FictionForest

Chapter 7 – Merlin’s Tower

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

Light off Small Medium Large

INASMUCH as I was now the second personage in
the Kingdom, as far as political power and authorty were concerned, much was made of me. My
raiment was of silks and velvets and cloth of gold,
and by consequence was very showy, also uncomfortable. But habit would soon reconcile me to my clothes;
I was aware of that. I was given the choicest suite of
apartments in the castle, after the king’s. They were
aglow with loud-colored silken hangings, but the stone
floors had nothing but rushes on them for a carpet,
and they were misfit rushes at that, being not all of
one breed. As for conveniences, properly speaking,
there weren’t any. I mean LITTLE conveniences; it is
the little conveniences that make the real comfort of
life. The big oaken chairs, graced with rude carvings,
were well enough, but that was the stopping place.
There was no soap, no matches, no looking-glass — except a metal one, about as powerful as a pail of water.
And not a chromo. I had been used to chromos for
years, and I saw now that without my suspecting it a
passion for art had got worked into the fabric of my
being, and was become a part of me. It made me
homesick to look around over this proud and gaudy
but heartless barrenness and remember that in our house
in East Hartford, all unpretending as it was, you couldn’t
go into a room but you would find an insurance-chromo,
or at least a three-color God-Bless-Our-Home over the
door; and in the parlor we had nine. But here, even
in my grand room of state, there wasn’t anything in
the nature of a picture except a thing the size of a
bedquilt, which was either woven or knitted (it had
darned places in it), and nothing in it was the right
color or the right shape; and as for proportions, even
Raphael himself couldn’t have botched them more
formidably, after all his practice on those nightmares
they call his “celebrated Hampton Court cartoons.”
Raphael was a bird. We had several of his chromos;
one was his “Miraculous Draught of Fishes,” where
he puts in a miracle of his own — puts three men into
a canoe which wouldn’t have held a dog without upsetting. I always admired to study R.’s art, it was so
fresh and unconventional.

There wasn’t even a bell or a speaking-tube in the
castle. I had a great many servants, and those that
were on duty lolled in the anteroom; and when I
wanted one of them I had to go and call for him.
There was no gas, there were no candles; a bronze
dish half full of boarding-house butter with a blazing
rag floating in it was the thing that produced what was
regarded as light. A lot of these hung along the walls
and modified the dark, just toned it down enough to
make it dismal. If you went out at night, your servants carried torches. There were no books, pens,
paper or ink, and no glass in the openings they believed to be windows. It is a little thing — glass is —
until it is absent, then it becomes a big thing. But
perhaps the worst of all was, that there wasn’t any
sugar, coffee, tea, or tobacco. I saw that I was just
another Robinson Crusoe cast away on an uninhabited
island, with no society but some more or less tame
animals, and if I wanted to make life bearable I must
do as he did — invent, contrive, create, reorganize
things; set brain and hand to work, and keep them
busy. Well, that was in my line.

One thing troubled me along at first — the immense
interest which people took in me. Apparently the
whole nation wanted a look at me. It soon transpired
that the eclipse had scared the British world almost to
death; that while it lasted the whole country, from one
end to the other, was in a pitiable state of panic, and
the churches, hermitages, and monkeries overflowed
with praying and weeping poor creatures who thought
the end of the world was come. Then had followed
the news that the producer of this awful event was a
stranger, a mighty magician at Arthur’s court; that he
could have blown out the sun like a candle, and was
just going to do it when his mercy was purchased, and
he then dissolved his enchantments, and was now
recognized and honored as the man who had by his
unaided might saved the globe from destruction and
its peoples from extinction. Now if you consider that
everybody believed that, and not only believed it, but
never even dreamed of doubting it, you will easily
understand that there was not a person in all Britain
that would not have walked fifty miles to get a sight of
me. Of course I was all the talk — all other subjects
were dropped; even the king became suddenly a person of minor interest and notoriety. Within twentyfour hours the delegations began to arrive, and from
that time onward for a fortnight they kept coming.
The village was crowded, and all the countryside. I
had to go out a dozen times a day and show myself to
these reverent and awe-stricken multitudes. It came
to be a great burden, as to time and trouble, but of
course it was at the same time compensatingly agreeable to be so celebrated and such a center of homage.
It turned Brer Merlin green with envy and spite, which
was a great satisfaction to me. But there was one
thing I couldn’t understand — nobody had asked for
an autograph. I spoke to Clarence about it. By
George! I had to explain to him what it was. Then
he said nobody in the country could read or write but
a few dozen priests. Land! think of that.

There was another thing that troubled me a little.
Those multitudes presently began to agitate for another
miracle. That was natural. To be able to carry back
to their far homes the boast that they had seen the
man who could command the sun, riding in the
heavens, and be obeyed, would make them great in
the eyes of their neighbors, and envied by them all;
but to be able to also say they had seen him work a
miracle themselves — why, people would come a distance to see THEM. The pressure got to be pretty
strong. There was going to be an eclipse of the
moon, and I knew the date and hour, but it was too
far away. Two years. I would have given a good
deal for license to hurry it up and use it now when
there was a big market for it. It seemed a great pity
to have it wasted so, and come lagging along at a time
when a body wouldn’t have any use for it, as like as
not. If it had been booked for only a month away, I
could have sold it short; but, as matters stood, I
couldn’t seem to cipher out any way to make it do me
any good, so I gave up trying. Next, Clarence found
that old Merlin was making himself busy on the sly
among those people. He was spreading a report that
I was a humbug, and that the reason I didn’t accommodate the people with a miracle was because I
couldn’t. I saw that I must do something. I presently thought out a plan.

By my authority as executive I threw Merlin into
prison — the same cell I had occupied myself. Then
I gave public notice by herald and trumpet that I
should be busy with affairs of state for a fortnight, but
about the end of that time I would take a moment’s
leisure and blow up Merlin’s stone tower by fires from
heaven; in the meantime, whoso listened to evil reports about me, let him beware. Furthermore, I
would perform but this one miracle at this time, and
no more; if it failed to satisfy and any murmured, I
would turn the murmurers into horses, and make them
useful. Quiet ensued.

I took Clarence into my confidence, to a certain
degree, and we went to work privately. I told him
that this was a sort of miracle that required a trifle of
preparation, and that it would be sudden death to ever
talk about these preparations to anybody. That made
his mouth safe enough. Clandestinely we made a few
bushels of first-rate blasting powder, and I superintended my armorers while they constructed a lightningrod and some wires. This old stone tower was very
massive — and rather ruinous, too, for it was Roman,
and four hundred years old. Yes, and handsome,
after a rude fashion, and clothed with ivy from base to
summit, as with a shirt of scale mail. It stood on a
lonely eminence, in good view from the castle, and
about half a mile away.

Working by night, we stowed the powder in the
tower — dug stones out, on the inside, and buried the
powder in the walls themselves, which were fifteen feet
thick at the base. We put in a peck at a time, in a
dozen places. We could have blown up the Tower of
London with these charges. When the thirteenth night
was come we put up our lightning-rod, bedded it in
one of the batches of powder, and ran wires from it to
the other batches. Everybody had shunned that
locality from the day of my proclamation, but on the
morning of the fourteenth I thought best to warn the
people, through the heralds, to keep clear away — a
quarter of a mile away. Then added, by command,
that at some time during the twenty-four hours I
would consummate the miracle, but would first give a
brief notice; by flags on the castle towers if in the
daytime, by torch-baskets in the same places if at
night.

Thunder-showers had been tolerably frequent of late,
and I was not much afraid of a failure; still, I shouldn’t
have cared for a delay of a day or two; I should have
explained that I was busy with affairs of state yet, and
the people must wait.

Of course, we had a blazing sunny day — almost the
first one without a cloud for three weeks; things always
happen so. I kept secluded, and watched the weather.
Clarence dropped in from time to time and said the
public excitement was growing and growing all the
time, and the whole country filling up with human
masses as far as one could see from the battlements.
At last the wind sprang up and a cloud appeared — in
the right quarter, too, and just at nightfall. For a
little while I watched that distant cloud spread and
blacken, then I judged it was time for me to appear.
I ordered the torch-baskets to be lit, and Merlin liberated and sent to me. A quarter of an hour later I
ascended the parapet and there found the king and the
court assembled and gazing off in the darkness toward
Merlin’s Tower. Already the darkness was so heavy
that one could not see far; these people and the old
turrets, being partly in deep shadow and partly in the
red glow from the great torch-baskets overhead, made
a good deal of a picture.

Merlin arrived in a gloomy mood. I said:

“You wanted to burn me alive when I had not done
you any harm, and latterly you have been trying to
injure my professional reputation. Therefore I am
going to call down fire and blow up your tower, but
it is only fair to give you a chance; now if you think
you can break my enchantments and ward off the fires,
step to the bat, it’s your innings.”

“I can, fair sir, and I will. Doubt it not.”

He drew an imaginary circle on the stones of the
roof, and burnt a pinch of powder in it, which sent up
a small cloud of aromatic smoke, whereat everybody
fell back and began to cross themselves and get uncomfortable. Then he began to mutter and make
passes in the air with his hands. He worked himself
up slowly and gradually into a sort of frenzy, and got
to thrashing around with his arms like the sails of a
windmill. By this time the storm had about reached
us; the gusts of wind were flaring the torches and
making the shadows swash about, the first heavy drops
of rain were falling, the world abroad was black as
pitch, the lightning began to wink fitfully. Of course,
my rod would be loading itself now. In fact, things
were imminent. So I said:

“You have had time enough. I have given you
every advantage, and not interfered. It is plain your
magic is weak. It is only fair that I begin now.”

I made about three passes in the air, and then there
was an awful crash and that old tower leaped into the
sky in chunks, along with a vast volcanic fountain of
fire that turned night to noonday, and showed a thousand acres of human beings groveling on the ground in
a general collapse of consternation. Well, it rained
mortar and masonry the rest of the week. This was
the report; but probably the facts would have modified it.

It was an effective miracle. The great bothersome
temporary population vanished. There were a good
many thousand tracks in the mud the next morning,
but they were all outward bound. If I had advertised
another miracle I couldn’t have raised an audience
with a sheriff.

Merlin’s stock was flat. The king wanted to stop
his wages; he even wanted to banish him, but I interfered. I said he would be useful to work the weather,
and attend to small matters like that, and I would give
him a lift now and then when his poor little parlormagic soured on him. There wasn’t a rag of his tower
left, but I had the government rebuild it for him, and
advised him to take boarders; but he was too hightoned for that. And as for being grateful, he never
even said thank you. He was a rather hard lot, take
him how you might; but then you couldn’t fairly expect a man to be sweet that had been set back so.

 

Leave a Reply