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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

Mark Twain

Chapters 34-38

Chapters 30-33

Chapter 39

Summary

The Yankee realizes he has blundered by making the guests think he plans to turn them in. Arthur returns from his nap and tries to play the farmer by discussing agriculture, but his babblings are so absurd that the guests take him for a madman. They decide to kill both the strangers, but the Yankee and the king beat them down. Marco and his wife disappear and return with a mob of villagers who chase Arthur and the Yankee into the woods.

They cover their trail in a stream and take refuge up a tree while the mob runs past. The mob comes back after a while and guesses where their quarry has taken refuge. They try to climb the tree, but the king and the Yankee kick them back down every time they approach. They take to throwing stones and then start a fire to smoke them out. The Yankee and the king descend and place themselves on opposite sides of the tree trunk to fight it out. They hold their own for a moment, until a nobleman and a group of his followers ride up and save them. They are given horses and ride to an inn with the Earl Grip and his men. The next day, they ride to a town where they are told they will be safe. In the town square, they see the last remnants of the procession of slaves.

Nearby, an orator delivers a speech about the glories of British liberty, and the Yankee determines to mount the platform and give an opposing speech. Before he can do this, however, he and the king are manacled and ordered to be sold as slaves. The two protest that they are freemen, and they attract the attention of the orator and his crowd. They are asked to provide proof of their status as freemen, but they cannot and are sold at auction. The slave dealer buys them both and chains them in line with the others. Arthur surprises the Yankee by brooding over the low price he fetched instead of on his fall from greatness to such utter lowliness. Potential purchasers look him over and remark that he is worth only a small price but acts like he is worth much more. The slave dealer undertakes to beat the king's pride out of him, but gives up eventually when he realizes the king's spirit will not break, even after his body has.

The Yankee is happy to hear one day that the king has changed his mind on slavery and has determined to abolish it. Now, he is willing to take desperate measures to get them both free, and he hatches a time-consuming but picturesque plan of escape. Months pass, and they have several adventures. One day, they are caught in a snowstorm, and the master lashes the survivors around a woman who is being burned as a witch for warmth. Later, they come across a young mother being hanged for stealing to feed her child after her husband was impressed into service at sea; the priest who tells her story promises to raise her baby as his own. They come to London and see several people they know, including Sandy, who do not recognize them. The Yankee is disappointed when he sees a newsboy but can't get to him to read the paper, but he takes heart that it is a sign that Clarence is still alive and well.

The Yankee steals a clasp off a gentleman's garment to use as a lockpick. The dealer offers to sell the Yankee to the gentleman for the exorbitant price of $22 with Arthur thrown in free of charge and gives him a day to consider the offer. The king is terribly upset at the offer, but the Yankee comforts him with his plan of getting loose that night, battering the slave dealer and stealing his clothes and taking his place as the masters while he takes their place on the line. When night falls, the Yankee frees himself and starts on the king, but the master enters and the slaves are forced to run again before he is finished. He runs to overtake him, but engages the wrong man in the dark. A crowd gathers, and the Yankee and his opponent are marched off to prison by the watch.

The Yankee explains to the court that he is the property of Earl Grip, who fell ill in the town across the River and sent him to fetch a physician with all possible dispatch, and that his adversary had grabbed him and began beating him without cause. The other man tries to tell what actually happened, but the judge orders him taken away and flogged for mistreating the servant of a nobleman and releases the Yankee to carry out his errand. He goes back to the slave quarters and finds the master beaten to death. He finds out from a man in the crowd that the slaves rose up and killed him and have been condemned to die for it and that the watch is searching for the missing slave.

He finds out what prison they have been taken to and then acquires some new clothes and bandages his face to cover his bruises. He goes to one of his telegraph offices and contacts Clarence and tells him to send 500 knights with Sir Launcelot in the lead with orders to look out for a man with a white cloth around his right arm. The Yankee plans to work his way up through progressively finer suits of clothes until he is arrayed as a nobleman, when he can contact some of his acquaintances in town, but he is caught by a watchman with one of the slaves to identify him. The watchman informs him that the hanging will take place that afternoon, since he has been found so quickly. This greatly dampens the Yankee's spirits, as he does not expect the knights to arrive until evening. A vast crowd assembles outside the walls of the city to see the slaves hanged. Arthur declares himself to be the king, but he is met only with laughter and derision. This wounds his dignity, and he bears the jeering of the crowd in silence.

The Yankee wraps his bandage around his white arm and confirms the crowd's joking remark that he must be the king's minister. The hangman begins hanging the slaves one by one. He comes to the king, and the Yankee leaps to save him. Just at that moment, Launcelot and the knights ride up on bicycles and rescue them. Clarence is with them and reveals that he has been training the knights to ride bicycles for some time and had been waiting for a chance to show it off. The crowd kneels and begs forgiveness of the king.

Commentary

The Yankee compares the sixth-century system of slavery to the American South again in the way individuals have to prove they are freemen to avoid being sold into slavery instead of making the sellers prove they are slaves before selling them. He makes the point that an unjust law seems much more so when one finds it applied to oneself. The Yankee takes advantage of the universal deference to nobles by claiming to be the property of one; even this is enough to outrank a commoner in the court's eyes. The Yankee indirectly attacks the doctrine of the divine origin of kingship when he observes that a king's majesty disappears when one doesn't know he is a king; Arthur looks like any other slave on the line and is treated accordingly. When the mob finds out he is a king, though, they abruptly change their attitude from fierce derision to abject humility; it is only the confirmation of his identity as a king that brings this about.

Arthur's character as a man independent of his rank is developed considerably in this section. The Yankee is ashamed at the low price for which they are sold, but the king is even more so and argues unrealistically that he is worth much more. The Yankee takes this as evidence of Arthur's basic human emotions beneath his artificial exterior; this recalls Arthur's sadness at Guenever's preference for Launcelot in chapter 26. The king's arguments about his monetary value tire the Yankee because his business sense and opinion of monarchy contradict the diplomatic answer the king wants. The Yankee claims that he is worth more than the king, and he does indeed go for a higher price. The Yankee says the king is hardly even average as slave material, which is odd, as the king is later revealed (in Chapter 40) to be about the same age as the Yankee, and he is a trained warrior and must be strong.

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