FictionForest

Chapter 41 – The Interdict

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

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HOWEVER, my attention was suddenly snatched
from such matters; our child began to lose
ground again, and we had to go to sitting up with her,
her case became so serious. We couldn’t bear to
allow anybody to help in this service, so we two stood
watch-and-watch, day in and day out. Ah, Sandy,
what a right heart she had, how simple, and genuine,
and good she was! She was a flawless wife and
mother; and yet I had married her for no other particular reasons, except that by the customs of chivalry
she was my property until some knight should win her
from me in the field. She had hunted Britain over for
me; had found me at the hanging-bout outside of
London, and had straightway resumed her old place at
my side in the placidest way and as of right. I was a
New Englander, and in my opinion this sort of partnership would compromise her, sooner or later. She
couldn’t see how, but I cut argument short and we
had a wedding.

Now I didn’t know I was drawing a prize, yet that
was what I did draw. Within the twelvemonth I became her worshiper; and ours was the dearest and
perfectest comradeship that ever was. People talk
about beautiful friendships between two persons of the
same sex. What is the best of that sort, as compared
with the friendship of man and wife, where the best
impulses and highest ideals of both are the same?
There is no place for comparison between the two
friendships; the one is earthly, the other divine.

In my dreams, along at first, I still wandered thirteen
centuries away, and my unsatisfied spirit went calling
and harking all up and down the unreplying vacancies
of a vanished world. Many a time Sandy heard that
imploring cry come from my lips in my sleep. With
a grand magnanimity she saddled that cry of mine
upon our child, conceiving it to be the name of some
lost darling of mine. It touched me to tears, and it
also nearly knocked me off my feet, too, when she
smiled up in my face for an earned reward, and played
her quaint and pretty surprise upon me:

“The name of one who was dear to thee is here
preserved, here made holy, and the music of it will
abide alway in our ears. Now thou’lt kiss me, as
knowing the name I have given the child.”

But I didn’t know it, all the same. I hadn’t an
idea in the world; but it would have been cruel to
confess it and spoil her pretty game; so I never let on,
but said:

“Yes, I know, sweetheart — how dear and good it
is of you, too! But I want to hear these lips of yours,
which are also mine, utter it first — then its music will
be perfect.”

Pleased to the marrow, she murmured:

“HELLO-CENTRAL!”

I didn’t laugh — I am always thankful for that — but
the strain ruptured every cartilage in me, and for weeks
afterward I could hear my bones clack when I walked.
She never found out her mistake. The first time she
heard that form of salute used at the telephone she was
surprised, and not pleased; but I told her I had given
order for it: that henceforth and forever the telephone must always be invoked with that reverent formality, in perpetual honor and remembrance of my
lost friend and her small namesake. This was not
true. But it answered.

Well, during two weeks and a half we watched by
the crib, and in our deep solicitude we were unconscious of any world outside of that sick-room. Then
our reward came: the center of the universe turned the
corner and began to mend. Grateful? It isn’t the
term. There ISN’T any term for it. You know that
yourself, if you’ve watched your child through the
Valley of the Shadow and seen it come back to life
and sweep night out of the earth with one all-illuminating smile that you could cover with your hand.

Why, we were back in this world in one instant!
Then we looked the same startled thought into each
other’s eyes at the same moment; more than two
weeks gone, and that ship not back yet!

In another minute I appeared in the presence of my
train. They had been steeped in troubled bodings all
this time — their faces showed it. I called an escort
and we galloped five miles to a hilltop overlooking the
sea. Where was my great commerce that so lately
had made these glistening expanses populous and
beautiful with its white-winged flocks? Vanished,
every one! Not a sail, from verge to verge, not a
smoke-bank — just a dead and empty solitude, in place
of all that brisk and breezy life.

I went swiftly back, saying not a word to anybody.
I told Sandy this ghastly news. We could imagine no
explanation that would begin to explain. Had there
been an invasion? an earthquake? a pestilence? Had
the nation been swept out of existence? But guessing
was profitless. I must go — at once. I borrowed the
king’s navy — a “ship” no bigger than a steam
launch — and was soon ready.

The parting — ah, yes, that was hard. As I was
devouring the child with last kisses, it brisked up and
jabbered out its vocabulary! — the first time in more
than two weeks, and it made fools of us for joy. The
darling mispronunciations of childhood! — dear me,
there’s no music that can touch it; and how one
grieves when it wastes away and dissolves into correctness, knowing it will never visit his bereaved ear again.
Well, how good it was to be able to carry that gracious
memory away with me!

I approached England the next morning, with the
wide highway of salt water all to myself. There were
ships in the harbor, at Dover, but they were naked as
to sails, and there was no sign of life about them. It
was Sunday; yet at Canterbury the streets were
empty; strangest of all, there was not even a priest
in sight, and no stroke of a bell fell upon my ear.
The mournfulness of death was everywhere. I couldn’t
understand it. At last, in the further edge of that
town I saw a small funeral procession — just a family
and a few friends following a coffin — no priest; a
funeral without bell, book, or candle; there was a
church there close at hand, but they passed it by
weeping, and did not enter it; I glanced up at the
belfry, and there hung the bell, shrouded in black,
and its tongue tied back. Now I knew! Now I
understood the stupendous calamity that had overtaken
England. Invasion? Invasion is a triviality to it. It
was the INTERDICT!

I asked no questions; I didn’t need to ask any.
The Church had struck; the thing for me to do was
to get into a disguise, and go warily. One of my
servants gave me a suit of clothes, and when we were
safe beyond the town I put them on, and from that
time I traveled alone; I could not risk the embarrassment of company.

A miserable journey. A desolate silence everywhere.
Even in London itself. Traffic had ceased; men did
not talk or laugh, or go in groups, or even in couples;
they moved aimlessly about, each man by himself,
with his head down, and woe and terror at his heart.
The Tower showed recent war-scars. Verily, much
had been happening.

Of course, I meant to take the train for Camelot.
Train! Why, the station was as vacant as a cavern.
I moved on. The journey to Camelot was a repetition
of what I had already seen. The Monday and the
Tuesday differed in no way from the Sunday. I
arrived far in the night. From being the best electric-lighted town in the kingdom and the most like a
recumbent sun of anything you ever saw, it was become simply a blot — a blot upon darkness — that is
to say, it was darker and solider than the rest of the
darkness, and so you could see it a little better; it
made me feel as if maybe it was symbolical — a sort of
sign that the Church was going to KEEP the upper hand
now, and snuff out all my beautiful civilization just like
that. I found no life stirring in the somber streets. I
groped my way with a heavy heart. The vast castle
loomed black upon the hilltop, not a spark visible
about it. The drawbridge was down, the great gate
stood wide, I entered without challenge, my own heels
making the only sound I heard — and it was sepulchral
enough, in those huge vacant courts.

 

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