FictionForest

Chapter 38 – Sir Launcelot and Knights to the Rescue

Mark TwainMay 20, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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NEARING four in the afternoon. The scene was
just outside the walls of London. A cool, comfortable, superb day, with a brilliant sun; the kind of
day to make one want to live, not die. The multitude
was prodigious and far-reaching; and yet we fifteen
poor devils hadn’t a friend in it. There was something
painful in that thought, look at it how you might.
There we sat, on our tall scaffold, the butt of the hate
and mockery of all those enemies. We were being
made a holiday spectacle. They had built a sort of
grand stand for the nobility and gentry, and these were
there in full force, with their ladies. We recognized a
good many of them.

The crowd got a brief and unexpected dash of
diversion out of the king. The moment we were
freed of our bonds he sprang up, in his fantastic rags,
with face bruised out of all recognition, and proclaimed
himself Arthur, King of Britain, and denounced the
awful penalties of treason upon every soul there present
if hair of his sacred head were touched. It startled
and surprised him to hear them break into a vast roar
of laughter. It wounded his dignity, and he locked
himself up in silence. then, although the crowd begged
him to go on, and tried to provoke him to it by catcalls, jeers, and shouts of

“Let him speak! The king! The king! his humble subjects hunger and thirst for words of wisdom out
of the mouth of their master his Serene and Sacred
Raggedness!”

But it went for nothing. He put on all his majesty
and sat under this rain of contempt and insult unmoved. He certainly was great in his way. Absently,
I had taken off my white bandage and wound it about
my right arm. When the crowd noticed this, they
began upon me. They said:

“Doubtless this sailor-man is his minister — observe
his costly badge of office!”

I let them go on until they got tired, and then I
said:

“Yes, I am his minister, The Boss; and to-morrow
you will hear that from Camelot which –”

I got no further. They drowned me out with joyous
derision. But presently there was silence; for the
sheriffs of London, in their official robes, with their
subordinates, began to make a stir which indicated
that business was about to begin. In the hush which
followed, our crime was recited, the death warrant
read, then everybody uncovered while a priest uttered
a prayer.

Then a slave was blindfolded; the hangman unslung
his rope. There lay the smooth road below us, we
upon one side of it, the banked multitude wailing its
other side — a good clear road, and kept free by the
police — how good it would be to see my five hundred
horsemen come tearing down it! But no, it was out
of the possibilities. I followed its receding thread out
into the distance — not a horseman on it, or sign of
one.

There was a jerk, and the slave hung dangling;
dangling and hideously squirming, for his limbs were
not tied.

A second rope was unslung, in a moment another
slave was dangling.

In a minute a third slave was struggling in the air.
It was dreadful. I turned away my head a moment,
and when I turned back I missed the king! They
were blindfolding him! I was paralyzed; I couldn’t
move, I was choking, my tongue was petrified. They
finished blindfolding him, they led him under the
rope. I couldn’t shake off that clinging impotence.
But when I saw them put the noose around his neck,
then everything let go in me and I made a spring
to the rescue — and as I made it I shot one
more glance abroad — by George! here they came,
a-tilting! — five hundred mailed and belted knights on
bicycles!

The grandest sight that ever was seen. Lord, how
the plumes streamed, how the sun flamed and flashed
from the endless procession of webby wheels!

I waved my right arm as Launcelot swept in — he
recognized my rag — I tore away noose and bandage,
and shouted:

“On your knees, every rascal of you, and salute the
king! Who fails shall sup in hell to-night!”

I always use that high style when I’m climaxing an
effect. Well, it was noble to see Launcelot and the
boys swarm up onto that scaffold and heave sheriffs
and such overboard. And it was fine to see that
astonished multitude go down on their knees and beg
their lives of the king they had just been deriding and
insulting. And as he stood apart there, receiving this
homage in rags, I thought to myself, well, really there
is something peculiarly grand about the gait and bearing of a king, after all.

I was immensely satisfied. Take the whole situation
all around, it was one of the gaudiest effects I ever
instigated.

And presently up comes Clarence, his own self! and
winks, and says, very modernly:

“Good deal of a surprise, wasn’t it? I knew you’d
like it. I’ve had the boys practicing this long time,
privately; and just hungry for a chance to show off.”

 

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