A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur''s Court, Part 7. eBook: Page2

Mark Twain (2004)


  CHAPTER XXXIII

  SIXTH CENTURY POLITICAL ECONOMY

  However, I made a dead set at him, and before the first thirdof the dinner was reached, I had him happy again. It was easyto do--in a country of ranks and castes. You see, in a countrywhere they have ranks and castes, a man isn't ever a man, he isonly part of a man, he can't ever get his full growth. You proveyour superiority over him in station, or rank, or fortune, andthat's the end of it--he knuckles down. You can't insult himafter that. No, I don't mean quite that; of course you _can_ insulthim, I only mean it's difficult; and so, unless you've got a lotof useless time on your hands it doesn't pay to try. I had thesmith's reverence now, because I was apparently immensely prosperousand rich; I could have had his adoration if I had had some littlegimcrack title of nobility. And not only his, but any commoner'sin the land, though he were the mightiest production of all the ages,in intellect, worth, and character, and I bankrupt in all three.This was to remain so, as long as England should exist in theearth. With the spirit of prophecy upon me, I could look intothe future and see her erect statues and monuments to her unspeakableGeorges and other royal and noble clothes-horses, and leave unhonoredthe creators of this world--after God--Gutenburg, Watt, Arkwright,Whitney, Morse, Stephenson, Bell.

  The king got his cargo aboard, and then, the talk not turning uponbattle, conquest, or iron-clad duel, he dulled down to drowsinessand went off to take a nap. Mrs. Marco cleared the table, placedthe beer keg handy, and went away to eat her dinner of leavingsin humble privacy, and the rest of us soon drifted into mattersnear and dear to the hearts of our sort--business and wages,of course. At a first glance, things appeared to be exceedingprosperous in this little tributary kingdom--whose lord wasKing Bagdemagus--as compared with the state of things in my ownregion. They had the "protection" system in full force here,whereas we were working along down toward free-trade, by easystages, and were now about half way. Before long, Dowley and Iwere doing all the talking, the others hungrily listening. Dowleywarmed to his work, snuffed an advantage in the air, and beganto put questions which he considered pretty awkward ones for me,and they did have something of that look:

  "In your country, brother, what is the wage of a master bailiff,master hind, carter, shepherd, swineherd?"

  "Twenty-five milrays a day; that is to say, a quarter of a cent."

  The smith's face beamed with joy. He said:

  "With us they are allowed the double of it! And what may a mechanicget--carpenter, dauber, mason, painter, blacksmith, wheelwright,and the like?"

  "On the average, fifty milrays; half a cent a day."

  "Ho-ho! With us they are allowed a hundred! With us any goodmechanic is allowed a cent a day! I count out the tailor, butnot the others--they are all allowed a cent a day, and in drivingtimes they get more--yes, up to a hundred and ten and even fifteenmilrays a day. I've paid a hundred and fifteen myself, withinthe week. 'Rah for protection--to Sheol with free-trade!"

  And his face shone upon the company like a sunburst. But I didn'tscare at all. I rigged up my pile-driver, and allowed myselffifteen minutes to drive him into the earth--drive him _all_ in--drive him in till not even the curve of his skull should showabove ground. Here is the way I started in on him. I asked:

  "What do you pay a pound for salt?"

  "A hundred milrays."

  "We pay forty. What do you pay for beef and mutton--when youbuy it?" That was a neat hit; it made the color come.

  "It varieth somewhat, but not much; one may say seventy-five milraysthe pound."

  "_We_ pay thirty-three. What do you pay for eggs?"

  "Fifty milrays the dozen."

  "We pay twenty. What do you pay for beer?"

  "It costeth us eight and one-half milrays the pint."

  "We get it for four; twenty-five bottles for a cent.What do you pay for wheat?"

  "At the rate of nine hundred milrays the bushel."

  "We pay four hundred. What do you pay for a man's tow-linen suit?"

  "Thirteen cents."

  "We pay six. What do you pay for a stuff gown for the wife of thelaborer or the mechanic?"

  "We pay eight cents, four mills."

  "Well, observe the difference: you pay eight cents and four mills,we pay only four cents." I prepared now to sock it to him. I said:"Look here, dear friend, _what's become of your high wages youwere bragging so about a few minutes ago?_"--and I looked aroundon the company with placid satisfaction, for I had slipped upon him gradually and tied him hand and foot, you see, without hisever noticing that he was being tied at all. "What's become ofthose noble high wages of yours?--I seem to have knocked thestuffing all out of them, it appears to me."

  But if you will believe me, he merely looked surprised, thatis all! he didn't grasp the situation at all, didn't know he hadwalked into a trap, didn't discover that he was _in_ a trap. I couldhave shot him, from sheer vexation. With cloudy eye and a strugglingintellect he fetched this out:

  "Marry, I seem not to understand. It is _proved_ that our wagesbe double thine; how then may it be that thou'st knocked therefromthe stuffing?--an miscall not the wonderly word, this being thefirst time under grace and providence of God it hath been grantedme to hear it."

  Well, I was stunned; partly with this unlooked-for stupidity onhis part, and partly because his fellows so manifestly sided withhim and were of his mind--if you might call it mind. My positionwas simple enough, plain enough; how could it ever be simplifiedmore? However, I must try:

  "Why, look here, brother Dowley, don't you see? Your wages aremerely higher than ours in _name_, not in _fact_."

  "Hear him! They are the _double_--ye have confessed it yourself."

  "Yes-yes, I don't deny that at all. But that's got nothing to dowith it; the _amount_ of the wages in mere coins, with meaninglessnames attached to them to know them by, has got nothing to dowith it. The thing is, how much can you _buy_ with your wages?--that's the idea. While it is true that with you a good mechanicis allowed about three dollars and a half a year, and with us onlyabout a dollar and seventy-five--"

  "There--ye're confessing it again, ye're confessing it again!"

  "Confound it, I've never denied it, I tell you! What I say isthis. With us _half_ a dollar buys more than a _dollar_ buyswith you--and THEREFORE it stands to reason and the commonestkind of common-sense, that our wages are _higher_ than yours."

  He looked dazed, and said, despairingly:

  "Verily, I cannot make it out. Ye've just said ours are thehigher, and with the same breath ye take it back."

  "Oh, great Scott, isn't it possible to get such a simple thingthrough your head? Now look here--let me illustrate. We payfour cents for a woman's stuff gown, you pay 8.4.0, which isfour mills more than _double_. What do you allow a laboringwoman who works on a farm?"

  "Two mills a day."

  "Very good; we allow but half as much; we pay her only a tenthof a cent a day; and--"

  "Again ye're conf--"

  "Wait! Now, you see, the thing is very simple; this time you'llunderstand it. For instance, it takes your woman 42 days to earnher gown, at 2 mills a day--7 weeks' work; but ours earns hersin forty days--two days _short_ of 7 weeks. Your woman has a gown,and her whole seven weeks wages are gone; ours has a gown, andtwo days' wages left, to buy something else with. There--_now_you understand it!"

  He looked--well, he merely looked dubious, it's the most I can say;so did the others. I waited--to let the thing work. Dowley spokeat last--and betrayed the fact that he actually hadn't gotten awayfrom his rooted and grounded superstitions yet. He said, witha trifle of hesitancy:

  "But--but--ye cannot fail to grant that two mills a day is betterthan one."

  Shucks! Well, of course, I hated to give it up. So I chancedanother flyer:

  "Let us suppose a case. Suppose one of your journeymen goes outand buys the following articles:

  "1 pound of salt; 1 dozen eggs; 1 dozen pints of beer; 1 bushel of wheat; 1
tow-linen suit; 5 pounds of beef; 5 pounds of mutton.

  "The lot will cost him 32 cents. It takes him 32 working daysto earn the money--5 weeks and 2 days. Let him come to us andwork 32 days at _half_ the wages; he can buy all those things fora shade under 14 1/2 cents; they will cost him a shade under 29days' work, and he will have about half a week's wages over. Carryit through the year; he would save nearly a week's wages everytwo months, _your_ man nothing; thus saving five or six weeks' wagesin a year, your man not a cent. _Now_ I reckon you understand that'high wages' and 'low wages' are phrases that don't mean anythingin the world until you find out which of them will _buy_ the most!"

  It was a crusher.

  But, alas! it didn't crush. No, I had to give it up. What thosepeople valued was _high wages_; it didn't seem to be a matter ofany consequence to them whether the high wages would buy anythingor not. They stood for "protection," and swore by it, which wasreasonable enough, because interested parties had gulled them intothe notion that it was protection which had created their highwages. I proved to them that in a quarter of a century their wageshad advanced but 30 per cent., while the cost of living had goneup 100; and that with us, in a shorter time, wages had advanced40 per cent. while the cost of living had gone steadily down. Butit didn't do any good. Nothing could unseat their strange beliefs.

  Well, I was smarting under a sense of defeat. Undeserved defeat,but what of that? That didn't soften the smart any. And to thinkof the circumstances! the first statesman of the age, the capablestman, the best-informed man in the entire world, the loftiestuncrowned head that had moved through the clouds of any politicalfirmament for centuries, sitting here apparently defeated inargument by an ignorant country blacksmith! And I could see thatthose others were sorry for me--which made me blush till I couldsmell my whiskers scorching. Put yourself in my place; feel as meanas I did, as ashamed as I felt--wouldn't _you_ have struck below thebelt to get even? Yes, you would; it is simply human nature.Well, that is what I did. I am not trying to justify it; I'm onlysaying that I was mad, and _anybody_ would have done it.

  Well, when I make up my mind to hit a man, I don't plan outa love-tap; no, that isn't my way; as long as I'm going to hit himat all, I'm going to hit him a lifter. And I don't jump at himall of a sudden, and risk making a blundering half-way businessof it; no, I get away off yonder to one side, and work up on himgradually, so that he never suspects that I'm going to hit himat all; and by and by, all in a flash, he's flat on his back, andhe can't tell for the life of him how it all happened. That isthe way I went for brother Dowley. I started to talking lazy andcomfortable, as if I was just talking to pass the time; and theoldest man in the world couldn't have taken the bearings of mystarting place and guessed where I was going to fetch up:

  "Boys, there's a good many curious things about law, and custom,and usage, and all that sort of thing, when you come to look at it;yes, and about the drift and progress of human opinion and movement,too. There are written laws--they perish; but there are alsounwritten laws--_they_ are eternal. Take the unwritten law of wages:it says they've got to advance, little by little, straight throughthe centuries. And notice how it works. We know what wages arenow, here and there and yonder; we strike an average, and say that'sthe wages of to-day. We know what the wages were a hundred yearsago, and what they were two hundred years ago; that's as far backas we can get, but it suffices to give us the law of progress,the measure and rate of the periodical augmentation; and so, withouta document to help us, we can come pretty close to determiningwhat the wages were three and four and five hundred years ago.Good, so far. Do we stop there? No. We stop looking backward;we face around and apply the law to the future. My friends, I cantell you what people's wages are going to be at any date in thefuture you want to know, for hundreds and hundreds of years."

  "What, goodman, what!"

  "Yes. In seven hundred years wages will have risen to six timeswhat they are now, here in your region, and farm hands will beallowed 3 cents a day, and mechanics 6."

  "I would't I might die now and live then!" interrupted Smug, thewheelwright, with a fine avaricious glow in his eye.

  "And that isn't all; they'll get their board besides--such as it is:it won't bloat them. Two hundred and fifty years later--pay attentionnow--a mechanic's wages will be--mind you, this is law, notguesswork; a mechanic's wages will then be _twenty_ cents a day!"

  There was a general gasp of awed astonishment, Dickon the masonmurmured, with raised eyes and hands:

  "More than three weeks' pay for one day's work!"

  "Riches!--of a truth, yes, riches!" muttered Marco, his breathcoming quick and short, with excitement.

  "Wages will keep on rising, little by little, little by little,as steadily as a tree grows, and at the end of three hundred andforty years more there'll be at least _one_ country where themechanic's average wage will be _two hundred_ cents a day!"

  It knocked them absolutely dumb! Not a man of them could gethis breath for upwards of two minutes. Then the coal-burnersaid prayerfully:

  "Might I but live to see it!"

  "It is the income of an earl!" said Smug.

  "An earl, say ye?" said Dowley; "ye could say more than that andspeak no lie; there's no earl in the realm of Bagdemagus that hathan income like to that. Income of an earl--mf! it's the incomeof an angel!"

  "Now, then, that is what is going to happen as regards wages.In that remote day, that man will earn, with _one_ week's work,that bill of goods which it takes you upwards of _fifty_ weeks toearn now. Some other pretty surprising things are going to happen,too. Brother Dowley, who is it that determines, every spring,what the particular wage of each kind of mechanic, laborer, andservant shall be for that year?"

  "Sometimes the courts, sometimes the town council; but most of all,the magistrate. Ye may say, in general terms, it is the magistratethat fixes the wages."

  "Doesn't ask any of those poor devils to _help_ him fix their wagesfor them, does he?"

  "Hm! That _were_ an idea! The master that's to pay him the moneyis the one that's rightly concerned in that matter, ye will notice."

  "Yes--but I thought the other man might have some little trifleat stake in it, too; and even his wife and children, poor creatures.The masters are these: nobles, rich men, the prosperous generally.These few, who do no work, determine what pay the vast hive shallhave who _do_ work. You see? They're a 'combine'--a trade union,to coin a new phrase--who band themselves together to force theirlowly brother to take what they choose to give. Thirteen hundredyears hence--so says the unwritten law--the 'combine' will be theother way, and then how these fine people's posterity will fumeand fret and grit their teeth over the insolent tyranny of tradeunions! Yes, indeed! the magistrate will tranquilly arrange thewages from now clear away down into the nineteenth century; andthen all of a sudden the wage-earner will consider that a coupleof thousand years or so is enough of this one-sided sort of thing;and he will rise up and take a hand in fixing his wages himself.Ah, he will have a long and bitter account of wrong and humiliationto settle."

  "Do ye believe--"

  "That he actually will help to fix his own wages? Yes, indeed.And he will be strong and able, then."

  "Brave times, brave times, of a truth!" sneered the prosperous smith.

  "Oh,--and there's another detail. In that day, a master may hirea man for only just one day, or one week, or one month at a time,if he wants to."

  "What?"

  "It's true. Moreover, a magistrate won't be able to force a manto work for a master a whole year on a stretch whether the manwants to or not."

  "Will there be _no_ law or sense in that day?"

  "Both of them, Dowley. In that day a man will be his own property,not the property of magistrate and master. And he can leave townwhenever he wants to, if the wages don't suit him!--and they can'tput him in the pillory for it."

  "Perdition catch such an age!" shouted Dowley, in strong indignation."An age of dogs, an age barren of r
everence for superiors andrespect for authority! The pillory--"

  "Oh, wait, brother; say no good word for that institution. I thinkthe pillory ought to be abolished."

  "A most strange idea. Why?"

  "Well, I'll tell you why. Is a man ever put in the pillory fora capital crime?"

  "No."

  "Is it right to condemn a man to a slight punishment for a smalloffense and then kill him?"

  There was no answer. I had scored my first point! For the firsttime, the smith wasn't up and ready. The company noticed it.Good effect.

  "You don't answer, brother. You were about to glorify the pillorya while ago, and shed some pity on a future age that isn't goingto use it. I think the pillory ought to be abolished. Whatusually happens when a poor fellow is put in the pillory for somelittle offense that didn't amount to anything in the world? Themob try to have some fun with him, don't they?"

  "Yes."

  "They begin by clodding him; and they laugh themselves to piecesto see him try to dodge one clod and get hit with another?"

  "Yes."

  "Then they throw dead cats at him, don't they?"

  "Yes."

  "Well, then, suppose he has a few personal enemies in that moband here and there a man or a woman with a secret grudge againsthim--and suppose especially that he is unpopular in the community,for his pride, or his prosperity, or one thing or another--stonesand bricks take the place of clods and cats presently, don't they?"

  "There is no doubt of it."

  "As a rule he is crippled for life, isn't he?--jaws broken, teethsmashed out?--or legs mutilated, gangrened, presently cut off?--or an eye knocked out, maybe both eyes?"

  "It is true, God knoweth it."

  "And if he is unpopular he can depend on _dying_, right there inthe stocks, can't he?"

  "He surely can! One may not deny it."

  "I take it none of _you_ are unpopular--by reason of pride orinsolence, or conspicuous prosperity, or any of those things thatexcite envy and malice among the base scum of a village? _You_wouldn't think it much of a risk to take a chance in the stocks?"

  Dowley winced, visibly. I judged he was hit. But he didn't betrayit by any spoken word. As for the others, they spoke out plainly,and with strong feeling. They said they had seen enough of thestocks to know what a man's chance in them was, and they wouldnever consent to enter them if they could compromise on a quickdeath by hanging.

  "Well, to change the subject--for I think I've established mypoint that the stocks ought to be abolished. I think some of ourlaws are pretty unfair. For instance, if I do a thing which oughtto deliver me to the stocks, and you know I did it and yet keepstill and don't report me, _you_ will get the stocks if anybodyinforms on you."

  "Ah, but that would serve you but right," said Dowley, "for you_must_ inform. So saith the law."

  The others coincided.

  "Well, all right, let it go, since you vote me down. But there'sone thing which certainly isn't fair. The magistrate fixes amechanic's wage at one cent a day, for instance. The law says thatif any master shall venture, even under utmost press of business,to pay anything _over_ that cent a day, even for a single day, heshall be both fined and pilloried for it; and whoever knows he didit and doesn't inform, they also shall be fined and pilloried. Nowit seems to me unfair, Dowley, and a deadly peril to all of us,that because you thoughtlessly confessed, a while ago, that withina week you have paid a cent and fifteen mil--"

  Oh, I tell _you_ it was a smasher! You ought to have seen them togo to pieces, the whole gang. I had just slipped up on poorsmiling and complacent Dowley so nice and easy and softly, thathe never suspected anything was going to happen till the blowcame crashing down and knocked him all to rags.

  A fine effect. In fact, as fine as any I ever produced, with solittle time to work it up in.

  But I saw in a moment that I had overdone the thing a little.I was expecting to scare them, but I wasn't expecting to scarethem to death. They were mighty near it, though. You see theyhad been a whole lifetime learning to appreciate the pillory; andto have that thing staring them in the face, and every one of themdistinctly at the mercy of me, a stranger, if I chose to go andreport--well, it was awful, and they couldn't seem to recoverfrom the shock, they couldn't seem to pull themselves together.Pale, shaky, dumb, pitiful? Why, they weren't any better thanso many dead men. It was very uncomfortable. Of course, I thoughtthey would appeal to me to keep mum, and then we would shake hands,and take a drink all round, and laugh it off, and there an end.But no; you see I was an unknown person, among a cruelly oppressedand suspicious people, a people always accustomed to having advantagetaken of their helplessness, and never expecting just or kindtreatment from any but their own families and very closest intimates.Appeal to _me_ to be gentle, to be fair, to be generous? Of course,they wanted to, but they couldn't dare.