A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
circling through my tired head: How do people stand this miserable armor? How have
they managed to stand it all these generations? How can they sleep at night for dreading
the tortures of next day?
When the morning came at last, I was in a bad enough plight: seedy, drowsy, fagged,
from want of sleep; weary from thrashing around, famished from long fasting; pining for
a bath, and to get rid of the animals; and crippled with rheumatism. And how had it fared
with the nobly born, the titled aristocrat, the Demoiselle Alisande la Carteloise? Why, she
was as fresh as a squirrel; she had slept like the dead; and as for a bath, probably neither
she nor any other noble in the land had ever had one, and so she was not missing it.
Measured by modern standards, they were merely modified savages, those people. This
noble lady showed no impatience to get to breakfast--and that smacks of the savage, too.
On their journeys those Britons were used to long fasts, and knew how to bear them; and
also how to freight up against probable fasts before starting, after the style of the Indian
and the anaconda. As like as not, Sandy was loaded for a three-day stretch.
We were off before sunrise, Sandy riding and I limping along behind. In half an hour we
came upon a group of ragged poor creatures who had assembled to mend the thing which
was regarded as a road. They were as humble as animals to me; and when I proposed to
breakfast with them, they were so flattered, so overwhelmed by this extraordinary
condescension of mine that at first they were not able to believe that I was in earnest. My
lady put up her scornful lip and withdrew to one side; she said in their hearing that she
would as soon think of eating with the other cattle--a remark which embarrassed these
poor devils merely because it referred to them, and not because it insulted or offended
them, for it didn't.
And yet they were not slaves, not chattels. By a sarcasm of law and phrase they were
freemen. Seven-tenths of the free population of the country were of just their class and
degree: small "independent" farmers, artisans, etc.; which is to say, they were the nation,
the actual Nation; they were about all of it that was useful, or worth saving, or really
respect-worthy, and to subtract them would have been to subtract the Nation and leave
behind some dregs, some refuse, in the shape of a king, nobility and gentry, idle,
unproductive, acquainted mainly with the arts of wasting and destroying, and of no sort
of use or value in any rationally constructed world.
And yet, by ingenious contrivance, this gilded minority, instead of being in the tail of the
procession where it belonged, was marching head up and banners flying, at the other end
of it; had elected itself to be the Nation, and these innumerable clams had permitted it so
long that they had come at last to accept it as a truth; and not only that, but to believe it
right and as it should be. The priests had told their fathers and themselves that this
ironical state of things was ordained of God; and so, not reflecting upon how unlike God
it would be to amuse himself with sarcasms, and especially such poor transparent ones as
this, they had dropped the matter there and become respectfully quiet.