A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Part 1. eBook: Page2

Mark Twain (2004)


  THE STRANGER'S HISTORY

  I am an American. I was born and reared in Hartford, in the Stateof Connecticut--anyway, just over the river, in the country. SoI am a Yankee of the Yankees--and practical; yes, and nearlybarren of sentiment, I suppose--or poetry, in other words. Myfather was a blacksmith, my uncle was a horse doctor, and I wasboth, along at first. Then I went over to the great arms factoryand learned my real trade; learned all there was to it; learnedto make everything: guns, revolvers, cannon, boilers, engines, allsorts of labor-saving machinery. Why, I could make anythinga body wanted--anything in the world, it didn't make any differencewhat; and if there wasn't any quick new-fangled way to make a thing,I could invent one--and do it as easy as rolling off a log. I becamehead superintendent; had a couple of thousand men under me.

  Well, a man like that is a man that is full of fight--that goeswithout saying. With a couple of thousand rough men under one,one has plenty of that sort of amusement. I had, anyway. At lastI met my match, and I got my dose. It was during a misunderstandingconducted with crowbars with a fellow we used to call Hercules.He laid me out with a crusher alongside the head that made everythingcrack, and seemed to spring every joint in my skull and made itoverlap its neighbor. Then the world went out in darkness, andI didn't feel anything more, and didn't know anything at all--at least for a while.

  When I came to again, I was sitting under an oak tree, on thegrass, with a whole beautiful and broad country landscape allto myself--nearly. Not entirely; for there was a fellow on a horse,looking down at me--a fellow fresh out of a picture-book. He wasin old-time iron armor from head to heel, with a helmet on hishead the shape of a nail-keg with slits in it; and he had a shield,and a sword, and a prodigious spear; and his horse had armor on,too, and a steel horn projecting from his forehead, and gorgeousred and green silk trappings that hung down all around him likea bedquilt, nearly to the ground.

  "Fair sir, will ye just?" said this fellow.

  "Will I which?"

  "Will ye try a passage of arms for land or lady or for--"

  "What are you giving me?" I said. "Get along back to your circus,or I'll report you."

  Now what does this man do but fall back a couple of hundred yardsand then come rushing at me as hard as he could tear, with hisnail-keg bent down nearly to his horse's neck and his long spearpointed straight ahead. I saw he meant business, so I was upthe tree when he arrived.

  He allowed that I was his property, the captive of his spear.There was argument on his side--and the bulk of the advantage--so I judged it best to humor him. We fixed up an agreementwhereby I was to go with him and he was not to hurt me. I camedown, and we started away, I walking by the side of his horse.We marched comfortably along, through glades and over brooks whichI could not remember to have seen before--which puzzled me andmade me wonder--and yet we did not come to any circus or sign ofa circus. So I gave up the idea of a circus, and concluded he wasfrom an asylum. But we never came to an asylum--so I was upa stump, as you may say. I asked him how far we were from Hartford.He said he had never heard of the place; which I took to be a lie,but allowed it to go at that. At the end of an hour we saw afar-away town sleeping in a valley by a winding river; and beyondit on a hill, a vast gray fortress, with towers and turrets,the first I had ever seen out of a picture.

  "Bridgeport?" said I, pointing.

  "Camelot," said he.

  My stranger had been showing signs of sleepiness. He caughthimself nodding, now, and smiled one of those pathetic, obsoletesmiles of his, and said:

  "I find I can't go on; but come with me, I've got it all writtenout, and you can read it if you like."

  In his chamber, he said: "First, I kept a journal; then by and by,after years, I took the journal and turned it into a book. Howlong ago that was!"

  He handed me his manuscript, and pointed out the place whereI should begin:

  "Begin here--I've already told you what goes before." He wassteeped in drowsiness by this time. As I went out at his doorI heard him murmur sleepily: "Give you good den, fair sir."

  I sat down by my fire and examined my treasure. The first partof it--the great bulk of it--was parchment, and yellow with age.I scanned a leaf particularly and saw that it was a palimpsest.Under the old dim writing of the Yankee historian appeared tracesof a penmanship which was older and dimmer still--Latin wordsand sentences: fragments from old monkish legends, evidently.I turned to the place indicated by my stranger and began to read--as follows: