TWT logo

Together We Teach
Reading Room

Take time to read.
Reading is the
fountain of wisdom.

| Home | Reading Room The Prince and the Pauper

The Prince and the Pauper
by Mark Twain

< BACK    NEXT >



Chapter XX

The Prince and the hermit.

The high hedge hid him from the house, now; and so, under the

impulse of a deadly fright, he let out all his forces and sped

toward a wood in the distance. He never looked back until he had

almost gained the shelter of the forest; then he turned and

descried two figures in the distance. That was sufficient; he did

not wait to scan them critically, but hurried on, and never abated

his pace till he was far within the twilight depths of the wood.

Then he stopped; being persuaded that he was now tolerably safe.

He listened intently, but the stillness was profound and solemn--

awful, even, and depressing to the spirits. At wide intervals his

straining ear did detect sounds, but they were so remote, and

hollow, and mysterious, that they seemed not to be real sounds,

but only the moaning and complaining ghosts of departed ones. So

the sounds were yet more dreary than the silence which they interrupted.

It was his purpose, in the beginning, to stay where he was the

rest of the day; but a chill soon invaded his perspiring body, and

he was at last obliged to resume movement in order to get warm.

He struck straight through the forest, hoping to pierce to a road

presently, but he was disappointed in this. He travelled on and

on; but the farther he went, the denser the wood became,

apparently. The gloom began to thicken, by-and-by, and the King

realised that the night was coming on. It made him shudder to

think of spending it in such an uncanny place; so he tried to

hurry faster, but he only made the less speed, for he could not

now see well enough to choose his steps judiciously; consequently

he kept tripping over roots and tangling himself in vines and briers.

And how glad he was when at last he caught the glimmer of a light!

He approached it warily, stopping often to look about him and

listen. It came from an unglazed window-opening in a shabby

little hut. He heard a voice, now, and felt a disposition to run

and hide; but he changed his mind at once, for this voice was

praying, evidently. He glided to the one window of the hut,

raised himself on tiptoe, and stole a glance within. The room was

small; its floor was the natural earth, beaten hard by use; in a

corner was a bed of rushes and a ragged blanket or two; near it

was a pail, a cup, a basin, and two or three pots and pans; there

was a short bench and a three-legged stool; on the hearth the

remains of a faggot fire were smouldering; before a shrine, which

was lighted by a single candle, knelt an aged man, and on an old

wooden box at his side lay an open book and a human skull. The

man was of large, bony frame; his hair and whiskers were very long

and snowy white; he was clothed in a robe of sheepskins which

reached from his neck to his heels.

"A holy hermit!" said the King to himself; "now am I indeed fortunate."

The hermit rose from his knees; the King knocked. A deep voice responded--

"Enter!--but leave sin behind, for the ground whereon thou shalt

stand is holy!"

The King entered, and paused. The hermit turned a pair of

gleaming, unrestful eyes upon him, and said--

"Who art thou?"

"I am the King," came the answer, with placid simplicity.

"Welcome, King!" cried the hermit, with enthusiasm. Then,

bustling about with feverish activity, and constantly saying,

"Welcome, welcome," he arranged his bench, seated the King on it,

by the hearth, threw some faggots on the fire, and finally fell to

pacing the floor with a nervous stride.

"Welcome! Many have sought sanctuary here, but they were not

worthy, and were turned away. But a King who casts his crown

away, and despises the vain splendours of his office, and clothes

his body in rags, to devote his life to holiness and the

mortification of the flesh--he is worthy, he is welcome!--here

shall he abide all his days till death come." The King hastened

to interrupt and explain, but the hermit paid no attention to him-

-did not even hear him, apparently, but went right on with his

talk, with a raised voice and a growing energy. "And thou shalt

be at peace here. None shall find out thy refuge to disquiet thee

with supplications to return to that empty and foolish life which

God hath moved thee to abandon. Thou shalt pray here; thou shalt

study the Book; thou shalt meditate upon the follies and delusions

of this world, and upon the sublimities of the world to come; thou

shalt feed upon crusts and herbs, and scourge thy body with whips,

daily, to the purifying of thy soul. Thou shalt wear a hair shirt

next thy skin; thou shalt drink water only; and thou shalt be at

peace; yes, wholly at peace; for whoso comes to seek thee shall go

his way again, baffled; he shall not find thee, he shall not molest thee."

The old man, still pacing back and forth, ceased to speak aloud,

and began to mutter. The King seized this opportunity to state

his case; and he did it with an eloquence inspired by uneasiness

and apprehension. But the hermit went on muttering, and gave no

heed. And still muttering, he approached the King and said impressively--

"'Sh! I will tell you a secret!" He bent down to impart it, but

checked himself, and assumed a listening attitude. After a moment

or two he went on tiptoe to the window-opening, put his head out,

and peered around in the gloaming, then came tiptoeing back again,

put his face close down to the King's, and whispered--

"I am an archangel!"

The King started violently, and said to himself, "Would God I were

with the outlaws again; for lo, now am I the prisoner of a

madman!" His apprehensions were heightened, and they showed

plainly in his face. In a low excited voice the hermit continued-


"I see you feel my atmosphere! There's awe in your face! None

may be in this atmosphere and not be thus affected; for it is the

very atmosphere of heaven. I go thither and return, in the

twinkling of an eye. I was made an archangel on this very spot,

it is five years ago, by angels sent from heaven to confer that

awful dignity. Their presence filled this place with an

intolerable brightness. And they knelt to me, King! yes, they

knelt to me! for I was greater than they. I have walked in the

courts of heaven, and held speech with the patriarchs. Touch my

hand--be not afraid--touch it. There--now thou hast touched a

hand which has been clasped by Abraham and Isaac and Jacob! For I

have walked in the golden courts; I have seen the Deity face to

face!" He paused, to give this speech effect; then his face

suddenly changed, and he started to his feet again saying, with

angry energy, "Yes, I am an archangel; A MERE ARCHANGEL!--I that

might have been pope! It is verily true. I was told it from

heaven in a dream, twenty years ago; ah, yes, I was to be pope!--

and I SHOULD have been pope, for Heaven had said it--but the King

dissolved my religious house, and I, poor obscure unfriended monk,

was cast homeless upon the world, robbed of my mighty destiny!"

Here he began to mumble again, and beat his forehead in futile

rage, with his fist; now and then articulating a venomous curse,

and now and then a pathetic "Wherefore I am nought but an

archangel--I that should have been pope!"

So he went on, for an hour, whilst the poor little King sat and

suffered. Then all at once the old man's frenzy departed, and he

became all gentleness. His voice softened, he came down out of

his clouds, and fell to prattling along so simply and so humanly,

that he soon won the King's heart completely. The old devotee

moved the boy nearer to the fire and made him comfortable;

doctored his small bruises and abrasions with a deft and tender

hand; and then set about preparing and cooking a supper--chatting

pleasantly all the time, and occasionally stroking the lad's cheek

or patting his head, in such a gently caressing way that in a

little while all the fear and repulsion inspired by the archangel

were changed to reverence and affection for the man.

This happy state of things continued while the two ate the supper;

then, after a prayer before the shrine, the hermit put the boy to

bed, in a small adjoining room, tucking him in as snugly and

lovingly as a mother might; and so, with a parting caress, left

him and sat down by the fire, and began to poke the brands about

in an absent and aimless way. Presently he paused; then tapped

his forehead several times with his fingers, as if trying to

recall some thought which had escaped from his mind. Apparently

he was unsuccessful. Now he started quickly up, and entered his

guest's room, and said--

"Thou art King?"

"Yes," was the response, drowsily uttered.

"What King?"

"Of England."

"Of England? Then Henry is gone!"

"Alack, it is so. I am his son."

A black frown settled down upon the hermit's face, and he clenched

his bony hands with a vindictive energy. He stood a few moments,

breathing fast and swallowing repeatedly, then said in a husky voice--

"Dost know it was he that turned us out into the world houseless

and homeless?"

There was no response. The old man bent down and scanned the

boy's reposeful face and listened to his placid breathing. "He

sleeps--sleeps soundly;" and the frown vanished away and gave

place to an expression of evil satisfaction. A smile flitted

across the dreaming boy's features. The hermit muttered, "So--his

heart is happy;" and he turned away. He went stealthily about the

place, seeking here and there for something; now and then halting

to listen, now and then jerking his head around and casting a

quick glance toward the bed; and always muttering, always mumbling

to himself. At last he found what he seemed to want--a rusty old

butcher knife and a whetstone. Then he crept to his place by the

fire, sat himself down, and began to whet the knife softly on the

stone, still muttering, mumbling, ejaculating. The winds sighed

around the lonely place, the mysterious voices of the night

floated by out of the distances. The shining eyes of venturesome

mice and rats peered out at the old man from cracks and coverts,

but he went on with his work, rapt, absorbed, and noted none of

these things.

At long intervals he drew his thumb along the edge of his knife,

and nodded his head with satisfaction. "It grows sharper," he

said; "yes, it grows sharper."

He took no note of the flight of time, but worked tranquilly on,

entertaining himself with his thoughts, which broke out

occasionally in articulate speech--

"His father wrought us evil, he destroyed us--and is gone down

into the eternal fires! Yes, down into the eternal fires! He

escaped us--but it was God's will, yes it was God's will, we must

not repine. But he hath not escaped the fires! No, he hath not

escaped the fires, the consuming, unpitying, remorseless fires--

and THEY are everlasting!"

And so he wrought, and still wrought--mumbling, chuckling a low

rasping chuckle at times--and at times breaking again into words--

"It was his father that did it all. I am but an archangel; but

for him I should be pope!"

The King stirred. The hermit sprang noiselessly to the bedside,

and went down upon his knees, bending over the prostrate form with

his knife uplifted. The boy stirred again; his eyes came open for

an instant, but there was no speculation in them, they saw

nothing; the next moment his tranquil breathing showed that his

sleep was sound once more.

The hermit watched and listened, for a time, keeping his position

and scarcely breathing; then he slowly lowered his arms, and

presently crept away, saying,--

"It is long past midnight; it is not best that he should cry out,

lest by accident someone be passing."

He glided about his hovel, gathering a rag here, a thong there,

and another one yonder; then he returned, and by careful and

gentle handling he managed to tie the King's ankles together

without waking him. Next he essayed to tie the wrists; he made

several attempts to cross them, but the boy always drew one hand

or the other away, just as the cord was ready to be applied; but

at last, when the archangel was almost ready to despair, the boy

crossed his hands himself, and the next moment they were bound.

Now a bandage was passed under the sleeper's chin and brought up

over his head and tied fast--and so softly, so gradually, and so

deftly were the knots drawn together and compacted, that the boy

slept peacefully through it all without stirring.



Top of Page

< BACK    NEXT >

| Home | Reading Room The Prince and the Pauper





Why not spread the word about Together We Teach?
Simply copy & paste our home page link below into your emails... 

Want the Together We Teach link to place on your website?
Copy & paste either home page link on your webpage...
Together We Teach 






Use these free website tools below for a more powerful experience at Together We Teach!

****Google™ search****

For a more specific search, try using quotation marks around phrases (ex. "You are what you read")


*** Google Translate™ translation service ***

 Translate text:


  Translate a web page:

****What's the Definition?****
(Simply insert the word you want to lookup)

 Search:   for   

S D Glass Enterprises

Privacy Policy

Warner Robins, GA, USA