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Mark Twain > The Prince and the Pauper > Chapter X

The Prince and the Pauper

Chapter X


The Prince in the toils.

We left John Canty dragging the rightful prince into Offal Court, with a
noisy and delighted mob at his heels. There was but one person in it who
offered a pleading word for the captive, and he was not heeded; he was
hardly even heard, so great was the turmoil. The Prince continued to
struggle for freedom, and to rage against the treatment he was suffering,
until John Canty lost what little patience was left in him, and raised
his oaken cudgel in a sudden fury over the Prince's head. The single
pleader for the lad sprang to stop the man's arm, and the blow descended
upon his own wrist. Canty roared out--

"Thou'lt meddle, wilt thou? Then have thy reward."

His cudgel crashed down upon the meddler's head: there was a groan, a
dim form sank to the ground among the feet of the crowd, and the next
moment it lay there in the dark alone. The mob pressed on, their
enjoyment nothing disturbed by this episode.

Presently the Prince found himself in John Canty's abode, with the door
closed against the outsiders. By the vague light of a tallow candle
which was thrust into a bottle, he made out the main features of the
loathsome den, and also the occupants of it. Two frowsy girls and a
middle-aged woman cowered against the wall in one corner, with the aspect
of animals habituated to harsh usage, and expecting and dreading it now.
From another corner stole a withered hag with streaming grey hair and
malignant eyes. John Canty said to this one--

"Tarry! There's fine mummeries here. Mar them not till thou'st enjoyed
them: then let thy hand be heavy as thou wilt. Stand forth, lad. Now
say thy foolery again, an thou'st not forgot it. Name thy name. Who art
thou?"

The insulted blood mounted to the little prince's cheek once more, and he
lifted a steady and indignant gaze to the man's face and said--

"'Tis but ill-breeding in such as thou to command me to speak. I tell
thee now, as I told thee before, I am Edward, Prince of Wales, and none
other."

The stunning surprise of this reply nailed the hag's feet to the floor
where she stood, and almost took her breath. She stared at the Prince in
stupid amazement, which so amused her ruffianly son, that he burst into a
roar of laughter. But the effect upon Tom Canty's mother and sisters was
different. Their dread of bodily injury gave way at once to distress of
a different sort. They ran forward with woe and dismay in their faces,
exclaiming--

"Oh, poor Tom, poor lad!"

The mother fell on her knees before the Prince, put her hands upon his
shoulders, and gazed yearningly into his face through her rising tears.
Then she said--

"Oh, my poor boy! Thy foolish reading hath wrought its woeful work at
last, and ta'en thy wit away. Ah! why did'st thou cleave to it when I so
warned thee 'gainst it? Thou'st broke thy mother's heart."

The Prince looked into her face, and said gently--

"Thy son is well, and hath not lost his wits, good dame. Comfort thee:
let me to the palace where he is, and straightway will the King my father
restore him to thee."

"The King thy father! Oh, my child! unsay these words that be freighted
with death for thee, and ruin for all that be near to thee. Shake of
this gruesome dream. Call back thy poor wandering memory. Look upon me.
Am not I thy mother that bore thee, and loveth thee?"

The Prince shook his head and reluctantly said--

"God knoweth I am loth to grieve thy heart; but truly have I never looked
upon thy face before."

The woman sank back to a sitting posture on the floor, and, covering her
eyes with her hands, gave way to heart-broken sobs and wailings.

"Let the show go on!" shouted Canty. "What, Nan!--what, Bet! mannerless
wenches! will ye stand in the Prince's presence? Upon your knees, ye
pauper scum, and do him reverence!"

He followed this with another horse-laugh. The girls began to plead
timidly for their brother; and Nan said--

"An thou wilt but let him to bed, father, rest and sleep will heal his
madness: prithee, do."

"Do, father," said Bet; "he is more worn than is his wont. To-morrow
will he be himself again, and will beg with diligence, and come not empty
home again."

This remark sobered the father's joviality, and brought his mind to
business. He turned angrily upon the Prince, and said--

"The morrow must we pay two pennies to him that owns this hole; two
pennies, mark ye--all this money for a half-year's rent, else out of this
we go. Show what thou'st gathered with thy lazy begging."

The Prince said--

"Offend me not with thy sordid matters. I tell thee again I am the
King's son."

A sounding blow upon the Prince's shoulder from Canty's broad palm sent
him staggering into goodwife Canty's arms, who clasped him to her breast,
and sheltered him from a pelting rain of cuffs and slaps by interposing
her own person. The frightened girls retreated to their corner; but the
grandmother stepped eagerly forward to assist her son. The Prince sprang
away from Mrs. Canty, exclaiming--

"Thou shalt not suffer for me, madam. Let these swine do their will upon
me alone."

This speech infuriated the swine to such a degree that they set about
their work without waste of time. Between them they belaboured the boy
right soundly, and then gave the girls and their mother a beating for
showing sympathy for the victim.

"Now," said Canty, "to bed, all of ye. The entertainment has tired me."

The light was put out, and the family retired. As soon as the snorings
of the head of the house and his mother showed that they were asleep, the
young girls crept to where the Prince lay, and covered him tenderly from
the cold with straw and rags; and their mother crept to him also, and
stroked his hair, and cried over him, whispering broken words of comfort
and compassion in his ear the while. She had saved a morsel for him to
eat, also; but the boy's pains had swept away all appetite--at least for
black and tasteless crusts. He was touched by her brave and costly
defence of him, and by her commiseration; and he thanked her in very
noble and princely words, and begged her to go to her sleep and try to
forget her sorrows. And he added that the King his father would not let
her loyal kindness and devotion go unrewarded. This return to his
'madness' broke her heart anew, and she strained him to her breast again
and again, and then went back, drowned in tears, to her bed.

As she lay thinking and mourning, the suggestion began to creep into her
mind that there was an undefinable something about this boy that was
lacking in Tom Canty, mad or sane. She could not describe it, she could
not tell just what it was, and yet her sharp mother-instinct seemed to
detect it and perceive it. What if the boy were really not her son,
after all? Oh, absurd! She almost smiled at the idea, spite of her
griefs and troubles. No matter, she found that it was an idea that would
not 'down,' but persisted in haunting her. It pursued her, it harassed
her, it clung to her, and refused to be put away or ignored. At last she
perceived that there was not going to be any peace for her until she
should devise a test that should prove, clearly and without question,
whether this lad was her son or not, and so banish these wearing and
worrying doubts. Ah, yes, this was plainly the right way out of the
difficulty; therefore she set her wits to work at once to contrive that
test. But it was an easier thing to propose than to accomplish. She
turned over in her mind one promising test after another, but was obliged
to relinquish them all--none of them were absolutely sure, absolutely
perfect; and an imperfect one could not satisfy her. Evidently she was
racking her head in vain--it seemed manifest that she must give the
matter up. While this depressing thought was passing through her mind,
her ear caught the regular breathing of the boy, and she knew he had
fallen asleep. And while she listened, the measured breathing was broken
by a soft, startled cry, such as one utters in a troubled dream. This
chance occurrence furnished her instantly with a plan worth all her
laboured tests combined. She at once set herself feverishly, but
noiselessly, to work to relight her candle, muttering to herself, "Had I
but seen him THEN, I should have known! Since that day, when he was
little, that the powder burst in his face, he hath never been startled of
a sudden out of his dreams or out of his thinkings, but he hath cast his
hand before his eyes, even as he did that day; and not as others would do
it, with the palm inward, but always with the palm turned outward--I have
seen it a hundred times, and it hath never varied nor ever failed. Yes,
I shall soon know, now!"

By this time she had crept to the slumbering boy's side, with the candle,
shaded, in her hand. She bent heedfully and warily over him, scarcely
breathing in her suppressed excitement, and suddenly flashed the light in
his face and struck the floor by his ear with her knuckles. The
sleeper's eyes sprang wide open, and he cast a startled stare about him--
but he made no special movement with his hands.

The poor woman was smitten almost helpless with surprise and grief; but
she contrived to hide her emotions, and to soothe the boy to sleep again;
then she crept apart and communed miserably with herself upon the
disastrous result of her experiment. She tried to believe that her Tom's
madness had banished this habitual gesture of his; but she could not do
it. "No," she said, "his HANDS are not mad; they could not unlearn so
old a habit in so brief a time. Oh, this is a heavy day for me!"

Still, hope was as stubborn now as doubt had been before; she could not
bring herself to accept the verdict of the test; she must try the thing
again--the failure must have been only an accident; so she startled the
boy out of his sleep a second and a third time, at intervals--with the
same result which had marked the first test; then she dragged herself to
bed, and fell sorrowfully asleep, saying, "But I cannot give him up--oh
no, I cannot, I cannot--he MUST be my boy!"

The poor mother's interruptions having ceased, and the Prince's pains
having gradually lost their power to disturb him, utter weariness at last
sealed his eyes in a profound and restful sleep. Hour after hour slipped
away, and still he slept like the dead. Thus four or five hours passed.
Then his stupor began to lighten. Presently, while half asleep and half
awake, he murmured--

"Sir William!"

After a moment--

"Ho, Sir William Herbert! Hie thee hither, and list to the strangest
dream that ever . . . Sir William! dost hear? Man, I did think me
changed to a pauper, and . . . Ho there! Guards! Sir William! What! is
there no groom of the chamber in waiting? Alack! it shall go hard with--"

"What aileth thee?" asked a whisper near him. "Who art thou calling?"

"Sir William Herbert. Who art thou?"

"I? Who should I be, but thy sister Nan? Oh, Tom, I had forgot! Thou'rt
mad yet--poor lad, thou'rt mad yet: would I had never woke to know it
again! But prithee master thy tongue, lest we be all beaten till we
die!"

The startled Prince sprang partly up, but a sharp reminder from his
stiffened bruises brought him to himself, and he sank back among his foul
straw with a moan and the ejaculation--

"Alas! it was no dream, then!"

In a moment all the heavy sorrow and misery which sleep had banished were
upon him again, and he realised that he was no longer a petted prince in
a palace, with the adoring eyes of a nation upon him, but a pauper, an
outcast, clothed in rags, prisoner in a den fit only for beasts, and
consorting with beggars and thieves.

In the midst of his grief he began to be conscious of hilarious noises
and shoutings, apparently but a block or two away. The next moment there
were several sharp raps at the door; John Canty ceased from snoring and
said--

"Who knocketh? What wilt thou?"

A voice answered--

"Know'st thou who it was thou laid thy cudgel on?"

"No. Neither know I, nor care."

"Belike thou'lt change thy note eftsoons. An thou would save thy neck,
nothing but flight may stead thee. The man is this moment delivering up
the ghost. 'Tis the priest, Father Andrew!"

"God-a-mercy!" exclaimed Canty. He roused his family, and hoarsely
commanded, "Up with ye all and fly--or bide where ye are and perish!"

Scarcely five minutes later the Canty household were in the street and
flying for their lives. John Canty held the Prince by the wrist, and
hurried him along the dark way, giving him this caution in a low voice--

"Mind thy tongue, thou mad fool, and speak not our name. I will choose
me a new name, speedily, to throw the law's dogs off the scent. Mind thy
tongue, I tell thee!"

He growled these words to the rest of the family--

"If it so chance that we be separated, let each make for London Bridge;
whoso findeth himself as far as the last linen-draper's shop on the
bridge, let him tarry there till the others be come, then will we flee
into Southwark together."

At this moment the party burst suddenly out of darkness into light; and
not only into light, but into the midst of a multitude of singing,
dancing, and shouting people, massed together on the river frontage.
There was a line of bonfires stretching as far as one could see, up and
down the Thames; London Bridge was illuminated; Southwark Bridge
likewise; the entire river was aglow with the flash and sheen of coloured
lights; and constant explosions of fireworks filled the skies with an
intricate commingling of shooting splendours and a thick rain of dazzling
sparks that almost turned night into day; everywhere were crowds of
revellers; all London seemed to be at large.

John Canty delivered himself of a furious curse and commanded a retreat;
but it was too late. He and his tribe were swallowed up in that swarming
hive of humanity, and hopelessly separated from each other in an instant.
We are not considering that the Prince was one of his tribe; Canty still
kept his grip upon him. The Prince's heart was beating high with hopes
of escape, now. A burly waterman, considerably exalted with liquor,
found himself rudely shoved by Canty in his efforts to plough through the
crowd; he laid his great hand on Canty's shoulder and said--

"Nay, whither so fast, friend? Dost canker thy soul with sordid business
when all that be leal men and true make holiday?"

"Mine affairs are mine own, they concern thee not," answered Canty,
roughly; "take away thy hand and let me pass."

"Sith that is thy humour, thou'lt NOT pass, till thou'st drunk to the
Prince of Wales, I tell thee that," said the waterman, barring the way
resolutely.

"Give me the cup, then, and make speed, make speed!"

Other revellers were interested by this time. They cried out--

"The loving-cup, the loving-cup! make the sour knave drink the loving-
cup, else will we feed him to the fishes."

So a huge loving-cup was brought; the waterman, grasping it by one of its
handles, and with the other hand bearing up the end of an imaginary
napkin, presented it in due and ancient form to Canty, who had to grasp
the opposite handle with one of his hands and take off the lid with the
other, according to ancient custom. {1} This left the Prince hand-free
for a second, of course. He wasted no time, but dived among the forest
of legs about him and disappeared. In another moment he could not have
been harder to find, under that tossing sea of life, if its billows had
been the Atlantic's and he a lost sixpence.

He very soon realised this fact, and straightway busied himself about his
own affairs without further thought of John Canty. He quickly realised
another thing, too. To wit, that a spurious Prince of Wales was being
feasted by the city in his stead. He easily concluded that the pauper
lad, Tom Canty, had deliberately taken advantage of his stupendous
opportunity and become a usurper.

Therefore there was but one course to pursue--find his way to the
Guildhall, make himself known, and denounce the impostor. He also made
up his mind that Tom should be allowed a reasonable time for spiritual
preparation, and then be hanged, drawn and quartered, according to the
law and usage of the day in cases of high treason.

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