A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
by Mark Twain
Chapter 7 - Merlin's Tower
NASMUCH as I was now the second personage in the Kingdom, as far
as political power and authorty were concerned, much was made of me. My raiment was of
silks and velvets and cloth of gold, and by consequence was very showy, also
uncomfortable. But habit would soon reconcile me to my clothes; I was aware of that. I was
given the choicest suite of apartments in the castle, after the king's. They were aglow
with loud-colored silken hangings, but the stone floors had nothing but rushes on them for
a carpet, and they were misfit rushes at that, being not all of one breed. As for
conveniences, properly speaking, there weren't any. I mean LITTLE conveniences; it is the
little conveniences that make the real comfort of life. The big oaken chairs, graced with
rude carvings, were well enough, but that was the stopping place. There was no soap, no matches, no
looking-glass -- except a metal one, about as powerful as a pail of water. And not a
chromo. I had been used to chromos for years, and I saw now that without my suspecting it
a passion for art had got worked into the fabric of my being, and was become a part of me.
It made me homesick to look around over this proud and gaudy but heartless barrenness and
remember that in our house in East Hartford, all unpretending as it was, you couldn't go
into a room but you would find an insurance-chromo, or at least a three-color
God-Bless-Our-Home over the door; and in the parlor we had nine. But here, even in my
grand room of state, there wasn't anything in the nature of a picture except a thing the
size of a bedquilt, which was either woven or knitted (it had darned places in it), and
nothing in it was the right color or the right shape; and as for proportions, even Raphael
himself couldn't have botched them more formidably, after all his practice on those
nightmares they call his "celebrated Hampton Court cartoons." Raphael was a
bird. We had several of his chromos; one was his "Miraculous Draught of Fishes,"
where he puts in a miracle of his own -- puts three men into a canoe which wouldn't have
held a dog without upsetting. I always admired to study R.'s art, it was so fresh and
There wasn't even a bell or a speaking-tube in the castle. I had a
great many servants, and those that were on duty lolled in the anteroom; and when I wanted
one of them I had to go and call for him. There was no gas, there were no candles; a
bronze dish half full of boarding-house butter with a blazing rag floating in it was the
thing that produced what was regarded as light. A lot of these hung along the walls and
modified the dark, just toned it down enough to make it dismal. If you went out at night,
your servants carried torches. There were no books, pens, paper or ink, and no glass in
the openings they believed to be windows. It is a little thing -- glass is -- until it is
absent, then it becomes a big thing. But perhaps the worst of all was, that there wasn't
any sugar, coffee, tea, or tobacco. I saw that I was just another Robinson Crusoe cast
away on an uninhabited island, with no society but some more or less tame animals, and if
I wanted to make life bearable I must do as he did -- invent, contrive, create, reorganize
things; set brain and hand to work, and keep them busy. Well, that was in my line.
One thing troubled me along at first -- the immense interest which people took in me.
Apparently the whole nation wanted a look at me. It soon transpired that the eclipse had
scared the British world almost to death; that while it lasted the whole country, from one
end to the other, was in a pitiable state of panic, and the churches, hermitages, and
monkeries overflowed with praying and weeping poor creatures who thought the end of the
world was come. Then had followed the news that the producer of this awful event was a
stranger, a mighty magician at Arthur's court; that he could have blown out the sun like a
candle, and was just going to do it when his mercy was purchased, and he then dissolved
his enchantments, and was now recognized and honored as the man who had by his unaided
might saved the globe from destruction and its peoples from extinction. Now if you
consider that everybody believed that, and not only believed it, but never even dreamed of
doubting it, you will easily understand that there was not a person in all Britain that
would not have walked fifty miles to get a sight of me. Of course I was all the talk --
all other subjects were dropped; even the king became suddenly a person of minor interest
and notoriety. Within twentyfour hours the delegations began to arrive, and from that time
onward for a fortnight they kept coming. The village was crowded, and all the countryside.
I had to go out a dozen times a day and show myself to these reverent and awe-stricken multitudes. It
came to be a great burden, as to time and trouble, but of course it was at the same time
compensatingly agreeable to be so celebrated and such a center of homage. It turned Brer
Merlin green with envy and spite, which was a great satisfaction to me. But there was one
thing I couldn't understand -- nobody had asked for an autograph. I spoke to Clarence
about it. By George! I had to explain to him what it was. Then he said nobody in the
country could read or write but a few dozen priests. Land! think of that.
There was another thing that troubled me a little. Those multitudes presently began to
agitate for another miracle. That was natural. To be able to carry back to their far homes
the boast that they had seen the man who could command the sun, riding in the heavens, and
be obeyed, would make them great in the eyes of their neighbors, and envied by them all;
but to be able to also say they had seen him work a miracle themselves -- why, people
would come a distance to see THEM. The pressure got to be pretty strong. There was going
to be an eclipse of the moon, and I knew the date and hour, but it was too far away. Two
years. I would have given a good deal for license to hurry it up and use it now when there
was a big market for it. It seemed a great pity to have it wasted so, and come lagging
along at a time when a body wouldn't have any use for it, as like as not. If it had been
booked for only a month away, I could have sold it short; but, as matters stood, I
couldn't seem to cipher out any way to make it do me any good, so I gave up trying. Next,
Clarence found that old Merlin was making himself busy on the sly among those people. He
was spreading a report that I was a humbug, and that the reason I didn't accommodate the
people with a miracle was because I couldn't. I saw that I must do something. I presently
thought out a plan.
By my authority as executive I threw Merlin into prison -- the same cell I had occupied
myself. Then I gave public notice by herald and trumpet that I should be busy with affairs
of state for a fortnight, but about the end of that time I would take a moment's leisure
and blow up Merlin's stone tower by fires from heaven; in the meantime, whoso listened to
evil reports about me, let him beware. Furthermore, I would perform but this one miracle
at this time, and no more; if it failed to satisfy and any murmured, I would turn the
murmurers into horses, and make them useful. Quiet ensued.
I took Clarence into my confidence, to a certain degree, and we went to work privately.
I told him that this was a sort of miracle that required a trifle of preparation, and that
it would be sudden death to ever talk about these preparations to anybody. That made his
mouth safe enough. Clandestinely we made a few bushels of first-rate blasting powder, and
I superintended my armorers while they constructed a lightningrod and some wires. This old
stone tower was very massive -- and rather ruinous, too, for it was Roman, and four
hundred years old. Yes, and handsome, after a rude fashion, and clothed with ivy from base
to summit, as with a shirt of scale mail. It stood on a lonely eminence, in good view from
the castle, and about half a mile away.
Working by night, we stowed the powder in the tower -- dug stones out, on the inside,
and buried the powder in the walls themselves, which were fifteen feet thick at the base.
We put in a peck at a time, in a dozen places. We could have blown up the Tower of London
with these charges. When the thirteenth night was come we put up our lightning-rod, bedded
it in one of the batches of powder, and ran wires from it to the other batches. Everybody
had shunned that locality from the day of my proclamation, but on the morning of the
fourteenth I thought best to warn the people, through the heralds, to keep clear away -- a
quarter of a mile away. Then added, by command, that at some time during the twenty-four
hours I would consummate the miracle, but would first give a brief notice; by flags on the
castle towers if in the daytime, by torch-baskets in the same places if at night.
Thunder-showers had been tolerably frequent of late, and I was not much afraid of a
failure; still, I shouldn't have cared for a delay of a day or two; I should have
explained that I was busy with affairs of state yet, and the people must wait.
Of course, we had a blazing sunny day -- almost the first one without a cloud for three
weeks; things always happen so. I kept secluded, and watched the weather. Clarence dropped
in from time to time and said the public excitement was growing and growing all the time,
and the whole country filling up with human masses as far as one could see from the
battlements. At last the wind sprang up and a cloud appeared -- in the right quarter, too,
and just at nightfall. For a little while I watched that distant cloud spread and blacken,
then I judged it was time for me to appear. I ordered the torch-baskets to be lit, and
Merlin liberated and sent to me. A quarter of an hour later I ascended the parapet and
there found the king and the court assembled and gazing off in the darkness toward
Merlin's Tower. Already the darkness was so heavy that one could not see far; these people
and the old turrets, being partly in deep shadow and partly in the red glow from the great
torch-baskets overhead, made a good deal of a picture.
Merlin arrived in a gloomy mood. I said:
"You wanted to burn me alive when I had not done you any harm, and latterly you
have been trying to injure my professional reputation. Therefore I am going to call down
fire and blow up your tower, but it is only fair to give you a chance; now if you think
you can break my enchantments and ward off the fires, step to the bat, it's your
"I can, fair sir, and I will. Doubt it not."
He drew an imaginary circle on the stones of the roof, and burnt a pinch of powder in
it, which sent up a small cloud of aromatic smoke, whereat everybody fell back and began
to cross themselves and get uncomfortable. Then he began to mutter and make passes in the
air with his hands. He worked himself up slowly and gradually into a sort of frenzy, and
got to thrashing around with his arms like the sails of a windmill. By this time the storm
had about reached us; the gusts of wind were flaring the torches and making the shadows
swash about, the first heavy drops of rain were falling, the world abroad was black as
pitch, the lightning began to wink fitfully. Of course, my rod would be loading itself
now. In fact, things were imminent. So I said:
"You have had time enough. I have given you every advantage, and not interfered.
It is plain your magic is weak. It is only fair that I begin now."
I made about three passes in the air, and then there was an awful crash and that old tower leaped into the sky in chunks, along with a vast
volcanic fountain of fire that turned night to noonday, and showed a thousand acres of
human beings groveling on the ground in a general collapse of consternation. Well, it
rained mortar and masonry the rest of the week. This was the report; but probably the
facts would have modified it.
It was an effective miracle. The great bothersome temporary population vanished. There
were a good many thousand tracks in the mud the next morning, but they were all outward
bound. If I had advertised another miracle I couldn't have raised an audience with a
Merlin's stock was flat. The king wanted to stop his wages; he even wanted to banish
him, but I interfered. I said he would be useful to work the weather, and attend to small
matters like that, and I would give him a lift now and then when his poor little
parlormagic soured on him. There wasn't a rag of his tower left, but I had the government
rebuild it for him, and advised him to take boarders; but he was too hightoned for that.
And as for being grateful, he never even said thank you. He was a rather hard lot, take
him how you might; but then you couldn't fairly expect a man to be sweet that had been set
The Celtic Hammer June 22, 1996