Luddites’ Ball

“What the hell are these damned people doing in Nottingham? Bloodlights, aren’t they calling themselves?” asked Lord Eversley to the elfin Joker who bowed obsequiously before him. Careless gene-riddling cousins’ marriages over many generations had finally caught up to Eversley’s generation and left his royal countenance rotund, balding, with skin as rough as sandpaper, and a patch over his left eye masking an incessant sty. Lady Eversley, another cousin nee of a cousin’s marriage and his wife of thirty years, was mostly bedridden with horrible internal problems nobody dared ask about.

“Luddites, sire,” said the diminutive Joker who stood before his lord, resplendent in his sequined body suit, blue on the left, white on the right topped with a cap n’ bells blue on the right, white on the left. He belched, and from a bulging pocket, drew out a stained handkerchief the size of a bedsheet. He blew hard into the handkerchief which produced a deep trombone note. He wobbled backwards after the blow. The Joker was fond of the drink, you see. Others in the room, the hangers-on and toadies, shook their heads and sniffed.

“What, damn you and your foul habits, is a luddite?” asked Lord Eversley, who hunched his bulk forward in his overstuffed wing chair to glare at the Joker?

Another belch and a giggle from the Joker. “Sire, a luddite is a person who believes you are taking his and everyone else’s jobs away when you purchased that vacuum cleaner, made in, of all places, Sweden,” said the Joker who beamed a smile at the Lord. He giggled again, and said, “They think it sucks…Guffaw.” Even the hangers on and toadies in the room could not suppress smiles. The Joker wobbled, fell to the floor, and dissolved in great peals of ululating laughter. Lord Eversley shook his head and sighed.

“You are speaking nonsense,” said Lord Eversley who leaned back in his chair.

“Ha,” said the Joker, “nonsense is all that I speak.” He hoisted his diminutive body to his knees, “Now for their bit of logic, which is utter nonsense to me. You see, it isn’t just that you now need fewer or is it less maids…no matter…but that all the manors and great houses will need fewer or less maids as well. One even has calculated that thousands of maids will be sacked and will not find jobs even in the great hotels and counting houses in the cities. That is because their maids, sculleries, and servants are being sacked as well. Not only that, but our best broom makers are losing their jobs, as lords and ladies have stopped buying brooms for their servants. And that’s not the all of it, my Lord. The luddites say that the Swedes are eating our lunch, taking good manufacturing jobs from us because they are selling these infernal vacuum cleaners to us at less than what they cost to make. Nobody here can afford to make vacuums at these prices. Some say that the Swedes plan on making their money by selling bags, whatever that means.”

“Then we will have to tax them or ban them or something to keep the damn Swedes out,” said Lord Eversley with a wave of his hand.

The joker grinned and commenced another belly laugh that ended in a rather loud fart.

“Come now, man” said Lord Eversley, “hold yourself together. This is no laughing matter.”

The Joker grinned and said, “That’s the nonsense of all of this. They eat your lunch either way. If you ban their vacuums or tax them so they won’t sell, there is nobody here who can make vacuums like the Swedes. It will take years for us to figure out how to do it. Anyway, even if we did, we would likely price all but a few out of the market. Everyone will have to hire back those maids again.” The Joker fell onto his belly and pounded the floor with his hands and kicked his feet, as he tried to stifle his laughter in the Persian rug under him.

“All this calling for strikes and work stoppages over an infernal carpet sweeper?” asked Lord Eversley, “We must do something and quickly. Anyone?” He hoisted his bulk up to stand and survey the room. Nothing but shaking heads and clearing of throats. The Joker turned over on his back.

“A luddites’ ball,” said the Joker to the ceiling.

“A what?” asked Lord Eversley, now looking down at the prostrate joker who lay with a bit of soiled handkerchief peeking out of his distended pocket.

“A luddites’ ball,” said the Joker who rose once again to his knees, and then with a groan, to his feet, “Don’t you see? We invite these luddites to a ball in the very oldest style that there is. We call it a costume ball, even though we know it will be a luddites’ ball. We serve great piles of greasy food but have no forks, just big farm knives, and no plates. To clean up after the mess we let mangy dogs run around to eat up the scraps and get in everyone’s way. We serve the crudest of mead and warm beer that reeks of rotting hops. The bread will be hard as rock and the only heat will come from a single fireplace. Ha!”

“What the devil are you talking about?” asked Lord Eversley.

“Your lordship, isn’t it quite obvious even to a crude and disgusting nonsense speaker like me, that we give them a taste of what they’re asking for? To go back to a time when there were no vacuums and the job of cleaning up after such a thing as ball would take forever. ‘We haven’t any soap, just lye…no gloves, sorry,’ we’d say, ‘Use that straw broom and mind not to leave any behind. On your knees knave,’” said the joker who sniveled, reached for his handkerchief, and blew another note.

Lord Eversley plopped down into his chair hard which let out a hiss from the overstuffed cushion. “I think that is a rather good bit of nonsense,” said Lord Eversley. The hangers-on and toadies murmured their assent and a few even clapped. Lord Eversley continued, “We’ll hold this luddites’ ball right in this room. Take down the curtains and drape tapestries on the walls. Leave the windows open for days to let the cold seep into the walls. We can have the stable boys build roughhewn tables and direct the blacksmith to fashion crude knives. We will cook on spits outside that these luddites will see as they approach. We’ll make them ride in ox carts from the front gate.”

“Reeking of manure,” offered the Joker.

Lord Eversley nodded, then said, “We will have for them the manner of dress so many hundreds of years ago in the draughty castles of old.” He strummed the arm of the chair with his right fingers. Then he stood up abruptly and said to the room, “Get right on it.” He waived his hand in dismissal and all the toadies and hangers-on rushed hurriedly from the room. “Not you, Joker,” said Lord Eversley, “I need more of your nonsense and scheming…”

A fortnight later, gilded invitations went out to all the luddites.

Lord Eversley rubbed his cold hands and smiled broadly when he saw the wind swirling the falling snow on the afternoon of the luddite’s ball. Oxcarts rolled slowly as he had instructed, through the rutted cow paths to the barn where they stopped to let off the ball-goers in their delightful home-brought finery. In the stalls where cattle chewed cud and horses whinnied, Lord Eversley’s squires gave the luddites their costumes to change into. Like burlap, the leggings and blouses chaffed freshly powdered skin. Hemp belts were tied tight because the leggings had no belt loops. For the women, dresses down to their ankles and made from the coarsest uncombed wool that the dressmakers could find. No bras, undergarments, nor hose, or other modern appurtenances. Not even corsets or petticoats or impossibly large hoops, for this ball was of a time when Arthur was king. Most arrived at the door of the manse the color of cold.

The bare chested but hooded headsman stood atop a rough-hewn table at the center of the room, leaning on a double-bladed axe. At his feet was the object of the luddites’ distress, the vacuum cleaner made in Sweden. On either side of the execution table, more rough-hewn tables were laid out the length of the room in straight lines. The tables overflowed with boars with apples in their mouths, haunches of venison, brick-oven baked bread made of the coarsest flower, and assorted vegetables sautéed in lard. A steaming pot hung from the hearth. More food than this group could eat in a sitting. No chairs, just rough-hewn benches, cut and assembled without any care towards curing splinters, cracks, or wobbly legs.

As the room filled with the luddites, the Joker stood by a large wooden keg, slopping beer into horn cups between gulps he took himself while placing his mouth directly under the spigot. Luddites milled around, rubbed their palms together for warmth, scratched skin irritated by rough clothes, and gagged on the rusty ale.

With the retinue of toadies and hangers-on behind him, Lord Eversley strode down the spiral staircase that had been newly carpeted red. He wore a navy-blue suit with epaulets of an indeterminate military rank. Atop his bald head was a tricornered hat and around his waist a gold sash into which was stuffed a shiny cutlass. He sported a new black eyepatch.

“Gawd,” said the Joker to himself loudly and lustily, “He’s a pirate, not a lord.” Then he shouted to the room, “Welcome your eminence!” The room quieted as Lord Eversley strode down the staircase. He said nothing to the crowd. He simply walked to a table and pulled the leg off a roasted turkey, bit into it, brandished It, and threw it to the dogs who suddenly appeared in the room. As mangy curs go, these were some of the worst. They immediately got into a growling fight over the drumstick. The snarling tussle crashed into a bench that went hurtling across the room.

The crude alcohol worked and soon the luddites, the Joker, the hangers on and the toadies were loosened up to where tongues wagged and arms groped and rude merry was made. Following Lord Eversley’s lead, the luddites took to tossing their own half-eaten bones and bread crusts on the floor. Tomatoes and radishes were thrown in jest. A well-aimed potato knocked one elderly toady woman down. The revelry continued into the night.

Then, just before the winter’s dawn, the Lord had the doors locked to prevent anyone from leaving. When directed by Lord Eversley, the Joker hoisted himself up from under the spigot, shook his now stained clothes, and spoke with a pronounced slur, “Ladies, gentlemen and assorted other luddites, since we are without maids and the vacuum cleaner is incarcerated awaiting execution, we all must clean up the mess we have made before anyone leaves the hall, the ball, which is decidedly over.” Made merry became merry maid.

And with that, the luddites were put to work with crude mops, straw brooms, and wooden buckets and dank sponges that the manor’s staff brought out for the made merry merry maids. It took until the twilight before the cleaning was done. Lord Eversley gave the final say of spotlessness, and when the last straw broom was set carefully aside, he strode to the table where the headsman still stood and told the headsman to raise the axe. The room gasped. Lord Eversley said to the luddites, “It is you who will decide whether the vacuum, this Swedish vacuum, will live or die. Aye, and off with its head. Nay, and it exists to clean another floor. Your choice. Your decision…” Lord Eversley stood in silence.