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By Mark Twain
Fantasy fiction Satire Knights and knighthood – Fiction Arthurian romances – Adaptations Time travel – Fiction Americans – Great Britain – Fiction Kings and rulers – Fiction Britons – Fiction
Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens)
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Part 6.
THE YANKEE AND THE KING TRAVEL INCOGNITO
About bedtime I took the king to my private quarters to cut his hair and help him get the hang of the lowly raiment he was to wear. The high classes wore their hair banged across the forehead but hanging to the shoulders the rest of the way around, whereas the lowest ranks of commoners were banged fore and aft both; the slaves were bangless, and allowed their hair free growth. So I inverted a bowl over his head and cut away all the locks that hung below it. I also trimmed his whiskers and mustache until they were only about a half—inch long; and tried to do it inartistically, and succeeded. It was a villainous disfigurement. When he got his lubberly sandals on, and his long robe of coarse brown linen cloth, which hung straight from his neck to his ankle—bones, he was no longer the comeliest man in his kingdom, but one of the unhandsomest and most commonplace and unattractive. We were dressed and barbered alike, and could pass for small farmers, or farm bailiffs, or shepherds, or carters; yes, or for village artisans, if we chose, our costume being in effect universal among the poor, because of its strength and cheapness. I don’t mean that it was really cheap to a very poor person, but I do mean that it was the cheapest material there was for male attire–manufactured material, you understand.
We slipped away an hour before dawn, and by broad sun—up had made eight or ten miles, and were in the midst of a sparsely settled country. I had a pretty heavy knapsack; it was laden with provisions–provisions for the king to taper down on, till he could take to the coarse fare of the country without damage.
I found a comfortable seat for the king by the roadside, and then gave him a morsel or two to stay his stomach with. Then I said I would find some water for him, and strolled away. Part of my project was to get out of sight and sit down and rest a little myself. It had always been my custom to stand when in his presence; even at the council board, except upon those rare occasions when the sitting was a very long one, extending over hours; then I had a trifling little backless thing which was like a reversed culvert and was as comfortable as the toothache. I didn’t want to break him in suddenly, but do it by degrees. We should have to sit together now when in company, or people would notice; but it would not be good politics for me to be playing equality with him when there was no necessity for it.
I found the water some three hundred yards away, and had been resting about twenty minutes, when I heard voices. That is all right, I thought–peasants going to work; nobody else likely to be stirring this early. But the next moment these comers jingled into sight around a turn of the road–smartly clad people of quality, with luggage—mules and servants in their train! I was off like a shot, through the bushes, by the shortest cut. For a while it did seem that these people would pass the king before I could get to him; but desperation gives you wings, you know, and I canted my body forward, inflated my breast, and held my breath and flew. I arrived. And in plenty good enough time, too.
“Pardon, my king, but it’s no time for ceremony–jump! Jump to your feet–some quality are coming!”
“Is that a marvel? Let them come.”
“But my liege! You must not be seen sitting. Rise!–and stand in humble posture while they pass. You are a peasant, you know.”
“True–I had forgot it, so lost was I in planning of a huge war with Gaul”–he was up by this time, but a farm could have got up quicker, if there was any kind of a boom in real estate–“and right—so a thought came randoming overthwart this majestic dream the which–”
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