FictionForest

Chapter 14 – “Defend Thee, Lord”

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

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I PAID three pennies for my breakfast, and a most
extravagant price it was, too, seeing that one could
have breakfasted a dozen persons for that money; but
I was feeling good by this time, and I had always been
a kind of spendthrift anyway; and then these people
had wanted to give me the food for nothing, scant as
their provision was, and so it was a grateful pleasure to
emphasize my appreciation and sincere thankfulness
with a good big financial lift where the money would
do so much more good than it would in my helmet,
where, these pennies being made of iron and not stinted
in weight, my half-dollar’s worth was a good deal of a
burden to me. I spent money rather too freely in
those days, it is true; but one reason for it was that I
hadn’t got the proportions of things entirely adjusted,
even yet, after so long a sojourn in Britain — hadn’t
got along to where I was able to absolutely realize that
a penny in Arthur’s land and a couple of dollars in
Connecticut were about one and the same thing: just
twins, as you may say, in purchasing power. If my
start from Camelot could have been delayed a very few
days I could have paid these people in beautiful new
coins from our own mint, and that would have pleased
me; and them, too, not less. I had adopted the
American values exclusively. In a week or two now,
cents, nickels, dimes, quarters, and half-dollars, and
also a trifle of gold, would be trickling in thin but
steady streams all through the commercial veins of the
kingdom, and I looked to see this new blood freshen up
its life.

The farmers were bound to throw in something, to
sort of offset my liberality, whether I would or no; so
I let them give me a flint and steel; and as soon as
they had comfortably bestowed Sandy and me on our
horse, I lit my pipe. When the first blast of smoke
shot out through the bars of my helmet, all those
people broke for the woods, and Sandy went over
backwards and struck the ground with a dull thud.
They thought I was one of those fire-belching dragons
they had heard so much about from knights and other
professional liars. I had infinite trouble to persuade
those people to venture back within explaining distance.
Then I told them that this was only a bit of enchantment which would work harm to none but my enemies.
And I promised, with my hand on my heart, that if all
who felt no enmity toward me would come forward and
pass before me they should see that only those who remained behind would be struck dead. The procession
moved with a good deal of promptness. There were no
casualties to report, for nobody had curiosity enough
to remain behind to see what would happen.

I lost some time, now, for these big children, their
fears gone, became so ravished with wonder over my
awe-compelling fireworks that I had to stay there and
smoke a couple of pipes out before they would let me
go. Still the delay was not wholly unproductive, for
it took all that time to get Sandy thoroughly wonted to
the new thing, she being so close to it, you know. It
plugged up her conversation mill, too, for a considerable while, and that was a gain. But above all other
benefits accruing, I had learned something. I was
ready for any giant or any ogre that might come along,
now.

We tarried with a holy hermit, that night, and my
opportunity came about the middle of the next afternoon. We were crossing a vast meadow by way of
short-cut, and I was musing absently, hearing nothing,
seeing nothing, when Sandy suddenly interrupted a remark which she had begun that morning, with the cry:

“Defend thee, lord! — peril of life is toward!”

And she slipped down from the horse and ran a little
way and stood. I looked up and saw, far off in the
shade of a tree, half a dozen armed knights and their
squires; and straightway there was bustle among them
and tightening of saddle-girths for the mount. My
pipe was ready and would have been lit, if I had not
been lost in thinking about how to banish oppression
from this land and restore to all its people their stolen
rights and manhood without disobliging anybody. I lit
up at once, and by the time I had got a good head of
reserved steam on, here they came. All together, too;
none of those chivalrous magnanimities which one
reads so much about — one courtly rascal at a time, and
the rest standing by to see fair play. No, they came
in a body, they came with a whirr and a rush, they
came like a volley from a battery; came with heads low
down, plumes streaming out behind, lances advanced at
a level. It was a handsome sight, a beautiful sight —
for a man up a tree. I laid my lance in rest and waited,
with my heart beating, till the iron wave was just ready
to break over me, then spouted a column of white
smoke through the bars of my helmet. You should
have seen the wave go to pieces and scatter! This was
a finer sight than the other one.

But these people stopped, two or three hundred
yards away, and this troubled me. My satisfaction
collapsed, and fear came; I judged I was a lost man.
But Sandy was radiant; and was going to be eloquent —
but I stopped her, and told her my magic had miscarried, somehow or other, and she must mount, with
all despatch, and we must ride for life. No, she
wouldn’t. She said that my enchantment had disabled
those knights; they were not riding on, because they
couldn’t; wait, they would drop out of their saddles
presently, and we would get their horses and harness.
I could not deceive such trusting simplicity, so I said
it was a mistake; that when my fireworks killed at all,
they killed instantly; no, the men would not die, there
was something wrong about my apparatus, I couldn’t
tell what; but we must hurry and get away, for those
people would attack us again, in a minute. Sandy
laughed, and said:

“Lack-a-day, sir, they be not of that breed! Sir
Launcelot will give battle to dragons, and will abide by
them, and will assail them again, and yet again, and
still again, until he do conquer and destroy them; and
so likewise will Sir Pellinore and Sir Aglovale and Sir
Carados, and mayhap others, but there be none else
that will venture it, let the idle say what the idle will.
And, la, as to yonder base rufflers, think ye they have
not their fill, but yet desire more?”

“Well, then, what are they waiting for? Why
don’t they leave? Nobody’s hindering. Good land,
I’m willing to let bygones be bygones, I’m sure.”

“Leave, is it? Oh, give thyself easement as to that.
They dream not of it, no, not they. They wait to
yield them.”

“Come — really, is that ‘sooth’ — as you people
say? If they want to, why don’t they?”

“It would like them much; but an ye wot how
dragons are esteemed, ye would not hold them blamable. They fear to come.”

“Well, then, suppose I go to them instead, and –”

“Ah, wit ye well they would not abide your coming.
I will go.”

And she did. She was a handy person to have
along on a raid. I would have considered this a doubtful errand, myself. I presently saw the knights riding
away, and Sandy coming back. That was a relief. I
judged she had somehow failed to get the first innings
— I mean in the conversation; otherwise the interview
wouldn’t have been so short. But it turned out that
she had managed the business well; in fact, admirably.
She said that when she told those people I was The
Boss, it hit them where they lived: “smote them sore
with fear and dread” was her word; and then they
were ready to put up with anything she might require.
So she swore them to appear at Arthur’s court within
two days and yield them, with horse and harness, and
be my knights henceforth, and subject to my command.
How much better she managed that thing than I should
have done it myself! She was a daisy.

 

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