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

A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court

Chapter XXVI


When I told the king I was going out disguised as a petty freeman
to scour the country and familiarize myself with the humbler life
of the people, he was all afire with the novelty of the thing
in a minute, and was bound to take a chance in the adventure
himself--nothing should stop him--he would drop everything and
go along--it was the prettiest idea he had run across for many
a day. He wanted to glide out the back way and start at once;
but I showed him that that wouldn't answer. You see, he was billed
for the king's-evil--to touch for it, I mean--and it wouldn't be
right to disappoint the house and it wouldn't make a delay worth
considering, anyway, it was only a one-night stand. And I thought
he ought to tell the queen he was going away. He clouded up at
that and looked sad. I was sorry I had spoken, especially when
he said mournfully:

"Thou forgettest that Launcelot is here; and where Launcelot is,
she noteth not the going forth of the king, nor what day he returneth."

Of course, I changed the Subject. Yes, Guenever was beautiful,
it is true, but take her all around she was pretty slack. I never
meddled in these matters, they weren't my affair, but I did hate
to see the way things were going on, and I don't mind saying that
much. Many's the time she had asked me, "Sir Boss, hast seen
Sir Launcelot about?" but if ever she went fretting around for
the king I didn't happen to be around at the time.

There was a very good lay-out for the king's-evil business--very
tidy and creditable. The king sat under a canopy of state; about
him were clustered a large body of the clergy in full canonicals.
Conspicuous, both for location and personal outfit, stood Marinel,
a hermit of the quack-doctor species, to introduce the sick. All
abroad over the spacious floor, and clear down to the doors,
in a thick jumble, lay or sat the scrofulous, under a strong light.
It was as good as a tableau; in fact, it had all the look of being
gotten up for that, though it wasn't. There were eight hundred
sick people present. The work was slow; it lacked the interest
of novelty for me, because I had seen the ceremonies before;
the thing soon became tedious, but the proprieties required me
to stick it out. The doctor was there for the reason that in all
such crowds there were many people who only imagined something
was the matter with them, and many who were consciously sound
but wanted the immortal honor of fleshly contact with a king, and
yet others who pretended to illness in order to get the piece of
coin that went with the touch. Up to this time this coin had been
a wee little gold piece worth about a third of a dollar. When you
consider how much that amount of money would buy, in that age
and country, and how usual it was to be scrofulous, when not dead,
you would understand that the annual king's-evil appropriation was
just the River and Harbor bill of that government for the grip it
took on the treasury and the chance it afforded for skinning the
surplus. So I had privately concluded to touch the treasury itself
for the king's-evil. I covered six-sevenths of the appropriation
into the treasury a week before starting from Camelot on my
adventures, and ordered that the other seventh be inflated into
five-cent nickels and delivered into the hands of the head clerk
of the King's Evil Department; a nickel to take the place of each
gold coin, you see, and do its work for it. It might strain the
nickel some, but I judged it could stand it. As a rule, I do not
approve of watering stock, but I considered it square enough
in this case, for it was just a gift, anyway. Of course, you can
water a gift as much as you want to; and I generally do. The old
gold and silver coins of the country were of ancient and unknown
origin, as a rule, but some of them were Roman; they were ill-shapen,
and seldom rounder than a moon that is a week past the full; they
were hammered, not minted, and they were so worn with use that
the devices upon them were as illegible as blisters, and looked
like them. I judged that a sharp, bright new nickel, with a
first-rate likeness of the king on one side of it and Guenever
on the other, and a blooming pious motto, would take the tuck out
of scrofula as handy as a nobler coin and please the scrofulous
fancy more; and I was right. This batch was the first it was
tried on, and it worked to a charm. The saving in expense was
a notable economy. You will see that by these figures: We touched
a trifle over 700 of the 800 patients; at former rates, this would
have cost the government about $240; at the new rate we pulled
through for about $35, thus saving upward of $200 at one swoop.
To appreciate the full magnitude of this stroke, consider these
other figures: the annual expenses of a national government amount
to the equivalent of a contribution of three days' average wages of
every individual of the population, counting every individual as
if he were a man. If you take a nation of 60,000,000, where average
wages are $2 per day, three days' wages taken from each individual
will provide $360,000,000 and pay the government's expenses. In my
day, in my own country, this money was collected from imposts,
and the citizen imagined that the foreign importer paid it, and it
made him comfortable to think so; whereas, in fact, it was paid
by the American people, and was so equally and exactly distributed
among them that the annual cost to the 100-millionaire and the
annual cost to the sucking child of the day-laborer was precisely
the same--each paid $6. Nothing could be equaler than that,
I reckon. Well, Scotland and Ireland were tributary to Arthur,
and the united populations of the British Islands amounted to
something less than 1,000,000. A mechanic's average wage was
3 cents a day, when he paid his own keep. By this rule the national
government's expenses were $90,000 a year, or about $250 a day.
Thus, by the substitution of nickels for gold on a king's-evil
day, I not only injured no one, dissatisfied no one, but pleased
all concerned and saved four-fifths of that day's national expense
into the bargain--a saving which would have been the equivalent
of $800,000 in my day in America. In making this substitution
I had drawn upon the wisdom of a very remote source--the wisdom
of my boyhood--for the true statesman does not despise any wisdom,
howsoever lowly may be its origin: in my boyhood I had always
saved my pennies and contributed buttons to the foreign missionary
cause. The buttons would answer the ignorant savage as well as
the coin, the coin would answer me better than the buttons; all
hands were happy and nobody hurt.

Marinel took the patients as they came. He examined the candidate;
if he couldn't qualify he was warned off; if he could he was passed
along to the king. A priest pronounced the words, "They shall
lay their hands on the sick, and they shall recover." Then the king
stroked the ulcers, while the reading continued; finally, the
patient graduated and got his nickel--the king hanging it around
his neck himself--and was dismissed. Would you think that that
would cure? It certainly did. Any mummery will cure if the
patient's faith is strong in it. Up by Astolat there was a chapel
where the Virgin had once appeared to a girl who used to herd
geese around there--the girl said so herself--and they built the
chapel upon that spot and hung a picture in it representing the
occurrence--a picture which you would think it dangerous for a sick
person to approach; whereas, on the contrary, thousands of the lame
and the sick came and prayed before it every year and went away
whole and sound; and even the well could look upon it and live.
Of course, when I was told these things I did not believe them;
but when I went there and saw them I had to succumb. I saw the
cures effected myself; and they were real cures and not questionable.
I saw cripples whom I had seen around Camelot for years on crutches,
arrive and pray before that picture, and put down their crutches
and walk off without a limp. There were piles of crutches there
which had been left by such people as a testimony.

In other places people operated on a patient's mind, without saying
a word to him, and cured him. In others, experts assembled patients
in a room and prayed over them, and appealed to their faith, and
those patients went away cured. Wherever you find a king who can't
cure the king's-evil you can be sure that the most valuable
superstition that supports his throne--the subject's belief in
the divine appointment of his sovereign--has passed away. In my
youth the monarchs of England had ceased to touch for the evil,
but there was no occasion for this diffidence: they could have
cured it forty-nine times in fifty.

Well, when the priest had been droning for three hours, and the
good king polishing the evidences, and the sick were still pressing
forward as plenty as ever, I got to feeling intolerably bored.
I was sitting by an open window not far from the canopy of state.
For the five hundredth time a patient stood forward to have his
repulsivenesses stroked; again those words were being droned out:
"they shall lay their hands on the sick"--when outside there rang
clear as a clarion a note that enchanted my soul and tumbled
thirteen worthless centuries about my ears: "Camelot _Weekly
Hosannah and Literary Volcano!_--latest irruption--only two cents--
all about the big miracle in the Valley of Holiness!" One greater
than kings had arrived--the newsboy. But I was the only person
in all that throng who knew the meaning of this mighty birth, and
what this imperial magician was come into the world to do.

I dropped a nickel out of the window and got my paper; the
Adam-newsboy of the world went around the corner to get my change;
is around the corner yet. It was delicious to see a newspaper
again, yet I was conscious of a secret shock when my eye fell upon
the first batch of display head-lines. I had lived in a clammy
atmosphere of reverence, respect, deference, so long that they
sent a quivery little cold wave through me:


                    OF HOLINESS!






     But the Boss scores on his first Innings!


         The Miraculous Well Uncorked amid
                 awful outbursts of






--and so on, and so on. Yes, it was too loud. Once I could have
enjoyed it and seen nothing out of the way about it, but now its
note was discordant. It was good Arkansas journalism, but this
was not Arkansas. Moreover, the next to the last line was calculated
to give offense to the hermits, and perhaps lose us their advertising.
Indeed, there was too lightsome a tone of flippancy all through
the paper. It was plain I had undergone a considerable change
without noticing it. I found myself unpleasantly affected by
pert little irreverencies which would have seemed but proper and
airy graces of speech at an earlier period of my life. There was an
abundance of the following breed of items, and they discomforted me:


Sir Launcelot met up with old King
Agrivance of Ireland unexpectedly last
weok over on the moor south of Sir
Balmoral le Merveilleuse's hog dasture.
The widow has been notified.

Expedition No. 3 will start adout the
first of mext month on a search f8r Sir
Sagramour le Desirous. It is in com-
and of the renowned Knight of the Red
Lawns, assissted by Sir Persant of Inde,
who is compete9t. intelligent, courte-
ous, and in every way a brick, and fur-
tHer assisted by Sir Palamides the Sara-
cen, who is no huckleberry hinself.
This is no pic-nic, these boys mean

The readers of the Hosannah will re-
gret to learn that the hadndsome and
popular Sir Charolais of Gaul, who dur-
ing his four weeks' stay at the Bull and
Halibut, this city, has won every heart
by his polished manners and elegant
cPnversation, will pUll out to-day for
home. Give us another call, Charley!

The bdsiness end of the funeral of
the late Sir Dalliance the duke's son of
Cornwall, killed in an encounter with
the Giant of the Knotted Bludgeon last
Tuesday on the borders of the Plain of
Enchantment was in the hands of the
ever affable and efficient Mumble,
prince of un3ertakers, then whom there
exists none by whom it were a more
satisfying pleasure to have the last sad
offices performed. Give him a trial.

The cordial thanks of the Hosannah
office are due, from editor down to
devil, to the ever courteous and thought-
ful Lord High Stew d of the Palace's
Third Assistant V t for several sau-
ceTs of ice crEam a quality calculated
to make the ey of the recipients hu-
mid with grt ude; and it done it.
When this administration wants to
chalk up a desirable name for early
promotion, the Hosannah would like a
chance to sudgest.

The Demoiselle Irene Dewlap, of
South Astolat, is visiting her uncle, the
popular host of the Cattlemen's Board-
ing Ho&se, Liver Lane, this city.

Young Barker the bellows-mender is
hoMe again, and looks much improved
by his vacation round-up among the out-
lying smithies. See his ad.

Of course it was good enough journalism for a beginning; I knew
that quite well, and yet it was somehow disappointing. The
"Court Circular" pleased me better; indeed, its simple and dignified
respectfulness was a distinct refreshment to me after all those
disgraceful familiarities. But even it could have been improved.
Do what one may, there is no getting an air of variety into a court
circular, I acknowledge that. There is a profound monotonousness
about its facts that baffles and defeats one's sincerest efforts
to make them sparkle and enthuse. The best way to manage--in fact,
the only sensible way--is to disguise repetitiousness of fact under
variety of form: skin your fact each time and lay on a new cuticle
of words. It deceives the eye; you think it is a new fact; it
gives you the idea that the court is carrying on like everything;
this excites you, and you drain the whole column, with a good
appetite, and perhaps never notice that it's a barrel of soup made
out of a single bean. Clarence's way was good, it was simple,
it was dignified, it was direct and business-like; all I say is,
it was not the best way:

             COURT CIRCULAR.

On Monday, the king rode in the park.
" Tuesday,     "     "        "
" Wendesday     "     "        "
" Thursday     "     "        "
" Friday,     "     "        "
" Saturday     "     "        "
" Sunday,     "     "        "

However, take the paper by and large, I was vastly pleased with it.
Little crudities of a mechanical sort were observable here and
there, but there were not enough of them to amount to anything,
and it was good enough Arkansas proof-reading, anyhow, and better
than was needed in Arthur's day and realm. As a rule, the grammar
was leaky and the construction more or less lame; but I did not
much mind these things. They are common defects of my own, and
one mustn't criticise other people on grounds where he can't stand
perpendicular himself.

I was hungry enough for literature to want to take down the whole
paper at this one meal, but I got only a few bites, and then had
to postpone, because the monks around me besieged me so with eager
questions: What is this curious thing? What is it for? Is it a
handkerchief?--saddle blanket?--part of a shirt? What is it made of?
How thin it is, and how dainty and frail; and how it rattles.
Will it wear, do you think, and won't the rain injure it? Is it
writing that appears on it, or is it only ornamentation? They
suspected it was writing, because those among them who knew how
to read Latin and had a smattering of Greek, recognized some of
the letters, but they could make nothing out of the result as a
whole. I put my information in the simplest form I could:

"It is a public journal; I will explain what that is, another time.
It is not cloth, it is made of paper; some time I will explain
what paper is. The lines on it are reading matter; and not written
by hand, but printed; by and by I will explain what printing is.
A thousand of these sheets have been made, all exactly like this,
in every minute detail--they can't be told apart." Then they all
broke out with exclamations of surprise and admiration:

"A thousand! Verily a mighty work--a year's work for many men."

"No--merely a day's work for a man and a boy."

They crossed themselves, and whiffed out a protective prayer or two.

"Ah-h--a miracle, a wonder! Dark work of enchantment."

I let it go at that. Then I read in a low voice, to as many as
could crowd their shaven heads within hearing distance, part of
the account of the miracle of the restoration of the well, and
was accompanied by astonished and reverent ejaculations all through:
"Ah-h-h!" "How true!" "Amazing, amazing!" "These be the very
haps as they happened, in marvelous exactness!" And might they
take this strange thing in their hands, and feel of it and examine
it?--they would be very careful. Yes. So they took it, handling
it as cautiously and devoutly as if it had been some holy thing
come from some supernatural region; and gently felt of its texture,
caressed its pleasant smooth surface with lingering touch, and
scanned the mysterious characters with fascinated eyes. These
grouped bent heads, these charmed faces, these speaking eyes--
how beautiful to me! For was not this my darling, and was not
all this mute wonder and interest and homage a most eloquent
tribute and unforced compliment to it? I knew, then, how a mother
feels when women, whether strangers or friends, take her new baby,
and close themselves about it with one eager impulse, and bend
their heads over it in a tranced adoration that makes all the rest
of the universe vanish out of their consciousness and be as if it
were not, for that time. I knew how she feels, and that there is
no other satisfied ambition, whether of king, conqueror, or poet,
that ever reaches half-way to that serene far summit or yields half
so divine a contentment.

During all the rest of the seance my paper traveled from group to
group all up and down and about that huge hall, and my happy eye
was upon it always, and I sat motionless, steeped in satisfaction,
drunk with enjoyment. Yes, this was heaven; I was tasting it once,
if I might never taste it more.

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