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Mark Twain > The Prince and the Pauper > Chapter XXIII

The Prince and the Pauper

Chapter XXIII



The Prince a prisoner.

Hendon forced back a smile, and bent down and whispered in the King's
ear--

"Softly, softly, my prince, wag thy tongue warily--nay, suffer it not to
wag at all. Trust in me--all shall go well in the end." Then he added to
himself: "SIR Miles! Bless me, I had totally forgot I was a knight!
Lord, how marvellous a thing it is, the grip his memory doth take upon
his quaint and crazy fancies! . . . An empty and foolish title is mine,
and yet it is something to have deserved it; for I think it is more
honour to be held worthy to be a spectre-knight in his Kingdom of Dreams
and Shadows, than to be held base enough to be an earl in some of the
REAL kingdoms of this world."

The crowd fell apart to admit a constable, who approached and was about
to lay his hand upon the King's shoulder, when Hendon said--

"Gently, good friend, withhold your hand--he shall go peaceably; I am
responsible for that. Lead on, we will follow."

The officer led, with the woman and her bundle; Miles and the King
followed after, with the crowd at their heels. The King was inclined to
rebel; but Hendon said to him in a low voice--

"Reflect, Sire--your laws are the wholesome breath of your own royalty;
shall their source resist them, yet require the branches to respect them?
Apparently one of these laws has been broken; when the King is on his
throne again, can it ever grieve him to remember that when he was
seemingly a private person he loyally sank the king in the citizen and
submitted to its authority?"

"Thou art right; say no more; thou shalt see that whatsoever the King of
England requires a subject to suffer, under the law, he will himself
suffer while he holdeth the station of a subject."

When the woman was called upon to testify before the justice of the
peace, she swore that the small prisoner at the bar was the person who
had committed the theft; there was none able to show the contrary, so the
King stood convicted. The bundle was now unrolled, and when the contents
proved to be a plump little dressed pig, the judge looked troubled,
whilst Hendon turned pale, and his body was thrilled with an electric
shiver of dismay; but the King remained unmoved, protected by his
ignorance. The judge meditated, during an ominous pause, then turned to
the woman, with the question--

"What dost thou hold this property to be worth?"

The woman courtesied and replied--

"Three shillings and eightpence, your worship--I could not abate a penny
and set forth the value honestly."

The justice glanced around uncomfortably upon the crowd, then nodded to
the constable, and said--

"Clear the court and close the doors."

It was done. None remained but the two officials, the accused, the
accuser, and Miles Hendon. This latter was rigid and colourless, and on
his forehead big drops of cold sweat gathered, broke and blended
together, and trickled down his face. The judge turned to the woman
again, and said, in a compassionate voice--

"'Tis a poor ignorant lad, and mayhap was driven hard by hunger, for
these be grievous times for the unfortunate; mark you, he hath not an
evil face--but when hunger driveth--Good woman! dost know that when one
steals a thing above the value of thirteenpence ha'penny the law saith he
shall HANG for it?"

The little King started, wide-eyed with consternation, but controlled
himself and held his peace; but not so the woman. She sprang to her
feet, shaking with fright, and cried out--

"Oh, good lack, what have I done! God-a-mercy, I would not hang the poor
thing for the whole world! Ah, save me from this, your worship--what
shall I do, what CAN I do?"

The justice maintained his judicial composure, and simply said--

"Doubtless it is allowable to revise the value, since it is not yet writ
upon the record."

"Then in God's name call the pig eightpence, and heaven bless the day
that freed my conscience of this awesome thing!"

Miles Hendon forgot all decorum in his delight; and surprised the King
and wounded his dignity, by throwing his arms around him and hugging him.
The woman made her grateful adieux and started away with her pig; and
when the constable opened the door for her, he followed her out into the
narrow hall. The justice proceeded to write in his record book. Hendon,
always alert, thought he would like to know why the officer followed the
woman out; so he slipped softly into the dusky hall and listened. He
heard a conversation to this effect--

"It is a fat pig, and promises good eating; I will buy it of thee; here
is the eightpence."

"Eightpence, indeed! Thou'lt do no such thing. It cost me three
shillings and eightpence, good honest coin of the last reign, that old
Harry that's just dead ne'er touched or tampered with. A fig for thy
eightpence!"

"Stands the wind in that quarter? Thou wast under oath, and so swore
falsely when thou saidst the value was but eightpence. Come straightway
back with me before his worship, and answer for the crime!--and then the
lad will hang."

"There, there, dear heart, say no more, I am content. Give me the
eightpence, and hold thy peace about the matter."

The woman went off crying: Hendon slipped back into the court room, and
the constable presently followed, after hiding his prize in some
convenient place. The justice wrote a while longer, then read the King a
wise and kindly lecture, and sentenced him to a short imprisonment in the
common jail, to be followed by a public flogging. The astounded King
opened his mouth, and was probably going to order the good judge to be
beheaded on the spot; but he caught a warning sign from Hendon, and
succeeded in closing his mouth again before he lost anything out of it.
Hendon took him by the hand, now, made reverence to the justice, and the
two departed in the wake of the constable toward the jail. The moment
the street was reached, the inflamed monarch halted, snatched away his
hand, and exclaimed--

"Idiot, dost imagine I will enter a common jail ALIVE?"

Hendon bent down and said, somewhat sharply--

"WILL you trust in me? Peace! and forbear to worsen our chances with
dangerous speech. What God wills, will happen; thou canst not hurry it,
thou canst not alter it; therefore wait, and be patient--'twill be time
enow to rail or rejoice when what is to happen has happened." {1}

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