CHAPTER XXI

THE KNIGHTLY ORDER

WHEREFORE NOBILITY AND COATS-OF-ARMS ARE BESTOWED. "Observe at least how highly honored are those who fight valiantly and win against all swords, pikes, arrows, and bullets, " my interpreter said. Thereupon, they led me to a palace where I saw a personage sitting under a majestic canopy, summoning before him such as had proved themselves valorous. Many came, bringing their enemies' skulls, limbs, ribs, and hands, as well as pillaged and plundered purses and bags; receiving in return his praise for these deeds, and the personage under the canopy presented them with a painted device, granting them certain extraordinary privileges above those enjoyed by all others; which they stuck on a staff and carried about for the admiration of all.

2 OTHERS ALSO CROWD INTO THIS CLASS. Observing this, others followed suit; for not only those of the fighting class, as had been the custom formerly, but many from the artisan and the learned classes presented themselves, although boasting neither scars nor plunder taken from their enemies; instead, they presented their purses or their scribblin made into books. Thereupon, they received the same rewards as the others, although their devices were commonly even more splendid, and were admitted to an upper hall.

3 POMP OF KNIGHT. I followed them and saw groups of them promenading with plumed bonnets, spurred heels, and steel at their sides. I dared not approach close to them, and it was well that I did not. For I soon observed how ill it fared those who dared mix with them. Some wretches who had but brushed against their side, or had not made enough room for them quickly enough, or had not bowed low enough, or had not pronounced their titles clearly enough, met with blows. Fearing a similar maltreatment, I begged that we go away. "First examine them a little better. But be careful!" Mr. Searchall insisted.

4 KNIGHTLY DEEDS. Thereupon, I observed their actions from a distance; I found that their work (according to the privileges of their order, as they said) consisted of pounding the pavement up and down, of hanging their legs astride a horse; chasing greyhounds, hares, and wolves; driving serfs to hard labor; clapping them into dungeons and freeing them again; stretching their legs as long as possible under their tables loaded with a variety of dishes; bowing to ladies and kissing their fingers; playing professionally at draughts and dice, of telling shamefully smutty and obscene stories; and the like. It was, so they said, certified in their privileges that whatever they do must be esteemed noble, and that no one but an honorable person might associate with them. Some measured and compared their shields with one another; the more ancient and dilapidated the shield, the greater honor it was accorded; those carrying a new shield were regarded by the rest with derisive head-shaking. I saw many other things there which appeared queer and absurd; but I must not speak of them all. This only shall I add, that having sufficiently scanned all these puerilities, I again implored my guides to depart, and my wish was granted.

5 THE ROAD TO THE CASTLE OF FORTUNE. As we went along, my interpreter remarked: "Well, you have already investigated the labors and occupations of mankind and yet liked none; perhaps it is because you think that these people have nothing but ceaseless toil. Nevertheless you must realize that all their labor is merely the means to the attainment of leisure which all who have not spared themselves finally obtain; that when they gain wealth, possessions, fame, honors, comfort, and pleasure, their mind has plenty in which to delight. Let us, therefore, lead you to the Castle of Delight that you may see the goal of all human labors." Thereat I rejoiced, promising myself rest and solace for my mind.

Chapter 22 ||| Labyrinth index page



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