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Chapter 12


Chapter XII. The Prince and his deliverer.

As soon as Miles Hendon and the little prince were clear of the
mob, they struck down through back lanes and alleys toward the
river.  Their way was unobstructed until they approached London
Bridge; then they ploughed into the multitude again, Hendon
keeping a fast grip upon the Prince's--no, the King's--wrist.  The
tremendous news was already abroad, and the boy learned it from a
thousand voices at once--"The King is dead!"  The tidings struck a
chill to the heart of the poor little waif, and sent a shudder
through his frame.  He realised the greatness of his loss, and was
filled with a bitter grief; for the grim tyrant who had been such
a terror to others had always been gentle with him.  The tears
sprang to his eyes and blurred all objects.  For an instant he
felt himself the most forlorn, outcast, and forsaken of God's
creatures--then another cry shook the night with its far-reaching
thunders:  "Long live King Edward the Sixth!" and this made his
eyes kindle, and thrilled him with pride to his fingers' ends.
"Ah," he thought, "how grand and strange it seems--I AM KING!"

Our friends threaded their way slowly through the throngs upon the
bridge.  This structure, which had stood for six hundred years,
and had been a noisy and populous thoroughfare all that time, was
a curious affair, for a closely packed rank of stores and shops,
with family quarters overhead, stretched along both sides of it,
from one bank of the river to the other.  The Bridge was a sort of
town to itself; it had its inn, its beer-houses, its bakeries, its
haberdasheries, its food markets, its manufacturing industries,
and even its church.  It looked upon the two neighbours which it
linked together--London and Southwark--as being well enough as
suburbs, but not otherwise particularly important.  It was a close
corporation, so to speak; it was a narrow town, of a single street
a fifth of a mile long, its population was but a village
population and everybody in it knew all his fellow-townsmen
intimately, and had known their fathers and mothers before them--
and all their little family affairs into the bargain.  It had its
aristocracy, of course--its fine old families of butchers, and
bakers, and what-not, who had occupied the same old premises for
five or six hundred years, and knew the great history of the
Bridge from beginning to end, and all its strange legends; and who
always talked bridgy talk, and thought bridgy thoughts, and lied
in a long, level, direct, substantial bridgy way.  It was just the
sort of population to be narrow and ignorant and self-conceited.
Children were born on the Bridge, were reared there, grew to old
age, and finally died without ever having set a foot upon any part
of the world but London Bridge alone.  Such people would naturally
imagine that the mighty and interminable procession which moved
through its street night and day, with its confused roar of shouts
and cries, its neighings and bellowing and bleatings and its
muffled thunder-tramp, was the one great thing in this world, and
themselves somehow the proprietors of it.  And so they were, in
effect--at least they could exhibit it from their windows, and
did--for a consideration--whenever a returning king or hero gave
it a fleeting splendour, for there was no place like it for
affording a long, straight, uninterrupted view of marching
columns.

Men born and reared upon the Bridge found life unendurably dull
and inane elsewhere.  History tells of one of these who left the
Bridge at the age of seventy-one and retired to the country.  But
he could only fret and toss in his bed; he could not go to sleep,
the deep stillness was so painful, so awful, so oppressive.  When
he was worn out with it, at last, he fled back to his old home, a
lean and haggard spectre, and fell peacefully to rest and pleasant
dreams under the lulling music of the lashing waters and the boom
and crash and thunder of London Bridge.

In the times of which we are writing, the Bridge furnished 'object
lessons' in English history for its children--namely, the livid
and decaying heads of renowned men impaled upon iron spikes atop
of its gateways.  But we digress.

Hendon's lodgings were in the little inn on the Bridge.  As he
neared the door with his small friend, a rough voice said--

"So, thou'rt come at last!  Thou'lt not escape again, I warrant
thee; and if pounding thy bones to a pudding can teach thee
somewhat, thou'lt not keep us waiting another time, mayhap"--and
John Canty put out his hand to seize the boy.

Miles Hendon stepped in the way and said--

"Not too fast, friend.  Thou art needlessly rough, methinks.  What
is the lad to thee?"

"If it be any business of thine to make and meddle in others'
affairs, he is my son."

"'Tis a lie!" cried the little King, hotly.

"Boldly said, and I believe thee, whether thy small headpiece be
sound or cracked, my boy.  But whether this scurvy ruffian be thy
father or no, 'tis all one, he shall not have thee to beat thee
and abuse, according to his threat, so thou prefer to bide with
me."

"I do, I do--I know him not, I loathe him, and will die before I
will go with him."

"Then 'tis settled, and there is nought more to say."

"We will see, as to that!" exclaimed John Canty, striding past
Hendon to get at the boy; "by force shall he--"

"If thou do but touch him, thou animated offal, I will spit thee
like a goose!" said Hendon, barring the way and laying his hand
upon his sword hilt.  Canty drew back.  "Now mark ye," continued
Hendon, "I took this lad under my protection when a mob of such as
thou would have mishandled him, mayhap killed him; dost imagine I
will desert him now to a worser fate?--for whether thou art his
father or no--and sooth to say, I think it is a lie--a decent
swift death were better for such a lad than life in such brute
hands as thine.  So go thy ways, and set quick about it, for I
like not much bandying of words, being not over-patient in my
nature."

John Canty moved off, muttering threats and curses, and was
swallowed from sight in the crowd.  Hendon ascended three flights
of stairs to his room, with his charge, after ordering a meal to
be sent thither.  It was a poor apartment, with a shabby bed and
some odds and ends of old furniture in it, and was vaguely lighted
by a couple of sickly candles.  The little King dragged himself to
the bed and lay down upon it, almost exhausted with hunger and
fatigue.  He had been on his feet a good part of a day and a night
(for it was now two or three o'clock in the morning), and had
eaten nothing meantime.  He murmured drowsily--

"Prithee call me when the table is spread," and sank into a deep
sleep immediately.

A smile twinkled in Hendon's eye, and he said to himself--

"By the mass, the little beggar takes to one's quarters and usurps
one's bed with as natural and easy a grace as if he owned them--
with never a by-your-leave or so-please-it-you, or anything of the
sort.  In his diseased ravings he called himself the Prince of
Wales, and bravely doth he keep up the character.  Poor little
friendless rat, doubtless his mind has been disordered with ill-
usage.  Well, I will be his friend; I have saved him, and it
draweth me strongly to him; already I love the bold-tongued little
rascal.  How soldier-like he faced the smutty rabble and flung
back his high defiance!  And what a comely, sweet and gentle face
he hath, now that sleep hath conjured away its troubles and its
griefs.  I will teach him; I will cure his malady; yea, I will be
his elder brother, and care for him and watch over him; and whoso
would shame him or do him hurt may order his shroud, for though I
be burnt for it he shall need it!"

He bent over the boy and contemplated him with kind and pitying
interest, tapping the young cheek tenderly and smoothing back the
tangled curls with his great brown hand.  A slight shiver passed
over the boy's form.  Hendon muttered--

"See, now, how like a man it was to let him lie here uncovered and
fill his body with deadly rheums.  Now what shall I do? 'twill
wake him to take him up and put him within the bed, and he sorely
needeth sleep."

He looked about for extra covering, but finding none, doffed his
doublet and wrapped the lad in it, saying, "I am used to nipping
air and scant apparel, 'tis little I shall mind the cold!"--then
walked up and down the room, to keep his blood in motion,
soliloquising as before.

"His injured mind persuades him he is Prince of Wales; 'twill be
odd to have a Prince of Wales still with us, now that he that WAS
the prince is prince no more, but king--for this poor mind is set
upon the one fantasy, and will not reason out that now it should
cast by the prince and call itself the king. . . If my father
liveth still, after these seven years that I have heard nought
from home in my foreign dungeon, he will welcome the poor lad and
give him generous shelter for my sake; so will my good elder
brother, Arthur; my other brother, Hugh--but I will crack his
crown an HE interfere, the fox-hearted, ill-conditioned animal!
Yes, thither will we fare--and straightway, too."

A servant entered with a smoking meal, disposed it upon a small
deal table, placed the chairs, and took his departure, leaving
such cheap lodgers as these to wait upon themselves.  The door
slammed after him, and the noise woke the boy, who sprang to a
sitting posture, and shot a glad glance about him; then a grieved
look came into his face and he murmured to himself, with a deep
sigh, "Alack, it was but a dream, woe is me!"  Next he noticed
Miles Hendon's doublet--glanced from that to Hendon, comprehended
the sacrifice that had been made for him, and said, gently--

"Thou art good to me, yes, thou art very good to me.  Take it and
put it on--I shall not need it more."

Then he got up and walked to the washstand in the corner and stood
there, waiting.  Hendon said in a cheery voice--

"We'll have a right hearty sup and bite, now, for everything is
savoury and smoking hot, and that and thy nap together will make
thee a little man again, never fear!"

The boy made no answer, but bent a steady look, that was filled
with grave surprise, and also somewhat touched with impatience,
upon the tall knight of the sword.  Hendon was puzzled, and said--

"What's amiss?"

"Good sir, I would wash me."

"Oh, is that all?  Ask no permission of Miles Hendon for aught
thou cravest.  Make thyself perfectly free here, and welcome, with
all that are his belongings."

Still the boy stood, and moved not; more, he tapped the floor once
or twice with his small impatient foot.  Hendon was wholly
perplexed.  Said he--

"Bless us, what is it?"

"Prithee pour the water, and make not so many words!"

Hendon, suppressing a horse-laugh, and saying to himself, "By all
the saints, but this is admirable!" stepped briskly forward and
did the small insolent's bidding; then stood by, in a sort of
stupefaction, until the command, "Come--the towel!" woke him
sharply up.  He took up a towel, from under the boy's nose, and
handed it to him without comment.  He now proceeded to comfort his
own face with a wash, and while he was at it his adopted child
seated himself at the table and prepared to fall to.  Hendon
despatched his ablutions with alacrity, then drew back the other
chair and was about to place himself at table, when the boy said,
indignantly--

"Forbear!  Wouldst sit in the presence of the King?"

This blow staggered Hendon to his foundations.  He muttered to
himself, "Lo, the poor thing's madness is up with the time!  It
hath changed with the great change that is come to the realm, and
now in fancy is he KING!  Good lack, I must humour the conceit,
too--there is no other way--faith, he would order me to the Tower,
else!"

And pleased with this jest, he removed the chair from the table,
took his stand behind the King, and proceeded to wait upon him in
the courtliest way he was capable of.

While the King ate, the rigour of his royal dignity relaxed a
little, and with his growing contentment came a desire to talk.
He said--"I think thou callest thyself Miles Hendon, if I heard
thee aright?"

"Yes, Sire," Miles replied; then observed to himself, "If I MUST
humour the poor lad's madness, I must 'Sire' him, I must 'Majesty'
him, I must not go by halves, I must stick at nothing that
belongeth to the part I play, else shall I play it ill and work
evil to this charitable and kindly cause."

The King warmed his heart with a second glass of wine, and said--
"I would know thee--tell me thy story.  Thou hast a gallant way
with thee, and a noble--art nobly born?"

"We are of the tail of the nobility, good your Majesty.  My father
is a baronet--one of the smaller lords by knight service {2}--Sir
Richard Hendon of Hendon Hall, by Monk's Holm in Kent."

"The name has escaped my memory.  Go on--tell me thy story."

"'Tis not much, your Majesty, yet perchance it may beguile a short
half-hour for want of a better.  My father, Sir Richard, is very
rich, and of a most generous nature.  My mother died whilst I was
yet a boy.  I have two brothers:  Arthur, my elder, with a soul
like to his father's; and Hugh, younger than I, a mean spirit,
covetous, treacherous, vicious, underhanded--a reptile.  Such was
he from the cradle; such was he ten years past, when I last saw
him--a ripe rascal at nineteen, I being twenty then, and Arthur
twenty-two.  There is none other of us but the Lady Edith, my
cousin--she was sixteen then--beautiful, gentle, good, the
daughter of an earl, the last of her race, heiress of a great
fortune and a lapsed title.  My father was her guardian.  I loved
her and she loved me; but she was betrothed to Arthur from the
cradle, and Sir Richard would not suffer the contract to be
broken.  Arthur loved another maid, and bade us be of good cheer
and hold fast to the hope that delay and luck together would some
day give success to our several causes.  Hugh loved the Lady
Edith's fortune, though in truth he said it was herself he loved--
but then 'twas his way, alway, to say the one thing and mean the
other.  But he lost his arts upon the girl; he could deceive my
father, but none else.  My father loved him best of us all, and
trusted and believed him; for he was the youngest child, and
others hated him--these qualities being in all ages sufficient to
win a parent's dearest love; and he had a smooth persuasive
tongue, with an admirable gift of lying--and these be qualities
which do mightily assist a blind affection to cozen itself.  I was
wild--in troth I might go yet farther and say VERY wild, though
'twas a wildness of an innocent sort, since it hurt none but me,
brought shame to none, nor loss, nor had in it any taint of crime
or baseness, or what might not beseem mine honourable degree.

"Yet did my brother Hugh turn these faults to good account--he
seeing that our brother Arthur's health was but indifferent, and
hoping the worst might work him profit were I swept out of the
path--so--but 'twere a long tale, good my liege, and little worth
the telling.  Briefly, then, this brother did deftly magnify my
faults and make them crimes; ending his base work with finding a
silken ladder in mine apartments--conveyed thither by his own
means--and did convince my father by this, and suborned evidence
of servants and other lying knaves, that I was minded to carry off
my Edith and marry with her in rank defiance of his will.

"Three years of banishment from home and England might make a
soldier and a man of me, my father said, and teach me some degree
of wisdom.  I fought out my long probation in the continental
wars, tasting sumptuously of hard knocks, privation, and
adventure; but in my last battle I was taken captive, and during
the seven years that have waxed and waned since then, a foreign
dungeon hath harboured me.  Through wit and courage I won to the
free air at last, and fled hither straight; and am but just
arrived, right poor in purse and raiment, and poorer still in
knowledge of what these dull seven years have wrought at Hendon
Hall, its people and belongings.  So please you, sir, my meagre
tale is told."

"Thou hast been shamefully abused!" said the little King, with a
flashing eye.  "But I will right thee--by the cross will I!  The
King hath said it."

Then, fired by the story of Miles's wrongs, he loosed his tongue
and poured the history of his own recent misfortunes into the ears
of his astonished listener.  When he had finished, Miles said to
himself--

"Lo, what an imagination he hath!  Verily, this is no common mind;
else, crazed or sane, it could not weave so straight and gaudy a
tale as this out of the airy nothings wherewith it hath wrought
this curious romaunt.  Poor ruined little head, it shall not lack
friend or shelter whilst I bide with the living.  He shall never
leave my side; he shall be my pet, my little comrade.  And he
shall be cured!--ay, made whole and sound--then will he make
himself a name--and proud shall I be to say, 'Yes, he is mine--I
took him, a homeless little ragamuffin, but I saw what was in him,
and I said his name would be heard some day--behold him, observe
him--was I right?'"

The King spoke--in a thoughtful, measured voice--

"Thou didst save me injury and shame, perchance my life, and so my
crown.  Such service demandeth rich reward.  Name thy desire, and
so it be within the compass of my royal power, it is thine."

This fantastic suggestion startled Hendon out of his reverie.  He
was about to thank the King and put the matter aside with saying
he had only done his duty and desired no reward, but a wiser
thought came into his head, and he asked leave to be silent a few
moments and consider the gracious offer--an idea which the King
gravely approved, remarking that it was best to be not too hasty
with a thing of such great import.

Miles reflected during some moments, then said to himself, "Yes,
that is the thing to do--by any other means it were impossible to
get at it--and certes, this hour's experience has taught me
'twould be most wearing and inconvenient to continue it as it is.
Yes, I will propose it; 'twas a happy accident that I did not
throw the chance away."  Then he dropped upon one knee and said--

"My poor service went not beyond the limit of a subject's simple
duty, and therefore hath no merit; but since your Majesty is
pleased to hold it worthy some reward, I take heart of grace to
make petition to this effect.  Near four hundred years ago, as
your grace knoweth, there being ill blood betwixt John, King of
England, and the King of France, it was decreed that two champions
should fight together in the lists, and so settle the dispute by
what is called the arbitrament of God.  These two kings, and the
Spanish king, being assembled to witness and judge the conflict,
the French champion appeared; but so redoubtable was he, that our
English knights refused to measure weapons with him.  So the
matter, which was a weighty one, was like to go against the
English monarch by default.  Now in the Tower lay the Lord de
Courcy, the mightiest arm in England, stripped of his honours and
possessions, and wasting with long captivity.  Appeal was made to
him; he gave assent, and came forth arrayed for battle; but no
sooner did the Frenchman glimpse his huge frame and hear his
famous name but he fled away, and the French king's cause was
lost.  King John restored De Courcy's titles and possessions, and
said, 'Name thy wish and thou shalt have it, though it cost me
half my kingdom;' whereat De Courcy, kneeling, as I do now, made
answer, 'This, then, I ask, my liege; that I and my successors may
have and hold the privilege of remaining covered in the presence
of the kings of England, henceforth while the throne shall last.'
The boon was granted, as your Majesty knoweth; and there hath been
no time, these four hundred years, that that line has failed of an
heir; and so, even unto this day, the head of that ancient house
still weareth his hat or helm before the King's Majesty, without
let or hindrance, and this none other may do. {3}  Invoking this
precedent in aid of my prayer, I beseech the King to grant to me
but this one grace and privilege--to my more than sufficient
reward--and none other, to wit:  that I and my heirs, for ever,
may SIT in the presence of the Majesty of England!"

"Rise, Sir Miles Hendon, Knight," said the King, gravely--giving
the accolade with Hendon's sword--"rise, and seat thyself.  Thy
petition is granted.  Whilst England remains, and the crown
continues, the privilege shall not lapse."

His Majesty walked apart, musing, and Hendon dropped into a chair
at table, observing to himself, "'Twas a brave thought, and hath
wrought me a mighty deliverance; my legs are grievously wearied.
An I had not thought of that, I must have had to stand for weeks,
till my poor lad's wits are cured."  After a little, he went on,
"And so I am become a knight of the Kingdom of Dreams and Shadows!
A most odd and strange position, truly, for one so matter-of-fact
as I.  I will not laugh--no, God forbid, for this thing which is
so substanceless to me is REAL to him.  And to me, also, in one
way, it is not a falsity, for it reflects with truth the sweet and
generous spirit that is in him."  After a pause:  "Ah, what if he
should call me by my fine title before folk!--there'd be a merry
contrast betwixt my glory and my raiment!  But no matter, let him
call me what he will, so it please him; I shall be content."


Mark Twain