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Mark Twain > The Prince and the Pauper > Chapter VIII

The Prince and the Pauper

Chapter VIII


The question of the Seal.

About five o'clock Henry VIII. awoke out of an unrefreshing nap, and
muttered to himself, "Troublous dreams, troublous dreams! Mine end is now
at hand: so say these warnings, and my failing pulses do confirm it."
Presently a wicked light flamed up in his eye, and he muttered, "Yet will
not I die till HE go before."

His attendants perceiving that he was awake, one of them asked his
pleasure concerning the Lord Chancellor, who was waiting without.

"Admit him, admit him!" exclaimed the King eagerly.

The Lord Chancellor entered, and knelt by the King's couch, saying--

"I have given order, and, according to the King's command, the peers of
the realm, in their robes, do now stand at the bar of the House, where,
having confirmed the Duke of Norfolk's doom, they humbly wait his
majesty's further pleasure in the matter."

The King's face lit up with a fierce joy. Said he--

"Lift me up! In mine own person will I go before my Parliament, and with
mine own hand will I seal the warrant that rids me of--"

His voice failed; an ashen pallor swept the flush from his cheeks; and
the attendants eased him back upon his pillows, and hurriedly assisted
him with restoratives. Presently he said sorrowfully--

"Alack, how have I longed for this sweet hour! and lo, too late it
cometh, and I am robbed of this so coveted chance. But speed ye, speed
ye! let others do this happy office sith 'tis denied to me. I put my
Great Seal in commission: choose thou the lords that shall compose it,
and get ye to your work. Speed ye, man! Before the sun shall rise and
set again, bring me his head that I may see it."

"According to the King's command, so shall it be. Will't please your
majesty to order that the Seal be now restored to me, so that I may forth
upon the business?"

"The Seal? Who keepeth the Seal but thou?"

"Please your majesty, you did take it from me two days since, saying it
should no more do its office till your own royal hand should use it upon
the Duke of Norfolk's warrant."

"Why, so in sooth I did: I do remember . . . What did I with it?. . . I
am very feeble . . . So oft these days doth my memory play the traitor
with me . . . 'Tis strange, strange--"

The King dropped into inarticulate mumblings, shaking his grey head
weakly from time to time, and gropingly trying to recollect what he had
done with the Seal. At last my Lord Hertford ventured to kneel and offer
information--

"Sire, if that I may be so bold, here be several that do remember with me
how that you gave the Great Seal into the hands of his highness the
Prince of Wales to keep against the day that--"

"True, most true!" interrupted the King. "Fetch it! Go: time flieth!"

Lord Hertford flew to Tom, but returned to the King before very long,
troubled and empty-handed. He delivered himself to this effect--

"It grieveth me, my lord the King, to bear so heavy and unwelcome
tidings; but it is the will of God that the prince's affliction abideth
still, and he cannot recall to mind that he received the Seal. So came I
quickly to report, thinking it were waste of precious time, and little
worth withal, that any should attempt to search the long array of
chambers and saloons that belong unto his royal high--"

A groan from the King interrupted the lord at this point. After a little
while his majesty said, with a deep sadness in his tone--

"Trouble him no more, poor child. The hand of God lieth heavy upon him,
and my heart goeth out in loving compassion for him, and sorrow that I
may not bear his burden on mine old trouble-weighted shoulders, and so
bring him peace."

He closed his eyes, fell to mumbling, and presently was silent. After a
time he opened his eyes again, and gazed vacantly around until his glance
rested upon the kneeling Lord Chancellor. Instantly his face flushed with
wrath--

"What, thou here yet! By the glory of God, an' thou gettest not about
that traitor's business, thy mitre shall have holiday the morrow for lack
of a head to grace withal!"

The trembling Chancellor answered--

"Good your Majesty, I cry you mercy! I but waited for the Seal."

"Man, hast lost thy wits? The small Seal which aforetime I was wont to
take with me abroad lieth in my treasury. And, since the Great Seal hath
flown away, shall not it suffice? Hast lost thy wits? Begone! And hark
ye--come no more till thou do bring his head."

The poor Chancellor was not long in removing himself from this dangerous
vicinity; nor did the commission waste time in giving the royal assent to
the work of the slavish Parliament, and appointing the morrow for the
beheading of the premier peer of England, the luckless Duke of Norfolk.
{1}

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