At long last, Protag-Man reaches the holy place. Obviously, everyone is super sad that their holy well has run dry, and so have made despair their only friend. Well, that and Protag-Man: once he arrives the holy man abbot begs him to take over from Merlin who has been doing less than pleasing work.
“But I did not want Merlin to retire from the job until I was able to take hold of it effectively myself; and I could not do that until I got my things from Camelot, and that would take two or three days” (162).
This is amusing because this whole part of the chapter is essentially a commentary on labor exploitation. Con men repairing the well and saying it was miracles wrought to them by god, Victorian Spiritualists, sleight of hand magicians, and protag-man. Everything here is concerned about how labor is expended toward spurious ends. One can argue that that is what the whole book is about; and I think that is correct. But, here specifically, is where that thread appears concentrated.
“I was at the well next day betimes. Merlin was there, enchanting away like a beaver, but not raising the moisture” (163).
This is the funniest quip I have read all book, I think. Why is because it’s so petty. It is the venomous jabbing of a rival taking a piss on their peer. It is so juvenile that you can’t help but laugh.
“Matters were as I expected to find them. The ‘fountain’ was an ordinary well, it had been dug the ordinary way, and stoned up in the ordinary way. There was no miracle about it”.
Essentially, Protag-Man’s plan is to have Merlin throw a stick of dynamite into the well to blast a new hole which will allow water to flow again. Apparently, a hole got wrecked and the water drained… or something. I am not learned on the dynamics of well-water relationships. Point is, Protag-Man is playing politics and wants Merlin to do the miracle so as to reinforce him as a magician and have… I dunno, a junior partner, or something.
“What had happened when the well gave out the other time? Without doubt some practical person had come along and mended the leak, and then had come up and told the abbot he had discovered by divination that if the sinful bath were destroyed the well would flow again” (165).
I’m enjoying that Twain keeps on the association with religion with impracticality. Other than that, I am also enjoying this idea of revealing the materialism behind the holy; in this medieval England, it was thought that the bath was sinful due to metaphysical, theological reasons. But here, it is suggested that the baths were diverting water from the well and that was why the first time the well ran dry. So, remove the “sin” and the well once again flows. Fun.
“I was gradually coming to have a mysterious and shuddery reverence for this girl (Sandy); nowadays whenever she pulled out from the station and got her train fairly started on one of those horizonless transcontinental sentences of hers, it was borne in me that I was standing in the awful presence of the Mother of the German Language” (168).
Another great lulz moment. You are led to believe that Protag-Man is enjoying her presence but this is undercut immediately by the linguistic snobbery against German. The association of anti-German is transposed to her and the reader is made to sympathize since Sandy’s long-winded speeches are a sight to endure. Of course, where she is literally the mother or not I doubt since by this time in history, Old German should be established as a language. Still, it is neat.
After this moment, nothing much really happens. Protag-Man comes across a religious hermit, not unlike those early cultists in early medieval Syria who stood atop large pillars and performed various feats. The only difference here is that Protag-Man harnesses this man to power a sewing machine and make a bunch of cotton shirts which sell like hot cakes (they supposedly protect the wearer from sin). Capitalism for the win! Labor exploitation, yay!