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1889
 
 

A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT

 
 
by Mark Twain
 
     
  Preface  
     
 

THE ungentle laws and customs touched upon in this tale are historical, and the episodes which are used to illustrate them are also historical. It is not pretended that these laws and customs existed in England in the sixth century; no, it is only pretended that in as much as they existed in the English and other civilizations of far later times, it is safe to consider that it is no libel upon the sixth century to suppose them to have been in practice in that day also. One is quite justified in inferring that whatever one of these laws or customs was lacking in that remote time, its place was competently filled by a worse one.
The question as to whether there is such a thing as divine right of kings is not settled in this book. It was found too difficult. That the executive head of a nation should be a person of lofty character and extraordinary ability, was manifest and indisputable; that none but the Deity could select that head unerringly, was also manifest and indisputable; that the Deity ought to make that selection, then, was likewise manifest and indisputable;consequently, that He does make it, as claimed, was an unavoidable deduction. I mean, until the author of this book encountered the Pompadour, and Lady Castlemaine, and some other executive heads of that kind; these were found so difficult to work into the scheme, that it was judged better to take the other tack in this book (which must be issued this fall), and then go into training and settle the question in another book. It is, of course, a thing which ought to be settled, and I am not going to have anything particular to
do next winter anyway.

MARK TWAIN.

 
     
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It was in Warwick Castle that I came across the curious stranger whom I am going to talk about. He attracted me by three things: his candid simplicity, his marvelous familiarity with ancient armor, and the restfulness of his company- for he did all the talking. We fell together, as modest people will, in the tail of the herd that was being
shown through, and he at once began to say things which interested me. As he talked along, softly,pleasantly, flowingly, he seemed to drift away imperceptibly out of this world and time, and into some remote era and old forgotten country; and so he gradually wove such a spell about me that I seemed to move among the specters and shadows and dust and mold of a gray antiquity, holding speech with a relic of it! Exactly as I would speak of my nearest personal friends or enemies, or my most familiar neighbors, he spoke of Sir Bedivere, Sir Bors de Ganis, Sir Launcelot of the Lake, Sir Galahad, and all the other great names of the Table Round - and how old, old, unspeakably old and faded and dry and musty and ancient he came to look as he went on! Presently he turned to me and said, just as one might speak of the weather, or any other common matter -"You know about transmigration of souls; do you know about transposition of epochs- and bodies?"

I said I had not heard of it. He was so little interested- just as
when people speak of the weather- that he did not notice whether I made him any answer or not. There was half a moment of silence,immediatelyinterrupted by the droning voice of the salaried cicerone:

"Ancient hauberk, date of the sixth century, time of King Arthur and the Round Table; said to have belonged to the knight Sir Sagramor le Desirous; observe the round hole through the chain-mail in the left breast; can't be accounted for;supposed to have been done with a bullet since invention of firearms - perhaps maliciously by Cromwell's soldiers."

My acquaintance smiled- not a modern smile, but one that must have gone out of general use many, many centuries ago- and muttered
apparently to himself:

"Wit ye well, (r)I saw it done." Then, after a pause, added: "I did it myself."

By the time I had recovered from the electric surprise of this remark, he was gone.

All that evening I sat by my fire at the Warwick Arms, steeped in a dream of the olden time, while the rain beat upon the windows, and the
wind roared about the eaves and corners. From time to time I dipped into old Sir Thomas Malory's enchanting book, and fed at its rich feast of prodigies and adventures, breathed in the fragrance of its obsolete names, and dreamed again. Midnight being come at length, I read another tale, for a nightcap- this which here follows, to wit:

 
     
 
 
 
  HOW SIR LAUNCELOT SLEW TWO GIANTS,
AND MADE A CASTLE FREE
 
     
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  The Stranger's History  
     
  I am an American. I was born and reared in Hartford, in the state of Connecticut- anyway, just over the river, in the country. So I am a
Yankee of the Yankees- and practical; yes, and nearly barren of sentiment, I suppose- or poetry, in other words. My father was a blacksmith, my uncle was a horse-doctor, and I was both, along at first. Then I went over to the great arms factory and learned my real trade; learned all there was to it; learned to make everything: guns, revolvers, cannon, boilers, engines, all sorts of labor-saving machinery. Why, I could make anything a body wanted- anything in the world, it didn't make any difference what; and if there wasn't any quick new-fangled way to make a thing, I could invent one- and do it as easy as rolling off a log. I became head superintendent; had a couple of thousand men under me.

Well, a man like that is a man that is full of fight- that goes without saying. With a couple of thousand rough men under one, one has
plenty of that sort of amusement. I had, anyway. At last I met my match, and I got my dose. It was during a misunderstanding conducted with
crowbars with a fellow we used to call Hercules. He laid me out with a crusher alongside the head that made everything crack, and seemed to
spring every joint in my skull and made it overlap its neighbor. Then the world went out in darkness, and I didn't feel anything more, and
didn't know anything at all- at least for a while.

When I came to again, I was sitting under an oak tree, on the grass, with a whole beautiful and broad country landscape all to myself-
nearly. Not entirely; for there was a fellow on a horse, looking down at me- a fellow fresh out of a picture-book. He was in old-time iron armor
from head to heel, with a helmet on his head the shape of a nail-keg with slits in it; and he had a shield, and a sword, and a prodigious
spear; and his horse had armor on, too, and a steel horn projecting from his forehead, and gorgeous red and green silk trappings that hung down all around him like a bedquilt, nearly to the ground.

"Fair sir, will ye just?" said this fellow.

"Will I which?"

"Will ye try a passage of arms for land or lady or for-"

"What are you giving me?" I said. "Get along back to your circus, or
I'll report you."

Now what does this man do but fall back a couple of hundred yards and then come rushing at me as hard as he could tear, with his nail-keg bent
down nearly to his horse's neck and his long spear pointed straight ahead. I saw he meant business, so I was up the tree when he arrived.
He allowed that I was his property, the captive of his spear. There was argument on his side- and the bulk of the advantage- so I judged it
best to humor him. We fixed up an agreement whereby I was to go with him and he was not to hurt me. I came down, and we started away, I walking by the side of his horse. We marched comfortably along, through glades and over brooks which I could not remember to have seen before- which puzzled me and made me wonder- and yet we did not come to any circus or sign of a circus. So I gave up the idea of a circus, and concluded he was from an asylum. But we never came to an asylum- so I was up a stump, as you may say. I asked him how far we were from Hartford. He said he had never heard of the place; which I took to be a lie, but allowed it to go at that. At the end of an hour we saw a far-away town sleeping in a valley by a winding river; and beyond it on a hill, a vast gray
fortress, with towers and turrets, the first I had ever seen out of a picture.

"Bridgeport?" said I, pointing.

"Camelot," said he.

My stranger had been showing signs of sleepiness. He caught himself nodding, now, and smiled one of those pathetic, obsolete smiles of his, and said:

"I find I can't go on; but come with me, I've got it all written out, and you can read it if you like."

In his chamber, he said: "First, I kept a journal; then by and by, after years, I took the journal and turned it into a book. How long ago
that was!"

He handed me his manuscript, and pointed out the place where I should begin:

"Begin here- I've already told you what goes before." He was steeped in drowsiness by this time. As I went out at his door I heard him murmur sleepily: "Give you good den, fair sir."

I sat down by my fire and examined my treasure. The first part of it- the great bulk of it- was parchment, and yellow with age. I scanned a
leaf particularly and saw that it was a palimpsest. Under the old dim writing of the Yankee historian appeared traces of a penmanship which was older and dimmer still- Latin words and sentences: fragments from
old monkish legends, evidently. I turned to the place indicated by my stranger and began to read- as follows:

 
 
 
   
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  "CAMELOT- Camelot," said I to myself. "I don't seem to remember
hearing of it before. Name of the asylum, likely."

It was a soft, reposeful summer landscape, as lovely as a dream, and
as lonesome as Sunday. The air was full of the smell of flowers, and the
buzzing of insects, and the twittering of birds, and there were no people, no wagons, there was no stir of life, nothing going on. The road was mainly a winding path with hoof-prints in it, and now and then a
faint trace of wheels on either side in the grass- wheels that apparently had a tire as broad as one's hand.

Presently a fair slip of a girl, about ten years old, with a cataract of golden hair streaming down over hershoulders, came along. Around her
head she wore a hoop of flame-red poppies. It was as sweet an outfit as
ever I saw, what there was of it. She walked indolently along, with a
mind at rest, its peace reflected in her innocent face. The circus man
paid no attention to her; didn't even seem to see her. And she- she was
no more startled at his fantastic make-up than if she was used to his like every day of her life. She was going by as indifferently as she might have gone by, a couple of cows; but when she happened to notice me, (r)then there was a change! Up went her hands, and she was turned to stone; her mouth dropped open, her eyes stared wide and timorously, she was the picture of astonished curiosity touched with fear. And there she stood gazing, in a sort of stupefied fascination, till we turned a corner of the wood and were lost to her view. That she should be startled at me instead of at the other man, was too many for me; I couldn't make head or tail of it. And that she should seem to consider me a spectacle, and totally overlook her own merits in that respect, was another puzzling thing, and a display of magnanimity, too, that was surprising in one so young. There was food for thought here. I moved along as one in a dream.

As we approached the town, signs of life began to appear. At intervals
we passed a wretched cabin, with a thatched roof, and about it small
fields and garden patches in an indifferent state of cultivation. There
were people, too; brawny men, with long, coarse, uncombed hair that hung down over their faces and made them look like animals. They and the women, as a rule, wore a coarse tow-linen robe that came well below the knee, and a rude sort of sandal, and many wore an iron collar. The small boys and girls were always naked; but nobody seemed to know it. All of these people stared at me, talked about me, ran into the huts and
fetched out their families to gape at me; but nobody ever noticed that
other fellow, except to make him humble salutation and get no response
for their pains.

In the town were some substantial windowless houses of stone scattered
among a wilderness of thatched cabins; the streets were mere crooked
alleys, and unpaved; troops of dogs and nude children played in the sun
and made life and noise; hogs roamed and rooted contentedly about, and
one of them lay in a reeking wallow in the middle of the main
thoroughfare and suckled her family. Presently there was a distant blare
of military music; it came nearer, still nearer, and soon a noble
cavalcade wound into view, glorious with plumed helmets and flashing
mail and flaunting banners and rich doublets and horse-cloths and gilded
spearheads; and through the muck and swine, and naked brats, and joyous dogs, and shabby huts, it took its gallant way, and in its wake we
followed. Followed through one winding alley and then another- and
climbing, always climbing- till at last we gained the breezy height
where the huge castle stood. There was an exchange of bugle-blasts; then a parley from the walls, where men-at-arms, in hauberk and morion,
marched back and forth with halberd at shoulder under flapping banners
with the rude figure of a dragon displayed upon them; and then the great
gates were flung open, the drawbridge was lowered, and the head of the
cavalcade swept forward under the frowning arches; and we, following,
soon found ourselves in a great paved court, with towers and turrets
stretching up into the blue air on all the four sides; and all about us
the dismount was going on, and much greeting and ceremony, and running to and fro, and a gay display of moving and intermingling colors, and an altogether pleasant stir and noise and confusion.

 
     
 
 
     
 

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