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Mark Twain > A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court > Chapter XXVIII

A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court

Chapter XXVIII


DRILLING THE KING

On the morning of the fourth day, when it was just sunrise, and we
had been tramping an hour in the chill dawn, I came to a resolution:
the king _must_ be drilled; things could not go on so, he must be
taken in hand and deliberately and conscientiously drilled, or we
couldn't ever venture to enter a dwelling; the very cats would know
this masquerader for a humbug and no peasant. So I called a halt
and said:

"Sire, as between clothes and countenance, you are all right, there
is no discrepancy; but as between your clothes and your bearing,
you are all wrong, there is a most noticeable discrepancy. Your
soldierly stride, your lordly port--these will not do. You stand
too straight, your looks are too high, too confident. The cares
of a kingdom do not stoop the shoulders, they do not droop the chin,
they do not depress the high level of the eye-glance, they do not
put doubt and fear in the heart and hang out the signs of them
in slouching body and unsure step. It is the sordid cares of
the lowly born that do these things. You must learn the trick;
you must imitate the trademarks of poverty, misery, oppression,
insult, and the other several and common inhumanities that sap
the manliness out of a man and make him a loyal and proper and
approved subject and a satisfaction to his masters, or the very
infants will know you for better than your disguise, and we shall go
to pieces at the first hut we stop at. Pray try to walk like this."

The king took careful note, and then tried an imitation.

"Pretty fair--pretty fair. Chin a little lower, please--there, very
good. Eyes too high; pray don't look at the horizon, look at the
ground, ten steps in front of you. Ah--that is better, that is
very good. Wait, please; you betray too much vigor, too much
decision; you want more of a shamble. Look at me, please--this is
what I mean.... Now you are getting it; that is the idea--at least,
it sort of approaches it.... Yes, that is pretty fair. _But!_
There is a great big something wanting, I don't quite know what
it is. Please walk thirty yards, so that I can get a perspective
on the thing.... Now, then--your head's right, speed's right,
shoulders right, eyes right, chin right, gait, carriage, general
style right--everything's right! And yet the fact remains, the
aggregate's wrong. The account don't balance. Do it again,
please.... _Now_ I think I begin to see what it is. Yes, I've
struck it. You see, the genuine spiritlessness is wanting; that's
what's the trouble. It's all _amateur_--mechanical details all
right, almost to a hair; everything about the delusion perfect,
except that it don't delude."

"What, then, must one do, to prevail?"

"Let me think... I can't seem to quite get at it. In fact, there
isn't anything that can right the matter but practice. This is
a good place for it: roots and stony ground to break up your
stately gait, a region not liable to interruption, only one field
and one hut in sight, and they so far away that nobody could
see us from there. It will be well to move a little off the road
and put in the whole day drilling you, sire."

After the drill had gone on a little while, I said:

"Now, sire, imagine that we are at the door of the hut yonder,
and the family are before us. Proceed, please--accost the head
of the house."

The king unconsciously straightened up like a monument, and said,
with frozen austerity:

"Varlet, bring a seat; and serve to me what cheer ye have."

"Ah, your grace, that is not well done."

"In what lacketh it?"

"These people do not call _each other_ varlets."

"Nay, is that true?"

"Yes; only those above them call them so."

"Then must I try again. I will call him villein."

"No-no; for he may be a freeman."

"Ah--so. Then peradventure I should call him goodman."

"That would answer, your grace, but it would be still better if
you said friend, or brother."

"Brother!--to dirt like that?"

"Ah, but _we_ are pretending to be dirt like that, too."

"It is even true. I will say it. Brother, bring a seat, and
thereto what cheer ye have, withal. Now 'tis right."

"Not quite, not wholly right. You have asked for one, not _us_--
for one, not both; food for one, a seat for one."

The king looked puzzled--he wasn't a very heavy weight, intellectually.
His head was an hour-glass; it could stow an idea, but it had to do
it a grain at a time, not the whole idea at once.

"Would _you_ have a seat also--and sit?"

"If I did not sit, the man would perceive that we were only pretending
to be equals--and playing the deception pretty poorly, too."

"It is well and truly said! How wonderful is truth, come it in
whatsoever unexpected form it may! Yes, he must bring out seats
and food for both, and in serving us present not ewer and napkin
with more show of respect to the one than to the other."

"And there is even yet a detail that needs correcting. He must
bring nothing outside; we will go in--in among the dirt, and
possibly other repulsive things,--and take the food with the
household, and after the fashion of the house, and all on equal
terms, except the man be of the serf class; and finally, there
will be no ewer and no napkin, whether he be serf or free. Please
walk again, my liege. There--it is better--it is the best yet;
but not perfect. The shoulders have known no ignobler burden
than iron mail, and they will not stoop."

"Give me, then, the bag. I will learn the spirit that goeth
with burdens that have not honor. It is the spirit that stoopeth
the shoulders, I ween, and not the weight; for armor is heavy,
yet it is a proud burden, and a man standeth straight in it....
Nay, but me no buts, offer me no objections. I will have the thing.
Strap it upon my back."

He was complete now with that knapsack on, and looked as little
like a king as any man I had ever seen. But it was an obstinate
pair of shoulders; they could not seem to learn the trick of
stooping with any sort of deceptive naturalness. The drill went on,
I prompting and correcting:

"Now, make believe you are in debt, and eaten up by relentless
creditors; you are out of work--which is horse-shoeing, let us
say--and can get none; and your wife is sick, your children are
crying because they are hungry--"

And so on, and so on. I drilled him as representing in turn all
sorts of people out of luck and suffering dire privations and
misfortunes. But lord, it was only just words, words--they meant
nothing in the world to him, I might just as well have whistled.
Words realize nothing, vivify nothing to you, unless you have
suffered in your own person the thing which the words try to
describe. There are wise people who talk ever so knowingly and
complacently about "the working classes," and satisfy themselves
that a day's hard intellectual work is very much harder than
a day's hard manual toil, and is righteously entitled to much
bigger pay. Why, they really think that, you know, because they
know all about the one, but haven't tried the other. But I know
all about both; and so far as I am concerned, there isn't money
enough in the universe to hire me to swing a pickaxe thirty days,
but I will do the hardest kind of intellectual work for just as
near nothing as you can cipher it down--and I will be satisfied, too.

Intellectual "work" is misnamed; it is a pleasure, a dissipation,
and is its own highest reward. The poorest paid architect,
engineer, general, author, sculptor, painter, lecturer, advocate,
legislator, actor, preacher, singer is constructively in heaven
when he is at work; and as for the musician with the fiddle-bow
in his hand who sits in the midst of a great orchestra with the
ebbing and flowing tides of divine sound washing over him--why,
certainly, he is at work, if you wish to call it that, but lord,
it's a sarcasm just the same. The law of work does seem utterly
unfair--but there it is, and nothing can change it: the higher
the pay in enjoyment the worker gets out of it, the higher shall
be his pay in cash, also. And it's also the very law of those
transparent swindles, transmissible nobility and kingship.


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