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Chapter 20 – The Ogre’s Castle

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

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BETWEEN six and nine we made ten miles, which
was plenty for a horse carrying triple — man,
woman, and armor; then we stopped for a long nooning under some trees by a limpid brook.

Right so came by and by a knight riding; and as he
drew near he made dolorous moan, and by the words
of it I perceived that he was cursing and swearing; yet
nevertheless was I glad of his coming, for that I saw
he bore a bulletin-board whereon in letters all of
shining gold was writ:

“USE PETERSON S PROPHYLACTIC TOOTH-BRUSH–
ALL THE GO.”

I was glad of his coming, for even by this token I
knew him for knight of mine. It was Sir Madok de
la Montaine, a burly great fellow whose chief distinction was that he had come within an ace of sending Sir
Launcelot down over his horse-tail once. He was
never long in a stranger’s presence without finding
some pretext or other to let out that great fact. But
there was another fact of nearly the same size, which
he never pushed upon anybody unasked, and yet never
withheld when asked: that was, that the reason he
didn’t quite succeed was, that he was interrupted and
sent down over horse-tail himself. This innocent vast
lubber did not see any particular difference between
the two facts. I liked him, for he was earnest in his
work, and very valuable. And he was so fine to look
at, with his broad mailed shoulders, and the grand
leonine set of his plumed head, and his big shield
with its quaint device of a gauntleted hand clutching a prophylactic tooth-brush, with motto: “Try
Noyoudont.” This was a tooth-wash that I was
introducing.

He was aweary, he said, and indeed he looked it;
but he would not alight. He said he was after the
stove-polish man; and with this he broke out cursing
and swearing anew. The bulletin-boarder referred to
was Sir Ossaise of Surluse, a brave knight, and of
considerable celebrity on account of his having tried
conclusions in a tournament once, with no less a Mogul
that Sir Gaheris himself — although not successfully.
He was of a light and laughing disposition, and to him
nothing in this world was serious. It was for this
reason that I had chosen him to work up a stove-polish
sentiment. There were no stoves yet, and so there
could be nothing serious about stove-polish. All that
the agent needed to do was to deftly and by degrees
prepare the public for the great change, and have them
established in predilections toward neatness against the
time when the stove should appear upon the stage.

Sir Madok was very bitter, and brake out anew with
cursings. He said he had cursed his soul to rags;
and yet he would not get down from his horse, neither
would he take any rest, or listen to any comfort, until
he should have found Sir Ossaise and settled this account. It appeared, by what I could piece together
of the unprofane fragments of his statement, that he
had chanced upon Sir Ossaise at dawn of the morning,
and been told that if he would make a short cut across
the fields and swamps and broken hills and glades, he
could head off a company of travelers who would be
rare customers for prophylactics and tooth-wash. With
characteristic zeal Sir Madok had plunged away at
once upon this quest, and after three hours of awful
crosslot riding had overhauled his game. And behold,
it was the five patriarchs that had been released from
the dungeons the evening before! Poor old creatures,
it was all of twenty years since any one of them had
known what it was to be equipped with any remaining
snag or remnant of a tooth.

“Blank-blank-blank him,” said Sir Madok, “an I
do not stove-polish him an I may find him, leave it to
me; for never no knight that hight Ossaise or aught
else may do me this disservice and bide on live, an I
may find him, the which I have thereunto sworn a
great oath this day.”

And with these words and others, he lightly took his
spear and gat him thence. In the middle of the afternoon we came upon one of those very patriarchs ourselves, in the edge of a poor village. He was basking
in the love of relatives and friends whom he had not
seen for fifty years; and about him and caressing him
were also descendants of his own body whom he had
never seen at all till now; but to him these were all
strangers, his memory was gone, his mind was stagnant. It seemed incredible that a man could outlast
half a century shut up in a dark hole like a rat, but
here were his old wife and some old comrades to
testify to it. They could remember him as he was in
the freshness and strength of his young manhood,
when he kissed his child and delivered it to its mother’s
hands and went away into that long oblivion. The
people at the castle could not tell within half a generation the length of time the man had been shut up there
for his unrecorded and forgotten offense; but this old
wife knew; and so did her old child, who stood there
among her married sons and daughters trying to realize
a father who had been to her a name, a thought, a
formless image, a tradition, all her life, and now was
suddenly concreted into actual flesh and blood and set
before her face.

It was a curious situation; yet it is not on that account that I have made room for it here, but on
account of a thing which seemed to me still more
curious. To wit, that this dreadful matter brought
from these downtrodden people no outburst of rage
against these oppressors. They had been heritors and
subjects of cruelty and outrage so long that nothing
could have startled them but a kindness. Yes, here
was a curious revelation, indeed, of the depth to which
this people had been sunk in slavery. Their entire
being was reduced to a monotonous dead level of
patience, resignation, dumb uncomplaining acceptance
of whatever might befall them in this life. Their very
imagination was dead. When you can say that of a
man, he has struck bottom, I reckon; there is no
lower deep for him.

I rather wished I had gone some other road. This
was not the sort of experience for a statesman to encounter who was planning out a peaceful revolution in
his mind. For it could not help bringing up the unget-aroundable fact that, all gentle cant and philosophizing to the contrary notwithstanding, no people in
the world ever did achieve their freedom by goody-goody talk and moral suasion: it being immutable law
that all revolutions that will succeed must BEGIN in
blood, whatever may answer afterward. If history
teaches anything, it teaches that. What this folk
needed, then, was a Reign of Terror and a guillotine,
and I was the wrong man for them.

Two days later, toward noon, Sandy began to show
signs of excitement and feverish expectancy. She
said we were approaching the ogre’s castle. I was
surprised into an uncomfortable shock. The object of
our quest had gradually dropped out of my mind; this
sudden resurrection of it made it seem quite a real and
startling thing for a moment, and roused up in me a
smart interest. Sandy’s excitement increased every
moment; and so did mine, for that sort of thing is
catching. My heart got to thumping. You can’t
reason with your heart; it has its own laws, and
thumps about things which the intellect scorns. Presently, when Sandy slid from the horse, motioned me
to stop, and went creeping stealthily, with her head
bent nearly to her knees, toward a row of bushes that
bordered a declivity, the thumpings grew stronger and
quicker. And they kept it up while she was gaining
her ambush and getting her glimpse over the declivity;
and also while I was creeping to her side on my knees.
Her eyes were burning now, as she pointed with her
finger, and said in a panting whisper:

“The castle! The castle! Lo, where it looms!”

What a welcome disappointment I experienced! I
said:

“Castle? It is nothing but a pigsty; a pigsty with
a wattled fence around it.”

She looked surprised and distressed. The animation
faded out of her face; and during many moments she
was lost in thought and silent. Then:

“It was not enchanted aforetime,” she said in a
musing fashion, as if to herself. “And how strange
is this marvel, and how awful — that to the one perception it is enchanted and dight in a base and shameful aspect; yet to the perception of the other it is not
enchanted, hath suffered no change, but stands firm
and stately still, girt with its moat and waving its banners in the blue air from its towers. And God shield
us, how it pricks the heart to see again these gracious
captives, and the sorrow deepened in their sweet faces!
We have tarried along, and are to blame.”

I saw my cue. The castle was enchanted to ME, not
to her. It would be wasted time to try to argue her
out of her delusion, it couldn’t be done; I must just
humor it. So I said:

“This is a common case — the enchanting of a thing
to one eye and leaving it in its proper form to another.
You have heard of it before, Sandy, though you
haven’t happened to experience it. But no harm is
done. In fact, it is lucky the way it is. If these
ladies were hogs to everybody and to themselves, it
would be necessary to break the enchantment, and that
might be impossible if one failed to find out the particular process of the enchantment. And hazardous,
too; for in attempting a disenchantment without the
true key, you are liable to err, and turn your hogs into
dogs, and the dogs into cats, the cats into rats, and so
on, and end by reducing your materials to nothing
finally, or to an odorless gas which you can’t follow —
which, of course, amounts to the same thing. But
here, by good luck, no one’s eyes but mine are under
the enchantment, and so it is of no consequence to
dissolve it. These ladies remain ladies to you, and to
themselves, and to everybody else; and at the same
time they will suffer in no way from my delusion, for
when I know that an ostensible hog is a lady, that is
enough for me, I know how to treat her.”

“Thanks, oh, sweet my lord, thou talkest like an
angel. And I know that thou wilt deliver them, for
that thou art minded to great deeds and art as strong a
knight of your hands and as brave to will and to do,
as any that is on live.”

“I will not leave a princess in the sty, Sandy. Are
those three yonder that to my disordered eyes are
starveling swine-herds –”

“The ogres, Are THEY changed also? It is most
wonderful. Now am I fearful; for how canst thou
strike with sure aim when five of their nine cubits of
stature are to thee invisible? Ah, go warily, fair sir;
this is a mightier emprise than I wend.”

“You be easy, Sandy. All I need to know is, how
MUCH of an ogre is invisible; then I know how to
locate his vitals. Don’t you be afraid, I will make
short work of these bunco-steerers. Stay where you
are.”

I left Sandy kneeling there, corpse-faced but plucky
and hopeful, and rode down to the pigsty, and struck
up a trade with the swine-herds. I won their gratitude
by buying out all the hogs at the lump sum of sixteen
pennies, which was rather above latest quotations. I
was just in time; for the Church, the lord of the
manor, and the rest of the tax-gatherers would have
been along next day and swept off pretty much all the
stock, leaving the swine-herds very short of hogs and
Sandy out of princesses. But now the tax people
could be paid in cash, and there would be a stake left
besides. One of the men had ten children; and he
said that last year when a priest came and of his ten
pigs took the fattest one for tithes, the wife burst out
upon him, and offered him a child and said:

“Thou beast without bowels of mercy, why leave
me my child, yet rob me of the wherewithal to feed it?”

How curious. The same thing had happened in the
Wales of my day, under this same old Established
Church, which was supposed by many to have changed
its nature when it changed its disguise.

I sent the three men away, and then opened the sty
gate and beckoned Sandy to come — which she did;
and not leisurely, but with the rush of a prairie fire.
And when I saw her fling herself upon those hogs,
with tears of joy running down her cheeks, and strain
them to her heart, and kiss them, and caress them,
and call them reverently by grand princely names, I
was ashamed of her, ashamed of the human race.

We had to drive those hogs home — ten miles; and
no ladies were ever more fickle-minded or contrary.
They would stay in no road, no path; they broke out
through the brush on all sides, and flowed away in all
directions, over rocks, and hills, and the roughest
places they could find. And they must not be struck,
or roughly accosted; Sandy could not bear to see
them treated in ways unbecoming their rank. The
troublesomest old sow of the lot had to be called my
Lady, and your Highness, like the rest. It is annoying and difficult to scour around after hogs, in armor.
There was one small countess, with an iron ring in her
snout and hardly any hair on her back, that was the
devil for perversity. She gave me a race of an hour,
over all sorts of country, and then we were right where
we had started from, having made not a rod of real
progress. I seized her at last by the tail, and brought
her along squealing. When I overtook Sandy she was
horrified, and said it was in the last degree indelicate
to drag a countess by her train.

We got the hogs home just at dark — most of them.
The princess Nerovens de Morganore was missing, and
two of her ladies in waiting: namely, Miss Angela
Bohun, and the Demoiselle Elaine Courtemains, the
former of these two being a young black sow with a
white star in her forehead, and the latter a brown one
with thin legs and a slight limp in the forward shank
on the starboard side — a couple of the tryingest blisters to drive that I ever saw. Also among the missing
were several mere baronesses — and I wanted them to
stay missing; but no, all that sausage-meat had to be
found; so servants were sent out with torches to scour
the woods and hills to that end.

Of course, the whole drove was housed in the house,
and, great guns! — well, I never saw anything like it.
Nor ever heard anything like it. And never smelt
anything like it. It was like an insurrection in a gasometer.

 

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