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The Prince and the Pauper

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XXVI. Disowned

The king sat musing a few moments, then looked up and said⁠—

“ ’Tis strange⁠—most strange. I cannot account for it.”

“No, it is not strange, my liege. I know him, and this conduct is but natural. He was a rascal from his birth.”

“Oh, I spake not of him, Sir Miles.”

“Not of him? Then of what? What is it that is strange?”

“That the king is not missed.”

“How? Which? I doubt I do not understand.”

“Indeed? Doth it not strike you as being passing strange that the land is not filled with couriers and proclamations describing my person and making search for me? Is it no matter for commotion and distress that the Head of the State is gone; that I am vanished away and lost?”

“Most true, my king, I had forgot.” Then Hendon sighed, and muttered to himself, “Poor ruined mind⁠—still busy with its pathetic dream.”

“But I have a plan that shall right us both⁠—I will write a paper, in three tongues⁠—Latin, Greek and English⁠—and thou shalt haste away with it to London in the morning. Give it to none but my uncle, the Lord Hertford; when he shall see it, he will know and say I wrote it. Then he will send for me.”

“Might it not be best, my Prince, that we wait here until I prove myself and make my rights secure to my domains? I should be so much the better able then to⁠—”

The king interrupted him imperiously⁠—

“Peace! What are thy paltry domains, thy trivial interests, contrasted with matters which concern the weal of a nation and the integrity of a throne?” Then, he added, in a gentle voice, as if he were sorry for his severity, “Obey, and have no fear; I will right thee, I will make thee whole⁠—yes, more than whole. I shall remember, and requite.”

So saying, he took the pen, and set himself to work. Hendon contemplated him lovingly a while, then said to himself⁠—

“An’ it were dark, I should think it was a king that spoke; there’s no denying it, when the humor’s upon on him he doth thunder and lighten like your true king; now where got he that trick? See him scribble and scratch away contentedly at his meaningless pothooks, fancying them to be Latin and Greek⁠—and except my wit shall serve me with a lucky device for diverting him from his purpose, I shall be forced to pretend to post away tomorrow on this wild errand he hath invented for me.”

The next moment Sir Miles’s thoughts had gone back to the recent episode. So absorbed was he in his musings, that when the king presently handed him the paper which he had been writing, he received it and pocketed it without being conscious of the act. “How marvellous strange she acted,” he muttered. “I think she knew me⁠—and I think she did not know me. These opinions do conflict, I perceive it plainly; I cannot reconcile them, neither can I, by argument, dismiss either of the two, or even persuade one to outweigh the other. The matter standeth simply thus: she must have known my face, my figure, my voice, for how could it be otherwise? Yet she said she knew me not, and that is proof perfect, for she cannot lie. But stop⁠—I think I begin to see. Peradventure he hath influenced her, commanded her, compelled her to lie. That is the solution. The riddle is unriddled. She seemed dead with fear⁠—yes, she was under his compulsion. I will seek her; I will find her; now that he is away, she will speak her true mind. She will remember the old times when we were little playfellows together, and this will soften her heart, and she will no more betray me, but will confess me. There is no treacherous blood in her⁠—no, she was always honest and true. She has loved me, in those old days⁠—this is my security; for whom one has loved, one cannot betray.”

He stepped eagerly toward the door; at that moment it opened, and the Lady Edith entered. She was very pale, but she walked with a firm step, and her carriage was full of grace and gentle dignity. Her face was as sad as before.

Miles sprang forward, with a happy confidence, to meet her, but she checked him with a hardly perceptible gesture, and he stopped where he was. She seated herself, and asked him to do likewise. Thus simply did she take the sense of old comradeship out of him, and transform him into a stranger and a guest. The surprise of it, the bewildering unexpectedness of it, made him begin to question, for a moment, if he was the person he was pretending to be, after all. The Lady Edith said⁠—

“Sir, I have come to warn you. The mad cannot be persuaded out of their delusions, perchance; but doubtless they may be persuaded to avoid perils. I think this dream of yours hath the seeming of honest truth to you, and therefore is not criminal⁠—but do not tarry here with it; for here it is dangerous.” She looked steadily into Miles’s face a moment, then added, impressively, “It is the more dangerous for that you are much like what our lost lad must have grown to be if he had lived.”

“Heavens, madam, but I am he!”

“I truly think you think it, sir. I question not your honesty in that; I but warn you, that is all. My husband is master in this region; his power hath hardly any limit; the people prosper or starve, as he wills. If you resembled not the man whom you profess to be, my husband might bid you pleasure yourself with your dream in peace; but trust me, I know him well; I know what he will do; he will say to all that you are but a mad impostor, and straightway all will echo him.” She bent upon Miles that same steady look once more, and added: “If you were Miles Hendon, and he knew it and all the region knew it⁠—consider what I am saying, weigh it well⁠—you would stand in the same peril, your punishment would be no less sure; he would deny you and denounce you, and none would be bold enough to give you countenance.”

“Most truly I believe it,” said Miles, bitterly. “The power that can command one lifelong friend to betray and disown another, and be obeyed, may well look to be obeyed in quarters where bread and life are on the stake and no cobweb ties of loyalty and honor are concerned.”

A faint tinge appeared for a moment in the lady’s cheek, and she dropped her eyes to the floor; but her voice betrayed no emotion when she proceeded⁠—

“I have warned you⁠—I must still warn you⁠—to go hence. This man will destroy you, else. He is a tyrant who knows no pity. I, who am his fettered slave, know this. Poor Miles, and Arthur, and my dear guardian, Sir Richard, are free of him, and at rest: better that you were with them than that you bide here in the clutches of this miscreant. Your pretensions are a menace to his title and possessions; you have assaulted him in his own house: you are ruined if you stay. Go⁠—do not hesitate. If you lack money, take this purse, I beg of you, and bribe the servants to let you pass. Oh, be warned, poor soul, and escape while you may.”

Miles declined the purse with a gesture, and rose up and stood before her.

“Grant me one thing,” he said. “Let your eyes rest upon mine, so that I may see if they be steady. There⁠—now answer me. Am I Miles Hendon?”

“No. I know you not.”

“Swear it!”

The answer was low, but distinct⁠—

“I swear.”

“Oh, this passes belief!”

“Fly! Why will you waste the precious time? Fly, and save yourself.”

At that moment the officers burst into the room, and a violent struggle began; but Hendon was soon overpowered and dragged away. The king was taken also, and both were bound and led to prison.

XXVII. In Prison

The cells were all crowded; so the two friends were chained in a large room where persons charged with trifling offences were commonly kept. They had company, for there were some twenty manacled and fettered prisoners here, of both sexes and of varying ages⁠—an obscene and noisy gang. The king chafed bitterly over the stupendous indignity thus put upon his royalty, but Hendon was moody and taciturn. He was pretty thoroughly bewildered; he had come home, a jubilant prodigal, expecting to find everybody wild with joy over his return; and instead had got the cold shoulder and a jail. The promise and the fulfilment differed so widely that the effect was stunning; he could not decide whether it was most tragic or most grotesque. He felt much as a man might who had danced blithely out to enjoy a rainbow, and got struck by lightning.

But gradually his confused and tormenting thoughts settled down into some sort of order, and then his mind centred itself upon Edith. He turned her conduct over, and examined it in all lights, but he could not make anything satisfactory out of it. Did she know him⁠—or didn’t she know him? It was a perplexing puzzle, and occupied him a long time; but he ended, finally, with the conviction that she did know him, and had repudiated him for interested reasons. He wanted to load her name with curses now; but this name had so long been sacred to him that he found he could not bring his tongue to profane it.

Wrapped in prison blankets of a soiled and tattered condition, Hendon and the king passed a troubled night. For a bribe the jailer had furnished liquor to some of the prisoners; singing of ribald songs, fighting, shouting, and carousing was the natural consequence. At last, a while after midnight, a man attacked a woman and nearly killed her by beating her over the head with his manacles before the jailer could come to the rescue. The jailer restored peace by giving the man a sound clubbing about the head and shoulders⁠—then the carousing ceased; and after that, all had an opportunity to sleep who did not mind the annoyance of the moanings and groanings of the two wounded people.

During the ensuing week, the days and nights were of a monotonous sameness as to events; men whose faces Hendon remembered more or less distinctly, came, by day, to gaze at the “impostor” and repudiate and insult him; and by night the carousing and brawling went on with symmetrical regularity. However, there was a change of incident at last. The jailer brought in an old man, and said to him⁠—

“The villain is in this room⁠—cast thy old eyes about and see if thou canst say which is he.”

Hendon glanced up, and experienced a pleasant sensation for the first time since he had been in the jail. He said to himself, “This is Blake Andrews, a servant all his life in my father’s family⁠—a good honest soul, with a right heart in his breast. That is, formerly. But none are true now; all are liars. This man will know me⁠—and will deny me, too, like the rest.”

The old man gazed around the room, glanced at each face in turn, and finally said⁠—

“I see none here but paltry knaves, scum o’ the streets. Which is he?”

The jailer laughed.

“Here,” he said; “scan this big animal, and grant me an opinion.”

The old man approached, and looked Hendon over, long and earnestly, then shook his head and said⁠—

“Marry, this is no Hendon⁠—nor ever was!”

“Right! Thy old eyes are sound yet. An’ I were Sir Hugh, I would take the shabby carle and⁠—”

The jailer finished by lifting himself a-tip-toe with an imaginary halter, at the same time making a gurgling noise in his throat suggestive of suffocation. The old man said, vindictively⁠—

“Let him bless God an’ he fare no worse. An’ I had the handling o’ the villain he should roast, or I am no true man!”

The jailer laughed a pleasant hyena laugh, and said⁠—

“Give him a piece of thy mind, old man⁠—they all do it. Thou’lt find it good diversion.”

Then he sauntered toward his anteroom and disappeared. The old man dropped upon his knees and whispered⁠—

“God be thanked, thou’rt come again, my master! I believed thou wert dead these seven years, and lo, here thou art alive! I knew thee the moment I saw thee; and main hard work it was to keep a stony countenance and seem to see none here but tuppenny knaves and rubbish o’ the streets. I am old and poor, Sir Miles; but say the word and I will go forth and proclaim the truth though I be strangled for it.”

“No,” said Hendon; “thou shalt not. It would ruin thee, and yet help but little in my cause. But I thank thee, for thou hast given me back somewhat of my lost faith in my kind.”

The old servant became very valuable to Hendon and the king; for he dropped in several times a day to “abuse” the former, and always smuggled in a few delicacies to help out the prison bill of fare; he also furnished the current news. Hendon reserved the dainties for the king; without them his Majesty might not have survived, for he was not able to eat the coarse and wretched food provided by the jailer. Andrews was obliged to confine himself to brief visits, in order to avoid suspicion; but he managed to impart a fair degree of information each time⁠—information delivered in a low voice, for Hendon’s benefit, and interlarded with insulting epithets delivered in a louder voice for the benefit of other hearers.

So, little by little, the story of the family came out. Arthur had been dead six years. This loss, with the absence of news from Hendon, impaired the father’s health; he believed he was going to die, and he wished to see Hugh and Edith settled in life before he passed away; but Edith begged hard for delay, hoping for Miles’s return; then the letter came which brought the news of Miles’s death; the shock prostrated Sir Richard; he believed his end was very near, and he and Hugh insisted upon the marriage; Edith begged for and obtained a month’s respite, then another, and finally a third; the marriage then took place by the deathbed of Sir Richard. It had not proved a happy one. It was whispered about the country that shortly after the nuptials the bride found among her husband’s papers several rough and incomplete drafts of the fatal letter, and had accused him of precipitating the marriage⁠—and Sir Richard’s death, too⁠—by a wicked forgery. Tales of cruelty to the Lady Edith and the servants were to be heard on all hands; and since the father’s death Sir Hugh had thrown off all soft disguises and become a pitiless master toward all who in any way depended upon him and his domains for bread.

There was a bit of Andrew’s gossip which the king listened to with a lively interest⁠—

“There is rumor that the king is mad. But in charity forbear to say I mentioned it, for ’tis death to speak of it, they say.”

His Majesty glared at the old man and said⁠—

“The king is not mad, good man⁠—and thou’lt find it to thy advantage to busy thyself with matters that nearer concern thee than this seditious prattle.”

“What doth the lad mean?” said Andrews, surprised at this brisk assault from such an unexpected quarter. Hendon gave him a sign, and he did not pursue his question, but went on with his budget⁠—

“The late king is to be buried at Windsor in a day or two⁠—the 16th of the month⁠—and the new king will be crowned at Westminster the 20th.”

“Methinks they must needs find him first,” muttered his Majesty; then added, confidently, “but they will look to that⁠—and so also shall I.”

“In the name of⁠—”

But the old man got no further⁠—a warning sign from Hendon checked his remark. He resumed the thread of his gossip⁠—

“Sir Hugh goeth to the coronation⁠—and with grand hopes. He confidently looketh to come back a peer, for he is high in favor with the Lord Protector.”

“What Lord Protector?” asked his Majesty.

“His Grace the Duke of Somerset.”

“What Duke of Somerset?”

“Marry, there is but one⁠—Seymour, Earl of Hertford.”

The king asked sharply⁠—

“Since when is he a duke, and Lord Protector?”

“Since the last day of January.”

“And prithee who made him so?”

“Himself and the Great Council⁠—with help of the king.”

His Majesty started violently. “The king!” he cried. “What king, good sir?”

“What king, indeed! (God-a-mercy, what aileth the boy?) Sith we have but one, ’tis not difficult to answer⁠—his most sacred Majesty King Edward the Sixth⁠—whom God preserve! Yea, and a dear and gracious little urchin is he, too; and whether he be mad or no⁠—and they say he mendeth daily⁠—his praises are on all men’s lips; and all bless him, likewise, and offer prayers that he may be spared to reign long in England; for he began humanely with saving the old Duke of Norfolk’s life, and now is he bent on destroying the cruellest of the laws that harry and oppress the people.”

This news struck his Majesty dumb with amazement, and plunged him into so deep and dismal a reverie that he heard no more of the old man’s gossip. He wondered if the “little urchin” was the beggar-boy whom he left dressed in his own garments in the palace. It did not seem possible that this could be, for surely his manners and speech would betray him if he pretended to be the Prince of Wales⁠—then he would be driven out, and search made for the true prince. Could it be that the Court had set up some sprig of the nobility in his place? No, for his uncle would not allow that⁠—he was all-powerful and could and would crush such a movement, of course. The boy’s musings profited him nothing; the more he tried to unriddle the mystery the more perplexed he became, the more his head ached, and the worse he slept. His impatience to get to London grew hourly, and his captivity became almost unendurable.

Hendon’s arts all failed with the king⁠—he could not be comforted; but a couple of women who were chained near him succeeded better. Under their gentle ministrations he found peace and learned a degree of patience. He was very grateful, and came to love them dearly and to delight in the sweet and soothing influence of their presence. He asked them why they were in prison, and when they said they were Baptists, he smiled, and inquired⁠—

“Is that a crime to be shut up for in a prison? Now I grieve, for I shall lose ye⁠—they will not keep ye long for such a little thing.”

They did not answer; and something in their faces made him uneasy. He said, eagerly⁠—

“You do not speak; be good to me, and tell me⁠—there will be no other punishment? Prithee tell me there is no fear of that.”

They tried to change the topic, but his fears were aroused, and he pursued it⁠—

“Will they scourge thee? No, no, they would not be so cruel! Say they would not. Come, they will not, will they?”

The women betrayed confusion and distress, but there was no avoiding an answer, so one of them said, in a voice choked with emotion⁠—

“Oh, thou’lt break our hearts, thou gentle spirit!⁠—God will help us to bear our⁠—”

“It is a confession!” the king broke in. “Then they will scourge thee, the stony-hearted wretches! But oh, thou must not weep, I cannot bear it. Keep up thy courage⁠—I shall come to my own in time to save thee from this bitter thing, and I will do it!”

When the king awoke in the morning, the women were gone.

“They are saved!” he said, joyfully; then added, despondently, “but woe is me!⁠—for they were my comforters.”

Each of them had left a shred of ribbon pinned to his clothing, in token of remembrance. He said he would keep these things always; and that soon he would seek out these dear good friends of his and take them under his protection.

Just then the jailer came in with some subordinates, and commanded that the prisoners be conducted to the jail-yard. The king was overjoyed⁠—it would be a blessed thing to see the blue sky and breathe the fresh air once more. He fretted and chafed at the slowness of the officers, but his turn came at last, and he was released from his staple and ordered to follow the other prisoners with Hendon.

The court or quadrangle was stone-paved, and open to the sky. The prisoners entered it through a massive archway of masonry, and were placed in file, standing, with their backs against the wall. A rope was stretched in front of them, and they were also guarded by their officers. It was a chill and lowering morning, and a light snow which had fallen during the night whitened the great empty space and added to the general dismalness of its aspect. Now and then a wintry wind shivered through the place and sent the snow eddying hither and thither.

In the centre of the court stood two women, chained to posts. A glance showed the king that these were his good friends. He shuddered, and said to himself, “Alack, they are not gone free, as I had thought. To think that such as these should know the lash!⁠—in England! Ay, there’s the shame of it⁠—not in Heathennesse, Christian England! They will be scourged; and I, whom they have comforted and kindly entreated, must look on and see the great wrong done; it is strange, so strange, that I, the very source of power in this broad realm, am helpless to protect them. But let these miscreants look well to themselves, for there is a day coming when I will require of them a heavy reckoning for this work. For every blow they strike now, they shall feel a hundred then.”

A great gate swung open, and a crowd of citizens poured in. They flocked around the two women, and hid them from the king’s view. A clergyman entered and passed through the crowd, and he also was hidden. The king now heard talking, back and forth, as if questions were being asked and answered, but he could not make out what was said. Next there was a deal of bustle and preparation, and much passing and repassing of officials through that part of the crowd that stood on the further side of the women; and whilst this proceeded a deep hush gradually fell upon the people.

Now, by command, the masses parted and fell aside, and the king saw a spectacle that froze the marrow in his bones. Faggots had been piled about the two women, and a kneeling man was lighting them!

The women bowed their heads, and covered their faces with their hands; the yellow flames began to climb upward among the snapping and crackling faggots, and wreaths of blue smoke to stream away on the wind; the clergyman lifted his hands and began a prayer⁠—just then two young girls came flying through the great gate, uttering piercing screams, and threw themselves upon the women at the stake. Instantly they were torn away by the officers, and one of them was kept in a tight grip, but the other broke loose, saying she would die with her mother; and before she could be stopped she had flung her arms about her mother’s neck again. She was torn away once more, and with her gown on fire. Two or three men held her, and the burning portion of her gown was snatched off and thrown flaming aside, she struggling all the while to free herself, and saying she would be alone in the world, now; and begging to be allowed to die with her mother. Both the girls screamed continually, and fought for freedom; but suddenly this tumult was drowned under a volley of heart-piercing shrieks of mortal agony⁠—the king glanced from the frantic girls to the stake, then turned away and leaned his ashen face against the wall, and looked no more. He said, “That which I have seen, in that one little moment, will never go out from my memory, but will abide there; and I shall see it all the days, and dream of it all the nights, till I die. Would God I had been blind!”

Hendon was watching the king. He said to himself, with satisfaction, “His disorder mendeth; he hath changed, and groweth gentler. If he had followed his wont, he would have stormed at these varlets, and said he was king, and commanded that the women be turned loose unscathed. Soon his delusion will pass away and be forgotten, and his poor mind will be whole again. God speed the day!”

That same day several prisoners were brought in to remain over night, who were being conveyed, under guard, to various places in the kingdom, to undergo punishment for crimes committed. The king conversed with these⁠—he had made it a point, from the beginning, to instruct himself for the kingly office by questioning prisoners whenever the opportunity offered⁠—and the tale of their woes wrung his heart. One of them was a poor half-witted woman who had stolen a yard or two of cloth from a weaver⁠—she was to be hanged for it. Another was a man who had been accused of stealing a horse; he said the proof had failed, and he had imagined that he was safe from the halter; but no⁠—he was hardly free before he was arraigned for killing a deer in the king’s park; this was proved against him, and now he was on his way to the gallows. There was a tradesman’s apprentice whose case particularly distressed the king; this youth said he found a hawk, one evening, that had escaped from its owner, and he took it home with him, imagining himself entitled to it; but the court convicted him of stealing it, and sentenced him to death.

The king was furious over these inhumanities, and wanted Hendon to break jail and fly with him to Westminster, so that he could mount his throne and hold out his sceptre in mercy over these unfortunate people and save their lives. “Poor child,” sighed Hendon, “these woeful tales have brought his malady upon him again; alack, but for this evil hap, he would have been well in a little time.”

Among these prisoners was an old lawyer⁠—a man with a strong face and a dauntless mien. Three years past, he had written a pamphlet against the Lord Chancellor, accusing him of injustice, and had been punished for it by the loss of his ears in the pillory, and degradation from the bar, and in addition had been fined 3,000 pounds and sentenced to imprisonment for life. Lately he had repeated his offence; and in consequence was now under sentence to lose what remained of his ears, pay a fine of 5,000 pounds, be branded on both cheeks, and remain in prison for life.

“These be honorable scars,” he said, and turned back his grey hair and showed the mutilated stubs of what had once been his ears.

The king’s eye burned with passion. He said⁠—

“None believe in me⁠—neither wilt thou. But no matter⁠—within the compass of a month thou shalt be free; and more, the laws that have dishonored thee, and shamed the English name, shall be swept from the statute books. The world is made wrong; kings should go to school to their own laws, at times, and so learn mercy.”

XXVIII. The Sacrifice

Meantime Miles was growing sufficiently tired of confinement and inaction. But now his trial came on, to his great gratification, and he thought he could welcome any sentence provided a further imprisonment should not be a part of it. But he was mistaken about that. He was in a fine fury when he found himself described as a “sturdy vagabond” and sentenced to sit two hours in the stocks for bearing that character and for assaulting the master of Hendon Hall. His pretensions as to brothership with his prosecutor, and rightful heirship to the Hendon honors and estates, were left contemptuously unnoticed, as being not even worth examination.

He raged and threatened on his way to punishment, but it did no good; he was snatched roughly along by the officers, and got an occasional cuff, besides, for his irreverent conduct.

The king could not pierce through the rabble that swarmed behind; so he was obliged to follow in the rear, remote from his good friend and servant. The king had been nearly condemned to the stocks himself for being in such bad company, but had been let off with a lecture and a warning, in consideration of his youth. When the crowd at last halted, he flitted feverishly from point to point around its outer rim, hunting a place to get through; and at last, after a deal of difficulty and delay, succeeded. There sat his poor henchman in the degrading stocks, the sport and butt of a dirty mob⁠—he, the body servant of the King of England! Edward had heard the sentence pronounced, but he had not realized the half that it meant. His anger began to rise as the sense of this new indignity which had been put upon him sank home; it jumped to summer heat, the next moment, when he saw an egg sail through the air and crush itself against Hendon’s cheek, and heard the crowd roar its enjoyment of the episode. He sprang across the open circle and confronted the officer in charge, crying⁠—

“For shame! This is my servant⁠—set him free! I am the⁠—”

“Oh, peace!” exclaimed Hendon, in a panic, “thou’lt destroy thyself. Mind him not, officer, he is mad.”

“Give thyself no trouble as to the matter of minding him, good man, I have small mind to mind him; but as to teaching him somewhat, to that I am well inclined.” He turned to a subordinate and said, “Give the little fool a taste or two of the lash, to mend his manners.”

“Half a dozen will better serve his turn,” suggested Sir Hugh, who had ridden up, a moment before, to take a passing glance at the proceedings.

The king was seized. He did not even struggle, so paralyzed was he with the mere thought of the monstrous outrage that was proposed to be inflicted upon his sacred person. History was already defiled with the record of the scourging of an English king with whips⁠—it was an intolerable reflection that he must furnish a duplicate of that shameful page. He was in the toils, there was no help for him; he must either take this punishment or beg for its remission. Hard conditions; he would take the stripes⁠—a king might do that, but a king could not beg.

But meantime, Miles Hendon was resolving the difficulty. “Let the child go,” said he; “ye heartless dogs, do ye not see how young and frail he is? Let him go⁠—I will take his lashes.”

“Marry, a good thought⁠—and thanks for it,” said Sir Hugh, his face lighting with a sardonic satisfaction. “Let the little beggar go, and give this fellow a dozen in his place⁠—an honest dozen, well laid on.” The king was in the act of entering a fierce protest, but Sir Hugh silenced him with the potent remark, “Yes, speak up, do, and free thy mind⁠—only, mark ye, that for each word you utter he shall get six strokes the more.”

Hendon was removed from the stocks, and his back laid bare; and whilst the lash was applied the poor little king turned away his face and allowed unroyal tears to channel his cheeks unchecked. “Ah, brave good heart,” he said to himself, “this loyal deed shall never perish out of my memory. I will not forget it⁠—and neither shall they!” he added, with passion. Whilst he mused, his appreciation of Hendon’s magnanimous conduct grew to greater and still greater dimensions in his mind, and so also did his gratefulness for it. Presently he said to himself, “Who saves his prince from wounds and possible death⁠—and this he did for me⁠—performs high service; but it is little⁠—it is nothing⁠—oh, less than nothing!⁠—when ’tis weighed against the act of him who saves his prince from shame!”

Hendon made no outcry under the scourge, but bore the heavy blows with soldierly fortitude. This, together with his redeeming the boy by taking his stripes for him, compelled the respect of even that forlorn and degraded mob that was gathered there; and its gibes and hootings died away, and no sound remained but the sound of the falling blows. The stillness that pervaded the place, when Hendon found himself once more in the stocks, was in strong contrast with the insulting clamor which had prevailed there so little a while before. The king came softly to Hendon’s side, and whispered in his ear⁠—

“Kings cannot ennoble thee, thou good, great soul, for One who is higher than kings hath done that for thee; but a king can confirm thy nobility to men.” He picked up the scourge from the ground, touched Hendon’s bleeding shoulders lightly with it, and whispered, “Edward of England dubs thee earl!”

Hendon was touched. The water welled to his eyes, yet at the same time the grisly humor of the situation and circumstances so undermined his gravity that it was all he could do to keep some sign of his inward mirth from showing outside. To be suddenly hoisted, naked and gory, from the common stocks to the Alpine altitude and splendor of an Earldom, seemed to him the last possibility in the line of the grotesque. He said to himself, “Now am I finely tinselled, indeed! The spectre-knight of the Kingdom of Dreams and Shadows is become a spectre-earl⁠—a dizzy flight for a callow wing! An’ this go on, I shall presently be hung like a very maypole with fantastic gauds and make-believe honors. But I shall value them, all valueless as they are, for the love that doth bestow them. Better these poor mock dignities of mine, that come unasked, from a clean hand and a right spirit, than real ones bought by servility from grudging and interested power.”

The dreaded Sir Hugh wheeled his horse about, and as he spurred away, the living wall divided silently to let him pass, and as silently closed together again. And so remained; nobody went so far as to venture a remark in favor of the prisoner, or in compliment to him; but no matter⁠—the absence of abuse was a sufficient homage in itself. A late comer who was not posted as to the present circumstances, and who delivered a sneer at the “impostor,” and was in the act of following it with a dead cat, was promptly knocked down and kicked out, without any words, and then the deep quiet resumed sway once more.

XXIX. To London

When Hendon’s term of service in the stocks was finished, he was released and ordered to quit the region and come back no more. His sword was restored to him, and also his mule and his donkey. He mounted and rode off, followed by the king, the crowd opening with quiet respectfulness to let them pass, and then dispersing when they were gone.

Hendon was soon absorbed in thought. There were questions of high import to be answered. What should he do? Whither should he go? Powerful help must be found somewhere, or he must relinquish his inheritance and remain under the imputation of being an impostor besides. Where could he hope to find this powerful help? Where, indeed! It was a knotty question. By and by a thought occurred to him which pointed to a possibility⁠—the slenderest of slender possibilities, certainly, but still worth considering, for lack of any other that promised anything at all. He remembered what old Andrews had said about the young king’s goodness and his generous championship of the wronged and unfortunate. Why not go and try to get speech of him and beg for justice? Ah, yes, but could so fantastic a pauper get admission to the august presence of a monarch? Never mind⁠—let that matter take care of itself; it was a bridge that would not need to be crossed till he should come to it. He was an old campaigner, and used to inventing shifts and expedients: no doubt he would be able to find a way. Yes, he would strike for the capital. Maybe his father’s old friend Sir Humphrey Marlow would help him⁠—“good old Sir Humphrey, Head Lieutenant of the late king’s kitchen, or stables, or something”⁠—Miles could not remember just what or which. Now that he had something to turn his energies to, a distinctly defined object to accomplish, the fog of humiliation and depression which had settled down upon his spirits lifted and blew away, and he raised his head and looked about him. He was surprised to see how far he had come; the village was away behind him. The king was jogging along in his wake, with his head bowed; for he, too, was deep in plans and thinkings. A sorrowful misgiving clouded Hendon’s newborn cheerfulness: would the boy be willing to go again to a city where, during all his brief life, he had never known anything but ill-usage and pinching want? But the question must be asked; it could not be avoided; so Hendon reined up, and called out⁠—

“I had forgotten to inquire whither we are bound. Thy commands, my liege!”

“To London!”

Hendon moved on again, mightily contented with the answer⁠—but astounded at it too.

The whole journey was made without an adventure of importance. But it ended with one. About ten o’clock on the night of the 19th of February they stepped upon London Bridge, in the midst of a writhing, struggling jam of howling and hurrahing people, whose beer-jolly faces stood out strongly in the glare from manifold torches⁠—and at that instant the decaying head of some former duke or other grandee tumbled down between them, striking Hendon on the elbow and then bounding off among the hurrying confusion of feet. So evanescent and unstable are men’s works in this world!⁠—the late good king is but three weeks dead and three days in his grave, and already the adornments which he took such pains to select from prominent people for his noble bridge are falling. A citizen stumbled over that head, and drove his own head into the back of somebody in front of him, who turned and knocked down the first person that came handy, and was promptly laid out himself by that person’s friend. It was the right ripe time for a free fight, for the festivities of the morrow⁠—Coronation Day⁠—were already beginning; everybody was full of strong drink and patriotism; within five minutes the free fight was occupying a good deal of ground; within ten or twelve it covered an acre or so, and was become a riot. By this time Hendon and the king were hopelessly separated from each other and lost in the rush and turmoil of the roaring masses of humanity. And so we leave them.

XXX. Tom’s Progress

Whilst the true king wandered about the land poorly clad, poorly fed, cuffed and derided by tramps one while, herding with thieves and murderers in a jail another, and called idiot and impostor by all impartially, the mock king Tom Canty enjoyed quite a different experience.

When we saw him last, royalty was just beginning to have a bright side for him. This bright side went on brightening more and more every day: in a very little while it was become almost all sunshine and delightfulness. He lost his fears; his misgivings faded out and died; his embarrassments departed, and gave place to an easy and confident bearing. He worked the whipping-boy mine to ever-increasing profit.

He ordered my Lady Elizabeth and my Lady Jane Grey into his presence when he wanted to play or talk, and dismissed them when he was done with them, with the air of one familiarly accustomed to such performances. It no longer confused him to have these lofty personages kiss his hand at parting.

He came to enjoy being conducted to bed in state at night, and dressed with intricate and solemn ceremony in the morning. It came to be a proud pleasure to march to dinner attended by a glittering procession of officers of state and gentlemen-at-arms; insomuch, indeed, that he doubled his guard of gentlemen-at-arms, and made them a hundred. He liked to hear the bugles sounding down the long corridors, and the distant voices responding, “Way for the king!”

He even learned to enjoy sitting in throned state in council, and seeming to be something more than the Lord Protector’s mouthpiece. He liked to receive great ambassadors and their gorgeous trains, and listen to the affectionate messages they brought from illustrious monarchs who called him brother. O happy Tom Canty, late of Offal Court!

He enjoyed his splendid clothes, and ordered more: he found his four hundred servants too few for his proper grandeur, and trebled them. The adulation of salaaming courtiers came to be sweet music to his ears. He remained kind and gentle, and a sturdy and determined champion of all that were oppressed, and he made tireless war upon unjust laws: yet upon occasion, being offended, he could turn upon an earl, or even a duke, and give him a look that would make him tremble. Once, when his royal “sister,” the grimly holy Lady Mary, set herself to reason with him against the wisdom of his course in pardoning so many people who would otherwise be jailed, or hanged, or burned, and reminded him that their august late father’s prisons had sometimes contained as high as sixty thousand convicts at one time, and that during his admirable reign he had delivered seventy-two thousand thieves and robbers over to death by the executioner, the boy was filled with generous indignation, and commanded her to go to her closet, and beseech God to take away the stone that was in her breast, and give her a human heart.

Did Tom Canty never feel troubled about the poor little rightful prince who had treated him so kindly, and flown out with such hot zeal to avenge him upon the insolent sentinel at the palace-gate? Yes; his first royal days and nights were pretty well sprinkled with painful thoughts about the lost prince, and with sincere longings for his return, and happy restoration to his native rights and splendors. But as time wore on, and the prince did not come, Tom’s mind became more and more occupied with his new and enchanting experiences, and by little and little the vanished monarch faded almost out of his thoughts; and finally, when he did intrude upon them at intervals, he was become an unwelcome spectre, for he made Tom feel guilty and ashamed.

Tom’s poor mother and sisters travelled the same road out of his mind. At first he pined for them, sorrowed for them, longed to see them, but later, the thought of their coming some day in their rags and dirt, and betraying him with their kisses, and pulling him down from his lofty place, and dragging him back to penury and degradation and the slums, made him shudder. At last they ceased to trouble his thoughts almost wholly. And he was content, even glad: for, whenever their mournful and accusing faces did rise before him now, they made him feel more despicable than the worms that crawl.

At midnight of the 19th of February, Tom Canty was sinking to sleep in his rich bed in the palace, guarded by his loyal vassals, and surrounded by the pomps of royalty, a happy boy; for tomorrow was the day appointed for his solemn crowning as King of England. At that same hour, Edward, the true king, hungry and thirsty, soiled and draggled, worn with travel, and clothed in rags and shreds⁠—his share of the results of the riot⁠—was wedged in among a crowd of people who were watching with deep interest certain hurrying gangs of workmen who streamed in and out of Westminster Abbey, busy as ants: they were making the last preparation for the royal coronation.