I took the king to my private
quarters to cut his hair and help him get the
hang of the lowly raiment he was to wear. The high
classes wore their hair banged across the forehead but
hanging to the shoulders the rest of the way around,
whereas the lowest ranks of commoners were banged
fore and aft both; the slaves were bangless, and
allowed their hair free growth. So I inverted a bowl
over his head and cut away all the locks that hung
below it. I also trimmed his whiskers and mustache
until they were only about a half-inch long; and tried
to do it inartistically, and succeeded. It was a villainous
disfigurement. When he got his lubberly sandals on,
and his long robe of coarse brown linen cloth, which
hung straight from his neck to his ankle-bones, he was
no longer the comeliest man in his kingdom, but one
of the unhandsomest and most commonplace and unattractive. We were dressed and
barbered alike, and could pass
for small farmers, or farm
shepherds, or carters; yes, or for village artisans, if
we chose, our costume being in effect universal among
the poor, because of its strength and cheapness. I
don't mean that it was really cheap to a very poor
person, but I do mean that it was the cheapest material
there was for male attire -- manufactured material, you
We slipped away an hour before
dawn, and by broad sun-up had
made eight or ten miles, and
were in the midst of a sparsely
settled country. I had a pretty
heavy knapsack; it was laden
with provisions -- provisions
for the king to taper down on,
till he could take to the coarse
fare of the country without damage.
I found a comfortable seat
for the king by the roadside,
and then gave him a morsel or
two to stay his stomach with.
Then I said I would find some
water for him, and strolled away.
Part of my project was to get
out of sight and sit down and
rest a little myself. It had
always been my custom to stand
when in his presence; even at
the council board, except upon
those rare occasions when the
sitting was a very long one,
extending over hours; then I
had a trifling little backless
thing which was like a reversed
culvert and was as comfortable
as the toothache. I didn't want
to break him in suddenly, but
do it by degrees. We should have
to sit together now when in company,
or people would notice; but it
would not be good politics for
me to be playing equality with
him when there was no necessity
I found the water some three
hundred yards away, and had been
resting about twenty minutes,
when I heard voices. That is
all right, I thought -- peasants
going to work; nobody else likely
to be stirring this early. But
the next moment these comers
jingled into sight around a turn
of the road -- smartly clad people
of quality, with luggage-mules
and servants in their train!
I was off like a shot, through
the bushes, by the shortest cut.
For a while it did seem that
these people would pass the king
before I could get to him; but
desperation gives you wings,
you know, and I canted my body
forward, inflated my breast,
and held my breath and flew.
I arrived. And in plenty good
enough time, too.
king, but it's no time for
ceremony -- jump!
Jump to your feet -- some quality
"Is that a
marvel? Let them come."
"But my liege!
You must not be seen sitting.
Rise! -- and
stand in humble posture while
they pass. You are a peasant,
"True -- I had forgot it, so
lost was I in planning of a huge
war with Gaul" -- he was up by
this time, but a farm could have
got up quicker, if there was
any kind of a boom in real estate
-- "and right-so a thought came
randoming overthwart this majestic
dream the which --"
attitude, my lord the king
-- and quick! Duck your
head! -- more! -- still more!
-- droop it!"
He did his honest best, but
lord, it was no great things.
He looked as humble as the leaning
tower at Pisa. It is the most
you could say of it. Indeed,
it was such a thundering poor
success that it raised wondering
scowls all along the line, and
a gorgeous flunkey at the tail
end of it raised his whip; but
I jumped in time and was under
it when it fell; and under cover
of the volley of coarse laughter
which followed, I spoke up sharply
and warned the king to take no
notice. He mastered himself for
the moment, but it was a sore
tax; he wanted to eat up the
procession. I said:
"It would end
our adventures at the very
start; and we, being
without weapons, could do nothing
with that armed gang. If we are
going to succeed in our emprise,
we must not only look the peasant
but act the peasant."
"It is wisdom;
none can gainsay it. Let us
go on, Sir Boss. I
will take note and learn, and
do the best I may."
He kept his word. He did the
best he could, but I've seen
better. If you have ever seen
an active, heedless, enterprising
child going diligently out of
one mischief and into another
all day long, and an anxious
mother at its heels all the while,
and just saving it by a hair
from drowning itself or breaking
its neck with each new experiment,
you've seen the king and me.
If I could have foreseen what
the thing was going to be like,
I should have said, No, if anybody
wants to make his living exhibiting
a king as a peasant, let him
take the layout; I can do better
with a menagerie, and last longer.
And yet, during the first three
days I never allowed him to enter
a hut or other dwelling. If he
could pass muster anywhere during
his early novitiate it would
be in small inns and on the road;
so to these places we confined
ourselves. Yes, he certainly
did the best he could, but what
of that? He didn't improve a
bit that I could see.
He was always frightening me,
always breaking out with fresh
astonishers, in new and unexpected
places. Toward evening on the
second day, what does he do but
blandly fetch out a dirk from
inside his robe!
my liege, where did you get
"From a smuggler
at the inn, yester eve."
"What in the
world possessed you to buy
"We have escaped
divers dangers by wit -- thy
wit -- but I have
bethought me that it were but
prudence if I bore a weapon,
too. Thine might fail thee in
of our condition are not allowed
to carry arms.
What would a lord say -- yes,
or any other person of whatever
condition -- if he caught an
upstart peasant with a dagger
on his person?"
It was a lucky thing for us
that nobody came along just then.
I persuaded him to throw the
dirk away; and it was as easy
as persuading a child to give
up some bright fresh new way
of killing itself. We walked
along, silent and thinking. Finally
the king said:
"When ye know
that I meditate a thing inconvenient,
hath a peril in it, why do you
not warn me to cease from that
It was a startling question,
and a puzzler. I didn't quite
know how to take hold of it,
or what to say, and so, of course,
I ended by saying the natural
how can I know what your thoughts
The king stopped dead in his
tracks, and stared at me.
thou wert greater than Merlin;
and truly in magic
thou art. But prophecy is greater
than magic. Merlin is a prophet."
I saw I had made a blunder.
I must get back my lost ground.
After a deep reflection and careful
planning, I said:
"Sire, I have
been misunderstood. I will
explain. There are two
kinds of prophecy. One is the
gift to foretell things that
are but a little way off, the
other is the gift to foretell
things that are whole ages and
centuries away. Which is the
mightier gift, do you think?"
"Oh, the last,
Merlin possess it?"
He foretold mysteries about
my birth and future kingship
that were twenty years away."
"Has he ever
gone beyond that?"
"He would not
claim more, I think."
"It is probably
his limit. All prophets have
The limit of some of the great
prophets has been a hundred years."
few, I ween."
been two still greater ones,
whose limit was
four hundred and six hundred
years, and one whose limit compassed
even seven hundred and twenty."
it is marvelous!"
"But what are
these in comparison with me?
They are nothing."
thou truly look beyond even
so vast a stretch
of time as --"
years? My liege, as clear as
the vision of an
eagle does my prophetic eye penetrate
and lay bare the future of this
world for nearly thirteen centuries
and a half!"
My land, you should have seen
the king's eyes spread slowly
open, and lift the earth's entire
atmosphere as much as an inch!
That settled Brer Merlin. One
never had any occasion to prove
his facts, with these people;
all he had to do was to state
them. It never occurred to anybody
to doubt the statement.
"Now, then," I continued, "I
COULD work both kinds of prophecy
-- the long and the short --
if I chose to take the trouble
to keep in practice; but I seldom
exercise any but the long kind,
because the other is beneath
my dignity. It is properer to
Merlin's sort -- stump-tail prophets,
as we call them in the profession.
Of course, I whet up now and
then and flirt out a minor prophecy,
but not often -- hardly ever,
in fact. You will remember that
there was great talk, when you
reached the Valley of Holiness,
about my having prophesied your
coming and the very hour of your
arrival, two or three days beforehand."
I mind it now."
"Well, I could
have done it as much as forty
and piled on a thousand times
more detail into the bargain,
if it had been five hundred years
away instead of two or three
that it should be so!"
"Yes, a genuine
expert can always foretell
a thing that
is five hundred years away easier
than he can a thing that's only
five hundred seconds off."
"And yet in
reason it should clearly be
the other way; it
should be five hundred times
as easy to foretell the last
as the first, for, indeed, it
is so close by that one uninspired
might almost see it. In truth,
the law of prophecy doth contradict
the likelihoods, most strangely
making the difficult easy, and
the easy difficult."
It was a wise head. A peasant's
cap was no safe disguise for
it; you could know it for a king's
under a diving-bell, if you could
hear it work its intellect.
I had a new trade now, and
plenty of business in it. The
king was as hungry to find out
everything that was going to
happen during the next thirteen
centuries as if he were expecting
to live in them. From that time
out, I prophesied myself bald-headed
trying to supply the demand.
I have done some indiscreet things
in my day, but this thing of
playing myself for a prophet
was the worst. Still, it had
its ameliorations. A prophet
doesn't have to have any brains.
They are good to have, of course,
for the ordinary exigencies of
life, but they are no use in
professional work. It is the
restfulest vocation there is.
When the spirit of prophecy comes
upon you, you merely cake your
intellect and lay it off in a
cool place for a rest, and unship
your jaw and leave it alone;
it will work itself: the result
Every day a knight-errant or
so came along, and the sight
of them fired the king's martial
spirit every time. He would have
forgotten himself, sure, and
said something to them in a style
a suspicious shade or so above
his ostensible degree, and so
I always got him well out of
the road in time. Then he would
stand and look with all his eyes;
and a proud light would flash
from them, and his nostrils would
inflate like a war-horse's, and
I knew he was longing for a brush
with them. But about noon of
the third day I had stopped in
the road to take a precaution
which had been suggested by the
whip-stroke that had fallen to
my share two days before; a precaution
which I had afterward decided
to leave untaken, I was so loath
to institute it; but now I had
just had a fresh reminder: while
striding heedlessly along, with
jaw spread and intellect at rest,
for I was prophesying, I stubbed
my toe and fell sprawling. I
was so pale I couldn't think
for a moment; then I got softly
and carefully up and unstrapped
my knapsack. I had that dynamite
bomb in it, done up in wool in
a box. It was a good thing to
have along; the time would come
when I could do a valuable miracle
with it, maybe, but it was a
nervous thing to have about me,
and I didn't like to ask the
king to carry it. Yet I must
either throw it away or think
up some safe way to get along
with its society. I got it out
and slipped it into my scrip,
and just then here came a couple
of knights. The king stood, stately
as a statue, gazing toward them
-- had forgotten himself again,
of course -- and before I could
get a word of warning out, it
was time for him to skip, and
well that he did it, too. He
supposed they would turn aside.
Turn aside to avoid trampling
peasant dirt under foot? When
had he ever turned aside himself
-- or ever had the chance to
do it, if a peasant saw him or
any other noble knight in time
to judiciously save him the trouble?
The knights paid no attention
to the king at all; it was his
place to look out himself, and
if he hadn't skipped he would
have been placidly ridden down,
and laughed at besides.
The king was in a flaming fury,
and launched out his challenge
and epithets with a most royal
vigor. The knights were some
little distance by now. They
halted, greatly surprised, and
turned in their saddles and looked
back, as if wondering if it might
be worth while to bother with
such scum as we. Then they wheeled
and started for us. Not a moment
must be lost. I started for THEM.
I passed them at a rattling gait,
and as I went by I flung out
a hair-lifting soulscorching
thirteen-jointed insult which
made the king's effort poor and
cheap by comparison. I got it
out of the nineteenth century
where they know how. They had
such headway that they were nearly
to the king before they could
check up; then, frantic with
rage, they stood up their horses
on their hind hoofs and whirled
them around, and the next moment
here they came, breast to breast.
I was seventy yards off, then,
and scrambling up a great bowlder
at the roadside. When they were
within thirty yards of me they
let their long lances droop to
a level, depressed their mailed
heads, and so, with their horse-hair
plumes streaming straight out
behind, most gallant to see,
this lightning express came tearing
for me! When they were within
fifteen yards, I sent that bomb
with a sure aim, and it struck
the ground just under the horses'
Yes, it was a neat thing, very
neat and pretty to see. It resembled
a steamboat explosion on the
Mississippi; and during the next
fifteen minutes we stood under
a steady drizzle of microscopic
fragments of knights and hardware
and horse-flesh. I say we, for
the king joined the audience,
of course, as soon as he had
got his breath again. There was
a hole there which would afford
steady work for all the people
in that region for some years
to come -- in trying to explain
it, I mean; as for filling it
up, that service would be comparatively
prompt, and would fall to the
lot of a select few -- peasants
of that seignory; and they wouldn't
get anything for it, either.
But I explained it to the king
myself. I said it was done with
a dynamite bomb, This information
did him no damage, because it
left him as intelligent as he
was before. However, it was a
noble miracle, in his eyes, and
was another settler for Merlin.
I thought it well enough to explain
that this was a miracle of so
rare a sort that it couldn't
be done except when the atmospheric
conditions were just right. Otherwise
he would be encoring it every
time we had a good subject, and
that would be inconvenient, because
I hadn't any more bombs along.