A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
by Mark Twain
Chapter 11 - The Yankee in Search of Adventures
HERE never was such a country for wandering liars; and they were of both
sexes. Hardly a month went by without one of these tramps arriving; and generally loaded
with a tale about some princess or other wanting help to get her out of some far-away
castle where she was held in captivity by a lawless scoundrel, usually a giant. Now you
would think that the first thing the king would do after listening to such a novelette
from an entire stranger, would be to ask for credentials -- yes, and a pointer or two as
to locality of castle, best route to it, and so on. But nobody ever thought of so simple
and common-sense a thing at that. No, everybody swallowed these people's lies whole, and
never asked a question of any sort or about anything. Well, one day when I was not around,
one of these people came along -- it was a she one, this time -- and told a tale of the
usual pattern. Her mistress was a captive in a vast and gloomy castle, along with
forty-four other young and beautiful girls, pretty much all of them princesses; they had
been languishing in that cruel captivity for twenty-six years; the masters of the castle
were three stupendous brothers, each with four arms and one eye --
the eye in the center of the forehead, and as big as a fruit. Sort of fruit not mentioned;
their usual slovenliness in statistics.
Would you believe it? The king and the whole
Round Table were in raptures over this preposterous opportunity for adventure. Every
knight of the Table jumped for the chance, and begged for it; but to their vexation and
chagrin the king conferred it upon me, who had not asked for it at all.
By an effort, I contained my joy when Clarence brought me the news. But he -- he could
not contain his. His mouth gushed delight and gratitude in a steady discharge -- delight
in my good fortune, gratitude to the king for this splendid mark of his favor for me. He
could keep neither his legs nor his body still, but pirouetted about the place in an airy
ecstasy of happiness.
On my side, I could have cursed the kindness that conferred upon me this benefaction,
but I kept my vexation under the surface for policy's sake, and did what I could to let on
to be glad. Indeed, I SAID I was glad. And in a way it was true; I was as glad as a person
is when he is scalped.
Well, one must make the best of things, and not waste time with useless fretting, but
get down to business and see what can be done. In all lies there is wheat among the chaff;
I must get at the wheat in this case: so I sent for the girl and she came. She was a
comely enough creature, and soft and modest, but, if signs went for anything, she didn't
know as much as a lady's watch. I said:
"My dear, have you been questioned as to particulars?"
She said she hadn't.
"Well, I didn't expect you had, but I thought I would ask, to make sure; it's the
way I've been raised. Now you mustn't take it unkindly if I remind you that as we don't
know you, we must go a little slow. You may be all right, of course, and we'll hope that
you are; but to take it for granted isn't business. YOU understand that. I'm obliged to
ask you a few questions; just answer up fair and square, and don't be afraid. Where do you
live, when you are at home?"
"In the land of Moder, fair sir."
"Land of Moder. I don't remember hearing of it before. Parents living?"
"As to that, I know not if they be yet on live, sith it is many years that I have
lain shut up in the castle."
"Your name, please?"
"I hight the Demoiselle Alisande la Carteloise, an it please you."
"Do you know anybody here who can identify you?"
"That were not likely, fair lord, I being come hither now for the first
"Have you brought any letters -- any documents -- any proofs that you are
trustworthy and truthful?"
"Of a surety, no; and wherefore should I? Have I not a tongue, and cannot I say
all that myself?"
"But YOUR saying it, you know, and somebody else's saying it, is different."
"Different? How might that be? I fear me I do not understand."
UNDERSTAND? Land of -- why, you see -- you see -- why, great Scott, can't you understand a
little thing like that? Can't you understand the difference between your -- WHY do you
look so innocent and idiotic!"
"I? In truth I know not, but an it were the will of God."
"Yes, yes, I reckon that's about the size of it. Don't mind my seeming excited;
I'm not. Let us change the subject. Now as to this castle, with fortyfive princesses in
it, and three ogres at the head of it, tell me -- where is this harem?"
"The CASTLE, you understand; where is the castle?"
"Oh, as to that, it is great, and strong, and well beseen, and lieth in a far
country. Yes, it is many leagues."
"Ah, fair sir, it were woundily hard to tell, they are so many, and do so lap the
one upon the other, and being made all in the same image and tincted with the same color,
one may not know the one league from its fellow, nor how to count them except they be
taken apart, and ye wit well it were God's work to do that, being not within man's
capacity; for ye will note --"
"Hold on, hold on, never mind about the distance; WHEREABOUTS does the castle lie?
What's the direction from here?"
"Ah, please you sir, it hath no direction from here; by reason that the road lieth
not straight, but turneth evermore; wherefore the direction of its place abideth not, but
is some time under the one sky and anon under another, whereso if ye be minded that it is
in the east, and wend thitherward, ye shall observe that the way of the road doth yet
again turn upon itself by the space of half a circle, and this marvel happing again and
yet again and still again, it will grieve you that you had thought by vanities of the mind
to thwart and bring to naught the will of Him that giveth not a castle a direction from a
place except it pleaseth Him, and if it please Him not, will the rather that even all
castles and all directions thereunto vanish out of the earth, leaving the places wherein
they tarried desolate and vacant, so warning His creatures that where He will He will, and
where He will not He --"
"Oh, that's all right, that's all right, give us a rest; never mind about the
direction, HANG the direction -- I beg pardon, I beg a thousand pardons, I am not well
to-day; pay no attention when I soliloquize, it is an old habit, an old, bad habit, and
hard to get rid of when one's digestion is all disordered with eating food that was raised
forever and ever before he was born; good land! a man can't keep his functions regular on
spring chickens thirteen hundred years old. But come -- never mind about that; let's --
have you got such a thing as a map of that region about you? Now a good map --"
"Is it peradventure that manner of thing which of late the unbelievers have
brought from over the great seas, which, being boiled in oil, and an onion and salt added
thereto, doth --"
"What, a map? What are you talking about? Don't you know what a map is? There,
there, never mind, don't explain, I hate explanations; they fog a thing up so that you
can't tell anything about it. Run along, dear; good-day; show her the way, Clarence."
Oh, well, it was reasonably plain, now, why these donkeys didn't prospect these liars
for details. It may be that this girl had a fact in her somewhere, but I don't believe you
could have sluiced it out with a hydraulic; nor got it with the earlier forms of blasting,
even; it was a case for dynamite. Why, she was a perfect ass; and yet the king and his
knights had listened to her as if she had been a leaf out of the gospel. It kind of sizes
up the whole party. And think of the simple ways of this court: this wandering wench
hadn't any more trouble to get access to the king in his palace than she would have had to
get into the poorhouse in my day and country. In fact, he was glad to see her, glad to
hear her tale; with that adventure of hers to offer, she was as welcome as a corpse is to
Just as I was ending-up these reflections, Clarence came back. I remarked upon the
barren result of my efforts with the girl; hadn't got hold of a single point that could
help me to find the castle. The youth looked a little surprised, or puzzled, or something,
and intimated that he had been wondering to himself what I had wanted to ask the girl all
those questions for.
"Why, great guns," I said, "don't I want to find the castle? And how
else would I go about it?"
"La, sweet your worship, one may lightly answer that, I ween. She will go with
thee. They always do. She will ride with thee."
"Ride with me? Nonsense!"
"But of a truth she will. She will ride with thee. Thou shalt see."
"What? She browse around the hills and scour the woods with me -- alone -- and I
as good as engaged to be married? Why, it's scandalous. Think how it would look."
My, the dear face that rose before me! The boy was eager to know all about this tender
matter. I swore him to secresy and then whispered her name -- "Puss Flanagan."
He looked disappointed, and said he didn't remember the countess. How natural it was for
the little courtier to give her a rank. He asked me where she lived.
"In East Har--" I came to myself and stopped, a little confused; then I said,
"Never mind, now; I'll tell you some time."
And might he see her? Would I let him see her some day?
It was but a little thing to promise -- thirteen hundred years or so -- and he so
eager; so I said Yes. But I sighed; I couldn't help it. And yet there was no sense in
sighing, for she wasn't born yet. But that is the way we are made: we don't reason, where
we feel; we just feel.
My expedition was all the talk that day and that night, and the boys were very good to
me, and made much of me, and seemed to have forgotten their vexation and disappointment,
and come to be as anxious for me to hive those ogres and set those ripe old virgins loose
as if it were themselves that had the contract. Well, they WERE good children -- but just
children, that is all. And they gave me no end of points about how to scout for giants,
and how to scoop them in; and they told me all sorts of charms against enchantments, and
gave me salves and other rubbish to put on my wounds. But it never occurred to one of them
to reflect that if I was such a wonderful necromancer as I was pretending to be, I ought
not to need salves or instructions, or charms against enchantments, and, least of all,
arms and armor, on a foray of any kind -- even against fire-spouting dragons, and devils
hot from perdition, let alone such poor adversaries as these I was after, these
commonplace ogres of the back settlements.
I was to have an early breakfast, and start at dawn, for that was the usual way; but I
had the demon's own time with my armor, and this delayed me a little. It is troublesome to
get into, and there is so much detail. First you wrap a layer or two of blanket around
your body, for a sort of cushion and to keep off the cold iron; then you put on your
sleeves and shirt of chain mail -- these are made of small steel links woven together, and
they form a fabric so flexible that if you toss your shirt onto the floor, it slumps into
a pile like a peck of wet fish-net; it is very heavy and is nearly the uncomfortablest
material in the world for a night shirt, yet plenty used it for that -- tax collectors,
and reformers, and one-horse kings with a defective title, and those sorts of people; then
you put on your shoes -- flat-boats roofed over with interleaving bands of steel -- and
screw your clumsy spurs into the heels. Next you buckle your greaves on your legs, and
your cuisses on your thighs; then come your backplate and your breastplate, and you begin
to feel crowded; then you hitch onto the breastplate the half-petticoat of broad
overlapping bands of steel which hangs down in front but is scolloped out behind so you
can sit down, and isn't any real improvement on an inverted coal scuttle, either for looks
or for wear, or to wipe your hands on; next you belt on your sword; then you put your
stove-pipe joints onto your arms, your iron gauntlets onto your hands, your iron rat-trap
onto your head, with a rag of steel web hitched onto it to hang over the back of your neck
-- and there you are, snug as a candle in a candle-mould. This is no time to dance. Well,
a man that is packed away like that is a nut that isn't worth the cracking, there is so
little of the meat, when you get down to it, by comparison with the shell.
The boys helped me, or I never could have got in. Just as we finished, Sir Bedivere
happened in, and I saw that as like as not I hadn't chosen the most convenient outfit for
a long trip. How stately he looked; and tall and broad and grand. He had on his head a
conical steel casque that only came down to his ears, and for visor had only a narrow
steel bar that extended down to his upper lip and protected his nose; and all the rest of
him, from neck to heel, was flexible chain mail, trousers and all. But pretty much all of
him was hidden under his outside garment, which of course was of chain mail, as I said,
and hung straight from his shoulders to his ankles; and from his middle to the bottom,
both before and behind, was divided, so that he could ride and let the skirts hang down on
each side. He was going grailing, and it was just the outfit for it, too. I would have
given a good deal for that ulster, but it was too late now to be fooling around. The sun
was just up, the king and the court were all on hand to see me off and wish me luck; so it
wouldn't be etiquette for me to tarry. You don't get on your horse yourself; no, if you
tried it you would get disappointed. They carry you out, just as they carry a sun-struck
man to the drug store, and put you on, and help get you to rights, and fix your feet in
the stirrups; and all the while you do feel so strange and stuffy and like somebody else
-- like somebody that has been married on a sudden, or struck by lightning, or something
like that, and hasn't quite fetched around yet, and is sort of numb, and can't just get
his bearings. Then they stood up the mast they called a spear, in its socket by my left
foot, and I gripped it with my hand; lastly they hung my shield around my neck, and I was
all complete and ready to up anchor and get to sea. Everybody was as good to me as they
could be, and a maid of honor gave me the stirrup-cup her own self. There was nothing more
to do now, but for that damsel to get up behind me on a pillion, which she did, and put an
arm or so around me to hold on.
And so we started, and everybody gave us a goodbye and waved their handkerchiefs or helmets.
And everybody we met, going down the hill and through the village was respectful to us,
except some shabby little boys on the outskirts. They said:
"Oh, what a guy!" And hove clods at us.
In my experience boys are the same in all ages. They don't respect anything, they don't
care for anything or anybody. They say "Go up, baldhead" to the prophet going
his unoffending way in the gray of antiquity; they sass me in the holy gloom of the Middle
Ages; and I had seen them act the same way in Buchanan's administration; I remember,
because I was there and helped. The prophet had his bears and settled with his boys; and I
wanted to get down and settle with mine, but it wouldn't answer, because I couldn't have
got up again. I hate a country without a derrick.
The Celtic Hammer June 22, 1996