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Chapter 12 – Slow Torture

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

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STRAIGHT off, we were in the country. It was
most lovely and pleasant in those sylvan solitudes
in the early cool morning in the first freshness of
autumn. From hilltops we saw fair green valleys lying
spread out below, with streams winding through them,
and island groves of trees here and there, and huge
lonely oaks scattered about and casting black blots of
shade; and beyond the valleys we saw the ranges of
hills, blue with haze, stretching away in billowy perspective to the horizon, with at wide intervals a dim
fleck of white or gray on a wave-summit, which we
knew was a castle. We crossed broad natural lawns
sparkling with dew, and we moved like spirits, the
cushioned turf giving out no sound of footfall; we
dreamed along through glades in a mist of green light
that got its tint from the sun-drenched roof of leaves
overhead, and by our feet the clearest and coldest of
runlets went frisking and gossiping over its reefs and
making a sort of whispering music, comfortable to hear;
and at times we left the world behind and entered into
the solemn great deeps and rich gloom of the forest,
where furtive wild things whisked and scurried by and
were gone before you could even get your eye on the
place where the noise was; and where only the earliest
birds were turning out and getting to business with a
song here and a quarrel yonder and a mysterious faroff hammering and drumming for worms on a tree trunk
away somewhere in the impenetrable remotenesses of
the woods. And by and by out we would swing again
into the glare.

About the third or fourth or fifth time that we swung
out into the glare — it was along there somewhere, a
couple of hours or so after sun-up — it wasn’t as pleasant as it had been. It was beginning to get hot. This
was quite noticeable. We had a very long pull, after
that, without any shade. Now it is curious how
progressively little frets grow and multiply after they
once get a start. Things which I didn’t mind at all,
at first, I began to mind now — and more and more,
too, all the time. The first ten or fifteen times I wanted
my handkerchief I didn’t seem to care; I got along,
and said never mind, it isn’t any matter, and dropped
it out of my mind. But now it was different; I wanted
it all the time; it was nag, nag, nag, right along, and
no rest; I couldn’t get it out of my mind; and so at
last I lost my temper and said hang a man that would
make a suit of armor without any pockets in it. You
see I had my handkerchief in my helmet; and some
other things; but it was that kind of a helmet that you
can’t take off by yourself. That hadn’t occurred to
me when I put it there; and in fact I didn’t know it.
I supposed it would be particularly convenient there.
And so now, the thought of its being there, so handy
and close by, and yet not get-at-able, made it all the
worse and the harder to bear. Yes, the thing that you
can’t get is the thing that you want, mainly; every one
has noticed that. Well, it took my mind off from everything else; took it clear off, and centered it in my
helmet; and mile after mile, there it stayed, imagining
the handkerchief, picturing the handkerchief; and it
was bitter and aggravating to have the salt sweat keep
trickling down into my eyes, and I couldn’t get at it.
It seems like a little thing, on paper, but it was not a
little thing at all; it was the most real kind of misery.
I would not say it if it was not so. I made up my
mind that I would carry along a reticule next time, let
it look how it might, and people say what they would.
Of course these iron dudes of the Round Table would
think it was scandalous, and maybe raise Sheol about
it, but as for me, give me comfort first, and style afterwards. So we jogged along, and now and then we
struck a stretch of dust, and it would tumble up in
clouds and get into my nose and make me sneeze
and cry; and of course I said things I oughtn’t to
have said, I don’t deny that. I am not better than
others.

We couldn’t seem to meet anybody in this lonesome Britain, not even an ogre; and, in the mood I
was in then, it was well for the ogre; that is, an
ogre with a handkerchief. Most knights would have
thought of nothing but getting his armor; but so I
got his bandanna, he could keep his hardware, for all
of me.

Meantime, it was getting hotter and hotter in there.
You see, the sun was beating down and warming up the
iron more and more all the time. Well, when you are
hot, that way, every little thing irritates you. When I
trotted, I rattled like a crate of dishes, and that annoyed
me; and moreover I couldn’t seem to stand that
shield slatting and banging, now about my breast, now
around my back; and if I dropped into a walk my
joints creaked and screeched in that wearisome way that
a wheelbarrow does, and as we didn’t create any breeze
at that gait, I was like to get fried in that stove; and
besides, the quieter you went the heavier the iron settled down on you and the more and more tons you
seemed to weigh every minute. And you had to be
always changing hands, and passing your spear over to
the other foot, it got so irksome for one hand to hold
it long at a time.

Well, you know, when you perspire that way, in
rivers, there comes a time when you — when you —
well, when you itch. You are inside, your hands are
outside; so there you are; nothing but iron between.
It is not a light thing, let it sound as it may. First
it is one place; then another; then some more; and
it goes on spreading and spreading, and at last the territory is all occupied, and nobody can imagine what
you feel like, nor how unpleasant it is. And when it
had got to the worst, and it seemed to me that I could
not stand anything more, a fly got in through the bars
and settled on my nose, and the bars were stuck and
wouldn’t work, and I couldn’t get the visor up; and I
could only shake my head, which was baking hot by
this time, and the fly — well, you know how a fly acts
when he has got a certainty — he only minded the
shaking enough to change from nose to lip, and lip to
ear, and buzz and buzz all around in there, and keep
on lighting and biting, in a way that a person, already
so distressed as I was, simply could not stand. So I
gave in, and got Alisande to unship the helmet and
relieve me of it. Then she emptied the conveniences
out of it and fetched it full of water, and I drank and
then stood up, and she poured the rest down inside the
armor. One cannot think how refreshing it was. She
continued to fetch and pour until I was well soaked
and thoroughly comfortable.

It was good to have a rest — and peace. But nothing
is quite perfect in this life, at any time. I had made a
pipe a while back, and also some pretty fair tobacco;
not the real thing, but what some of the Indians use:
the inside bark of the willow, dried. These comforts
had been in the helmet, and now I had them again, but
no matches.

Gradually, as the time wore along, one annoying fact
was borne in upon my understanding — that we were
weather-bound. An armed novice cannot mount his
horse without help and plenty of it. Sandy was not
enough; not enough for me, anyway. We had to wait
until somebody should come along. Waiting, in
silence, would have been agreeable enough, for I was
full of matter for reflection, and wanted to give it a
chance to work. I wanted to try and think out how it
was that rational or even half-rational men could ever
have learned to wear armor, considering its inconveniences; and how they had managed to keep up such
a fashion for generations when it was plain that what I
had suffered to-day they had had to suffer all the days
of their lives. I wanted to think that out; and moreover I wanted to think out some way to reform this
evil and persuade the people to let the foolish fashion
die out; but thinking was out of the question in the
circumstances. You couldn’t think, where Sandy
was.

She was a quite biddable creature and good-hearted,
but she had a flow of talk that was as steady as a mill,
and made your head sore like the drays and wagons in
a city. If she had had a cork she would have been a
comfort. But you can’t cork that kind; they would
die. Her clack was going all day, and you would think
something would surely happen to her works, by and
by; but no, they never got out of order; and she
never had to slack up for words. She could grind,
and pump, and churn, and buzz by the week, and never
stop to oil up or blow out. And yet the result was
just nothing but wind. She never had any ideas, any
more than a fog has. She was a perfect blatherskite;
I mean for jaw, jaw, jaw, talk, talk, talk, jabber, jabber,
jabber; but just as good as she could be. I hadn’t
minded her mill that morning, on account of having
that hornets’ nest of other troubles; but more than
once in the afternoon I had to say:

“Take a rest, child; the way you are using up all
the domestic air, the kingdom will have to go to importing it by to-morrow, and it’s a low enough treasury
without that.”

 

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