Part 5 out of 7
I turned to start, but the king had already started. He halted,
and looked down upon a man who lay in a dim light, and had not
noticed us thus far, or spoken.
"Is it your husband?" the king asked.
"Is he asleep?"
"God be thanked for that one charity, yes--these three hours.
Where shall I pay to the full, my gratitude! for my heart is
bursting with it for that sleep he sleepeth now."
"We will be careful. We will not wake him."
"Ah, no, that ye will not, for he is dead."
"Yes, what triumph it is to know it! None can harm him, none
insult him more. He is in heaven now, and happy; or if not there,
he bides in hell and is content; for in that place he will find
neither abbot nor yet bishop. We were boy and girl together; we
were man and wife these five and twenty years, and never separated
till this day. Think how long that is to love and suffer together.
This morning was he out of his mind, and in his fancy we were
boy and girl again and wandering in the happy fields; and so in
that innocent glad converse wandered he far and farther, still
lightly gossiping, and entered into those other fields we know
not of, and was shut away from mortal sight. And so there was
no parting, for in his fancy I went with him; he knew not but
I went with him, my hand in his--my young soft hand, not this
withered claw. Ah, yes, to go, and know it not; to separate and
know it not; how could one go peace--fuller than that? It was
his reward for a cruel life patiently borne."
There was a slight noise from the direction of the dim corner where
the ladder was. It was the king descending. I could see that he
was bearing something in one arm, and assisting himself with the
other. He came forward into the light; upon his breast lay a
slender girl of fifteen. She was but half conscious; she was dying
of smallpox. Here was heroism at its last and loftiest possibility,
its utmost summit; this was challenging death in the open field
unarmed, with all the odds against the challenger, no reward set
upon the contest, and no admiring world in silks and cloth of gold
to gaze and applaud; and yet the king's bearing was as serenely
brave as it had always been in those cheaper contests where knight
meets knight in equal fight and clothed in protecting steel. He
was great now; sublimely great. The rude statues of his ancestors
in his palace should have an addition--I would see to that; and it
would not be a mailed king killing a giant or a dragon, like the
rest, it would be a king in commoner's garb bearing death in his
arms that a peasant mother might look her last upon her child and
He laid the girl down by her mother, who poured out endearments
and caresses from an overflowing heart, and one could detect a
flickering faint light of response in the child's eyes, but that
was all. The mother hung over her, kissing her, petting her, and
imploring her to speak, but the lips only moved and no sound came.
I snatched my liquor flask from my knapsack, but the woman forbade
me, and said:
"No--she does not suffer; it is better so. It might bring her back
to life. None that be so good and kind as ye are would do her
that cruel hurt. For look you--what is left to live for? Her
brothers are gone, her father is gone, her mother goeth, the
Church's curse is upon her, and none may shelter or befriend her
even though she lay perishing in the road. She is desolate. I have
not asked you, good heart, if her sister be still on live, here
overhead; I had no need; ye had gone back, else, and not left
the poor thing forsaken--"
"She lieth at peace," interrupted the king, in a subdued voice.
"I would not change it. How rich is this day in happiness! Ah,
my Annis, thou shalt join thy sister soon--thou'rt on thy way,
and these be merciful friends that will not hinder."
And so she fell to murmuring and cooing over the girl again, and
softly stroking her face and hair, and kissing her and calling her
by endearing names; but there was scarcely sign of response now
in the glazing eyes. I saw tears well from the king's eyes, and
trickle down his face. The woman noticed them, too, and said:
"Ah, I know that sign: thou'st a wife at home, poor soul, and
you and she have gone hungry to bed, many's the time, that the
little ones might have your crust; you know what poverty is, and
the daily insults of your betters, and the heavy hand of the Church
and the king."
The king winced under this accidental home-shot, but kept still;
he was learning his part; and he was playing it well, too, for
a pretty dull beginner. I struck up a diversion. I offered the
woman food and liquor, but she refused both. She would allow
nothing to come between her and the release of death. Then I slipped
away and brought the dead child from aloft, and laid it by her.
This broke her down again, and there was another scene that was
full of heartbreak. By and by I made another diversion, and beguiled
her to sketch her story.
"Ye know it well yourselves, having suffered it--for truly none
of our condition in Britain escape it. It is the old, weary tale.
We fought and struggled and succeeded; meaning by success, that
we lived and did not die; more than that is not to be claimed. No
troubles came that we could not outlive, till this year brought
them; then came they all at once, as one might say, and overwhelmed
us. Years ago the lord of the manor planted certain fruit trees on
our farm; in the best part of it, too--a grievous wrong and shame--"
"But it was his right," interrupted the king.
"None denieth that, indeed; an the law mean anything, what is
the lord's is his, and what is mine is his also. Our farm was
ours by lease, therefore 'twas likewise his, to do with it as he
would. Some little time ago, three of those trees were found hewn
down. Our three grown sons ran frightened to report the crime.
Well, in his lordship's dungeon there they lie, who saith there
shall they lie and rot till they confess. They have naught to
confess, being innocent, wherefore there will they remain until
they die. Ye know that right well, I ween. Think how this left us;
a man, a woman and two children, to gather a crop that was planted
by so much greater force, yes, and protect it night and day from
pigeons and prowling animals that be sacred and must not be hurt
by any of our sort. When my lord's crop was nearly ready for
the harvest, so also was ours; when his bell rang to call us to
his fields to harvest his crop for nothing, he would not allow that
I and my two girls should count for our three captive sons, but
for only two of them; so, for the lacking one were we daily fined.
All this time our own crop was perishing through neglect; and so
both the priest and his lordship fined us because their shares
of it were suffering through damage. In the end the fines ate up
our crop--and they took it all; they took it all and made us harvest
it for them, without pay or food, and we starving. Then the worst
came when I, being out of my mind with hunger and loss of my boys,
and grief to see my husband and my little maids in rags and misery
and despair, uttered a deep blasphemy--oh! a thousand of them!--
against the Church and the Church's ways. It was ten days ago.
I had fallen sick with this disease, and it was to the priest
I said the words, for he was come to chide me for lack of due
humility under the chastening hand of God. He carried my trespass
to his betters; I was stubborn; wherefore, presently upon my head
and upon all heads that were dear to me, fell the curse of Rome.
"Since that day we are avoided, shunned with horror. None has
come near this hut to know whether we live or not. The rest of us
were taken down. Then I roused me and got up, as wife and mother
will. It was little they could have eaten in any case; it was
less than little they had to eat. But there was water, and I gave
them that. How they craved it! and how they blessed it! But the
end came yesterday; my strength broke down. Yesterday was the
last time I ever saw my husband and this youngest child alive.
I have lain here all these hours--these ages, ye may say--listening,
listening for any sound up there that--"
She gave a sharp quick glance at her eldest daughter, then cried
out, "Oh, my darling!" and feebly gathered the stiffening form
to her sheltering arms. She had recognized the death-rattle.
THE TRAGEDY OF THE MANOR-HOUSE
At midnight all was over, and we sat in the presence of four
corpses. We covered them with such rags as we could find, and
started away, fastening the door behind us. Their home must be
these people's grave, for they could not have Christian burial,
or be admitted to consecrated ground. They were as dogs, wild
beasts, lepers, and no soul that valued its hope of eternal life
would throw it away by meddling in any sort with these rebuked and
We had not moved four steps when I caught a sound as of footsteps
upon gravel. My heart flew to my throat. We must not be seen
coming from that house. I plucked at the king's robe and we drew
back and took shelter behind the corner of the cabin.
"Now we are safe," I said, "but it was a close call--so to speak.
If the night had been lighter he might have seen us, no doubt,
he seemed to be so near."
"Mayhap it is but a beast and not a man at all."
"True. But man or beast, it will be wise to stay here a minute
and let it get by and out of the way."
"Hark! It cometh hither."
True again. The step was coming toward us--straight toward the hut.
It must be a beast, then, and we might as well have saved our
trepidation. I was going to step out, but the king laid his hand
upon my arm. There was a moment of silence, then we heard a soft
knock on the cabin door. It made me shiver. Presently the knock
was repeated, and then we heard these words in a guarded voice:
"Mother! Father! Open--we have got free, and we bring news to
pale your cheeks but glad your hearts; and we may not tarry, but
must fly! And--but they answer not. Mother! father!--"
I drew the king toward the other end of the hut and whispered:
"Come--now we can get to the road."
The king hesitated, was going to demur; but just then we heard
the door give way, and knew that those desolate men were in the
presence of their dead.
"Come, my liege! in a moment they will strike a light, and then
will follow that which it would break your heart to hear."
He did not hesitate this time. The moment we were in the road
I ran; and after a moment he threw dignity aside and followed.
I did not want to think of what was happening in the hut--I couldn't
bear it; I wanted to drive it out of my mind; so I struck into the
first subject that lay under that one in my mind:
"I have had the disease those people died of, and so have nothing
to fear; but if you have not had it also--"
He broke in upon me to say he was in trouble, and it was his
conscience that was troubling him:
"These young men have got free, they say--but _how_? It is not
likely that their lord hath set them free."
"Oh, no, I make no doubt they escaped."
"That is my trouble; I have a fear that this is so, and your
suspicion doth confirm it, you having the same fear."
"I should not call it by that name though. I do suspect that they
escaped, but if they did, I am not sorry, certainly."
"I am not sorry, I _think_--but--"
"What is it? What is there for one to be troubled about?"
"_If_ they did escape, then are we bound in duty to lay hands upon
them and deliver them again to their lord; for it is not seemly
that one of his quality should suffer a so insolent and high-handed
outrage from persons of their base degree."
There it was again. He could see only one side of it. He was
born so, educated so, his veins were full of ancestral blood that
was rotten with this sort of unconscious brutality, brought down
by inheritance from a long procession of hearts that had each done
its share toward poisoning the stream. To imprison these men
without proof, and starve their kindred, was no harm, for they were
merely peasants and subject to the will and pleasure of their lord,
no matter what fearful form it might take; but for these men to
break out of unjust captivity was insult and outrage, and a thing
not to be countenanced by any conscientious person who knew his
duty to his sacred caste.
I worked more than half an hour before I got him to change the
subject--and even then an outside matter did it for me. This was
a something which caught our eyes as we struck the summit of a
small hill--a red glow, a good way off.
"That's a fire," said I.
Fires interested me considerably, because I was getting a good
deal of an insurance business started, and was also training some
horses and building some steam fire-engines, with an eye to a paid
fire department by and by. The priests opposed both my fire and
life insurance, on the ground that it was an insolent attempt to
hinder the decrees of God; and if you pointed out that they did not
hinder the decrees in the least, but only modified the hard
consequences of them if you took out policies and had luck, they
retorted that that was gambling against the decrees of God, and was
just as bad. So they managed to damage those industries more
or less, but I got even on my Accident business. As a rule, a knight
is a lummox, and some times even a labrick, and hence open to pretty
poor arguments when they come glibly from a superstition-monger,
but even _he_ could see the practical side of a thing once in a while;
and so of late you couldn't clean up a tournament and pile the
result without finding one of my accident-tickets in every helmet.
We stood there awhile, in the thick darkness and stillness, looking
toward the red blur in the distance, and trying to make out the
meaning of a far-away murmur that rose and fell fitfully on the
night. Sometimes it swelled up and for a moment seemed less
remote; but when we were hopefully expecting it to betray its cause
and nature, it dulled and sank again, carrying its mystery with it.
We started down the hill in its direction, and the winding road
plunged us at once into almost solid darkness--darkness that was
packed and crammed in between two tall forest walls. We groped
along down for half a mile, perhaps, that murmur growing more and
more distinct all the time. The coming storm threatening more and
more, with now and then a little shiver of wind, a faint show of
lightning, and dull grumblings of distant thunder. I was in the
lead. I ran against something--a soft heavy something which gave,
slightly, to the impulse of my weight; at the same moment the
lightning glared out, and within a foot of my face was the writhing
face of a man who was hanging from the limb of a tree! That is,
it seemed to be writhing, but it was not. It was a grewsome sight.
Straightway there was an ear-splitting explosion of thunder, and
the bottom of heaven fell out; the rain poured down in a deluge.
No matter, we must try to cut this man down, on the chance that
there might be life in him yet, mustn't we? The lightning came
quick and sharp now, and the place was alternately noonday and
midnight. One moment the man would be hanging before me in an
intense light, and the next he was blotted out again in the darkness.
I told the king we must cut him down. The king at once objected.
"If he hanged himself, he was willing to lose him property to
his lord; so let him be. If others hanged him, belike they had
the right--let him hang."
"But me no buts, but even leave him as he is. And for yet another
reason. When the lightning cometh again--there, look abroad."
Two others hanging, within fifty yards of us!
"It is not weather meet for doing useless courtesies unto dead folk.
They are past thanking you. Come--it is unprofitable to tarry here."
There was reason in what he said, so we moved on. Within the next
mile we counted six more hanging forms by the blaze of the lightning,
and altogether it was a grisly excursion. That murmur was a murmur
no longer, it was a roar; a roar of men's voices. A man came flying
by now, dimly through the darkness, and other men chasing him.
They disappeared. Presently another case of the kind occurred,
and then another and another. Then a sudden turn of the road
brought us in sight of that fire--it was a large manor-house, and
little or nothing was left of it--and everywhere men were flying
and other men raging after them in pursuit.
I warned the king that this was not a safe place for strangers.
We would better get away from the light, until matters should
improve. We stepped back a little, and hid in the edge of the
wood. From this hiding-place we saw both men and women hunted
by the mob. The fearful work went on until nearly dawn. Then,
the fire being out and the storm spent, the voices and flying
footsteps presently ceased, and darkness and stillness reigned again.
We ventured out, and hurried cautiously away; and although we were
worn out and sleepy, we kept on until we had put this place some
miles behind us. Then we asked hospitality at the hut of a charcoal
burner, and got what was to be had. A woman was up and about, but
the man was still asleep, on a straw shake-down, on the clay floor.
The woman seemed uneasy until I explained that we were travelers
and had lost our way and been wandering in the woods all night.
She became talkative, then, and asked if we had heard of the
terrible goings-on at the manor-house of Abblasoure. Yes, we had
heard of them, but what we wanted now was rest and sleep. The
king broke in:
"Sell us the house and take yourselves away, for we be perilous
company, being late come from people that died of the Spotted Death."
It was good of him, but unnecessary. One of the commonest decorations
of the nation was the waffle-iron face. I had early noticed that
the woman and her husband were both so decorated. She made us
entirely welcome, and had no fears; and plainly she was immensely
impressed by the king's proposition; for, of course, it was a good
deal of an event in her life to run across a person of the king's
humble appearance who was ready to buy a man's house for the sake
of a night's lodging. It gave her a large respect for us, and she
strained the lean possibilities of her hovel to the utmost to make
We slept till far into the afternoon, and then got up hungry enough to
make cotter fare quite palatable to the king, the more particularly
as it was scant in quantity. And also in variety; it consisted
solely of onions, salt, and the national black bread made out of
horse-feed. The woman told us about the affair of the evening
before. At ten or eleven at night, when everybody was in bed,
the manor-house burst into flames. The country-side swarmed to
the rescue, and the family were saved, with one exception, the
master. He did not appear. Everybody was frantic over this loss,
and two brave yeomen sacrificed their lives in ransacking the
burning house seeking that valuable personage. But after a while
he was found--what was left of him--which was his corpse. It was
in a copse three hundred yards away, bound, gagged, stabbed in a
Who had done this? Suspicion fell upon a humble family in the
neighborhood who had been lately treated with peculiar harshness
by the baron; and from these people the suspicion easily extended
itself to their relatives and familiars. A suspicion was enough;
my lord's liveried retainers proclaimed an instant crusade against
these people, and were promptly joined by the community in general.
The woman's husband had been active with the mob, and had not
returned home until nearly dawn. He was gone now to find out
what the general result had been. While we were still talking he
came back from his quest. His report was revolting enough. Eighteen
persons hanged or butchered, and two yeomen and thirteen prisoners
lost in the fire.
"And how many prisoners were there altogether in the vaults?"
"Then every one of them was lost?"
"But the people arrived in time to save the family; how is it they
could save none of the prisoners?"
The man looked puzzled, and said:
"Would one unlock the vaults at such a time? Marry, some would
"Then you mean that nobody _did_ unlock them?"
"None went near them, either to lock or unlock. It standeth to
reason that the bolts were fast; wherefore it was only needful
to establish a watch, so that if any broke the bonds he might not
escape, but be taken. None were taken."
"Natheless, three did escape," said the king, "and ye will do well
to publish it and set justice upon their track, for these murthered
the baron and fired the house."
I was just expecting he would come out with that. For a moment
the man and his wife showed an eager interest in this news and
an impatience to go out and spread it; then a sudden something
else betrayed itself in their faces, and they began to ask questions.
I answered the questions myself, and narrowly watched the effects
produced. I was soon satisfied that the knowledge of who these
three prisoners were had somehow changed the atmosphere; that
our hosts' continued eagerness to go and spread the news was now
only pretended and not real. The king did not notice the change,
and I was glad of that. I worked the conversation around toward
other details of the night's proceedings, and noted that these
people were relieved to have it take that direction.
The painful thing observable about all this business was the
alacrity with which this oppressed community had turned their
cruel hands against their own class in the interest of the common
oppressor. This man and woman seemed to feel that in a quarrel
between a person of their own class and his lord, it was the natural
and proper and rightful thing for that poor devil's whole caste
to side with the master and fight his battle for him, without ever
stopping to inquire into the rights or wrongs of the matter. This
man had been out helping to hang his neighbors, and had done his
work with zeal, and yet was aware that there was nothing against
them but a mere suspicion, with nothing back of it describable
as evidence, still neither he nor his wife seemed to see anything
horrible about it.
This was depressing--to a man with the dream of a republic in his
head. It reminded me of a time thirteen centuries away, when
the "poor whites" of our South who were always despised and
frequently insulted by the slave-lords around them, and who owed
their base condition simply to the presence of slavery in their
midst, were yet pusillanimously ready to side with the slave-lords
in all political moves for the upholding and perpetuating of
slavery, and did also finally shoulder their muskets and pour out
their lives in an effort to prevent the destruction of that very
institution which degraded them. And there was only one redeeming
feature connected with that pitiful piece of history; and that was,
that secretly the "poor white" did detest the slave-lord, and did
feel his own shame. That feeling was not brought to the surface,
but the fact that it was there and could have been brought out,
under favoring circumstances, was something--in fact, it was enough;
for it showed that a man is at bottom a man, after all, even if it
doesn't show on the outside.
Well, as it turned out, this charcoal burner was just the twin of
the Southern "poor white" of the far future. The king presently
showed impatience, and said:
"An ye prattle here all the day, justice will miscarry. Think ye
the criminals will abide in their father's house? They are fleeing,
they are not waiting. You should look to it that a party of horse
be set upon their track."
The woman paled slightly, but quite perceptibly, and the man looked
flustered and irresolute. I said:
"Come, friend, I will walk a little way with you, and explain which
direction I think they would try to take. If they were merely
resisters of the gabelle or some kindred absurdity I would try
to protect them from capture; but when men murder a person of
high degree and likewise burn his house, that is another matter."
The last remark was for the king--to quiet him. On the road
the man pulled his resolution together, and began the march with
a steady gait, but there was no eagerness in it. By and by I said:
"What relation were these men to you--cousins?"
He turned as white as his layer of charcoal would let him, and
"Ah, my God, how know ye that?"
"I didn't know it; it was a chance guess."
"Poor lads, they are lost. And good lads they were, too."
"Were you actually going yonder to tell on them?"
He didn't quite know how to take that; but he said, hesitatingly:
"Then I think you are a damned scoundrel!"
It made him as glad as if I had called him an angel.
"Say the good words again, brother! for surely ye mean that ye
would not betray me an I failed of my duty."
"Duty? There is no duty in the matter, except the duty to keep
still and let those men get away. They've done a righteous deed."
He looked pleased; pleased, and touched with apprehension at the
same time. He looked up and down the road to see that no one
was coming, and then said in a cautious voice:
"From what land come you, brother, that you speak such perilous
words, and seem not to be afraid?"
"They are not perilous words when spoken to one of my own caste,
I take it. You would not tell anybody I said them?"
"I? I would be drawn asunder by wild horses first."
"Well, then, let me say my say. I have no fears of your repeating
it. I think devil's work has been done last night upon those
innocent poor people. That old baron got only what he deserved.
If I had my way, all his kind should have the same luck."
Fear and depression vanished from the man's manner, and gratefulness
and a brave animation took their place:
"Even though you be a spy, and your words a trap for my undoing,
yet are they such refreshment that to hear them again and others
like to them, I would go to the gallows happy, as having had one
good feast at least in a starved life. And I will say my say now,
and ye may report it if ye be so minded. I helped to hang my
neighbors for that it were peril to my own life to show lack of
zeal in the master's cause; the others helped for none other reason.
All rejoice to-day that he is dead, but all do go about seemingly
sorrowing, and shedding the hypocrite's tear, for in that lies
safety. I have said the words, I have said the words! the only
ones that have ever tasted good in my mouth, and the reward of
that taste is sufficient. Lead on, an ye will, be it even to the
scaffold, for I am ready."
There it was, you see. A man is a man, at bottom. Whole ages
of abuse and oppression cannot crush the manhood clear out of him.
Whoever thinks it a mistake is himself mistaken. Yes, there is
plenty good enough material for a republic in the most degraded
people that ever existed--even the Russians; plenty of manhood
in them--even in the Germans--if one could but force it out of
its timid and suspicious privacy, to overthrow and trample in the
mud any throne that ever was set up and any nobility that ever
supported it. We should see certain things yet, let us hope and
believe. First, a modified monarchy, till Arthur's days were done,
then the destruction of the throne, nobility abolished, every
member of it bound out to some useful trade, universal suffrage
instituted, and the whole government placed in the hands of the
men and women of the nation there to remain. Yes, there was no
occasion to give up my dream yet a while.
We strolled along in a sufficiently indolent fashion now, and
talked. We must dispose of about the amount of time it ought
to take to go to the little hamlet of Abblasoure and put justice
on the track of those murderers and get back home again. And
meantime I had an auxiliary interest which had never paled yet,
never lost its novelty for me since I had been in Arthur's kingdom:
the behavior--born of nice and exact subdivisions of caste--of chance
passers-by toward each other. Toward the shaven monk who trudged
along with his cowl tilted back and the sweat washing down his
fat jowls, the coal-burner was deeply reverent; to the gentleman
he was abject; with the small farmer and the free mechanic he was
cordial and gossipy; and when a slave passed by with a countenance
respectfully lowered, this chap's nose was in the air--he couldn't
even see him. Well, there are times when one would like to hang
the whole human race and finish the farce.
Presently we struck an incident. A small mob of half-naked boys
and girls came tearing out of the woods, scared and shrieking.
The eldest among them were not more than twelve or fourteen years
old. They implored help, but they were so beside themselves that
we couldn't make out what the matter was. However, we plunged
into the wood, they skurrying in the lead, and the trouble was
quickly revealed: they had hanged a little fellow with a bark rope,
and he was kicking and struggling, in the process of choking to
death. We rescued him, and fetched him around. It was some more
human nature; the admiring little folk imitating their elders;
they were playing mob, and had achieved a success which promised
to be a good deal more serious than they had bargained for.
It was not a dull excursion for me. I managed to put in the time
very well. I made various acquaintanceships, and in my quality
of stranger was able to ask as many questions as I wanted to.
A thing which naturally interested me, as a statesman, was the
matter of wages. I picked up what I could under that head during
the afternoon. A man who hasn't had much experience, and doesn't
think, is apt to measure a nation's prosperity or lack of prosperity
by the mere size of the prevailing wages; if the wages be high, the
nation is prosperous; if low, it isn't. Which is an error. It
isn't what sum you get, it's how much you can buy with it, that's
the important thing; and it's that that tells whether your wages
are high in fact or only high in name. I could remember how it
was in the time of our great civil war in the nineteenth century.
In the North a carpenter got three dollars a day, gold valuation;
in the South he got fifty--payable in Confederate shinplasters
worth a dollar a bushel. In the North a suit of overalls cost
three dollars--a day's wages; in the South it cost seventy-five--
which was two days' wages. Other things were in proportion.
Consequently, wages were twice as high in the North as they were
in the South, because the one wage had that much more purchasing
power than the other had.
Yes, I made various acquaintances in the hamlet and a thing that
gratified me a good deal was to find our new coins in circulation--
lots of milrays, lots of mills, lots of cents, a good many nickels,
and some silver; all this among the artisans and commonalty
generally; yes, and even some gold--but that was at the bank,
that is to say, the goldsmith's. I dropped in there while Marco,
the son of Marco, was haggling with a shopkeeper over a quarter
of a pound of salt, and asked for change for a twenty-dollar gold
piece. They furnished it--that is, after they had chewed the piece,
and rung it on the counter, and tried acid on it, and asked me
where I got it, and who I was, and where I was from, and where
I was going to, and when I expected to get there, and perhaps
a couple of hundred more questions; and when they got aground,
I went right on and furnished them a lot of information voluntarily;
told them I owned a dog, and his name was Watch, and my first wife
was a Free Will Baptist, and her grandfather was a Prohibitionist,
and I used to know a man who had two thumbs on each hand and a wart
on the inside of his upper lip, and died in the hope of a glorious
resurrection, and so on, and so on, and so on, till even that
hungry village questioner began to look satisfied, and also a shade
put out; but he had to respect a man of my financial strength,
and so he didn't give me any lip, but I noticed he took it out of
his underlings, which was a perfectly natural thing to do. Yes,
they changed my twenty, but I judged it strained the bank a little,
which was a thing to be expected, for it was the same as walking
into a paltry village store in the nineteenth century and requiring
the boss of it to change a two thousand-dollar bill for you all
of a sudden. He could do it, maybe; but at the same time he
would wonder how a small farmer happened to be carrying so much
money around in his pocket; which was probably this goldsmith's
thought, too; for he followed me to the door and stood there gazing
after me with reverent admiration.
Our new money was not only handsomely circulating, but its language
was already glibly in use; that is to say, people had dropped
the names of the former moneys, and spoke of things as being worth
so many dollars or cents or mills or milrays now. It was very
gratifying. We were progressing, that was sure.
I got to know several master mechanics, but about the most interesting
fellow among them was the blacksmith, Dowley. He was a live man
and a brisk talker, and had two journeymen and three apprentices,
and was doing a raging business. In fact, he was getting rich,
hand over fist, and was vastly respected. Marco was very proud of
having such a man for a friend. He had taken me there ostensibly
to let me see the big establishment which bought so much of his
charcoal, but really to let me see what easy and almost familiar
terms he was on with this great man. Dowley and I fraternized
at once; I had had just such picked men, splendid fellows, under
me in the Colt Arms Factory. I was bound to see more of him, so
I invited him to come out to Marco's Sunday, and dine with us.
Marco was appalled, and held his breath; and when the grandee
accepted, he was so grateful that he almost forgot to be astonished
at the condescension.
Marco's joy was exuberant--but only for a moment; then he grew
thoughtful, then sad; and when he heard me tell Dowley I should
have Dickon, the boss mason, and Smug, the boss wheelwright, out
there, too, the coal-dust on his face turned to chalk, and he lost
his grip. But I knew what was the matter with him; it was the
expense. He saw ruin before him; he judged that his financial
days were numbered. However, on our way to invite the others,
"You must allow me to have these friends come; and you must also
allow me to pay the costs."
His face cleared, and he said with spirit:
"But not all of it, not all of it. Ye cannot well bear a burden
like to this alone."
I stopped him, and said:
"Now let's understand each other on the spot, old friend. I am
only a farm bailiff, it is true; but I am not poor, nevertheless.
I have been very fortunate this year--you would be astonished
to know how I have thriven. I tell you the honest truth when I say
I could squander away as many as a dozen feasts like this and never
care _that_ for the expense!" and I snapped my fingers. I could
see myself rise a foot at a time in Marco's estimation, and when
I fetched out those last words I was become a very tower for style
and altitude. "So you see, you must let me have my way. You
can't contribute a cent to this orgy, that's _settled_."
"It's grand and good of you--"
"No, it isn't. You've opened your house to Jones and me in the
most generous way; Jones was remarking upon it to-day, just before
you came back from the village; for although he wouldn't be likely
to say such a thing to you--because Jones isn't a talker, and is
diffident in society--he has a good heart and a grateful, and
knows how to appreciate it when he is well treated; yes, you and
your wife have been very hospitable toward us--"
"Ah, brother, 'tis nothing--_such_ hospitality!"
"But it _is_ something; the best a man has, freely given, is always
something, and is as good as a prince can do, and ranks right
along beside it--for even a prince can but do his best. And so
we'll shop around and get up this layout now, and don't you worry
about the expense. I'm one of the worst spendthrifts that ever
was born. Why, do you know, sometimes in a single week I spend--
but never mind about that--you'd never believe it anyway."
And so we went gadding along, dropping in here and there, pricing
things, and gossiping with the shopkeepers about the riot, and now
and then running across pathetic reminders of it, in the persons of
shunned and tearful and houseless remnants of families whose homes
had been taken from them and their parents butchered or hanged.
The raiment of Marco and his wife was of coarse tow-linen and
linsey-woolsey respectively, and resembled township maps, it being
made up pretty exclusively of patches which had been added, township
by township, in the course of five or six years, until hardly a
hand's-breadth of the original garments was surviving and present.
Now I wanted to fit these people out with new suits, on account of
that swell company, and I didn't know just how to get at it--
with delicacy, until at last it struck me that as I had already
been liberal in inventing wordy gratitude for the king, it would
be just the thing to back it up with evidence of a substantial
sort; so I said:
"And Marco, there's another thing which you must permit--out of
kindness for Jones--because you wouldn't want to offend him.
He was very anxious to testify his appreciation in some way, but
he is so diffident he couldn't venture it himself, and so he begged
me to buy some little things and give them to you and Dame Phyllis
and let him pay for them without your ever knowing they came from
him--you know how a delicate person feels about that sort of thing--
and so I said I would, and we would keep mum. Well, his idea
was, a new outfit of clothes for you both--"
"Oh, it is wastefulness! It may not be, brother, it may not be.
Consider the vastness of the sum--"
"Hang the vastness of the sum! Try to keep quiet for a moment,
and see how it would seem; a body can't get in a word edgeways,
you talk so much. You ought to cure that, Marco; it isn't good
form, you know, and it will grow on you if you don't check it.
Yes, we'll step in here now and price this man's stuff--and don't
forget to remember to not let on to Jones that you know he had
anything to do with it. You can't think how curiously sensitive
and proud he is. He's a farmer--pretty fairly well-to-do farmer--
an I'm his bailiff; _but_--the imagination of that man! Why,
sometimes when he forgets himself and gets to blowing off, you'd
think he was one of the swells of the earth; and you might listen
to him a hundred years and never take him for a farmer--especially if
he talked agriculture. He _thinks_ he's a Sheol of a farmer; thinks
he's old Grayback from Wayback; but between you and me privately
he don't know as much about farming as he does about running
a kingdom--still, whatever he talks about, you want to drop your
underjaw and listen, the same as if you had never heard such
incredible wisdom in all your life before, and were afraid you
might die before you got enough of it. That will please Jones."
It tickled Marco to the marrow to hear about such an odd character;
but it also prepared him for accidents; and in my experience when
you travel with a king who is letting on to be something else and
can't remember it more than about half the time, you can't take
too many precautions.
This was the best store we had come across yet; it had everything
in it, in small quantities, from anvils and drygoods all the way
down to fish and pinchbeck jewelry. I concluded I would bunch
my whole invoice right here, and not go pricing around any more.
So I got rid of Marco, by sending him off to invite the mason and
the wheelwright, which left the field free to me. For I never care
to do a thing in a quiet way; it's got to be theatrical or I don't
take any interest in it. I showed up money enough, in a careless
way, to corral the shopkeeper's respect, and then I wrote down
a list of the things I wanted, and handed it to him to see if he
could read it. He could, and was proud to show that he could.
He said he had been educated by a priest, and could both read
and write. He ran it through, and remarked with satisfaction that
it was a pretty heavy bill. Well, and so it was, for a little
concern like that. I was not only providing a swell dinner, but
some odds and ends of extras. I ordered that the things be carted
out and delivered at the dwelling of Marco, the son of Marco,
by Saturday evening, and send me the bill at dinner-time Sunday.
He said I could depend upon his promptness and exactitude, it was
the rule of the house. He also observed that he would throw in
a couple of miller-guns for the Marcos gratis--that everybody
was using them now. He had a mighty opinion of that clever
device. I said:
"And please fill them up to the middle mark, too; and add that
to the bill."
He would, with pleasure. He filled them, and I took them with
me. I couldn't venture to tell him that the miller-gun was a
little invention of my own, and that I had officially ordered that
every shopkeeper in the kingdom keep them on hand and sell them
at government price--which was the merest trifle, and the shopkeeper
got that, not the government. We furnished them for nothing.
The king had hardly missed us when we got back at nightfall. He
had early dropped again into his dream of a grand invasion of Gaul
with the whole strength of his kingdom at his back, and the afternoon
had slipped away without his ever coming to himself again.
Well, when that cargo arrived toward sunset, Saturday afternoon,
I had my hands full to keep the Marcos from fainting. They were
sure Jones and I were ruined past help, and they blamed themselves
as accessories to this bankruptcy. You see, in addition to the
dinner-materials, which called for a sufficiently round sum,
I had bought a lot of extras for the future comfort of the family:
for instance, a big lot of wheat, a delicacy as rare to the tables
of their class as was ice-cream to a hermit's; also a sizeable
deal dinner-table; also two entire pounds of salt, which was
another piece of extravagance in those people's eyes; also crockery,
stools, the clothes, a small cask of beer, and so on. I instructed
the Marcos to keep quiet about this sumptuousness, so as to give
me a chance to surprise the guests and show off a little. Concerning
the new clothes, the simple couple were like children; they were up
and down, all night, to see if it wasn't nearly daylight, so that
they could put them on, and they were into them at last as much
as an hour before dawn was due. Then their pleasure--not to say
delirium--was so fresh and novel and inspiring that the sight of it
paid me well for the interruptions which my sleep had suffered.
The king had slept just as usual--like the dead. The Marcos could
not thank him for their clothes, that being forbidden; but they
tried every way they could think of to make him see how grateful
they were. Which all went for nothing: he didn't notice any change.
It turned out to be one of those rich and rare fall days which is
just a June day toned down to a degree where it is heaven to be
out of doors. Toward noon the guests arrived, and we assembled
under a great tree and were soon as sociable as old acquaintances.
Even the king's reserve melted a little, though it was some little
trouble to him to adjust himself to the name of Jones along at
first. I had asked him to try to not forget that he was a farmer;
but I had also considered it prudent to ask him to let the thing
stand at that, and not elaborate it any. Because he was just the
kind of person you could depend on to spoil a little thing like
that if you didn't warn him, his tongue was so handy, and his
spirit so willing, and his information so uncertain.
Dowley was in fine feather, and I early got him started, and then
adroitly worked him around onto his own history for a text and
himself for a hero, and then it was good to sit there and hear him
hum. Self-made man, you know. They know how to talk. They do
deserve more credit than any other breed of men, yes, that is true;
and they are among the very first to find it out, too. He told how
he had begun life an orphan lad without money and without friends
able to help him; how he had lived as the slaves of the meanest
master lived; how his day's work was from sixteen to eighteen hours
long, and yielded him only enough black bread to keep him in a
half-fed condition; how his faithful endeavors finally attracted
the attention of a good blacksmith, who came near knocking him
dead with kindness by suddenly offering, when he was totally
unprepared, to take him as his bound apprentice for nine years
and give him board and clothes and teach him the trade--or "mystery"
as Dowley called it. That was his first great rise, his first
gorgeous stroke of fortune; and you saw that he couldn't yet speak
of it without a sort of eloquent wonder and delight that such a
gilded promotion should have fallen to the lot of a common human
being. He got no new clothing during his apprenticeship, but on
his graduation day his master tricked him out in spang-new tow-linens
and made him feel unspeakably rich and fine.
"I remember me of that day!" the wheelwright sang out, with
"And I likewise!" cried the mason. "I would not believe they
were thine own; in faith I could not."
"Nor other!" shouted Dowley, with sparkling eyes. "I was like
to lose my character, the neighbors wending I had mayhap been
stealing. It was a great day, a great day; one forgetteth not
days like that."
Yes, and his master was a fine man, and prosperous, and always
had a great feast of meat twice in the year, and with it white
bread, true wheaten bread; in fact, lived like a lord, so to speak.
And in time Dowley succeeded to the business and married the daughter.
"And now consider what is come to pass," said he, impressively.
"Two times in every month there is fresh meat upon my table."
He made a pause here, to let that fact sink home, then added--
"and eight times salt meat."
"It is even true," said the wheelwright, with bated breath.
"I know it of mine own knowledge," said the mason, in the same
"On my table appeareth white bread every Sunday in the year,"
added the master smith, with solemnity. "I leave it to your own
consciences, friends, if this is not also true?"
"By my head, yes," cried the mason.
"I can testify it--and I do," said the wheelwright.
"And as to furniture, ye shall say yourselves what mine equipment
is." He waved his hand in fine gesture of granting frank and
unhampered freedom of speech, and added: "Speak as ye are moved;
speak as ye would speak; an I were not here."
"Ye have five stools, and of the sweetest workmanship at that, albeit
your family is but three," said the wheelwright, with deep respect.
"And six wooden goblets, and six platters of wood and two of pewter
to eat and drink from withal," said the mason, impressively. "And
I say it as knowing God is my judge, and we tarry not here alway,
but must answer at the last day for the things said in the body,
be they false or be they sooth."
"Now ye know what manner of man I am, brother Jones," said the
smith, with a fine and friendly condescension, "and doubtless ye
would look to find me a man jealous of his due of respect and
but sparing of outgo to strangers till their rating and quality be
assured, but trouble yourself not, as concerning that; wit ye well
ye shall find me a man that regardeth not these matters but is
willing to receive any he as his fellow and equal that carrieth
a right heart in his body, be his worldly estate howsoever modest.
And in token of it, here is my hand; and I say with my own mouth
we are equals--equals"--and he smiled around on the company with
the satisfaction of a god who is doing the handsome and gracious
thing and is quite well aware of it.
The king took the hand with a poorly disguised reluctance, and
let go of it as willingly as a lady lets go of a fish; all of which
had a good effect, for it was mistaken for an embarrassment natural
to one who was being called upon by greatness.
The dame brought out the table now, and set it under the tree.
It caused a visible stir of surprise, it being brand new and a
sumptuous article of deal. But the surprise rose higher still
when the dame, with a body oozing easy indifference at every pore,
but eyes that gave it all away by absolutely flaming with vanity,
slowly unfolded an actual simon-pure tablecloth and spread it.
That was a notch above even the blacksmith's domestic grandeurs,
and it hit him hard; you could see it. But Marco was in Paradise;
you could see that, too. Then the dame brought two fine new
stools--whew! that was a sensation; it was visible in the eyes of
every guest. Then she brought two more--as calmly as she could.
Sensation again--with awed murmurs. Again she brought two--
walking on air, she was so proud. The guests were petrified, and
the mason muttered:
"There is that about earthly pomps which doth ever move to reverence."
As the dame turned away, Marco couldn't help slapping on the climax
while the thing was hot; so he said with what was meant for a
languid composure but was a poor imitation of it:
"These suffice; leave the rest."
So there were more yet! It was a fine effect. I couldn't have
played the hand better myself.
From this out, the madam piled up the surprises with a rush that
fired the general astonishment up to a hundred and fifty in the
shade, and at the same time paralyzed expression of it down to
gasped "Oh's" and "Ah's," and mute upliftings of hands and eyes.
She fetched crockery--new, and plenty of it; new wooden goblets
and other table furniture; and beer, fish, chicken, a goose, eggs,
roast beef, roast mutton, a ham, a small roast pig, and a wealth
of genuine white wheaten bread. Take it by and large, that spread
laid everything far and away in the shade that ever that crowd had
seen before. And while they sat there just simply stupefied with
wonder and awe, I sort of waved my hand as if by accident, and
the storekeeper's son emerged from space and said he had come
"That's all right," I said, indifferently. "What is the amount?
give us the items."
Then he read off this bill, while those three amazed men listened,
and serene waves of satisfaction rolled over my soul and alternate
waves of terror and admiration surged over Marco's:
2 pounds salt . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 200
8 dozen pints beer, in the wood . . . . . 800
3 bushels wheat . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2,700
2 pounds fish . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 100
3 hens . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 400
1 goose . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 400
3 dozen eggs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 150
1 roast of beef . . . . . . . . . . . . . 450
1 roast of mutton . . . . . . . . . . . . 400
1 ham . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 800
1 sucking pig . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 500
2 crockery dinner sets . . . . . . . . . 6,000
2 men's suits and underwear . . . . . . . 2,800
1 stuff and 1 linsey-woolsey gown
and underwear . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1,600
8 wooden goblets . . . . . . . . . . . . 800
Various table furniture . . . . . . . . .10,000
1 deal table . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3,000
8 stools . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4,000
2 miller guns, loaded . . . . . . . . . . 3,000
He ceased. There was a pale and awful silence. Not a limb stirred.
Not a nostril betrayed the passage of breath.
"Is that all?" I asked, in a voice of the most perfect calmness.
"All, fair sir, save that certain matters of light moment are
placed together under a head hight sundries. If it would like
you, I will sepa--"
"It is of no consequence," I said, accompanying the words with
a gesture of the most utter indifference; "give me the grand
The clerk leaned against the tree to stay himself, and said:
"Thirty-nine thousand one hundred and fifty milrays!"
The wheelwright fell off his stool, the others grabbed the table
to save themselves, and there was a deep and general ejaculation of:
"God be with us in the day of disaster!"
The clerk hastened to say:
"My father chargeth me to say he cannot honorably require you
to pay it all at this time, and therefore only prayeth you--"
I paid no more heed than if it were the idle breeze, but, with an
air of indifference amounting almost to weariness, got out my money
and tossed four dollars on to the table. Ah, you should have seen
The clerk was astonished and charmed. He asked me to retain
one of the dollars as security, until he could go to town and--
"What, and fetch back nine cents? Nonsense! Take the whole.
Keep the change."
There was an amazed murmur to this effect:
"Verily this being is _made_ of money! He throweth it away even
as if it were dirt."
The blacksmith was a crushed man.
The clerk took his money and reeled away drunk with fortune. I said
to Marco and his wife:
"Good folk, here is a little trifle for you"--handing the miller-guns
as if it were a matter of no consequence, though each of them
contained fifteen cents in solid cash; and while the poor creatures
went to pieces with astonishment and gratitude, I turned to the
others and said as calmly as one would ask the time of day:
"Well, if we are all ready, I judge the dinner is. Come, fall to."
Ah, well, it was immense; yes, it was a daisy. I don't know that
I ever put a situation together better, or got happier spectacular
effects out of the materials available. The blacksmith--well, he
was simply mashed. Land! I wouldn't have felt what that man was
feeling, for anything in the world. Here he had been blowing and
bragging about his grand meat-feast twice a year, and his fresh
meat twice a month, and his salt meat twice a week, and his white
bread every Sunday the year round--all for a family of three; the
entire cost for the year not above 69.2.6 (sixty-nine cents, two
mills and six milrays), and all of a sudden here comes along a man
who slashes out nearly four dollars on a single blow-out; and not
only that, but acts as if it made him tired to handle such small
sums. Yes, Dowley was a good deal wilted, and shrunk-up and
collapsed; he had the aspect of a bladder-balloon that's been
stepped on by a cow.
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
"_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?"
"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
Shucks! Well, of course, I hated to give it up. So I chanced
"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
"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
"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."
"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?"
"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.
"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?"
"They begin by clodding him; and they laugh themselves to pieces
to see him try to dodge one clod and get hit with another?"
"Then they throw dead cats at him, don't they?"
"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.
THE YANKEE AND THE KING SOLD AS SLAVES
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 mustard-seed 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
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
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
"Yes, sire, that is about it, I am afraid, though I was hoping
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
stone-throwing, 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
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."
"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."
"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.