A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
by Mark Twain
Chapter 23 - Restoration of the Fountain
SATURDAY noon I went to the well and looked on a while. Merlin was still
burning smoke-powders, and pawing the air, and muttering gibberish as hard as ever, but
looking pretty down-hearted, for of course he had not started even a perspiration in that
well yet. Finally I said:
"How does the thing promise by this time, partner?"
"Behold, I am even now busied with trial of the powerfulest enchantment known to
the princes of the occult arts in the lands of the East; an it fail me, naught can avail.
Peace, until I finish."
He raised a smoke this time that darkened all the region, and must have made matters
uncomfortable for the hermits, for the wind was their way, and it rolled down over their
dens in a dense and billowy fog. He poured out volumes of speech to match, and contorted
his body and sawed the air with his hands in a most extraordinary way. At the end of
twenty minutes he dropped down panting, and about exhausted. Now arrived the abbot and
several hundred monks and nuns, and behind them a multitude of pilgrims and a couple of
acres of foundlings, all drawn by the prodigious smoke, and all in a grand state of
excitement. The abbot inquired anxiously for results. Merlin said:
"If any labor of mortal might break the spell that binds these waters, this which
I have but just essayed had done it. It has failed; whereby I do now know that that which
I had feared is a truth established; the sign of this failure is, that the most potent
spirit known to the magicians of the East, and whose name none may utter and live, has
laid his spell upon this well. The mortal does not breathe, nor ever will, who can
penetrate the secret of that spell, and without that secret none can break it. The water
will flow no more forever, good Father. I have done what man could. Suffer me to go."
Of course this threw the abbot into a good deal of a consternation. He turned to me
with the signs of it in his face, and said:
"Ye have heard him. Is it true?"
"Part of it is."
"Not all, then, not all! What part is true?"
"That that spirit with the Russian name has put his spell upon the well."
"God's wownds, then are we ruined!"
"But not certainly? Ye mean, not certainly?"
"That is it."
"Wherefore, ye also mean that when he saith none can break the spell --"
"Yes, when he says that, he says what isn't necessarily true. There are conditions
under which an effort to break it may have some chance -- that is, some small, some
trifling chance -- of success."
"The conditions --"
"Oh, they are nothing difficult. Only these: I want the well and the surroundings
for the space of half a mile, entirely to myself from sunset to-day until I remove the ban
-- and nobody allowed to cross the ground but by my authority."
"Are these all?"
"And you have no fear to try?"
"Oh, none. One may fail, of course; and one may also succeed. One can try, and I
am ready to chance it. I have my conditions?"
"These and all others ye may name. I will issue commandment to that effect."
"Wait," said Merlin, with an evil smile. "Ye wit that he that would
break this spell must know that spirit's name?"
"Yes, I know his name."
"And wit you also that to know it skills not of itself, but ye must likewise
pronounce it? Ha-ha! Knew ye that?"
"Yes, I knew that, too."
"You had that knowledge! Art a fool? Are ye minded to utter that name and
"Utter it? Why certainly. I would utter it if it was Welsh."
"Ye are even a dead man, then; and I go to tell Arthur."
"That's all right. Take your gripsack and get along. The thing for YOU to do is to
go home and work the weather, John W. Merlin."
It was a home shot, and it made him wince; for he was the worst weather-failure in the
kingdom. Whenever he ordered up the danger-signals along the coast there was a week's dead
calm, sure, and every time he prophesied fair weather it rained brickbats. But I kept him
in the weather bureau right along, to undermine his reputation. However, that shot raised
his bile, and instead of starting home to report my death, he said he would remain and
My two experts arrived in the evening, and pretty well fagged, for they had traveled
double tides. They had pack-mules along, and had brought everything I needed -- tools,
pump, lead pipe, Greek fire, sheaves of big rockets, roman candles, colored fire sprays,
electric apparatus, and a lot of sundries -- everything necessary for the stateliest kind
of a miracle. They got their supper and a nap, and about midnight we sallied out through a
solitude so wholly vacant and complete that it quite overpassed the required conditions.
We took possession of the well and its surroundings. My boys were experts in all sorts of
things, from the stoning up of a well to the constructing of a mathematical instrument. An
hour before sunrise we had that leak mended in ship-shape fashion, and the water began to
rise. Then we stowed our fireworks in the chapel, locked up the place, and went home to
Before the noon mass was over, we were at the well again; for there was a deal to do
yet, and I was determined to spring the miracle before midnight, for business reasons: for
whereas a miracle worked for the Church on a week-day is worth a good deal, it is worth
six times as much if you get it in on a Sunday. In nine hours the water had risen to its
customary level -- that is to say, it was within twenty-three feet of the top. We put in a
little iron pump, one of the first turned out by my works near the capital; we bored into
a stone reservoir which stood against the outer wall of the well-chamber and inserted a
section of lead pipe that was long enough to reach to the door of the chapel and project
beyond the threshold, where the gushing water would be visible to the two hundred and
fifty acres of people I was intending should be present on the flat plain in front of this
little holy hillock at the proper time.
We knocked the head out of an empty hogshead and hoisted this hogshead to the flat roof
of the chapel, where we clamped it down fast, poured in gunpowder till it lay loosely an
inch deep on the bottom, then we stood up rockets in the hogshead as thick as they could
loosely stand, all the different breeds of rockets there are; and they made a portly and
imposing sheaf, I can tell you. We grounded the wire of a pocket electrical battery in
that powder, we placed a whole magazine of Greek fire on each corner of the roof -- blue
on one corner, green on another, red on another, and purple on the last -- and grounded a
wire in each.
About two hundred yards off, in the flat, we built a pen of scantlings, about four feet
high, and laid planks on it, and so made a platform. We covered it with swell tapestries
borrowed for the occasion, and topped it off with the abbot's own throne. When you are
going to do a miracle for an ignorant race, you want to get in every detail that will
count; you want to make all the properties impressive to the public eye; you want to make
matters comfortable for your head guest; then you can turn yourself loose and play your
effects for all they are worth. I know the value of these things, for I know human nature.
You can't throw too much style into a miracle. It costs trouble, and work, and sometimes
money; but it pays in the end. Well, we brought the wires to the ground at the chapel, and
then brought them under the ground to the platform, and hid the batteries there. We put a
rope fence a hundred feet square around the platform to keep off the common multitude, and
that finished the work. My idea was, doors open at 10:30, performance to begin at 11:25
sharp. I wished I could charge admission, but of course that wouldn't answer. I instructed
my boys to be in the chapel as early as 10, before anybody was around, and be ready to man
the pumps at the proper time, and make the fur fly. Then we went home to supper.
The news of the disaster to the well had traveled far by this time; and now for two or
three days a steady avalanche of people had been pouring into the valley. The lower end of
the valley was become one huge camp; we should have a good house, no question about that.
Criers went the rounds early in the evening and announced the coming attempt, which put
every pulse up to fever heat. They gave notice that the abbot and his official suite would
move in state and occupy the platform at 10:30, up to which time all the region which was
under my ban must be clear; the bells would then cease from tolling, and this sign should
be permission to the multitudes to close in and take their places.
I was at the platform and all ready to do the honors when the abbot's solemn procession
hove in sight -- which it did not do till it was nearly to the rope fence, because it was
a starless black night and no torches permitted. With it came Merlin, and took a front
seat on the platform; he was as good as his word for once. One could not see the
multitudes banked together beyond the ban, but they were there, just the same. The moment
the bells stopped, those banked masses broke and poured over the line like a vast black
wave, and for as much as a half hour it continued to flow, and then it solidified itself,
and you could have walked upon a pavement of human heads to -- well, miles.
We had a solemn stage-wait, now, for about twenty minutes -- a thing I had counted on
for effect; it is always good to let your audience have a chance to work up its
expectancy. At length, out of the silence a noble Latin chant -- men's voices -- broke and
swelled up and rolled away into the night, a majestic tide of melody. I had put that up,
too, and it was one of the best effects I ever invented. When it was finished I stood up
on the platform and extended my hands abroad, for two minutes, with my face uplifted --
that always produces a dead hush -- and then slowly pronounced this ghastly word with a
kind of awfulness which caused hundreds to tremble, and many women to faint:
Just as I was moaning out the closing hunks of that word, I touched off one of my
electric connections and all that murky world of people stood revealed in a hideous blue
glare! It was immense -- that effect! Lots of people shrieked, women curled up and quit in
every direction, foundlings collapsed by platoons. The abbot and the monks crossed
themselves nimbly and their lips fluttered with agitated prayers. Merlin held his grip,
but he was astonished clear down to his corns; he had never seen anything to begin with
that, before. Now was the time to pile in the effects. I lifted my hands and groaned out
this word -- as it were in agony:
-- and turned on the red fire! You should have heard that Atlantic of people moan and
howl when that crimson hell joined the blue! After sixty seconds I shouted:
-- and lit up the green fire! After waiting only forty seconds this time, I spread my
arms abroad and thundered out the devastating syllables of this word of words:
-- and whirled on the purple glare! There they were, all going at once, red, blue,
green, purple! -- four furious volcanoes pouring vast clouds of radiant smoke aloft, and
spreading a blinding rainbowed noonday to the furthest confines of that valley. In the
distance one could see that fellow on the pillar standing rigid against the background of
sky, his seesaw stopped for the first time in twenty years. I knew the boys were at the
pump now and ready. So I said to the abbot:
"The time is come, Father. I am about to pronounce the dread name and command the
spell to dissolve. You want to brace up, and take hold of something." Then I shouted
to the people: "Behold, in another minute the spell will be broken, or no mortal can
break it. If it break, all will know it, for you will see the sacred water gush from the
I stood a few moments, to let the hearers have a chance to spread my announcement to
those who couldn't hear, and so convey it to the furthest ranks, then I made a grand
exhibition of extra posturing and gesturing, and shouted:
"Lo, I command the fell spirit that possesses the holy fountain to now disgorge
into the skies all the infernal fires that still remain in him, and straightway dissolve
his spell and flee hence to the pit, there to lie bound a thousand years. By his own dread
name I command it -- BGWJJILLIGKKK!"
Then I touched off the hogshead of rockets, and a vast fountain of dazzling lances of
fire vomited itself toward the zenith with a hissing rush, and burst in mid-sky into a
storm of flashing jewels! One mighty groan of terror started up from the massed people --
then suddenly broke into a wild hosannah of joy -- for there, fair and plain in the
uncanny glare, they saw the freed water leaping forth! The old abbot could not speak a
word, for tears and the chokings in his throat; without utterance of any sort, he folded
me in his arms and mashed me. It was more eloquent than speech. And harder to get over,
too, in a country where there were really no doctors that were worth a damaged nickel.
You should have seen those acres of people throw themselves down in that water and kiss
it; kiss it, and pet it, and fondle it, and talk to it as if it were alive, and welcome it
back with the dear names they gave their darlings, just as if it had been a friend who was
long gone away and lost, and was come home again. Yes, it was pretty to see, and made me
think more of them than I had done before.
I sent Merlin home on a shutter. He had caved in and gone down like a landslide when I
pronounced that fearful name, and had never come to since. He never had heard that name
before, -- neither had I -- but to him it was the right one. Any jumble would have been
the right one. He admitted, afterward, that that spirit's own mother could not have
pronounced that name better than I did. He never could understand how I survived it, and I
didn't tell him. It is only young magicians that give away a secret like that. Merlin
spent three months working enchantments to try to find out the deep trick of how to
pronounce that name and outlive it. But he didn't arrive.
When I started to the chapel, the populace uncovered and fell back reverently to make a
wide way for me, as if I had been some kind of a superior being -- and I was. I was aware
of that. I took along a night shift of monks, and taught them the mystery of the pump, and
set them to work, for it was plain that a good part of the people out there were going to
sit up with the water all night, consequently it was but right that they should have all
they wanted of it. To those monks that pump was a good deal of a miracle itself, and they
were full of wonder over it; and of admiration, too, of the exceeding effectiveness of its
It was a great night, an immense night. There was reputation in it. I could hardly get
to sleep for glorying over it.
The Celtic Hammer June 22, 1996