FictionForest

Chapter 21 – The Pilgrims

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

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WHEN I did get to bed at last I was unspeakably
tired; the stretching out, and the relaxing of
the long-tense muscles, how luxurious, how delicious!
but that was as far as I could get — sleep was out of
the question for the present. The ripping and tearing
and squealing of the nobility up and down the halls
and corridors was pandemonium come again, and kept
me broad awake. Being awake, my thoughts were
busy, of course; and mainly they busied themselves
with Sandy’s curious delusion. Here she was, as sane
a person as the kingdom could produce; and yet,
from my point of view she was acting like a crazy
woman. My land, the power of training! of influence!
of education! It can bring a body up to believe anything. I had to put myself in Sandy’s place to realize
that she was not a lunatic. Yes, and put her in mine,
to demonstrate how easy it is to seem a lunatic to a
person who has not been taught as you have been
taught. If I had told Sandy I had seen a wagon,
uninfluenced by enchantment, spin along fifty miles an
hour; had seen a man, unequipped with magic powers,
get into a basket and soar out of sight among the
clouds; and had listened, without any necromancer’s
help, to the conversation of a person who was several
hundred miles away, Sandy would not merely have
supposed me to be crazy, she would have thought she
knew it. Everybody around her believed in enchantments; nobody had any doubts; to doubt that a castle
could be turned into a sty, and its occupants into hogs,
would have been the same as my doubting among Connecticut people the actuality of the telephone and its
wonders, — and in both cases would be absolute proof
of a diseased mind, an unsettled reason. Yes, Sandy
was sane; that must be admitted. If I also would be
sane — to Sandy — I must keep my superstitions about
unenchanted and unmiraculous locomotives, balloons,
and telephones, to myself. Also, I believed that the
world was not flat, and hadn’t pillars under it to support it, nor a canopy over it to turn off a universe of
water that occupied all space above; but as I was the
only person in the kingdom afflicted with such impious
and criminal opinions, I recognized that it would be
good wisdom to keep quiet about this matter, too, if I
did not wish to be suddenly shunned and forsaken by
everybody as a madman.

The next morning Sandy assembled the swine in the
dining-room and gave them their breakfast, waiting
upon them personally and manifesting in every way
the deep reverence which the natives of her island,
ancient and modern, have always felt for rank, let its
outward casket and the mental and moral contents be
what they may. I could have eaten with the hogs if I
had had birth approaching my lofty official rank; but
I hadn’t, and so accepted the unavoidable slight and
made no complaint. Sandy and I had our breakfast at
the second table. The family were not at home. I
said:

“How many are in the family, Sandy, and where
do they keep themselves?”

“Family?”

“Yes.”

“Which family, good my lord?”

“Why, this family; your own family.”

“Sooth to say, I understand you not. I have no
family.”

“No family? Why, Sandy, isn’t this your home?”

“Now how indeed might that be? I have no home.”

“Well, then, whose house is this?”

“Ah, wit you well I would tell you an I knew
myself.”

“Come — you don’t even know these people?
Then who invited us here?”

“None invited us. We but came; that is all.”

“Why, woman, this is a most extraordinary performance. The effrontery of it is beyond admiration.
We blandly march into a man’s house, and cram it
full of the only really valuable nobility the sun has yet
discovered in the earth, and then it turns out that we
don’t even know the man’s name. How did you ever
venture to take this extravagant liberty? I supposed,
of course, it was your home. What will the man say?”

“What will he say? Forsooth what can he say but
give thanks?”

“Thanks for what?”

Her face was filled with a puzzled surprise:

“Verily, thou troublest mine understanding with
strange words. Do ye dream that one of his estate is
like to have the honor twice in his life to entertain
company such as we have brought to grace his house
withal?”

“Well, no — when you come to that. No, it’s an
even bet that this is the first time he has had a treat
like this.”

“Then let him be thankful, and manifest the same
by grateful speech and due humility; he were a dog,
else, and the heir and ancestor of dogs.”

To my mind, the situation was uncomfortable. It
might become more so. It might be a good idea to
muster the hogs and move on. So I said:

“The day is wasting, Sandy. It is time to get the
nobility together and be moving.”

“Wherefore, fair sir and Boss?”

“We want to take them to their home, don’t we?”

“La, but list to him! They be of all the regions of
the earth! Each must hie to her own home; wend
you we might do all these journeys in one so brief life
as He hath appointed that created life, and thereto
death likewise with help of Adam, who by sin done
through persuasion of his helpmeet, she being wrought
upon and bewrayed by the beguilements of the great
enemy of man, that serpent hight Satan, aforetime
consecrated and set apart unto that evil work by overmastering spite and envy begotten in his heart through
fell ambitions that did blight and mildew a nature erst
so white and pure whenso it hove with the shining
multitudes its brethren-born in glade and shade of that
fair heaven wherein all such as native be to that rich
estate and –”

“Great Scott!”

“My lord?”

“Well, you know we haven’t got time for this sort
of thing. Don’t you see, we could distribute these
people around the earth in less time than it is going to
take you to explain that we can’t. We mustn’t talk
now, we must act. You want to be careful; you
mustn’t let your mill get the start of you that way, at
a time like this. To business now — and sharp’s the
word. Who is to take the aristocracy home?”

“Even their friends. These will come for them
from the far parts of the earth.”

This was lightning from a clear sky, for unexpectedness; and the relief of it was like pardon to a prisoner.
She would remain to deliver the goods, of course.

“Well, then, Sandy, as our enterprise is handsomely
and successfully ended, I will go home and report;
and if ever another one –”

“I also am ready; I will go with thee.”

This was recalling the pardon.

“How? You will go with me? Why should you?”

“Will I be traitor to my knight, dost think? That
were dishonor. I may not part from thee until in
knightly encounter in the field some overmatching
champion shall fairly win and fairly wear me. I were
to blame an I thought that that might ever hap.”

“Elected for the long term,” I sighed to myself.
“I may as well make the best of it.” So then I spoke
up and said:

“All right; let us make a start.”

While she was gone to cry her farewells over the
pork, I gave that whole peerage away to the servants.
And I asked them to take a duster and dust around a
little where the nobilities had mainly lodged and promenaded; but they considered that that would be hardly
worth while, and would moreover be a rather grave
departure from custom, and therefore likely to make
talk. A departure from custom — that settled it; it
was a nation capable of committing any crime but
that. The servants said they would follow the fashion,
a fashion grown sacred through immemorial observance; they would scatter fresh rushes in all the rooms
and halls, and then the evidence of the aristocratic
visitation would be no longer visible. It was a kind of
satire on Nature: it was the scientific method, the
geologic method; it deposited the history of the family
in a stratified record; and the antiquary could dig
through it and tell by the remains of each period what
changes of diet the family had introduced successively
for a hundred years.

The first thing we struck that day was a procession
of pilgrims. It was not going our way, but we joined
it, nevertheless; for it was hourly being borne in
upon me now, that if I would govern this country
wisely, I must be posted in the details of its life,
and not at second hand, but by personal observation
and scrutiny.

This company of pilgrims resembled Chaucer’s in
this: that it had in it a sample of about all the upper
occupations and professions the country could show,
and a corresponding variety of costume. There were
young men and old men, young women and old
women, lively folk and grave folk. They rode upon
mules and horses, and there was not a side-saddle in
the party; for this specialty was to remain unknown in
England for nine hundred years yet.

It was a pleasant, friendly, sociable herd; pious,
happy, merry and full of unconscious coarsenesses and
innocent indecencies. What they regarded as the
merry tale went the continual round and caused no
more embarrassment than it would have caused in the
best English society twelve centuries later. Practical
jokes worthy of the English wits of the first quarter of
the far-off nineteenth century were sprung here and
there and yonder along the line, and compelled the
delightedest applause; and sometimes when a bright
remark was made at one end of the procession and
started on its travels toward the other, you could note
its progress all the way by the sparkling spray of
laughter it threw off from its bows as it plowed along;
and also by the blushes of the mules in its wake.

Sandy knew the goal and purpose of this pilgrimage,
and she posted me. She said:

“They journey to the Valley of Holiness, for to be
blessed of the godly hermits and drink of the miraculous waters and be cleased from sin.”

“Where is this watering place?”

“It lieth a two-day journey hence, by the borders
of the land that hight the Cuckoo Kingdom.”

“Tell me about it. Is it a celebrated place?”

“Oh, of a truth, yes. There be none more so. Of
old time there lived there an abbot and his monks.
Belike were none in the world more holy than these;
for they gave themselves to study of pious books, and
spoke not the one to the other, or indeed to any, and
ate decayed herbs and naught thereto, and slept hard,
and prayed much, and washed never; also they wore
the same garment until it fell from their bodies through
age and decay. Right so came they to be known of
all the world by reason of these holy austerities, and
visited by rich and poor, and reverenced.”

“Proceed.”

“But always there was lack of water there. Whereas,
upon a time, the holy abbot prayed, and for answer
a great stream of clear water burst forth by miracle
in a desert place. Now were the fickle monks tempted
of the Fiend, and they wrought with their abbot unceasingly by beggings and beseechings that he would
construct a bath; and when he was become aweary and
might not resist more, he said have ye your will, then,
and granted that they asked. Now mark thou what
’tis to forsake the ways of purity the which He loveth,
and wanton with such as be worldly and an offense.
These monks did enter into the bath and come thence
washed as white as snow; and lo, in that moment His
sign appeared, in miraculous rebuke! for His insulted
waters ceased to flow, and utterly vanished away.”

“They fared mildly, Sandy, considering how that
kind of crime is regarded in this country.”

“Belike; but it was their first sin; and they had
been of perfect life for long, and differing in naught
from the angels. Prayers, tears, torturings of the
flesh, all was vain to beguile that water to flow again.
Even processions; even burnt-offerings; even votive
candles to the Virgin, did fail every each of them;
and all in the land did marvel.”

“How odd to find that even this industry has its
financial panics, and at times sees its assignats and
greenbacks languish to zero, and everything come to a
standstill. Go on, Sandy.”

“And so upon a time, after year and day, the good
abbot made humble surrender and destroyed the bath.
And behold, His anger was in that moment appeased,
and the waters gushed richly forth again, and even
unto this day they have not ceased to flow in that
generous measure.”

“Then I take it nobody has washed since.”

“He that would essay it could have his halter free;
yes, and swiftly would he need it, too.”

“The community has prospered since?”

“Even from that very day. The fame of the miracle
went abroad into all lands. From every land came
monks to join; they came even as the fishes come, in
shoals; and the monastery added building to building,
and yet others to these, and so spread wide its arms
and took them in. And nuns came, also; and more
again, and yet more; and built over against the monastery on the yon side of the vale, and added building
to building, until mighty was that nunnery. And
these were friendly unto those, and they joined their
loving labors together, and together they built a fair
great foundling asylum midway of the valley between.”

“You spoke of some hermits, Sandy.”

“These have gathered there from the ends of the
earth. A hermit thriveth best where there be multitudes of pilgrims. Ye shall not find no hermit of no
sort wanting. If any shall mention a hermit of a kind
he thinketh new and not to be found but in some far
strange land, let him but scratch among the holes and
caves and swamps that line that Valley of Holiness,
and whatsoever be his breed, it skills not, he shall find
a sample of it there.”

I closed up alongside of a burly fellow with a fat
good-humored face, purposing to make myself agreeable and pick up some further crumbs of fact; but I
had hardly more than scraped acquaintance with him
when he began eagerly and awkwardly to lead up, in
the immemorial way, to that same old anecdote — the
one Sir Dinadan told me, what time I got into trouble
with Sir Sagramor and was challenged of him on account of it. I excused myself and dropped to the rear
of the procession, sad at heart, willing to go hence
from this troubled life, this vale of tears, this brief day
of broken rest, of cloud and storm, of weary struggle
and monotonous defeat; and yet shrinking from the
change, as remembering how long eternity is, and how
many have wended thither who know that anecdote.

Early in the afternoon we overtook another procession of pilgrims; but in this one was no merriment, no
jokes, no laughter, no playful ways, nor any happy
giddiness, whether of youth or age. Yet both were
here, both age and youth; gray old men and women,
strong men and women of middle age, young husbands, young wives, little boys and girls, and three
babies at the breast. Even the children were smileless;
there was not a face among all these half a hundred
people but was cast down, and bore that set expression
of hopelessness which is bred of long and hard trials
and old acquaintance with despair. They were slaves.
Chains led from their fettered feet and their manacled
hands to a sole-leather belt about their waists; and all
except the children were also linked together in a file
six feet apart, by a single chain which led from collar
to collar all down the line. They were on foot, and
had tramped three hundred miles in eighteen days,
upon the cheapest odds and ends of food, and stingy
rations of that. They had slept in these chains every
night, bundled together like swine. They had upon
their bodies some poor rags, but they could not be
said to be clothed. Their irons had chafed the skin
from their ankles and made sores which were ulcerated
and wormy. Their naked feet were torn, and none
walked without a limp. Originally there had been a
hundred of these unfortunates, but about half had been
sold on the trip. The trader in charge of them rode
a horse and carried a whip with a short handle and a
long heavy lash divided into several knotted tails at the
end. With this whip he cut the shoulders of any that
tottered from weariness and pain, and straightened
them up. He did not speak; the whip conveyed his
desire without that. None of these poor creatures
looked up as we rode along by; they showed no consciousness of our presence. And they made no sound
but one; that was the dull and awful clank of their
chains from end to end of the long file, as forty-three
burdened feet rose and fell in unison. The file moved
in a cloud of its own making.

All these faces were gray with a coating of dust.
One has seen the like of this coating upon furniture in
unoccupied houses, and has written his idle thought in
it with his finger. I was reminded of this when I
noticed the faces of some of those women, young
mothers carrying babes that were near to death and
freedom, how a something in their hearts was written
in the dust upon their faces, plain to see, and lord, how
plain to read! for it was the track of tears. One of
these young mothers was but a girl, and it hurt me to
the heart to read that writing, and reflect that it was
come up out of the breast of such a child, a breast
that ought not to know trouble yet, but only the gladness of the morning of life; and no doubt —

She reeled just then, giddy with fatigue, and down
came the lash and flicked a flake of skin from her
naked shoulder. It stung me as if I had been hit instead. The master halted the file and jumped from his
horse. He stormed and swore at this girl, and said
she had made annoyance enough with her laziness, and
as this was the last chance he should have, he would
settle the account now. She dropped on her knees
and put up her hands and began to beg, and cry, and
implore, in a passion of terror, but the master gave no
attention. He snatched the child from her, and then
made the men-slaves who were chained before and
behind her throw her on the ground and hold her there
and expose her body; and then he laid on with his
lash like a madman till her back was flayed, she shrieking and struggling the while piteously. One of the
men who was holding her turned away his face, and
for this humanity he was reviled and flogged.

All our pilgrims looked on and commented — on the
expert way in which the whip was handled. They
were too much hardened by lifelong everyday familiarity with slavery to notice that there was anything else
in the exhibition that invited comment. This was what
slavery could do, in the way of ossifying what one may
call the superior lobe of human feeling; for these pilgrims were kind-hearted people, and they would not
have allowed that man to treat a horse like that.

I wanted to stop the whole thing and set the slaves
free, but that would not do. I must not interfere too
much and get myself a name for riding over the
country’s laws and the citizen’s rights roughshod. If
I lived and prospered I would be the death of slavery,
that I was resolved upon; but I would try to fix it so
that when I became its executioner it should be by
command of the nation.

Just here was the wayside shop of a smith; and now
arrived a landed proprietor who had bought this girl a
few miles back, deliverable here where her irons could
be taken off. They were removed; then there was a
squabble between the gentleman and the dealer as to
which should pay the blacksmith. The moment the
girl was delivered from her irons, she flung herself, all
tears and frantic sobbings, into the arms of the slave
who had turned away his face when she was whipped.
He strained her to his breast, and smothered her
face and the child’s with kisses, and washed them
with the rain of his tears. I suspected. I inquired.
Yes, I was right; it was husband and wife. They had
to be torn apart by force; the girl had to be dragged
away, and she struggled and fought and shrieked like
one gone mad till a turn of the road hid her from
sight; and even after that, we could still make out the
fading plaint of those receding shrieks. And the husband and father, with his wife and child gone, never to
be seen by him again in life? — well, the look of him
one might not bear at all, and so I turned away; but I
knew I should never get his picture out of my mind
again, and there it is to this day, to wring my heartstrings whenever I think of it.

We put up at the inn in a village just at nightfall,
and when I rose next morning and looked abroad, I
was ware where a knight came riding in the golden
glory of the new day, and recognized him for knight
of mine — Sir Ozana le Cure Hardy. He was in the
gentlemen’s furnishing line, and his missionarying
specialty was plug hats. He was clothed all in steel,
in the beautifulest armor of the time — up to where his
helmet ought to have been; but he hadn’t any helmet,
he wore a shiny stove-pipe hat, and was ridiculous a
spectacle as one might want to see. It was another of
my surreptitious schemes for extinguishing knighthood
by making it grotesque and absurd. Sir Ozana’s saddle was hung about with leather hat boxes, and every
time he overcame a wandering knight he swore him
into my service and fitted him with a plug and made
him wear it. I dressed and ran down to welcome Sir
Ozana and get his news.

“How is trade?” I asked.

“Ye will note that I have but these four left; yet
were they sixteen whenas I got me from Camelot.”

“Why, you have certainly done nobly, Sir Ozana.
Where have you been foraging of late?”

“I am but now come from the Valley of Holiness,
please you sir.”

“I am pointed for that place myself. Is there
anything stirring in the monkery, more than common?”

“By the mass ye may not question it!…. Give him
good feed, boy, and stint it not, an thou valuest thy
crown; so get ye lightly to the stable and do even as I
bid…… Sir, it is parlous news I bring, and — be
these pilgrims? Then ye may not do better, good
folk, than gather and hear the tale I have to tell, sith it
concerneth you, forasmuch as ye go to find that ye
will not find, and seek that ye will seek in vain, my life
being hostage for my word, and my word and message
being these, namely: That a hap has happened whereof the like has not been seen no more but once this
two hundred years, which was the first and last time
that that said misfortune strake the holy valley in that
form by commandment of the Most High whereto by
reasons just and causes thereunto contributing, wherein
the matter –”

“The miraculous fount hath ceased to flow!” This
shout burst from twenty pilgrim mouths at once.

“Ye say well, good people. I was verging to it,
even when ye spake. ”

“Has somebody been washing again?”

“Nay, it is suspected, but none believe it. It is
thought to be some other sin, but none wit what.”

“How are they feeling about the calamity?”

“None may describe it in words. The fount is
these nine days dry. The prayers that did begin then,
and the lamentations in sackcloth and ashes, and the
holy processions, none of these have ceased nor night
nor day; and so the monks and the nuns and the
foundlings be all exhausted, and do hang up prayers
writ upon parchment, sith that no strength is left in
man to lift up voice. And at last they sent for thee,
Sir Boss, to try magic and enchantment; and if you
could not come, then was the messenger to fetch
Merlin, and he is there these three days now, and
saith he will fetch that water though he burst the globe
and wreck its kingdoms to accomplish it; and right
bravely doth he work his magic and call upon his
hellions to hie them hither and help, but not a whiff
of moisture hath he started yet, even so much as might
qualify as mist upon a copper mirror an ye count not
the barrel of sweat he sweateth betwixt sun and sun
over the dire labors of his task; and if ye –”

Breakfast was ready. As soon as it was over I
showed to Sir Ozana these words which I had written
on the inside of his hat: Chemical Department, Laboratory extension, Section G. Pxxp. Send two of first
size, two of No. 3, and six of No. 4, together with the
proper complementary details — and two of my trained
assistants.” And I said:

“Now get you to Camelot as fast as you can fly,
brave knight, and show the writing to Clarence, and
tell him to have these required matters in the Valley of
Holiness with all possible dispatch.”

“I will well, Sir Boss,” and he was off.

 

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