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Mark Twain > The Prince and the Pauper > Chapter XXXI

The Prince and the Pauper

Chapter XXXI



The Recognition procession.

When Tom Canty awoke the next morning, the air was heavy with a
thunderous murmur: all the distances were charged with it. It was music
to him; for it meant that the English world was out in its strength to
give loyal welcome to the great day.

Presently Tom found himself once more the chief figure in a wonderful
floating pageant on the Thames; for by ancient custom the 'recognition
procession' through London must start from the Tower, and he was bound
thither.

When he arrived there, the sides of the venerable fortress seemed
suddenly rent in a thousand places, and from every rent leaped a red
tongue of flame and a white gush of smoke; a deafening explosion
followed, which drowned the shoutings of the multitude, and made the
ground tremble; the flame-jets, the smoke, and the explosions, were
repeated over and over again with marvellous celerity, so that in a few
moments the old Tower disappeared in the vast fog of its own smoke, all
but the very top of the tall pile called the White Tower; this, with its
banners, stood out above the dense bank of vapour as a mountain-peak
projects above a cloud-rack.

Tom Canty, splendidly arrayed, mounted a prancing war-steed, whose rich
trappings almost reached to the ground; his 'uncle,' the Lord Protector
Somerset, similarly mounted, took place in his rear; the King's Guard
formed in single ranks on either side, clad in burnished armour; after
the Protector followed a seemingly interminable procession of resplendent
nobles attended by their vassals; after these came the lord mayor and the
aldermanic body, in crimson velvet robes, and with their gold chains
across their breasts; and after these the officers and members of all the
guilds of London, in rich raiment, and bearing the showy banners of the
several corporations. Also in the procession, as a special guard of
honour through the city, was the Ancient and Honourable Artillery
Company--an organisation already three hundred years old at that time,
and the only military body in England possessing the privilege (which it
still possesses in our day) of holding itself independent of the commands
of Parliament. It was a brilliant spectacle, and was hailed with
acclamations all along the line, as it took its stately way through the
packed multitudes of citizens. The chronicler says, 'The King, as he
entered the city, was received by the people with prayers, welcomings,
cries, and tender words, and all signs which argue an earnest love of
subjects toward their sovereign; and the King, by holding up his glad
countenance to such as stood afar off, and most tender language to those
that stood nigh his Grace, showed himself no less thankful to receive the
people's goodwill than they to offer it. To all that wished him well, he
gave thanks. To such as bade "God save his Grace," he said in return,
"God save you all!" and added that "he thanked them with all his heart."
Wonderfully transported were the people with the loving answers and
gestures of their King.'

In Fenchurch Street a 'fair child, in costly apparel,' stood on a stage
to welcome his Majesty to the city. The last verse of his greeting was
in these words--

'Welcome, O King! as much as hearts can think; Welcome, again, as much as
tongue can tell,--Welcome to joyous tongues, and hearts that will not
shrink: God thee preserve, we pray, and wish thee ever well.'

The people burst forth in a glad shout, repeating with one voice what the
child had said. Tom Canty gazed abroad over the surging sea of eager
faces, and his heart swelled with exultation; and he felt that the one
thing worth living for in this world was to be a king, and a nation's
idol. Presently he caught sight, at a distance, of a couple of his
ragged Offal Court comrades--one of them the lord high admiral in his
late mimic court, the other the first lord of the bedchamber in the same
pretentious fiction; and his pride swelled higher than ever. Oh, if they
could only recognise him now! What unspeakable glory it would be, if
they could recognise him, and realise that the derided mock king of the
slums and back alleys was become a real King, with illustrious dukes and
princes for his humble menials, and the English world at his feet! But
he had to deny himself, and choke down his desire, for such a recognition
might cost more than it would come to: so he turned away his head, and
left the two soiled lads to go on with their shoutings and glad
adulations, unsuspicious of whom it was they were lavishing them upon.

Every now and then rose the cry, "A largess! a largess!" and Tom
responded by scattering a handful of bright new coins abroad for the
multitude to scramble for.

The chronicler says, 'At the upper end of Gracechurch Street, before the
sign of the Eagle, the city had erected a gorgeous arch, beneath which
was a stage, which stretched from one side of the street to the other.
This was an historical pageant, representing the King's immediate
progenitors. There sat Elizabeth of York in the midst of an immense
white rose, whose petals formed elaborate furbelows around her; by her
side was Henry VII., issuing out of a vast red rose, disposed in the same
manner: the hands of the royal pair were locked together, and the
wedding-ring ostentatiously displayed. From the red and white roses
proceeded a stem, which reached up to a second stage, occupied by Henry
VIII., issuing from a red and white rose, with the effigy of the new
King's mother, Jane Seymour, represented by his side. One branch sprang
from this pair, which mounted to a third stage, where sat the effigy of
Edward VI. himself, enthroned in royal majesty; and the whole pageant was
framed with wreaths of roses, red and white.'

This quaint and gaudy spectacle so wrought upon the rejoicing people,
that their acclamations utterly smothered the small voice of the child
whose business it was to explain the thing in eulogistic rhymes. But Tom
Canty was not sorry; for this loyal uproar was sweeter music to him than
any poetry, no matter what its quality might be. Whithersoever Tom
turned his happy young face, the people recognised the exactness of his
effigy's likeness to himself, the flesh and blood counterpart; and new
whirlwinds of applause burst forth.

The great pageant moved on, and still on, under one triumphal arch after
another, and past a bewildering succession of spectacular and symbolical
tableaux, each of which typified and exalted some virtue, or talent, or
merit, of the little King's. 'Throughout the whole of Cheapside, from
every penthouse and window, hung banners and streamers; and the richest
carpets, stuffs, and cloth-of-gold tapestried the streets--specimens of
the great wealth of the stores within; and the splendour of this
thoroughfare was equalled in the other streets, and in some even
surpassed.'

"And all these wonders and these marvels are to welcome me--me!" murmured
Tom Canty.

The mock King's cheeks were flushed with excitement, his eyes were
flashing, his senses swam in a delirium of pleasure. At this point, just
as he was raising his hand to fling another rich largess, he caught sight
of a pale, astounded face, which was strained forward out of the second
rank of the crowd, its intense eyes riveted upon him. A sickening
consternation struck through him; he recognised his mother! and up flew
his hand, palm outward, before his eyes--that old involuntary gesture,
born of a forgotten episode, and perpetuated by habit. In an instant
more she had torn her way out of the press, and past the guards, and was
at his side. She embraced his leg, she covered it with kisses, she
cried, "O my child, my darling!" lifting toward him a face that was
transfigured with joy and love. The same instant an officer of the
King's Guard snatched her away with a curse, and sent her reeling back
whence she came with a vigorous impulse from his strong arm. The words
"I do not know you, woman!" were falling from Tom Canty's lips when this
piteous thing occurred; but it smote him to the heart to see her treated
so; and as she turned for a last glimpse of him, whilst the crowd was
swallowing her from his sight, she seemed so wounded, so broken-hearted,
that a shame fell upon him which consumed his pride to ashes, and
withered his stolen royalty. His grandeurs were stricken valueless:
they seemed to fall away from him like rotten rags.

The procession moved on, and still on, through ever augmenting splendours
and ever augmenting tempests of welcome; but to Tom Canty they were as if
they had not been. He neither saw nor heard. Royalty had lost its grace
and sweetness; its pomps were become a reproach. Remorse was eating his
heart out. He said, "Would God I were free of my captivity!"

He had unconsciously dropped back into the phraseology of the first days
of his compulsory greatness.

The shining pageant still went winding like a radiant and interminable
serpent down the crooked lanes of the quaint old city, and through the
huzzaing hosts; but still the King rode with bowed head and vacant eyes,
seeing only his mother's face and that wounded look in it.

"Largess, largess!" The cry fell upon an unheeding ear.

"Long live Edward of England!" It seemed as if the earth shook with the
explosion; but there was no response from the King. He heard it only as
one hears the thunder of the surf when it is blown to the ear out of a
great distance, for it was smothered under another sound which was still
nearer, in his own breast, in his accusing conscience--a voice which kept
repeating those shameful words, "I do not know you, woman!"

The words smote upon the King's soul as the strokes of a funeral bell
smite upon the soul of a surviving friend when they remind him of secret
treacheries suffered at his hands by him that is gone.

New glories were unfolded at every turning; new wonders, new marvels,
sprang into view; the pent clamours of waiting batteries were released;
new raptures poured from the throats of the waiting multitudes: but the
King gave no sign, and the accusing voice that went moaning through his
comfortless breast was all the sound he heard.

By-and-by the gladness in the faces of the populace changed a little, and
became touched with a something like solicitude or anxiety: an abatement
in the volume of the applause was observable too. The Lord Protector was
quick to notice these things: he was as quick to detect the cause. He
spurred to the King's side, bent low in his saddle, uncovered, and said--

"My liege, it is an ill time for dreaming. The people observe thy
downcast head, thy clouded mien, and they take it for an omen. Be
advised: unveil the sun of royalty, and let it shine upon these boding
vapours, and disperse them. Lift up thy face, and smile upon the
people."

So saying, the Duke scattered a handful of coins to right and left, then
retired to his place. The mock King did mechanically as he had been
bidden. His smile had no heart in it, but few eyes were near enough or
sharp enough to detect that. The noddings of his plumed head as he
saluted his subjects were full of grace and graciousness; the largess
which he delivered from his hand was royally liberal: so the people's
anxiety vanished, and the acclamations burst forth again in as mighty a
volume as before.

Still once more, a little before the progress was ended, the Duke was
obliged to ride forward, and make remonstrance. He whispered--

"O dread sovereign! shake off these fatal humours; the eyes of the world
are upon thee." Then he added with sharp annoyance, "Perdition catch
that crazy pauper! 'twas she that hath disturbed your Highness."

The gorgeous figure turned a lustreless eye upon the Duke, and said in a
dead voice--

"She was my mother!"

"My God!" groaned the Protector as he reined his horse backward to his
post, "the omen was pregnant with prophecy. He is gone mad again!"


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