The Complete Works of Mark Twain


 
 
Mark Twain > The Prince and the Pauper > Chapter XVII

The Prince and the Pauper

Chapter XVII


Foo-foo the First.

Miles Hendon hurried along toward the Southwark end of the bridge,
keeping a sharp look-out for the persons he sought, and hoping and
expecting to overtake them presently. He was disappointed in this,
however. By asking questions, he was enabled to track them part of the
way through Southwark; then all traces ceased, and he was perplexed as to
how to proceed. Still, he continued his efforts as best he could during
the rest of the day. Nightfall found him leg-weary, half-famished, and
his desire as far from accomplishment as ever; so he supped at the Tabard
Inn and went to bed, resolved to make an early start in the morning, and
give the town an exhaustive search. As he lay thinking and planning, he
presently began to reason thus: The boy would escape from the ruffian,
his reputed father, if possible; would he go back to London and seek his
former haunts? No, he would not do that, he would avoid recapture.
What, then, would he do? Never having had a friend in the world, or a
protector, until he met Miles Hendon, he would naturally try to find that
friend again, provided the effort did not require him to go toward London
and danger. He would strike for Hendon Hall, that is what he would do,
for he knew Hendon was homeward bound and there he might expect to find
him. Yes, the case was plain to Hendon--he must lose no more time in
Southwark, but move at once through Kent, toward Monk's Holm, searching
the wood and inquiring as he went. Let us return to the vanished little
King now.

The ruffian whom the waiter at the inn on the bridge saw 'about to join'
the youth and the King did not exactly join them, but fell in close
behind them and followed their steps. He said nothing. His left arm was
in a sling, and he wore a large green patch over his left eye; he limped
slightly, and used an oaken staff as a support. The youth led the King a
crooked course through Southwark, and by-and-by struck into the high road
beyond. The King was irritated, now, and said he would stop here--it was
Hendon's place to come to him, not his to go to Hendon. He would not
endure such insolence; he would stop where he was. The youth said--

"Thou'lt tarry here, and thy friend lying wounded in the wood yonder? So
be it, then."

The King's manner changed at once. He cried out--

"Wounded? And who hath dared to do it? But that is apart; lead on, lead
on! Faster, sirrah! Art shod with lead? Wounded, is he? Now though
the doer of it be a duke's son he shall rue it!"

It was some distance to the wood, but the space was speedily traversed.
The youth looked about him, discovered a bough sticking in the ground,
with a small bit of rag tied to it, then led the way into the forest,
watching for similar boughs and finding them at intervals; they were
evidently guides to the point he was aiming at. By-and-by an open place
was reached, where were the charred remains of a farm-house, and near
them a barn which was falling to ruin and decay. There was no sign of
life anywhere, and utter silence prevailed. The youth entered the barn,
the King following eagerly upon his heels. No one there! The King shot a
surprised and suspicious glance at the youth, and asked--

"Where is he?"

A mocking laugh was his answer. The King was in a rage in a moment; he
seized a billet of wood and was in the act of charging upon the youth
when another mocking laugh fell upon his ear. It was from the lame
ruffian who had been following at a distance. The King turned and said
angrily--

"Who art thou? What is thy business here?"

"Leave thy foolery," said the man, "and quiet thyself. My disguise is
none so good that thou canst pretend thou knowest not thy father through
it."

"Thou art not my father. I know thee not. I am the King. If thou hast
hid my servant, find him for me, or thou shalt sup sorrow for what thou
hast done."

John Canty replied, in a stern and measured voice--

"It is plain thou art mad, and I am loath to punish thee; but if thou
provoke me, I must. Thy prating doth no harm here, where there are no
ears that need to mind thy follies; yet it is well to practise thy tongue
to wary speech, that it may do no hurt when our quarters change. I have
done a murder, and may not tarry at home--neither shalt thou, seeing I
need thy service. My name is changed, for wise reasons; it is Hobbs--
John Hobbs; thine is Jack--charge thy memory accordingly. Now, then,
speak. Where is thy mother? Where are thy sisters? They came not to
the place appointed--knowest thou whither they went?"

The King answered sullenly--

"Trouble me not with these riddles. My mother is dead; my sisters are in
the palace."

The youth near by burst into a derisive laugh, and the King would have
assaulted him, but Canty--or Hobbs, as he now called himself--prevented
him, and said--

"Peace, Hugo, vex him not; his mind is astray, and thy ways fret him.
Sit thee down, Jack, and quiet thyself; thou shalt have a morsel to eat,
anon."

Hobbs and Hugo fell to talking together, in low voices, and the King
removed himself as far as he could from their disagreeable company. He
withdrew into the twilight of the farther end of the barn, where he found
the earthen floor bedded a foot deep with straw. He lay down here, drew
straw over himself in lieu of blankets, and was soon absorbed in
thinking. He had many griefs, but the minor ones were swept almost into
forgetfulness by the supreme one, the loss of his father. To the rest of
the world the name of Henry VIII. brought a shiver, and suggested an ogre
whose nostrils breathed destruction and whose hand dealt scourgings and
death; but to this boy the name brought only sensations of pleasure; the
figure it invoked wore a countenance that was all gentleness and
affection. He called to mind a long succession of loving passages
between his father and himself, and dwelt fondly upon them, his unstinted
tears attesting how deep and real was the grief that possessed his heart.
As the afternoon wasted away, the lad, wearied with his troubles, sank
gradually into a tranquil and healing slumber.

After a considerable time--he could not tell how long--his senses
struggled to a half-consciousness, and as he lay with closed eyes vaguely
wondering where he was and what had been happening, he noted a murmurous
sound, the sullen beating of rain upon the roof. A snug sense of comfort
stole over him, which was rudely broken, the next moment, by a chorus of
piping cackles and coarse laughter. It startled him disagreeably, and he
unmuffled his head to see whence this interruption proceeded. A grim and
unsightly picture met his eye. A bright fire was burning in the middle
of the floor, at the other end of the barn; and around it, and lit
weirdly up by the red glare, lolled and sprawled the motliest company of
tattered gutter-scum and ruffians, of both sexes, he had ever read or
dreamed of. There were huge stalwart men, brown with exposure, long-
haired, and clothed in fantastic rags; there were middle-sized youths, of
truculent countenance, and similarly clad; there were blind mendicants,
with patched or bandaged eyes; crippled ones, with wooden legs and
crutches; diseased ones, with running sores peeping from ineffectual
wrappings; there was a villain-looking pedlar with his pack; a knife-
grinder, a tinker, and a barber-surgeon, with the implements of their
trades; some of the females were hardly-grown girls, some were at prime,
some were old and wrinkled hags, and all were loud, brazen, foul-mouthed;
and all soiled and slatternly; there were three sore-faced babies; there
were a couple of starveling curs, with strings about their necks, whose
office was to lead the blind.

The night was come, the gang had just finished feasting, an orgy was
beginning; the can of liquor was passing from mouth to mouth. A general
cry broke forth--

"A song! a song from the Bat and Dick and Dot-and-go-One!"

One of the blind men got up, and made ready by casting aside the patches
that sheltered his excellent eyes, and the pathetic placard which recited
the cause of his calamity. Dot-and-go-One disencumbered himself of his
timber leg and took his place, upon sound and healthy limbs, beside his
fellow-rascal; then they roared out a rollicking ditty, and were
reinforced by the whole crew, at the end of each stanza, in a rousing
chorus. By the time the last stanza was reached, the half-drunken
enthusiasm had risen to such a pitch, that everybody joined in and sang
it clear through from the beginning, producing a volume of villainous
sound that made the rafters quake. These were the inspiring words:--

'Bien Darkman's then, Bouse Mort and Ken, The bien Coves bings awast, On
Chates to trine by Rome Coves dine For his long lib at last. Bing'd out
bien Morts and toure, and toure, Bing out of the Rome vile bine, And
toure the Cove that cloy'd your duds, Upon the Chates to trine.' (From
'The English Rogue.' London, 1665.)

Conversation followed; not in the thieves' dialect of the song, for that
was only used in talk when unfriendly ears might be listening. In the
course of it, it appeared that 'John Hobbs' was not altogether a new
recruit, but had trained in the gang at some former time. His later
history was called for, and when he said he had 'accidentally' killed a
man, considerable satisfaction was expressed; when he added that the man
was a priest, he was roundly applauded, and had to take a drink with
everybody. Old acquaintances welcomed him joyously, and new ones were
proud to shake him by the hand. He was asked why he had 'tarried away so
many months.' He answered--

"London is better than the country, and safer, these late years, the laws
be so bitter and so diligently enforced. An' I had not had that
accident, I had stayed there. I had resolved to stay, and never more
venture country-wards--but the accident has ended that."

He inquired how many persons the gang numbered now. The 'ruffler,' or
chief, answered--

"Five and twenty sturdy budges, bulks, files, clapperdogeons and
maunders, counting the dells and doxies and other morts. {7} Most are
here, the rest are wandering eastward, along the winter lay. We follow at
dawn."

"I do not see the Wen among the honest folk about me. Where may he be?"

"Poor lad, his diet is brimstone, now, and over hot for a delicate taste.
He was killed in a brawl, somewhere about midsummer."

"I sorrow to hear that; the Wen was a capable man, and brave."

"That was he, truly. Black Bess, his dell, is of us yet, but absent on
the eastward tramp; a fine lass, of nice ways and orderly conduct, none
ever seeing her drunk above four days in the seven."

"She was ever strict--I remember it well--a goodly wench and worthy all
commendation. Her mother was more free and less particular; a
troublesome and ugly-tempered beldame, but furnished with a wit above the
common."

"We lost her through it. Her gift of palmistry and other sorts of
fortune-telling begot for her at last a witch's name and fame. The law
roasted her to death at a slow fire. It did touch me to a sort of
tenderness to see the gallant way she met her lot--cursing and reviling
all the crowd that gaped and gazed around her, whilst the flames licked
upward toward her face and catched her thin locks and crackled about her
old gray head--cursing them! why an' thou should'st live a thousand years
thoud'st never hear so masterful a cursing. Alack, her art died with
her. There be base and weakling imitations left, but no true blasphemy."

The Ruffler sighed; the listeners sighed in sympathy; a general
depression fell upon the company for a moment, for even hardened outcasts
like these are not wholly dead to sentiment, but are able to feel a
fleeting sense of loss and affliction at wide intervals and under
peculiarly favouring circumstances--as in cases like to this, for
instance, when genius and culture depart and leave no heir. However, a
deep drink all round soon restored the spirits of the mourners.

"Have any others of our friends fared hardly?" asked Hobbs.

"Some--yes. Particularly new comers--such as small husbandmen turned
shiftless and hungry upon the world because their farms were taken from
them to be changed to sheep ranges. They begged, and were whipped at the
cart's tail, naked from the girdle up, till the blood ran; then set in
the stocks to be pelted; they begged again, were whipped again, and
deprived of an ear; they begged a third time--poor devils, what else
could they do?--and were branded on the cheek with a red-hot iron, then
sold for slaves; they ran away, were hunted down, and hanged. 'Tis a
brief tale, and quickly told. Others of us have fared less hardly. Stand
forth, Yokel, Burns, and Hodge--show your adornments!"

These stood up and stripped away some of their rags, exposing their
backs, criss-crossed with ropy old welts left by the lash; one turned up
his hair and showed the place where a left ear had once been; another
showed a brand upon his shoulder--the letter V--and a mutilated ear; the
third said--

"I am Yokel, once a farmer and prosperous, with loving wife and kids--now
am I somewhat different in estate and calling; and the wife and kids are
gone; mayhap they are in heaven, mayhap in--in the other place--but the
kindly God be thanked, they bide no more in ENGLAND! My good old
blameless mother strove to earn bread by nursing the sick; one of these
died, the doctors knew not how, so my mother was burnt for a witch,
whilst my babes looked on and wailed. English law!--up, all, with your
cups!--now all together and with a cheer!--drink to the merciful English
law that delivered HER from the English hell! Thank you, mates, one and
all. I begged, from house to house--I and the wife--bearing with us the
hungry kids--but it was crime to be hungry in England--so they stripped
us and lashed us through three towns. Drink ye all again to the merciful
English law!--for its lash drank deep of my Mary's blood and its blessed
deliverance came quick. She lies there, in the potter's field, safe from
all harms. And the kids--well, whilst the law lashed me from town to
town, they starved. Drink, lads--only a drop--a drop to the poor kids,
that never did any creature harm. I begged again--begged, for a crust,
and got the stocks and lost an ear--see, here bides the stump; I begged
again, and here is the stump of the other to keep me minded of it. And
still I begged again, and was sold for a slave--here on my cheek under
this stain, if I washed it off, ye might see the red S the branding-iron
left there! A SLAVE! Do you understand that word? An English SLAVE!--
that is he that stands before ye. I have run from my master, and when I
am found--the heavy curse of heaven fall on the law of the land that hath
commanded it!--I shall hang!" {1}

A ringing voice came through the murky air--

"Thou shalt NOT!--and this day the end of that law is come!"

All turned, and saw the fantastic figure of the little King approaching
hurriedly; as it emerged into the light and was clearly revealed, a
general explosion of inquiries broke out--

"Who is it? WHAT is it? Who art thou, manikin?"

The boy stood unconfused in the midst of all those surprised and
questioning eyes, and answered with princely dignity--

"I am Edward, King of England."

A wild burst of laughter followed, partly of derision and partly of
delight in the excellence of the joke. The King was stung. He said
sharply--

"Ye mannerless vagrants, is this your recognition of the royal boon I
have promised?"

He said more, with angry voice and excited gesture, but it was lost in a
whirlwind of laughter and mocking exclamations. 'John Hobbs' made
several attempts to make himself heard above the din, and at last
succeeded--saying--

"Mates, he is my son, a dreamer, a fool, and stark mad--mind him not--he
thinketh he IS the King."

"I AM the King," said Edward, turning toward him, "as thou shalt know to
thy cost, in good time. Thou hast confessed a murder--thou shalt swing
for it."

"THOU'LT betray me?--THOU? An' I get my hands upon thee--"

"Tut-tut!" said the burley Ruffler, interposing in time to save the King,
and emphasising this service by knocking Hobbs down with his fist, "hast
respect for neither Kings NOR Rufflers? An' thou insult my presence so
again, I'll hang thee up myself." Then he said to his Majesty, "Thou
must make no threats against thy mates, lad; and thou must guard thy
tongue from saying evil of them elsewhere. BE King, if it please thy mad
humour, but be not harmful in it. Sink the title thou hast uttered--'tis
treason; we be bad men in some few trifling ways, but none among us is so
base as to be traitor to his King; we be loving and loyal hearts, in that
regard. Note if I speak truth. Now--all together: 'Long live Edward,
King of England!'"

"LONG LIVE EDWARD, KING OF ENGLAND!"

The response came with such a thundergust from the motley crew that the
crazy building vibrated to the sound. The little King's face lighted
with pleasure for an instant, and he slightly inclined his head, and said
with grave simplicity--

"I thank you, my good people."

This unexpected result threw the company into convulsions of merriment.
When something like quiet was presently come again, the Ruffler said,
firmly, but with an accent of good nature--

"Drop it, boy, 'tis not wise, nor well. Humour thy fancy, if thou must,
but choose some other title."

A tinker shrieked out a suggestion--

"Foo-foo the First, King of the Mooncalves!"

The title 'took,' at once, every throat responded, and a roaring shout
went up, of--

"Long live Foo-foo the First, King of the Mooncalves!" followed by
hootings, cat-calls, and peals of laughter.

"Hale him forth, and crown him!"

"Robe him!"

"Sceptre him!"

"Throne him!"

These and twenty other cries broke out at once! and almost before the
poor little victim could draw a breath he was crowned with a tin basin,
robed in a tattered blanket, throned upon a barrel, and sceptred with the
tinker's soldering-iron. Then all flung themselves upon their knees
about him and sent up a chorus of ironical wailings, and mocking
supplications, whilst they swabbed their eyes with their soiled and
ragged sleeves and aprons--

"Be gracious to us, O sweet King!"

"Trample not upon thy beseeching worms, O noble Majesty!"

"Pity thy slaves, and comfort them with a royal kick!"

"Cheer us and warm us with thy gracious rays, O flaming sun of
sovereignty!"

"Sanctify the ground with the touch of thy foot, that we may eat the dirt
and be ennobled!"

"Deign to spit upon us, O Sire, that our children's children may tell of
thy princely condescension, and be proud and happy for ever!"

But the humorous tinker made the 'hit' of the evening and carried off the
honours. Kneeling, he pretended to kiss the King's foot, and was
indignantly spurned; whereupon he went about begging for a rag to paste
over the place upon his face which had been touched by the foot, saying
it must be preserved from contact with the vulgar air, and that he should
make his fortune by going on the highway and exposing it to view at the
rate of a hundred shillings a sight. He made himself so killingly funny
that he was the envy and admiration of the whole mangy rabble.

Tears of shame and indignation stood in the little monarch's eyes; and
the thought in his heart was, "Had I offered them a deep wrong they could
not be more cruel--yet have I proffered nought but to do them a kindness
--and it is thus they use me for it!"

< Back
Forward >












Index Index

Other Authors Other Authors


Mark Twain. Copyright 2008, mtwain.com
Contact the webmaster
Disclaimer here. Privacy Policy here.