The King sat musing a few moments, then looked up and said--
"'Tis strange--most strange. I cannot account for it."
"No, it is not strange, my liege. I know him, and this conduct is
but natural. He was a rascal from his birth."
"Oh, I spake not of HIM, Sir Miles."
"Not of him? Then of what? What is it that is strange?"
"That the King is not missed."
"How? Which? I doubt I do not understand."
"Indeed? Doth it not strike you as being passing strange that the
land is not filled with couriers and proclamations describing my
person and making search for me? Is it no matter for commotion
and distress that the Head of the State is gone; that I am
vanished away and lost?"
"Most true, my King, I had forgot." Then Hendon sighed, and
muttered to himself, "Poor ruined mind--still busy with its pathetic
"But I have a plan that shall right us both--I will write a paper,
in three tongues--Latin, Greek and English--and thou shalt haste
away with it to London in the morning. Give it to none but my
uncle, the Lord Hertford; when he shall see it, he will know and
say I wrote it. Then he will send for me."
"Might it not be best, my Prince, that we wait here until I prove
myself and make my rights secure to my domains? I should be so
much the better able then to--"
The King interrupted him imperiously--
"Peace! What are thy paltry domains, thy trivial interests,
contrasted with matters which concern the weal of a nation and the
integrity of a throne?" Then, he added, in a gentle voice, as if
he were sorry for his severity, "Obey, and have no fear; I will
right thee, I will make thee whole--yes, more than whole. I shall
remember, and requite."
So saying, he took the pen, and set himself to work. Hendon
contemplated him lovingly a while, then said to himself--
"An' it were dark, I should think it WAS a king that spoke;
there's no denying it, when the humour's upon on him he doth
thunder and lighten like your true King; now where got he that
trick? See him scribble and scratch away contentedly at his
meaningless pot-hooks, fancying them to be Latin and Greek--and
except my wit shall serve me with a lucky device for diverting him
from his purpose, I shall be forced to pretend to post away to-
morrow on this wild errand he hath invented for me."
The next moment Sir Miles's thoughts had gone back to the recent
episode. So absorbed was he in his musings, that when the King
presently handed him the paper which he had been writing, he
received it and pocketed it without being conscious of the act.
"How marvellous strange she acted," he muttered. "I think
knew me--and I think she did NOT know me. These opinions do
conflict, I perceive it plainly; I cannot reconcile them, neither
can I, by argument, dismiss either of the two, or even persuade
one to outweigh the other. The matter standeth simply thus: she
MUST have known my face, my figure, my voice, for how could it be
otherwise? Yet she SAID she knew me not, and that is proof
perfect, for she cannot lie. But stop--I think I begin to see.
Peradventure he hath influenced her, commanded her, compelled her
to lie. That is the solution. The riddle is unriddled. She
seemed dead with fear--yes, she was under his compulsion. I will
seek her; I will find her; now that he is away, she will speak her
true mind. She will remember the old times when we were little
playfellows together, and this will soften her heart, and she will
no more betray me, but will confess me. There is no treacherous
blood in her--no, she was always honest and true. She has loved
me, in those old days--this is my security; for whom one has
loved, one cannot betray."
He stepped eagerly toward the door; at that moment it opened, and
the Lady Edith entered. She was very pale, but she walked with a
firm step, and her carriage was full of grace and gentle dignity.
Her face was as sad as before.
Miles sprang forward, with a happy confidence, to meet her, but
she checked him with a hardly perceptible gesture, and he stopped
where he was. She seated herself, and asked him to do likewise.
Thus simply did she take the sense of old comradeship out of him,
and transform him into a stranger and a guest. The surprise of
it, the bewildering unexpectedness of it, made him begin to
question, for a moment, if he WAS the person he was pretending to
be, after all. The Lady Edith said--
"Sir, I have come to warn you. The mad cannot be persuaded out of
their delusions, perchance; but doubtless they may be persuaded to
avoid perils. I think this dream of yours hath the seeming of
honest truth to you, and therefore is not criminal--but do not
tarry here with it; for here it is dangerous." She looked
steadily into Miles's face a moment, then added, impressively, "It
is the more dangerous for that you ARE much like what our lost lad
must have grown to be if he had lived."
"Heavens, madam, but I AM he!"
"I truly think you think it, sir. I question not your honesty in
that; I but warn you, that is all. My husband is master in this
region; his power hath hardly any limit; the people prosper or
starve, as he wills. If you resembled not the man whom you
profess to be, my husband might bid you pleasure yourself with
your dream in peace; but trust me, I know him well; I know what he
will do; he will say to all that you are but a mad impostor, and
straightway all will echo him." She bent upon Miles that same
steady look once more, and added: "If you WERE Miles Hendon, and
he knew it and all the region knew it--consider what I am saying,
weigh it well--you would stand in the same peril, your punishment
would be no less sure; he would deny you and denounce you, and
none would be bold enough to give you countenance."
"Most truly I believe it," said Miles, bitterly. "The power
can command one life-long friend to betray and disown another, and
be obeyed, may well look to be obeyed in quarters where bread and
life are on the stake and no cobweb ties of loyalty and honour are concerned."
A faint tinge appeared for a moment in the lady's cheek, and she
dropped her eyes to the floor; but her voice betrayed no emotion
when she proceeded--
"I have warned you--I must still warn you--to go hence. This man
will destroy you, else. He is a tyrant who knows no pity. I, who
am his fettered slave, know this. Poor Miles, and Arthur, and my
dear guardian, Sir Richard, are free of him, and at rest: better
that you were with them than that you bide here in the clutches of
this miscreant. Your pretensions are a menace to his title and
possessions; you have assaulted him in his own house: you are
ruined if you stay. Go--do not hesitate. If you lack money, take
this purse, I beg of you, and bribe the servants to let you pass.
Oh, be warned, poor soul, and escape while you may."
Miles declined the purse with a gesture, and rose up and stood before her.
"Grant me one thing," he said. "Let your eyes rest upon mine,
that I may see if they be steady. There--now answer me. Am I
"No. I know you not."
The answer was low, but distinct--
"Oh, this passes belief!"
"Fly! Why will you waste the precious time? Fly, and save yourself."
At that moment the officers burst into the room, and a violent
struggle began; but Hendon was soon overpowered and dragged away.
The King was taken also, and both were bound and led to prison.
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Room | The
Prince and the Pauper