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The Prince and the Pauper
by Mark Twain

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Chapter II

Tom's early life.

Let us skip a number of years.

London was fifteen hundred years old, and was a great town--for

that day. It had a hundred thousand inhabitants--some think

double as many. The streets were very narrow, and crooked, and

dirty, especially in the part where Tom Canty lived, which was not

far from London Bridge. The houses were of wood, with the second

story projecting over the first, and the third sticking its elbows

out beyond the second. The higher the houses grew, the broader

they grew. They were skeletons of strong criss-cross beams, with

solid material between, coated with plaster. The beams were

painted red or blue or black, according to the owner's taste, and

this gave the houses a very picturesque look. The windows were

small, glazed with little diamond-shaped panes, and they opened

outward, on hinges, like doors.

The house which Tom's father lived in was up a foul little pocket

called Offal Court, out of Pudding Lane. It was small, decayed,

and rickety, but it was packed full of wretchedly poor families.

Canty's tribe occupied a room on the third floor. The mother and

father had a sort of bedstead in the corner; but Tom, his

grandmother, and his two sisters, Bet and Nan, were not

restricted--they had all the floor to themselves, and might sleep

where they chose. There were the remains of a blanket or two, and

some bundles of ancient and dirty straw, but these could not

rightly be called beds, for they were not organised; they were

kicked into a general pile, mornings, and selections made from the

mass at night, for service.

Bet and Nan were fifteen years old--twins. They were good-hearted

girls, unclean, clothed in rags, and profoundly ignorant. Their

mother was like them. But the father and the grandmother were a

couple of fiends. They got drunk whenever they could; then they

fought each other or anybody else who came in the way; they cursed

and swore always, drunk or sober; John Canty was a thief, and his

mother a beggar. They made beggars of the children, but failed to

make thieves of them. Among, but not of, the dreadful rabble that

inhabited the house, was a good old priest whom the King had

turned out of house and home with a pension of a few farthings,

and he used to get the children aside and teach them right ways

secretly. Father Andrew also taught Tom a little Latin, and how

to read and write; and would have done the same with the girls,

but they were afraid of the jeers of their friends, who could not

have endured such a queer accomplishment in them.

All Offal Court was just such another hive as Canty's house.

Drunkenness, riot and brawling were the order, there, every night

and nearly all night long. Broken heads were as common as hunger

in that place. Yet little Tom was not unhappy. He had a hard

time of it, but did not know it. It was the sort of time that all

the Offal Court boys had, therefore he supposed it was the correct

and comfortable thing. When he came home empty-handed at night,

he knew his father would curse him and thrash him first, and that

when he was done the awful grandmother would do it all over again

and improve on it; and that away in the night his starving mother

would slip to him stealthily with any miserable scrap or crust she

had been able to save for him by going hungry herself,

notwithstanding she was often caught in that sort of treason and

soundly beaten for it by her husband.

No, Tom's life went along well enough, especially in summer. He

only begged just enough to save himself, for the laws against

mendicancy were stringent, and the penalties heavy; so he put in a

good deal of his time listening to good Father Andrew's charming

old tales and legends about giants and fairies, dwarfs and genii,

and enchanted castles, and gorgeous kings and princes. His head

grew to be full of these wonderful things, and many a night as he

lay in the dark on his scant and offensive straw, tired, hungry,

and smarting from a thrashing, he unleashed his imagination and

soon forgot his aches and pains in delicious picturings to himself

of the charmed life of a petted prince in a regal palace. One

desire came in time to haunt him day and night: it was to see a

real prince, with his own eyes. He spoke of it once to some of

his Offal Court comrades; but they jeered him and scoffed him so

unmercifully that he was glad to keep his dream to himself after that.

He often read the priest's old books and got him to explain and

enlarge upon them. His dreamings and readings worked certain

changes in him, by-and-by. His dream-people were so fine that he

grew to lament his shabby clothing and his dirt, and to wish to be

clean and better clad. He went on playing in the mud just the

same, and enjoying it, too; but, instead of splashing around in

the Thames solely for the fun of it, he began to find an added

value in it because of the washings and cleansings it afforded.

Tom could always find something going on around the Maypole in

Cheapside, and at the fairs; and now and then he and the rest of

London had a chance to see a military parade when some famous

unfortunate was carried prisoner to the Tower, by land or boat.

One summer's day he saw poor Anne Askew and three men burned at

the stake in Smithfield, and heard an ex-Bishop preach a sermon to

them which did not interest him. Yes, Tom's life was varied and

pleasant enough, on the whole.

By-and-by Tom's reading and dreaming about princely life wrought

such a strong effect upon him that he began to ACT the prince,

unconsciously. His speech and manners became curiously

ceremonious and courtly, to the vast admiration and amusement of

his intimates. But Tom's influence among these young people began

to grow now, day by day; and in time he came to be looked up to,

by them, with a sort of wondering awe, as a superior being. He

seemed to know so much! and he could do and say such marvellous

things! and withal, he was so deep and wise! Tom's remarks, and

Tom's performances, were reported by the boys to their elders; and

these, also, presently began to discuss Tom Canty, and to regard

him as a most gifted and extraordinary creature. Full-grown

people brought their perplexities to Tom for solution, and were

often astonished at the wit and wisdom of his decisions. In fact

he was become a hero to all who knew him except his own family--

these, only, saw nothing in him.

Privately, after a while, Tom organised a royal court! He was the

prince; his special comrades were guards, chamberlains, equerries,

lords and ladies in waiting, and the royal family. Daily the mock

prince was received with elaborate ceremonials borrowed by Tom

from his romantic readings; daily the great affairs of the mimic

kingdom were discussed in the royal council, and daily his mimic

highness issued decrees to his imaginary armies, navies, and


After which, he would go forth in his rags and beg a few

farthings, eat his poor crust, take his customary cuffs and abuse,

and then stretch himself upon his handful of foul straw, and

resume his empty grandeurs in his dreams.

And still his desire to look just once upon a real prince, in the

flesh, grew upon him, day by day, and week by week, until at last

it absorbed all other desires, and became the one passion of his life.

One January day, on his usual begging tour, he tramped

despondently up and down the region round about Mincing Lane and

Little East Cheap, hour after hour, bare-footed and cold, looking

in at cook-shop windows and longing for the dreadful pork-pies and

other deadly inventions displayed there--for to him these were

dainties fit for the angels; that is, judging by the smell, they

were--for it had never been his good luck to own and eat one.

There was a cold drizzle of rain; the atmosphere was murky; it was

a melancholy day. At night Tom reached home so wet and tired and

hungry that it was not possible for his father and grandmother to

observe his forlorn condition and not be moved--after their

fashion; wherefore they gave him a brisk cuffing at once and sent

him to bed. For a long time his pain and hunger, and the swearing

and fighting going on in the building, kept him awake; but at last

his thoughts drifted away to far, romantic lands, and he fell

asleep in the company of jewelled and gilded princelings who live

in vast palaces, and had servants salaaming before them or flying

to execute their orders. And then, as usual, he dreamed that HE

was a princeling himself.

All night long the glories of his royal estate shone upon him; he

moved among great lords and ladies, in a blaze of light, breathing

perfumes, drinking in delicious music, and answering the reverent

obeisances of the glittering throng as it parted to make way for

him, with here a smile, and there a nod of his princely head.

And when he awoke in the morning and looked upon the wretchedness

about him, his dream had had its usual effect--it had intensified

the sordidness of his surroundings a thousandfold. Then came

bitterness, and heart-break, and tears.



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