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The Prince and the Pauper

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XXXI. The Recognition Procession

When Tom Canty awoke the next morning, the air was heavy with a thunderous murmur: all the distances were charged with it. It was music to him; for it meant that the English world was out in its strength to give loyal welcome to the great day.

Presently Tom found himself once more the chief figure in a wonderful floating pageant on the Thames; for by ancient custom the “recognition procession” through London must start from the Tower, and he was bound thither.

When he arrived there, the sides of the venerable fortress seemed suddenly rent in a thousand places, and from every rent leaped a red tongue of flame and a white gush of smoke; a deafening explosion followed, which drowned the shoutings of the multitude, and made the ground tremble; the flame-jets, the smoke, and the explosions, were repeated over and over again with marvellous celerity, so that in a few moments the old Tower disappeared in the vast fog of its own smoke, all but the very top of the tall pile called the White Tower; this, with its banners, stood out above the dense bank of vapor as a mountain-peak projects above a cloud-rack.

Tom Canty, splendidly arrayed, mounted a prancing war-steed, whose rich trappings almost reached to the ground; his “uncle,” the Lord Protector Somerset, similarly mounted, took place in his rear; the king’s Guard formed in single ranks on either side, clad in burnished armor; after the Protector followed a seemingly interminable procession of resplendent nobles attended by their vassals; after these came the lord mayor and the aldermanic body, in crimson velvet robes, and with their gold chains across their breasts; and after these the officers and members of all the guilds of London, in rich raiment, and bearing the showy banners of the several corporations. Also in the procession, as a special guard of honor through the city, was the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company⁠—an organization already three hundred years old at that time, and the only military body in England possessing the privilege (which it still possesses in our day) of holding itself independent of the commands of Parliament. It was a brilliant spectacle, and was hailed with acclamations all along the line, as it took its stately way through the packed multitudes of citizens. The chronicler says, “The king, as he entered the city, was received by the people with prayers, welcomings, cries, and tender words, and all signs which argue an earnest love of subjects toward their sovereign; and the king, by holding up his glad countenance to such as stood afar off, and most tender language to those that stood nigh his Grace, showed himself no less thankful to receive the people’s goodwill than they to offer it. To all that wished him well, he gave thanks. To such as bade ‘God save his Grace,’ he said in return, ‘God save you all!’ and added that ‘he thanked them with all his heart.’ Wonderfully transported were the people with the loving answers and gestures of their king.”

In Fenchurch Street a “fair child, in costly apparel,” stood on a stage to welcome his Majesty to the city. The last verse of his greeting was in these words⁠—

“Welcome, O king! as much as hearts can think;
Welcome, again, as much as tongue can tell⁠—,
Welcome to joyous tongues, and hearts that will not shrink:
God thee preserve, we pray, and wish thee ever well.”

The people burst forth in a glad shout, repeating with one voice what the child had said. Tom Canty gazed abroad over the surging sea of eager faces, and his heart swelled with exultation; and he felt that the one thing worth living for in this world was to be a king, and a nation’s idol. Presently he caught sight, at a distance, of a couple of his ragged Offal Court comrades⁠—one of them the lord high admiral in his late mimic court, the other the first lord of the bedchamber in the same pretentious fiction; and his pride swelled higher than ever. Oh, if they could only recognize him now! What unspeakable glory it would be, if they could recognize him, and realize that the derided mock king of the slums and back alleys was become a real king, with illustrious dukes and princes for his humble menials, and the English world at his feet! But he had to deny himself, and choke down his desire, for such a recognition might cost more than it would come to: so he turned away his head, and left the two soiled lads to go on with their shoutings and glad adulations, unsuspicious of whom it was they were lavishing them upon.

Every now and then rose the cry, “A largess! a largess!” and Tom responded by scattering a handful of bright new coins abroad for the multitude to scramble for.

The chronicler says, “At the upper end of Gracechurch Street, before the sign of the Eagle, the city had erected a gorgeous arch, beneath which was a stage, which stretched from one side of the street to the other. This was an historical pageant, representing the king’s immediate progenitors. There sat Elizabeth of York in the midst of an immense white rose, whose petals formed elaborate furbelows around her; by her side was Henry VII, issuing out of a vast red rose, disposed in the same manner: the hands of the royal pair were locked together, and the wedding-ring ostentatiously displayed. From the red and white roses proceeded a stem, which reached up to a second stage, occupied by Henry VIII, issuing from a red and white rose, with the effigy of the new king’s mother, Jane Seymour, represented by his side. One branch sprang from this pair, which mounted to a third stage, where sat the effigy of Edward VI himself, enthroned in royal majesty; and the whole pageant was framed with wreaths of roses, red and white.”

This quaint and gaudy spectacle so wrought upon the rejoicing people, that their acclamations utterly smothered the small voice of the child whose business it was to explain the thing in eulogistic rhymes. But Tom Canty was not sorry; for this loyal uproar was sweeter music to him than any poetry, no matter what its quality might be. Whithersoever Tom turned his happy young face, the people recognized the exactness of his effigy’s likeness to himself, the flesh and blood counterpart; and new whirlwinds of applause burst forth.

The great pageant moved on, and still on, under one triumphal arch after another, and past a bewildering succession of spectacular and symbolical tableaux, each of which typified and exalted some virtue, or talent, or merit, of the little king’s. “Throughout the whole of Cheapside, from every penthouse and window, hung banners and streamers; and the richest carpets, stuffs, and cloth-of-gold tapestried the streets⁠—specimens of the great wealth of the stores within; and the splendor of this thoroughfare was equalled in the other streets, and in some even surpassed.”

“And all these wonders and these marvels are to welcome me⁠—me!” murmured Tom Canty.

The mock king’s cheeks were flushed with excitement, his eyes were flashing, his senses swam in a delirium of pleasure. At this point, just as he was raising his hand to fling another rich largess, he caught sight of a pale, astounded face, which was strained forward out of the second rank of the crowd, its intense eyes riveted upon him. A sickening consternation struck through him; he recognized his mother! and up flew his hand, palm outward, before his eyes⁠—that old involuntary gesture, born of a forgotten episode, and perpetuated by habit. In an instant more she had torn her way out of the press, and past the guards, and was at his side. She embraced his leg, she covered it with kisses, she cried, “O my child, my darling!” lifting toward him a face that was transfigured with joy and love. The same instant an officer of the King’s Guard snatched her away with a curse, and sent her reeling back whence she came with a vigorous impulse from his strong arm. The words “I do not know you, woman!” were falling from Tom Canty’s lips when this piteous thing occurred; but it smote him to the heart to see her treated so; and as she turned for a last glimpse of him, whilst the crowd was swallowing her from his sight, she seemed so wounded, so brokenhearted, that a shame fell upon him which consumed his pride to ashes, and withered his stolen royalty. His grandeurs were stricken valueless: they seemed to fall away from him like rotten rags.

The procession moved on, and still on, through ever augmenting splendors and ever augmenting tempests of welcome; but to Tom Canty they were as if they had not been. He neither saw nor heard. Royalty had lost its grace and sweetness; its pomps were become a reproach. Remorse was eating his heart out. He said, “Would God I were free of my captivity!”

He had unconsciously dropped back into the phraseology of the first days of his compulsory greatness.

The shining pageant still went winding like a radiant and interminable serpent down the crooked lanes of the quaint old city, and through the huzzaing hosts; but still the king rode with bowed head and vacant eyes, seeing only his mother’s face and that wounded look in it.

“Largess, largess!” The cry fell upon an unheeding ear.

“Long live Edward of England!” It seemed as if the earth shook with the explosion; but there was no response from the king. He heard it only as one hears the thunder of the surf when it is blown to the ear out of a great distance, for it was smothered under another sound which was still nearer, in his own breast, in his accusing conscience⁠—a voice which kept repeating those shameful words, “I do not know you, woman!”

The words smote upon the king’s soul as the strokes of a funeral bell smite upon the soul of a surviving friend when they remind him of secret treacheries suffered at his hands by him that is gone.

New glories were unfolded at every turning; new wonders, new marvels, sprang into view; the pent clamors of waiting batteries were released; new raptures poured from the throats of the waiting multitudes: but the king gave no sign, and the accusing voice that went moaning through his comfortless breast was all the sound he heard.

By and by the gladness in the faces of the populace changed a little, and became touched with a something like solicitude or anxiety: an abatement in the volume of the applause was observable too. The Lord Protector was quick to notice these things: he was as quick to detect the cause. He spurred to the king’s side, bent low in his saddle, uncovered, and said⁠—

“My liege, it is an ill time for dreaming. The people observe thy downcast head, thy clouded mien, and they take it for an omen. Be advised: unveil the sun of royalty, and let it shine upon these boding vapors, and disperse them. Lift up thy face, and smile upon the people.”

So saying, the duke scattered a handful of coins to right and left, then retired to his place. The mock king did mechanically as he had been bidden. His smile had no heart in it, but few eyes were near enough or sharp enough to detect that. The noddings of his plumed head as he saluted his subjects were full of grace and graciousness; the largess which he delivered from his hand was royally liberal: so the people’s anxiety vanished, and the acclamations burst forth again in as mighty a volume as before.

Still once more, a little before the progress was ended, the duke was obliged to ride forward, and make remonstrance. He whispered⁠—

“O dread sovereign! shake off these fatal humors; the eyes of the world are upon thee.” Then he added with sharp annoyance, “Perdition catch that crazy pauper! ’twas she that hath disturbed your Highness.”

The gorgeous figure turned a lustreless eye upon the duke, and said in a dead voice⁠—

“She was my mother!”

“My God!” groaned the Protector as he reined his horse backward to his post, “the omen was pregnant with prophecy. He is gone mad again!”

XXXII. Coronation Day

Let us go backward a few hours, and place ourselves in Westminster Abbey, at four o’clock in the morning of this memorable Coronation Day. We are not without company; for although it is still night, we find the torch-lighted galleries already filling up with people who are well content to sit still and wait seven or eight hours till the time shall come for them to see what they may not hope to see twice in their lives⁠—the coronation of a king. Yes, London and Westminster have been astir ever since the warning guns boomed at three o’clock, and already crowds of untitled rich folk who have bought the privilege of trying to find sitting-room in the galleries are flocking in at the entrances reserved for their sort.

The hours drag along tediously enough. All stir has ceased for some time, for every gallery has long ago been packed. We may sit, now, and look and think at our leisure. We have glimpses, here and there and yonder, through the dim cathedral twilight, of portions of many galleries and balconies, wedged full with other people, the other portions of these galleries and balconies being cut off from sight by intervening pillars and architectural projections. We have in view the whole of the great north transept⁠—empty, and waiting for England’s privileged ones. We see also the ample area or platform, carpeted with rich stuffs, whereon the throne stands. The throne occupies the centre of the platform, and is raised above it upon an elevation of four steps. Within the seat of the throne is enclosed a rough flat rock⁠—the stone of Scone⁠—which many generations of Scottish kings sat on to be crowned, and so it in time became holy enough to answer a like purpose for English monarchs. Both the throne and its footstool are covered with cloth of gold.

Stillness reigns, the torches blink dully, the time drags heavily. But at last the lagging daylight asserts itself, the torches are extinguished, and a mellow radiance suffuses the great spaces. All features of the noble building are distinct now, but soft and dreamy, for the sun is lightly veiled with clouds.

At seven o’clock the first break in the drowsy monotony occurs; for on the stroke of this hour the first peeress enters the transept, clothed like Solomon for splendor, and is conducted to her appointed place by an official clad in satins and velvets, whilst a duplicate of him gathers up the lady’s long train, follows after, and, when the lady is seated, arranges the train across her lap for her. He then places her footstool according to her desire, after which he puts her coronet where it will be convenient to her hand when the time for the simultaneous coroneting of the nobles shall arrive.

By this time the peeresses are flowing in in a glittering stream, and the satin-clad officials are flitting and glinting everywhere, seating them and making them comfortable. The scene is animated enough now. There is stir and life, and shifting color everywhere. After a time, quiet reigns again; for the peeresses are all come and are all in their places, a solid acre or such a matter, of human flowers, resplendent in variegated colors, and frosted like a Milky Way with diamonds. There are all ages here: brown, wrinkled, white-haired dowagers who are able to go back, and still back, down the stream of time, and recall the crowning of Richard III and the troublous days of that old forgotten age; and there are handsome middle-aged dames; and lovely and gracious young matrons; and gentle and beautiful young girls, with beaming eyes and fresh complexions, who may possibly put on their jewelled coronets awkwardly when the great time comes; for the matter will be new to them, and their excitement will be a sore hindrance. Still, this may not happen, for the hair of all these ladies has been arranged with a special view to the swift and successful lodging of the crown in its place when the signal comes.

We have seen that this massed array of peeresses is sown thick with diamonds, and we also see that it is a marvellous spectacle⁠—but now we are about to be astonished in earnest. About nine, the clouds suddenly break away and a shaft of sunshine cleaves the mellow atmosphere, and drifts slowly along the ranks of ladies; and every rank it touches flames into a dazzling splendor of many-colored fires, and we tingle to our fingertips with the electric thrill that is shot through us by the surprise and the beauty of the spectacle! Presently a special envoy from some distant corner of the Orient, marching with the general body of foreign ambassadors, crosses this bar of sunshine, and we catch our breath, the glory that streams and flashes and palpitates about him is so overpowering; for he is crusted from head to heel with gems, and his slightest movement showers a dancing radiance all around him.

Let us change the tense for convenience. The time drifted along⁠—one hour⁠—two hours⁠—two hours and a half; then the deep booming of artillery told that the king and his grand procession had arrived at last; so the waiting multitude rejoiced. All knew that a further delay must follow, for the king must be prepared and robed for the solemn ceremony; but this delay would be pleasantly occupied by the assembling of the peers of the realm in their stately robes. These were conducted ceremoniously to their seats, and their coronets placed conveniently at hand; and meanwhile the multitude in the galleries were alive with interest, for most of them were beholding for the first time, dukes, earls, and barons, whose names had been historical for five hundred years. When all were finally seated, the spectacle from the galleries and all coigns of vantage was complete; a gorgeous one to look upon and to remember.

Now the robed and mitred great heads of the church, and their attendants, filed in upon the platform and took their appointed places; these were followed by the Lord Protector and other great officials, and these again by a steel-clad detachment of the Guard.

There was a waiting pause; then, at a signal, a triumphant peal of music burst forth, and Tom Canty, clothed in a long robe of cloth of gold, appeared at a door, and stepped upon the platform. The entire multitude rose, and the ceremony of the Recognition ensued.

Then a noble anthem swept the Abbey with its rich waves of sound; and thus heralded and welcomed, Tom Canty was conducted to the throne. The ancient ceremonies went on, with impressive solemnity, whilst the audience gazed; and as they drew nearer and nearer to completion, Tom Canty grew pale, and still paler, and a deep and steadily deepening woe and despondency settled down upon his spirits and upon his remorseful heart.

At last the final act was at hand. The Archbishop of Canterbury lifted up the crown of England from its cushion and held it out over the trembling mock-king’s head. In the same instant a rainbow-radiance flashed along the spacious transept; for with one impulse every individual in the great concourse of nobles lifted a coronet and poised it over his or her head⁠—and paused in that attitude.

A deep hush pervaded the Abbey. At this impressive moment, a startling apparition intruded upon the scene⁠—an apparition observed by none in the absorbed multitude, until it suddenly appeared, moving up the great central aisle. It was a boy, bareheaded, ill shod, and clothed in coarse plebeian garments that were falling to rags. He raised his hand with a solemnity which ill comported with his soiled and sorry aspect, and delivered this note of warning⁠—

“I forbid you to set the crown of England upon that forfeited head. I am the king!”

In an instant several indignant hands were laid upon the boy; but in the same instant Tom Canty, in his regal vestments, made a swift step forward, and cried out in a ringing voice⁠—

“Loose him and forbear! He is the king!”

A sort of panic of astonishment swept the assemblage, and they partly rose in their places and stared in a bewildered way at one another and at the chief figures in this scene, like persons who wondered whether they were awake and in their senses, or asleep and dreaming. The Lord Protector was as amazed as the rest, but quickly recovered himself, and exclaimed in a voice of authority⁠—

“Mind not his Majesty, his malady is upon him again⁠—seize the vagabond!”

He would have been obeyed, but the mock-king stamped his foot and cried out⁠—

“On your peril! Touch him not, he is the king!”

The hands were withheld; a paralysis fell upon the house; no one moved, no one spoke; indeed, no one knew how to act or what to say, in so strange and surprising an emergency. While all minds were struggling to right themselves, the boy still moved steadily forward, with high port and confident mien; he had never halted from the beginning; and while the tangled minds still floundered helplessly, he stepped upon the platform, and the mock-king ran with a glad face to meet him; and fell on his knees before him and said⁠—

“Oh, my lord the king, let poor Tom Canty be first to swear fealty to thee, and say, ‘Put on thy crown and enter into thine own again!’ ”

The Lord Protector’s eye fell sternly upon the newcomer’s face; but straightway the sternness vanished away, and gave place to an expression of wondering surprise. This thing happened also to the other great officers. They glanced at each other, and retreated a step by a common and unconscious impulse. The thought in each mind was the same: “What a strange resemblance!”

The Lord Protector reflected a moment or two in perplexity, then he said, with grave respectfulness⁠—

“By your favor, sir, I desire to ask certain questions which⁠—”

“I will answer them, my lord.”

The Duke asked him many questions about the Court, the late king, the prince, the princesses⁠—the boy answered them correctly and without hesitating. He described the rooms of state in the palace, the late king’s apartments, and those of the Prince of Wales.

It was strange; it was wonderful; yes, it was unaccountable⁠—so all said that heard it. The tide was beginning to turn, and Tom Canty’s hopes to run high, when the Lord Protector shook his head and said⁠—

“It is true it is most wonderful⁠—but it is no more than our lord the king likewise can do.” This remark, and this reference to himself as still the king, saddened Tom Canty, and he felt his hopes crumbling from under him. “These are not proofs,” added the Protector.

The tide was turning very fast now, very fast indeed⁠—but in the wrong direction; it was leaving poor Tom Canty stranded on the throne, and sweeping the other out to sea. The Lord Protector communed with himself⁠—shook his head⁠—the thought forced itself upon him, “It is perilous to the State and to us all, to entertain so fateful a riddle as this; it could divide the nation and undermine the throne.” He turned and said⁠—

“Sir Thomas, arrest this⁠—No, hold!” His face lighted, and he confronted the ragged candidate with this question⁠—

“Where lieth the Great Seal? Answer me this truly, and the riddle is unriddled; for only he that was Prince of Wales can so answer! On so trivial a thing hang a throne and a dynasty!”

It was a lucky thought, a happy thought. That it was so considered by the great officials was manifested by the silent applause that shot from eye to eye around their circle in the form of bright approving glances. Yes, none but the true prince could dissolve the stubborn mystery of the vanished Great Seal⁠—this forlorn little impostor had been taught his lesson well, but here his teachings must fail, for his teacher himself could not answer that question⁠—ah, very good, very good indeed; now we shall be rid of this troublesome and perilous business in short order! And so they nodded invisibly and smiled inwardly with satisfaction, and looked to see this foolish lad stricken with a palsy of guilty confusion. How surprised they were, then, to see nothing of the sort happen⁠—how they marvelled to hear him answer up promptly, in a confident and untroubled voice, and say⁠—

“There is nought in this riddle that is difficult.” Then, without so much as a by-your-leave to anybody, he turned and gave this command, with the easy manner of one accustomed to doing such things: “My Lord St. John, go you to my private cabinet in the palace⁠—for none knoweth the place better than you⁠—and, close down to the floor, in the left corner remotest from the door that opens from the antechamber, you shall find in the wall a brazen nailhead; press upon it and a little jewel-closet will fly open which not even you do know of⁠—no, nor any soul else in all the world but me and the trusty artisan that did contrive it for me. The first thing that falleth under your eye will be the Great Seal⁠—fetch it hither.”

All the company wondered at this speech, and wondered still more to see the little mendicant pick out this peer without hesitancy or apparent fear of mistake, and call him by name with such a placidly convincing air of having known him all his life. The peer was almost surprised into obeying. He even made a movement as if to go, but quickly recovered his tranquil attitude and confessed his blunder with a blush. Tom Canty turned upon him and said, sharply⁠—

“Why dost thou hesitate? Hast not heard the king’s command? Go!”

The Lord St. John made a deep obeisance⁠—and it was observed that it was a significantly cautious and noncommittal one, it not being delivered at either of the kings, but at the neutral ground about halfway between the two⁠—and took his leave.

Now began a movement of the gorgeous particles of that official group which was slow, scarcely perceptible, and yet steady and persistent⁠—a movement such as is observed in a kaleidoscope that is turned slowly, whereby the components of one splendid cluster fall away and join themselves to another⁠—a movement which, little by little, in the present case, dissolved the glittering crowd that stood about Tom Canty and clustered it together again in the neighborhood of the newcomer. Tom Canty stood almost alone. Now ensued a brief season of deep suspense and waiting⁠—during which even the few faint hearts still remaining near Tom Canty gradually scraped together courage enough to glide, one by one, over to the majority. So at last Tom Canty, in his royal robes and jewels, stood wholly alone and isolated from the world, a conspicuous figure, occupying an eloquent vacancy.

Now the Lord St. John was seen returning. As he advanced up the mid-aisle the interest was so intense that the low murmur of conversation in the great assemblage died out and was succeeded by a profound hush, a breathless stillness, through which his footfalls pulsed with a dull and distant sound. Every eye was fastened upon him as he moved along. He reached the platform, paused a moment, then moved toward Tom Canty with a deep obeisance, and said⁠—

“Sire, the Seal is not there!”

A mob does not melt away from the presence of a plague-patient with more haste than the band of pallid and terrified courtiers melted away from the presence of the shabby little claimant of the Crown. In a moment he stood all alone, without friend or supporter, a target upon which was concentrated a bitter fire of scornful and angry looks. The Lord Protector called out fiercely⁠—

“Cast the beggar into the street, and scourge him through the town⁠—the paltry knave is worth no more consideration!”

Officers of the guard sprang forward to obey, but Tom Canty waved them off and said⁠—

“Back! Whoso touches him perils his life!”

The Lord Protector was perplexed in the last degree. He said to the Lord St. John⁠—

“Searched you well?⁠—but it boots not to ask that. It doth seem passing strange. Little things, trifles, slip out of one’s ken, and one does not think it matter for surprise; but how so bulky a thing as the Seal of England can vanish away and no man be able to get track of it again⁠—a massy golden disk⁠—”

Tom Canty, with beaming eyes, sprang forward and shouted⁠—

“Hold, that is enough! Was it round?⁠—and thick?⁠—and had it letters and devices graved upon it?⁠—yes? Oh, now I know what this Great Seal is that there’s been such worry and pother about. An’ ye had described it to me, ye could have had it three weeks ago. Right well I know where it lies; but it was not I that put it there⁠—first.”

“Who, then, my liege?” asked the Lord Protector.

“He that stands there⁠—the rightful King of England. And he shall tell you himself where it lies⁠—then you will believe he knew it of his own knowledge. Bethink thee, my king⁠—spur thy memory⁠—it was the last, the very last thing thou didst that day before thou didst rush forth from the palace, clothed in my rags, to punish the soldier that insulted me.”

A silence ensued, undisturbed by a movement or a whisper, and all eyes were fixed upon the newcomer, who stood, with bent head and corrugated brow, groping in his memory among a thronging multitude of valueless recollections for one single little elusive fact, which, found, would seat him upon a throne⁠—unfound, would leave him as he was, for good and all⁠—a pauper and an outcast. Moment after moment passed⁠—the moments built themselves into minutes⁠—still the boy struggled silently on, and gave no sign. But at last he heaved a sigh, shook his head slowly, and said, with a trembling lip and in a despondent voice⁠—

“I call the scene back⁠—all of it⁠—but the Seal hath no place in it.” He paused, then looked up, and said with gentle dignity, “My lords and gentlemen, if ye will rob your rightful sovereign of his own for lack of this evidence which he is not able to furnish, I may not stay ye, being powerless. But⁠—”

“Oh, folly, oh, madness, my king!” cried Tom Canty, in a panic, “wait!⁠—think! Do not give up!⁠—the cause is not lost! Nor shall be, neither! List to what I say⁠—follow every word⁠—I am going to bring that morning back again, every hap just as it happened. We talked⁠—I told you of my sisters, Nan and Bet⁠—ah, yes, you remember that; and about mine old grandam⁠—and the rough games of the lads of Offal Court⁠—yes, you remember these things also; very well, follow me still, you shall recall everything. You gave me food and drink, and did with princely courtesy send away the servants, so that my low breeding might not shame me before them⁠—ah, yes, this also you remember.”

As Tom checked off his details, and the other boy nodded his head in recognition of them, the great audience and the officials stared in puzzled wonderment; the tale sounded like true history, yet how could this impossible conjunction between a prince and a beggar-boy have come about? Never was a company of people so perplexed, so interested, and so stupefied, before.

“For a jest, my prince, we did exchange garments. Then we stood before a mirror; and so alike were we that both said it seemed as if there had been no change made⁠—yes, you remember that. Then you noticed that the soldier had hurt my hand⁠—look! here it is, I cannot yet even write with it, the fingers are so stiff. At this your Highness sprang up, vowing vengeance upon that soldier, and ran towards the door⁠—you passed a table⁠—that thing you call the Seal lay on that table⁠—you snatched it up and looked eagerly about, as if for a place to hide it⁠—your eye caught sight of⁠—”

“There, ’tis sufficient!⁠—and the good God be thanked!” exclaimed the ragged claimant, in a mighty excitement. “Go, my good St. John⁠—in an arm-piece of the Milanese armor that hangs on the wall, thou’lt find the Seal!”

“Right, my king! right!” cried Tom Canty; “Now the sceptre of England is thine own; and it were better for him that would dispute it that he had been born dumb! Go, my Lord St. John, give thy feet wings!”

The whole assemblage was on its feet now, and well-nigh out of its mind with uneasiness, apprehension, and consuming excitement. On the floor and on the platform a deafening buzz of frantic conversation burst forth, and for some time nobody knew anything or heard anything or was interested in anything but what his neighbor was shouting into his ear, or he was shouting into his neighbor’s ear. Time⁠—nobody knew how much of it⁠—swept by unheeded and unnoted. At last a sudden hush fell upon the house, and in the same moment St. John appeared upon the platform, and held the Great Seal aloft in his hand. Then such a shout went up⁠—

For five minutes the air quaked with shouts and the crash of musical instruments, and was white with a storm of waving handkerchiefs; and through it all a ragged lad, the most conspicuous figure in England, stood, flushed and happy and proud, in the centre of the spacious platform, with the great vassals of the kingdom kneeling around him.

Then all rose, and Tom Canty cried out⁠—

“Now, O my king, take these regal garments back, and give poor Tom, thy servant, his shreds and remnants again.”

The Lord Protector spoke up⁠—

“Let the small varlet be stripped and flung into the Tower.”

But the new king, the true king, said⁠—

“I will not have it so. But for him I had not got my crown again⁠—none shall lay a hand upon him to harm him. And as for thee, my good uncle, my Lord Protector, this conduct of thine is not grateful toward this poor lad, for I hear he hath made thee a duke”⁠—the Protector blushed⁠—“yet he was not a king; wherefore what is thy fine title worth now? Tomorrow you shall sue to me, through him, for its confirmation, else no duke, but a simple earl, shalt thou remain.”

Under this rebuke, his Grace the Duke of Somerset retired a little from the front for the moment. The king turned to Tom, and said kindly⁠—“My poor boy, how was it that you could remember where I hid the Seal when I could not remember it myself?”

“Ah, my king, that was easy, since I used it diverse days.”

“Used it⁠—yet could not explain where it was?”

“I did not know it was that they wanted. They did not describe it, your Majesty.”

“Then how used you it?”

The red blood began to steal up into Tom’s cheeks, and he dropped his eyes and was silent.

“Speak up, good lad, and fear nothing,” said the king. “How used you the Great Seal of England?”

Tom stammered a moment, in a pathetic confusion, then got it out⁠—

“To crack nuts with!”

Poor child, the avalanche of laughter that greeted this nearly swept him off his feet. But if a doubt remained in any mind that Tom Canty was not the King of England and familiar with the august appurtenances of royalty, this reply disposed of it utterly.

Meantime the sumptuous robe of state had been removed from Tom’s shoulders to the king’s, whose rags were effectually hidden from sight under it. Then the coronation ceremonies were resumed; the true king was anointed and the crown set upon his head, whilst cannon thundered the news to the city, and all London seemed to rock with applause.

XXXIII. Edward as King

Miles Hendon was picturesque enough before he got into the riot on London Bridge⁠—he was more so when he got out of it. He had but little money when he got in, none at all when he got out. The pickpockets had stripped him of his last farthing.

But no matter, so he found his boy. Being a soldier, he did not go at his task in a random way, but set to work, first of all, to arrange his campaign.

What would the boy naturally do? Where would he naturally go? Well⁠—argued Miles⁠—he would naturally go to his former haunts, for that is the instinct of unsound minds, when homeless and forsaken, as well as of sound ones. Whereabouts were his former haunts? His rags, taken together with the low villain who seemed to know him and who even claimed to be his father, indicated that his home was in one or another of the poorest and meanest districts of London. Would the search for him be difficult, or long? No, it was likely to be easy and brief. He would not hunt for the boy, he would hunt for a crowd; in the centre of a big crowd or a little one, sooner or later, he should find his poor little friend, sure; and the mangy mob would be entertaining itself with pestering and aggravating the boy, who would be proclaiming himself king, as usual. Then Miles Hendon would cripple some of those people, and carry off his little ward, and comfort and cheer him with loving words, and the two would never be separated any more.

So Miles started on his quest. Hour after hour he tramped through back alleys and squalid streets, seeking groups and crowds, and finding no end of them, but never any sign of the boy. This greatly surprised him, but did not discourage him. To his notion, there was nothing the matter with his plan of campaign; the only miscalculation about it was that the campaign was becoming a lengthy one, whereas he had expected it to be short.

When daylight arrived, at last, he had made many a mile, and canvassed many a crowd, but the only result was that he was tolerably tired, rather hungry and very sleepy. He wanted some breakfast, but there was no way to get it. To beg for it did not occur to him; as to pawning his sword, he would as soon have thought of parting with his honor; he could spare some of his clothes⁠—yes, but one could as easily find a customer for a disease as for such clothes.

At noon he was still tramping⁠—among the rabble which followed after the royal procession, now; for he argued that this regal display would attract his little lunatic powerfully. He followed the pageant through all its devious windings about London, and all the way to Westminster and the Abbey. He drifted here and there amongst the multitudes that were massed in the vicinity for a weary long time, baffled and perplexed, and finally wandered off, thinking, and trying to contrive some way to better his plan of campaign. By and by, when he came to himself out of his musings, he discovered that the town was far behind him and that the day was growing old. He was near the river, and in the country; it was a region of fine rural seats⁠—not the sort of district to welcome clothes like his.

It was not at all cold; so he stretched himself on the ground in the lee of a hedge to rest and think. Drowsiness presently began to settle upon his senses; the faint and far-off boom of cannon was wafted to his ear, and he said to himself, “The new king is crowned,” and straightway fell asleep. He had not slept or rested, before, for more than thirty hours. He did not wake again until near the middle of the next morning.

He got up, lame, stiff, and half famished, washed himself in the river, stayed his stomach with a pint or two of water, and trudged off toward Westminster, grumbling at himself for having wasted so much time. Hunger helped him to a new plan, now; he would try to get speech with old Sir Humphrey Marlow and borrow a few marks, and⁠—but that was enough of a plan for the present; it would be time enough to enlarge it when this first stage should be accomplished.

Toward eleven o’clock he approached the palace; and although a host of showy people were about him, moving in the same direction, he was not inconspicuous⁠—his costume took care of that. He watched these people’s faces narrowly, hoping to find a charitable one whose possessor might be willing to carry his name to the old lieutenant⁠—as to trying to get into the palace himself, that was simply out of the question.

Presently our whipping-boy passed him, then wheeled about and scanned his figure well, saying to himself, “An’ that is not the very vagabond his Majesty is in such a worry about, then am I an ass⁠—though belike I was that before. He answereth the description to a rag⁠—that God should make two such would be to cheapen miracles by wasteful repetition. I would I could contrive an excuse to speak with him.”

Miles Hendon saved him the trouble; for he turned about, then, as a man generally will when somebody mesmerises him by gazing hard at him from behind; and observing a strong interest in the boy’s eyes, he stepped toward him and said⁠—

“You have just come out from the palace; do you belong there?”

“Yes, your worship.”

“Know you Sir Humphrey Marlow?”

The boy started, and said to himself, “Lord! mine old departed father!” Then he answered aloud, “Right well, your worship.”

“Good⁠—is he within?”

“Yes,” said the boy; and added, to himself, “within his grave.”

“Might I crave your favor to carry my name to him, and say I beg to say a word in his ear?”

“I will despatch the business right willingly, fair sir.”

“Then say Miles Hendon, son of Sir Richard, is here without⁠—I shall be greatly bounden to you, my good lad.”

The boy looked disappointed. “The king did not name him so,” he said to himself; “but it mattereth not, this is his twin brother, and can give his Majesty news of t’other Sir-Odds-and-Ends, I warrant.” So he said to Miles, “Step in there a moment, good sir, and wait till I bring you word.”

Hendon retired to the place indicated⁠—it was a recess sunk in the palace wall, with a stone bench in it⁠—a shelter for sentinels in bad weather. He had hardly seated himself when some halberdiers, in charge of an officer, passed by. The officer saw him, halted his men, and commanded Hendon to come forth. He obeyed, and was promptly arrested as a suspicious character prowling within the precincts of the palace. Things began to look ugly. Poor Miles was going to explain, but the officer roughly silenced him, and ordered his men to disarm him and search him.

“God of his mercy grant that they find somewhat,” said poor Miles; “I have searched enow, and failed, yet is my need greater than theirs.”

Nothing was found but a document. The officer tore it open, and Hendon smiled when he recognized the “pothooks” made by his lost little friend that black day at Hendon Hall. The officer’s face grew dark as he read the English paragraph, and Miles blenched to the opposite color as he listened.

“Another new claimant of the Crown!” cried the officer. “Verily they breed like rabbits, today. Seize the rascal, men, and see ye keep him fast whilst I convey this precious paper within and send it to the king.”

He hurried away, leaving the prisoner in the grip of the halberdiers.

“Now is my evil luck ended at last,” muttered Hendon, “for I shall dangle at a rope’s end for a certainty, by reason of that bit of writing. And what will become of my poor lad!⁠—ah, only the good God knoweth.”

By and by he saw the officer coming again, in a great hurry; so he plucked his courage together, purposing to meet his trouble as became a man. The officer ordered the men to loose the prisoner and return his sword to him; then bowed respectfully, and said⁠—

“Please you, sir, to follow me.”

Hendon followed, saying to himself, “An’ I were not travelling to death and judgment, and so must needs economize in sin, I would throttle this knave for his mock courtesy.”

The two traversed a populous court, and arrived at the grand entrance of the palace, where the officer, with another bow, delivered Hendon into the hands of a gorgeous official, who received him with profound respect and led him forward through a great hall, lined on both sides with rows of splendid flunkeys (who made reverential obeisance as the two passed along, but fell into death-throes of silent laughter at our stately scarecrow the moment his back was turned), and up a broad staircase, among flocks of fine folk, and finally conducted him into a vast room, clove a passage for him through the assembled nobility of England, then made a bow, reminded him to take his hat off, and left him standing in the middle of the room, a mark for all eyes, for plenty of indignant frowns, and for a sufficiency of amused and derisive smiles.

Miles Hendon was entirely bewildered. There sat the young king, under a canopy of state, five steps away, with his head bent down and aside, speaking with a sort of human bird of paradise⁠—a duke, maybe. Hendon observed to himself that it was hard enough to be sentenced to death in the full vigor of life, without having this peculiarly public humiliation added. He wished the king would hurry about it⁠—some of the gaudy people near by were becoming pretty offensive. At this moment the king raised his head slightly, and Hendon caught a good view of his face. The sight nearly took his breath away!⁠—He stood gazing at the fair young face like one transfixed; then presently ejaculated⁠—

“Lo, the Lord of the Kingdom of Dreams and Shadows on his throne!”

He muttered some broken sentences, still gazing and marvelling; then turned his eyes around and about, scanning the gorgeous throng and the splendid saloon, murmuring, “But these are real⁠—verily these are real⁠—surely it is not a dream.”

He stared at the king again⁠—and thought, “Is it a dream⁠ ⁠… or is he the veritable Sovereign of England, and not the friendless poor Tom o’ Bedlam I took him for⁠—who shall solve me this riddle?”

A sudden idea flashed in his eye, and he strode to the wall, gathered up a chair, brought it back, planted it on the floor, and sat down in it!

A buzz of indignation broke out, a rough hand was laid upon him and a voice exclaimed⁠—

“Up, thou mannerless clown! would’st sit in the presence of the king?”

The disturbance attracted his Majesty’s attention, who stretched forth his hand and cried out⁠—

“Touch him not, it is his right!”

The throng fell back, stupefied. The king went on⁠—

“Learn ye all, ladies, lords, and gentlemen, that this is my trusty and well-beloved servant, Miles Hendon, who interposed his good sword and saved his prince from bodily harm and possible death⁠—and for this he is a knight, by the king’s voice. Also learn, that for a higher service, in that he saved his sovereign stripes and shame, taking these upon himself, he is a peer of England, Earl of Kent, and shall have gold and lands meet for the dignity. More⁠—the privilege which he hath just exercised is his by royal grant; for we have ordained that the chiefs of his line shall have and hold the right to sit in the presence of the Majesty of England henceforth, age after age, so long as the crown shall endure. Molest him not.”

Two persons, who, through delay, had only arrived from the country during this morning, and had now been in this room only five minutes, stood listening to these words and looking at the king, then at the scarecrow, then at the king again, in a sort of torpid bewilderment. These were Sir Hugh and the Lady Edith. But the new Earl did not see them. He was still staring at the monarch, in a dazed way, and muttering⁠—

“Oh, body o’ me! this my pauper! This my lunatic! This is he whom I would show what grandeur was, in my house of seventy rooms and seven-and-twenty servants! This is he who had never known aught but rags for raiment, kicks for comfort, and offal for diet! This is he whom I adopted and would make respectable! Would God I had a bag to hide my head in!”

Then his manners suddenly came back to him, and he dropped upon his knees, with his hands between the king’s, and swore allegiance and did homage for his lands and titles. Then he rose and stood respectfully aside, a mark still for all eyes⁠—and much envy, too.

Now the king discovered Sir Hugh, and spoke out with wrathful voice and kindling eye⁠—

“Strip this robber of his false show and stolen estates, and put him under lock and key till I have need of him.”

The late Sir Hugh was led away.

There was a stir at the other end of the room, now; the assemblage fell apart, and Tom Canty, quaintly but richly clothed, marched down, between these living walls, preceded by an usher. He knelt before the king, who said⁠—

“I have learned the story of these past few weeks, and am well pleased with thee. Thou hast governed the realm with right royal gentleness and mercy. Thou hast found thy mother and thy sisters again? Good; they shall be cared for⁠—and thy father shall hang, if thou desire it and the law consent. Know, all ye that hear my voice, that from this day, they that abide in the shelter of Christ’s Hospital and share the king’s bounty shall have their minds and hearts fed, as well as their baser parts; and this boy shall dwell there, and hold the chief place in its honorable body of governors, during life. And for that he hath been a king, it is meet that other than common observance shall be his due; wherefore note this his dress of state, for by it he shall be known, and none shall copy it; and wheresoever he shall come, it shall remind the people that he hath been royal, in his time, and none shall deny him his due of reverence or fail to give him salutation. He hath the throne’s protection, he hath the crown’s support, he shall be known and called by the honorable title of the king’s Ward.”

The proud and happy Tom Canty rose and kissed the king’s hand, and was conducted from the presence. He did not waste any time, but flew to his mother, to tell her and Nan and Bet all about it and get them to help him enjoy the great news.

Conclusion. Justice and Retribution

When the mysteries were all cleared up, it came out, by confession of Hugh Hendon, that his wife had repudiated Miles by his command, that day at Hendon Hall⁠—a command assisted and supported by the perfectly trustworthy promise that if she did not deny that he was Miles Hendon, and stand firmly to it, he would have her life; whereupon she said, “Take it!”⁠—she did not value it⁠—and she would not repudiate Miles; then the husband said he would spare her life but have Miles assassinated! This was a different matter; so she gave her word and kept it.

Hugh was not prosecuted for his threats or for stealing his brother’s estates and title, because the wife and brother would not testify against him⁠—and the former would not have been allowed to do it, even if she had wanted to. Hugh deserted his wife and went over to the continent, where he presently died; and by and by the Earl of Kent married his relict. There were grand times and rejoicings at Hendon village when the couple paid their first visit to the Hall.

Tom Canty’s father was never heard of again.

The king sought out the farmer who had been branded and sold as a slave, and reclaimed him from his evil life with the Ruffler’s gang, and put him in the way of a comfortable livelihood.

He also took that old lawyer out of prison and remitted his fine. He provided good homes for the daughters of the two Baptist women whom he saw burned at the stake, and roundly punished the official who laid the undeserved stripes upon Miles Hendon’s back.

He saved from the gallows the boy who had captured the stray falcon, and also the woman who had stolen a remnant of cloth from a weaver; but he was too late to save the man who had been convicted of killing a deer in the royal forest.

He showed favor to the justice who had pitied him when he was supposed to have stolen a pig, and he had the gratification of seeing him grow in the public esteem and become a great and honored man.

As long as the king lived he was fond of telling the story of his adventures, all through, from the hour that the sentinel cuffed him away from the palace gate till the final midnight when he deftly mixed himself into a gang of hurrying workmen and so slipped into the Abbey and climbed up and hid himself in the Confessor’s tomb, and then slept so long, next day, that he came within one of missing the Coronation altogether. He said that the frequent rehearsing of the precious lesson kept him strong in his purpose to make its teachings yield benefits to his people; and so, whilst his life was spared he should continue to tell the story, and thus keep its sorrowful spectacles fresh in his memory and the springs of pity replenished in his heart.

Miles Hendon and Tom Canty were favorites of the king, all through his brief reign, and his sincere mourners when he died. The good Earl of Kent had too much sense to abuse his peculiar privilege; but he exercised it twice after the instance we have seen of it before he was called from this world⁠—once at the accession of Queen Mary, and once at the accession of Queen Elizabeth. A descendant of his exercised it at the accession of James I. Before this one’s son chose to use the privilege, near a quarter of a century had elapsed, and the “privilege of the Kents” had faded out of most people’s memories; so, when the Kent of that day appeared before Charles I and his court and sat down in the sovereign’s presence to assert and perpetuate the right of his house, there was a fine stir indeed! But the matter was soon explained, and the right confirmed. The last Earl of the line fell in the wars of the Commonwealth fighting for the king, and the odd privilege ended with him.

Tom Canty lived to be a very old man, a handsome, white-haired old fellow, of grave and benignant aspect. As long as he lasted he was honored; and he was also reverenced, for his striking and peculiar costume kept the people reminded that “in his time he had been royal;” so, wherever he appeared the crowd fell apart, making way for him, and whispering, one to another, “Doff thy hat, it is the king’s Ward!”⁠—and so they saluted, and got his kindly smile in return⁠—and they valued it, too, for his was an honorable history.

Yes, King Edward VI lived only a few years, poor boy, but he lived them worthily. More than once, when some great dignitary, some gilded vassal of the crown, made argument against his leniency, and urged that some law which he was bent upon amending was gentle enough for its purpose, and wrought no suffering or oppression which any one need mightily mind, the young king turned the mournful eloquence of his great compassionate eyes upon him and answered⁠—

“What dost thou know of suffering and oppression? I and my people know, but not thou.”

The reign of Edward VI was a singularly merciful one for those harsh times. Now that we are taking leave of him, let us try to keep this in our minds, to his credit.

END