Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
An Expedition against Ogres
By Mark Twain (1835–1910)
From ‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court’

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.  1
  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 on to 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—flatboats 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 on to 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 on to your arms, your iron gauntlets on to your hands, your iron rat-trap on to your head, with a rag of steel web hitched on to it to hang over the back of your neck—and there you are, snug as a candle in a candle-mold. 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.  2
  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.  3
  And so we started; and everybody gave us a good-by 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:—  4
  “Oh, what a guy!” and hove clods at us.  5
  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, bald-head!” 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.  6
  Straight off, we were in the country. It was most lovely and pleasant in those sylvan solitudes in the early cool morning in the first freshness of autumn. From hilltops we saw fair green valleys lying spread out below, with streams winding through them, and island groves of trees here and there, and huge lonely oaks scattered about and casting black blots of shade; and beyond the valleys we saw the ranges of hills, blue with haze, stretching away in billowy perspective to the horizon, with at wide intervals a dim fleck of white or gray on a wave-summit, which we knew was a castle. We crossed broad natural lawns sparkling with dew, and we moved like spirits, the cushioned turf giving out no sound of footfall; we dreamed along through glades in a mist of green light that got its tint from the sun-drenched roof of leaves overhead, and by our feet the clearest and coldest of runlets went frisking and gossiping over its reefs and making a sort of whispering music comfortable to hear; and at times we left the world behind and entered into the solemn great deeps and rich gloom of the forest, where furtive wild things whisked and scurried by and were gone before you could even get your eye on the place where the noise was; and where only the earliest birds were turning out and getting to business, with a song here and a quarrel yonder and a mysterious far-off hammering and drumming for worms on a tree-trunk away somewhere in the impenetrable remoteness of the woods. And by-and-by out we would swing again into the glare.  7
  About the third or fourth or fifth time that we swung out into the glare—it was along there somewhere, a couple of hours or so after sun-up—it wasn’t as pleasant as it had been. It was beginning to get hot. This was quite noticeable. We had a very long pull, after that, without any shade. Now it is curious how progressively little frets grow and multiply after they once get a start. Things which I didn’t mind at all at first, I began to mind now—and more and more, too, all the time. The first ten or fifteen times I wanted my handkerchief I didn’t seem to care; I got along, and said never mind, it isn’t any matter, and dropped it out of my mind. But now it was different: I wanted it all the time; it was nag, nag, nag, right along, and no rest; I couldn’t get it out of my mind; and so at last I lost my temper, and said hang a man that would make a suit of armor without any pockets in it. You see I had my handkerchief in my helmet, and some other things; but it was that kind of a helmet that you can’t take off by yourself. That hadn’t occurred to me when I put it there; and in fact I didn’t know it. I supposed it would be particularly convenient there. And so now the thought of its being there, so handy and close by, and yet not get-at-able, made it all the worse and the harder to bear. Yes, the thing that you can’t get is the thing that you want, mainly; every one has noticed that. Well, it took my mind off from everything else; took it clear off and centred it in my helmet; and mile after mile there it stayed, imagining the handkerchief, picturing the handkerchief; and it was bitter and aggravating to have the salt sweat keep trickling down into my eyes, and I couldn’t get at it. It seems like a little thing on paper, but it was not a little thing at all; it was the most real kind of misery. I would not say it if it was not so. I made up my mind that I would carry along a reticule next time, let it look how it might and people say what they would. Of course these iron dudes of the Round Table would think it was scandalous, and maybe raise sheol about it, but as for me, give me comfort first and style afterwards. So we jogged along, and now and then we struck a stretch of dust, and it would tumble up in clouds and get into my nose and make me sneeze and cry; and of course I said things I oughtn’t to have said,—I don’t deny that. I am not better than others. We couldn’t seem to meet anybody in this lonesome Britain, not even an ogre; and in the mood I was in then, it was well for the ogre; that is, an ogre with a handkerchief. Most knights would have thought of nothing but getting his armor; but so I got his bandana, he could keep his hardware for all me.  8
  Meantime it was getting hotter and hotter in there. You see the sun was beating down and warming up the iron more and more all the time. Well, when you are hot, that way, every little thing irritates you. When I trotted I rattled like a crate of dishes, and that annoyed me; and moreover I couldn’t seem to stand that shield slatting and banging, now about my breast, now around my back; and if I dropped into a walk my joints creaked and screeched in that wearisome way that a wheelbarrow does, and as we didn’t create any breeze at that gait, I was like to get fried in that stove; and besides, the quieter you went the heavier the iron settled down on you, and the more and more tons you seemed to weigh every minute. And you had to be always changing hands and passing your spear over to the other foot, it got so irksome for one hand to hold it long at a time.  9
  Well, you know when you perspire that way, in rivers, there comes a time when you—when you—well, when you itch. You are inside, your hands are outside: so there you are; nothing but iron between. It is not a light thing, let it sound as it may. First it is one place; then another; then some more; and it goes on spreading and spreading, and at last the territory is all occupied, and nobody can imagine what you feel like, nor how unpleasant it is. And when it had got to the worst, and it seemed to me that I could not stand anything more, a fly got in through the bars and settled on my nose, and the bars were stuck and wouldn’t work, and I couldn’t get the visor up; and I could only shake my head, which was baking hot by this time, and the fly—well, you know how a fly acts when he has got a certainty: he only minded the shaking enough to change from nose to lip, and lip to ear, and buzz and buzz all around in there, and keep on lighting and biting in a way that a person already so distressed as I was simply could not stand. So I gave in, and got Alisande to unship the helmet and relieve me of it. Then she emptied the conveniences out of it and fetched it full of water, and I drank and then stood up and she poured the rest down inside the armor. One cannot think how refreshing it was. She continued to fetch and pour until I was well soaked and thoroughly comfortable.  10
  It was good to have a rest—and peace. But nothing is quite perfect in this life at any time. I had made a pipe a while back, and also some pretty fair tobacco; not the real thing, but what some of the Indians use: the inside bark of the willow, dried. These comforts had been in the helmet, and now I had them again, but no matches.  11
  Gradually, as the time wore along, one annoying fact was borne in upon my understanding—that we were weather-bound. An armed novice cannot mount his horse without help and plenty of it. Sandy was not enough; not enough for me, anyway. We had to wait until somebody should come along. Waiting in silence would have been agreeable enough, for I was full of matter for reflection, and wanted to give it a chance to work. I wanted to try and think out how it was that rational or even half-rational men could ever have learned to wear armor, considering its inconveniences; and how they had managed to keep up such a fashion for generations when it was plain that what I had suffered to-day they had had to suffer all the days of their lives. I wanted to think that out; and moreover I wanted to think out some way to reform this evil and persuade the people to let the foolish fashion die out: but thinking was out of the question in the circumstances. You couldn’t think where Sandy was. She was a quite biddable creature and good-hearted, but she had a flow of talk that was as steady as a mill and made your head sore like the drays and wagons in a city. If she had had a cork she would have been a comfort. But you can’t cork that kind; they would die. Her clack was going all day, and you would think something would surely happen to her works by-and-by; but no, they never got out of order; and she never had to slack up for words. She could grind and pump and churn and buzz by the week, and never stop to oil up or blow out. And yet the result was just nothing but wind. She never had any ideas, any more than a fog has. She was a perfect blatherskite; I mean for jaw, jaw, jaw, talk, talk, talk, jabber, jabber, jabber;—but just as good as she could be. I hadn’t minded her mill that morning, on account of having that hornet’s nest of other troubles; but more than once in the afternoon I had to say:—  12
  “Take a rest, child; the way you are using up all the domestic air, the kingdom will have to go to importing it by to-morrow, and it’s a low enough treasury without that.”  13

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