FictionForest

Chapter 19 – Knight-Errantry as a Trade

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

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SANDY and I were on the road again, next morning, bright and early. It was so good to open up
one’s lungs and take in whole luscious barrels-ful of
the blessed God’s untainted, dew-fashioned, woodlandscented air once more, after suffocating body and mind
for two days and nights in the moral and physical
stenches of that intolerable old buzzard-roost!
mean, for me: of course the place was all right and
agreeable enough for Sandy, for she had been used to
high life all her days.

Poor girl, her jaws had had a wearisome rest now
for a while, and I was expecting to get the consequences. I was right; but she had stood by me most
helpfully in the castle, and had mightily supported and
reinforced me with gigantic foolishnesses which were
worth more for the occasion than wisdoms double
their size; so I thought she had earned a right to work
her mill for a while, if she wanted to, and I felt not a
pang when she started it up:

“Now turn we unto Sir Marhaus that rode with the
damsel of thirty winter of age southward –”

“Are you going to see if you can work up another
half-stretch on the trail of the cowboys, Sandy?”

“Even so, fair my lord.”

“Go ahead, then. I won’t interrupt this time, if I
can help it. Begin over again; start fair, and shake
out all your reefs, and I will load my pipe and give
good attention.”

“Now turn we unto Sir Marhaus that rode with the
damsel of thirty winter of age southward. And so
they came into a deep forest, and by fortune they were
nighted, and rode along in a deep way, and at the last
they came into a courtelage where abode the duke of
South Marches, and there they asked harbour. And
on the morn the duke sent unto Sir Marhaus, and bad
him make him ready. And so Sir Marhaus arose and
armed him, and there was a mass sung afore him, and
he brake his fast, and so mounted on horseback in the
court of the castle, there they should do the battle.
So there was the duke already on horseback, clean
armed, and his six sons by him, and every each had a
spear in his hand, and so they encountered, whereas
the duke and his two sons brake their spears upon
him, but Sir Marhaus held up his spear and touched
none of them. Then came the four sons by couples,
and two of them brake their spears, and so did the
other two. And all this while Sir Marhaus touched
them not. Then Sir Marhaus ran to the duke, and
smote him with his spear that horse and man fell to
the earth. And so he served his sons. And then Sir
Marhaus alight down, and bad the duke yield him or
else he would slay him. And then some of his sons
recovered, and would have set upon Sir Marhaus.
Then Sir Marhaus said to the duke, Cease thy sons, or
else I will do the uttermost to you all. When the
duke saw he might not escape the death, he cried to
his sons, and charged them to yield them to Sir Marhaus. And they kneeled all down and put the pommels of their swords to the knight, and so he received
them. And then they holp up their father, and so by
their common assent promised unto Sir Marhaus never
to be foes unto King Arthur, and thereupon at Whitsuntide after, to come he and his sons, and put them
in the king’s grace. *

[* Footnote: The story is borrowed, language and
all, from the Morte d’Arthur. –M.T.]

“Even so standeth the history, fair Sir Boss. Now
ye shall wit that that very duke and his six sons are
they whom but few days past you also did overcome
and send to Arthur’s court!”

“Why, Sandy, you can’t mean it!”

“An I speak not sooth, let it be the worse for me.”

“Well, well, well, — now who would ever have
thought it? One whole duke and six dukelets; why,
Sandy, it was an elegant haul. Knight-errantry is a
most chuckle-headed trade, and it is tedious hard
work, too, but I begin to see that there IS money in
it, after all, if you have luck. Not that I would ever
engage in it as a business, for I wouldn’t. No sound
and legitimate business can be established on a basis of
speculation. A successful whirl in the knight-errantry
line — now what is it when you blow away the nonsense and come down to the cold facts? It’s just a
corner in pork, that’s all, and you can’t make anything
else out of it. You’re rich — yes, — suddenly rich —
for about a day, maybe a week; then somebody corners the market on YOU, and down goes your bucketshop; ain’t that so, Sandy?”

“Whethersoever it be that my mind miscarrieth,
bewraying simple language in such sort that the words
do seem to come endlong and overthwart –”

“There’s no use in beating about the bush and
trying to get around it that way, Sandy, it’s SO, just as
I say. I KNOW it’s so. And, moreover, when you
come right down to the bedrock, knight-errantry is
WORSE than pork; for whatever happens, the pork’s
left, and so somebody’s benefited anyway; but when
the market breaks, in a knight-errantry whirl, and
every knight in the pool passes in his checks, what
have you got for assets? Just a rubbish-pile of battered corpses and a barrel or two of busted hardware.
Can you call THOSE assets? Give me pork, every time.
Am I right?”

“Ah, peradventure my head being distraught by
the manifold matters whereunto the confusions of these
but late adventured haps and fortunings whereby not
I alone nor you alone, but every each of us, meseemeth –”

“No, it’s not your head, Sandy. Your head’s all
right, as far as it goes, but you don’t know business;
that’s where the trouble is. It unfits you to argue
about business, and you’re wrong to be always trying.
However, that aside, it was a good haul, anyway, and
will breed a handsome crop of reputation in Arthur’s
court. And speaking of the cowboys, what a curious
country this is for women and men that never get old.
Now there’s Morgan le Fay, as fresh and young as a
Vassar pullet, to all appearances, and here is this old
duke of the South Marches still slashing away with
sword and lance at his time of life, after raising such a
family as he has raised. As I understand it, Sir
Gawaine killed seven of his sons, and still he had six
left for Sir Marhaus and me to take into camp. And
then there was that damsel of sixty winter of age still
excursioning around in her frosty bloom — How old
are you, Sandy?”

It was the first time I ever struck a still place in her.
The mill had shut down for repairs, or something.

 

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