Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 21


Chapter XXI. Hendon to the rescue.

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

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

"Son of Henry the Eighth, hast thou prayed?"

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

"Then pray again.  Pray the prayer for the dying!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Homage and greeting, reverend sir!  Where is the boy--MY boy?"

"What boy, friend?"

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

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

"How soon?  How soon?  Come, waste not the time--cannot I overtake
him?  How soon will he be back?"

"Thou need'st not stir; he will return quickly."

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

"For any MAN--no; haply not.  But I am not a man."

"WHAT!  Now o' God's name what art thou, then?"

"It is a secret--mark thou reveal it not.  I am an archangel!"

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

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

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

"Noise?  I heard only the wind."

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

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

"Ah, it came from without--I think from the copse yonder.  Come, I
will lead the way."

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

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

"I will not wait longer.  I CANNOT wait longer.  He has lost his
way in this thick wood.  Which direction took he?  Quick--point it
out to me."

"He--but wait; I will go with thee."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mark Twain