Sir Franklin

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Sir Franklin

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN was reading. That was not his whole name; he had another, — it was Dodd. His sister, Susy Dodd, and Jehosha­phat, his brother, were both in the room. Susy was blinding her eyes and pricking her fingers over an endless seam in a shirt which Benjamin intended to honor her by wearing. Jehoshaphat, adorned with a long beard manu­factured from the contents of his mother's cotton-wool bag, and spectacles confiscated from his grandfather's pocket, was lecturing to an array of the dining-room chairs, and had worked himself into a mild furor, under the be­lief that he was the wandering patriot who addressed the Lyceum last week.
 
It was an old, well-thumbed book that Benjamin was reading, — a book that all the youthful Dodds for generations had devoured in the daytime, and screamed over in their dreams at night. It was filled with stories most won­derful to hear, of the golden days of chivalry, when everybody was a knight, and every knight fell t o fighting with every other knight; when very beautiful young ladies were very often lost in the woods, and every knight that happened t o come along and find them was instantly seized with a desire to knock half a dozen other knights on the head; when there were enchant­ments, and spells of fairies, upon the earth; when the human race consisted entirely of gentlemen and ladies; and when disagreeable people, who will have coarse hands and ragged clothes, were never heard of. Altogether, it was a most charming book.
 
"Do pull up that curtain, Sue!  I haven't got but half a streak of light in this corner," remarked Benjamin. He considered employment good for his sister's health, and used kindly to prescribe for her, even when her business was most pressing. Though it was imperative that he should turn over a new leaf at that particular moment, to find out what the beautiful Rosamond was crying about, yet even in this emergency you see his brotherly feeling continued unabated. That Susy, rising in haste to obey his orders, should lose her thimble, break her needle, and tip over her work-basket, did not in the least ruffle his composure. Great minds are never disturbed by trifles.
 
Ah, but they were pleasant reading — those stories!  Many a one older and less credulous than Benjamin might have withdrawn into their depths, like a turtle into his shell, without the least desire to come out for hours together.
 
There were the wonderful adventures of Sir Launcelot, — Launcelot the brave and bright, fairy-guarded, iron-armed, deadly in stroke, and gracious in pardon; — he who was the pride of the good King Arthur, and the knights of his Table Round; who for many a long year loved the Queen, Guinevere the Beautiful, as never queen was loved before; who fought with the fiercest and strongest of knights that trod the shores of "Merrie England," and led warriors in to battle, and conquered kingdoms; who faced all enemies, all hardship, all danger; who would have yielded life itself for her sweet sake.
 
But, in spite of all this, they had a quarrel, as lovers will. Launcelot turned his haughty face away from Arthur's court, leaving the gentle King, and the noble lords, and the fair, cruel Queen, far behind him, and plunged into the depths of a forest, — a dark, still forest, where he could wander at his will, with only his sword and his grief for company. While he was there, he made up his mind that he would be a hermit, and live alone in a hut, and never look on the face of the beautiful Guinevere again; that he would eat noth­ing but berries and water, and wear hair-cloth shirts. But he concluded that, on the whole, he wouldn't.
 
Just about the time that he had arrived at this decision, and was wonder­ing what he should do next, he met a sorrowful knight riding slowly through the wood, and, as they both felt rather too low-spirited to fight, they fell to talking. Ah! well might the sorrowful knight ride slowly, and keep his mourn­ful eyes upon the ground, for sorrowful and mournful was the tale he told.
 
There had been a great and royal feast at Arthur's palace, and next to the Queen had sat a noble Scottish lord, who had travelled far to see the King and his famous knights, than whom none were found braver or more knightly in all the world. Now it chanced that they had apples for dessert, and Guinevere, with her own white hand, had taken the largest and ripest, — all golden-red, and wrapped in cool green leaves, — and had given it to the princely guest. But he had no sooner tasted it, than he cried with a great cry, and fell back dead. So it had gone abroad that Guinevere had poisoned him, and the dead lord's brother demanded the Queen's life, unless some knight would undertake her cause, and fight with him.
 
Now every one believed that Guinevere was guilty, and Arthur walked alone in his royal gardens, and they knew that his great heart was smitten. The poor Queen sorrowed among her maidens, and looked at the funeral ­pile on which she was to find her horrible death, and wept, and sighed for Launcelot, — and looked again, and mourned, and called for Launcelot, — Launcelot, whom she had driven from her, — Launcelot, against whose sword the mightiest chieftain never stood, — Launcelot, who alone could save her.
 
Sir Launcelot hardly waited to hear the story finished, but, with the cry, "Guinevere! Guinevere!" upon his lips, he drove the spurs into his quiv­ering horse, and dashed away through the forest to —
 
Benjamin had read just so far, when Jehoshaphat, waxing excited, piped at the top of his lungs, — "The Atlantic, where the American Eagle dips one wing, from the Pacific, where she dips the other!"
 
Now if there was anything Benjamin particularly objected to, it was Je­hoshaphat's fits of eloquence. So he made an observation which was weighty with meaning: "J., if you know what's good for you, you'll hush up!"
 
He also made another, of no less importance to history than the first : — "Sue! why can't you keep that child still? How's a fellow going to read with such a thundering racket?"
 
"Spangled banner, and — It a'n't her fault!" said Jehoshaphat, breaking off in the very glory of his rhetoric. "She can't make me stop any more 'n you can; besides, she's bought a ticket to the course."
 
"It's a girl's business to keep children quiet somehow," growled Ben­jamin.
 
Jehoshaphat tweaked his beard. Then he put on his spectacles, and began his lecture over from the beginning. Benjamin resumed his book. So might a martyr walk to the stake.
 
Well, Launcelot dashed through the forest to rescue the weeping Guine­vere. Guinevere a murderer? Guinevere condemned to die? By the faith of his most knightly sword, he would have sworn that she was inno­cent. So on and on through the forest he lashed the fiery horse. Day and night he rode and rode. Under the starlight, which was faint through the leaves, under the moonlight, which floored the plains, and crowned the hills with pearl, through the sunlight, which was golden above and beneath and about him, like a world of jewels on fire, through the damps and silver dews, against the winds that chilled him and the heats that scorched him, he rode and rode. And so at last he came to Arthur's court, and the Scottish knight was there, and the funeral pile was there, and Guinevere was there, wailing, and wringing her beautiful hands, and calling for Launcelot.
 
Then Launcelot cried, in a voice of thunder," He who dares accuse the Queen, Guinevere the Innocent, let him come hither!"  So he and the haughty lord drew upon each other, and long and bitter was the contest. From noon till sunset did they fight, and never had Launcelot met warrior like this one. Now all this time he had kept his visor down, and none knew who he might be, when at last, as the evening light touched Guinevere, watching, like a statue, on the balcony, he smote the Scottish knight to the ground, and held his life under a sword-stroke. Then he showed his face, and raised the fallen knight, and pardoned him.
 
The knight knew it was Launcelot, and the lords knew, and all the court knew, and shouted for joy. The mournful King looked up; the warm, happy color flushed all Guinevere's pale face, and the tears dried on her cheek.
 
So Guinevere was saved, and she and Launcelot forgot they had ever quarrelled. Every one was about as happy as happy could be, for you must know that they found out who did put the poisoned apple on the table. It was a miserable squire of the Queen's, who had plotted to murder one of the lords. He supposed Guinevere would hand it to his enemy; but the Scot­tish knight was higher in rank, and the fatal honor belonged to him. Poor Guinevere only intended to be very polite and very hospitable. She would never have murdered anybody, if she had lived till now.
 
Then there was Sir Perceval, whose mother gave him his knightly lessons, and the sage philosopher Merlin, enchanted by a wicked fairy, and captive princesses and dethroned princes innumerable.
 
But best of all Benjamin thought the story of Tristram and Isoude, — as mournful as the dropping of autumn leaves and as sweet as the purest May­flower. For the royal Irish maiden was married to Tristram's uncle, the King of Cornwall, and she loved not her husband, but she loved Sir Tris­tram, even as he loved her. So they mourned in secret, the one for the other. It generally happens in story-books that husbands who are in the way are obliging enough to die; but Isoude's husband did not die. He kept on living and living. And Isoude wept and sorrowed, and Tristram tried to forget his bitter lot in wild adventures; but still the old King kept on living, and living, and living.
 
At last Tristram fell sick of a grievous wound, and in all the country no physician could be found that could cure him. Then he sent for Isoude, if perhaps the sight of her might give him life. She came, with the white sails of her ships all fluttering up the sunny harbor. She landed in the bright morning, and came to Tristram's palace-gate; she hastened up his marble stairs, and into the room where he was lying. But he did not move when she entered; he did not speak when she softly called his name; he did not look into her face when she bent over and touched his forehead. She had come too late. All beautiful and bright she stood before him. All pale and still he lay, — he was dead. Some one, coming in awhile after, found her kneeling upon the floor, her face buried on Tristram's motionless arm. "Fair lady," they said, "beautiful Isoude, Sir Tristram's soul has passed most knightly, — be comforted." But she did not answer them. Her gentle heart had broken. She had died for love of him.
 
"Swords and daggers!" said Benjamin at last." What a stupid age we do live in! No chance for a chap to be anything, or do anything. I vote it a bore." Whereupon he threw away his book, as if he were knocking the present generation on the head with it.
 
"Fools sigh for splendor past!" declaimed Jehoshaphat from his reading-book.
 
"And I, for one," continued Benjamin, pacing the room, with one hand waving an imaginary sword in the air, and the other tangling Susy's ball of yarn to throw at the cat, —"I, for one, don't believe in giving in to public opinion on a matter of importance. The fair sex are not appreciated; they are not properly defended. I will be their champion, — I will fight for them, — I will die for them!"
 
"O Ben! do please look out; you 've got your foot in my sewing!" cried Susy.
 
"Make those button-holes smaller than the last," said Benjamin, abstract­edly, tripping out of a labyrinth of cotton, and putting on his cap.
 
"Dear as the sisters at our firesides!" shouted Jehoshaphat, bringing both fists down on his desk, with a concussion that knocked off his spec­tacles, and blew his beard into the fire. "Where're you going, Ben?"
 
"Where are you going?" asked Susy, laying down her work.
 
Benjamin looked important. It was impossible, you know, to make a girl understand his great schemes of adventure. What did she know about King Arthur and Launcelot?
 
"O, won't you take me out skating?" pleaded Susy. "I've got my new skates, and I can't learn, because I can't go alone. All the other girls' brothers go with them; I did want —"
 
"Couldn't possibly," interrupted Benjamin, sporting his father's cane. "I've got so much business on hand to-day; it's out of the question, — out of the question."
 
"Sue," said Jehoshaphat, meditatively, "what are you?"
 
"What am I? A girl, I suppose."
 
"Will they fight and die and bleed for them?" began Jehoshaphat again, gesturing frantically at his audience, while he set them up against the wall.
 
Benjamin started out for a walk, shouldering his cane like a musket; then he reflected that knights did not have muskets; then he tried to carry it like a sword; but it got between his feet, and nearly tripped him up. However, this was but a slight drawback. The career of glory upon which he had en­tered presented such honors as quite to overbalance all minor difficulties. He would find all the fair maidens who were plunged in distress; he would be their deliverer; they would smile upon him; he would wear their favors, which he imagined to be something closely resembling the red, white, and blue cockade he had sported at the beginning of the war. He would revive the old dead days of chivalry; he would be a new hero of romance, before whom even Launcelot's fame should pale.
 
There was only one objection, — his name, — Benjamin! Benjamin Frank­lin Dodd! It would never do. It would not be musical on the lips of the ladies. It could never be put into poetry. Benjamin! — the only verses he had ever seen on it were some in which a very stout gentleman of that name was told to "cram in" to an omnibus. As for Dodd, he could think of noth­ing that would rhyme with it but pea-pod or coal-hod.
 
However, there was Franklin. Sir Franklin was not bad. It was nearly equal to Perceval, or Gawain, or many of the princely names of the Round Table. Sir Franklin it should be.
 
"Have you found any of 'em yet?" called a voice behind him. And there was Jehoshaphat. He had followed unseen all the way, and was now walking demurely in his brother's footsteps, those unutterable spectacles across his nose, and a huge umbrella shouldered after the manner Benjamin car­ried his cane.
 
"J.," said the indignant Sir Franklin, "go home to the nursery!"
 
"When's it going to be time to fight and die?" persisted Jehoshaphat, walking on.
 
"Jehoshaphat," said Benjamin, sternly, "I should like to give you a good shaking."
"I -- I rather think you are," gasped Jehoshaphat, struggling to get free from his brother's hold. "I thought big boys never pitched into little ones."
 
Benjamin let go his unknightly grasp, and walked on. He would not waste another breath on that child, -- not he. Jehoshaphat put his spec­tacles into place, smoothed the folds of his umbrella, and trudged along, -- a comical shadow of Sir Franklin. Presently they met an old woman with a basket of potatoes. She was a very old woman, and she walked with a tot­tering step on the ice. Just as they got up to her, she slipped and fell, drop­ping her basket, and scattering her potatoes far and wide.
 
"O law sakes! O marcy me!" she began to cry. "They're all there is for dinner, and I did nigh about break every bone in my body."
 
Benjamin stepped over the potatoes, with his hands in his pockets.
 
"Hillo!" said Jehoshaphat, "here's one!"
 
But Benjamin paid no attention. He was just then thinking of the brave Lord Somebody, who rescued the beautiful Lady Somebody-else from rob­bers. The subject was too great for interruption. Jehoshaphat helped the old woman up, as well as such a diminutive specimen could do, picked up her potatoes, and ran after his brother.
 
"Ben, didn't knights ever pick up funny old women without any teeth, and a little basket? Didn't she screech, though?"
 
Then Sir Franklin made a remark, which, though not lengthy, was pro­found. It was, — "Fiddle-sticks!"
 
After a while they came to the top of a hill, which sloped down to the pond. Suddenly Benjamin struck an attitude, and started to run. He saw a maiden — a fair maiden, it might be — prostrate on the snow, alone and helpless. She had fallen; she might be hurt. He hurried up to her as fast as his new boots, which were rather slippery, could carry him.
 
"I am at your service," he began, bowing and extending his hand some­what in the fashion he would have done if he were going to pick up a kitten by the nape of her neck. But he stopped short in the middle of his sen­tence; for it was nothing but a little girl putting on her skates. Moreover, she was a very homely little girl, with red hair and a freckled face. Neither was she a very polite girl, for she said, "I don't want you. What are you here for?"
 
"Oh! — I — I thought," stammered Sir Franklin, — "I did really — "
 
The freckled face grew as red as the red hair, and the girl stood up very angry. "If you just came to make fun of me, 'cause I'm homely and the boys won't skate with me, I 'II let you know I won't stand it." And then — I am sorry to say it, it was really so impolite, but she did — she boxed Sir Franklin's ears.
 
The knight had scarcely recovered from this adventure when he saw a spirited white horse galloping down the road, with a young lady — there could be no mistake this time, she was a beautiful young lady — clinging to the saddle. Now was his time. He would stop the fiery steed; he would save the fair rider from death. She would blush and cry; she would intro­duce him to her father; the whole town would hear of his valor; besides, it was possible — it really was — that she would turn out an heiress. So he flung himself directly into the path of the frantic horse; he waved his cap at him; he caught at his bridle, and with a jerk stopped him short. The crea­ture reared and quivered. The young lady screamed.
 
"What are you about? Help! Robbers!"
 
"Why — why, my fair lady," began Benjamin.
 
"Let go! What do you mean? You frighten my horse."
 
"Why, I was only —"
 
"Take your hand off my bridle, boy! What do you insult a lady in this way for?"
 
"A boy! insulting a lady." Sir Franklin dropped the bridle aghast. "I — I thought you were run away with. I meant to stop the horse and save you."
 
"I advise you to look twice before you proffer your assistance another time," said the young lady, haughtily, "It is not agreeable to have one's morning ride interrupted in this manner." Whereupon she touched her high-mettled horse with the tasselled point of her whip, and swept by like a beautiful picture.
 
"I suppose she was one, wasn't she?" remarked Jehoshaphat, looking after her with his mouth open.
 
But Sir Franklin did not choose to give the results of his meditations to the public. A casual observer might, however, have remarked that he fin­ished his walk home without search for further adventure.
 
Susy was still stitching away on the wearisome shirt when they came in.
 
There were traces of tears on her quiet face. Perhaps she would have liked a skate as well as other girls; it is possible, also, that she fancied shirt-­making no better. But she did not say so. She wiped her eyes, and looked up, smiling. "Well, Ben, how many fair damsels did you rescue?"
 
Benjamin maintained a dignified silence. A great general never sounds his own praise, you know. Perhaps that was one of the laws of knighthood as well. At any rate, Benjamin must have known, because he was much better read in the annals of chivalry than I am.
 
"Sue!" said Jehoshaphat.
 
"Jehoshaphat!" said Susy.
 
"When I'm a big boy, and wear a little short-tailed coat and a vest, and carry father's cane, I 'm going to be a knight, too. I'll take you skating."

Benjamin began to whistle.
 
Jehoshaphat climbed up on a chair, and brought himself about on a level with his sister's forehead. Then he eyed her, from her pretty soft hair, and timid face, down to the patient hands that still kept stitch -- stitching on Benjamin's shirt. "I say, Sue."
 
"Well?"

"Ain't you about as good as if you had freckles, and rode horseback?"

"J.," said Sir Franklin, "I shall have to send you to the nursery."