"A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's
THE YANKEE'S FIGHT WITH THE KNIGHTS
HOME again, at Camelot. A morning or two later I found the paper, damp from
the press, by my plate at the breakfast table. I turned to the advertising
columns, knowing I should find something of personal interest to me there. It
DE PAR LE ROI. Know that the great lord and illustrious Knight, SIR SAGRAMOR
LE DESIROUS naving condescended to meet the King's Minister, Hank Morgan, the
which is surnamed The Boss, for satisfaction of offence anciently given, these
will engage in the lists by Camelot about the fourth hour of the morning of the
sixteenth day of this next succeeding month. The battle will be a l outrance,
sith the said offence was of a deadly sort, admitting of no composition. DE PAR
Clarence's editorial reference to this affair was to this effect:
It will be observed, by a glance at our advertising columns, that the
community is to be favored with a treat of unusual interest in the tournament
line. The names of the artists are warrant of good entertainment. The box-office
will be open at noon of the 13th; admission 3 cents, reserved seats 5; proceeds
to go to the hospital fund The royal pair and all the Court will be present.
With these exceptions, and the press and the clergy, the free list is strictly
suspended. Parties are hereby warned against buying tickets of speculators; they
will not be good at the door. Everybody knows and likes The Boss, everybody
knows and likes Sir Sag.; come, let us give the lads a good sendoff. Remember,
the proceeds go to a great and free charity, and one whose broad benevolence
stretches out its helping hand, warm with the blood of a loving heart, to all
that suffer, regardless of race, creed, condition or color--the only charity yet
established in the earth which has no politico-religious stopcock on its
compassion, but says Here flows the stream, let ALL come and drink! Turn out,
all hands! fetch along your doughnuts and your gum-drops and have a good time.
Pie for sale on the grounds, and rocks to crack it with; and
circus-lemonade--three drops of lime juice to a barrel of water. N.B. This is
the first tournament under the new law, whidh allow each combatant to use any
weapon he may prefer. You may want to make a note of that.
Up to the day set, there was no talk in all Britain of anything but this
combat. All other topics sank into insignificance and passed out of men's
thoughts and interest. It was not because a tournament was a great matter, it
was not because Sir Sagramor had found the Holy Grail, for he had not, but had
failed; it was not because the second (official) personage in the kingdom was
one of the duellists; no, all these features were commonplace. Yet there was
abundant reason for the extraordinary interest which this coming fight was
creating. It was born of the fact that all the nation knew that this was not to
be a duel between mere men, so to speak, but a duel between two mighty
magicians; a duel not of muscle but of mind, not of human skill but of
superhuman art and craft; a final struggle for supremacy between the two master
enchanters of the age. It was realized that the most prodigious achievements of
the most renowned knights could not be worthy of comparison with a spectacle
like this; they could be but child's play, contrasted with this mysterious and
awful battle of the gods. Yes, all the world knew it was going to be in reality
a duel between Merlin and me, a measuring of his magic powers against mine. It
was known that Merlin had been busy whole days and nights together, imbuing Sir
Sagramor's arms and armor with supernal powers of offense and defense, and that
he had procured for him from the spirits of the air a fleecy veil which would
render the wearer invisible to his antagonist while still visible to other men.
Against Sir Sagramor, so weaponed and protected, a thousand knights could
accomplish nothing; against him no known enchantments could prevail. These facts
were sure; regarding them there was no doubt, no reason for doubt. There was but
one question: might there be still other enchantments, UNKNOWN to Merlin, which
could render Sir Sagramor's veil transparent to me, and make his enchanted mail
vulnerable to my weapons? This was the one thing to be decided in the lists.
Until then the world must remain in suspense.
So the world thought there was a vast matter at stake here, and the world was
right, but it was not the one they had in their minds. No, a far vaster one was
upon the cast of this die: THE LIFE OF KNIGHT-ERRANTRY. I was a champion, it was
true, but not the champion of the frivolous black arts, I was the champion of
hard unsentimental common-sense and reason. I was entering the lists to either
destroy knight-errantry or be its victim.
Vast as the show-grounds were, there were no vacant spaces in them outside of
the lists, at ten o'clock on the morning of the 16th. The mammoth grand-stand
was clothed in flags, streamers, and rich tapestries, and packed with several
acres of small-fry tributary kings, their suites, and the British aristocracy;
with our own royal gang in the chief place, and each and every individual a
flashing prism of gaudy silks and velvets -- well, I never saw anything to begin
with it but a fight between an Upper Mississippi sunset and the aurora borealis.
The huge camp of beflagged and gay-colored tents at one end of the lists, with a
stiff-standing sentinel at every door and a shining shield hanging by him for
challenge, was another fine sight. You see, every knight was there who had any
ambition or any caste feeling; for my feeling toward their order was not much of
a secret, and so here was their chance. If I won my fight with Sir Sagramor,
others would have the right to call me out as long as I might be willing to
Down at our end there were but two tents; one for me, and another for my
servants. At the appointed hour the king made a sign, and the heralds, in their
tabards, appeared and made proclamation, naming the combatants and stating the
cause of quarrel. There was a pause, then a ringing bugle-blast, which was the
signal for us to come forth. All the multitude caught their breath, and an eager
curiosity flashed into every face.
Out from his tent rode great Sir Sagramor, an imposing tower of iron, stately
and rigid, his huge spear standing upright in its socket and grasped in his
strong hand, his grand horse's face and breast cased in steel, his body clothed
in rich trappings that almost dragged the ground -- oh, a most noble picture. A
great shout went up, of welcome and admiration.
And then out I came. But I didn't get any shout. There was a wondering and
eloquent silence for a moment, then a great wave of laughter began to sweep
along that human sea, but a warning bugle-blast cut its career short. I was in
the simplest and comfortablest of gymnast costumes -- flesh-colored tights from
neck to heel, with blue silk puffings about my loins, and bareheaded. My horse
was not above medium size, but he was alert, slender-limbed, muscled with
watch-springs, and just a greyhound to go. He was a beauty, glossy as silk, and
naked as he was when he was born, except for bridle and ranger-saddle.
The iron tower and the gorgeous bedquilt came cumbrously but gracefully
pirouetting down the lists, and we tripped lightly up to meet them. We halted;
the tower saluted, I responded; then we wheeled and rode side by side to the
grand-stand and faced our king and queen, to whom we made obeisance. The queen
``Alack, Sir Boss, wilt fight naked, and without lance or sword or --''
But the king checked her and made her understand, with a polite phrase or
two, that this was none of her business. The bugles rang again; and we separated
and rode to the ends of the lists, and took position. Now old Merlin stepped
into view and cast a dainty web of gossamer threads over Sir Sagramor which
turned him into Hamlet's ghost; the king made a sign, the bugles blew, Sir
Sagramor laid his great lance in rest, and the next moment here he came
thundering down the course with his veil flying out behind, and I went whistling
through the air like an arrow to meet him -- cocking my ear the while, as if
noting the invisible knight's position and progress by hearing, not sight. A
chorus of encouraging shouts burst out for him, and one brave voice flung out a
heartening word for me -- said:
``Go it, slim Jim!''
It was an even bet that Clarence had procured that favor for me -- and
furnished the language, too. When that formidable lance-point was within a yard
and a half of my breast I twitched my horse aside without an effort, and the big
knight swept by, scoring a blank. I got plenty of applause that time. We turned,
braced up, and down we came again. Another blank for the knight, a roar of
applause for me. This same thing was repeated once more; and it fetched such a
whirlwind of applause that Sir Sagramor lost his temper, and at once changed his
tactics and set himself the task of chasing me down. Why, he hadn't any show in
the world at that; it was a game of tag, with all the advantage on my side; I
whirled out of his path with ease whenever I chose, and once I slapped him on
the back as I went to the rear. Finally I took the chase into my own hands; and
after that, turn, or twist, or do what he would, he was never able to get behind
me again; he found himself always in front at the end of his maneuver. So he
gave up that business and retired to his end of the lists. His temper was clear
gone now, and he forgot himself and flung an insult at me which disposed of
mine. I slipped my lasso from the horn of my saddle, and grasped the coil in my
right hand. This time you should have seen him come! -- it was a business trip,
sure; by his gait there was blood in his eye. I was sitting my horse at ease,
and swinging the great loop of my lasso in wide circles about my head; the
moment he was under way, I started for him; when the space between us had
narrowed to forty feet, I sent the snaky spirals of the rope a-cleaving through
the air, then darted aside and faced about and brought my trained animal to a
halt with all his feet braced under him for a surge. The next moment the rope
sprang taut and yanked Sir Sagramor out of the saddle! Great Scott, but there
was a sensation!
Unquestionably, the popular thing in this world is novelty. These people had
never seen anything of that cowboy business before, and it carried them clear
off their feet with delight. From all around and everywhere, the shout went up:
I wondered where they got the word, but there was no time to cipher on
philological matters, because the whole knight-errantry hive was just humming
now, and my prospect for trade couldn't have been better. The moment my lasso
was released and Sir Sagramor had been assisted to his tent, I hauled in the
slack, took my station and began to swing my loop around my head again. I was
sure to have use for it as soon as they could elect a successor for Sir Sagramor,
and that couldn't take long where there were so many hungry candidates. Indeed,
they elected one straight off -- Sir Hervis de Revel.
BZZ! Here he came, like a house afire; I dodged: he passed like a flash, with
my horse-hair coils settling around his neck; a second or so later, FST! his
saddle was empty.
I got another encore; and another, and another, and still another. When I had
snaked five men out, things began to look serious to the ironclads, and they
stopped and consulted together. As a result, they decided that it was time to
waive etiquette and send their greatest and best against me. To the astonishment
of that little world, I lassoed Sir Lamorak de Galis, and after him Sir Galahad.
So you see there was simply nothing to be done now, but play their right bower
-- bring out the superbest of the superb, the mightiest of the mighty, the great
Sir Launcelot himself!
A proud moment for me? I should think so. Yonder was Arthur, King of Britain;
yonder was Guenever; yes, and whole tribes of little provincial kings and
kinglets; and in the tented camp yonder, renowned knights from many lands; and
likewise the selectest body known to chivalry, the Knights of the Table Round,
the most illustrious in Christendom; and biggest fact of all, the very sun of
their shining system was yonder couching his lance, the focal point of forty
thousand adoring eyes; and all by myself, here was I laying for him. Across my
mind flitted the dear image of a certain hello-girl of West Hartford, and I
wished she could see me now. In that moment, down came the Invincible, with the
rush of a whirlwind -- the courtly world rose to its feet and bent forward --
the fateful coils went circling through the air, and before you could wink I was
towing Sir Launcelot across the field on his back, and kissing my hand to the
storm of waving kerchiefs and the thunder-crash of applause that greeted me!
Said I to myself, as I coiled my lariat and hung it on my saddle-horn, and
sat there drunk with glory, ``The victory is perfect -- no other will venture
against me -- knight-errantry is dead.'' Now imagine my astonishment -- and
everybody else's, too -- to hear the peculiar bugle-call which announces that
another competitor is about to enter the lists! There was a mystery here; I
couldn't account for this thing. Next, I noticed Merlin gliding away from me;
and then I noticed that my lasso was gone! The old sleight-of-hand expert had
stolen it, sure, and slipped it under his robe.
The bugle blew again. I looked, and down came Sagramor riding again, with his
dust brushed off and is veil nicely re-arranged. I trotted up to meet him, and
pretended to find him by the sound of his horse's hoofs. He said:
``Thou'rt quick of ear, but it will not save thee from this!'' and he touched
the hilt of his great sword . ``An ye are not able to see it, because of the
influence of the veil, know that it is no cumbrous lance, but a sword -- and I
ween ye will not be able to avoid it.''
His visor was up; there was death in his smile. I should never be able to
dodge his sword, that was plain. Somebody was going to die this time. If he got
the drop on me, I could name the corpse. We rode forward together, and saluted
the royalties. This time the king was disturbed. He said:
``Where is thy strange weapon?''
``It is stolen, sire.''
``Hast another at hand?''
``No, sire, I brought only the one.''
Then Merlin mixed in:
``He brought but the one because there was but the one to bring. There exists
none other but that one. It belongeth to the king of the Demons of the Sea. This
man is a pretender, and ignorant, else he had known that that weapon can be used
in but eight bouts only, and then it vanisheth away to its home under the sea.''
``Then is he weaponless,'' said the king. ``Sir Sagramore, ye will grant him
leave to borrow.''
``And I will lend!'' said Sir Launcelot, limping up. ``He is as brave a
knight of his hands as any that be on live, and he shall have mine.''
He put his hand on his sword to draw it, but Sir Sagramor said:
``Stay, it may not be. He shall fight with his own weapons; it was his
privilege to choose them and bring them. If he has erred, on his head be it.''
``Knight!'' said the king. ``Thou'rt overwrought with passion; it disorders
thy mind. Wouldst kill a naked man?''
``An he do it, he shall answer it to me,'' said Sir Launcelot.
``I will answer it to any he that desireth!'' retorted Sir Sagramor hotly.
Merlin broke in, rubbing his hands and smiling his lowdownest smile of
``'Tis well said, right well said! And 'tis enough of parleying, let my lord
the king deliver the battle signal.''
The king had to yield. The bugle made proclamation, and we turned apart and
rode to our stations. There we stood, a hundred yards apart, facing each other,
rigid and motionless, like horsed statues. And so we remained, in a soundless
hush, as much as a full minute, everybody gazing, nobody stirring. It seemed as
if the king could not take heart to give the signal. But at last he lifted his
hand, the clear note of the bugle followed, Sir Sagramor's long blade described
a flashing curve in the air, and it was superb to see him come. I sat still. On
he came. I did not move. People got so excited that they shouted to me:
``Fly, fly! Save thyself! This is murther!''
I never budged so much as an inch till that thunderng apparition had got
within fifteen paces of me; then I snatched a dragoon revolver out of my
holster, there was a flash and a roar, and the revolver was back in the holster
before anybody could tell what had happened.
Here was a riderless horse plunging by, and yonder lay Sir Sagramor, stone
The people that ran to him were stricken dumb to find that the life was
actually gone out of the man and no reason for it visible, no hurt upon his
body, nothing like a wound. There was a hole through the breast of his
chain-mail, but they attached no importance to a little thing like that; and as
a bullet wound there produces but little blood, none came in sight because of
the clothing and swaddlings under the armor. The body was dragged over to let
the king and the swells look down upon it. They were stupefied with astonishment
naturally. I was requested to come and explain the miracle. But I remained in my
tracks, like a statue, and said:
``If it is a command, I will come, but my lord the king knows that I am where
the laws of combat require me to remain while any desire to come against me.''
I waited. Nobody challenged. Then I said:
``If there are any who doubt that this field is well and fairly won, I do not
wait for them to challenge me, I challenge them.''
``It is a gallant offer,'' said the king, ``and well beseems you. Whom will
you name first?''
``I name none, I challenge all! Here I stand, and dare the chivalry of
England to come against me -- not by individuals, but in mass!''
``What!'' shouted a score of knights.
``You have heard the challenge. Take it, or I proclaim you recreant knights
and vanquished, every one!''
It was a ``bluff'' you know. At such a time it is sound judgment to put on a
bold face and play your hand for a hundred times what it is worth; forty-nine
times out of fifty nobody dares to ``call,'' and you rake in the chips. But just
this once -- well, things looked squally! In just no time, five hundred knights
were scrambling into their saddles, and before you could wink a widely
scattering drove were under way and clattering down upon me. I snatched both
revolvers from the holsters and began to measure distances and calculate
Bang! One saddle empty. Bang! another one. Bang -- bang, and I bagged two.
Well, it was nip and tuck with us, and I knew it. If I spent the eleventh shot
without convincing these people, the twelfth man would kill me, sure. And so I
never did feel so happy as I did when my ninth downed its man and I detected the
wavering in the crowd which is premonitory of panic. An instant lost now could
knock out my last chance. But I didn't lose it. I raised both revolvers and
pointed them -- the halted host stood their ground just about one good square
moment, then broke and fled.
The day was mine. Knight-errantry was a doomed institution. The march of
civilization was begun. How did I feel? Ah, you never could imagine it.
And Brer Merlin? His stock was flat again. Somehow, every time the magic of
fol-de-rol tried conclusions with the magic of science, the magic of fol-de-rol