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| Home | Reading Room The Prince and the Pauper

The Prince and the Pauper
by Mark Twain

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Chapter XVIII

The Prince with the tramps.

The troop of vagabonds turned out at early dawn, and set forward

on their march. There was a lowering sky overhead, sloppy ground

under foot, and a winter chill in the air. All gaiety was gone

from the company; some were sullen and silent, some were irritable

and petulant, none were gentle-humoured, all were thirsty.

The Ruffler put 'Jack' in Hugo's charge, with some brief

instructions, and commanded John Canty to keep away from him and

let him alone; he also warned Hugo not to be too rough with the lad.

After a while the weather grew milder, and the clouds lifted

somewhat. The troop ceased to shiver, and their spirits began to

improve. They grew more and more cheerful, and finally began to

chaff each other and insult passengers along the highway. This

showed that they were awaking to an appreciation of life and its

joys once more. The dread in which their sort was held was

apparent in the fact that everybody gave them the road, and took

their ribald insolences meekly, without venturing to talk back.

They snatched linen from the hedges, occasionally in full view of

the owners, who made no protest, but only seemed grateful that

they did not take the hedges, too.

By-and-by they invaded a small farmhouse and made themselves at

home while the trembling farmer and his people swept the larder

clean to furnish a breakfast for them. They chucked the housewife

and her daughters under the chin whilst receiving the food from

their hands, and made coarse jests about them, accompanied with

insulting epithets and bursts of horse-laughter. They threw bones

and vegetables at the farmer and his sons, kept them dodging all

the time, and applauded uproariously when a good hit was made.

They ended by buttering the head of one of the daughters who

resented some of their familiarities. When they took their leave

they threatened to come back and burn the house over the heads of

the family if any report of their doings got to the ears of the authorities.

About noon, after a long and weary tramp, the gang came to a halt

behind a hedge on the outskirts of a considerable village. An

hour was allowed for rest, then the crew scattered themselves

abroad to enter the village at different points to ply their

various trades--'Jack' was sent with Hugo. They wandered hither

and thither for some time, Hugo watching for opportunities to do a

stroke of business, but finding none--so he finally said--

"I see nought to steal; it is a paltry place. Wherefore we will beg."

"WE, forsooth! Follow thy trade--it befits thee. But _I_ will

not beg."

"Thou'lt not beg!" exclaimed Hugo, eyeing the King with surprise.

"Prithee, since when hast thou reformed?"

"What dost thou mean?"

"Mean? Hast thou not begged the streets of London all thy life?"

"I? Thou idiot!"

"Spare thy compliments--thy stock will last the longer. Thy

father says thou hast begged all thy days. Mayhap he lied.

Peradventure you will even make so bold as to SAY he lied," scoffed Hugo.

"Him YOU call my father? Yes, he lied."

"Come, play not thy merry game of madman so far, mate; use it for

thy amusement, not thy hurt. An' I tell him this, he will scorch

thee finely for it."

"Save thyself the trouble. I will tell him."

"I like thy spirit, I do in truth; but I do not admire thy

judgment. Bone-rackings and bastings be plenty enow in this life,

without going out of one's way to invite them. But a truce to

these matters; _I_ believe your father. I doubt not he can lie; I

doubt not he DOTH lie, upon occasion, for the best of us do that;

but there is no occasion here. A wise man does not waste so good

a commodity as lying for nought. But come; sith it is thy humour

to give over begging, wherewithal shall we busy ourselves? With

robbing kitchens?"

The King said, impatiently--

"Have done with this folly--you weary me!"

Hugo replied, with temper--

"Now harkee, mate; you will not beg, you will not rob; so be it.

But I will tell you what you WILL do. You will play decoy whilst

_I_ beg. Refuse, an' you think you may venture!"

The King was about to reply contemptuously, when Hugo said,


"Peace! Here comes one with a kindly face. Now will I fall down

in a fit. When the stranger runs to me, set you up a wail, and

fall upon your knees, seeming to weep; then cry out as all the

devils of misery were in your belly, and say, 'Oh, sir, it is my

poor afflicted brother, and we be friendless; o' God's name cast

through your merciful eyes one pitiful look upon a sick, forsaken,

and most miserable wretch; bestow one little penny out of thy

riches upon one smitten of God and ready to perish!'--and mind

you, keep you ON wailing, and abate not till we bilk him of his

penny, else shall you rue it."

Then immediately Hugo began to moan, and groan, and roll his eyes,

and reel and totter about; and when the stranger was close at

hand, down he sprawled before him, with a shriek, and began to

writhe and wallow in the dirt, in seeming agony.

"O, dear, O dear!" cried the benevolent stranger, "O poor soul,

poor soul, how he doth suffer! There--let me help thee up."

"O noble sir, forbear, and God love you for a princely gentleman--

but it giveth me cruel pain to touch me when I am taken so. My

brother there will tell your worship how I am racked with anguish

when these fits be upon me. A penny, dear sir, a penny, to buy a

little food; then leave me to my sorrows."

"A penny! thou shalt have three, thou hapless creature"--and he

fumbled in his pocket with nervous haste and got them out.

"There, poor lad, take them and most welcome. Now come hither, my

boy, and help me carry thy stricken brother to yon house, where--"

"I am not his brother," said the King, interrupting.

"What! not his brother?"

"Oh, hear him!" groaned Hugo, then privately ground his teeth.

"He denies his own brother--and he with one foot in the grave!"

"Boy, thou art indeed hard of heart, if this is thy brother. For

shame!--and he scarce able to move hand or foot. If he is not thy

brother, who is he, then?"

"A beggar and a thief! He has got your money and has picked your

pocket likewise. An' thou would'st do a healing miracle, lay thy

staff over his shoulders and trust Providence for the rest."

But Hugo did not tarry for the miracle. In a moment he was up and

off like the wind, the gentleman following after and raising the

hue and cry lustily as he went. The King, breathing deep

gratitude to Heaven for his own release, fled in the opposite

direction, and did not slacken his pace until he was out of harm's

reach. He took the first road that offered, and soon put the

village behind him. He hurried along, as briskly as he could,

during several hours, keeping a nervous watch over his shoulder

for pursuit; but his fears left him at last, and a grateful sense

of security took their place. He recognised, now, that he was

hungry, and also very tired. So he halted at a farmhouse; but

when he was about to speak, he was cut short and driven rudely

away. His clothes were against him.

He wandered on, wounded and indignant, and was resolved to put

himself in the way of like treatment no more. But hunger is

pride's master; so, as the evening drew near, he made an attempt

at another farmhouse; but here he fared worse than before; for he

was called hard names and was promised arrest as a vagrant except

he moved on promptly.

The night came on, chilly and overcast; and still the footsore

monarch laboured slowly on. He was obliged to keep moving, for

every time he sat down to rest he was soon penetrated to the bone

with the cold. All his sensations and experiences, as he moved

through the solemn gloom and the empty vastness of the night, were

new and strange to him. At intervals he heard voices approach,

pass by, and fade into silence; and as he saw nothing more of the

bodies they belonged to than a sort of formless drifting blur,

there was something spectral and uncanny about it all that made

him shudder. Occasionally he caught the twinkle of a light--

always far away, apparently--almost in another world; if he heard

the tinkle of a sheep's bell, it was vague, distant, indistinct;

the muffled lowing of the herds floated to him on the night wind

in vanishing cadences, a mournful sound; now and then came the

complaining howl of a dog over viewless expanses of field and

forest; all sounds were remote; they made the little King feel

that all life and activity were far removed from him, and that he

stood solitary, companionless, in the centre of a measureless solitude.

He stumbled along, through the gruesome fascinations of this new

experience, startled occasionally by the soft rustling of the dry

leaves overhead, so like human whispers they seemed to sound; and

by-and-by he came suddenly upon the freckled light of a tin

lantern near at hand. He stepped back into the shadows and

waited. The lantern stood by the open door of a barn. The King

waited some time--there was no sound, and nobody stirring. He got

so cold, standing still, and the hospitable barn looked so

enticing, that at last he resolved to risk everything and enter.

He started swiftly and stealthily, and just as he was crossing the

threshold he heard voices behind him. He darted behind a cask,

within the barn, and stooped down. Two farm-labourers came in,

bringing the lantern with them, and fell to work, talking

meanwhile. Whilst they moved about with the light, the King made

good use of his eyes and took the bearings of what seemed to be a

good-sized stall at the further end of the place, purposing to

grope his way to it when he should be left to himself. He also

noted the position of a pile of horse blankets, midway of the

route, with the intent to levy upon them for the service of the

crown of England for one night.

By-and-by the men finished and went away, fastening the door

behind them and taking the lantern with them. The shivering King

made for the blankets, with as good speed as the darkness would

allow; gathered them up, and then groped his way safely to the

stall. Of two of the blankets he made a bed, then covered himself

with the remaining two. He was a glad monarch, now, though the

blankets were old and thin, and not quite warm enough; and besides

gave out a pungent horsey odour that was almost suffocatingly powerful.

Although the King was hungry and chilly, he was also so tired and

so drowsy that these latter influences soon began to get the

advantage of the former, and he presently dozed off into a state

of semi-consciousness. Then, just as he was on the point of

losing himself wholly, he distinctly felt something touch him! He

was broad awake in a moment, and gasping for breath. The cold

horror of that mysterious touch in the dark almost made his heart

stand still. He lay motionless, and listened, scarcely breathing.

But nothing stirred, and there was no sound. He continued to

listen, and wait, during what seemed a long time, but still

nothing stirred, and there was no sound. So he began to drop into

a drowse once more, at last; and all at once he felt that

mysterious touch again! It was a grisly thing, this light touch

from this noiseless and invisible presence; it made the boy sick

with ghostly fears. What should he do? That was the question;

but he did not know how to answer it. Should he leave these

reasonably comfortable quarters and fly from this inscrutable

horror? But fly whither? He could not get out of the barn; and

the idea of scurrying blindly hither and thither in the dark,

within the captivity of the four walls, with this phantom gliding

after him, and visiting him with that soft hideous touch upon

cheek or shoulder at every turn, was intolerable. But to stay

where he was, and endure this living death all night--was that

better? No. What, then, was there left to do? Ah, there was but

one course; he knew it well--he must put out his hand and find that thing!

It was easy to think this; but it was hard to brace himself up to

try it. Three times he stretched his hand a little way out into

the dark, gingerly; and snatched it suddenly back, with a gasp--

not because it had encountered anything, but because he had felt

so sure it was just GOING to. But the fourth time, he groped a

little further, and his hand lightly swept against something soft

and warm. This petrified him, nearly, with fright; his mind was

in such a state that he could imagine the thing to be nothing else

than a corpse, newly dead and still warm. He thought he would

rather die than touch it again. But he thought this false thought

because he did not know the immortal strength of human curiosity.

In no long time his hand was tremblingly groping again--against

his judgment, and without his consent--but groping persistently

on, just the same. It encountered a bunch of long hair; he

shuddered, but followed up the hair and found what seemed to be a

warm rope; followed up the rope and found an innocent calf!--for

the rope was not a rope at all, but the calf's tail.

The King was cordially ashamed of himself for having gotten all

that fright and misery out of so paltry a matter as a slumbering

calf; but he need not have felt so about it, for it was not the

calf that frightened him, but a dreadful non-existent something

which the calf stood for; and any other boy, in those old

superstitious times, would have acted and suffered just as he had done.

The King was not only delighted to find that the creature was only

a calf, but delighted to have the calf's company; for he had been

feeling so lonesome and friendless that the company and

comradeship of even this humble animal were welcome. And he had

been so buffeted, so rudely entreated by his own kind, that it was

a real comfort to him to feel that he was at last in the society

of a fellow-creature that had at least a soft heart and a gentle

spirit, whatever loftier attributes might be lacking. So he

resolved to waive rank and make friends with the calf.

While stroking its sleek warm back--for it lay near him and within

easy reach--it occurred to him that this calf might be utilised in

more ways than one. Whereupon he re-arranged his bed, spreading

it down close to the calf; then he cuddled himself up to the

calf's back, drew the covers up over himself and his friend, and

in a minute or two was as warm and comfortable as he had ever been

in the downy couches of the regal palace of Westminster.

Pleasant thoughts came at once; life took on a cheerfuller

seeming. He was free of the bonds of servitude and crime, free of

the companionship of base and brutal outlaws; he was warm; he was

sheltered; in a word, he was happy. The night wind was rising; it

swept by in fitful gusts that made the old barn quake and rattle,

then its forces died down at intervals, and went moaning and

wailing around corners and projections--but it was all music to

the King, now that he was snug and comfortable: let it blow and

rage, let it batter and bang, let it moan and wail, he minded it

not, he only enjoyed it. He merely snuggled the closer to his

friend, in a luxury of warm contentment, and drifted blissfully

out of consciousness into a deep and dreamless sleep that was full

of serenity and peace. The distant dogs howled, the melancholy

kine complained, and the winds went on raging, whilst furious

sheets of rain drove along the roof; but the Majesty of England

slept on, undisturbed, and the calf did the same, it being a

simple creature, and not easily troubled by storms or embarrassed

by sleeping with a king.



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