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Chapter 34 – The Yankee and the King Sold as Slaves

Mark TwainMay 20, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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WELL, what had I better do? Nothing in a hurry,
sure. I must get up a diversion; anything to
employ me while I could think, and while these poor
fellows could have a chance to come to life again.
There sat Marco, petrified in the act of trying to get
the hang of his miller-gun — turned to stone, just in
the attitude he was in when my pile-driver fell, the toy
still gripped in his unconscious fingers. So I took it
from him and proposed to explain its mystery.
Mystery! a simple little thing like that; and yet it
was mysterious enough, for that race and that age.

I never saw such an awkward people, with machinery; you see, they were totally unused to it. The
miller-gun was a little double-barreled tube of toughened glass, with a neat little trick of a spring to it,
which upon pressure would let a shot escape. But the
shot wouldn’t hurt anybody, it would only drop into
your hand. In the gun were two sizes — wee mustardseed shot, and another sort that were several times
larger. They were money. The mustard-seed shot
represented milrays, the larger ones mills. So the
gun was a purse; and very handy, too; you could
pay out money in the dark with it, with accuracy; and
you could carry it in your mouth; or in your vest
pocket, if you had one. I made them of several sizes
— one size so large that it would carry the equivalent
of a dollar. Using shot for money was a good thing
for the government; the metal cost nothing, and the
money couldn’t be counterfeited, for I was the only
person in the kingdom who knew how to manage a
shot tower. “Paying the shot” soon came to be a
common phrase. Yes, and I knew it would still be
passing men’s lips, away down in the nineteenth century, yet none would suspect how and when it originated.

The king joined us, about this time, mightily refreshed by his nap, and feeling good. Anything could
make me nervous now, I was so uneasy — for our lives
were in danger; and so it worried me to detect a complacent something in the king’s eye which seemed to
indicate that he had been loading himself up for a
performance of some kind or other; confound it, why
must he go and choose such a time as this?

I was right. He began, straight off, in the most
innocently artful, and transparent, and lubberly way,
to lead up to the subject of agriculture. The cold
sweat broke out all over me. I wanted to whisper in
his ear, “Man, we are in awful danger! every moment
is worth a principality till we get back these men’s
confidence; DON’T waste any of this golden time.”
But of course I couldn’t do it. Whisper to him? It
would look as if we were conspiring. So I had to sit
there and look calm and pleasant while the king stood
over that dynamite mine and mooned along about his
damned onions and things. At first the tumult of my
own thoughts, summoned by the danger-signal and
swarming to the rescue from every quarter of my
skull, kept up such a hurrah and confusion and fifing
and drumming that I couldn’t take in a word; but
presently when my mob of gathering plans began to
crystallize and fall into position and form line of battle,
a sort of order and quiet ensued and I caught the boom
of the king’s batteries, as if out of remote distance:

“– were not the best way, methinks, albeit it is not
to be denied that authorities differ as concerning this
point, some contending that the onion is but an unwholesome berry when stricken early from the tree –”

The audience showed signs of life, and sought each
other’s eyes in a surprised and troubled way.

“– whileas others do yet maintain, with much show
of reason, that this is not of necessity the case, instancing that plums and other like cereals do be always dug
in the unripe state –”

The audience exhibited distinct distress; yes, and
also fear.

“– yet are they clearly wholesome, the more especially when one doth assuage the asperities of their
nature by admixture of the tranquilizing juice of the
wayward cabbage –”

The wild light of terror began to glow in these men’s
eyes, and one of them muttered, “These be errors,
every one — God hath surely smitten the mind of this
farmer.” I was in miserable apprehension; I sat upon
thorns.

“– and further instancing the known truth that in
the case of animals, the young, which may be called
the green fruit of the creature, is the better, all confessing that when a goat is ripe, his fur doth heat and
sore engame his flesh, the which defect, taken in connection with his several rancid habits, and fulsome
appetites, and godless attitudes of mind, and bilious
quality of morals –”

They rose and went for him! With a fierce shout,
“The one would betray us, the other is mad! Kill
them! Kill them!” they flung themselves upon us.
What joy flamed up in the king’s eye! He might be
lame in agriculture, but this kind of thing was just in
his line. He had been fasting long, he was hungry
for a fight. He hit the blacksmith a crack under the
jaw that lifted him clear off his feet and stretched him
flat on his back. “St. George for Britain!” and he
downed the wheelwright. The mason was big, but I
laid him out like nothing. The three gathered themselves up and came again; went down again; came
again; and kept on repeating this, with native British
pluck, until they were battered to jelly, reeling with
exhaustion, and so blind that they couldn’t tell us
from each other; and yet they kept right on, hammering away with what might was left in them. Hammering each other — for we stepped aside and looked
on while they rolled, and struggled, and gouged, and
pounded, and bit, with the strict and wordless attention
to business of so many bulldogs. We looked on without apprehension, for they were fast getting past
ability to go for help against us, and the arena was
far enough from the public road to be safe from
intrusion.

Well, while they were gradually playing out, it suddenly occurred to me to wonder what had become of
Marco. I looked around; he was nowhere to be seen.
Oh, but this was ominous! I pulled the king’s sleeve,
and we glided away and rushed for the hut. No Marco
there, no Phyllis there! They had gone to the road
for help, sure. I told the king to give his heels wings,
and I would explain later. We made good time across
the open ground, and as we darted into the shelter of
the wood I glanced back and saw a mob of excited
peasants swarm into view, with Marco and his wife at
their head. They were making a world of noise, but
that couldn’t hurt anybody; the wood was dense, and
as soon as we were well into its depths we would take
to a tree and let them whistle. Ah, but then came
another sound — dogs! Yes, that was quite another
matter. It magnified our contract — we must find
running water.

We tore along at a good gait, and soon left the
sounds far behind and modified to a murmur. We
struck a stream and darted into it. We waded swiftly
down it, in the dim forest light, for as much as three
hundred yards, and then came across an oak with a
great bough sticking out over the water. We climbed
up on this bough, and began to work our way along it
to the body of the tree; now we began to hear those
sounds more plainly; so the mob had struck our trail.
For a while the sounds approached pretty fast. And
then for another while they didn’t. No doubt the
dogs had found the place where we had entered the
stream, and were now waltzing up and down the shores
trying to pick up the trail again.

When we were snugly lodged in the tree and curtained with foliage, the king was satisfied, but I was
doubtful. I believed we could crawl along a branch
and get into the next tree, and I judged it worth while
to try. We tried it, and made a success of it, though
the king slipped, at the junction, and came near failing
to connect. We got comfortable lodgment and satisfactory concealment among the foliage, and then we
had nothing to do but listen to the hunt.

Presently we heard it coming — and coming on the
jump, too; yes, and down both sides of the stream.
Louder — louder — next minute it swelled swiftly up
into a roar of shoutings, barkings, tramplings, and
swept by like a cyclone.

“I was afraid that the overhanging branch would
suggest something to them,” said I, “but I don’t
mind the disappointment. Come, my liege, it were
well that we make good use of our time. We’ve
flanked them. Dark is coming on, presently. If we
can cross the stream and get a good start, and borrow
a couple of horses from somebody’s pasture to use for
a few hours, we shall be safe enough.”

We started down, and got nearly to the lowest limb,
when we seemed to hear the hunt returning. We
stopped to listen.

“Yes,” said I, “they’re baffled, they’ve given it
up, they’re on their way home. We will climb back
to our roost again, and let them go by.”

So we climbed back. The king listened a moment
and said:

“They still search — I wit the sign. We did best to
abide.”

He was right. He knew more about hunting than I
did. The noise approached steadily, but not with a
rush. The king said:

“They reason that we were advantaged by no parlous start of them, and being on foot are as yet no
mighty way from where we took the water.”

“Yes, sire, that is about it, I am afraid, though I
was hoping better things.”

The noise drew nearer and nearer, and soon the van
was drifting under us, on both sides of the water. A
voice called a halt from the other bank, and said:

“An they were so minded, they could get to yon
tree by this branch that overhangs, and yet not touch
ground. Ye will do well to send a man up it.”

“Marry, that we will do!”

I was obliged to admire my cuteness in foreseeing
this very thing and swapping trees to beat it. But,
don’t you know, there are some things that can beat
smartness and foresight? Awkwardness and stupidity
can. The best swordsman in the world doesn’t need
to fear the second best swordsman in the world; no,
the person for him to be afraid of is some ignorant
antagonist who has never had a sword in his hand before; he doesn’t do the thing he ought to do, and so
the expert isn’t prepared for him; he does the thing
he ought not to do; and often it catches the expert
out and ends him on the spot. Well, how could I,
with all my gifts, make any valuable preparation against
a near-sighted, cross-eyed, pudding-headed clown who
would aim himself at the wrong tree and hit the right
one? And that is what he did. He went for the
wrong tree, which was, of course, the right one by
mistake, and up he started.

Matters were serious now. We remained still, and
awaited developments. The peasant toiled his difficult
way up. The king raised himself up and stood; he
made a leg ready, and when the comer’s head arrived
in reach of it there was a dull thud, and down went
the man floundering to the ground. There was a wild
outbreak of anger below, and the mob swarmed in
from all around, and there we were treed, and prisoners. Another man started up; the bridging bough
was detected, and a volunteer started up the tree that
furnished the bridge. The king ordered me to play
Horatius and keep the bridge. For a while the enemy
came thick and fast; but no matter, the head man of
each procession always got a buffet that dislodged him
as soon as he came in reach. The king’s spirits rose,
his joy was limitless. He said that if nothing occurred
to mar the prospect we should have a beautiful night,
for on this line of tactics we could hold the tree against
the whole country-side.

However, the mob soon came to that conclusion
themselves; wherefore they called off the assault and
began to debate other plans. They had no weapons,
but there were plenty of stones, and stones might
answer. We had no objections. A stone might possibly penetrate to us once in a while, but it wasn’t
very likely; we were well protected by boughs and
foliage, and were not visible from any good aiming
point. If they would but waste half an hour in stonethrowing, the dark would come to our help. We were
feeling very well satisfied. We could smile; almost
laugh.

But we didn’t; which was just as well, for we should
have been interrupted. Before the stones had been
raging through the leaves and bouncing from the
boughs fifteen minutes, we began to notice a smell.
A couple of sniffs of it was enough of an explanation —
it was smoke! Our game was up at last. We recognized that. When smoke invites you, you have to
come. They raised their pile of dry brush and damp
weeds higher and higher, and when they saw the thick
cloud begin to roll up and smother the tree, they broke
out in a storm of joy-clamors. I got enough breath to
say:

“Proceed, my liege; after you is manners.”

The king gasped:

“Follow me down, and then back thyself against
one side of the trunk, and leave me the other. Then
will we fight. Let each pile his dead according to his
own fashion and taste.”

Then he descended, barking and coughing, and I
followed. I struck the ground an instant after him;
we sprang to our appointed places, and began to give
and take with all our might. The powwow and racket
were prodigious; it was a tempest of riot and confusion and thick-falling blows. Suddenly some horsemen tore into the midst of the crowd, and a voice
shouted:

“Hold — or ye are dead men!”

How good it sounded! The owner of the voice
bore all the marks of a gentleman: picturesque and
costly raiment, the aspect of command, a hard countenance, with complexion and features marred by dissipation. The mob fell humbly back, like so many
spaniels. The gentleman inspected us critically, then
said sharply to the peasants:

“What are ye doing to these people?”

“They be madmen, worshipful sir, that have come
wandering we know not whence, and –”

“Ye know not whence? Do ye pretend ye know
them not?”

“Most honored sir, we speak but the truth. They
are strangers and unknown to any in this region; and
they be the most violent and bloodthirsty madmen that
ever –”

“Peace! Ye know not what ye say. They are not
mad. Who are ye? And whence are ye? Explain.”

“We are but peaceful strangers, sir,” I said, “and
traveling upon our own concerns. We are from a far
country, and unacquainted here. We have purposed
no harm; and yet but for your brave interference and
protection these people would have killed us. As you
have divined, sir, we are not mad; neither are we
violent or bloodthirsty.”

The gentleman turned to his retinue and said calmly:
“Lash me these animals to their kennels!”

The mob vanished in an instant; and after them
plunged the horsemen, laying about them with their
whips and pitilessly riding down such as were witless
enough to keep the road instead of taking to the bush.
The shrieks and supplications presently died away in
the distance, and soon the horsemen began to straggle
back. Meantime the gentleman had been questioning
us more closely, but had dug no particulars out of us.
We were lavish of recognition of the service he was
doing us, but we revealed nothing more than that we
were friendless strangers from a far country. When
the escort were all returned, the gentleman said to one
of his servants:

“Bring the led-horses and mount these people.”

“Yes, my lord.”

We were placed toward the rear, among the servants.
We traveled pretty fast, and finally drew rein some
time after dark at a roadside inn some ten or twelve
miles from the scene of our troubles. My lord went
immediately to his room, after ordering his supper,
and we saw no more of him. At dawn in the morning
we breakfasted and made ready to start.

My lord’s chief attendant sauntered forward at that
moment with indolent grace, and said:

“Ye have said ye should continue upon this road,
which is our direction likewise; wherefore my lord,
the earl Grip, hath given commandment that ye retain
the horses and ride, and that certain of us ride with
ye a twenty mile to a fair town that hight Cambenet,
whenso ye shall be out of peril.”

We could do nothing less than express our thanks
and accept the offer. We jogged along, six in the
party, at a moderate and comfortable gait, and in conversation learned that my lord Grip was a very great
personage in his own region, which lay a day’s journey
beyond Cambenet. We loitered to such a degree that
it was near the middle of the forenoon when we entered
the market square of the town. We dismounted, and
left our thanks once more for my lord, and then approached a crowd assembled in the center of the
square, to see what might be the object of interest.
It was the remnant of that old peregrinating band of
slaves! So they had been dragging their chains about,
all this weary time. That poor husband was gone, and
also many others; and some few purchases had been
added to the gang. The king was not interested, and
wanted to move along, but I was absorbed, and full of
pity. I could not take my eyes away from these worn
and wasted wrecks of humanity. There they sat,
grounded upon the ground, silent, uncomplaining, with
bowed heads, a pathetic sight. And by hideous contrast, a redundant orator was making a speech to
another gathering not thirty steps away, in fulsome
laudation of “our glorious British liberties!”

I was boiling. I had forgotten I was a plebeian, I
was remembering I was a man. Cost what it might, I
would mount that rostrum and —

Click! the king and I were handcuffed together!
Our companions, those servants, had done it; my lord
Grip stood looking on. The king burst out in a fury,
and said:

“What meaneth this ill-mannered jest?”

My lord merely said to his head miscreant, coolly:

“Put up the slaves and sell them!”

SLAVES! The word had a new sound — and how
unspeakably awful! The king lifted his manacles and
brought them down with a deadly force; but my lord
was out of the way when they arrived. A dozen of
the rascal’s servants sprang forward, and in a moment
we were helpless, with our hands bound behind us.
We so loudly and so earnestly proclaimed ourselves
freemen, that we got the interested attention of that
liberty-mouthing orator and his patriotic crowd, and
they gathered about us and assumed a very determined
attitude. The orator said:

“If, indeed, ye are freemen, ye have nought to
fear — the God-given liberties of Britain are about ye
for your shield and shelter! (Applause.) Ye shall
soon see. Bring forth your proofs.”

“What proofs?”

“Proof that ye are freemen.”

Ah — I remembered! I came to myself; I said
nothing. But the king stormed out:

“Thou’rt insane, man. It were better, and more
in reason, that this thief and scoundrel here prove that
we are NOT freemen.”

You see, he knew his own laws just as other people
so often know the laws; by words, not by effects.
They take a MEANING, and get to be very vivid, when
you come to apply them to yourself.

All hands shook their heads and looked disappointed; some turned away, no longer interested. The
orator said — and this time in the tones of business,
not of sentiment:

“An ye do not know your country’s laws, it were
time ye learned them. Ye are strangers to us; ye will
not deny that. Ye may be freemen, we do not deny
that; but also ye may be slaves. The law is clear: it
doth not require the claimant to prove ye are slaves, it
requireth you to prove ye are not.”

I said:

“Dear sir, give us only time to send to Astolat; or
give us only time to send to the Valley of Holiness –”

“Peace, good man, these are extraordinary requests,
and you may not hope to have them granted. It would
cost much time, and would unwarrantably inconvenience your master –”

“MASTER, idiot!” stormed the king. “I have no
master, I myself am the m–”

“Silence, for God’s sake!”

I got the words out in time to stop the king. We
were in trouble enough already; it could not help us
any to give these people the notion that we were
lunatics.

There is no use in stringing out the details. The
earl put us up and sold us at auction. This same infernal law had existed in our own South in my own
time, more than thirteen hundred years later, and
under it hundreds of freemen who could not prove that
they were freemen had been sold into lifelong slavery
without the circumstance making any particular impression upon me; but the minute law and the auction
block came into my personal experience, a thing
which had been merely improper before became suddenly hellish. Well, that’s the way we are made.

Yes, we were sold at auction, like swine. In a big
town and an active market we should have brought a
good price; but this place was utterly stagnant and so
we sold at a figure which makes me ashamed, every
time I think of it. The King of England brought
seven dollars, and his prime minister nine; whereas
the king was easily worth twelve dollars and I as easily
worth fifteen. But that is the way things always go;
if you force a sale on a dull market, I don’t care what
the property is, you are going to make a poor business
of it, and you can make up your mind to it. If the
earl had had wit enough to —

However, there is no occasion for my working my
sympathies up on his account. Let him go, for the
present; I took his number, so to speak.

The slave-dealer bought us both, and hitched us
onto that long chain of his, and we constituted the rear
of his procession. We took up our line of march and
passed out of Cambenet at noon; and it seemed to me
unaccountably strange and odd that the King of England and his chief minister, marching manacled and
fettered and yoked, in a slave convoy, could move by
all manner of idle men and women, and under windows
where sat the sweet and the lovely, and yet never
attract a curious eye, never provoke a single remark.
Dear, dear, it only shows that there is nothing diviner
about a king than there is about a tramp, after all.
He is just a cheap and hollow artificiality when you
don’t know he is a king. But reveal his quality, and
dear me it takes your very breath away to look at him.
I reckon we are all fools. Born so, no doubt.

 

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