A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Part 8. eBook: Page1
Mark Twain (2004)
Produced by David Widger
A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT
MARK TWAIN (Samuel L. Clemens)
AN ENCOUNTER IN THE DARK
London--to a slave--was a sufficiently interesting place. It wasmerely a great big village; and mainly mud and thatch. The streetswere muddy, crooked, unpaved. The populace was an ever flockingand drifting swarm of rags, and splendors, of nodding plumes andshining armor. The king had a palace there; he saw the outsideof it. It made him sigh; yes, and swear a little, in a poorjuvenile sixth century way. We saw knights and grandees whomwe knew, but they didn't know us in our rags and dirt and rawwelts and bruises, and wouldn't have recognized us if we had hailedthem, nor stopped to answer, either, it being unlawful to speakwith slaves on a chain. Sandy passed within ten yards of me ona mule--hunting for me, I imagined. But the thing which cleanbroke my heart was something which happened in front of our oldbarrack in a square, while we were enduring the spectacle of a manbeing boiled to death in oil for counterfeiting pennies. It wasthe sight of a newsboy--and I couldn't get at him! Still, I hadone comfort--here was proof that Clarence was still alive andbanging away. I meant to be with him before long; the thought wasfull of cheer.
I had one little glimpse of another thing, one day, which gave mea great uplift. It was a wire stretching from housetop to housetop.Telegraph or telephone, sure. I did very much wish I had a littlepiece of it. It was just what I needed, in order to carry out myproject of escape. My idea was to get loose some night, along withthe king, then gag and bind our master, change clothes with him,batter him into the aspect of a stranger, hitch him to the slave-chain,assume possession of the property, march to Camelot, and--
But you get my idea; you see what a stunning dramatic surpriseI would wind up with at the palace. It was all feasible, ifI could only get hold of a slender piece of iron which I couldshape into a lock-pick. I could then undo the lumbering padlockswith which our chains were fastened, whenever I might choose.But I never had any luck; no such thing ever happened to fallin my way. However, my chance came at last. A gentleman whohad come twice before to dicker for me, without result, or indeedany approach to a result, came again. I was far from expectingever to belong to him, for the price asked for me from the timeI was first enslaved was exorbitant, and always provoked eitheranger or derision, yet my master stuck stubbornly to it--twenty-twodollars. He wouldn't bate a cent. The king was greatly admired,because of his grand physique, but his kingly style was againsthim, and he wasn't salable; nobody wanted that kind of a slave.I considered myself safe from parting from him because of myextravagant price. No, I was not expecting to ever belong tothis gentleman whom I have spoken of, but he had something whichI expected would belong to me eventually, if he would but visitus often enough. It was a steel thing with a long pin to it, withwhich his long cloth outside garment was fastened together infront. There were three of them. He had disappointed me twice,because he did not come quite close enough to me to make my projectentirely safe; but this time I succeeded; I captured the lowerclasp of the three, and when he missed it he thought he had lostit on the way.
I had a chance to be glad about a minute, then straightway a chanceto be sad again. For when the purchase was about to fail, as usual,the master suddenly spoke up and said what would be worded thus--in modern English:
"I'll tell you what I'll do. I'm tired supporting these two forno good. Give me twenty-two dollars for this one, and I'll throwthe other one in."
The king couldn't get his breath, he was in such a fury. He beganto choke and gag, and meantime the master and the gentleman movedaway discussing.
"An ye will keep the offer open--"
"'Tis open till the morrow at this hour."
"Then I will answer you at that time," said the gentleman, anddisappeared, the master following him.
I had a time of it to cool the king down, but I managed it.I whispered in his ear, to this effect:
"Your grace _will_ go for nothing, but after another fashion. Andso shall I. To-night we shall both be free."
"Ah! How is that?"
"With this thing which I have stolen, I will unlock these locksand cast off these chains to-night. When he comes about nine-thirtyto inspect us for the night, we will seize him, gag him, batterhim, and early in the morning we will march out of this town,proprietors of this caravan of slaves."
That was as far as I went, but the king was charmed and satisfied.That evening we waited patiently for our fellow-slaves to getto sleep and signify it by the usual sign, for you must not takemany chances on those poor fellows if you can avoid it. It isbest to keep your own secrets. No doubt they fidgeted only aboutas usual, but it didn't seem so to me. It seemed to me that theywere going to be forever getting down to their regular snoring.As the time dragged on I got nervously afraid we shouldn't haveenough of it left for our needs; so I made several prematureattempts, and merely delayed things by it; for I couldn't seemto touch a padlock, there in the dark, without starting a rattleout of it which interrupted somebody's sleep and made him turnover and wake some more of the gang.
But finally I did get my last iron off, and was a free man oncemore. I took a good breath of relief, and reached for the king'sirons. Too late! in comes the master, with a light in one handand his heavy walking-staff in the other. I snuggled close amongthe wallow of snorers, to conceal as nearly as possible that I wasnaked of irons; and I kept a sharp lookout and prepared to springfor my man the moment he should bend over me.
But he didn't approach. He stopped, gazed absently toward ourdusky mass a minute, evidently thinking about something else;then set down his light, moved musingly toward the door, and beforea body could imagine what he was going to do, he was out of thedoor and had closed it behind him.
"Quick!" said the king. "Fetch him back!"
Of course, it was the thing to do, and I was up and out in amoment. But, dear me, there were no lamps in those days, andit was a dark night. But I glimpsed a dim figure a few stepsaway. I darted for it, threw myself upon it, and then there wasa state of things and lively! We fought and scuffled and struggled,and drew a crowd in no time. They took an immense interest inthe fight and encouraged us all they could, and, in fact, couldn'thave been pleasanter or more cordial if it had been their ownfight. Then a tremendous row broke out behind us, and as muchas half of our audience left us, with a rush, to invest somesympathy in that. Lanterns began to swing in all directions;it was the watch gathering from far and near. Presently a halberdfell across my back, as a reminder, and I knew what it meant.I was in custody. So was my adversary. We were marched off towardprison, one on each side of the watchman. Here was disaster,here was a fine scheme gone to sudden destruction! I tried toimagine what would happen when the master should discover thatit was I who had been fighting him; and what would happen if theyjailed us together in the general apartment for brawlers and pettylaw-breakers, as was the custom; and what might--
Just then my antagonist turned his face around in my direction,the freckled light from the watchman's tin lantern fell on it,and, by George, he was the wrong man!