{tocify}

The Prince and the Pauper

Chapter

Book

first_page
play_arrow
last_page
00:00
00:00
volume_down_alt volume_up


XXI. Hendon to the Rescue

The old man glided away, stooping, stealthy, cat-like, and brought the low bench. He seated himself upon it, half his body in the dim and flickering light, and the other half in shadow; and so, with his craving eyes bent upon the slumbering boy, he kept his patient vigil there, heedless of the drift of time, and softly whetted his knife, and mumbled and chuckled; and in aspect and attitude he resembled nothing so much as a grizzly, monstrous spider, gloating over some hapless insect that lay bound and helpless in his web.

After a long while, the old man, who was still gazing⁠—yet not seeing, his mind having settled into a dreamy abstraction⁠—observed, on a sudden, that the boy’s eyes were open! wide open and staring!⁠—staring up in frozen horror at the knife. The smile of a gratified devil crept over the old man’s face, and he said, without changing his attitude or his occupation⁠—

“Son of Henry the Eighth, hast thou prayed?”

The boy struggled helplessly in his bonds, and at the same time forced a smothered sound through his closed jaws, which the hermit chose to interpret as an affirmative answer to his question.

“Then pray again. Pray the prayer for the dying!”

A shudder shook the boy’s frame, and his face blenched. Then he struggled again to free himself⁠—turning and twisting himself this way and that; tugging frantically, fiercely, desperately⁠—but uselessly⁠—to burst his fetters; and all the while the old ogre smiled down upon him, and nodded his head, and placidly whetted his knife; mumbling, from time to time, “The moments are precious, they are few and precious⁠—pray the prayer for the dying!”

The boy uttered a despairing groan, and ceased from his struggles, panting. The tears came, then, and trickled, one after the other, down his face; but this piteous sight wrought no softening effect upon the savage old man.

The dawn was coming now; the hermit observed it, and spoke up sharply, with a touch of nervous apprehension in his voice⁠—

“I may not indulge this ecstasy longer! The night is already gone. It seems but a moment⁠—only a moment; would it had endured a year! Seed of the Church’s spoiler, close thy perishing eyes, an’ thou fearest to look upon⁠—”

The rest was lost in inarticulate mutterings. The old man sank upon his knees, his knife in his hand, and bent himself over the moaning boy.

Hark! There was a sound of voices near the cabin⁠—the knife dropped from the hermit’s hand; he cast a sheepskin over the boy and started up, trembling. The sounds increased, and presently the voices became rough and angry; then came blows, and cries for help; then a clatter of swift footsteps, retreating. Immediately came a succession of thundering knocks upon the cabin door, followed by⁠—

“Hullo-o-o! Open! And despatch, in the name of all the devils!”

Oh, this was the blessedest sound that had ever made music in the king’s ears; for it was Miles Hendon’s voice!

The hermit, grinding his teeth in impotent rage, moved swiftly out of the bedchamber, closing the door behind him; and straightway the king heard a talk, to this effect, proceeding from the “chapel:”

“Homage and greeting, reverend sir! Where is the boy⁠—my boy?”

“What boy, friend?”

“What boy! Lie me no lies, sir priest, play me no deceptions!⁠—I am not in the humor for it. Near to this place I caught the scoundrels who I judged did steal him from me, and I made them confess; they said he was at large again, and they had tracked him to your door. They showed me his very footprints. Now palter no more; for look you, holy sir, an’ thou produce him not⁠—Where is the boy?”

“O good sir, peradventure you mean the ragged regal vagrant that tarried here the night. If such as you take an interest in such as he, know, then, that I have sent him of an errand. He will be back anon.”

“How soon? How soon? Come, waste not the time⁠—cannot I overtake him? How soon will he be back?”

“Thou need’st not stir; he will return quickly.”

“So be it, then. I will try to wait. But stop!⁠—you sent him of an errand?⁠—you! Verily this is a lie⁠—he would not go. He would pull thy old beard, an’ thou didst offer him such an insolence. Thou hast lied, friend; thou hast surely lied! He would not go for thee, nor for any man.”

“For any man⁠—no; haply not. But I am not a man.”

“What! Now o’ God’s name what art thou, then?”

“It is a secret⁠—mark thou reveal it not. I am an archangel!”

There was a tremendous ejaculation from Miles Hendon⁠—not altogether unprofane⁠—followed by⁠—

“This doth well and truly account for his complaisance! Right well I knew he would budge nor hand nor foot in the menial service of any mortal; but, lord, even a king must obey when an archangel gives the word o’ command! Let me⁠—sh! What noise was that?”

All this while the little king had been yonder, alternately quaking with terror and trembling with hope; and all the while, too, he had thrown all the strength he could into his anguished moanings, constantly expecting them to reach Hendon’s ear, but always realizing, with bitterness, that they failed, or at least made no impression. So this last remark of his servant came as comes a reviving breath from fresh fields to the dying; and he exerted himself once more, and with all his energy, just as the hermit was saying⁠—

“Noise? I heard only the wind.”

“Mayhap it was. Yes, doubtless that was it. I have been hearing it faintly all the⁠—there it is again! It is not the wind! What an odd sound! Come, we will hunt it out!”

Now the king’s joy was nearly insupportable. His tired lungs did their utmost⁠—and hopefully, too⁠—but the sealed jaws and the muffling sheepskin sadly crippled the effort. Then the poor fellow’s heart sank, to hear the hermit say⁠—

“Ah, it came from without⁠—I think from the copse yonder. Come, I will lead the way.”

The king heard the two pass out, talking; heard their footsteps die quickly away⁠—then he was alone with a boding, brooding, awful silence.

It seemed an age till he heard the steps and voices approaching again⁠—and this time he heard an added sound⁠—the trampling of hoofs, apparently. Then he heard Hendon say⁠—

“I will not wait longer. I cannot wait longer. He has lost his way in this thick wood. Which direction took he? Quick⁠—point it out to me.”

“He⁠—but wait; I will go with thee.”

“Good⁠—good! Why, truly thou art better than thy looks. Marry I do not think there’s not another archangel with so right a heart as thine. Wilt ride? Wilt take the wee donkey that’s for my boy, or wilt thou fork thy holy legs over this ill-conditioned slave of a mule that I have provided for myself?⁠—and had been cheated in too, had he cost but the indifferent sum of a month’s usury on a brass farthing let to a tinker out of work.”

“No⁠—ride thy mule, and lead thine ass; I am surer on mine own feet, and will walk.”

“Then prithee mind the little beast for me while I take my life in my hands and make what success I may toward mounting the big one.”

Then followed a confusion of kicks, cuffs, tramplings and plungings, accompanied by a thunderous intermingling of volleyed curses, and finally a bitter apostrophe to the mule, which must have broken its spirit, for hostilities seemed to cease from that moment.

With unutterable misery the fettered little king heard the voices and footsteps fade away and die out. All hope forsook him, now, for the moment, and a dull despair settled down upon his heart. “My only friend is deceived and got rid of,” he said; “the hermit will return and⁠—” He finished with a gasp; and at once fell to struggling so frantically with his bonds again, that he shook off the smothering sheepskin.

And now he heard the door open! The sound chilled him to the marrow⁠—already he seemed to feel the knife at his throat. Horror made him close his eyes; horror made him open them again⁠—and before him stood John Canty and Hugo!

He would have said “Thank God!” if his jaws had been free.

A moment or two later his limbs were at liberty, and his captors, each gripping him by an arm, were hurrying him with all speed through the forest.

XXII. A Victim of Treachery

Once more “King Foo-foo the First” was roving with the tramps and outlaws, a butt for their coarse jests and dull-witted railleries, and sometimes the victim of small spitefulness at the hands of Canty and Hugo when the Ruffler’s back was turned. None but Canty and Hugo really disliked him. Some of the others liked him, and all admired his pluck and spirit. During two or three days, Hugo, in whose ward and charge the king was, did what he covertly could to make the boy uncomfortable; and at night, during the customary orgies, he amused the company by putting small indignities upon him⁠—always as if by accident. Twice he stepped upon the king’s toes⁠—accidentally⁠—and the king, as became his royalty, was contemptuously unconscious of it and indifferent to it; but the third time Hugo entertained himself in that way, the king felled him to the ground with a cudgel, to the prodigious delight of the tribe. Hugo, consumed with anger and shame, sprang up, seized a cudgel, and came at his small adversary in a fury. Instantly a ring was formed around the gladiators, and the betting and cheering began.

But poor Hugo stood no chance whatever. His frantic and lubberly ’prentice-work found but a poor market for itself when pitted against an arm which had been trained by the first masters of Europe in singlestick, quarterstaff, and every art and trick of swordsmanship. The little king stood, alert but at graceful ease, and caught and turned aside the thick rain of blows with a facility and precision which set the motley onlookers wild with admiration; and every now and then, when his practised eye detected an opening, and a lightning-swift rap upon Hugo’s head followed as a result, the storm of cheers and laughter that swept the place was something wonderful to hear. At the end of fifteen minutes, Hugo, all battered, bruised, and the target for a pitiless bombardment of ridicule, slunk from the field; and the unscathed hero of the fight was seized and borne aloft upon the shoulders of the joyous rabble to the place of honor beside the Ruffler, where with vast ceremony he was crowned King of the Gamecocks; his meaner title being at the same time solemnly cancelled and annulled, and a decree of banishment from the gang pronounced against any who should thenceforth utter it.

All attempts to make the king serviceable to the troop had failed. He had stubbornly refused to act; moreover, he was always trying to escape. He had been thrust into an unwatched kitchen, the first day of his return; he not only came forth empty-handed, but tried to rouse the housemates. He was sent out with a tinker to help him at his work; he would not work; moreover, he threatened the tinker with his own soldering-iron; and finally both Hugo and the tinker found their hands full with the mere matter of keeping his from getting away. He delivered the thunders of his royalty upon the heads of all who hampered his liberties or tried to force him to service. He was sent out, in Hugo’s charge, in company with a slatternly woman and a diseased baby, to beg; but the result was not encouraging⁠—he declined to plead for the mendicants, or be a party to their cause in any way.

Thus several days went by; and the miseries of this tramping life, and the weariness and sordidness and meanness and vulgarity of it, became gradually and steadily so intolerable to the captive that he began at last to feel that his release from the hermit’s knife must prove only a temporary respite from death, at best.

But at night, in his dreams, these things were forgotten, and he was on his throne, and master again. This, of course, intensified the sufferings of the awakening⁠—so the mortifications of each succeeding morning of the few that passed between his return to bondage and the combat with Hugo, grew bitterer and bitterer, and harder and harder to bear.

The morning after that combat, Hugo got up with a heart filled with vengeful purposes against the king. He had two plans, in particular. One was to inflict upon the lad what would be, to his proud spirit and “imagined” royalty, a peculiar humiliation; and if he failed to accomplish this, his other plan was to put a crime of some kind upon the king, and then betray him into the implacable clutches of the law.

In pursuance of the first plan, he purposed to put a “clime” upon the king’s leg; rightly judging that that would mortify him to the last and perfect degree; and as soon as the clime should operate, he meant to get Canty’s help, and force the king to expose his leg in the highway and beg for alms. “Clime” was the cant term for a sore, artificially created. To make a clime, the operator made a paste or poultice of unslaked lime, soap, and the rust of old iron, and spread it upon a piece of leather, which was then bound tightly upon the leg. This would presently fret off the skin, and make the flesh raw and angry-looking; blood was then rubbed upon the limb, which, being fully dried, took on a dark and repulsive color. Then a bandage of soiled rags was put on in a cleverly careless way which would allow the hideous ulcer to be seen, and move the compassion of the passerby.

Hugo got the help of the tinker whom the king had cowed with the soldering-iron; they took the boy out on a tinkering tramp, and as soon as they were out of sight of the camp they threw him down and the tinker held him while Hugo bound the poultice tight and fast upon his leg.

The king raged and stormed, and promised to hang the two the moment the sceptre was in his hand again; but they kept a firm grip upon him and enjoyed his impotent struggling and jeered at his threats. This continued until the poultice began to bite; and in no long time its work would have been perfected, if there had been no interruption. But there was; for about this time the “slave” who had made the speech denouncing England’s laws, appeared on the scene, and put an end to the enterprise, and stripped off the poultice and bandage.

The king wanted to borrow his deliverer’s cudgel and warm the jackets of the two rascals on the spot; but the man said no, it would bring trouble⁠—leave the matter till night; the whole tribe being together, then, the outside world would not venture to interfere or interrupt. He marched the party back to camp and reported the affair to the Ruffler, who listened, pondered, and then decided that the king should not be again detailed to beg, since it was plain he was worthy of something higher and better⁠—wherefore, on the spot he promoted him from the mendicant rank and appointed him to steal!

Hugo was overjoyed. He had already tried to make the king steal, and failed; but there would be no more trouble of that sort, now, for of course the king would not dream of defying a distinct command delivered directly from headquarters. So he planned a raid for that very afternoon, purposing to get the king in the law’s grip in the course of it; and to do it, too, with such ingenious strategy, that it should seem to be accidental and unintentional; for the King of the Gamecocks was popular now, and the gang might not deal over-gently with an unpopular member who played so serious a treachery upon him as the delivering him over to the common enemy, the law.

Very well. All in good time Hugo strolled off to a neighboring village with his prey; and the two drifted slowly up and down one street after another, the one watching sharply for a sure chance to achieve his evil purpose, and the other watching as sharply for a chance to dart away and get free of his infamous captivity for ever.

Both threw away some tolerably fair-looking opportunities; for both, in their secret hearts, were resolved to make absolutely sure work this time, and neither meant to allow his fevered desires to seduce him into any venture that had much uncertainty about it.

Hugo’s chance came first. For at last a woman approached who carried a fat package of some sort in a basket. Hugo’s eyes sparkled with sinful pleasure as he said to himself, “Breath o’ my life, an’ I can but put that upon him, ’tis good-den and God keep thee, King of the Gamecocks!” He waited and watched⁠—outwardly patient, but inwardly consuming with excitement⁠—till the woman had passed by, and the time was ripe; then said, in a low voice⁠—

“Tarry here till I come again,” and darted stealthily after the prey.

The king’s heart was filled with joy⁠—he could make his escape, now, if Hugo’s quest only carried him far enough away.

But he was to have no such luck. Hugo crept behind the woman, snatched the package, and came running back, wrapping it in an old piece of blanket which he carried on his arm. The hue and cry was raised in a moment, by the woman, who knew her loss by the lightening of her burden, although she had not seen the pilfering done. Hugo thrust the bundle into the king’s hands without halting, saying⁠—

“Now speed ye after me with the rest, and cry ‘Stop thief!’ but mind ye lead them astray!”

The next moment Hugo turned a corner and darted down a crooked alley⁠—and in another moment or two he lounged into view again, looking innocent and indifferent, and took up a position behind a post to watch results.

The insulted king threw the bundle on the ground; and the blanket fell away from it just as the woman arrived, with an augmenting crowd at her heels; she seized the king’s wrist with one hand, snatched up her bundle with the other, and began to pour out a tirade of abuse upon the boy while he struggled, without success, to free himself from her grip.

Hugo had seen enough⁠—his enemy was captured and the law would get him, now⁠—so he slipped away, jubilant and chuckling, and wended campwards, framing a judicious version of the matter to give to the Ruffler’s crew as he strode along.

The king continued to struggle in the woman’s strong grasp, and now and then cried out in vexation⁠—

“Unhand me, thou foolish creature; it was not I that bereaved thee of thy paltry goods.”

The crowd closed around, threatening the king and calling him names; a brawny blacksmith in leather apron, and sleeves rolled to his elbows, made a reach for him, saying he would trounce him well, for a lesson; but just then a long sword flashed in the air and fell with convincing force upon the man’s arm, flat side down, the fantastic owner of it remarking pleasantly, at the same time⁠—

“Marry, good souls, let us proceed gently, not with ill blood and uncharitable words. This is matter for the law’s consideration, not private and unofficial handling. Loose thy hold from the boy, goodwife.”

The blacksmith averaged the stalwart soldier with a glance, then went muttering away, rubbing his arm; the woman released the boy’s wrist reluctantly; the crowd eyed the stranger unlovingly, but prudently closed their mouths. The king sprang to his deliverer’s side, with flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes, exclaiming⁠—

“Thou hast lagged sorely, but thou comest in good season, now, Sir Miles; carve me this rabble to rags!”

XXIII. The Prince a Prisoner

Hendon forced back a smile, and bent down and whispered in the king’s ear⁠—

“Softly, softly, my prince, wag thy tongue warily⁠—nay, suffer it not to wag at all. Trust in me⁠—all shall go well in the end.” Then he added to himself: “Sir Miles! Bless me, I had totally forgot I was a knight! Lord, how marvellous a thing it is, the grip his memory doth take upon his quaint and crazy fancies!⁠ ⁠… An empty and foolish title is mine, and yet it is something to have deserved it; for I think it is more honor to be held worthy to be a spectre-knight in his kingdom of Dreams and Shadows, than to be held base enough to be an earl in some of the real kingdoms of this world.”

The crowd fell apart to admit a constable, who approached and was about to lay his hand upon the king’s shoulder, when Hendon said⁠—

“Gently, good friend, withhold your hand⁠—he shall go peaceably; I am responsible for that. Lead on, we will follow.”

The officer led, with the woman and her bundle; Miles and the king followed after, with the crowd at their heels. The king was inclined to rebel; but Hendon said to him in a low voice⁠—

“Reflect, Sire⁠—your laws are the wholesome breath of your own royalty; shall their source resist them, yet require the branches to respect them? Apparently one of these laws has been broken; when the king is on his throne again, can it ever grieve him to remember that when he was seemingly a private person he loyally sank the king in the citizen and submitted to its authority?”

“Thou art right; say no more; thou shalt see that whatsoever the King of England requires a subject to suffer, under the law, he will himself suffer while he holdeth the station of a subject.”

When the woman was called upon to testify before the justice of the peace, she swore that the small prisoner at the bar was the person who had committed the theft; there was none able to show the contrary, so the king stood convicted. The bundle was now unrolled, and when the contents proved to be a plump little dressed pig, the judge looked troubled, whilst Hendon turned pale, and his body was thrilled with an electric shiver of dismay; but the king remained unmoved, protected by his ignorance. The judge meditated, during an ominous pause, then turned to the woman, with the question⁠—

“What dost thou hold this property to be worth?”

The woman courtesied and replied⁠—

“Three shillings and eightpence, your worship⁠—I could not abate a penny and set forth the value honestly.”

The justice glanced around uncomfortably upon the crowd, then nodded to the constable, and said⁠—

“Clear the court and close the doors.”

It was done. None remained but the two officials, the accused, the accuser, and Miles Hendon. This latter was rigid and colorless, and on his forehead big drops of cold sweat gathered, broke and blended together, and trickled down his face. The judge turned to the woman again, and said, in a compassionate voice⁠—

“ ’Tis a poor ignorant lad, and mayhap was driven hard by hunger, for these be grievous times for the unfortunate; mark you, he hath not an evil face⁠—but when hunger driveth⁠—Good woman! dost know that when one steals a thing above the value of thirteenpence ha’penny the law saith he shall hang for it?”

The little king started, wide-eyed with consternation, but controlled himself and held his peace; but not so the woman. She sprang to her feet, shaking with fright, and cried out⁠—

“Oh, good lack, what have I done! God-a-mercy, I would not hang the poor thing for the whole world! Ah, save me from this, your worship⁠—what shall I do, what can I do?”

The justice maintained his judicial composure, and simply said⁠—

“Doubtless it is allowable to revise the value, since it is not yet writ upon the record.”

“Then in God’s name call the pig eightpence, and heaven bless the day that freed my conscience of this awesome thing!”

Miles Hendon forgot all decorum in his delight; and surprised the king and wounded his dignity, by throwing his arms around him and hugging him. The woman made her grateful adieux and started away with her pig; and when the constable opened the door for her, he followed her out into the narrow hall. The justice proceeded to write in his record book. Hendon, always alert, thought he would like to know why the officer followed the woman out; so he slipped softly into the dusky hall and listened. He heard a conversation to this effect⁠—

“It is a fat pig, and promises good eating; I will buy it of thee; here is the eightpence.”

“Eightpence, indeed! Thou’lt do no such thing. It cost me three shillings and eightpence, good honest coin of the last reign, that old Harry that’s just dead ne’er touched or tampered with. A fig for thy eightpence!”

“Stands the wind in that quarter? Thou wast under oath, and so swore falsely when thou saidst the value was but eightpence. Come straightway back with me before his worship, and answer for the crime!⁠—and then the lad will hang.”

“There, there, dear heart, say no more, I am content. Give me the eightpence, and hold thy peace about the matter.”

The woman went off crying: Hendon slipped back into the court room, and the constable presently followed, after hiding his prize in some convenient place. The justice wrote a while longer, then read the king a wise and kindly lecture, and sentenced him to a short imprisonment in the common jail, to be followed by a public flogging. The astounded king opened his mouth, and was probably going to order the good judge to be beheaded on the spot; but he caught a warning sign from Hendon, and succeeded in closing his mouth again before he lost anything out of it. Hendon took him by the hand, now, made reverence to the justice, and the two departed in the wake of the constable toward the jail. The moment the street was reached, the inflamed monarch halted, snatched away his hand, and exclaimed⁠—

“Idiot, dost imagine I will enter a common jail alive?”

Hendon bent down and said, somewhat sharply⁠—

“Will you trust in me? Peace! and forbear to worsen our chances with dangerous speech. What God wills, will happen; thou canst not hurry it, thou canst not alter it; therefore wait, and be patient⁠—’twill be time enow to rail or rejoice when what is to happen has happened.”

XXIV. The Escape

The short winter day was nearly ended. The streets were deserted, save for a few random stragglers, and these hurried straight along, with the intent look of people who were only anxious to accomplish their errands as quickly as possible, and then snugly house themselves from the rising wind and the gathering twilight. They looked neither to the right nor to the left; they paid no attention to our party, they did not even seem to see them. Edward the Sixth wondered if the spectacle of a king on his way to jail had ever encountered such marvellous indifference before. By-and-by the constable arrived at a deserted market-square, and proceeded to cross it. When he had reached the middle of it, Hendon laid his hand upon his arm, and said in a low voice⁠—

“Bide a moment, good sir, there is none in hearing, and I would say a word to thee.”

“My duty forbids it, sir; prithee hinder me not, the night comes on.”

“Stay, nevertheless, for the matter concerns thee nearly. Turn thy back a moment and seem not to see: let this poor lad escape.”

“This to me, sir! I arrest thee in⁠—”

“Nay, be not too hasty. See thou be careful and commit no foolish error,”⁠—then he shut his voice down to a whisper, and said in the man’s ear⁠—“the pig thou hast purchased for eightpence may cost thee thy neck, man!”

The poor constable, taken by surprise, was speechless, at first, then found his tongue and fell to blustering and threatening; but Hendon was tranquil, and waited with patience till his breath was spent; then said⁠—

“I have a liking to thee, friend, and would not willingly see thee come to harm. Observe, I heard it all⁠—every word. I will prove it to thee.” Then he repeated the conversation which the officer and the woman had had together in the hall, word for word, and ended with⁠—

“There⁠—have I set it forth correctly? Should not I be able to set it forth correctly before the judge, if occasion required?”

The man was dumb with fear and distress, for a moment; then he rallied, and said with forced lightness⁠—

“ ’Tis making a mighty matter, indeed, out of a jest; I but plagued the woman for mine amusement.”

“Kept you the woman’s pig for amusement?”

The man answered sharply⁠—

“Nought else, good sir⁠—I tell thee ’twas but a jest.”

“I do begin to believe thee,” said Hendon, with a perplexing mixture of mockery and half-conviction in his tone; “but tarry thou here a moment whilst I run and ask his worship⁠—for nathless, he being a man experienced in law, in jests, in⁠—”

He was moving away, still talking; the constable hesitated, fidgeted, spat out an oath or two, then cried out⁠—

“Hold, hold, good sir⁠—prithee wait a little⁠—the judge! Why, man, he hath no more sympathy with a jest than hath a dead corpse!⁠—come, and we will speak further. Ods body! I seem to be in evil case⁠—and all for an innocent and thoughtless pleasantry. I am a man of family; and my wife and little ones⁠—List to reason, good your worship: what wouldst thou of me?”

“Only that thou be blind and dumb and paralytic whilst one may count a hundred thousand⁠—counting slowly,” said Hendon, with the expression of a man who asks but a reasonable favor, and that a very little one.

“It is my destruction!” said the constable despairingly. “Ah, be reasonable, good sir; only look at this matter, on all its sides, and see how mere a jest it is⁠—how manifestly and how plainly it is so. And even if one granted it were not a jest, it is a fault so small that e’en the grimmest penalty it could call forth would be but a rebuke and warning from the judge’s lips.”

Hendon replied with a solemnity which chilled the air about him⁠—

“This jest of thine hath a name, in law⁠—wot you what it is?”

“I knew it not! Peradventure I have been unwise. I never dreamed it had a name⁠—ah, sweet heaven, I thought it was original.”

“Yes, it hath a name. In the law this crime is called Non compos mentis lex talionis sic transit gloria mundi.”

“Ah, my God!”

“And the penalty is death!”

“God be merciful to me a sinner!”

“By advantage taken of one in fault, in dire peril, and at thy mercy, thou hast seized goods worth above thirteenpence ha’penny, paying but a trifle for the same; and this, in the eye of the law, is constructive barratry, misprision of treason, malfeasance in office, ad hominem expurgatis in statu quo⁠—and the penalty is death by the halter, without ransom, commutation, or benefit of clergy.”

“Bear me up, bear me up, sweet sir, my legs do fail me! Be thou merciful⁠—spare me this doom, and I will turn my back and see nought that shall happen.”

“Good! now thou’rt wise and reasonable. And thou’lt restore the pig?”

“I will, I will indeed⁠—nor ever touch another, though heaven send it and an archangel fetch it. Go⁠—I am blind for thy sake⁠—I see nothing. I will say thou didst break in and wrest the prisoner from my hands by force. It is but a crazy, ancient door⁠—I will batter it down myself betwixt midnight and the morning.”

“Do it, good soul, no harm will come of it; the judge hath a loving charity for this poor lad, and will shed no tears and break no jailer’s bones for his escape.”

XXV. Hendon Hall

As soon as Hendon and the king were out of sight of the constable, his Majesty was instructed to hurry to a certain place outside the town, and wait there, whilst Hendon should go to the inn and settle his account. Half an hour later the two friends were blithely jogging eastward on Hendon’s sorry steeds. The king was warm and comfortable, now, for he had cast his rags and clothed himself in the secondhand suit which Hendon had bought on London Bridge.

Hendon wished to guard against over-fatiguing the boy; he judged that hard journeys, irregular meals, and illiberal measures of sleep would be bad for his crazed mind; whilst rest, regularity, and moderate exercise would be pretty sure to hasten its cure; he longed to see the stricken intellect made well again and its diseased visions driven out of the tormented little head; therefore he resolved to move by easy stages toward the home whence he had so long been banished, instead of obeying the impulse of his impatience and hurrying along night and day.

When he and the king had journeyed about ten miles, they reached a considerable village, and halted there for the night, at a good inn. The former relations were resumed; Hendon stood behind the king’s chair, while he dined, and waited upon him; undressed him when he was ready for bed; then took the floor for his own quarters, and slept athwart the door, rolled up in a blanket.

The next day, and the day after, they jogged lazily along talking over the adventures they had met since their separation, and mightily enjoying each other’s narratives. Hendon detailed all his wide wanderings in search of the king, and described how the archangel had led him a fool’s journey all over the forest, and taken him back to the hut, finally, when he found he could not get rid of him. Then⁠—he said⁠—the old man went into the bedchamber and came staggering back looking brokenhearted, and saying he had expected to find that the boy had returned and laid down in there to rest, but it was not so. Hendon had waited at the hut all day; hope of the king’s return died out, then, and he departed upon the quest again.

“And old Sanctum Sanctorum was truly sorry your highness came not back,” said Hendon; “I saw it in his face.”

“Marry I will never doubt that!” said the king⁠—and then told his own story; after which, Hendon was sorry he had not destroyed the archangel.

During the last day of the trip, Hendon’s spirits were soaring. His tongue ran constantly. He talked about his old father, and his brother Arthur, and told of many things which illustrated their high and generous characters; he went into loving frenzies over his Edith, and was so glad-hearted that he was even able to say some gentle and brotherly things about Hugh. He dwelt a deal on the coming meeting at Hendon Hall; what a surprise it would be to everybody, and what an outburst of thanksgiving and delight there would be.

It was a fair region, dotted with cottages and orchards, and the road led through broad pasture lands whose receding expanses, marked with gentle elevations and depressions, suggested the swelling and subsiding undulations of the sea. In the afternoon the returning prodigal made constant deflections from his course to see if by ascending some hillock he might not pierce the distance and catch a glimpse of his home. At last he was successful, and cried out excitedly⁠—

“There is the village, my Prince, and there is the Hall close by! You may see the towers from here; and that wood there⁠—that is my father’s park. Ah, now thou’lt know what state and grandeur be! A house with seventy rooms⁠—think of that!⁠—and seven and twenty servants! A brave lodging for such as we, is it not so? Come, let us speed⁠—my impatience will not brook further delay.”

All possible hurry was made; still, it was after three o’clock before the village was reached. The travellers scampered through it, Hendon’s tongue going all the time. “Here is the church⁠—covered with the same ivy⁠—none gone, none added.” “Yonder is the inn, the old Red Lion⁠—and yonder is the marketplace.” “Here is the Maypole, and here the pump⁠—nothing is altered; nothing but the people, at any rate; ten years make a change in people; some of these I seem to know, but none know me.” So his chat ran on. The end of the village was soon reached; then the travellers struck into a crooked, narrow road, walled in with tall hedges, and hurried briskly along it for half a mile, then passed into a vast flower garden through an imposing gateway, whose huge stone pillars bore sculptured armorial devices. A noble mansion was before them.

“Welcome to Hendon Hall, my king!” exclaimed Miles. “Ah, ’tis a great day! My father and my brother, and the Lady Edith will be so mad with joy that they will have eyes and tongue for none but me in the first transports of the meeting, and so thou’lt seem but coldly welcomed⁠—but mind it not; ’twill soon seem otherwise; for when I say thou art my ward, and tell them how costly is my love for thee, thou’lt see them take thee to their breasts for Miles Hendon’s sake, and make their house and hearts thy home forever after!”

The next moment Hendon sprang to the ground before the great door, helped the king down, then took him by the hand and rushed within. A few steps brought him to a spacious apartment; he entered, seated the king with more hurry than ceremony, then ran toward a young man who sat at a writing-table in front of a generous fire of logs.

“Embrace me, Hugh,” he cried, “and say thou’rt glad I am come again! and call our father, for home is not home till I shall touch his hand, and see his face, and hear his voice once more!”

But Hugh only drew back, after betraying a momentary surprise, and bent a grave stare upon the intruder⁠—a stare which indicated somewhat of offended dignity, at first, then changed, in response to some inward thought or purpose, to an expression of marvelling curiosity, mixed with a real or assumed compassion. Presently he said, in a mild voice⁠—

“Thy wits seem touched, poor stranger; doubtless thou hast suffered privations and rude buffetings at the world’s hands; thy looks and dress betoken it. Whom dost thou take me to be?”

“Take thee? Prithee for whom else than whom thou art? I take thee to be Hugh Hendon,” said Miles, sharply.

The other continued, in the same soft tone⁠—

“And whom dost thou imagine thyself to be?”

“Imagination hath nought to do with it! Dost thou pretend thou knowest me not for thy brother Miles Hendon?”

An expression of pleased surprise flitted across Hugh’s face, and he exclaimed⁠—

“What! thou art not jesting? can the dead come to life? God be praised if it be so! Our poor lost boy restored to our arms after all these cruel years! Ah, it seems too good to be true, it is too good to be true⁠—I charge thee, have pity, do not trifle with me! Quick⁠—come to the light⁠—let me scan thee well!”

He seized Miles by the arm, dragged him to the window, and began to devour him from head to foot with his eyes, turning him this way and that, and stepping briskly around him and about him to prove him from all points of view; whilst the returned prodigal, all aglow with gladness, smiled, laughed, and kept nodding his head and saying⁠—

“Go on, brother, go on, and fear not; thou’lt find nor limb nor feature that cannot bide the test. Scour and scan me to thy content, my good old Hugh⁠—I am indeed thy old Miles, thy same old Miles, thy lost brother, is’t not so? Ah, ’tis a great day⁠—I said ’twas a great day! Give me thy hand, give me thy cheek⁠—lord, I am like to die of very joy!”

He was about to throw himself upon his brother; but Hugh put up his hand in dissent, then dropped his chin mournfully upon his breast, saying with emotion⁠—

“Ah, God of his mercy give me strength to bear this grievous disappointment!”

Miles, amazed, could not speak for a moment; then he found his tongue, and cried out⁠—

“What disappointment? Am I not thy brother?”

Hugh shook his head sadly, and said⁠—

“I pray heaven it may prove so, and that other eyes may find the resemblances that are hid from mine. Alack, I fear me the letter spoke but too truly.”

“What letter?”

“One that came from over sea, some six or seven years ago. It said my brother died in battle.”

“It was a lie! Call thy father⁠—he will know me.”

“One may not call the dead.”

“Dead?” Miles’s voice was subdued, and his lips trembled. “My father dead!⁠—oh, this is heavy news. Half my new joy is withered now. Prithee let me see my brother Arthur⁠—he will know me; he will know me and console me.”

“He, also, is dead.”

“God be merciful to me, a stricken man! Gone⁠—both gone⁠—the worthy taken and the worthless spared, in me! Ah! I crave your mercy!⁠—do not say the Lady Edith⁠—”

“Is dead? No, she lives.”

“Then, God be praised, my joy is whole again! Speed thee, brother⁠—let her come to me! An’ she say I am not myself⁠—but she will not; no, no, she will know me, I were a fool to doubt it. Bring her⁠—bring the old servants; they, too, will know me.”

“All are gone but five⁠—Peter, Halsey, David, Bernard, and Margaret.”

So saying, Hugh left the room. Miles stood musing a while, then began to walk the floor, muttering⁠—

“The five arch-villains have survived the two-and-twenty leal and honest⁠—’tis an odd thing.”

He continued walking back and forth, muttering to himself; he had forgotten the king entirely. By and by his Majesty said gravely, and with a touch of genuine compassion, though the words themselves were capable of being interpreted ironically⁠—

“Mind not thy mischance, good man; there be others in the world whose identity is denied, and whose claims are derided. Thou hast company.”

“Ah, my king,” cried Hendon, coloring slightly, “do not thou condemn me⁠—wait, and thou shalt see. I am no impostor⁠—she will say it; you shall hear it from the sweetest lips in England. I an impostor? Why, I know this old hall, these pictures of my ancestors, and all these things that are about us, as a child knoweth its own nursery. Here was I born and bred, my lord; I speak the truth; I would not deceive thee; and should none else believe, I pray thee do not thou doubt me⁠—I could not bear it.”

“I do not doubt thee,” said the king, with a childlike simplicity and faith.

“I thank thee out of my heart!” exclaimed Hendon with a fervency which showed that he was touched. The king added, with the same gentle simplicity⁠—

“Dost thou doubt me?”

A guilty confusion seized upon Hendon, and he was grateful that the door opened to admit Hugh, at that moment, and saved him the necessity of replying.

A beautiful lady, richly clothed, followed Hugh, and after her came several liveried servants. The lady walked slowly, with her head bowed and her eyes fixed upon the floor. The face was unspeakably sad. Miles Hendon sprang forward, crying out⁠—

“Oh, my Edith, my darling⁠—”

But Hugh waved him back, gravely, and said to the lady⁠—

“Look upon him. Do you know him?”

At the sound of Miles’s voice the woman had started slightly, and her cheeks had flushed; she was trembling now. She stood still, during an impressive pause of several moments; then slowly lifted up her head and looked into Hendon’s eyes with a stony and frightened gaze; the blood sank out of her face, drop by drop, till nothing remained but the grey pallor of death; then she said, in a voice as dead as the face, “I know him not!” and turned, with a moan and a stifled sob, and tottered out of the room.

Miles Hendon sank into a chair and covered his face with his hands. After a pause, his brother said to the servants⁠—

“You have observed him. Do you know him?”

They shook their heads; then the master said⁠—

“The servants know you not, sir. I fear there is some mistake. You have seen that my wife knew you not.”

“Thy wife!” In an instant Hugh was pinned to the wall, with an iron grip about his throat. “Oh, thou fox-hearted slave, I see it all! Thou’st writ the lying letter thyself, and my stolen bride and goods are its fruit. There⁠—now get thee gone, lest I shame mine honorable soldiership with the slaying of so pitiful a mannikin!”

Hugh, red-faced, and almost suffocated, reeled to the nearest chair, and commanded the servants to seize and bind the murderous stranger. They hesitated, and one of them said⁠—

“He is armed, Sir Hugh, and we are weaponless.”

“Armed! What of it, and ye so many? Upon him, I say!”

But Miles warned them to be careful what they did, and added⁠—

“Ye know me of old⁠—I have not changed; come on, an’ it like you.”

This reminder did not hearten the servants much; they still held back.

“Then go, ye paltry cowards, and arm yourselves and guard the doors, whilst I send one to fetch the watch!” said Hugh. He turned at the threshold, and said to Miles, “You’ll find it to your advantage to offend not with useless endeavors at escape.”

“Escape? Spare thyself discomfort, an’ that is all that troubles thee. For Miles Hendon is master of Hendon Hall and all its belongings. He will remain⁠—doubt it not.”