A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
by Mark Twain
Chapter 24 - A Rival Magician
MY influence in the Valley of Holiness was something prodigious now. It
seemed worth while to try to turn it to some valuable account. The thought came to me the
next morning, and was suggested by my seeing one of my knights who was in the soap line
come riding in. According to history, the monks of this place two centuries before had
been worldly minded enough to want to wash. It might be that there was a leaven of this
unrighteousness still remaining. So I sounded a Brother:
"Wouldn't you like a bath?"
He shuddered at the thought -- the thought of the peril of it to the well -- but he
said with feeling:
"One needs not to ask that of a poor body who has not known that blessed
refreshment sith that he was a boy. Would God I might wash me! but it may not be, fair
sir, tempt me not; it is forbidden."
And then he sighed in such a sorrowful way that I was resolved he should have at least
one layer of his real estate removed, if it sized up my whole influence and bankrupted the
pile. So I went to the abbot and asked for a permit for this Brother. He blenched at the
idea -- I don't mean that you could see him blench, for of course you couldn't see it
without you scraped him, and I didn't care enough about it to scrape him, but I knew the
blench was there, just the same, and within a book-cover's thickness of the surface, too
-- blenched, and trembled. He said:
"Ah, son, ask aught else thou wilt, and it is thine, and freely granted out of a
grateful heart -- but this, oh, this! Would you drive away the blessed water again?"
"No, Father, I will not drive it away. I have mysterious knowledge which teaches
me that there was an error that other time when it was thought the institution of the bath
banished the fountain." A large interest began to show up in the old man's face.
"My knowledge informs me that the bath was innocent of that misfortune, which was
caused by quite another sort of sin."
"These are brave words -- but -- but right welcome, if they be true."
"They are true, indeed. Let me build the bath again, Father. Let me build it
again, and the fountain shall flow forever."
"You promise this? -- you promise it? Say the word -- say you promise it!"
"I do promise it."
"Then will I have the first bath myself! Go -- get ye to your work. Tarry not,
tarry not, but go."
I and my boys were at work, straight off. The ruins of the old bath were there yet in
the basement of the monastery, not a stone missing. They had been left just so, all these
lifetimes, and avoided with a pious fear, as things accursed. In two days we had it all
done and the water in -- a spacious pool of clear pure water that a body could swim in. It
was running water, too. It came in, and went out, through the ancient pipes. The old abbot
kept his word, and was the first to try it. He went down black and shaky, leaving the
whole black community above troubled and worried and full of bodings; but he came back
white and joyful, and the game was made! another triumph scored.
It was a good campaign that we made in that Valley of Holiness, and I was very well
satisfied, and ready to move on now, but I struck a disappointment. I caught a heavy cold,
and it started up an old lurking rheumatism of mine. Of course the rheumatism hunted up my
weakest place and located itself there. This was the place where the abbot put his arms
about me and mashed me, what time he was moved to testify his gratitude to me with an
When at last I got out, I was a shadow. But everybody was full of attentions and
kindnesses, and these brought cheer back into my life, and were the right medicine to help
a convalescent swiftly up toward health and strength again; so I gained fast.
Sandy was worn out with nursing; so I made up my mind to turn out and go a cruise
alone, leaving her at the nunnery to rest up. My idea was to disguise myself as a freeman
of peasant degree and wander through the country a week or two on foot. This would give me
a chance to eat and lodge with the lowliest and poorest class of free citizens on equal
terms. There was no other way to inform myself perfectly of their everyday life and the
operation of the laws upon it. If I went among them as a gentleman, there would be
restraints and conventionalities which would shut me out from their private joys and
troubles, and I should get no further than the outside shell.
One morning I was out on a long walk to get up muscle for my trip, and had climbed the
ridge which bordered the northern extremity of the valley, when I came upon an artificial
opening in the face of a low precipice, and recognized it by its location as a hermitage
which had often been pointed out to me from a distance as the den of a hermit of high
renown for dirt and austerity. I knew he had lately been offered a situation in the Great
Sahara, where lions and sandflies made the hermit-life peculiarly attractive and
difficult, and had gone to Africa to take possession, so I thought I would look in and see
how the atmosphere of this den agreed with its reputation.
My surprise was great: the place was newly swept and scoured. Then there was another
surprise. Back in the gloom of the cavern I heard the clink of a little bell, and then
"Hello Central! Is this you, Camelot? -- Behold, thou mayst glad thy heart an thou
hast faith to believe the wonderful when that it cometh in unexpected guise and maketh
itself manifest in impossible places -- here standeth in the flesh his mightiness The
Boss, and with thine own ears shall ye hear him speak!"
Now what a radical reversal of things this was; what a jumbling together of extravagant
incongruities; what a fantastic conjunction of opposites and irreconcilables -- the home
of the bogus miracle become the home of a real one, the den of a mediaeval hermit turned
into a telephone office!
The telephone clerk stepped into the light, and I recognized one of my young fellows. I
"How long has this office been established here, Ulfius?"
"But since midnight, fair Sir Boss, an it please you. We saw many lights in the
valley, and so judged it well to make a station, for that where so many lights be needs
must they indicate a town of goodly size."
"Quite right. It isn't a town in the customary sense, but it's a good stand,
anyway. Do you know where you are?"
"Of that I have had no time to make inquiry; for whenas my comradeship moved hence
upon their labors, leaving me in charge, I got me to needed rest, purposing to inquire
when I waked, and report the place's name to Camelot for record."
"Well, this is the Valley of Holiness."
It didn't take; I mean, he didn't start at the name, as I had supposed he would. He
"I will so report it."
"Why, the surrounding regions are filled with the noise of late wonders that have
happened here! You didn't hear of them?"
"Ah, ye will remember we move by night, and avoid speech with all. We learn naught
but that we get by the telephone from Camelot."
"Why THEY know all about this thing. Haven't they told you anything about the
great miracle of the restoration of a holy fountain?"
"Oh, THAT? Indeed yes. But the name of THIS valley doth woundily differ from the
name of THAT one; indeed to differ wider were not pos --"
"What was that name, then?"
"The Valley of Hellishness."
"THAT explains it. Confound a telephone, anyway. It is the very demon for
conveying similarities of sound that are miracles of divergence from similarity of sense.
But no matter, you know the name of the place now. Call up Camelot."
He did it, and had Clarence sent for. It was good to hear my boy's voice again. It was
like being home. After some affectionate interchanges, and some account of my late
illness, I said:
"What is new?"
"The king and queen and many of the court do start even in this hour, to go to
your valley to pay pious homage to the waters ye have restored, and cleanse themselves of
sin, and see the place where the infernal spirit spouted true hell-flames to the clouds --
an ye listen sharply ye may hear me wink and hear me likewise smile a smile, sith 'twas I
that made selection of those flames from out our stock and sent them by your order."
"Does the king know the way to this place?"
"The king? -- no, nor to any other in his realms, mayhap; but the lads that holp
you with your miracle will be his guide and lead the way, and appoint the places for rests
at noons and sleeps at night."
"This will bring them here -- when?"
"Mid-afternoon, or later, the third day."
"Anything else in the way of news?"
"The king hath begun the raising of the standing army ye suggested to him; one
regiment is complete and officered."
"The mischief! I wanted a main hand in that myself. There is only one body of men
in the kingdom that are fitted to officer a regular army."
"Yes -- and now ye will marvel to know there's not so much as one West Pointer in
"What are you talking about? Are you in earnest?"
"It is truly as I have said."
"Why, this makes me uneasy. Who were chosen, and what was the method? Competitive
"Indeed, I know naught of the method. I but know this -- these officers be all of
noble family, and are born -- what is it you call it? -- chuckleheads."
"There's something wrong, Clarence. "
"Comfort yourself, then; for two candidates for a lieutenancy do travel hence with
the king -- young nobles both -- and if you but wait where you are you will hear them
"That is news to the purpose. I will get one West Pointer in, anyway. Mount a man
and send him to that school with a message; let him kill horses, if necessary, but he must
be there before sunset to-night and say -- "
"There is no need. I have laid a ground wire to the school. Prithee let me connect
you with it."
It sounded good! In this atmosphere of telephones and lightning communication with
distant regions, I was breathing the breath of life again after long suffocation. I
realized, then, what a creepy, dull, inanimate horror this land had been to me all these
years, and how I had been in such a stifled condition of mind as to have grown used to it
almost beyond the power to notice it.
I gave my order to the superintendent of the Academy personally. I also asked him to
bring me some paper and a fountain pen and a box or so of safety matches. I was getting
tired of doing without these conveniences. I could have them now, as I wasn't going to
wear armor any more at present, and therefore could get at my pockets.
When I got back to the monastery, I found a thing of interest going on. The abbot and
his monks were assembled in the great hall, observing with childish wonder and faith the
performances of a new magician, a fresh arrival. His dress was the extreme of the
fantastic; as showy and foolish as the sort of thing an Indian medicine-man wears. He was
mowing, and mumbling, and gesticulating, and drawing mystical figures in the air and on
the floor, -- the regular thing, you know. He was a celebrity from Asia -- so he said, and
that was enough. That sort of evidence was as good as gold, and passed current everywhere.
How easy and cheap it was to be a great magician on this fellow's terms. His specialty
was to tell you what any individual on the face of the globe was doing at the moment; and
what he had done at any time in the past, and what he would do at any time in the future.
He asked if any would like to know what the Emperor of the East was doing now? The
sparkling eyes and the delighted rubbing of hands made eloquent answer -- this reverend
crowd WOULD like to know what that monarch was at, just as this moment. The fraud went
through some more mummery, and then made grave announcement:
"The high and mighty Emperor of the East doth at this moment put money in the palm
of a holy begging friar -- one, two, three pieces, and they be all of silver."
A buzz of admiring exclamations broke out, all around:
"It is marvelous!" "Wonderful!" "What study, what labor, to
have acquired a so amazing power as this!"
Would they like to know what the Supreme Lord of Inde was doing? Yes. He told them what
the Supreme Lord of Inde was doing. Then he told them what the Sultan of Egypt was at;
also what the King of the Remote Seas was about. And so on and so on; and with each new
marvel the astonishment at his accuracy rose higher and higher. They thought he must
surely strike an uncertain place some time; but no, he never had to hesitate, he always
knew, and always with unerring precision. I saw that if this thing went on I should lose
my supremacy, this fellow would capture my following, I should be left out in the cold. I
must put a cog in his wheel, and do it right away, too. I said:
"If I might ask, I should very greatly like to know what a certain person is
"Speak, and freely. I will tell you."
"It will be difficult -- perhaps impossible."
"My art knoweth not that word. The more difficult it is, the more certainly will I
reveal it to you."
You see, I was working up the interest. It was getting pretty high, too; you could see
that by the craning necks all around, and the half-suspended breathing. So now I climaxed
"If you make no mistake -- if you tell me truly what I want to know -- I will give
you two hundred silver pennies."
"The fortune is mine! I will tell you what you would know."
"Then tell me what I am doing with my right hand."
"Ah-h!" There was a general gasp of surprise. It had not occurred to anybody
in the crowd -- that simple trick of inquiring about somebody who wasn't ten thousand
miles away. The magician was hit hard; it was an emergency that had never happened in his
experience before, and it corked him; he didn't know how to meet it. He looked stunned,
confused; he couldn't say a word. "Come," I said, "what are you waiting
for? Is it possible you can answer up, right off, and tell what anybody on the other side
of the earth is doing, and yet can't tell what a person is doing who isn't three yards
from you? Persons behind me know what I am doing with my right hand -- they will indorse
you if you tell correctly." He was still dumb. "Very well, I'll tell you why you
don't speak up and tell; it is because you don't know. YOU a magician! Good friends, this
tramp is a mere fraud and liar."
This distressed the monks and terrified them. They were not used to hearing these awful
beings called names, and they did not know what might be the consequence. There was a dead
silence now; superstitious bodings were in every mind. The magician began to pull his wits
together, and when he presently smiled an easy, nonchalant smile, it spread a mighty
relief around; for it indicated that his mood was not destructive. He said:
"It hath struck me speechless, the frivolity of this person's speech. Let all
know, if perchance there be any who know it not, that enchanters of my degree deign not to
concern themselves with the doings of any but kings, princes, emperors, them that be born
in the purple and them only. Had ye asked me what Arthur the great king is doing, it were
another matter, and I had told ye; but the doings of a subject interest me not."
"Oh, I misunderstood you. I thought you said 'anybody,' and so I supposed
'anybody' included -- well, anybody; that is, everybody."
"It doth -- anybody that is of lofty birth; and the better if he be royal."
"That, it meseemeth, might well be," said the abbot, who saw his opportunity
to smooth things and avert disaster, "for it were not likely that so wonderful a gift
as this would be conferred for the revelation of the concerns of lesser beings than such
as be born near to the summits of greatness. Our Arthur the king --"
"Would you know of him?" broke in the enchanter.
"Most gladly, yea, and gratefully."
Everybody was full of awe and interest again right away, the incorrigible idiots. They
watched the incantations absorbingly, and looked at me with a "There, now, what can
you say to that?" air, when the announcement came:
"The king is weary with the chase, and lieth in his palace these two hours
sleeping a dreamless sleep."
"God's benison upon him!" said the abbot, and crossed himself; "may that
sleep be to the refreshment of his body and his soul."
"And so it might be, if he were sleeping," I said, "but the king is not
sleeping, the king rides."
Here was trouble again -- a conflict of authority. Nobody knew which of us to believe;
I still had some reputation left. The magician's scorn was stirred, and he said:
"Lo, I have seen many wonderful soothsayers and prophets and magicians in my life
days, but none before that could sit idle and see to the heart of things with never an
incantation to help."
"You have lived in the woods, and lost much by it. I use incantations myself, as
this good brotherhood are aware -- but only on occasions of moment."
When it comes to sarcasming, I reckon I know how to keep my end up. That jab made this
fellow squirm. The abbot inquired after the queen and the court, and got this information:
"They be all on sleep, being overcome by fatigue, like as to the king."
"That is merely another lie. Half of them are about their amusements, the queen
and the other half are not sleeping, they ride. Now perhaps you can spread yourself a
little, and tell us where the king and queen and all that are this moment riding with them
"They sleep now, as I said; but on the morrow they will ride, for they go a
journey toward the sea."
"And where will they be the day after to-morrow at vespers?"
"Far to the north of Camelot, and half their journey will be done."
"That is another lie, by the space of a hundred and fifty miles. Their journey
will not be merely half done, it will be all done, and they will be HERE, in this
THAT was a noble shot! It set the abbot and the monks in a whirl of excitement, and it
rocked the enchanter to his base. I followed the thing right up:
"If the king does not arrive, I will have myself ridden on a rail: if he does I
will ride you on a rail instead."
Next day I went up to the telephone office and found that the king had passed through
two towns that were on the line. I spotted his progress on the succeeding day in the same
way. I kept these matters to myself. The third day's reports showed that if he kept up his
gait he would arrive by four in the afternoon. There was still no sign anywhere of
interest in his coming; there seemed to be no preparations making to receive him in state;
a strange thing, truly. Only one thing could explain this: that other magician had been
cutting under me, sure. This was true. I asked a friend of mine, a monk, about it, and he
said, yes, the magician had tried some further enchantments and found out that the court
had concluded to make no journey at all, but stay at home. Think of that! Observe how much
a reputation was worth in such a country. These people had seen me do the very showiest
bit of magic in history, and the only one within their memory that had a positive value,
and yet here they were, ready to take up with an adventurer who could offer no evidence of
his powers but his mere unproven word.
However, it was not good politics to let the king come without any fuss and feathers at
all, so I went down and drummed up a procession of pilgrims and smoked out a batch of
hermits and started them out at two o'clock to meet him. And that was the sort of state he
arrived in. The abbot was helpless with rage and humiliation when I brought him out on a
balcony and showed him the head of the state marching in and never a monk on hand to offer
him welcome, and no stir of life or clang of joy-bell to glad his spirit. He took one look
and then flew to rouse out his forces. The next minute the bells were dinning furiously,
and the various buildings were vomiting monks and nuns, who went swarming in a rush toward
the coming procession; and with them went that magician -- and he was on a rail, too, by
the abbot's order; and his reputation was in the mud, and mine was in the sky again. Yes,
a man can keep his trademark current in such a country, but he can't sit around and do it;
he has got to be on deck and attending to business right along.
The Celtic Hammer June 22, 1996