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Chapter 22


Chapter XXII. A victim of treachery.

Once more 'King Foo-foo the First' was roving with the tramps and
outlaws, a butt for their coarse jests and dull-witted railleries,
and sometimes the victim of small spitefulness at the hands of
Canty and Hugo when the Ruffler's back was turned.  None but Canty
and Hugo really disliked him.  Some of the others liked him, and
all admired his pluck and spirit.  During two or three days, Hugo,
in whose ward and charge the King was, did what he covertly could
to make the boy uncomfortable; and at night, during the customary
orgies, he amused the company by putting small indignities upon
him--always as if by accident.  Twice he stepped upon the King's
toes--accidentally--and the King, as became his royalty, was
contemptuously unconscious of it and indifferent to it; but the
third time Hugo entertained himself in that way, the King felled
him to the ground with a cudgel, to the prodigious delight of the
tribe.  Hugo, consumed with anger and shame, sprang up, seized a
cudgel, and came at his small adversary in a fury.  Instantly a
ring was formed around the gladiators, and the betting and
cheering began.  But poor Hugo stood no chance whatever.  His
frantic and lubberly 'prentice-work found but a poor market for
itself when pitted against an arm which had been trained by the
first masters of Europe in single-stick, quarter-staff, and every
art and trick of swordsmanship.  The little King stood, alert but
at graceful ease, and caught and turned aside the thick rain of
blows with a facility and precision which set the motley on-
lookers wild with admiration; and every now and then, when his
practised eye detected an opening, and a lightning-swift rap upon
Hugo's head followed as a result, the storm of cheers and laughter
that swept the place was something wonderful to hear.  At the end
of fifteen minutes, Hugo, all battered, bruised, and the target
for a pitiless bombardment of ridicule, slunk from the field; and
the unscathed hero of the fight was seized and borne aloft upon
the shoulders of the joyous rabble to the place of honour beside
the Ruffler, where with vast ceremony he was crowned King of the
Game-Cocks; his meaner title being at the same time solemnly
cancelled and annulled, and a decree of banishment from the gang
pronounced against any who should thenceforth utter it.

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

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

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

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

In pursuance of the first plan, he purposed to put a 'clime' upon
the King's leg; rightly judging that that would mortify him to the
last and perfect degree; and as soon as the clime should operate,
he meant to get Canty's help, and FORCE the King to expose his leg
in the highway and beg for alms.  'Clime' was the cant term for a
sore, artificially created.  To make a clime, the operator made a
paste or poultice of unslaked lime, soap, and the rust of old
iron, and spread it upon a piece of leather, which was then bound
tightly upon the leg.  This would presently fret off the skin, and
make the flesh raw and angry-looking; blood was then rubbed upon
the limb, which, being fully dried, took on a dark and repulsive
colour.  Then a bandage of soiled rags was put on in a cleverly
careless way which would allow the hideous ulcer to be seen, and
move the compassion of the passer-by. {8}

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Now speed ye after me with the rest, and cry 'Stop thief!' but
mind ye lead them astray!"

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

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

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

The King continued to struggle in the woman's strong grasp, and
now and then cried out in vexation--

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

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

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

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

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


Mark Twain