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Chapter 40 – Three Years Later

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

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WHEN I broke the back of knight-errantry that
time, I no longer felt obliged to work in secret.
So, the very next day I exposed my hidden schools,
my mines, and my vast system of clandestine factories
and workshops to an astonished world. That is to
say, I exposed the nineteenth century to the inspection of the sixth.

Well, it is always a good plan to follow up an
advantage promptly. The knights were temporarily
down, but if I would keep them so I must just simply
paralyze them — nothing short of that would answer.
You see, I was “bluffing” that last time in the field;
it would be natural for them to work around to that
conclusion, if I gave them a chance. So I must not
give them time; and I didn’t.

I renewed my challenge, engraved it on brass, posted
it up where any priest could read it to them, and also
kept it standing in the advertising columns of the
paper.

I not only renewed it, but added to its proportions.
I said, name the day, and I would take fifty assistants
and stand up AGAINST THE MASSED CHIVALRY OF THE WHOLE
EARTH AND DESTROY IT.

I was not bluffing this time. I meant what I said;
I could do what I promised. There wasn’t any way
to misunderstand the language of that challenge.
Even the dullest of the chivalry perceived that this
was a plain case of “put up, or shut up.” They
were wise and did the latter. In all the next three
years they gave me no trouble worth mentioning.

Consider the three years sped. Now look around
on England. A happy and prosperous country, and
strangely altered. Schools everywhere, and several
colleges; a number of pretty good newspapers. Even
authorship was taking a start; Sir Dinadan the Humorist was first in the field, with a volume of gray-headed
jokes which I had been familiar with during thirteen
centuries. If he had left out that old rancid one about
the lecturer I wouldn’t have said anything; but I
couldn’t stand that one. I suppressed the book and
hanged the author.

Slavery was dead and gone; all men were equal
before the law; taxation had been equalized. The
telegraph, the telephone, the phonograph, the typewriter, the sewing-machine, and all the thousand willing and handy servants of steam and electricity were
working their way into favor. We had a steamboat or
two on the Thames, we had steam warships, and the
beginnings of a steam commercial marine; I was getting
ready to send out an expedition to discover America.

We were building several lines of railway, and our
line from Camelot to London was already finished and
in operation. I was shrewd enough to make all offices
connected with the passenger service places of high
and distinguished honor. My idea was to attract the
chivalry and nobility, and make them useful and keep
them out of mischief. The plan worked very well, the
competition for the places was hot. The conductor of
the 4.33 express was a duke; there wasn’t a passenger
conductor on the line below the degree of earl. They
were good men, every one, but they had two defects
which I couldn’t cure, and so had to wink at: they
wouldn’t lay aside their armor, and they would “knock
down” fare — I mean rob the company.

There was hardly a knight in all the land who wasn’t
in some useful employment. They were going from
end to end of the country in all manner of useful
missionary capacities; their penchant for wandering,
and their experience in it, made them altogether the
most effective spreaders of civilization we had. They
went clothed in steel and equipped with sword and
lance and battle-axe, and if they couldn’t persuade a
person to try a sewing-machine on the installment
plan, or a melodeon, or a barbed-wire fence, or a
prohibition journal, or any of the other thousand and
one things they canvassed for, they removed him and
passed on.

I was very happy. Things were working steadily
toward a secretly longed-for point. You see, I had
two schemes in my head which were the vastest of all
my projects. The one was to overthrow the Catholic
Church and set up the Protestant faith on its ruins —
not as an Established Church, but a go-as-you-please
one; and the other project was to get a decree issued
by and by, commanding that upon Arthur’s death
unlimited suffrage should be introduced, and given to
men and women alike — at any rate to all men, wise
or unwise, and to all mothers who at middle age should
be found to know nearly as much as their sons at
twenty-one. Arthur was good for thirty years yet, he
being about my own age — that is to say, forty — and
I believed that in that time I could easily have the
active part of the population of that day ready and
eager for an event which should be the first of its kind
in the history of the world — a rounded and complete
governmental revolution without bloodshed. The result to be a republic. Well, I may as well confess,
though I do feel ashamed when I think of it: I was
beginning to have a base hankering to be its first president myself. Yes, there was more or less human
nature in me; I found that out.

Clarence was with me as concerned the revolution,
but in a modified way. His idea was a republic, without privileged orders, but with a hereditary royal
family at the head of it instead of an elective chief
magistrate. He believed that no nation that had ever
known the joy of worshiping a royal family could
ever be robbed of it and not fade away and die of
melancholy. I urged that kings were dangerous. He
said, then have cats. He was sure that a royal family
of cats would answer every purpose. They would be
as useful as any other royal family, they would know
as much, they would have the same virtues and the
same treacheries, the same disposition to get up shindies with other royal cats, they would be laughably
vain and absurd and never know it, they would be
wholly inexpensive; finally, they would have as sound
a divine right as any other royal house, and “Tom
VII., or Tom XI., or Tom XIV. by the grace of God
King,” would sound as well as it would when applied
to the ordinary royal tomcat with tights on. “And as
a rule,” said he, in his neat modern English, “the
character of these cats would be considerably above
the character of the average king, and this would be
an immense moral advantage to the nation, for the
reason that a nation always models its morals after its
monarch’s. The worship of royalty being founded in
unreason, these graceful and harmless cats would easily
become as sacred as any other royalties, and indeed
more so, because it would presently be noticed that
they hanged nobody, beheaded nobody, imprisoned
nobody, inflicted no cruelties or injustices of any sort,
and so must be worthy of a deeper love and reverence
than the customary human king, and would certainly
get it. The eyes of the whole harried world would
soon be fixed upon this humane and gentle system,
and royal butchers would presently begin to disappear;
their subjects would fill the vacancies with catlings
from our own royal house; we should become a factory; we should supply the thrones of the world;
within forty years all Europe would be governed by
cats, and we should furnish the cats. The reign of
universal peace would begin then, to end no more
forever…… Me-e-e-yow-ow-ow-ow — fzt! — wow!”

Hang him, I supposed he was in earnest, and was
beginning to be persuaded by him, until he exploded
that cat-howl and startled me almost out of my clothes.
But he never could be in earnest. He didn’t know
what it was. He had pictured a distinct and perfectly
rational and feasible improvement upon constitutional
monarchy, but he was too feather-headed to know it,
or care anything about it, either. I was going to give
him a scolding, but Sandy came flying in at that
moment, wild with terror, and so choked with sobs that
for a minute she could not get her voice. I ran and
took her in my arms, and lavished caresses upon her
and said, beseechingly:

“Speak, darling, speak! What is it?”

Her head fell limp upon my bosom, and she gasped,
almost inaudibly:

“HELLO-CENTRAL!”

“Quick!” I shouted to Clarence; “telephone the
king’s homeopath to come!”

In two minutes I was kneeling by the child’s crib,
and Sandy was dispatching servants here, there, and
everywhere, all over the palace. I took in the situation almost at a glance — membranous croup! I bent
down and whispered:

“Wake up, sweetheart! Hello-Central”

She opened her soft eyes languidly, and made out
to say:

“Papa.”

That was a comfort. She was far from dead yet. I
sent for preparations of sulphur, I rousted out the
croup-kettle myself; for I don’t sit down and wait for
doctors when Sandy or the child is sick. I knew how
to nurse both of them, and had had experience. This
little chap had lived in my arms a good part of its
small life, and often I could soothe away its troubles
and get it to laugh through the tear-dews on its eyelashes when even its mother couldn’t.

Sir Launcelot, in his richest armor, came striding
along the great hall now on his way to the stockboard; he was president of the stock-board, and occupied the Siege Perilous, which he had bought of Sir
Galahad; for the stock-board consisted of the Knights
of the Round Table, and they used the Round Table
for business purposes now. Seats at it were worth —
well, you would never believe the figure, so it is no
use to state it. Sir Launcelot was a bear, and he had
put up a corner in one of the new lines, and was just
getting ready to squeeze the shorts to-day; but what
of that? He was the same old Launcelot, and when
he glanced in as he was passing the door and found out
that his pet was sick, that was enough for him; bulls
and bears might fight it out their own way for all him,
he would come right in here and stand by little Hello-Central for all he was worth. And that was what he
did. He shied his helmet into the corner, and in half
a minute he had a new wick in the alcohol lamp and
was firing up on the croup-kettle. By this time Sandy
had built a blanket canopy over the crib, and everything was ready.

Sir Launcelot got up steam, he and I loaded up the
kettle with unslaked lime and carbolic acid, with a
touch of lactic acid added thereto, then filled the thing
up with water and inserted the steam-spout under the
canopy. Everything was ship-shape now, and we sat
down on either side of the crib to stand our watch.
Sandy was so grateful and so comforted that she
charged a couple of church-wardens with willow-bark
and sumach-tobacco for us, and told us to smoke as
much as we pleased, it couldn’t get under the canopy,
and she was used to smoke, being the first lady in the
land who had ever seen a cloud blown. Well, there
couldn’t be a more contented or comfortable sight
than Sir Launcelot in his noble armor sitting in gracious
serenity at the end of a yard of snowy church-warden.
He was a beautiful man, a lovely man, and was just
intended to make a wife and children happy. But, of
course Guenever — however, it’s no use to cry over
what’s done and can’t be helped.

Well, he stood watch-and-watch with me, right
straight through, for three days and nights, till the
child was out of danger; then he took her up in his
great arms and kissed her, with his plumes falling
about her golden head, then laid her softly in Sandy’s
lap again and took his stately way down the vast hall,
between the ranks of admiring men-at-arms and menials,
and so disappeared. And no instinct warned me that
I should never look upon him again in this world!
Lord, what a world of heart-break it is.

The doctors said we must take the child away, if we
would coax her back to health and strength again.
And she must have sea-air. So we took a man-of-war,
and a suite of two hundred and sixty persons, and
went cruising about, and after a fortnight of this we
stepped ashore on the French coast, and the doctors
thought it would be a good idea to make something of
a stay there. The little king of that region offered us
his hospitalities, and we were glad to accept. If he
had had as many conveniences as he lacked, we should
have been plenty comfortable enough; even as it was,
we made out very well, in his queer old castle, by the
help of comforts and luxuries from the ship.

At the end of a month I sent the vessel home for
fresh supplies, and for news. We expected her back
in three or four days. She would bring me, along
with other news, the result of a certain experiment
which I had been starting. It was a project of mine
to replace the tournament with something which might
furnish an escape for the extra steam of the chivalry,
keep those bucks entertained and out of mischief, and
at the same time preserve the best thing in them,
which was their hardy spirit of emulation. I had had
a choice band of them in private training for some time,
and the date was now arriving for their first public
effort.

This experiment was baseball. In order to give the
thing vogue from the start, and place it out of the
reach of criticism, I chose my nines by rank, not
capacity. There wasn’t a knight in either team who
wasn’t a sceptered sovereign. As for material of this
sort, there was a glut of it always around Arthur.
You couldn’t throw a brick in any direction and not
cripple a king. Of course, I couldn’t get these people
to leave off their armor; they wouldn’t do that when
they bathed. They consented to differentiate the armor
so that a body could tell one team from the other, but
that was the most they would do. So, one of the
teams wore chain-mail ulsters, and the other wore platearmor made of my new Bessemer steel. Their practice in the field was the most fantastic thing I ever saw.
Being ball-proof, they never skipped out of the way,
but stood still and took the result; when a Bessemer
was at the bat and a ball hit him, it would bound a
hundred and fifty yards sometimes. And when a man
was running, and threw himself on his stomach to slide
to his base, it was like an iron-clad coming into port.
At first I appointed men of no rank to act as umpires,
but I had to discontinue that. These people were no
easier to please than other nines. The umpire’s first
decision was usually his last; they broke him in two
with a bat, and his friends toted him home on a
shutter. When it was noticed that no umpire ever
survived a game, umpiring got to be unpopular. So
I was obliged to appoint somebody whose rank and
lofty position under the government would protect
him.

Here are the names of the nines:

     BESSEMERS                   ULSTERS

   KING ARTHUR.                EMPEROR LUCIUS.
   KING LOT OF LOTHIAN.        KING LOGRIS.
   KING OF NORTHGALIS.         KING MARHALT OF IRELAND.
   KING MARSIL.                KING MORGANORE.
   KING OF LITTLE BRITAIN.     KING MARK OF CORNWALL.
   KING LABOR.                 KING NENTRES OF GARLOT.
   KING PELLAM OF LISTENGESE.  KING MELIODAS OF LIONES.
   KING BAGDEMAGUS.            KING OF THE LAKE.
   KING TOLLEME LA FEINTES.    THE SOWDAN OF SYRIA.

                  Umpire -- CLARENCE.

The first public game would certainly draw fifty
thousand people; and for solid fun would be worth
going around the world to see. Everything would be
favorable; it was balmy and beautiful spring weather
now, and Nature was all tailored out in her new clothes.

 

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