THE TRAGEDY OF THE MANOR-HOUSE
AT midnight all was over, and we sat in the presence
of four corpses. We covered them with such
rags as we could find, and started away, fastening the
door behind us. Their home must be these people's
grave, for they could not have Christian burial, or be
admitted to consecrated ground. They were as dogs,
wild beasts, lepers, and no soul that valued its hope of
eternal life would throw it away by meddling in any
sort with these rebuked and smitten outcasts.
We had not moved four steps when I caught a sound
as of footsteps upon gravel. My heart flew to my
throat. We must not be seen coming from that house.
I plucked at the king's robe and we drew back and
took shelter behind the corner of the cabin.
"Now we are safe," I said, "but it was a close
call -- so to speak. If the night had been lighter he
might have seen us, no doubt, he seemed to be so near."
"Mayhap it is but a beast and not a man at all."
"True. But man or beast, it will be wise to stay
here a minute and let it get by and out of the way."
"Hark! It cometh hither."
True again. The step was coming toward us --
straight toward the hut. It must be a beast, then, and
we might as well have saved our trepidation. I was
going to step out, but the king laid his hand upon my
arm. There was a moment of silence, then we heard
a soft knock on the cabin door. It made me shiver.
Presently the knock was repeated, and then we heard
these words in a guarded voice:
"Mother! Father! Open -- we have got free, and
we bring news to pale your cheeks but glad your
hearts; and we may not tarry, but must fly! And --
but they answer not. Mother! father! --"
I drew the king toward the other end of the hut and whispered:
"Come -- now we can get to the road."
The king hesitated, was going to demur; but just
then we heard the door give way, and knew that those
desolate men were in the presence of their dead.
"Come, my liege! in a moment they will strike a
light, and then will follow that which it would break
your heart to hear."
He did not hesitate this time. The moment we were
in the road I ran; and after a moment he threw dig-
nity aside and followed. I did not want to think of
what was happening in the hut -- I couldn't bear it; I
wanted to drive it out of my mind; so I struck into
the first subject that lay under that one in my mind:
"I have had the disease those people died of, and
so have nothing to fear; but if you have not had it also --"
He broke in upon me to say he was in trouble, and
it was his conscience that was troubling him:
"These young men have got free, they say -- but
HOW? It is not likely that their lord hath set them free."
"Oh, no, I make no doubt they escaped."
"That is my trouble; I have a fear that this is so,
and your suspicion doth confirm it, you having the same fear.
"I should not call it by that name though. I do
suspect that they escaped, but if they did, I am not
"I am not sorry, I THINK -- but --"
"What is it? What is there for one to be troubled about?"
"IF they did escape, then are we bound in duty to
lay hands upon them and deliver them again to their
lord; for it is not seemly that one of his quality should
suffer a so insolent and high-handed outrage from
persons of their base degree."
There it was again. He could see only one side of
it. He was born so, educated so, his veins were full
of ancestral blood that was rotten with this sort of
unconscious brutality, brought down by inheritance
from a long procession of hearts that had each done
its share toward poisoning the stream. To imprison
these men without proof, and starve their kindred, was
no harm, for they were merely peasants and subject to
the will and pleasure of their lord, no matter what
fearful form it might take; but for these men to break
out of unjust captivity was insult and outrage, and a
thing not to be countenanced by any conscientious
person who knew his duty to his sacred caste.
I worked more than half an hour before I got him to
change the subject -- and even then an outside matter
did it for me. This was a something which caught our
eyes as we struck the summit of a small hill -- a red
glow, a good way off.
"That's a fire," said I.
Fires interested me considerably, because I was get-
ting a good deal of an insurance business started, and
was also training some horses and building some steam
fire-engines, with an eye to a paid fire department by
and by. The priests opposed both my fire and life in-
surance, on the ground that it was an insolent attempt
to hinder the decrees of God; and if you pointed out
that they did not hinder the decrees in the least, but
only modified the hard consequences of them if you
took out policies and had luck, they retorted that that
was gambling against the decrees of God, and was
just as bad. So they managed to damage those in-
dustries more or less, but I got even on my Accident
business. As a rule, a knight is a lummox, and some
times even a labrick, and hence open to pretty poor
arguments when they come glibly from a supersti-
tion-monger, but even HE could see the practical side
of a thing once in a while; and so of late you couldn't
clean up a tournament and pile the result without finding
one of my accident-tickets in every helmet.
We stood there awhile, in the thick darkness and
stillness, looking toward the red blur in the distance,
and trying to make out the meaning of a far-away
murmur that rose and fell fitfully on the night. Some-
times it swelled up and for a moment seemed less
remote; but when we were hopefully expecting it to
betray its cause and nature, it dulled and sank again,
carrying its mystery with it. We started down the hill
in its direction, and the winding road plunged us at
once into almost solid darkness -- darkness that was
packed and crammed in between two tall forest walls.
We groped along down for half a mile, perhaps, that
murmur growing more and more distinct all the time.
the coming storm threatening more and more, with
now and then a little shiver of wind, a faint show of
lightning, and dull grumblings of distant thunder. I
was in the lead. I ran against something -- a soft
heavy something which gave, slightly, to the impulse
of my weight; at the same moment the lightning glared
out, and within a foot of my face was the writhing face
of a man who was hanging from the limb of a tree!
That is, it seemed to be writhing, but it was not. It
was a grewsome sight. Straightway there was an ear-
splitting explosion of thunder, and the bottom of
heaven fell out; the rain poured down in a deluge.
No matter, we must try to cut this man down, on the
chance that there might be life in him yet, mustn't
we? The lightning came quick and sharp now, and
the place was alternately noonday and midnight. One
moment the man would be hanging before me in an
intense light, and the next he was blotted out again in
the darkness. I told the king we must cut him down.
The king at once objected.
"If he hanged himself, he was willing to lose him
property to his lord; so let him be. If others hanged
him, belike they had the right -- let him hang."
"But me no buts, but even leave him as he is. And
for yet another reason. When the lightning cometh
again -- there, look abroad."
Two others hanging, within fifty yards of us!
"It is not weather meet for doing useless courtesies
unto dead folk. They are past thanking you. Come
-- it is unprofitable to tarry here."
There was reason in what he said, so we moved on.
Within the next mile we counted six more hanging
forms by the blaze of the lightning, and altogether it
was a grisly excursion. That murmur was a murmur
no longer, it was a roar; a roar of men's voices. A
man came flying by now, dimly through the darkness,
and other men chasing him. They disappeared. Pres-
ently another case of the kind occurred, and then an-
other and another. Then a sudden turn of the road
brought us in sight of that fire -- it was a large manor-
house, and little or nothing was left of it -- and every-
where men were flying and other men raging after
them in pursuit.
I warned the king that this was not a safe place for
strangers. We would better get away from the light,
until matters should improve. We stepped back a
little, and hid in the edge of the wood. From this
hiding-place we saw both men and women hunted by
the mob. The fearful work went on until nearly dawn.
Then, the fire being out and the storm spent, the voices
and flying footsteps presently ceased, and darkness and
stillness reigned again.
We ventured out, and hurried cautiously away; and
although we were worn out and sleepy, we kept on
until we had put this place some miles behind us.
Then we asked hospitality at the hut of a charcoal
burner, and got what was to be had. A woman was
up and about, but the man was still asleep, on a straw
shake-down, on the clay floor. The woman seemed
uneasy until I explained that we were travelers and had
lost our way and been wandering in the woods all
night. She became talkative, then, and asked if we
had heard of the terrible goings-on at the manor-house
of Abblasoure. Yes, we had heard of them, but what
we wanted now was rest and sleep. The king broke in:
"Sell us the house and take yourselves away, for
we be perilous company, being late come from people
that died of the Spotted Death."
It was good of him, but unnecessary. One of the
commonest decorations of the nation was the waffle-
iron face. I had early noticed that the woman and her
husband were both so decorated. She made us entirely
welcome, and had no fears; and plainly she was im-
mensely impressed by the king's proposition; for, of
course, it was a good deal of an event in her life to
run across a person of the king's humble appearance
who was ready to buy a man's house for the sake of a
night's lodging. It gave her a large respect for us,
and she strained the lean possibilities of her hovel to
the utmost to make us comfortable.
We slept till far into the afternoon, and then got up
hungry enough to make cotter fare quite palatable to
the king, the more particularly as it was scant in quan-
tity. And also in variety; it consisted solely of onions,
salt, and the national black bread made out of horse-
feed. The woman told us about the affair of the even-
ing before. At ten or eleven at night, when everybody
was in bed, the manor-house burst into flames. The
country-side swarmed to the rescue, and the family
were saved, with one exception, the master. He did
not appear. Everybody was frantic over this loss, and
two brave yeomen sacrificed their lives in ransacking
the burning house seeking that valuable personage.
But after a while he was found -- what was left of
him -- which was his corpse. It was in a copse three
hundred yards away, bound, gagged, stabbed in a dozen places.
Who had done this? Suspicion fell upon a humble
family in the neighborhood who had been lately treated
with peculiar harshness by the baron; and from these
people the suspicion easily extended itself to their
relatives and familiars. A suspicion was enough; my
lord's liveried retainers proclaimed an instant crusade
against these people, and were promptly joined by the
community in general. The woman's husband had
been active with the mob, and had not returned home
until nearly dawn. He was gone now to find out
what the general result had been. While we were still
talking he came back from his quest. His report was
revolting enough. Eighteen persons hanged or butch-
ered, and two yeomen and thirteen prisoners lost in the fire.
"And how many prisoners were there altogether in the vaults?"
"Then every one of them was lost?"
"But the people arrived in time to save the family;
how is it they could save none of the prisoners?"
The man looked puzzled, and said:
"Would one unlock the vaults at such a time?
Marry, some would have escaped."
"Then you mean that nobody DID unlock them?"
"None went near them, either to lock or unlock.
It standeth to reason that the bolts were fast; where-
fore it was only needful to establish a watch, so that if
any broke the bonds he might not escape, but be
taken. None were taken."
"Natheless, three did escape," said the king, "and
ye will do well to publish it and set justice upon their
track, for these murthered the baron and fired the house."
I was just expecting he would come out with that.
For a moment the man and his wife showed an eager
interest in this news and an impatience to go out and
spread it; then a sudden something else betrayed itself
in their faces, and they began to ask questions. I
answered the questions myself, and narrowly watched
the effects produced. I was soon satisfied that the
knowledge of who these three prisoners were had some-
how changed the atmosphere; that our hosts' con-
tinued eagerness to go and spread the news was now
only pretended and not real. The king did not notice
the change, and I was glad of that. I worked the
conversation around toward other details of the night's
proceedings, and noted that these people were relieved
to have it take that direction.
The painful thing observable about all this business
was the alacrity with which this oppressed community
had turned their cruel hands against their own class in
the interest of the common oppressor. This man and
woman seemed to feel that in a quarrel between a
person of their own class and his lord, it was the
natural and proper and rightful thing for that poor
devil's whole caste to side with the master and fight
his battle for him, without ever stopping to inquire
into the rights or wrongs of the matter. This man
had been out helping to hang his neighbors, and had
done his work with zeal, and yet was aware that there
was nothing against them but a mere suspicion, with
nothing back of it describable as evidence, still neither
he nor his wife seemed to see anything horrible about it.
This was depressing -- to a man with the dream of a
republic in his head. It reminded me of a time thirteen
centuries away, when the "poor whites" of our South
who were always despised and frequently insulted by
the slave-lords around them, and who owed their base
condition simply to the presence of slavery in their
midst, were yet pusillanimously ready to side with the
slave-lords in all political moves for the upholding and
perpetuating of slavery, and did also finally shoulder
their muskets and pour out their lives in an effort to
prevent the destruction of that very institution which
degraded them. And there was only one redeeming
feature connected with that pitiful piece of history;
and that was, that secretly the "poor white" did de-
test the slave-lord, and did feel his own shame. That
feeling was not brought to the surface, but the fact
that it was there and could have been brought out, under
favoring circumstances, was something -- in fact, it
was enough; for it showed that a man is at bottom a
man, after all, even if it doesn't show on the outside.
Well, as it turned out, this charcoal burner was just
the twin of the Southern "poor white" of the far
future. The king presently showed impatience, and said:
"An ye prattle here all the day, justice will mis-
carry. Think ye the criminals will abide in their
father's house? They are fleeing, they are not wait-
ing. You should look to it that a party of horse be
set upon their track."
The woman paled slightly, but quite perceptibly,
and the man looked flustered and irresolute. I said:
"Come, friend, I will walk a little way with you,
and explain which direction I think they would try to
take. If they were merely resisters of the gabelle or
some kindred absurdity I would try to protect them
from capture; but when men murder a person of high
degree and likewise burn his house, that is another matter."
The last remark was for the king -- to quiet him.
On the road the man pulled his resolution together,
and began the march with a steady gait, but there was
no eagerness in it. By and by I said:
"What relation were these men to you -- cousins?"
He turned as white as his layer of charcoal would let
him, and stopped, trembling.
"Ah, my God, how know ye that?"
"I didn't know it; it was a chance guess."
"Poor lads, they are lost. And good lads they were, too."
"Were you actually going yonder to tell on them?"
He didn't quite know how to take that; but he said,
"Then I think you are a damned scoundrel!"
It made him as glad as if I had called him an angel.
"Say the good words again, brother! for surely ye
mean that ye would not betray me an I failed of my duty."
"Duty? There is no duty in the matter, except the
duty to keep still and let those men get away. They've
done a righteous deed."
He looked pleased; pleased, and touched with ap-
prehension at the same time. He looked up and down
the road to see that no one was coming, and then said
in a cautious voice:
"From what land come you, brother, that you speak
such perilous words, and seem not to be afraid?"
"They are not perilous words when spoken to one
of my own caste, I take it. You would not tell any-
body I said them?"
"I? I would be drawn asunder by wild horses first."
"Well, then, let me say my say. I have no fears
of your repeating it. I think devil's work has been
done last night upon those innocent poor people.
That old baron got only what he deserved. If I had
my way. all his kind should have the same luck."
Fear and depression vanished from the man's manner,
and gratefulness and a brave animation took their place:
"Even though you be a spy, and your words a trap
for my undoing, yet are they such refreshment that to
hear them again and others like to them, I would go to
the gallows happy, as having had one good feast at
least in a starved life. And I will say my say now,
and ye may report it if ye be so minded. I helped to
hang my neighbors for that it were peril to my own
life to show lack of zeal in the master's cause; the
others helped for none other reason. All rejoice to-
day that he is dead, but all do go about seemingly
sorrowing, and shedding the hypocrite's tear, for in
that lies safety. I have said the words, I have said the
words! the only ones that have ever tasted good in
my mouth, and the reward of that taste is sufficient.
Lead on, an ye will, be it even to the scaffold, for I am ready."
There it was, you see. A man is a man, at bottom.
Whole ages of abuse and oppression cannot crush the
manhood clear out of him. Whoever thinks it a mis-
take is himself mistaken. Yes, there is plenty good
enough material for a republic in the most degraded
people that ever existed -- even the Russians; plenty
of manhood in them -- even in the Germans -- if one
could but force it out of its timid and suspicious
privacy, to overthrow and trample in the mud any
throne that ever was set up and any nobility that ever
supported it. We should see certain things yet, let us
hope and believe. First, a modified monarchy, till
Arthur's days were done, then the destruction of the
throne, nobility abolished, every member of it bound
out to some useful trade, universal suffrage instituted,
and the whole government placed in the hands of the
men and women of the nation there to remain. Yes,
there was no occasion to give up my dream yet a while.
Top of Page
Room | A
Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's