A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Part 9. eBook: Page1
Mark Twain (2004)
Produced by David Widger
A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT
MARK TWAIN (Samuel L. Clemens)
However, my attention was suddenly snatched from such matters;our child began to lose ground again, and we had to go to sittingup with her, her case became so serious. We couldn't bear to allowanybody to help in this service, so we two stood watch-and-watch,day in and day out. Ah, Sandy, what a right heart she had, howsimple, and genuine, and good she was! She was a flawless wifeand mother; and yet I had married her for no other particularreasons, except that by the customs of chivalry she was my propertyuntil some knight should win her from me in the field. She hadhunted Britain over for me; had found me at the hanging-boutoutside of London, and had straightway resumed her old place atmy side in the placidest way and as of right. I was a New Englander,and in my opinion this sort of partnership would compromise her,sooner or later. She couldn't see how, but I cut argument shortand we had a wedding.
Now I didn't know I was drawing a prize, yet that was what I diddraw. Within the twelvemonth I became her worshiper; and ourswas the dearest and perfectest comradeship that ever was. Peopletalk about beautiful friendships between two persons of the samesex. What is the best of that sort, as compared with the friendshipof man and wife, where the best impulses and highest ideals ofboth are the same? There is no place for comparison betweenthe two friendships; the one is earthly, the other divine.
In my dreams, along at first, I still wandered thirteen centuriesaway, and my unsatisfied spirit went calling and harking all upand down the unreplying vacancies of a vanished world. Many atime Sandy heard that imploring cry come from my lips in my sleep.With a grand magnanimity she saddled that cry of mine upon ourchild, conceiving it to be the name of some lost darling of mine.It touched me to tears, and it also nearly knocked me off my feet,too, when she smiled up in my face for an earned reward, and playedher quaint and pretty surprise upon me:
"The name of one who was dear to thee is here preserved, here madeholy, and the music of it will abide alway in our ears. Nowthou'lt kiss me, as knowing the name I have given the child."
But I didn't know it, all the same. I hadn't an idea in theworld; but it would have been cruel to confess it and spoil herpretty game; so I never let on, but said:
"Yes, I know, sweetheart--how dear and good it is of you, too!But I want to hear these lips of yours, which are also mine, utterit first--then its music will be perfect."
Pleased to the marrow, she murmured:
I didn't laugh--I am always thankful for that--but the strainruptured every cartilage in me, and for weeks afterward I couldhear my bones clack when I walked. She never found out her mistake.The first time she heard that form of salute used at the telephoneshe was surprised, and not pleased; but I told her I had givenorder for it: that henceforth and forever the telephone mustalways be invoked with that reverent formality, in perpetual honorand remembrance of my lost friend and her small namesake. Thiswas not true. But it answered.
Well, during two weeks and a half we watched by the crib, and inour deep solicitude we were unconscious of any world outside ofthat sick-room. Then our reward came: the center of the universeturned the corner and began to mend. Grateful? It isn't the term.There _isn't_ any term for it. You know that yourself, if you'vewatched your child through the Valley of the Shadow and seen itcome back to life and sweep night out of the earth with oneall-illuminating smile that you could cover with your hand.
Why, we were back in this world in one instant! Then we lookedthe same startled thought into each other's eyes at the samemoment; more than two weeks gone, and that ship not back yet!
In another minute I appeared in the presence of my train. Theyhad been steeped in troubled bodings all this time--their facesshowed it. I called an escort and we galloped five miles to ahilltop overlooking the sea. Where was my great commerce thatso lately had made these glistening expanses populous and beautifulwith its white-winged flocks? Vanished, every one! Not a sail,from verge to verge, not a smoke-bank--just a dead and emptysolitude, in place of all that brisk and breezy life.
I went swiftly back, saying not a word to anybody. I told Sandythis ghastly news. We could imagine no explanation that wouldbegin to explain. Had there been an invasion? an earthquake?a pestilence? Had the nation been swept out of existence? Butguessing was profitless. I must go--at once. I borrowed the king'snavy--a "ship" no bigger than a steam launch--and was soon ready.
The parting--ah, yes, that was hard. As I was devouring the childwith last kisses, it brisked up and jabbered out its vocabulary!--the first time in more than two weeks, and it made fools of usfor joy. The darling mispronunciations of childhood!--dear me,there's no music that can touch it; and how one grieves when itwastes away and dissolves into correctness, knowing it will nevervisit his bereaved ear again. Well, how good it was to be ableto carry that gracious memory away with me!
I approached England the next morning, with the wide highway ofsalt water all to myself. There were ships in the harbor, atDover, but they were naked as to sails, and there was no signof life about them. It was Sunday; yet at Canterbury the streetswere empty; strangest of all, there was not even a priest in sight,and no stroke of a bell fell upon my ear. The mournfulness ofdeath was everywhere. I couldn't understand it. At last, inthe further edge of that town I saw a small funeral procession--just a family and a few friends following a coffin--no priest;a funeral without bell, book, or candle; there was a church thereclose at hand, but they passed it by weeping, and did not enter it;I glanced up at the belfry, and there hung the bell, shrouded inblack, and its tongue tied back. Now I knew! Now I understoodthe stupendous calamity that had overtaken England. Invasion?Invasion is a triviality to it. It was the INTERDICT!
I asked no questions; I didn't need to ask any. The Church hadstruck; the thing for me to do was to get into a disguise, andgo warily. One of my servants gave me a suit of clothes, andwhen we were safe beyond the town I put them on, and from that timeI traveled alone; I could not risk the embarrassment of company.
A miserable journey. A desolate silence everywhere. Even inLondon itself. Traffic had ceased; men did not talk or laugh, orgo in groups, or even in couples; they moved aimlessly about, eachman by himself, with his head down, and woe and terror at his heart.The Tower showed recent war-scars. Verily, much had been happening.
Of course, I meant to take the train for Camelot. Train! Why,the station was as vacant as a cavern. I moved on. The journeyto Camelot was a repetition of what I had already seen. The Mondayand the Tuesday differed in no way from the Sunday. I arrivedfar in the night. From being the best electric-lighted town inthe kingdom and the most like a recumbent sun of anything you eversaw, it was become simply a blot--a blot upon darkness--that isto say, it was darker and solider than the rest of the darkness,and so you could see it a little better; it made me feel as ifmaybe it was symbolical--a sort of sign that the Church was going to_keep_ the upper hand now, and snuff out all my beautiful civilizationjust like that. I found no life stirring in the somber streets.I groped my way with a heavy heart. The vast castle loomed blackupon the hilltop, not a spark visible about it. The drawbridgewas down, the great gate stood wide, I entered without challenge,my own heels making the only sound I heard--and it was sepulchralenough, in those huge vacant courts.