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

A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court

Chapter XXXIII


SIXTH CENTURY POLITICAL ECONOMY

However, I made a dead set at him, and before the first third
of the dinner was reached, I had him happy again. It was easy
to do--in a country of ranks and castes. You see, in a country
where they have ranks and castes, a man isn't ever a man, he is
only part of a man, he can't ever get his full growth. You prove
your superiority over him in station, or rank, or fortune, and
that's the end of it--he knuckles down. You can't insult him
after that. No, I don't mean quite that; of course you _can_ insult
him, I only mean it's difficult; and so, unless you've got a lot
of useless time on your hands it doesn't pay to try. I had the
smith's reverence now, because I was apparently immensely prosperous
and rich; I could have had his adoration if I had had some little
gimcrack title of nobility. And not only his, but any commoner's
in the land, though he were the mightiest production of all the ages,
in intellect, worth, and character, and I bankrupt in all three.
This was to remain so, as long as England should exist in the
earth. With the spirit of prophecy upon me, I could look into
the future and see her erect statues and monuments to her unspeakable
Georges and other royal and noble clothes-horses, and leave unhonored
the creators of this world--after God--Gutenburg, Watt, Arkwright,
Whitney, Morse, Stephenson, Bell.

The king got his cargo aboard, and then, the talk not turning upon
battle, conquest, or iron-clad duel, he dulled down to drowsiness
and went off to take a nap. Mrs. Marco cleared the table, placed
the beer keg handy, and went away to eat her dinner of leavings
in humble privacy, and the rest of us soon drifted into matters
near and dear to the hearts of our sort--business and wages,
of course. At a first glance, things appeared to be exceeding
prosperous in this little tributary kingdom--whose lord was
King Bagdemagus--as compared with the state of things in my own
region. They had the "protection" system in full force here,
whereas we were working along down toward free-trade, by easy
stages, and were now about half way. Before long, Dowley and I
were doing all the talking, the others hungrily listening. Dowley
warmed to his work, snuffed an advantage in the air, and began
to put questions which he considered pretty awkward ones for me,
and they did have something of that look:

"In your country, brother, what is the wage of a master bailiff,
master hind, carter, shepherd, swineherd?"

"Twenty-five milrays a day; that is to say, a quarter of a cent."

The smith's face beamed with joy. He said:

"With us they are allowed the double of it! And what may a mechanic
get--carpenter, dauber, mason, painter, blacksmith, wheelwright,
and the like?"

"On the average, fifty milrays; half a cent a day."

"Ho-ho! With us they are allowed a hundred! With us any good
mechanic is allowed a cent a day! I count out the tailor, but
not the others--they are all allowed a cent a day, and in driving
times they get more--yes, up to a hundred and ten and even fifteen
milrays a day. I've paid a hundred and fifteen myself, within
the week. 'Rah for protection--to Sheol with free-trade!"

And his face shone upon the company like a sunburst. But I didn't
scare at all. I rigged up my pile-driver, and allowed myself
fifteen minutes to drive him into the earth--drive him _all_ in--
drive him in till not even the curve of his skull should show
above ground. Here is the way I started in on him. I asked:

"What do you pay a pound for salt?"

"A hundred milrays."

"We pay forty. What do you pay for beef and mutton--when you
buy it?" That was a neat hit; it made the color come.

"It varieth somewhat, but not much; one may say seventy-five milrays
the pound."

"_We_ pay thirty-three. What do you pay for eggs?"

"Fifty milrays the dozen."

"We pay twenty. What do you pay for beer?"

"It costeth us eight and one-half milrays the pint."

"We get it for four; twenty-five bottles for a cent.
What do you pay for wheat?"

"At the rate of nine hundred milrays the bushel."

"We pay four hundred. What do you pay for a man's tow-linen suit?"

"Thirteen cents."

"We pay six. What do you pay for a stuff gown for the wife of the
laborer or the mechanic?"

"We pay eight cents, four mills."

"Well, observe the difference: you pay eight cents and four mills,
we pay only four cents." I prepared now to sock it to him. I said:
"Look here, dear friend, _what's become of your high wages you
were bragging so about a few minutes ago?_"--and I looked around
on the company with placid satisfaction, for I had slipped up
on him gradually and tied him hand and foot, you see, without his
ever noticing that he was being tied at all. "What's become of
those noble high wages of yours?--I seem to have knocked the
stuffing all out of them, it appears to me."

But if you will believe me, he merely looked surprised, that
is all! he didn't grasp the situation at all, didn't know he had
walked into a trap, didn't discover that he was _in_ a trap. I could
have shot him, from sheer vexation. With cloudy eye and a struggling
intellect he fetched this out:

"Marry, I seem not to understand. It is _proved_ that our wages
be double thine; how then may it be that thou'st knocked therefrom
the stuffing?--an miscall not the wonderly word, this being the
first time under grace and providence of God it hath been granted
me to hear it."

Well, I was stunned; partly with this unlooked-for stupidity on
his part, and partly because his fellows so manifestly sided with
him and were of his mind--if you might call it mind. My position
was simple enough, plain enough; how could it ever be simplified
more? However, I must try:

"Why, look here, brother Dowley, don't you see? Your wages are
merely higher than ours in _name_, not in _fact_."

"Hear him! They are the _double_--ye have confessed it yourself."

"Yes-yes, I don't deny that at all. But that's got nothing to do
with it; the _amount_ of the wages in mere coins, with meaningless
names attached to them to know them by, has got nothing to do
with it. The thing is, how much can you _buy_ with your wages?--
that's the idea. While it is true that with you a good mechanic
is allowed about three dollars and a half a year, and with us only
about a dollar and seventy-five--"

"There--ye're confessing it again, ye're confessing it again!"

"Confound it, I've never denied it, I tell you! What I say is
this. With us _half_ a dollar buys more than a _dollar_ buys
with you--and THEREFORE it stands to reason and the commonest
kind of common-sense, that our wages are _higher_ than yours."

He looked dazed, and said, despairingly:

"Verily, I cannot make it out. Ye've just said ours are the
higher, and with the same breath ye take it back."

"Oh, great Scott, isn't it possible to get such a simple thing
through your head? Now look here--let me illustrate. We pay
four cents for a woman's stuff gown, you pay 8.4.0, which is
four mills more than _double_. What do you allow a laboring
woman who works on a farm?"

"Two mills a day."

"Very good; we allow but half as much; we pay her only a tenth
of a cent a day; and--"

"Again ye're conf--"

"Wait! Now, you see, the thing is very simple; this time you'll
understand it. For instance, it takes your woman 42 days to earn
her gown, at 2 mills a day--7 weeks' work; but ours earns hers
in forty days--two days _short_ of 7 weeks. Your woman has a gown,
and her whole seven weeks wages are gone; ours has a gown, and
two days' wages left, to buy something else with. There--_now_
you understand it!"

He looked--well, he merely looked dubious, it's the most I can say;
so did the others. I waited--to let the thing work. Dowley spoke
at last--and betrayed the fact that he actually hadn't gotten away
from his rooted and grounded superstitions yet. He said, with
a trifle of hesitancy:

"But--but--ye cannot fail to grant that two mills a day is better
than one."

Shucks! Well, of course, I hated to give it up. So I chanced
another flyer:

"Let us suppose a case. Suppose one of your journeymen goes out
and buys the following articles:

"1 pound of salt;
1 dozen eggs;
1 dozen pints of beer;
1 bushel of wheat;
1 tow-linen suit;
5 pounds of beef;
5 pounds of mutton.

"The lot will cost him 32 cents. It takes him 32 working days
to earn the money--5 weeks and 2 days. Let him come to us and
work 32 days at _half_ the wages; he can buy all those things for
a shade under 14 1/2 cents; they will cost him a shade under 29
days' work, and he will have about half a week's wages over. Carry
it through the year; he would save nearly a week's wages every
two months, _your_ man nothing; thus saving five or six weeks' wages
in a year, your man not a cent. _Now_ I reckon you understand that
'high wages' and 'low wages' are phrases that don't mean anything
in the world until you find out which of them will _buy_ the most!"

It was a crusher.

But, alas! it didn't crush. No, I had to give it up. What those
people valued was _high wages_; it didn't seem to be a matter of
any consequence to them whether the high wages would buy anything
or not. They stood for "protection," and swore by it, which was
reasonable enough, because interested parties had gulled them into
the notion that it was protection which had created their high
wages. I proved to them that in a quarter of a century their wages
had advanced but 30 per cent., while the cost of living had gone
up 100; and that with us, in a shorter time, wages had advanced
40 per cent. while the cost of living had gone steadily down. But
it didn't do any good. Nothing could unseat their strange beliefs.

Well, I was smarting under a sense of defeat. Undeserved defeat,
but what of that? That didn't soften the smart any. And to think
of the circumstances! the first statesman of the age, the capablest
man, the best-informed man in the entire world, the loftiest
uncrowned head that had moved through the clouds of any political
firmament for centuries, sitting here apparently defeated in
argument by an ignorant country blacksmith! And I could see that
those others were sorry for me--which made me blush till I could
smell my whiskers scorching. Put yourself in my place; feel as mean
as I did, as ashamed as I felt--wouldn't _you_ have struck below the
belt to get even? Yes, you would; it is simply human nature.
Well, that is what I did. I am not trying to justify it; I'm only
saying that I was mad, and _anybody_ would have done it.

Well, when I make up my mind to hit a man, I don't plan out
a love-tap; no, that isn't my way; as long as I'm going to hit him
at all, I'm going to hit him a lifter. And I don't jump at him
all of a sudden, and risk making a blundering half-way business
of it; no, I get away off yonder to one side, and work up on him
gradually, so that he never suspects that I'm going to hit him
at all; and by and by, all in a flash, he's flat on his back, and
he can't tell for the life of him how it all happened. That is
the way I went for brother Dowley. I started to talking lazy and
comfortable, as if I was just talking to pass the time; and the
oldest man in the world couldn't have taken the bearings of my
starting place and guessed where I was going to fetch up:

"Boys, there's a good many curious things about law, and custom,
and usage, and all that sort of thing, when you come to look at it;
yes, and about the drift and progress of human opinion and movement,
too. There are written laws--they perish; but there are also
unwritten laws--_they_ are eternal. Take the unwritten law of wages:
it says they've got to advance, little by little, straight through
the centuries. And notice how it works. We know what wages are
now, here and there and yonder; we strike an average, and say that's
the wages of to-day. We know what the wages were a hundred years
ago, and what they were two hundred years ago; that's as far back
as we can get, but it suffices to give us the law of progress,
the measure and rate of the periodical augmentation; and so, without
a document to help us, we can come pretty close to determining
what the wages were three and four and five hundred years ago.
Good, so far. Do we stop there? No. We stop looking backward;
we face around and apply the law to the future. My friends, I can
tell you what people's wages are going to be at any date in the
future you want to know, for hundreds and hundreds of years."

"What, goodman, what!"

"Yes. In seven hundred years wages will have risen to six times
what they are now, here in your region, and farm hands will be
allowed 3 cents a day, and mechanics 6."

"I would't I might die now and live then!" interrupted Smug, the
wheelwright, with a fine avaricious glow in his eye.

"And that isn't all; they'll get their board besides--such as it is:
it won't bloat them. Two hundred and fifty years later--pay attention
now--a mechanic's wages will be--mind you, this is law, not
guesswork; a mechanic's wages will then be _twenty_ cents a day!"

There was a general gasp of awed astonishment, Dickon the mason
murmured, with raised eyes and hands:

"More than three weeks' pay for one day's work!"

"Riches!--of a truth, yes, riches!" muttered Marco, his breath
coming quick and short, with excitement.

"Wages will keep on rising, little by little, little by little,
as steadily as a tree grows, and at the end of three hundred and
forty years more there'll be at least _one_ country where the
mechanic's average wage will be _two hundred_ cents a day!"

It knocked them absolutely dumb! Not a man of them could get
his breath for upwards of two minutes. Then the coal-burner
said prayerfully:

"Might I but live to see it!"

"It is the income of an earl!" said Smug.

"An earl, say ye?" said Dowley; "ye could say more than that and
speak no lie; there's no earl in the realm of Bagdemagus that hath
an income like to that. Income of an earl--mf! it's the income
of an angel!"

"Now, then, that is what is going to happen as regards wages.
In that remote day, that man will earn, with _one_ week's work,
that bill of goods which it takes you upwards of _fifty_ weeks to
earn now. Some other pretty surprising things are going to happen,
too. Brother Dowley, who is it that determines, every spring,
what the particular wage of each kind of mechanic, laborer, and
servant shall be for that year?"

"Sometimes the courts, sometimes the town council; but most of all,
the magistrate. Ye may say, in general terms, it is the magistrate
that fixes the wages."

"Doesn't ask any of those poor devils to _help_ him fix their wages
for them, does he?"

"Hm! That _were_ an idea! The master that's to pay him the money
is the one that's rightly concerned in that matter, ye will notice."

"Yes--but I thought the other man might have some little trifle
at stake in it, too; and even his wife and children, poor creatures.
The masters are these: nobles, rich men, the prosperous generally.
These few, who do no work, determine what pay the vast hive shall
have who _do_ work. You see? They're a 'combine'--a trade union,
to coin a new phrase--who band themselves together to force their
lowly brother to take what they choose to give. Thirteen hundred
years hence--so says the unwritten law--the 'combine' will be the
other way, and then how these fine people's posterity will fume
and fret and grit their teeth over the insolent tyranny of trade
unions! Yes, indeed! the magistrate will tranquilly arrange the
wages from now clear away down into the nineteenth century; and
then all of a sudden the wage-earner will consider that a couple
of thousand years or so is enough of this one-sided sort of thing;
and he will rise up and take a hand in fixing his wages himself.
Ah, he will have a long and bitter account of wrong and humiliation
to settle."

"Do ye believe--"

"That he actually will help to fix his own wages? Yes, indeed.
And he will be strong and able, then."

"Brave times, brave times, of a truth!" sneered the prosperous smith.

"Oh,--and there's another detail. In that day, a master may hire
a man for only just one day, or one week, or one month at a time,
if he wants to."

"What?"

"It's true. Moreover, a magistrate won't be able to force a man
to work for a master a whole year on a stretch whether the man
wants to or not."

"Will there be _no_ law or sense in that day?"

"Both of them, Dowley. In that day a man will be his own property,
not the property of magistrate and master. And he can leave town
whenever he wants to, if the wages don't suit him!--and they can't
put him in the pillory for it."

"Perdition catch such an age!" shouted Dowley, in strong indignation.
"An age of dogs, an age barren of reverence for superiors and
respect for authority! The pillory--"

"Oh, wait, brother; say no good word for that institution. I think
the pillory ought to be abolished."

"A most strange idea. Why?"

"Well, I'll tell you why. Is a man ever put in the pillory for
a capital crime?"

"No."

"Is it right to condemn a man to a slight punishment for a small
offense and then kill him?"

There was no answer. I had scored my first point! For the first
time, the smith wasn't up and ready. The company noticed it.
Good effect.

"You don't answer, brother. You were about to glorify the pillory
a while ago, and shed some pity on a future age that isn't going
to use it. I think the pillory ought to be abolished. What
usually happens when a poor fellow is put in the pillory for some
little offense that didn't amount to anything in the world? The
mob try to have some fun with him, don't they?"

"Yes."

"They begin by clodding him; and they laugh themselves to pieces
to see him try to dodge one clod and get hit with another?"

"Yes."

"Then they throw dead cats at him, don't they?"

"Yes."

"Well, then, suppose he has a few personal enemies in that mob
and here and there a man or a woman with a secret grudge against
him--and suppose especially that he is unpopular in the community,
for his pride, or his prosperity, or one thing or another--stones
and bricks take the place of clods and cats presently, don't they?"

"There is no doubt of it."

"As a rule he is crippled for life, isn't he?--jaws broken, teeth
smashed out?--or legs mutilated, gangrened, presently cut off?--
or an eye knocked out, maybe both eyes?"

"It is true, God knoweth it."

"And if he is unpopular he can depend on _dying_, right there in
the stocks, can't he?"

"He surely can! One may not deny it."

"I take it none of _you_ are unpopular--by reason of pride or
insolence, or conspicuous prosperity, or any of those things that
excite envy and malice among the base scum of a village? _You_
wouldn't think it much of a risk to take a chance in the stocks?"

Dowley winced, visibly. I judged he was hit. But he didn't betray
it by any spoken word. As for the others, they spoke out plainly,
and with strong feeling. They said they had seen enough of the
stocks to know what a man's chance in them was, and they would
never consent to enter them if they could compromise on a quick
death by hanging.

"Well, to change the subject--for I think I've established my
point that the stocks ought to be abolished. I think some of our
laws are pretty unfair. For instance, if I do a thing which ought
to deliver me to the stocks, and you know I did it and yet keep
still and don't report me, _you_ will get the stocks if anybody
informs on you."

"Ah, but that would serve you but right," said Dowley, "for you
_must_ inform. So saith the law."

The others coincided.

"Well, all right, let it go, since you vote me down. But there's
one thing which certainly isn't fair. The magistrate fixes a
mechanic's wage at one cent a day, for instance. The law says that
if any master shall venture, even under utmost press of business,
to pay anything _over_ that cent a day, even for a single day, he
shall be both fined and pilloried for it; and whoever knows he did
it and doesn't inform, they also shall be fined and pilloried. Now
it seems to me unfair, Dowley, and a deadly peril to all of us,
that because you thoughtlessly confessed, a while ago, that within
a week you have paid a cent and fifteen mil--"

Oh, I tell _you_ it was a smasher! You ought to have seen them to
go to pieces, the whole gang. I had just slipped up on poor
smiling and complacent Dowley so nice and easy and softly, that
he never suspected anything was going to happen till the blow
came crashing down and knocked him all to rags.

A fine effect. In fact, as fine as any I ever produced, with so
little time to work it up in.

But I saw in a moment that I had overdone the thing a little.
I was expecting to scare them, but I wasn't expecting to scare
them to death. They were mighty near it, though. You see they
had been a whole lifetime learning to appreciate the pillory; and
to have that thing staring them in the face, and every one of them
distinctly at the mercy of me, a stranger, if I chose to go and
report--well, it was awful, and they couldn't seem to recover
from the shock, they couldn't seem to pull themselves together.
Pale, shaky, dumb, pitiful? Why, they weren't any better than
so many dead men. It was very uncomfortable. Of course, I thought
they would appeal to me to keep mum, and then we would shake hands,
and take a drink all round, and laugh it off, and there an end.
But no; you see I was an unknown person, among a cruelly oppressed
and suspicious people, a people always accustomed to having advantage
taken of their helplessness, and never expecting just or kind
treatment from any but their own families and very closest intimates.
Appeal to _me_ to be gentle, to be fair, to be generous? Of course,
they wanted to, but they couldn't dare.

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