had started a teacher-factory and a lot of Sunday-schools the
first thing; as a result, I now had an admirable system of graded
schools in full blast in those places, and also a complete variety
of Protestant congregations all in a prosperous and growing
condition. Everybody could be any kind of a Christian he wanted
to; there was perfect freedom in that matter. But I confined public
religious teaching to the churches and the Sunday-schools, permitting
nothing of it in my other educational buildings. I could have
given my own sect the preference and made everybody a Presbyterian
without any trouble, but that would have been to affront a law
of human nature: spiritual wants and instincts are as various in
the human family as are physical appetites, complexions, and
features, and a man is only at his best, morally, when he is
equipped with the religious garment whose color and shape and
size most nicely accommodate themselves to the spiritual complexion,
angularities, and stature of the individual who wears it; and,
besides, I was afraid of a united Church; it makes a mighty power,
the mightiest conceivable, and then when it by and by gets into
selfish hands, as it is always bound to do, it means death to
human liberty and paralysis to human thought.
All mines were royal property, and there were a good many of them.
They had formerly been worked as savages always work mines--holes
grubbed in the earth and the mineral brought up in sacks of hide by
hand, at the rate of a ton a day; but I had begun to put the mining
on a scientific basis as early as I could.
Yes, I had made pretty handsome progress when Sir Sagramor's
challenge struck me.
Four years rolled by--and then! Well, you would never imagine
it in the world. Unlimited power is the ideal thing when it is in
safe hands. The despotism of heaven is the one absolutely perfect
government. An earthly despotism would be the absolutely perfect
earthly government, if the conditions were the same, namely, the
despot the perfectest individual of the human race, and his lease
of life perpetual. But as a perishable perfect man must die, and
leave his despotism in the hands of an imperfect successor, an
earthly despotism is not merely a bad form of government, it is
the worst form that is possible.
My works showed what a despot could do with the resources of
a kingdom at his command. Unsuspected by this dark land, I had
the civilization of the nineteenth century booming under its very
nose! It was fenced away from the public view, but there it was,
a gigantic and unassailable fact--and to be heard from, yet, if
I lived and had luck. There it was, as sure a fact and as substantial
a fact as any serene volcano, standing innocent with its smokeless
summit in the blue sky and giving no sign of the rising hell in its
bowels. My schools and churches were children four years before;
they were grown-up now; my shops of that day were vast factories
now; where I had a dozen trained men then, I had a thousand now;
where I had one brilliant expert then, I had fifty now. I stood
with my hand on the cock, so to speak, ready to turn it on and
flood the midnight world with light at any moment. But I was not
going to do the thing in that sudden way. It was not my policy.
The people could not have stood it; and, moreover, I should have
had the Established Roman Catholic Church on my back in a minute.
No, I had been going cautiously all the while. I had had confidential
agents trickling through the country some time, whose office was
to undermine knighthood by imperceptible degrees, and to gnaw
a little at this and that and the other superstition, and so prepare
the way gradually for a better order of things. I was turning on
my light one-candle-power at a time, and meant to continue to do so.
I had scattered some branch schools secretly about the kingdom,
and they were doing very well. I meant to work this racket more
and more, as time wore on, if nothing occurred to frighten me.
One of my deepest secrets was my West Point--my military academy.
I kept that most jealously out of sight; and I did the same with my
naval academy which I had established at a remote seaport. Both
were prospering to my satisfaction.
Clarence was twenty-two now, and was my head executive, my right
hand. He was a darling; he was equal to anything; there wasn't
anything he couldn't turn his hand to. Of late I had been training
him for journalism, for the time seemed about right for a start
in the newspaper line; nothing big, but just a small weekly for
experimental circulation in my civilization-nurseries. He took
to it like a duck; there was an editor concealed in him, sure.
Already he had doubled himself in one way; he talked sixth century
and wrote nineteenth. His journalistic style was climbing,
steadily; it was already up to the back settlement Alabama mark,
and couldn't be told from the editorial output of that region
either by matter or flavor.
We had another large departure on hand, too. This was a telegraph
and a telephone; our first venture in this line. These wires were
for private service only, as yet, and must be kept private until
a riper day should come. We had a gang of men on the road, working
mainly by night. They were stringing ground wires; we were afraid
to put up poles, for they would attract too much inquiry. Ground
wires were good enough, in both instances, for my wires were
protected by an insulation of my own invention which was perfect.
My men had orders to strike across country, avoiding roads, and
establishing connection with any considerable towns whose lights
betrayed their presence, and leaving experts in charge. Nobody
could tell you how to find any place in the kingdom, for nobody
ever went intentionally to any place, but only struck it by
accident in his wanderings, and then generally left it without
thinking to inquire what its name was. At one time and another
we had sent out topographical expeditions to survey and map the
kingdom, but the priests had always interfered and raised trouble.
So we had given the thing up, for the present; it would be poor
wisdom to antagonize the Church.
As for the general condition of the country, it was as it had been
when I arrived in it, to all intents and purposes. I had made
changes, but they were necessarily slight, and they were not
noticeable. Thus far, I had not even meddled with taxation,
outside of the taxes which provided the royal revenues. I had
systematized those, and put the service on an effective and
righteous basis. As a result, these revenues were already quadrupled,
and yet the burden was so much more equably distributed than
before, that all the kingdom felt a sense of relief, and the praises
of my administration were hearty and general.
Personally, I struck an interruption, now, but I did not mind it,
it could not have happened at a better time. Earlier it could
have annoyed me, but now everything was in good hands and swimming
right along. The king had reminded me several times, of late, that
the postponement I had asked for, four years before, had about
run out now. It was a hint that I ought to be starting out to seek
adventures and get up a reputation of a size to make me worthy
of the honor of breaking a lance with Sir Sagramor, who was still
out grailing, but was being hunted for by various relief expeditions,
and might be found any year, now. So you see I was expecting
this interruption; it did not take me by surprise.